Jay Islaam @ EdFringe2015I reached an important milestone last week. It’s now been two years since I started performing standup comedy. Which, in my mind at least, means I can no longer classify myself as a “new act” any more.

Those who know me well will have noticed I toned down my relentless gig schedule about 6 months ago, which also happened to loosely coincide with my 400th show. And it’s obvious my enthusiasm for the art form isn’t quite what it used to be. I’ve been wracking my brain to work out why that would be, and if I’m honest there are several factors at play.

Firstly, I’ve been making a lot more effort to be with family. I’ve neglected that kind of quality time in the last few years and have really enjoyed reconnecting with my clan. Standup can’t compete with the joy your children can bring to your life.

Secondly, I’ve been depressed. It’s a subject I don’t like to talk about much because a) pretty much every creative person I know suffers from some kind of mental health issue, and b) I think of it as an embarrassing weakness. So talking about it, beyond a cursory mention, feels like a #FirstWorldProblems whinge, given the enormous positives in my life.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’m not really sure where I want to go next. I had a 2-year plan, and a fixed idea about what I wanted to achieve within that timeframe: win some competitions, an award or two would be nice, and perform at the top comedy venues in the country, ideally getting some paid work from one or more of the big pro clubs. All of that was achieved, and with almost a year to spare. So… what’s next?

I genuinely had no plans beyond that modest list of aims. I just wanted to have a bit of fun, write and perform the kind of material that I, as a comedy fan, would enjoy, and see whether I had any aptitude for the craft. What I certainly didn’t ever imagine doing was to become a jobbing comedian – one of the 200 or so people who are a fixture on the national standup comedy circuit.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy playing to big rooms and small rooms alike. I even relish the tough crowds, rough and rowdy hecklers, and overcoming the challenge of an apathetic audience.

I’m still astonished that people will pay me to entertain. (Although, I admit, it is getting easier to take the cash with every passing gig.) And I’m always surprised when I’m asked to headline the odd small show as, deep down, I still feel like I’m not really worthy. I’ve even been asked to perform abroad by three different promoters!! I know I’m ludicrously lucky to find myself in this position after such a very, very short time in the game.

However, as someone who spent the best part of the last decade travelling for work, barely seeing friends and family, and feeling that life was passing me by as a result, the lifestyle of the professional standup just wasn’t going to be part of the fantasy for me.

Which leaves me in a kind of limbo state, comedy-wise, because trying to establish yourself as a circuit comedian is the next natural milestone for most people in my position. It’s just not an aspiration for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I want to quit standup altogether. I believe this is the last bastion of free speech we have left, and perhaps our most important art form. I love it, and I couldn’t bring myself to stop now. However, for me to remain enthusiastic, there has to be more. I need to find new outlets for expression to complement the stage.

So, what’s next? I don’t really know. It’s time for a short sabbatical. I’ve got less than a handful of gigs booked for the rest of 2015. That’s a great opportunity to have more of a life outside of the industry, acquire experiences that give me something to write about, and allow me to explore other avenues of creative self-expression. And then, maybe, come back sharper, stronger and with a whole new tranche of material for 2016.

Wish me luck! 🙂

 

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