One night around 2010 I was sat having a coffee and a smoke with the old man in what had become a weekly tradition for us. My mum had been dead three years and my dad had become ever more reclusive. Never particularly close, we were making the best of what little time was left to us; he had yet to be diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually claim him but his willingness to simply give up on life indicated to me that the end was not far off for him.
So there we were, at the dinner table that had seen so many exchanges over the years, making small talk over a Senior Service.
"I'm thinking of doing comedy again," I announced.
He made no reply but the scepticism in his eyes said it all.
I made no further in-roads into the world of comedy and we never discussed the subject again.
Nevertheless, the idea would continue to nag at me every so often until, at the end of 2018, I decided it was time to resurrect my comedy career (such as it was). It had only been twenty years.
Everything comes to bear.
In going through some old notes and drawings that had been stashed away in the loft, I came across this suitably pompous declaration: There is no me, only a series of inventions. I don't know when I wrote this or even if the statement was cribbed from some more creative soul. It doesn't matter, really, because the statement is as true now as it was then.
I invented a persona to inhabit because I wasn't overly impressed with the one I had been given. I was awkward, socially inept, a gangly jumble of boney limbs, freckles, ginger hair and National Health glasses.
Why did you stick me in self-deprecating bones and skin? bemoaned Morrissey in his epic I Have Forgiven Jesus. He could have been writing about my childhood self.
Your school days are an assault course that you navigate with instinct, luck and whatever qualities you carry with you. Most of us get through with only a handful of scrapes and bruises. One or two fortunate bastards come out the other side with nary a scratch. And some poor sods come out deeply damaged and spend the rest of their lives shackled to whatever traumas were visited upon them during what used to be laughably called "the happiest days of our lives".
I got through my school years by being the class clown. I was the kid with the jokes, the one who did impressions of the teachers and the people on the tv. I didn't know it then but when I look back I realise I was employing my skills in order to survive. I was looking for acceptance from people that I didn't understand or even like very much - 'Hell is other people' wrote Sartre; he must have gone to the same school that I did. You see, if other kids accept you then they leave you alone. In order to be left alone, though, I had to be someone else.
Fast forward to sometime in the late eighties. I've tagged along with a mate and his girlfriend and we're in a bar in Liverpool (I was frustratingly single until my early twenties so I did a lot of tagging along with friends who found it inexplicably easy to get girls) and a bunch of his girlfriend's workmates have shown up. I spend the next few hours trying out my best jokes and impressions, all to no avail. Exasperated, I turn to my pal and tell him "Well, I've done this and I've done that and I've done the other and I've got nothing left to give". On the drive home that night, he would spend an inordinate amount of time telling me how "sad" and "pathetic" I am for such a comment. Some mate, eh?
He didn't get it. He didn't understand how unbearable I found it to be me. Years later I would be diagnosed with mental health issues and nobody was less surprised than I.
Looking back on old school reports, there's a consistency to the comments that lends weight to what I'm saying. They speak of me constantly trying to be the centre of attention, of how I might do better at a certain subject if I wasn't so focused on trying to make the other kids laugh. And then we have this nugget of wisdom from Mr McWatt: 'Stefan is essentially a show-off'. God, he was a prick. I'd love to meet him now and show him just how successful someone can be from showing off.
The first decisive change I made to escape myself was a physical one. In my early twenties, I started growing my hair. I'd been hanging out at rock clubs (again, tagging along with a friend and his paramour) and I fancied being one of the 'hairy people'. I got my ear pierced, bought myself a pair of cowboy boots...it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Oh, and I got myself a girlfriend. Huzzah! Stefan lassos the moon!
By changing the way I looked, I changed the way I felt. And I found that I liked this new me, this hairy invention. And other people liked me, too. They liked me enough to want to hang out with me. Suddenly, I was part of a social circle, a scene.
I would disappear for days on end, leaving the house on a Thursday night and not returning until the following Tuesday. My mum was beside herself. She thought I was on drugs - I wasn't; that wouldn't happen for a few more years.
The final transformative act would take place in 1994 (it was a very good year). Interviewing the band Mixie's Men for a local newspaper, I gave them a taste of my Billy Connolly impression. This time, though, I wasn't looking for acceptance. Nor was I trying to be someone else as a result of self-loathing. This was me making a decisive effort to get to where I wanted to be, to get to the place I felt I should be: the stage.
I'd never known what it was like to perform legitimately, to be on a platform that demanded people pay attention to what I was doing. I had never been in a school nativity or appeared in an end-of-term showcase. Talent shows and school plays seemed to be for other kids, not me.
Never having been picked for anything, the only way I was going to get on the stage was by putting myself on there through my own efforts. And so it was, one afternoon in 1994, over a few pints in the Argyle pub, Birkenhead, that I made my big pitch for stardom.
The following Saturday, I was on stage as the support act for Mixie's Men performing as a Billy Connolly tribute act. The next three years was a heady mix of gigs, booze, drugs and yet more girlfriends.
It was fucking great!
Well, that was over twenty years ago and I've been several other people since then, re-evaluating and re-inventing along the way. Twelve years ago, already happily married and a proud father of two, I became a professional singer. Haven't touched comedy in a long time. Not a drop, sir.
So why now? I wish I knew.