ARTS CLASS: Can the working class afford to make it in the expensive arts?
l started comedy, as a hobby after I moved to London…and I soon fell in love, says Stephen Bailey.
As a dreamer, one who openly loves Hilary Duff and an insta-quote, I sometimes feel like a lifelong career may be in my reach.
One of my favourite quotes is by Henry David Thoreau – “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” – it must be one of my favourites as I have it hung it in the bathroom. But, I also think Henry may have had a trust fund.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined”
My career in comedy
I have now been working at comedy for six years (longer than any internship lasts). I adore performing most nights – to audiences of different sizes and engaging with people for anywhere between 10-60 minutes – and by the end of it becoming pals…and not always getting paid for the pleasure.
Up until 2015, I worked full-time in TV production, working between 10-12 hour days to help fund my comedy career. Then off I’d go in the evening to tell my little dick jokes to try and get closer to my dream.
I remember watching other more privileged peers, who didn’t have a day job, being revered because some nights they would gig twice in ONE NIGHT. Yet I was holding down a full-time 12-hour day job, then gigging once a night only to be told that I needed to “be out there more, doing more to get taken seriously”.
Then came the choice. I started to get more gigs, tour support, meetings, TV warm-ups, TV appearances. It was so exciting and so time-consuming, that I had to quit my day job.
That was terrifying. I am in a position where I am VERY working-class. Meaning if I don’t earn enough money, I can’t pay my rent. There’s nowhere to borrow it from (nor should there be!) but I need to earn more to keep a roof over my head – and I really want that roof there.
DOES BEING WORKING CLASS MEAN THAT I CAN ONLY DO A JOB THAT HAS A FIXED SALARY OR that i HAVE NO BUSINESS CHASING A DREAM?
Every day, I get to do something I absolutely love. I love getting up in the morning, but I feel like it comes with this price. This looming – how long can I keep doing this before I HAVE to quit.
The problem with comedy is that everything I do earn seems to go back into comedy. I don’t receive a salary at the end of each month. Yet, I often work a 50 hour week, each week, every month. I am super frugal yet am still broke.
Here’s the thing, being a freelancer, is tricky. I’m not just the performer but an admin assistant, writer, financial advisor, travel coordinator, fluffer, you name it. As with all freelancing, comes the invoicing. Then comes the invoice chasing.
Excuse me Mr. Promoter but when are you going to pay me for the work I did for you? It’s now January 2017 and I did your show in April 2016. To you, it might just be £200, but you’re not the only one. Other promoters are like that too and I am currently chasing £2k in outstanding payments.
I don’t mean to be difficult, but I didn’t come to Blackpool (just a random example), for the fun of it. I came because you hired me. I did a great job (I must have, you booked me again). Now I need you (as my employer) to pay me (apparently this is how business works). I need this so that I can pay my bills, my rent, my travel to tomorrow’s job, my Edinburgh Fringe bill, my tax bill, my office supplies. I’d also like to get my sister a birthday present – but now that’s me just being privileged.
Speaking of Edinburgh…
You have to do Edinburgh. Apparently, it’s the law of comedy, TV producers like to escape there and discover you. Allegedly. You have to have this thing called buzz and you can only get this buzz at the Fringe and you the artist has to pay for the buzz.
Breakdown of costs:
Print and Artwork: £800
Fringe registration: £246
Street Team: £500 ( I do other shows FOR FREE to plug my own)
Venue technician: £200
Plus you pay VAT for everyone else on everything, adding around another £1k
In August, I get to work every day for a month and let’s not forget the lead up to the show. I write it, preview it for months so it’s not shit for the fringe and yet, I am the one with the £4k bill.
Oh yes, I still owe my promoter £2k + VAT from last year for the privilege of going up. Plus, we are already talking this year, if I want to go back, which of course I need to as it’s part of my job.
