It's safe to say I'm not having the best month of my career. Spoiler alert for those not involved in the comedy industry: it's not in the best shape it's ever been in from what I can work out. Work is scarce for excellent acts, let alone ones like me who are still carving out their reputation. I am signed up to about 5 or 6 different forums for comedians and promoters to advertise and apply for work from. I rarely get involved but I interestedly watch the comings, goings and moanings of people with things to say. There are far more moanings than comings or goings.
If the average interested but distanced comedy fan spent some time browsing these forums I think they'd get a horrendously inaccurate impression that we're all lying bastards when we're on stage.
"My mate said to me the other day..."
WHAT MATE? YOU HAVE FRIENDS? BUT YOU'RE SPENDING UP TO 6 HOURS A DAY ON A COMEDY FORUM COMPLAINING ABOUT OPEN SPOTS AND "CHANCERS" WHATEVER THE HELL THEY ARE?!?!
"I was gigging overseas last week..."
THEN WHY ARE YOU TAP TAPPING AWAY ABOUT HOW MUCH OF A DEVIOUS BASTARD MICHAEL MCINTYRE IS FOR TAKING ALL THE WORK AWAY FROM YOU, THE REAL GENIUS?
"This next act is a great friend of mine..."
WEIRD CHOICE OF FRIENDS MATE, THAT'S THE SAME GUY WHOSE EVERY STATUS ON SOCIAL MEDIA IS A SUBTLE INFORMATION DROP OF WHAT GREAT CLUB SHE'S PLAYING THIS WEEKEND. AND YOU'RE THE ONE COMMENTING UNDERNEATH THAT SHE'S A DUBIOUS TWAT FOR DOING IT.
I've tried to make a point of only commenting on these places when I have work to offer, and even that is quite a minefield. I once posted the following:
"Comedian needed for fundraiser gig in Brighton. No money so please only apply if you're in town anyway and can double up doing new material or something here. No progression to better gigs; not worth it unless you just want some small gig stage time for whatever reason."
Someone asked what the cause was, I told them it was a theatre group raising funds to go to Edinburgh. I got called manipulative for making out like it was a charity or a good cause in some way by a comic who didn't think my reasons for putting on a fund raiser were good enough. Fair enough; I won't book him and somehow the gig was still a success.
The truth of it is that for every gig that gets posted somewhere, or emailed out to a list of comedians, at least 100 people that apply for it won't get it. I post gigs for the small shows I run in Shoreham and Taunton and I am absolutely overwhelmed with responses and spoilt for choice. I generally only book people I've worked with before and I suspect most bookers are the same.
I have a fairly good reputation I would say; there's only one promoter who won't book me because I'm unreliable. He decided this after he sent out confirmation of my open spot for him about 24 hours before the gig and I'd rather stupidly double booked myself with paid work. I had to tell him I couldn't make it and I received a furious email back telling me that was the last time he would book me. Personally, I know it was my fault but I think it was unfair for two reasons:
1) If you need more notice than that, send your confirmations earlier than that. A confirmation request is an indication that you're expecting one of two answers; be prepared for the one you don't want.
2) The promoter in question was someone I'd done about 6 open spots for. At least 2 of these gigs had been cancelled after I'd turned up to the gig because 0 audience members turned up. In many ways, I should have been the one to break up with him.
So, back to the beginning; why does this month suck? Well, last night I was on my way to Derby for a gig - that's not the reason it sucks, I'm sure Derby is lovely before you all start revolting over an assumed slight - I wouldn't know if Derby is nice... I never made it there. I was a generous 30-40 seconds away from being involved in a fatal car crash about 6 cars ahead of me on the M1. I'm not trying to be over dramatic (although I may well be achieving it anyway), but I had 3 hours to sit in my car at the crash site and think about things like that.
I pulled to an emergency stop just in front of a Carlsberg lorry that was now stretched across 3 lanes with kegs rolling out into the road. I sat still in my car. Other people got out and ran towards the scene. I didn't; I didn't think I could help. After only a couple of minutes emergency vehicles arrived - amazing. I stayed in my car. Lots of men from the cars around me were up at the scene watching. I didn't want to watch.
After about 20 minutes a man came back to the car in front of me. I got out and asked him if he had any information.
"Get comfortable in your car, love, we'll be here a few hours."
"Is anyone hurt?"
