Promising cricketer Mickey Sharma's career was ended by a freak accident. Roz Laws discovers how it was the making of him as a stand up comedian.
Did you hear the one about the cricketer whose promising career was knocked on the head?
Mickey Sharma’s life took a very different turn after he was seriously injured by a cricket ball colliding with his skull.
He had to abandon his dream of playing for India, instead ending up in Birmingham – and on the road to becoming a stand-up comedian.
Mickey still lives in the city and makes a living from comedy, after a disastrous first gig saw him running off stage.
He’s appearing at a pre-Birmingham Comedy Festival gig at the Glee Club on Wednesday, on a bill which includes Josh Widdicombe, Holly Walsh and Charlie Baker.
“I think it was fate,” says Mickey, 29, of the accident in New Delhi which changed his life just over a decade ago.
“I had no intention of coming to Britain. I wanted to play cricket for India and I was really good, but everything changed when I got smacked in the head.
“I was practising in the nets. Normally I always wore a helmet but I leant mine to a friend who was playing in a match. Next thing I knew, I was out cold.
“I needed emergency surgery for an internal bleed and was in intensive care for a week.
“I still have a dent in my skull and the right side of my body has only 85 per cent of its function.
“I spent a year recovering and being very depressed, until my uncle told me to pull myself together and get an education.
“He used to supply clothing material to people in Birmingham and had friends in the city, so he suggested I apply there.
“I got a place at South Birmingham College to do Media Studies.
“I remember leaving home for the first time, flying to Birmingham and getting the 900 bus from the airport into the city, before finding my uncle’s friend in Hall Green.
“It was all a big shock. I couldn’t get my head around an Asian girl with a Brummie accent!”
Now he’s firmly settled in Kings Heath, where he lives with Elizabeth, his girlfriend of five years. He claims that “everything about me is British, apart from my passport”, but he has a very multicultural background.
Mickey was born in Karachi, Pakistan, where his father worked at the Indian consulate.
The family moved to Beijing where, in 1989 at the age of six, he experienced the student uprising.
“We could see Tianamen Square from our flat, and I remember tanks coming up the road,” says Mickey. “But as soon as it kicked off, they forced out the foreign diplomats.”
They moved to Hong Kong and Kashmir then back to New Delhi.
But, despite being so well travelled, Mickey had no experience of the world of stand-up comedy.
“The concept just didn’t exist in India. They have a Comedy Store in Mumbai now, but there weren’t any clubs then. I didn’t even know you could become a stand-up comic.
“My eyes were opened when I saw a VHS tape of black American comics called The Kings of Comedy. I was amazed by their sheer energy.
“I thought I was funny, because I used to do impressions and little sketches at school. So when I saw that South Birmingham College was having a showcase for students to perform in the canteen, I thought I’d have a go.
“But my first experience of stand-up comedy was traumatic. I was doing OK, then I told a joke and nobody laughed. I wasn’t prepared for that. I panicked and forgot everything.
“I just ran off stage and was sick – and it put me off comedy for five years.
“When you come from a third world country you have a big inferiority complex. I thought the only thing that was good about me was my sense of humour, so putting that on the line for a room full of people was a big step. But I needed to be more confident and to have some more experiences to talk about, so maybe it was for the best.
“Every now and then during the next five years I thought I should give stand-up another go, but it wasn’t until I moved to London that I finally summoned up the courage. I was working as a nightclub bouncer, getting smacked about.
“I thought ‘If a skinny bloke like me can do that job, I can do anything’.
“I used to walk past The Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch on my way to work and noticed their open mic nights. I phoned up in January 2009 and they gave me a spot for July – that’s how overbooked they were!
“I practised my routine every day and it worked out OK. I moved back to Birmingham and started getting more and more gigs. I gave up my security job because it was clashing with my comedy, and worked on reception at a gym instead.
But a couple of months ago I gave that up and became a full-time comedian.”
He’s in such demand that, after his spot at the Glee on Wednesday, he’s dashing off for a second gig in Coventry on the same night. Then he’ll be back at the Glee Club on October 23 for a gig called There’s Something Funny in the Honey, to raise money for Birmingham Friends of the Earth and their campaign to save bees.
So what can we expect from his act?
“I’m not really a joke teller, I’m more about anecdotes than one-liners. I’m quite high energy and I even do a bit of beatboxing, which tends to get the audience’s attention.”
* Mickey plays Birmingham Glee Club on Wednesday September 26. Tickets on 0871 472 0400.