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Comedian Philip Simon, writes about how his stand-up show about feeling bad when he became a dad has struck a chord with other fathers.
I’ve been a comedian for about 8 years, and like so many other performers I spent August at The Edinburgh Festival. I’ve been gigging at the Fringe since 2011 but this was my first full hour solo show.
Why the delay? I guess it’s partly because life got in the way – it’s amazing how time consuming the little things like relationships, homelife and raising a family can be. But it’s also because I believe an Edinburgh show really shouldn’t just be an extension of your club set; twenty minutes of knob gags stretched out over an hour.
Instead it should be a stand alone piece that says something about who you are; funny enough to work in the clubs, for sure, but with an extra layer of truth that invites audiences into your world.
After years of club gigs, and gradually being able to make a living out of comedy, I finally found something I wanted to talk about. A subject that was important to me, but also one I was sure would be relevant to plenty of other people, especially dads.
Because this is what I wanted to talk about; being a dad. And not just “oh, I’m a dad and my house now smells of poo!” My aim was to focus my story more on the early days, weeks, months of my son’s life, and more importantly, my struggle to connect with him and even with the very idea of being a dad.
For those of you who read the workingdads piece about my show, you’ll know that my starting point for the show was that as an actor I was in the UK theatre tour of Peppa Pig playing the role of Daddy Pig. Between then and becoming a parent I’d hardly even thought about the hit show, but being thrown into a child’s world once again, it was only natural parallels would be drawn.
And this is what made up the starting point for, “Who’s the Daddy Pig?”. A show that was seen by hundreds of people in Edinburgh and around the country in previews and on tour. Audiences who, on the whole responded positively, as it soon became clear that my show was more than just another “comedy” about being a dad.
Rather it was a piece of comedic, yet thought-provoking stand up about how men react to becoming fathers. It also focused on the issue of raising boys in a modern society, ensuring that they are aware of their privilege as white middle class boys, who will grow up to be white middle class men.
Imagine having your own successful creative business that allowed you to work your own hours, take leave for ALL of the school holidays (if you wanted to) as well as providing you with a great income?
My reality is that for as long as I could remember I’d wanted to be a dad. Then when it finally happened I was 36 and our son was not planned; definitely wanted, but not planned. I was excited and very hands on during the pregnancy.
And yet once he was born, despite all the amazing things happening in my life, I really struggled to find the happiness in any of it.
Everyone says you’re going to immediately fall in love with your child, but that’s not always true. And it feels like you’re not allowed to talk about how hard it is. Partly, because men are supposed to be strong. But also because for every selfish dad like me, there are hundreds of people who would give anything to be in my situation. People who are desperate to have children but can’t, for so many reasons.
And being a parent is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world, so if you don’t immediately connect with your child, there’s got to be something wrong with YOU.
The difficulty with a stand up show like this, is where to find the humour. That’s what audiences have come to see. Thankfully I needn’t have worried as without exception, my audiences just got it. They laughed where I intended, and in a small number of cases even cried where they felt moved by my story.
It was an incredibly cathartic experience for me. Not only performing the show everyday for a month, but even just writing about it in the first place. The text went through so many drafts, and I’m lucky that I was able to talk about the various sections with my wife who now understands how hard I found everything at first.
The response continually surprised me. Not only from people who enjoyed the humour in the show, or even the social message about gender politics and male privilege.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, with some feeling comedians should just stick to telling jokes and not lecture about social matters, but as I mentioned earlier, why can’t we do both?
Two audience encounters will stick with me forever. The first was from a health visitor who provides post natal care to new mums. She told me she wished she had the time and resources to allow the dads a chance to open up as everything I spoke about is exactly what she sees in the often silent men.
Another conversation was with a man, similar age to me, who hung back after the rest of the audience had left. He confided in me that having seen and heard what I’d said, he was sure now that he had suffered from post natal depression, and knew it was time to talk to someone about it.
This moved me more than anything, knowing how hard I had found it to finally ask for help after months of just “coping”, so the fact he chose me to open up to was incredible.
We spoke for a short time, after which he promised he’d speak to his partner and GP. I asked him to keep in touch if he felt able to. So far I’ve had no word, but I hope he sought the help he needs and deserves.
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So whilst I’m done watching Peppa Pig as much as I once did, the show will go on. I’m developing it, and continuing to work to combine what I need to say about my experience, with enough humour to satisfy the comedy savvy audiences. It’s been a truly liberating experience, and one that I know I couldn’t have even contemplated without having first of all felt comfortable enough to ask for help. Both from the people around me and the wider health community.
“Who’s the Daddy Pig?” came with many messages. From raising boys to be better in 2019 and beyond, to wishing toy companies stopped targeting children based on their gender. But I think the strongest message, and the one I hope most people went away with, is that being a dad is hard. It’s OK to feel that, and it’s definitely OK to say that. And once you’ve said it, keep saying it until you get support.