I Left the Stage in Tears after my first Stand-Up Comedy gig

Sunday, 14th January I made my return to stand-up comedy after a 7-year break.

If you’re new here, I used to gig a lot on the comedy circuit around Essex and London between 2012 and 2016. I think my last gig was probably in June 2016, I moved to Brazil for four months, got cancer, returned to the UK, had treatment and chemotherapy and then tried to live as normal a life as I could since then.

Now, cancer can take a lot of things from you, your health being the main one. Many people think that you get the all-clear and then resume the rest of your life like normal. This isn’t the case.

One of the biggest challenges I faced in the early days of recovery was a thing called ‘chemo brain’ or ‘chemo fog’. You literally cannot think straight. Even the simplest tasks are difficult. The height of this problem came to the forefront on two occasions.

The first one was at a music festival in April 2017 in Weymouth. A friend from Essex had come to visit for the weekend with his girlfriend. Half-way through the second day I was introducing them to some local Weymouth friends and I could not remember my mates girlfriends name. For the life of me I was just stuck…

“This is urmmm…” I murmured.

She actually got really offended. And probably rightly so; this wasn’t the first time we’d met and I’d be with them for the past 2 days. It was highly embarrassing. For both of us. I had become terrible at remembering peoples names.

I still wasn’t thinking about a return to comedy at this point of my recovery.

The second time of awful ‘chemo brain’ was in a Marks and Spencer supermarket. At the cashier I went to pay for my items. This was before I had a contactless bank card. I put my debit card into the chip and pin and could not remember the pin code. I failed twice and a third time would be a blockage. I used another card. No memory. I couldn’t pay for the items and had to leave them behind and sob in my car trying to think what my pin code was.

Years have passed, and I’ve been able to do most things in my life that I had done pre-cancer. However stand-up comedy was the last remaining thing to achieve. BUT, it’s by far the hardest challenge. Standing up in front of a room full of strangers, trying to make people laugh for ten minutes, AND trying to remember your words! The chemo brain had for sure knocked the confidence away.


This December 2023 just gone, I contacted Ross McGrane and John Oakes about getting onto their Podcast, Organic Capers to talk about my book, Tumorous Hesticles.

I had gigged with Ross and John a handful of times in 2015, and since then they have moved on brilliantly and currently host the breakfast show on Radio Essex. They’ve even turned on the Christmas lights! Showbiz big time!

They said why not come up to Southend, Essex and record the podcast and then get back on stage for some stand-up comedy in the evening at their weekly show of Little Smash Comedy at The Alex. As soon as I said yes, back in December, the nerves instantly hit me.

We recorded the podcast on the Sunday afternoon accompanied by an Espresso Martini each. I never used to drink before a gig, but why not. The podcast was awesome and will be out on all your podcasting platforms next week (Today is January 19th).


I had some rough ideas of what I’d like to talk about on stage this time round. I wanted to try and be clever enough to do a set about cancer without mentioning the word cancer, or making it obvious that I’m talking about it. So, I thought the topic of having a testicle removed might be a good start.

I spent the four-hour drive to Essex roughly plotting out a set in my head. Luckily my friend John, massaged the last bits into how it should come across, some added punchlines and an improved structure. But this was at 1pm on the Sunday. Just hours before my first gig in 7 years!

The gig was getting closer and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day. Not a problem as my body was just thriving off pure adrenaline. I know I was giving off very nervous vibes and Ross and John must have been thinking Oh god this is going to be awful and ruin the comedy night.

The gig now just ten minutes from start time and a quick run to the toilets to throw up from the nerves. But I said to myself ‘you’re ready now.’ I knew my body was telling me that’s game time.

Af Marseh performs stand-up comedy at The Alex, Southend-on-Sea

The First Laugh

One of the hurdles of comedy is getting that first laugh. Sometimes that’s all you need to find your rhythm. I went up and told some gag about my name and it got a big laugh. Bigger than I expected. And then went into the ball routine. It… was….amazing! When it’s going well, people are engaged and laughing. Nothing beats it. I was still a bit rough around the edges, but I’ll take it. I noticed so many different things about myself and comedy in that one set than in years previously.

I came off stage and Ross was there to shake my hand

“Well done mate, did you enjoy that?” As he extended his arms to embrace me into a hug.

“I think I’m going to cry” I laughed.

What I didn’t realise, is that I was about to cry. Ross went back on stage to warm the audience up for the next act and I found myself in the corner of the bar just crying. Sobbing into my hands.

7 long years I’d waited to do stand-up comedy again. Finally after all that shit I went through, and the long recovery process since. It finally felt like….

I am back!


Big thanks to Ross and John for everything. Will post the Podcast link next week!

To keep up date with all my book and comedy adventures, don’t forget to subscribe HERE.

Ross McGrane and John Oakes

One Comment

  1. Brilliant this mate, well done.

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