Opinion: Comedian Maxine Jones on Doing Stand-Up Til You Drop

maxine jones

Billy Connolly is back on the road, doing what he loves best - stand-up. His Parkinson’s Disease means he can no longer play the banjo, but despite ill health he has clung on to that most precious of faculties – a sense of humour.

Age is not a factor when it comes to laughter. We can continue to choose to laugh till the end. And if we have the ability to make people laugh, age cannot take that away from us either.

I shall be 60 in March, some 13 years younger than Billy Connolly, and only started doing comedy five years ago. I felt out of place doing five-minute spots on a bill of 15 other comedians, mostly male, in their 20s and fixated on masturbation. Still, you write about what you know.

My material was mostly about being an English mother of Irish sons and one of the first divorcees in Ireland. From this I got three Edinburgh shows. As the embers of this year’s Fringe Festival turn to ash, the next show is slowly kindling. The title has come first – Now We Are 60, based on the AA Milne book Now We Are Six. And I can see the poster. Me on a swing in a nursery tale image from the 1930s.

All this bodes well – an immediate and obvious title and image so people will know what’s in the tin. This served me well with my first two shows. Embarrassing Mother was about how my sons were mortified at having an English mother (and how they embarrassed me - before neighbours, teachers, tram inspectors and gardai). Invisible Woman was about how older women turn invisible. One old lady I flyered in Edinburgh took me literally. ‘Really?’ she said, gleefully. ‘How?’

The 2015 show title, Full Circle, had a less immediate resonance. It was about wondering whether to move back to England and whether everything in life comes full circle. At one point I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to do a cartwheel again. For a while I flirted with the idea of training to do a cartwheel as a finale to the show - but then I saw the size of the venue I’d been allocated. It just wouldn’t work. The relief! 

I’m not sure we grow much wiser with age – a theme I’m looking forward to delving into further in the 2016 show. I certainly make the same mistakes again and again. The only things I’ve ever irretrievably lost are the ones I’ve put away in a safe place.

After university in the 1970s, I had to learn to type to earn a living (best skill I ever acquired, really) and muddled through various jobs in newspapers and magazines until I moved to Ireland on a whim in 1990. In 1991 I had a baby boy, in 1993 another and in 1995 another. I was divorced soon after, when divorce was introduced to Ireland in 1996. 

Having babies was one time in my life when I didn’t ask what the point was. The point was them. They were there and had to be looked after. It was, although I doubted it at the time, fulfilment. Despite more glamorous roles since – exotic travel as a freelance journalist, and setting up my own magazine – that niggling question, ‘what’s the point?’ has always resurfaced.

Until, that is, I got my first laugh at a small stand-up night in Dublin. Now, even after bad gigs, there is no need to ask why. The point is the laughter, even when it’s elusive. Which is why, along with Billy Connolly, I hope to remain involved with comedy till the end.

More about Maxine Jones and her gig guide here.




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