Until a couple of years ago Viv Groskop was a journalist with a husband and a young family. Now she’s a journalist with a husband, a young family, a comic and a new book coming out. “I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life” tells the story of Viv performing 100 gigs in 100 nights and the highs and lows of a stand up comic. We nabbed Viv for an email exchange all about it…
Hey Viv, you have a book out. That sounds pretty sweet, how did it come about?
It came out of this terrible, life-destroying idea I had to do 100 gigs in 100 consecutive nights. I kept a detailed diary during this demented mission to try to work out whether I was actually getting better or worse. (Spoiler alert: mostly worse.) Once it was over, I decided that, yes, I did want to share my thoughts, even though the book mostly makes me look awful both as a person and as a comic. There was a publishing auction for it and Orion won. (They publish people like Tim Vine, Keith Lemon and Emma Kennedy.)
What was your life like before you started comedy?
In some ways it was better as I was spending most of my time working as a journalist (which is basically still my day job) and I didn’t have to go to underground bunkers to watch strangers stare at me in disbelief. But in other ways it was worse because I always felt like I wasn’t quite doing the thing I really wanted to do and I was just quietly, slowly dying inside. Although I have some Jewish DNA so I kind of enjoyed that.
What is it about comedy that you found attractive and made you take the plunge in the first place?
As a child I had this obsession with Doris Schwartz from the TV show The Kids From Fame, the geeky stand-up who sang Step Up to the Mike and Say What’s On Your Mind. The song contains the lyric, “Come on, don’t be shy… Make some room for the lady!” Who wouldn’t want to live inside that sentiment? It only took me 30 years to act on this thought. There were several catalysts. Having children and realising that I wasn’t doing what I wanted with my life and that was setting a bad example for them. Realising that I was going to hit forty soon and that one day I may even eventually die. And discovering the existence of Logan Murray. Turns out there are a lot of people who need someone to hold their hand when they first have a go. Yes, even people like Rhod Gilbert.
What’s been the most difficult thing about balancing a family and comedy?
The cost of it all, both financial and emotional. And my husband calling my life “the directionless comedy binge”. I recommend doing 100 gigs in 100 nights. (Not.)
I think there are too many comedians, can you say something that would put people off the idea of doing comedy?
Yes: don’t do it. And definitely read I Laughed, I Cried. It is not a glamorous portrait of the circuit or of the mental health of those involved in it. (Mark Watson: “Viv Groskop tackles her mission with a devotion that borders on total insanity.”)
Do you recommend any other stand up related books?
The best one by far is Stewart Lee’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate (Faber). Stewart Lee will not appreciate this person appearing in the sentence after him, but Michael McIntyre has some surprisingly honest passages in Life and Laughing: My Story (Penguin), especially about going from being unpaid to paid. See also Frank Skinner’s Autobiography (Arrow) and Jo Brand’s Look Back in Hunger (Headline Review). Tina Fey’s Bossypants (Sphere) has some great stuff in it about the discipline of doing improv every night for pretty much 10 years. I really enjoyed Bruce Dessau’s potted history of stand-up, Beyond a Joke: Inside the Dark Minds of Stand-Up Comedians (Arrow), especially the bits about Malcolm Hardee and the naked balloon dancing. Rufus Hound’s Stand-Up Put-Downs (Bantam Press) is genius: every heckle and comeback in the history of the universe. But do not buy these books. Buy mine.