“What The Frock! has become the UK's most significant nurturer of female talent, and has meant Bristol now gives female comedians a bigger slice of the action” – The Naked Guide To Bristol, 2015
JANE DUFFUS INTERVIEWS VIV
“All the professional stand-ups who’ve read the book – people like Mark Watson, Jo Caulfield, Lucy Porter and Jo Brand – they all took one look at it and said, ‘You are completely mad. Why did you do this? This is extreme.’ And that shocked me.”
In the autumn of 2011, prolific journalist and broadcaster Viv Groskop embarked on a project to push her newly discovered stand-up skills to capacity. What she didn’t realise was that it would also push her 13-year marriage to its limits.
Hovering on the brink of a career in stand-up comedy, Viv decided to set herself the challenge of performing 100 gigs in 100 nights to find out if she really was cracked out for a career in comedy. And the whole episode, no holds barred, is laid bare in her brilliant book I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up And (Almost) Ruined Her Life.
“It shocked me when those brilliant stand-ups said that my project had been extreme,” says Viv. “I thought professional stand-ups would look at the idea and say ‘Of course you need to do 100 gigs in 100 nights, why’s that a big deal?’ But actually they’ve all said, ‘No, this is crazy. Why would you do that to yourself?’ My husband feels totally vindicated now, because he thought it was a crazy project to begin with!”
Viv’s relationship with her husband Simon is at the core of the book, unavoidably so considering the couple also has three young children. And while Simon referred to Viv’s quest as a “directionless comedy binge”, and Viv documents several big rows they had during the 100 day marathon, what emerges is a couple who survived the experience!
“Maybe some of the book is too honest,” Viv says. “But I didn’t think there was any point in doing it unless I did it honestly, and I didn’t want it to be some kind of stunt book. Of course, I hope some of it is funny and it will make people laugh. But the reality for lots of people starting stand-up is that it does have a massive impact on your life and relationships. And that is the whole reason why we don’t see as many women stand-ups as we do men. I felt a real responsibility to reflect that warts and all, however painful it was.”
And what does Simon think of the book now? “He feels it’s an honest and accurate reflection of what happened. I’m sure if he told his side of the story it would be even more gruesome!”
The 100-day challenge wasn’t all blood, sweat and tears (although Viv admits in the book that her trusty sequinned cardigan is testament to the amount she sweated through those 100 over-heated clubs). And one of the most unexpectedly fun parts of the project was making friends with people she had never expected to meet: “I ended up hanging out with magicians, burlesque dancers, DJs, beat boxers and all of these really interesting, amazing people who decided to do something different with their lives. Or rather, they were trying to and failing.”
And what was the worst part of the project? Viv laughs! “There were many, many worst parts!” And sandwiched between the crashingly bad gig that sometimes follows a really great one, was a miserable anecdote that is chronicled in the book around the mid-way point. Viv explains: “I had a major wobble in the middle when I had a brush with a promoter who told me I had to try to show a sexual side of myself on stage, and I felt really uncomfortable about that. I considered giving up then.”
But Viv didn’t give up, and she’s since gone on to do innumerable stand-up shows, was a finalist in the Funny Women awards in 2012, and has performed with What The Frock! five times in 2013 (six times if you count her role in the improv show Upstairs Downton). And as well as performing stand-up and improv, as well as writing journalism and a book, and as well as being a radio and TV broadcaster, Viv is also Artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival.
Viv credits this amazing ability to be so phenomenally busy (remember, she also has three young children) with what Tim Minchin told her “sounded like a psychotic work ethic”. She says the 100 gigs in 100 days project taught her that she is “possibly too resilient… and I have a tendency to abuse that resilience”.
And despite a love/hate relationship with comedy throughout the narrative of I Laughed, I Cried, Viv now absolutely adores the process of standing up on a stage and telling jokes… even when it’s going badly. “I feel very at home on the stage,” she says. “You never know what the chemistry is going to be on any given night. But I love it up there, I love watching audiences: they’re very funny and lovely. Even when they do stupid things, or call out stupid things, or get ridiculously drunk. I just think they’re so lovely.”