"Someone's dead. Not sure about the others."
I got back in my car; I didn't think I could help. I didn't want to watch.
I'm extremely sensitive. My fiance, let's call him Alan, told me on Monday that he thinks I might have the emotions of some other creature. He said, "You don't get human sad; you get some kind of goblin super sad. Like you have human sad and then you have a whole extra sadness. I've never seen a real person have a bottom lip stick out like yours does when you get teary."
Being in that proximity to someone dead and someone having physically died seconds away was quite overwhelming in a cold car on my own in the dark for 3 hours. I am a sheltered, pampered, 1st world idiot and things like that make me maudlin. I don't have much survival instinct; if you lined up 8 people and said "someone has to die" my hand would be first in the air. Not because I am heroic or brave, but because I would find that easier to deal with than the brain aftermath of someone dying for me. (There's nothing special about 8 people, by the way; I'm not saying if it was 9 I'd be like, "Nah, not today; get that fucker on the end. He looks like a prick.")
I sat and worried about the nightmares that the sheer volume of blue flashing lights were going to induce. The sound of the saw on the central reservation as they tried to cut through it was chilling through the foggy gloom and I was nervous that this was going to bother me unduly in my sleep. Then it occurred to me that at least I would be going to sleep; someone wasn't going home that night. Someone was never going to dream again and their newly bereaved families would be having far worse nightmares than mine.
Having previously been on my way to a gig, I had people to call and cancellations to make when it transpired we were going to be stuck there far longer than predicted initially. I was in an odd situation because one of the other comedians was perhaps 500 yards behind me in their own car so we were in communication; stuck together but apart. Th gig got cancelled and I sat there in the dark.
"Your life cost me £127.50." thought the voice that no one wants to admit to having in their brain. No matter how liberal/I don't see colour/I'd die for anyone/I recycle/who doesn't love the sea you think your brain might be, you're still capable of thoughts like that.
Because sitting there in my car I realised that I wasn't going to get paid for tonight's gig now, and that was really bad. And the longer I had to get used to the fact that if I got out of my car and walked forward a few yards I could see a corpse, the more I was worried about my £127.50. I'd already spent the fuel to get within 30 minutes of the gig in Derby, you see.
Money worries and the worsening need to urinate seem to really numb you to a situation. They say life goes on; it's not life. It's nervousness about bankruptcy and or soiling yourself.
As I said, this month hasn't been the best of my career. Because of various last minute cancellations due to low ticket sales at gigs, I have had close to £1,000 removed from diary this month with only a few days notice on most and no compensation at all.
I do not make even nearly enough money to not worry about £1,000.
The conversation or email from the promoter is always the same;
"Unfortunately I'm calling/writing to say that this Friday's/next Tuesday's/Saturday's gig is now no longer going ahead due to a dispute with the venue/low ticket sales that would leave us deeply out of pocket were we to proceed. Please could you confirm you've received this email and we'll try and get you booked back in as soon as possible."
It is considered extremely rude if you write back and tell them how far out of your own pocket you are rapidly becoming.
I'd hope that this is why my brain reminded me of my £127.50; because it was the latest in a long string of cheques I won't be receiving. Maybe I'd have thought it anyway.
Something about sitting there being so grateful to be alive made me feel vulnerable in every sense of the word. There is no protection financially and there is no protection on the roads either. I phoned Alan and told him neither of us can be comedians any more; I need us both to be in the house constantly where I can't lose him one night on the M1. I couldn't cope with that phone call. He told me I'd be cross with him within a few hours of our confinement and I'd be begging to get on the A303 and see my family. He was probably right; don't tell him.
Today I feel deflated and sad and like I want to quit comedy (I won't - sorry) and go and live in some cotton wool somewhere hot with donkeys instead of cars. The M1 is still closed while I'm writing this; I feel like if 6 donkeys and a big donkey had a row then the path would be back open in minutes. Has anyone properly researched donkeys to see if they are a viable option?
I'll punish myself quite a lot for having sat there at the scene of someone's death and thought of my own financial situation. I know I wasn't the worst, I watched a man shout at a Highways Agency Officer beside my car when she asked him not to film the emergency services attempting to reach people in the vehicles.
"Why?" he said.
"Do I really have to answer that?" she said.
He carried on filming.
I stayed in my car; I didn't think I could help.