Sarah Sheldon’s Big Deshishions: 1) Laugh when life’s not a peach

To kick off a new series, comedian and journo Sarah Sheldon unravels the funny stories that ensue from the big unconscious decisions we make for ourselves

iPad illustration drawing painting laughing fruity laughter

Funny old fruit. Laura Eades 2014

Sarah Sheldon writes:

Over the last couple of years I have made tentative steps into the world of stand-up. Open mics, and the launch of a monthly night in a tapas restaurant.

Some people think I am mental, but the process is life-affirming.

Salvage something from flops

Laughing at a painful or absurd experience can make it at the very least salvageable, if not downright enjoyable.

One of my (very few) sets is a response to being asked a question on a date (someone I was keen on but who it became clear was tragically not as keen on me) – “What have you got going on in your life?”.

The question bugged me for weeks. Finally, I went to Nicaragua for work to make a point.

Not that it saved the fledgling relationship. But being able to use the experience as material made me feel I had recovered control of something.

From mortified to mollified

Certain experiences, when retold in stand-up, are worth the initial embarrassment.

One was a Hallowe’en fancy dress party I attended as a student. I went as a “nervous bride” with fake vomit down the front of an old wedding dress. The vomit was carefully created from baby food and sweet-corn, and I carried with me an extra supply in a tupperware in order to top it up. When I got to the party, I soon realised that everyone else had interpreted “fancy dress” to mean “attractive and sophisticated adult” and so were dressed in black cocktail dresses.

My vomit was so realistic that I ended up alone on the sofa for much of the night. Yet I would probably do it again, just for the story.

Laughter is an anaesthetic. Literally.

When Maria, the Brazilian beautician in Peckham, told me mid-wax that she had had sex with a ghost, I forgot the agony of the epilation.

Can you nourish your soul with laughter alone?

Laughter is an organic event.

One summer I went to Canada and stayed with various people as part of Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF). The first couple I stayed with could not have been more politically correct, or environmentally more sustainable. Yet they had absolutely no sense of humour.

The situation was made all the more difficult by the various withdrawal symptoms I began suffering as a result of the lack of artificial additives, preservatives and caffeine, and I lasted just a couple of days. We moved on.

At the next place, we stayed with a couple of red-necks who confounded organic farmer stereotype. The pair of them chain-smoked, drank instant tea, decorated their house with rifles and stuffed deer heads, and were racist. Germans were dirty, Chinese were dirty, everyone was dirty as far as I could tell. Why they had opted for the WWOOF programme, which meant allowing people of all nationalities to stay on their farm, was completely beyond me. They did have a sense of humour, however, which made it bearable. So I stayed twice as long with them as with the puritanical hippies.

Although after four days, the comments about Jews and shooting kittens got a bit much, so I still thought it best to leave.

It’s our best defence against our culture of striving

Seeking the humour in things is a great armour. It’s a way to transsubstantitate dodgy feelings of all kinds, from anger to embarrassment to downright misery. And being the person making other people laugh is affirming. It dissipates the shame of shortcomings. It shakes the perfectionism tree (but that’s another story). It’s connection. It’s a relief. Phew.

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This is a guest post by Sarah Sheldon.

Sarah Sheldon is a London-based writer (journalism mainly, having covered everything from the Lithuanian laxative market to Panamanian presidential elections inclusive). Sideline in stand-up comedy. She is trying to be less ambivalent about everything, including what should and should not go into a biographical note. She is co-founder of Shake The Tree, a monthly comedy night in Islington. Twitter: @sarahlsheldon