Rob Gilroy

Taking it personally

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I took a personality test today. Not the best idea I’ve ever had. You’re basically opening a Pandora’s Box of anxieties and self-doubt and then tipping the contents over yourself. You’d be better off using Nutella. At least it’ll wash off eventually.

Taking any personality test, even one that tries to work out which Muppet you most resemble, isn’t good for your self-esteem. You find yourself thinking ‘I’m probably Bunsen but I hope I’m Gonzo’ and then you discover that, actually, you’re Floyd Pepper. A Muppet who has about as much screen time as Alfred Hitchcock on a particularly shy day.

If it’s a more ‘legitimate’ test, like the one I took, then you start to self-diagnose before you’ve even finished the questions. Every response is like staring into your soul and realising that you’re only on nodding terms with your subconscious.

I decided to take the test, like most people, because it meant avoiding work for 12 minutes. But the problem is, once you enter the rabbit hole it’s hard to stop. You can’t very well get stuck half way down a burrow and say ‘you know what, this isn’t good for my knees, I better head back.’ You’ve got to plough on regardless, knowing full well that you got yourself into this mess.

One of the key issues for me is that I’m not really sure what my personality is to begin with. Now, I’m not trying to pull the old character comic line – ‘I’m much more comfortable as someone else’ – it’s more that my skittish indecisiveness is so prolific that I can’t fully commit to who I think I am, most of the time.

Take this test for example, when asked if I liked being centre of attention, it’s hard to put ‘disagree’ when I’ve spent years standing up in front of strangers claiming to have a new take on the white-man-makes-jokes routine. I’m clearly doing it for the attention. It’s certainly not the money and it isn’t the groupies. I don’t think you can count middle-aged men saying ‘yeah, very clever’ as groupies. If you could then I’d assume Stephen Hawking classes peer reviews as orgies.

That said, stick me at a party, or leave me to network after a gig and I’m as useful as Marcel Marceau hosting a radio phone-in. You know, because he’s dead.

The more questions I answered, the more I started to consider what it was about myself that led me to comedy. Was it a desire to please people? Probably not, I could spend my evenings down at the soup kitchen cracking open tins of Scotch Broth, if that was the case. It probably has something to do with my parents’ divorce.

I know what you’re thinking, ‘dysfunctional childhood – same old, same old’ and yes it is. Nothing upsets me greater than the fact I’m a walking cliché. I may as well admit I was bullied.

I was bullied though.

I’ve often wondered what drew me to comedy. It’s clearly all down to getting attention. Having grown up struggling to deal with my parents’ divorce, comedy became my way of being heard without resorting to tantrums. Not that I don’t whip those out every once in a while, it gets you to the front of the Subway queue pretty fast.

To be honest, I think I started piecing together my reasons for taking to comedy quite early, but something that concerned me more than my desperate search for acceptance, was the worry that if I acknowledged it – let alone accepted it – I wouldn’t be able to make people laugh anymore. That’s a pretty frightening reality to create for yourself, a dependence on your anxieties for purely creative gain.

Suddenly this work distraction just became an existential shit-storm.

Ultimately, I have come to terms with those elements, and I don’t think it makes me less funny for it. But honestly, given the choice, I know what I’d choose.

What has become clear though, is that there’s something about questioning everything around you that would seem to form the basis for most comic people. Seeing the world and wanting to know why. Whether you’re coming to terms with a family situation you can’t quite fathom, or you just have a knack for seeing past the face-value of things; following lines of questioning other people haven’t is always going to lead to the ridiculous.

So maybe, it’s not important why I became a comedian, what’s important is that I ask the question in the first place.

And you thought this was mainly going to be about Muppets.