Review: I Laughed, I Cried, By Viv Groskop

Stand up if you're in a mid-life crisis

As a teenager the journalist Viv Groskop dreamed of being a stand-up comedian but life, along with the need for proper paid work, got in the way. Years later, as a mother of three approaching middle age, she set herself a challenge: 100 gigs in 100 days. At the end of it, she would know for sure whether stand-up was a viable career move or merely a pipe dream.

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I Laughed, I Cried is essentially a mid-life crisis played out over 22 chapters. It is also about finding out what you're capable of at a time when your days revolve around school runs, daily deadlines, and uneventful evenings in front of the telly.

While a handful of gigs get an enthusiastic response, more veer between “unspeakably awful” and “totally disastrous”. Groskop's audiences are invariably drunk, uninterested or, worse still, not actually there. A couple of shows in America go well, though this, it turns out, is down to her accent. “Your voice is hilarious,” someone hoots.

Meanwhile, Groskop does battle with shoddy late-night transport, lecherous promoters, unreliable booking agents and a rising Diet Coke bill. Add to this fear, exhaustion, and a husband who isn't entirely on board with the idea, and it's no wonder that crying rather than laughter is the dominant theme.

Amid the repetitive self-doubt, however, are some insightful nuggets on the peculiar existence of comics, presented here in all their neurotic, competitive glory. The desire to conquer stand-up is, she says, “a kind of sickness” and a pursuit for people who weren't loved enough as children.

There are, too, some engaging snapshots from her childhood, most memorably of her grandmother who had her hair set like Sophia Loren's and a capacity for lighting up a room – “She did not have an exciting or glamorous or fun life. But she made everything around her exciting and glamorous and funny.”

Such memories illuminate Groskop's own motivations for pursuing what her husband calls a “directionless comedy binge”. There are probably more painless ways to find excitement and glamour – a new dress, perhaps? – but where would be the fun in that?