Back in the day, it used to irk me when reviewers would make mention of my being middle-class. Judge me on my ‘funny’ was my thrust but also because I didn’t like the inference of privilege. The son of a teacher and a nurse and attending a comprehensive school being my claim to being part of the proletariat and especially since comedy was so dominated by rich kids who’ve glided their way from elite schools via Oxbridge into the arts and particularly the BBC.
But now with a little wisdom (getting old) I realise that my ire was misplaced. With a loving mum and dad and attending a great school, I had plenty of life advantages to draw upon as I set out on my unlikely career.
Middle class I am and even if it is used as a slur.
‘Middle’ is said to be a comfortable place but it can be dangerous also.
Middle-class is being comfortably off. Not rich but comfortable. The middle act on a comedy bill is the easiest slot on the bill. The slot for the new act or the act that needs protecting. Don’t shoot the messenger – but in green rooms when I started in comedy, it used to be called the ‘girl’ spot.
But whilst ‘middle’ is comfortable – it is also middling. Middling is average and no one dreams of being average.
Maybe it’s because I don’t gig very often, that I am always excited to have a circuit gig in my diary. The green room catch up and the camaraderie of being on a bill and sharing the load with other people stupid enough to think ‘funny’ might be a career. Wherever possible, I like to see the whole show even if my slot is to close the show – ‘headline’ – a grating term which I ask MC’s to avoid. But there is some ego and self-preservation at play here also because I like to see the acts I need to eclipse. To see how good they are and how good I need to be to close the show and Top the Bill.
This is crucial when a preceding act happens to be great – as has occurred to me with Mary Bourke (how is it that Mary never appears on TV), Jon Long (a young man with a guitar and a wicked wit that makes him difficult to follow) and most recently, Dan Nightingale who should only ever be on last act on any bill.
In the green room ahead of the show, Dan introduces himself and I am embarrassed that I have no recollection of gigging with him before. Dan is 40-odd, has been gigging for years and opening the show, I figure that he must be well… middling or bog-average.
But this is rudely shattered when he takes to the stage and sets about smashing the room to pieces. I watch on with increasing alarm. This guy is hilarious, how have I not heard of him before?
In the green room, I congratulate Dan (the bastard) through gritted teeth – and all becomes clear about his career or lack-of when he explains the remarkable success of his pod cast – HAVE A WORD.
Along with fellow-comedian, Adam Rowe, who I have never gigged with (but might have?) – their podcast has become something of a phenomenon – Joe Rogan lite perhaps? and with their Patreon.com it has become gloriously lucrative also. And good for them.
Jealousy is a human failing and is particularly prevalent in show-biz. I am lucky not to be over-burdened by it. I love that Dan and Adam are two comics who have harnessed the internet and now find themselves so popular that they can sell-out arena shows.
It’s impossible not to do the maths on such things…
Let’s say 10,000 seats at what… £50 a seat? – and if they get say, 30 quid a seat, plus the merchandise sales and sponsorship… and surely a streamer will come in for the pod-cast? Netflix special, anyone?
And what is so intoxicating is that their success has been independent of the mainstream channels. It is without the patronage of the BBC and Chanel Four and its commissioners – the comedy tsars who used to be so feted and have talented people at their mercy and whim. The same over-paid Oxbridge suits who won’t put Mary Bourke on the telly.
I am middle class and on reflection I am pretty middling as a comedian. And yet I have no complaints. Not really. Because I enjoy still being in the humour game – with my stand-up and my books.
And because all success is relative.
I see Eddie Izzard still playing massive world tours and I smile ruefully. Good for Eddie. A true one-off, who deserves all his success.
But I take even more joy in seeing Dan and Adam subverting the rules. These lads were never heralded like Eddie was. The media class fawned over Eddie from the start. I expect that Dan Nightingale spent years being ignored by TV execs for spurious reasons which concern them but not their viewers – and yet Dan now stands on the biggest stages of all. Great news for him and glorious also because the execs who are not part of the equation. The internet is taking their jobs too, and good riddance.
Because this is good for comedy.
And what is good for comedy is good for the people.
Have a Word, Dan Nightingale, Mary Bourke and Jon Long… are all available on-line and are all well worth a gander. Enjoy.