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.

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