As our week-long exploration of unusual living situations draws to a close, Sarah Millican reflects on why moving back in with her parents after her divorce was pivotal to her decision to become a standup.
I walked out of the only flat I’d ever owned (had a mortgage on) and turned right. We were getting a divorce. It was his decision but accepting it was one of my better ones. I turned right and he turned left. Not just metaphorically but my parents’ home was to the right of our little flat and his whatever whoever who cares was apparently to the left. I walked through a park with a small box of the last of my things and cried all the way. My phone rang.
The decision to move back home was an easy one. I couldn’t afford and more importantly, didn’t want to live on my own. I knew I needed a few months of cuddles and who better to fall back on than the cushion of my family (mam, dad and older sister), who had loved me for 29 years, not just the paltry eight the ex-husband had managed. I asked them and thank God they said yes.
And so I moved back into the bedroom I’d moved out of eight years earlier but wow, had I acquired a lot more shit since then. I’ve always been a hoarder. Not documentary level but I did have several years of Empire magazines that I gave to him as I didn’t have anywhere to put them. The deal still stands that if he sells them I want half the money.
“I was a teenager again, although one with the wrong name on her Boots Advantage card and a seemingly always wet face. I remember crying on my sister’s bed for three hours once. She stroked my hair the whole time.”
I unpacked and slotted books back on shelves, knickers back in knicker drawers. My dad asked me if I wanted my Phillip Schofield posters back down from the loft and he meant it. I didn’t.
And yes, it wasn’t easy. It took a while for us all to adjust. At first, they wanted to know where I was going and when I’d be back. I was a teenager again, although one with the wrong name on her Boots Advantage card and a seemingly always wet face. I remember crying on my sister’s bed for three hours once. She stroked my hair the whole time.
I was intending to stay for a few months but in the end, it was more like two and a half years. Part way through that I did my first standup gig and rang my dad from the ladies’ loos directly after it. I jumped up and down partly because it had gone well but partly because it was a terrifying thing and I had DONE IT! After six months of deliberating, I came to the conclusion I wanted to give comedy a proper go. Had I been living on my own with two jobs and no flexibility or money, that door would have slammed shut. But my outgoings were low so I dropped a few hours at my proper job and started to get a lot of trains and sleep on a lot of sofas.
And my family supported me. Not once did they question why I was telling strangers about the breakdown of my marriage for no money (to begin with) in a batwing top from Marksies (I wish someone had questioned that bit). They just let me be me, find the new me, whoever she was when she crawled out, heart slowly mending, tear ducts fucking knackered. They’d let me be me when I tap danced on the tiles around the coke boiler, when I read a poem from behind a curtain, when I showed them my new dance in the garage: why is now any different?
There were times when I felt frustrated and trapped and like a kid again, but not in a playing Guess Who? by myself, saving the world as a woman called Jackie, never really giving a shit about riding a bike, playing all of the songs from The Sound of Music on a recorder awesome sort of way. But in a ‘help, help, I want to get out but what is out there for me anyway?’ way.
But without my family I would not be doing standup. Without them (and a counsellor) I wouldn’t be fixed enough to embark on another relationship and subsequent marriage.
“My family supported me. Not once did they question why I was telling strangers about the breakdown of my marriage for no money (to begin with) in a batwing top from Marksies.”
Walking through the park that day, I was broken. A small box of tat and a slow slow walk. My phone rang, I answered it. In a happier time, it seems, I’d put myself on the returns list for the late Linda Smith’s show at the local theatre. A ticket was available, did I want it?
The slow legs thought no, definitely no; these big red eyes and tissue-filled hands aren’t ready for being out in public and definitely not alone. But a tiny spark of my former positive self thought maybe yes? Maybe it’s just what I need? A nice distraction.
And wow. I sat alone in a crowd of excited comedy fans. No-one knew how my insides hurt. They probably thought my face was always that puffy. Or didn’t look or didn’t care. And I laughed. Of course I did. It was Linda Smith. The first female comic I’d ever seen live. And months before I ever considered getting on a stage. I walked out and my life was just as shit as when I went in but I’d had a breather, a release, a bloody good laugh. And now, when I think about other jobs I’ve had and how much more worthy than standup comedy they were (getting people into work, helping people find the right benefit), I think of the lift I got from Linda Smith and hope I can do the same for others.3635 Views
Sarah Millican is a comedian, writer, reformed workaholic, feminist, cat and dog mam, wife and lover of food.