Monday, 30 July 2012

Quitting the "day job" for Comedy....

Last July I quit my day job. I’ve always called it my day job, even though those jobs were permanent, and I didn’t really have a “night” job as such. At drama school we were told to find a way to hold on to what we were, in an Industry that meant you would spend 95% out of work, and thus finding other ways to pay the bills – the day job....

It’s been a long time since I’ve considered myself an actor and only an actor – for the last 4 years I’ve been doing stand-up, and more recently, some Improv. A much more noble and well paid career. Not. It transpires the world of comedy requires even more years of practice and perseverance than that of acting. There’s an element of earning your stripes in comedy that seems way longer than that of the modern day actor. Actors can on occasion, spring up as overnight sensations, and successful actors are not always great ones. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Comedy, the standard route is circa 10yrs on the circuit, blowing 7-10k a year on a solo show at Edinburgh, hopefully getting an agent on the way, and then finally breaking through a la Michael McIntyre and John Bishop, only then to collect some dosh that finally means you can pay off debts which would in some parts of the country, buy you a house.

It’s not all like that. There are comics clambering up the ladder in a speedy fashion, and despite the odd tinge of “why am I not there yet?”, it’s actually nice to see. Because the gigging world of a comic, especially a female one, isn't often particularly joyful. It’s a male dominated environment, we all know that. My female friends who have spent a year or so taking whatever poorly paid gigs come up, have, for the most part, found it fairly depressing. You drive in a car for 3 hours to do a 10minute set as the only woman on the bill, to an audience who aren’t really all that fussed, and then drive back again. It’s a solitary existence. So I’m told. And I would suggest that is the primary reason Comedy is more of a male arena, because women, in general, don’t really want that life. I know I certainly don’t. So how do you get there without going down that particular road? I’m yet to work that bit out.

What I do know, is that following your creative path isn’t any easier than following a Corporate one. I listen to the 9-5 (or as it actually seems to be in the UK, the 8 – 8) people on the phone on the bus, or talking to colleagues on the tube, and the conversations are all the same. There’s rivalry, pettiness, sexism, bureaucracy, pride, arrogance and fear. I hear a lot of fear. Especially in the current economic climate. Those are the biggies. At the other end of the scale, there are  arguments over who stole someone’s lunch from the fridge or their stapler from their desk. My favourite was a line manager explaining that the actual staff could have the left over sandwiches from an event, but not the temps.

But I recognise those conversations, because I used to have them, even though it was only my “day job”. It’s astonishing how quickly you start to care about things that are so unimportant, how stressed you can become when someone manages one of your team, when you miss a deadline,  when someone eats your lunch....

And yet, this life, this wonderful life where I get to pick and choose my hours, where I have to find the self-motivation to pursue my dream, comes with its own issues. You still find yourself benchmarking how you’re doing versus the rest of the crowd. You still stress about money. You still wonder if your way is the right way, or you should be more conventional, even in a creative sense – my material is often rude, because that’s what I find funny. But at some point, and it’s begun already, I have to write material that is suitable for the mass market, for TV censors, because if I don’t start writing for that goal, that success, then it won’t happen. Right?  There’s a degree of commerciality in any Industry, no matter how much we creative types would like to think otherwise. You still have to market yourself, sell yourself, know your brand, your USP, as you would in any Corporate environment.

What I will say, is that my life has changed immeasurably since I made the decision to pursue my goals. It’s scary, but all the good things are. It constantly challenges my sense of self, what is important to me, what I can live without, and how hard I’m willing to work for what I want. So, if there’s something you want to do, go and do it. There’s always the risk that you’ll fail, but I reckon if you want it enough, you’ll get back up and give it another go, and another, and another. Life is short. Don’t spend years doing something that doesn’t grab your heart.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Coupledom: How come I ended up doing all the chores?

A female friend yesterday remarked that she doesn’t really think marriage, or indeed monogamous coupledom, is a realistic proposition. She wasn’t referring to fidelity, but more to the idea that men and women, such different beasts, could actually co-habit in a way that didn’t diminish either party.  Especially in our modern world of supposed equality.

