Opinion: Day In, Night Out by Lizzie Bates

Lizzie Bates

When people ask me what I do, I say ‘I’m a comedy writer and performer.’ And then, feeling like a massive fraud, I inevitably follow that with, ‘and a part-time receptionist and office manager.’  If by what I ‘do’ they mean the thing takes up most hours in my week and pays the majority of my rent, then it sort of feels like the second half of that sentence has earned its place.

Unless I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe – the one time in the year when I really feel like comedy is my job. In August, if someone asked me what I did I’d say ‘a character comedy show at 3pm every day in the Pleasance Courtyard. I’d love you to come.’ And even though performing at the Fringe was unlikely to pay my rent (for what now consisted of a flat in London, a flat in Edinburgh and a bunker-come-theatre-space), it was what I spent my days doing and what I got up for in the morning(/early afternoon). I loved feeling able to say, ‘I’m a comedian.’ I loved getting to do my show every day; I loved hanging out with other writers and comedians; I even loved flyering punters in the pouring rain, because it all felt like working towards my real career.

But with the Fringe costing as much as a deposit on a small house, the money has to come from somewhere. And so for me, and a lot of friends, it’s back to ‘the day job’ in September. I know comedians who – while holding out for that HSBC commercial, corporate gig at a hedge fund or sitcom commission – subsidise their writing, gigging and acting income through teacher training, tutoring drama, bar work, restaurant work, charity fundraising, presenting pub quizzes, conducting Lego workshops, dressing as football mascots, painting faces at children’s parties and selling Christmas trees.

It’s tough. After the Fringe getting up at eight in the morning feels like jetlag : you need to drink pint after pint of tea just to keep the eyelids open until around 3pm, when the Fringe body clock is finally willing to accept that it’s daytime. It takes weeks to overcome the symptoms of Fringe flu. If you didn’t get it up there then there’s no way you’ll escape it when you get home. And for me, September is about desperately trying to keep that sense of ‘being a comedian’ alive.

I’ve gone from performing every day and watching shed loads of great shows to photocopying contracts, making client coffees, and keeping the toilets stocked with loo roll – before heading off to a gig or cracking on with a sitcom script in the evening. I'm lucky because my office is great about me going to meetings and castings, they let me disappear for a month in August and I love the people I work with - I really have landed on my feet - but after the fun of the Fringe it would be hard to describe going back to work, and keeping on top of milk levels, as ‘living the dream.’ 

I think the day jobs are something we’re all a bit embarrassed to talk about. Maybe not to a mortgage provider, grandparents, or a well-paying temping agency - but amongst each other. No one wants to present themselves as a half-hearted comedian, or as somehow not being successful. But we all know that Edinburgh costs an arm and a leg (although new limbs might well be cheaper) and we all know how hard it is to get a break.  

So this is a call to support each other in our not necessarily shitty but almost definitely uncomfortably-early-start post-Edinburgh day jobs. And a call for someone to cast me in the lead role in their hilarious new sitcom.

Anyway, back to work. My boss is looking at me with an expression that says ‘why does that spreadsheet I asked you to do have so many words on it.’

Lizzie Bates is performing her Edinburgh show, Reprobate at the Etcetera Theatre on Wednesday, November 12. Details here.

 

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