A St. Albert woman is preparing to joke her way into the World Guinness Book of Records.
Barbara May has spent a lifetime knowing how to get up after a fall, but she figures doing that and getting a laugh at the same time is a lot more fun.
May, a motivational speaker and mother of two, has drawn a lot on her experience as a national-level gymnast and coach to help her through the difficult times of her new passion - comedy. "When I started to do stand-up comedy, I was really, really, really bad. I didn't get a laugh for the first six months," said May. "But in gymnastics you get up, you fall, you get up, you fall, you get up, you fall and eventually you get it right."
She must be getting something right lately, because she's part of a lineup of performers gearing up to break a world record next weekend. Starting at 8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 6, May and 29 other acts will take part in the Comedy Factory's Longest Stand-up Show in History.
May said she feels pretty good about joining her fellow comics on stage and is even going to try out some new material. But she almost didn't follow her dream after she was "cremated" by a talent scout a few years ago.
"She ripped into me so bad, I was crying," recalled May with a certain amount of amusement. "The thing is, she was right. I did suck. She could have been a bit nicer about it, but she was right."
The experience drove May off the stage for a couple of years. But she couldn't resist the lure of The Comedy Store on a visit to Los Angeles in 2001. Since then, she's discovered how to make comedy work for her. "My 'a ha' moment came when I realized I could move on stage," chuckled May. "I didn't just have to stand there and try to make my words funny."
Now, her act incorporates dance in a routine about the wedding dance and that drunken uncle everyone has, as well as a bit about a male stripper. "The audience just goes nuts - well, the women do."
May admits she's received some criticism from people who think comedy should be "pure words." But it's the laughs that count, she said. "I've done flips on a balance beam with no hands, and comedy is harder," she laughed. "My inner critic was saying no way, get off the stage."
May's had plenty of on-stage experience as a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, as a motivational speaker, presenting talks about everything from learning, living and laughing, connecting with inner healing power, healthy relationships and trusting your intuition. But comedy has a whole new set of rules.
"With motivational speaking there's no expectation of laughter, but you go on a stand-up stage and everyone sits back and says, 'OK, make me laugh,'" said May. "With public speaking, if you get one laugh every five minutes or so, you've got a really funny talk. In stand-up, you need four laughs per minute."
May discovered her life's mission after wrist surgery ended her athletic career and she traveled overseas looking for her purpose. She received an inkling of it in Greece, but it took some almost crippling back pain to finally make the message clear. She became a GeoTran practitioner, which involves aligning and clearing a client's personal energy fields and auras. "Laughter is healing, too. My dream would be to fly to be a keynote speaker at any conference and be funny and motivate people to take action and then, that night, show up at a club and say let me do a set and help people heal through laughter."
May will have plenty of opportunity to heal next weekend. A timer from the World Guinness Book of Records will be on hand at the Edmonton comedy club to verify the full 28-hour performance. Switching between two stages will ensure there are no gaps in the laughs. "This is clean comedy," said May. "You can take your grandfather to this show."
By Ileiren Byles
St. Albert Gazette, August 31, 2002