I’ve spent most of my life single, so I’m new to the whole relationship thing. But it’s a fairly steep learning curve. Learning how to disagree without ending up in a fight, understanding that it’s unlikely he’ll ever remember social events that you’ve arranged or indeed learn how to use the shared Google calendar, remembering to steer him to the right so the wet patch ends up on his side of the bed and not on mine... those sorts of things.

I consider myself a modern woman, and yet, in 2012, in my first and what will hopefully be my last adult relationship, I find myself pondering if I’m more traditional than I realised. I like him opening doors for me. I like him doing the things I consider “manly” around the house – changing light bulbs, taking out the rubbish, killing spiders and the like. Those are the traditional bits that appeal. But I also find myself doing the majority of the cooking, the washing, the online food shopping, sorting all the bills, cleaning the flat ready for the cleaner, organising all the social events, making him a packed lunch to take to work every day, and suddenly I start to panic. Am I my mother, but without the housekeeping cheque my Dad used to give her each week? Is this really the modern woman having it all? I’ve never wanted or expected to be a kept woman – I’ve always worked and hope to do so until I’m old and wrinkly, and my general attitude is that whoever has more disposable income picks up the bill more often – a rule my friends and I have often adhered to, which works quite nicely when one of them lands some TV work, or the ever lucrative advert.

I’ll be honest, I quite like cooking for him. Primarily because our rule is that if one cooks, the other washes up. And given that the kitchen looks like a scene from the Gremlins post midnight if he’s done the cooking, I prefer to cook. I also quite like feeding him, fulfilling that female role of giving the man his supper, which I didn’t really think I would. Susie Orbach talks about the role of wife and mother being centred around putting food on the table, not in the financial sense, but in the nurturing sense, and there is definitely some of that going on. But where is my nurturing? And if women are doing the majority of the household chores, plus their jobs, what are the men doing?

My female friend doesn’t think it’s possible to be in a relationship without one or both parties giving way to such a degree that it changes them. She is a bright, strong, financially independent, single mother of twins. She is uninterested in the more submissive men that find her strength and independence sexy. And she would find it seriously hard to play dumb, or temper the assertiveness that makes her who she is, so the more dominant men want someone a little more pliable.

I have another friend who never tells men they are wrong. She believes you have to lead them to working it out themselves, but never point it out, because their pride can’t take it, and they have to be the man, the leader. Which in effect left us in a traffic jam for an hour because he took a detour which we both knew was the wrong decision, but she didn’t warn him or advise against it. And so we sat there, patiently, and never commented on the fact that it was the worst idea ever. Given men’s general dislike for taking female instruction, quite why they decided that Sat Navs should have female voices is beyond me.

So, where’s the happy medium? How do you happily share responsibilities, finances, bodily fluids, in a way that is even (or at least see-saws) and transparent? How do you communicate your needs and desires in a positive and non critical way? Micky Flanagan has a great joke, when the wife tells the husband she’s having a fat day, and his response is “Well, don’t go out then”. Which I think sums up the difference of the sexes brilliantly. Men often just don’t get it. And I’m sure they would say the same about us. Which makes saying what you want, and understanding what the other person wants, rather hard. And I think women find it much harder to express what they want than men, because for all the feminist movements, I feel that we are still brought up to accommodate men a bit, whereas they are brought up to just be. And I think we generally have more emotional needs. We like to be looked after, to be complimented, to be kissed, to be made to feel special and sexy, and all things nice. And maybe men need all that too, they just don’t know it yet. Because the male “embrace your emotions” movement isn’t quite fully fledged yet. Christ knows what will become of us all when it is.

But you know, maybe that’s the joy of it. Maybe that’s the journey. We have no idea what we are doing, we have no idea what fears and foibles lie buried deep in the other person, which are gradually going to emerge. I guess it’s just a case of taking a day at a time, making sure your partner is the person in your life that has the most knowledge about you, and occasionally hitting them over the head with a brick when they are idiots. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is learning to read my mind.....

