32 Counties 32 Gigs part 24; Fermanagh
A booking by Neil Dougan to support Kevin McAleer in his club in Enniskillen meant that Fermanagh got crossed off my list a few weeks ago; barely… I nearly felt like I had to cancel it a week out due to a fair bit of turmoil in the non-comedy section of my life. I had recently been informed that redundancies were going to start rolling around in my day job and a massive job search swung into action, resulting in a jammy break and new employment almost immediately. I started the new job the week before the Fermanagh gig, and the new routine and upheaval lead to me being barely fit to form a coherent sentence in the evenings let alone perform at a decent level. A few days later I managed to settle myself and go ahead with all my booked gigs, having settled into my new job and my new routine; a routine which no longer involves me commuting a hundred miles every day (at the expense of laying any claim that I’m still living in the country; I work in Dublin, I live in Dublin, I AM NOW A DUB).
While on the previous months job-hunt, several of my friends presented me with the same question; are you going to do comedy full-time now? That’s a thought, isn’t it? To not bother going to look for a new job; instead, just set myself up as an honest-to-God, full-time comedian. Why not, they’d ask. Is that not the general plan; to become an honest-to-God full-time comedian? After all, I’ve been doing comedy for nearly four years; if I don’t make the switch now, then when? Would I ever become an honest-to-God, full-time comedian? Or would comedy always be something I did in the evenings?
Something to do instead of playing golf or climbing a clock tower with a rifle?
I must admit, it was a notion I had often toyed with; breaking free from the Rat Race and taking the chance of being an honest-to-God, full-time comedian. There are many honest-to-God, full-time comedians working in Ireland at the moment, and I’ve always had great admiration for those that nutted up and made a living out of it… whether or not I have, or ever will have, the mettle (let alone the comedy chops) to become an honest-to-God full-time comedian is something that I often wonder about. My thoughts on being an honest-to-God, full-time comedian change from week to week; on one hand, you have the dream scenario where you journey from town to town playing to crowds who love all the material which you spent your afternoon writing… on the other hand, you have the pessimistic view where you trudge from meagre audience to meagre audience and they all hate the fucking sight of you and your shit jokes which results in you getting booked to do precisely nothing, resulting in the money drying up, the bank foreclosing and everyone you love forsaking you and leaving starving on the side of the road like a dog waiting to be put down.
To make the transaction to being a full-time, Honest-to-God comedian would require me to be able to do many things. First, I’d need absolute discipline. If I was going to go full-time, I’d need to be banging out material left and right; good material, not just random shit on Facebook about how horse-riding helmets are sports most redundant headgear (although I do think that bit has legs, dammit). I’d need to be able to sit down for a few hours every day and WRITE. Not piss around online; WRITE JOKES. Write sketches. Write a book. Write routines, write material, write what I need to write in order to put food on the table. In this respect, I’d fail the interview for the job of being an honest-to-God, full-time comedian. “How is your focus when it comes to writing, Mr. McBride?”, the interviewer would ask. I wouldn’t be able to give an answer, as I’d be too distracted checking my phone to see if I had any likes on that comment I’d posted about horse-riding helmets. You could argue that once the gun was to your head and you HAD to write material every day then you’d fall into place and MAKE it part of your routine, just as you would with any other job. It would become your schedule; from this time to this time, we sit down and write jokes. That’s a focus that I admire in honest-to-God fulltime comedians, and a focus that at this moment I don’t trust myself to have… meaning that I believe if I were to make the transaction to being an honest-to-God full-time comedian, I’d spend less of my time concentrating on producing new material and more on watching the Barefoot Contessa and looking up pointless shit online.
Second, to be an honest to-God full-time comedian I’d need more work. For this year, I’m going to average out at about three gigs a week; that’s nice uptick on the last two years, where I managed an average of about two a week. And I would consider myself busy, but to be an honest-to-God full-time comedian I’d want to get a hell of a lot busier. So it’d be back to the well of discipline; spending more time on the phone, more time sending mails and spending more time getting out there and getting booked. I’m not sure there’s enough work in Ireland to fully make a living on, so that would mean getting over to the UK and getting work there, which in itself means starting from the bottom again as I’ve never gigged for anyone over the water. So that means making the investment of both time and money to get over and make a name for myself in another market, so that in the end it would pay off for me. And the thoughts of that right now are so daunting that I’m not sure it’ll ever happen… but then again I have to take into account that I’m working in full-time employment at the minute, which in itself makes getting over to do gigs in England and Scotland an impossibility. Without the pesky need to be at my desk every morning at eight, I’d have TOTES LOADS of time to get over and lay some track on the UK circuit… provided I could do enough work here to get the funds needed to invest in it, or find some other means to afford it. You can get a business loan to set yourself up as a comedian, right?
