October 26, 2012 7:14 pm

A night off? You must be joking

‘While other parents were queuing to meet the physics teacher, I was headlining an evening of female stand-up comedy’
An illustration by James Ferguson©James Ferguson

I dread parents’ evenings. The five-minute slots you secure with each teacher never deliver any fresh insights into the child who you speak to daily, and who you already know could make more effort with their physics. These rushed occasions are supposed to give you the chance to express concerns or ask questions, but, frankly, you could just as easily have done that by email. And you wouldn’t have had to spend more time queuing than actually engaging with your child’s teachers. In fact, the whole evening is like a frantic speed-dating session, except with people that you probably wouldn’t want to date.

Little wonder, then, that I declined to attend Cost Centre #2’s parents’ night last week. It was the last one of his school career, but that didn’t add to its appeal in any way. Had CC#2 been my first child, I might have ordered myself to bite the bullet and attend, but I am a veteran of these set-piece evenings and knew that it was not going to be an efficient use of my time.

So what did I do instead? A glass of wine and Downton Abbey on ITV Player? Sit in the bath reading The Economist? Not a hope. While other parents were queuing to meet the physics teacher, I was in the City, headlining an evening of female stand-up comedy in aid of the charity Children in Crisis.

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Mrs Moneypenny

Back in 2010, when I told my manager, who happens to be a Prominent Theatrical Agent, that I wanted to take a stand-up show to Edinburgh, he told me that I had better be confident that I was more than just a “dressing room comedienne”. Well, a statement like that is as good as throwing down the gauntlet to someone like me. In the event, not only did I do 31 performances at Edinburgh, but I even transferred to a short off-Broadway run later in the year. And along the way, I learnt, under direction, to time my delivery, structure my content and aim for ever-higher “laugh counts”. Like everything in life, you have to apply yourself if you want to succeed.

I haven’t performed in Edinburgh since, though – my television commitments having stolen the time I would have allocated to preparing for a return. But I have decided to take a new show there in 2013 (readers: if you have a house in the city you want to rent to me next August, please email! I can supply an excellent reference from the reader who lets me use her apartment in Davos). So last week I opened my getting-into-the-swing-of-it campaign by headlining a charity evening of seriously funny women, at the BT Auditorium in Newgate Street, a venue with quite stupendous facilities.

None of the women who shared the bill with me is a full-time performer. We all have day jobs. What does that say, I wonder? That none of us is good enough to make a living from it full-time? Or that the comedy circuit is tough? The latter is certainly true. But it was intriguing to note the variety of professions inhabited by the women with whom I performed. They included Julia Streets, who devised the evening as a means of celebrating the fifth birthday of her consulting business, and Ayesha Hazarika, chief of staff to Harriet Harman MP.

I am not alone in having a double life: Sioned Jones, artist and actress, performed as her alter ego the mystic gypsy Mme Charlotte-Ann Arcarti, and Gabby Best, an actress and special needs teacher, showed us, through her Croatian fitness instructor character Marijana, why she was a worthy recipient of the 2012 Funny Women Award. Oh, and someone whom I have admired for years – Rowan Pelling, former editor of The Erotic Review and now an agony aunt dispensing sex advice to readers of the UK’s bestselling midmarket tabloid.

Rowan Pelling is very sexy, very clever, and very knowledgeable about pornography, so has reams of material, which she delivers in perfect received pronunciation, making it even funnier. I predict she will be a great hit on the after-dinner circuit. She also has two children. I wonder what she thinks of parents’ evenings?

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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