From The Guardian, by Brian Logan

In the course of her standup career, now into its fourth month, Julie Kertesz has overcome some unusual obstacles. First, there were the exacting nocturnal shifts. "But I discovered I can sleep in the afternoon," she smiles. Then there was the month she had to take off for a cataract operation. Clearly, it's not easy starting a new career in live comedy at the age of 77, but Kertesz isn't alone in disproving the adage that standup is a young person's game: a new event, the Silver Standup Competition for over-55s, aims to debunk the notion for good.

Hosted by the Leicester Comedy festival, the event was programmed by LCF chief Geoff Rowe after a conversation with a 70-year-old friend of his mum's. "She'd never been to a comedy club," he says. "'I'm too old,' she said. 'It's not for the likes of me.'"

It is true that standup, at least traditionally, sees itself as youthful and anti-authoritarian. Geared towards the energetic and the responsibility-free, it happens late at night, often in rowdy bars, pubs and clubs. Richard Farrow, a 58-year-old Silver Standup entrant, performed his first gig last month in a Bournemouth pub. "It was a location I would never normally go to," he says with a shiver. "The majority of the audience were between 18 and 23."

Even the language of standup favours the young. Kertesz, a Hungarian who arrived in London in 2008 after 30 years in Paris, had never used four-letter words in her life. But now they get her a big laugh. "Older audiences," says Rowe, "don't find swearing offensive so much as boring or lazy." But most comedy audiences expect such language from an artform that still – just about – honours its link to the punk-spirited "alternative comedy" of the 1980s.

But that's changing. Alexei Sayle is now 59 and back performing a milder version of his standup. Billy Connolly is 69. Just as rock'n'roll grew up, so too standups, and their audiences, are lengthening in the tooth. "For years," says Rowe, "people assumed the Leicester Comedy festival was just for students. But it hasn't seemed like that for ages."

The Silver Standup competition reflects that development – and recognises, says Farrow, "that maybe there are a few grey cells under the silver hair". It's also about "challenging stereotypes of old age," says George Baddeley, who heads the competition's co-sponsors Silver Comedy, an organisation that runs comedy workshops for older people. "There are two or three types of old person you're allowed to be," says Baddeley. "There's the vulnerable older person, who's a bit gaga. Or you can be the moaning old git. But the reality is these are just people who've been around a bit longer – and you can't put them in any boxes."
Kertesz's comedy is all about up-ending expectations and stereotypes. Besides the swearing, she jokes about her ex-husband's infidelities, and her own sexual appetites – much to her daughter's dismay. "I say standup is like making love," she says. "You have to look people in the eyes, you have to pace yourself, you have to practise, and you never give up – even after 70."

Kertesz thinks her age gives her an advantage. It buys her instant audience affection, and plenty of cliches to subvert. But not all of her fellow contestants will be playing the grey-haired card. Jimbo, aged 68, is already a legend, of sorts, on the open-mic (amateur) circuit. "I never do any age-related stuff," he says. "To me, it's demeaning. It's a taboo subject."

Jimbo, for 20 years an aspiring standup, sees the competition as a chance to revitalise his career. "It's a golden opportunity. Or a silver opportunity. Or maybe just a bronze." But Kertesz feels in no need of a lucky break. "I heard comedy careers involve lots of ups and downs," she says. "But I haven't had any downs yet."

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