Blackpool student Dane Smith: It's no joke being a trainee stand-up comic
His arms and legs were shaking.
His memory had been playing tricks.
And, as Dane Smith counted down the seconds to his debut as a stand-up comedian, things just wentfrom bad to worse.
The 21-year- old student from Blackpool had until that moment never taken part in so much as aschool play.
Joining him on the bill of a comedy night at a club in the Midlands were seasoned entertainers withten years of gigging under their belts.
One comic had notched up no fewer than 950 performances.
But here was Dane - with just a handful of coaching sessions at a comedy school behind him, the support act to award-winning entertainer and Mock the Week panellist Zoe Lyons.
Just before going on stage before him, one of the others on the bill asked Dane: “Is this really thefirst time you’ve been on stage ever?”
Her response to Dane’s confirmation was not encouraging.
“Oh, good luck, then,” she said with a knowing grimace, and walked off.
There were ten minutes to go to Dane’s big moment.
“My arms went to jelly, my legs went to jelly,” he recalled. “I stood there waiting in the wings, Icouldn’t keep still.”
Dane’s journey to the night he will never forget began a few months earlier as he and a friendstarted brainstorming for a collaborative practice module at the University of Gloucestershire in
Cheltenham, where he has just completed a radio production degree course.
They decided to team up with some TV production students at the campus to make a 30-minutedocumentary on lesser-known stand-up comedians. Before long, Dane had taken the idea one step further by fulfilling an ambition he had alwayssubconsciously had to try his hand at comedy.
His family were bemused – the documentary shows his uncle telling Dane he had a better chance of“dropping Easter eggs out of his bottom” than making a success of stand-up.
The quest took him to a couple of comedy workshops at a venue in Bromsgrove in Worcestershire run by Theo Theobald, who offered to sort out a gig.
This was when it suddenly became real for Dane, who is from South Shore, and went to Waterloo Primary School, Bispham High School and Blackpool Sixth Form.
Theo had lined up the ten-minute support act slot, at a 100-seater venue in Tamworth, with punters paying £7 a ticket.
Dane said: “I’d never been on stage before, I’d never even been in a school play. But part of me thought I could do it.”
With around six weeks to go, Theo gave Dane 24 hours to finalise the script for his slot, which he did in a pub.
After a boot camp at Theo’s house, where Dane was told to concentrate on the performance aspect, and on his timing, he began learning his lines.
Over and over the script – which covered gags on subjects from Facebook to sex – he went.
As essay deadlines and a work placement at a radio station in London loomed, Dane found the one-man rehearsals taking over his life.
He had been using a Lucozade container as a makeshift mic, but there came a point where Dane began losing his bottle.
“I woke up rehearsing my lines. I’d been dreaming about it. I was absolutely petrified. At one point, I hadn’t eaten for three days.
“I was praying the venue would get burned down. At that point I didn’t care about the documentary.”
On the afternoon of the gig, he began forgetting parts of the set.
And meeting his fellow comics didn’t exactly help.
They knew what the audience didn’t: that this was the very first time that Dane had tried to be funny for money.
“The other comedians couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if they thought they’d come down in the world, appearing alongside me.”
But soon enough, the compere was telling the crowd to welcome on stage “a very funny man.”
“I just kind of dived into it, and instinct took over. I didn’t think about what I was saying. It was complete autopilot.”
It went well, and before he knew it, Dane was wrapping up – although he hadn’t practised how to finish.
In the end he had to be dragged back on stage by the compere, who then revealed it had been Dane’s first-ever gig.
Dane, who is awaiting confirmation of a job at the radio station where he did work experience, is now weighing up whether to carry on performing. “It started as a bucket list thing, but by the end it became quite a personal achievement.”
Even if he never blinks into the glare of a spotlight again, Dane has experienced a life-changing boost from his brush with the comedy circuit.
“I used to be quite anxious about things like asking for directions and picking up the phone,” he said.
“But since doing this, the confidence boost has been amazing. Before I went to London for my work placement, I’d never been on the Tube in my life. I had to get three different Tube trains, and ask people for help, but when I arrived I had no nerves. If I’d done that a few weeks before, I’d have been terrified.”
Dane, who was advised by one comedian to be relaxed about ‘dying’ on stage, is deciding whether to agree to a request to perform at a charity gig.
His comedy heroes are the uncompromising satirists Chris Morris and Stewart Lee.
“My stage set was the complete opposite of that, so one part of me thinks it would be good to do another gig to do something completely different.”
The experience has also ignited his interest in comedy writing, and a career as a writer or producer.
But he said: “In the end, this wasn’t about the documentary and the mark. It was just a really big personal achievement. It’s been really rewarding.”
The documentary was recently shown at the university’s multidisciplinary Alchemy festival at the Wilson Art Gallery in Cheltenham.
It has also been seen more than 1,000 times on YouTube, where you can find it by searching Funniest Guy in the Room.