From teen with low self-esteem to professional standup, Angela Barnes has learned a lot in the last few years, not least about poor haircuts.
I spent a lot of my late teens and 20s being sad. Medically diagnosed sad. I had chronically low self-esteem and felt I somehow hadn’t earned my place in the world. Friends, family, doctors, nurses and therapists tried to help. And they did. It just took time, patience and some brilliant drugs.
I wouldn’t change those times for the world; they got me where I am right now, and I like it here. But there are things I would say to that frightened and overwhelmed 19-year-old me if I could:
Dear Angie (I can’t call you Angela, you’ll think you are being told off),
Here’s the thing. I know where you are at right now, I was right there with you. I know you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I just want you to know there is one and it shines brightly. Sometimes too brightly and you’ll find yourself thinking: “I wish the good stuff would stop for a little bit so I can get some bloody sleep.” Then you’ll berate yourself for being an ungrateful wally.
Here are some things that you won’t quite believe.
1. Going off to university feels scary. You have built up a family of friends around you in your hometown and you will be sad to leave them. You’re ashamed to admit it, but you miss some of your teachers from school. They were anchors in a sometimes turbulent growing up and now you have been cut loose.
BUT in a mere 12 years, someone invents a thing called Facebook and believe me, you won’t be able to shake the buggers off again. Honestly, enjoy this time to discover who you are without the shadows of your past. Then, when they come back, you will welcome them as the you that you want to be. And, when you get a bit of success later on, your favourite teachers will be proud of you. They made an impression on your life; maybe you made a tiny one on theirs too. How lovely is that?
“You are going to muck around with a lot of hairstyles that leave you looking like Velma from Scooby-Doo, a French lesbian, Liza Minnelli – not in the Cabaret years, a Playschool presenter and David Ginola.”
2. I know you think that you are ugly. No. You KNOW that you are. That doesn’t change much, but you will own it. You will write a column for The Guardian about it and people will say nice things. It turns out so many more of them than you can imagine feel the same way. Some people will say horrible things about it and they say them because, wait for it, they don’t think you are ugly enough to talk about being ugly. The truth is, you don’t have film star looks, but it turns out, they are just for film stars. You are beautifully and wonderfully average. And that will serve you well.
3. The hairstyle you have now, long, straight, with a fringe, is the best one you ever have. It’s classic. It suits you. You are going to muck around with a lot of hairstyles that leave you looking like Velma from Scooby-Doo, a French lesbian, Liza Minnelli – not in the Cabaret years, a Playschool presenter and David Ginola. The only thing you need to do is dye it red. It makes your eyes stand out more that your natural shade of faecal fawn and hides the grey that creeps in waaaay too early.
4. Every time you have a go at Mum for buying the Daily Mail “only for the crossword”, I know it feels like it falls on deaf ears. But persevere: eventually she changes to The Independent!
5. Right, now sit down for this one. You know how much you love comedy? Oh gawd, she’s gone off into a reverie about Robert Newman circa 1992, ANGIE, ANGIE, I’m talking to you! Right, well, one day, you are going to make a living from being a comedian. I know that as you hide behind that fringe, too scared to look me in the eye, you can’t quite take in or believe what I am saying, but you are.
I know that right now, you think that comedy, the thing that lifts you out of your life and into a world you understand, is something that other people do FOR people like you. Well, it turns out, you are one of those other people. ‘Other’ being the key word. Comedy is a way to express yourself for people exactly like you. Who don’t feel like they fit in, who aren’t in the cool gang. It is your gang and you get invited in.
I won’t list all the brilliant things about being a comedian. But, here’s one. You will get interviewed by Terry Wogan. Yes, that one. I KNOW. He will invite you onto his Radio 2 show for a chat, on the same day as Gary Barlow. Now, I know that you think boybands are “saaaaaaaaad’, but there will be a brief period from about 2011 to 2013 that you will actually fancy Gary Barlow. He ages rather well, you see. Sadly, he turns out to be a tax-avoiding Tory, so your initial instincts were correct. But you meet him in the good window and your friends get SO jealous. Yep jealous. OF YOU. You never thought that could happen, did you?
Angela Barnes is an award-winning standup comedian. She is sometimes on TV and the radio and is often in a comedy club near you. @AngelaBarnes