When you’re setting up as a stand-up comedian, you’re expected to travel.
If you’re lucky (and good) you may be offered three, maybe four gigs a week and if like me, you live somewhere fairly remote, you’re going to be lucky if their gig is within a 100 miles of where you live. Tough luck if you’ve got a day job and are already knackered; you simply have to get on the road to the next gig as soon as you leave the office. Tougher luck if you don’t have a day job because you’ve still got to do the travel without the back-up of wages to cover the cost.
And for the first year, at least, you’re expected to do those gigs for free. That is one tough call and most people will tell you that this is the way the comedy cookie crumbles.
Why do we do this? Are we mad?
No, we’re not mad; we’re crazy. There is a difference.
In 2014 the British Journal of Psychiatry reported on a study called Psychotic traits in comedians. This showed that we comedians scored significantly higher in four types of psychotic personality traits compared to a control group of individuals who had non-artistic jobs.
The layman’s terms for the findings would say we are generally unsocial creatures and prone to impulsive nonconformity. In a nutshell, we’re socially awkward and prone to show off. Suddenly.
It doesn’t say we’re obsessive but, of course, we are. We must be.
I know that one of the reasons I came to comedy – apart from God telling me to do so (sorry if that freaks you out but being a vicar, I’m allowed to say it and it’s marginally better than saying ‘a little voice in my head told me to’ which really would get me in the psychiatrist’s chair) is as a reaction to being a daughter of very Middle Class parents in the 1950s/early 60s. I was expected to be a polite little girl; to be seen and not heard; not to show off and definitely not to even consider venturing into the den of moral iniquity that was show business (‘besides, you’re too fat, dear’). So this is basically a late, Divinely-inspired adolescent rebellion. And you know how stubborn adolescents can be…
On the issue of comedians and travel: the answer, for most comedians is the car share. Mirth Control, one of the online comedy bookers, actively looks for comedians who can drive others from London before picking who gigs where. That’s not entirely feasible from Dartmoor.
However, there are plenty of comedians in the South West and car shares can be fun. That is, they are if you get gregarious folk who are willing to chip in on petrol costs and stand their fair share of coffees or chips. Not so much when you get the one who just never stops talking or, conversely, who just sits in the back staring at his/her mobile phone and only grunts when addressed.
Mind you, I’m only working on hearsay when I say this because nobody ever wants to car share with the vicar.
It’s true. And let’s face it, would you? I’m not sure I would and I am a vicar.
I’d be nervous in a car share with any other vicar and, being ‘prone to impulsive non-conformity’ (in my case, as a heretic), I’m a bit wary of other religiously-active comedians too. Anyone who thinks their religion is ‘right’ and is prepared to defend that view makes a very wearying travelling companion. And, of course, anyone who makes you feel it’s not okay to swear or be a little risqué is also a pain. The fabulous and talented Paul Tonkinson is the exception that proves this rule. If you’re ever lucky enough to be offered a lift by him, take it: he is the best of company at all times and he’ll most likely buy you a drink.
I never yet been offered a car share from the West Country but I do understand. Unless you know me very well, you’re going to feel uncomfortable with someone in a dog collar sitting beside you just in case she decides to ask you if you ever go to church, whether you’ve found Jesus or goes ‘tut tut’ when you give the finger to the guy who just carved you up on the M6.
Even if she joins in with the conversation and adds a bawdy bit or an anecdote about when the bishop went tits up on the ice by the vestry door, there’s likely to be a slightly awkward response because an irreverent vicar is almost as unsettling as a reverent one. And, of course, muttering (as in rehearsing my act) could well be mistaken for the off-putting activity of praying.
So mostly I drive myself or I take the bus or the train which means that I do most of my out-of-the-West-Country gigs in London or the Midlands which are easily accessible from Exeter. However, I do have to confess to a terrible temptation on a busy train to London on a Saturday when there isn’t a spare seat to become exactly what everyone fears I might be. You’ve no idea how enticing it would be to lean over and whisper ‘have you been saved?’ to a couple in a window seat. I’m sure both would be delighted to offer me their places. ‘Truly, vicar, we’d both much rather stand. Preferably several yards away.‘
It might even clear the whole carriage.