Paul Currie will be performing at The Stand comedy club on Sunday, February 23. For more details and to buy tickets for Paul Currie – FFFFFFFMILK!, click here.

AS a stand-up comedian, I wasn’t always confident – and to a certain extent, I’m still not. It is, after all, a stage that we comedians perform on, so in reality you’re seeing a heightened version of us.

I still carry a lot of my childhood anxieties and insecurities with me every day, shyness being a big one.

I genuinely love to make people smile, I always have. I also love to laugh as well, I adore the physical act of laughing and how crucial it is for our brains and bodies as a society.

I just love leaving myself and others feeling a little happier after our “connection”, be that in a dark basement comedy club or seeing the smiling faces of the parents and two to seven-year-olds that I teach circus skills to.

You see, I, like many other people, suffer from serious depression and anxiety. I have done since I was about seven or eight. I still recall how I used to get massive anxiety attacks when out walking with my grandad Sam, because he used to confidently and with complete ease just start chatting to random strangers while we were on our walks together.

At seven, I could barely ask for a bag of sweets at my local newsagents, let alone start up some idle banter with a complete stranger.

I always had to get my younger brother Barry to ask for things in shops for me. I’d be hiding behind the crisp stand watching from a safe distance, like a bystander on a street watching a bomb disposal team from behind the safety of a police cordon, while off in the distance the brave explosives expert gently defused the bomb (I grew up in Belfast, it’s a perfect analogy, trust me). T

hat’s how cripplingly shy I was. So naturally, I’m going to choose comedy as a career (?!?).

One of the fascinating human traits I’ve observed on my 45 years on this planet is that like the many capitalist-funded projects such as the smoking (addiction) industry, alcohol (addiction) industry and now the phone (addiction) industry, if these greedy corporations see a potential “demand” as they call it – or as I see it, a “weakness” – in humans that they can exploit and make money from, they will.

We truly are all losing the simple ability to make eye contact on the street. Just try it, today, or right now – stop reading this just for a second, look up and try to catch someone’s eye (unless you’re in a public toilet! Best not).

Wherever you are. It’s almost impossible.

However, I’m here to report that there is hope.

I’ve been experimenting for the last year by setting myself a goal to smile more at people and begin friendly conversations with strangers, to try in my own way to break this “face in phone” epidemic that we’re in.

“But you’re a comedian Paul, surely you talk to people on a stage as a living. That’s not hard for you!”

But it is, I still suffer major anxiety and depression. However, I’ve discovered something over the past 15 years of standing in front of millions of strangers from

Mumbai to Melbourne, Denmark to Derry: that humans really are all the same.

My awakening to this truth was when I travelled to Dresden a few years ago for my first German gig, and I was stood in front of 200 Germans each night in a tiny, sweaty tent performing as much of my physical comedy material as I could because I was told I wasn’t really supposed to perform in English – which was totally fair – so I took it as a challenge. Keeping in mind that I speak nein German.

So I was utterly gobsmacked each night when I was faced with howls of laughter coming from a packed tent of Germans laughing at this idiot from a little town in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, they’d never heard of, and yet here we all were connecting together, complete strangers, from supposed “different cultures”.

It was then I realised, humans really are all the same.

Now, a fundamental tip applies when giving a smile to a stranger: receiving a smile should not be your motivation or agenda, and it certainly isn’t mine. The secret is to give the smile without expecting one back.

But that one little smile you make can have a ripple effect and grow around the globe.

“Smile and the world smiles with you,” Grandad Sam used to say to seven-year-old me, neither of us with any idea that 45-year-old Paul would one day stand on an outdoor stage at Glastonbury 2019 in 30C heat in nothing but his underpants and white leather boots performing to 1000 people as I sang about having pandas for hands.