I talk a lot about my life in my stand-up. I’ve never been afraid of talking to audiences about my sexuality, my divorce or how old I’m getting. It did, however, take me a long time to admit one thing about my background on stage; that I am working-class.
There are plenty of working-class comedians on the circuit. But on the whole, the comedy industry is still run predominantly by the middle classes. Working in the arts is tough for anyone, transient incomes, little job security and the constant need to network are all par for the course. But is it tougher for working-class comedians to break into the comedy industry?
I grew up in Liverpool during the aftermath of the Toxteth riots and Thatcher’s managed decline. Becoming a comedian was so far removed from my life, that it wasn’t even a dream. I had what I thought was a typical childhood, my dad worked away on ships and my mum was a dinner lady. I never had the right trainers but I never went hungry. My siblings, cousins and I wore hand me down clothes and visited free museums. We spent endless days in my Nan and Grandad’s garden waiting for whichever football team had won the cup to drive by in an open top bus. We lived on cheap meat, three-piece suites and penny sweets with the occasional holiday in someone’s caravan, if we were lucky.
I was always a cheeky, mouthy kid so I did a lot of drama at school. I was in all the school plays and got my highest GCSE grade in it. I remember at 15 my drama teacher trying to get me to apply to go to college and do a performing arts course. She thought I was talented enough to do that. I knew that it was out of my reach. I had talent and a supportive family, but I knew even at 15, that a career in the arts was not for the likes of me. I don’t know how or why or when I came to that conclusion, but if you ask my family, there is a lot I thought I knew at 15. I did an NVQ in nursery nursing instead.
At the tender age of 34 with a long-standing love of comedy, two dead parents and a mental health history longer than my CV, I finally made my way back to performing. I progressed quickly and enjoyed the new found freedom of being the voice people listened to. After a while, people began to ask about my ambitions and how I wanted to progress in comedy. Edinburgh was naturally on the horizon.
I was asked to audition for a prestigious showcase and was elated to be given the opportunity. I was told that if selected I’d have to put up around £1800 within a week as a deposit and to cover various marketing expenses. Of course I had to opportunity to earn it all back during the festival if I worked hard enough. Sadly I don’t live in a world where that sort of cash is readily available. I live in a world where people lend you 20p for the bus or buy you a pint because you make them laugh. I live in a world where people put money on your electric to last you until payday or get you a bit of shopping because they know it’s been a tough month. A friend of mine started a crowdfunder to help me raise the cash. Within an hour I received a phone call telling me that I had been dropped from the audition as a direct result of the fundraiser.
I was so upset I didn’t leave the house for days. I cancelled gigs and cried, watching TV in my pyjamas. I told anyone who would listen how unfair the whole system was. Why should I have an opportunity taken away due to not having money, or not knowing that fundraising wasn’t the done thing? I went through the all too familiar stages of grief over that awful experience, then I added my own. I decided to do something about it.
Through my tears and still in my pyjamas, I hatched a plan to apply to take my own showcase to Edinburgh. It would be for working-class comedians who struggle to access the fringe. I wouldn’t ask any of the acts for money to take part but I would give them the opportunity to earn money if the show succeeds. And that is how Best in Class was born.
Best in Class is a crowdfunded, profit sharing show which champions the talent of working-class comedians. We are a collective of nine working-class comedians. I will be MCing our fringe show with two comedians appearing alongside me each week. We have a venue for the full run through Laughing Horse and have our show listed in the festival brochure. We are still raising funds for our flyer printing and marketing costs. The acts are all paying for their own accommodation.
When you grow up working-class, life can be a battle. You often have to fight for the simplest of things that others might take for granted. Things like getting a GP appointment or affording to feed your family and pay a gas bill on a minimum wage zero hour contract. Those battles can be crushing and not everyone makes it out of the other side. But they teach you to be strong and resilient and how to fight for what’s right. Best in Class is coming to the Edinburgh Fringe, and we are ready to do battle.
Donate to the Best in Class Kickstarter here!
Presented by Sian Davies (“affable manner and sharp wit…an excellent MC” Laughing Cows) and featuring Tom Mayhew (“a fascinating brain…obvious writing talent” Chortle); Cheekykita (“like The Mighty Boosh on crack” Broadway Baby); Jamie Hutchinson (XS Manchester comedian of the year); Nena Edwards (“Wild, utterly ravishing, provoking instant laughter” Lets Laugh); Vince Atta (“an unstoppable force” Chortle); Lindsey Santoro (semi-finalist BBC New Comedy Award); Drew Taylor (WUSA finalist) and Kathryn Mather (Beat the Frog World Series Champion).
Catch Best In Class on these dates!
Edinburgh Fringe: 2-26th August- Midday- Laughing Horse @ Harry’s Southside
Follow Best in Class on Facebook @wearebestinclass Twitter/Instagram #BestInClass18