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Jan, moving from corporate life to a new career in comedy and poetry

Reinvention in your 50s imageArticle by Ceri Wheeldon

How easy is it to reinvent your career in your fifties? Jan Jack, our latest ‘fabwoman’ has done just that!

How have you changed your career since turning 50?

I’d spent my whole life as a secretary, and at the age of 47 performed my first stand up gig.  It was the start of a complete change of direction.  A year later, whilst still a secretary, I opened my own comedy club (Jan Jack’s Laughter-House), and published my book of naughty verse Muffs Chuffs & Nonsense (Poems for Grown Ups). I gave up Corporate life just before my 50th birthday and subsequently set up Perfect Verse, my bespoke poetry writing business.  So in addition to running Laughter-House I now write wedding speeches, birthday verse, and promotional verse for businesses.  In the last year I’ve also become a speaker, and I run comedy writing workshops.

How difficult a decision was it for you to give up full-time employment to follow your dream?

It was very hard; I kept thinking that I’d be daft to leave a secure job, so I stayed far longer than I should, but being bullied at work helped make that decision. My husband also played a huge part in my change of direction.  He said he hated to see me so unhappy, and urged me to stop office work and do something I really enjoyed.  So I jumped ship…

How did family and friends react?

I’d always been a bit of an off-the-wall secretary, so most of them felt it was long overdue, although a one or two thought I was bonkers to leave a well paid job.  I remember someone saying “You’ll never make a living out of writing poetry!”

What’s been the biggest challenge for you since leaving corporate life?

The biggest challenge is that what I do is very different, and many people’s perception of poetry  isn’t that positive.  It took a while for me to be able to show people that poetry can be funny and engaging and uplifting and emotional, all at the same time!  There are so many ways in which it can be used. The first six months were very quiet and there were times when I questioned whether I’d done the right thing. But then I joined a networking group called 4Networking and everything started to take off.  Through 4N I started to go down the public speaking road, and into running my comedy workshops.

Where did your love of comedy come from?

My love of comedy started when I was a child; I was always at my happiest when outside the home making my friends laugh. It certainly didn’t come from my family.  They didn’t really know what to do with me!  I think the low point for them was at a holiday camp when I was about ten years old.  I stood on a table in the coffee lounge and sang “My Father’s a Lavatory Cleaner” to an ecstatic audience.  I was banished to the chalet for the rest of the holiday.

Have you always written poetry?

Yes I have. In fact, I’ve just found a school report from 1970  which says “Janet is particularly adept at writing imaginative poetry.”     I was always described as “a very imaginative child”. Which is another way of saying that I continually confused everyone around me.

How daunting was it to do your first public speaking engagement?

The public speaking wasn’t too daunting as I’d already embraced stand up, which is even more scary!   My first proper gig was in London and I remember standing on the sidelines with my tummy in my shoes.  I was shaking when I walked out on stage. In those days I just did naughty poetry, eventually weaving stand up comedy round it, but my first night went really well.  That sort of reaction can be quite addictive.  In the early days however I wasn’t comfortable being myself, so I used hide behind a character act called Nessie Flange.  The less said about that, the better.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

I do so many different things it’s hard to pick just one.  Hearing people laugh, and then cry, when I read a Perfect Verse back to them has to be near the top of the list, and having a room full of people laughing when I’m performing puts a real wag in my tail. It’s also a thrill to have comedians such as Milton Jones, Simon Evans, and my hero from the eighties, Bob Mills, performing at my own comedy club.

Advice for reinventing yourself after the age of 50

What advice would you offer other women looking to ‘reinvent’ themselves after the age of 50?

I’d say don’t be held back by thinking that you can’t manage, because somehow you will, even if you have to work in a bar to make ends meet. If you’re prepared to work hard and have talent, then somehow you will make it work. As we get older, most of us don’t regret the things we have done, we regret the things we haven’t done.  If I had my time again I would have left office life much sooner and embraced my real personality.

What’s been your most memorable moment since turning 50?

Can I cheat and have two?

A few months after my 50th birthday, I was commissioned to do a Perfect Verse Performance for someone’s 60th birthday party.  I wrote a verse about his life, and turned up at his party, dressed as an old flame from his past, in slippers, headscarf and rollers.  I then interrupted the proceedings to read the story of his life in verse – from her point of view!  It was a magical night.  The look on his face was a picture.

My other memorable moment was helping a lovely lady re-connect with her family from whom she’d become semi-estranged.  She couldn’t find the words she needed to express herself so she came to me for help.  When she told me that it had worked it put me on a ‘high’ for a week.

If you could sum up your fifties so far, in one sentence (or even word!) what would it be?

Terrific fun; a wonderful journey with some lovely twists and turns along the way.

Jan Jack was a secretary for 32 years; eventually turning her back on office life to embrace stand up comedy and poetry.  She is now a full time poet, comedian and speaker, and the promoter of Basingstoke’s Comedy Club Laughter-House. She lives in Basingstoke with her husband Alastair. You can learn more about Jan and her poetry at www.perfectverse.co.uk

Would you like to nominate someone who has inspired YOU to be featured as a Fabafterfifty ‘Fabwoman’? Or perhaps you feel your own  reinvention story could inspire others!   If so, then please contact  editor@fabafterfifty.com .  Showing the world we’re not invisible!

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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  1. Hazel

    January 12, 2012

    I have seen this lady speak. She’s very funny! Incredible story and even puts some of it into verse. I would really loved to have worked in an office with her!
    To sum up? Totally different and incredibly funny!

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      January 12, 2012

      Hi Hazel, I’m envious! Would love to see Jan in action! Perhaps we should organise a Fabafterfifty event and have Jan take centre stage!

  2. Vikky

    January 12, 2012

    I am fortunate enough to have seen Jan perform on stage and to have commissioned her to write some poetry for me. I wasn’t disappointed with either. A truly terrific lady.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      January 12, 2012

      Vikky, I haven’t met Jan, but have spoken to her on the phone, a very lovely inspirational lady 🙂

  3. Ade

    January 13, 2012

    I have had the good fortune [and good sense?] to commission Jan to write some verse for my wife’s birthday – this might be the strangest recommendation you ever heard, Jan made my wife cry.

    They say of [talented] actors: ‘they don’t pretend or just speak the lines, they bring life to the words’. Getting Jan to write verse for you would bring life; feeling and delicious sentiment to one’s mere words.

    Teacher: ‘Class, can anybody use the words “evocative or sentiment” in a sentence?’.
    Bright pupil: ‘Excuse me teacher, you’ve obviously not read my summary of Jan’s work’.

    Oh, I also made the 120 round trip to see one of Jan’s shows, it was well worth it

  4. Val Hutchinson

    April 10, 2012

    Have chuckled many times at Jan Jacks twitter input!
    Found this site through her too so many thanks to Jan for that.
    Have sent link onto my best friend also in her fifty’s who like me feels a bit left out when it comes to fashion etc.
    Have gained some fab makeup tips from this site and will endeavour to use this site on a regular basis.
    Would welcome lots more advise re colour & style re clothing as i sometimes stand in shops not having a clue on what to buy for my age.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      April 11, 2012

      Thank you Val, I love Jan’s poems and cheeky tweets! We have a lot more style tips planned – including more video clips on make-up and style. Watch this space ! 🙂

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