You will treat us with respect, or none of us will gig for you
Dave Pitt on why the UK Comedy Guild can change the comedy landscape forever.
On Saturday, Giggle Beats reported the creation of the UK Comedy Guild, a union which promises to “vigorously promote good practise across the whole [comedy] industry.”
Also, on Saturday, my barber called me a bellend. These two facts are connected tighter than a politician and their hedge fund manager.
The loose definition for my kind is an “Open 10 act”.
Yet while a lot of other Open 10 acts talk about chasing progression, a paid gig or a 5 star Edinburgh review I instead talk of my desire. “I’d love to be your union rep,” I say to anyone that will listen.
For far too long comedians have had a rough ride.
It is bad when professional acts don’t get paid by national comedy clubs. Yet it’s also bad when Open 10 acts drive 200 miles to perform in the back room of some dodgy boozer. Then when asking if there is somewhere to sit down get told, “no there fucking isn’t.”
It is bad to find the MC and promoter of a gig saying to the audience with no irony, “give the next act lots of help because she is a woman.”
What about gigs where you have to “pay to play”? Or gigs where you can get a spot if you sell 10 tickets? And let us not forget the national comedy chain who insist that a “gong show” is there to find new acts.
It is nothing to do with 30 desperate comedians and 150 gobby students turning up on a dead night all buying drinks. No, it’s about finding new acts. Honest.
It’s ridiculous to expect someone on their first gig, or even their 100th gig to expect payment. But there is no reason why acts, no matter what their ability, cannot have some respect.
Somewhere to sit down is the least they should have. A free drink behind the bar is an added bonus.
Now imagine if we all said, “you will treat us with respect or none of us will gig for you.” It will mean we are in a better place when we get on the stage. We will put on better shows.
We won’t be focusing on the pain in our legs because we’ve had to stand up for two hours before starting. We will feel wanted because we got offered a free drink. What would have been an “okay” night will become a “better” night by providing a seat and a drink.
The acts will enjoy it and thus the audience will enjoy it. You will get more bums on seats. You will sell more beer. You might even be able to afford to give the acts a nod towards their expenses. If a seat improved their performance, imagine what an extra fiver would do?
Yet it’s not just the lack of foresight or respect by promoters. The irony is that we bring a lot of this poor treatment on ourselves. Comedians are a disparate group. We are in direct competition with each other.
An act dropping out of a gig because the promoter is a sexist luddite isn’t a message that we should boycott them. Instead we treat it as an “opening” and it’s worth being nice to that promoter on Facebook so you can get that gig.
Yes, this behaviour only encourages the poor quality treatment we have. It justifies bad manners. Afterall, why bother looking after a comedian when there are thousands others willing to jump into their place?
Let us imagine, if every act said, “No, Sexist Promoter, you are an insufferable bell end and we will not gig for you.” He doesn’t have a gig anymore. The audience aren’t subjected again to the misogynistic lie that “women aren’t funny”. We, as acts benefit. The audience benefit.
The only person who doesn’t benefit is the sexist promoter and shouldn’t that be how it is? We hold the ultimate power to ensure all get treated with respect. We should use it.
Imagine if every act said “no, we will not get associated with gong shows.” If the national comedy chain care so much about promoting new acts they can always get out the office. Travel the comedy clubs up and down the country.
It will surprise them just how much talent is out there ready for the step up. If they don’t then what have we lost? Five gobby students shouting “CARD! CARD! CARD!” because you’ve dared to say something in a lead up that’s made them uncomfortable? That’s not a loss.
Despite us being in competition we all feel the benefit of well run gigs and we all suffer from the opposite. The comedy world will be stronger for all if these awful gigs either died or had change forced upon them.
It is heartwarming to hear that The Comedy Guild has sprung into life. There are big names behind it and that will get them the publicity and respect they need in the industry.
I urge them all, do not forget the people lower down the ladder. Offer us a mini or junior membership. Give us a chance to air our grievances about bad gigs. Recruit us as volunteers to investigate gigs you get complaints about. Then if we find that grievance has credibility we can deal with it.
Talk to the promoter and put things right. If it’s not put right then we inform members to avoid this gig. Gigs and promoters could have “Comedy Guild” approved status. We would know, before our 200 mile round trip, that it will be a well run gig.
It will also be helping new acts. No longer will we be able to say that we died on our hole because the promoter was no good. Or our act got no reaction because we weren’t treated with respect when we arrived. Instead it would tell us that we’ve had the best possible chance and still failed.
While considering all this I had my haircut. “What are you doing tonight?” my barber asked by way of conversation. I explained I was doing a gig and we got talking about the world of stand-up and what you have to do. He put his clippers in the holder on the wall and looked at me through the mirror.
“So you’ve done a 200 mile round trip to play for 12 people in a pub for no money whatsoever?”
“You’re a bellend.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But I got a seat. The 12 people laughed in all the right spots and one of the people who was promoting and MCing the night took me to one side. He told me how to enhance one section and he was spot on. It was worth it for the experience. It’d be like you driving 200 miles to give a great haircut. But then have a better hairdresser give you some valuable tricks of the trade.”
He seemed to understand. As he started trimming my beard I considered telling him about the bad gigs. I decided against it.
You don’t want people thinking you’re a bellend, do you?