I’m having one of those times of year where I panic unnecessarily. I think it’s the sort of panic you only get with self employment, the sort that only comes after you plough through your diary for the foreseeable future and notice a distinct lack of work. Well, that’s not true. There is a lot of work in there. Various charity gigs, deadlines for things to write or shows to program, notes for bits of work I’ve promised I’ll finally get done. So there’s loads of work there. It’s just that barely any of it pays. Contrary to rumours, I do like to eat, and tend to prefer living in a place, so I kind of need to keep getting money in somehow. It’s usually at this point in the year, and often around September too, where I start worrying about this. I get that concern where I think ‘but what if I don’t get anymore work?’ or ‘What if I have to get a normal job that I’d be bad at, and have to apply for with an empty CV since 2007?’ Those sorts of fears that shout over the calm sensible voice in my head with a louder, angry, often sounding like Gilbert Gottfried type voice that I can hear far more clearly.
The sensible voice usually says ‘this happens every year, usually at this time of year, and it’s always fine.’ So far, it’s been completely correct. I’ve somehow managed to survive doing comedy full time for about eight and a half years now, which I often still can’t believe. It’s a hugely lucky place to be. I rarely have to get up early, I am my own boss, at least on most days, and I get to choose what I want to say when I do go to work, as long as it makes people laugh. It is about 6000% better than my last job of working for a council alcohol licensing department. Days and days of writing reports, dealing with irate customers, having to agree with the person next to me that he could talk about football for 5 minutes and I’d politely nod, if I was allowed to bore him with comedy stuff, which he could similarly pretend to listen to. My job now is easily the best job I’ve ever had. But for all it’s perks, its con of never quite giving you job security, is a drainer.
The comedy circuit feels very weird at the moment. Too many acts for too few gigs means it’s definitely harder to get on bills than it used to be. Emails that used to get a reply filled with dates now go unanswered. At the same time with pay being dropped everywhere, you have to weigh up whether after travel it’s even worth doing shows more than two hours away. I’m also aware that after a few years of things going pretty well, I’d stupidly narrowed down my list of regular haunts to just those clubs I actually enjoyed. I quietly stopped applying to the ones where the weekend audience would be full of parties who thrived on being more drunk than alive. Y’know the ones where they don’t really enjoy it and you definitely don’t. Where the comedy is the interruption before the disco. Y’know, the ones that also pay the best. Now I’m battling my with complete lack of want to do those, the fear that I might have to just for money and the possibility that they wouldn’t book me again anyway as really, they’ve never been my forte.
The annoying thing is, creatively, I’m pretty happy. I’ve just filmed a show I actually, for once, felt proud of. I’m spending stupid amounts of time on a podcast that I enjoy doing doing. I’ve recently worked with a dance group, started writing a short film and have ideas for a new kids show I want to do. All of which, as you’ve probably guessed, pay nothing, but take up time and energy I wouldn’t have if I was spending evenings doing shows I didn’t like. I often think of a Venn diagram of one circle being creative fulfilment and one being financial fulfilment, with only a very tiny crossover in the middle, with a reserved sign on it for those lucky few. I was recently asked in an interview with someone or other about whether I thought that comedians who came from a wealthy background had an unfair advantage over those that didn’t. I’m not one of them by the way, which is probably pretty obvious. My answer was that while it doesn’t help you be funny or inventive, it does mean you don’t have to look for other work to keep you going in the meantime, so you can dedicate all your time to writing and performing, choosing the shows you want to do. That’s a pretty big help I’d say.
I know many people who dread going back to work after the holiday period is over, but not going back to work is pretty bad too. Well apart from the sleep ins, they’re great. And the not having to go outside in the cold, also brilliant. Then you get an email booking you in for a gig you really like and you remember that gigs start start to pick up as soon as this stupid month finishes. That yes, these are every January’s thoughts and something will come from all the non-paying work. And if it doesn’t? Well then I’m sure I can try and put on a charity gig for me somehow….
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