There’s also the free fringe model, but you’ll still spend around £2-3k in for promotional tools, travel, and accommodation. Last time I did it, the venue only held 12 people, there was no window or, you know, air and someone fainted because it was too hot. That was my fault though as I had the audacity to shut the door to keep the noise from next door out and so people could hear the show, me and my pal spent 12 months writing.
So, sometimes, I do find myself wondering how can a working-class lad from Manchester keep showcasing at this arts festival? And, if I can’t showcase myself how do I keep moving forward?
A day in the life of Stephen Comedy
Every day I get up around 8am, and probably stop thinking about work around midnight if I’m lucky. Nowadays, I have the audacity to take Sundays off admin – unless a gig comes in then I take it. I’m not Rockafella.
Every week, I am writing new material, performing, updating websites, paying bills, chasing invoices, travelling to and from gigs, emailing for gigs, developing format ideas for TV meetings, going to meetings, writing a blog so I have additional content (it’s all about additional content), recording and editing videos for additional promo to help sell my tour, setting up work in progresses, promoting the work in progresses, promoting my tour, chasing promoters and PR, budgeting, booking travel, auditioning, going to a run-through, starting an application form for my old job at Sainsburys, having a breakdown because my printer ran out of ink and I didn’t budget for it that month. It is very much a business.
Some of my friends have just said to me that’s just how the industry is and that it’s tough. They tell me this after their parents have paid their rent for the month – and I totes respect that and would do the same if the position presented itself, but it didn’t.
“I am one of the lucky ones because I have a friend, who owns a house in London and rents me a room for next to nothing and I still struggle”.
It made me question if you can only do what you love if you are already from a wealthy background? Because I love COMEDY. I work hard and I’m waiting for that lucky break (come on Disney!!) and until that comes I need you to pay up, on time, as this is my job now.
Maybe the venues, the promoters, maybe someone else should take a little of the risk? So it’s not just the comics, who no matter how well they are doing, seem to be sat drinking tap water wondering how they can cover the cost of the next festival?
I’d love to do my dream job for a fair wage. I’m not a greedy man. I’d love to be on £20k a year for the hours I work, but I can only do it if you do fair business.
Just to clarify, I love my job. I love my team. And, I am really lucky to have a team that completely understand when I am saying this sentence “what world do you live in where you think I have £4k to spend every year in Edinburgh,” and they find a way to keep the costs low. But low at the Fringe still seems to appear as a four-figure sum.
I really begrudge it, and it’s not the way the industry should work and it makes me have a little cry when I have just paid a Fringe bill that would house a family of four in Denton (my hood) for six months. It seems wrong. And I’m not enough of a self-obsessed artiste/bellend to not think about those things.
A note to…
Mr Promoter, Miss Edinburgh and Tour venue, I do need you to actually pay me and on time. It would also be great if you don’t try and get my rate down. It’s low enough. You’d find £5k for McIntyre (and I get it, I’m not him) but if you book me, can I have more than £50, I’d love to cover my costs.
I loved every minute of performing at your venue and I am grateful to you for having me and allowing me to step closer to my dream, but I’m also a human being. One day I’d like my job to be able to help me have some stability – a house maybe. One holiday a year if I would be so bold or some savings for when I’m old and can’t tell jokes anymore. Or simply to not worry if I am going to make my rent at the age of 30. Also, without acts coming, you go back to just being a room. We need each other so this can both work.
And some days, when you’ve not paid me for the work I’ve done. Or you are asking for £4k (varies) to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. OR I don’t get a job because “we’ve already booked a gay”, I really want to cry into a mint aero, but I can’t because I will fight even harder to “go confidently in the direction of my dreams.”
PS – I once had a newspaper round that paid 5p per newspaper delivered. I used to think that was the biggest scandal I would face in my career.
Stephen Bailey Nation’s Sweetheart Tour
So as I’ve just paid my Edinburgh Fringe bill and will now be homeless unless you all book tickets to my tour. Here’s a lovely tour poster with all the dates on!!
All tickets available at my website: www.stephenbaileycomedy.co.uk