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Trashy Magazines

The defining moment came at the Airport, when I returned from Duty Free with Heat and Grazia, and my boyfriend came back with a copy of The Guardian. Cue a glimmer of amusement crossed with a look of genuine concern that he had managed to hook up with a woman who likes reading a bit of trash. And one who had managed to keep that particular penchant rather well hidden thus far. Not that I really class Grazia as trash – it’s a high class, weekly fashion mag, as I tried to explain as he flicked past an article on Suri’s designer wardrobe, and one man’s description of how he finally stopped cheating on women.

If I’m honest, it’s not just the gossipy magazines like Heat, Now and Closer. It’s also trashy TV – TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, and some of the delightfully schmaltzy American imports such as Vampire Diaries, One Tree Hill, and Gossip Girl. Don’t get me wrong – I like the moderate to highbrow as well, it’s just that I devote a certain portion of my life to the dirtier side of the coin.

But why? Why do we like them? Why do we buy them and watch them? It’s escapism I guess. I have no interest in the real life magazines that litter the shelves  - no desire to read about flesh-eating bugs, the sister who slept with her step-dad, or the breast implants that shockingly (given that you went abroad to save cash) went wrong. The Jeremy Kyle of everyday life holds no allure – that’s not escapism – it’s a sort of schadenfreude that I find unnerving.

And yet, I don’t mind it when it involves the “famous”, which I suppose is hypocritical. However, I am of the opinion that if you court the media in any way, shape or form, then you open yourself up to the downsides. Not the hacking sort of downsides, but the “build them up, knock them down” mentality the British media and public are particularly fond of.

But forget the celebs who feature in the magazines, what about the readership? From a very young age, my Mother read the Woman and Woman’s Own – both fairly similar: a mix of real life stories, some celebrity interviews, a little fashion and beauty, horoscopes, and circa 50% devoted to weight loss or dieting stories. It is much the same today:  in almost all the weekly women’s mags there is a huge focus on body shape and dieting – how to shift those extra pounds. Why do we buy them? Is it social conditioning? Is it parenting?  Do I buy my two weekly magazines because my Mother did? What would happen if there we no such magazines readily available?

The irony is that we think we’ve come so far – women speak out against the photoshopped images, the ridiculous editorials that scorn extreme weight loss on one page, only to feature the latest dieting fad on the next. Women have a voice. Well, yes, we do. But it’s a faint one. And it serves little purpose, and carries little weight (no pun intended), if the majority of the female population continue to feed an industry which belittles said voice. And why are there so few male magazines? Or are there? There are the obvious ones: Nuts, FHM, Men’s Fitness, and so we think their section is small. But then I remembered: there’s the porn section (for those who haven’t stopped paying for it), the car magazine section, the computer section.... Now I’m not saying women don’t buy car or computer magazines, but take a look at the front cover – they are targeting the male consumer market, not the female. And that takes me back to content. The women’s magazines focus inwards – looking at “the woman”, at “every woman”. Yes, they cover fashion, lifestyle, current events, but the thrust is on you. How you are. What you want. The men’s magazines are looking outwards – women, cars, gadgets. I’m generalising. But does that hit on a more pertinent point? Are women better at discussing their feelings because it is innate, or because we have learnt it? Are men conditioned to live outside of themselves just a tad? To compartmentalise? Is that what prompts the mid life crises?

I’ll be honest, I flick through my two magazines in about 20 minutes total for both. It’s switch off time. Allows my brain to slow. But I’m sure there are better ways to go about that – a walk, meditation, a proper book. And perhaps I shall start trying that. Both for my self-improvement and  the feminist within. Now, time for 4OD to catch up on Revenge....

Gem x

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

New Beginnings

I set this blog up a year ago and am yet to start. So having scrolled back through my writing notes, I happened up a word doc called "New Beginnings", written last September. It's just a list, but with a view to expanding on them all, it feels like an appropriate way to start this thing :-)

New beginnings

No job!
A career – what is the definition of a career?


Flatmate moving out

Parents have turned 70

Learning what you can live without
Learning who you can’t live without



Openness – leads to intuition



The pen

More of an interest in women’s issues / standing up for the gender

And thus it begins..... x