Lastly, I’d need dedication. If being an honest-to-God full-time comedian was a career, you couldn’t half-ass it. The guys who make the switch to being honest-to-God, full-time comedians bust their holes week in, week out. You never hear of them going long periods of time without SOME form of comedy work, be it straight gigging or working on something for radio or tv. You don’t just quit your day job and become a comedian; you quit your day job and being a comedian becomes YOUR NEW DAY JOB. You can’t just show up whenever you want. You can’t just decide when you work and when you don’t. You put yourself on a path and you have to be dedicated enough to stick to it. For me personally, right now comedy is a release and a relaxant, it’s a means of expression and it’s a fucking good laugh. I’ve got goals and I’ve got ambitions, but it’s all fairly low key… I want to do this gig and that gig. I want to finish No Punchline. It might be nice to get on TV or write a column for someone. But do I have the drive and tenacity to make a career out of it, week in, week out? Shit, all it took was one wee bit of turmoil for me to almost cancel the Fermanagh gig. What if I’d needed the money from that gig (for something other than to finance driving to three other gigs that is)? What if comedy became something I had to do, and not something I wanted to… Of all the things I’m sure of in comedy, I’m sure of this; I don’t want it to become WORK. I don’t want it to become something I dread doing.
As a part-time comedian rather than an honest-to-God full-time comedian, I can still look at gigs as being fun after-work activities rather than being actual work. And when you take out the stagetime and the ehhhh, glamour, comedy is tough work. It’s hard travel and high pressure. The hours are evenings and weekends. And although the money end of comedy is nice, where I am right now it’s not what would pay a weeks wages at any other job you could care to think of; on the week of the Fermanagh gig I had two other gigs where I’d headlined, one up North (where I’d been soundly ignored by 7/8ths of the room), and one in the midlands which took so much out of me that I nearly fell asleep while driving home on several occasions (much to the alarm of my young comedian passenger). Even the gig in Fermanagh was a tough one, with the dual challenges of one drunk arsehole yelling random shit constantly and one drunk female arsehole who lost her shit at something early in the night while Neil was onstage and continued screaming laughing all the way through my set, during set-ups, during punchlines, just a constant din of female cackling that I just COULD NOT get to stop. That was three nights of hard graft, in a row, that after travel netted me as much money as I get from the overtime I do in my day job. If all I wanted was to make money, there’s a better way right now for me to get as much money, drive equally long hours and talk just as much shit; become a taxi driver.
So for now, I’m sticking with my day job and kicking the dream of becoming an honest-to-God full-time comedian up the road another bit until I trust myself to do it justice (as if the fact that I’ve accrued levels of debt in my life that I’m never going to be able to pay for have made the decision truly mine to make). I do have ambitions in comedy, with a nice vision of maybe sometime having a family life wherein I mind the kids during the day and write material between school runs before heading out to gig in the evenings, maybe get some tv work or writing a column or a book on the side, but if none of that comes to pass then I’m content with what I have right now; a good day job and a great hobby. Anyone that follows me on Facebook will be able to tell you that I actually love my day job (and my NEW day job is frigging brilliant). On the surface it may just be a basic retail job, but for me it’s a means to get out and get interacting with people, to keep the mind active which in turn keeps the creative cogs turning. A hectic retail job with demanding customers like I have is practically Comedy School; I get basically heckled the whole day long and have to be sharp and focused and witty all day. Having co-workers around means that there’s constant banter which in turn can help inspire and create new material for when I’m onstage. I’d be frankly lost without it, and my onstage material would degenerate into a tired mess of all the random crap I’d thought up while wasting my day lying around the house watching garbage on TV.