It is doubtful if many members of the book festival’s audiences will harbour a secret , life-long desire, to be a stand-up comic.
But while the success of her new career signals she certainly has the talent needed to make people laugh, the message Viv Groskop wants her audience to take away after her appearance is that it’s never too late to rekindle those dreams that never got acted upon thanks to other careers, the coming along of children and mortgages.
Groskop’s memoir, I Laughed, I Cried, is based on how she took a risk and revived a childhood wish to try her hand at stand-up comedy.
Her appearance will give a Melrose audience a preview of the show she is taking to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe
“I’m really looking forward to coming to Melrose for the book festival – I’m just hoping people find me funnier than Gordon Brown,” she laughed, referring to the appearance by the former prime minister the same evening.
“But I love book festival audiences as they tend to be more open and friendly than comedy audiences – you don’t tend to get heckled so much!”
A prolific journalist (Guardian, Mail on Sunday and Red), BBC Radio 4 broadcaster and stand-up comedian, she first performed with Stephen Fry in a Footlights show in Cambridge at the age of 18 and then did nothing on stage for 20 years.
After several false starts and a lucky break hosting Jo Brand’s book tour, Groskop started doing stand-up properly in 2011 and reached the Finals of Funny Women in 2012.
But how did she pluck up the courage, when nearing 40, with a husband, three kids and a mortgage, to revisit her dream?
“The most important thing is to grow a large set of balls. Mine got a bit lost along the way and then hurtling towards 40 with three kids and a mortgage, I decided I needed to give it a try.
“It’s a lot easier when you’re 18 or 21 when you get told to follow your dream. But people are living a lot longer into their 80s and 90s – and that’s a long time to live with regrets.”
The secret Groskop says is not to think you have to put a match to your entire present life.
She started doing comedy gigs and did them at night so it did not interfere with her childcare duties or day job as a freelance journalist.
“Growing up, I was a big fan of the Fame television series. There was a character called Doris Schwartz who wanted to be a stand-up comic and I thought it looked the greatest thing ever.
“But growing up in a little village in Somerset, I’d never even been to London, let alone actually know anyone who did stand-up comedy.
“So I parked the thought in the back of my mind and went off to Cambridge and university. That was a big deal, as I wasn’t the most confident of people back then and I was the first person in my family to go to university.”
At Cambridge, Groskop rubbed shoulders with future small screen comedy stars such as Stephen Fry, David Mitchell and Sacha Baron Cohen. But after a few attempts, shrank away from pursuing a career as a performer and moved into the world of writing.
“I put all those feelings in a box and put it away. But then along came the classic chronic mid-life crisis. I felt I couldn’t really be telling my kids to follow their dreams when I hadn’t done that myself.”
With no time to waste, Groskop went on the mother of all comedy marathons – 100 gigs in 100 consecutive nights - to see what it was like immersing herself in the life she had so long dreamed of.
“I found it easier than I expected. But I’m still worried that people in Melrose might not find me funnier than Gordon Brown.”
z Viv Groskop is at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival on Saturday, June 14, at 7.45pm. Tickets £10, £8 conc.
There are recurring themes in John Connolly’s writing: redemption, the battle between good and evil – the relationship between life and death, and the agonies of youth and childhood. Connolly will be at the festival to talk about The Wolf In Winter, in which private investigator Charlie Parker dives into the midst of where he shouldn’t be, as a favour to a dead man, to try and find a girl who couldn’t save herself.
Since his debut Every Dead Thing launched Dublin-born Connolly right into the front rank of thriller writers, all his subsequent novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers.
z John Connolly is at the festival on Sunday, June 15, at 7.45pm in Born in Borders marquee.