Imaginary person laying beside me: “Is there anything better than waking up all snug in bed listening to the sound of the rain?”
Me: “Yes, the sound of a packed audience laughing, clapping and cheering. It’s been 6 months out of work, the longest time I’ve not been on stage in 20years, I'm not being dramatic when I say this- but my industry -not just stand-up comedy, all live entertainment- has almost completely collapsed, not just here but all over the world, “new normal” gigs for those who are lucky to be resuming in front of a live audience are at drive-ins, in parks or severely limited numbers indoors, meaning less atmosphere, but worse, less revenue and lower wages and so many venues have to cut staff and many venues won't survive at all. It's an industry where wages were higher in clubs 20 years ago but now cost of living is much higher too. Cruise ships, theatres & festivals are damaged and who knows when they'll be back in full swing? Some predict another 12 months, if we're lucky. There is and will be less work and more competing for it. I make a living touring overseas. That's how I get by. The airline and travel industry is in tatters, we're not even allowed to go overseas unless we're already millionaire friends with the Prime Minister. Within Australia, the next festivals to resume will be Perth and Adelaide and they have already announced no international artists (or Victorian artists) can participate due to border restrictions, and if the borders do open before then, likelihood of being able to attend is very low as it takes months to arrange venues, applications etc and besides all that, the cost of being there VS the profits, especially in these uncertain times is not worth the risk financially. They were my only hope for decent work in the next 6 months. And if I'm honest, even performing at these festivals is a grind, as an independent act you're competing with household names who shouldn't be at a fringe festival. By very definition of "fringe" they are not on it. But corporate greed and agents have taken over and money talks. My industry doesn't have long service leave or redundancy, no dental or private health when you're self-employed. Locally, when any indoor gigs do resume, it'll be the TV names and touring theatre acts with big agents who will take priority for the little gigs. And because I've spent the last decade or so creating my own shows around the world, I'm not recognised locally by any industry, so even trying to get unpaid gigs on open mics here is a battle. Let that sink in.
The only gigs right now are on Zoom. Stood in front of your laptop talking to little boxes, it's miserable, or being a guest on a podcast. There's little to no money in that, but it is something. And I don't begrudge anyone for doing it, we're all trying to stay busy. I'm proud of my colleagues who are continuing to do things, it's inspiring and motivation we need because it would be so easy just to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. And let's face it, the world is moving so fast now, nobody has time to give a shit about you. I didn't get a single message on R U OK day to check in. I didn't expect any either, because I know that's just how it is. I'm not angry at my friends for that, we've all got problems. Life goes on, get on with it. Creating content online is my only saving grace to keep me sane and feel like I'm staying productive, that takes time, a lot of time, it's unpaid and hardly gets an audience because since smart phones and social media took off, every fame chasing person out there now has a profile and it's made it even harder to gain or keep followers because there are kids on TikTok who lip-sync comedians routines who have a bigger following than the actual comedians themselves! Again, let that sink in.
I'm writing books and scripts with hope that the horrible reality TV phase will die out and we can go back to putting actual written work on our screens, but I fear society is too far gone for that to happen. People don't care about original content anymore. Even when people are called out for stealing jokes or complete show titles or ideas, they are not held accountable for it, they're praised because they already have a following. It's soul destroying to see so many colleagues who knew nothing else than live performing have to figure out a new life. All the behind the scenes staff, casual event workers, the tech crew, PR, marketing, agents, bar staff, the list goes on. To think that I've worked so many minimum wage jobs and lived like shit to get to where I am and have it all fall apart, not because I chose to walk away, or because I couldn't hack it, or because of cancel culture, but a global pandemic, it's heartbreaking and doesn't make sense. I used up so many favours, so many friends put me on their couch and looked after me to get to where I am. And now it's all gone. I'm back living at my parents home at the age of 40 and haven't got a clue what the future holds. It's frightening. The 2 things I love most, travel and work. Gone. The realisation that after all those years of struggle, to reach a level where I was comfortably making a living I'd carved out for myself and know that I now have to swallow my pride and maybe walk away from it, because our government doesn't recognise or support the arts and because I just need to be doing something. It hurts. And not just me. So many like me. So many fellow artists who eat, sleep and breathe performing and creating art. We do it because it is our therapy, we do it because it is in our blood, we do it knowing that even though it is an unstable industry, the hours are bad, your sleep and health and relationships will suffer, the travel is frequent, the accommodation and income is always a risk, the stress of it is high, even knowing all of that, we do it all because we can't imagine living without it. It is not just a job to us, it is an existence, we are the odd ones out in our family, we are our own breed and we need the community of other vagabond, eccentric artists to feel normal around.
That's how messed up and passionate we are, the world is better off with art and I'm proud to be one of those who has sacrificed so much to give it. I'd rather die a poor artist than live with a dead soul. I think the thing I'm missing most of all, besides the clapping and a laughing and appreciation of an audience is the collaborating, hanging out with and working with my fellow artists. The community.
I'm worried about the mental health of many of my friends. I'm surprised I'm doing so well myself. I am, I'm actually doing OK all things considered. It could be worse, and that's what I have to keep reminding myself. Right now even though some days it's hard to get out of bed, at least I have a bed and I'm lucky to be tucked up under the covers listening to the rain."
Imaginary person laying beside me: "See, I told you, nothing better than the sound of rain!"
Me: *sigh* "I think I might have to get one of them "real" jobs. Or start a podcast."