Here’s what I learned in a year off-stage (and no, livestream gigs don’t suck)

This week marked the 12-month anniversary of our strange new existence. NME's resident comedian shares a few things she picked up along the way

When was the last time you heard the phrase, ‘Shall we get there early and get a drink beforehand?’ Sends shivers down your spine, doesn’t it? It’s almost pornographic in nature. The warm hug of a gig venue or comedy club, all tiny winding red carpeted stairways or flyered walls. Now the carrot has been dangled, and some dates lodged in our collective minds evoke these freedoms returning once more. They can’t come quickly enough.

As a stand-up comedian, the one-year anniversary of this shitshow hit me hard. I’m optimistic to the point of being annoying, but even I, this week, felt like I didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone or stay upbeat with the thought that, for the most part, this year has been less than it should have been. Anyone working in the arts always thinks they’re just about to ‘make it’ – and so you’ve probably heard someone you know lamenting that they’d be taking you on a yacht right about now if this pandemic hadn’t hit.

And I’m no different. My last gig before Boris decided to get his head out of his arse and lock us down was a show supporting a huge comedian and comedy hero of mine at iconic London venue Soho Theatre. I don’t want to name drop, but let’s just say he used to be on Mock The Week, made a joke about the Queen’s vagina and your nan probably isn’t a fan. This was my time! I’d been working my arse off, gigging multiple times a night, (sometimes in well-lit pubs with no stage and no mic) for years. It was all paying off! Until, of course, it wasn’t. I’ve been looking up at The Big Time, frozen, excited face in stasis, for the best part of a year.

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All my work was swept from under my feet in one week. Even my back-up – working in my mate’s pub – was of course off the table. It was time to use that quick-thinking, which had been handy in the face of hecklers, to earn enough money to eat. Here’s what I’ve learned.

In lockdown, you spend a lot of time not reading books

You will pile up the books neatly beside your bed like a celebrity in a ‘Day in The Life Of’ interview. You have your evenings back! This is what normal people do with theirs. ‘Ah,’ you think, ‘finally some time to read my entire book shelf! What will I put on them to stop them looking so bare!?’ And then you will sit, looking at words on a page and not taking them in, thinking, ‘What the hell am I gonna do for the work?’ Cue writing a lot of calculations in the back of said book with a minus in front of most of the numbers.

Don’t look at other performers on social media

Another sketch on Instagram? Really?! How do you have the time? Oh – you’ve kept your day job, too, have you? Probably got a lot of time not worrying about having to eat the stuff that’s been in the freezer since 2015 and wondering if anyone on the internet would have any interest in buying your used socks.

Online gigs are actually… pretty good!

I’ll admit that when I was first told we would do an online version of the monthly comedy night I host, I prayed for a swift death. I couldn’t think of anything worse. The entire point of comedy is to bring people together, in the ideal conditions for a virus to survive and multiply. How was this ever going to compete? Well, it turns out, it actually could. With slick production and the audience unmuted, plus the power of technology and everyone’s thirst for at least some social contact. I performed to my biggest-ever ‘audience’ on my first gig, with over 400 people tuning in.

I did an Instagram Live comedy show for a beer brand with a magician named Pete Heat. I couldn’t have been more sceptical about it, but the whole thing blew my mind. Even through a screen, people were entertained and slightly unnerved at how on Earth he managed to perform such sorcery. The show was so intense that one viewer wrote: “I’m panicking.” So never again will I mock an online event. Unless it’s a virtual team-building day. They can get fucked.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, left, not helping self-employed performers

You will get very angry at the Government

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I fell through the cracks of the self-employment grant due to a rule about invoicing, so I received nothing. Then because of the Government’s total ineptitude, theatres and venues have been closed months longer than other parts of the world. You see footage of a music festival in New Zealand on the year anniversary of the UK lockdown and start idolising Guy Fawkes.

A year in lockdown means becoming quite addicted to a ‘profit and loss’ spreadsheet for all the clothes and homeware items you buy and sell 

Don’t question me. This is science.

Every little thing is a plus from now on

We’ve marked the anniversary. Now let’s move on. See you on the front row.

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