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
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