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Comedian Philip Simon makes the case for supporting the sector he works in, because dads doing work they love are the best dads
If you own a phone, tablet or device of any kind you can’t have missed the recent media storm surrounding the government’s decision that “Fatima” was unknowingly about to leave her career as a dancer for the wonderful world of cyber.
Notwithstanding the fact this was actually a stock image of an American dancer called Desire’e, the entertainment industry united in its anger at the suggestion that someone who had invested everything into their career – not a hobby – should be so easily dismissed. Despite the £11B we contribute to the economy every year.
To be told by our government that my career is no longer viable is incredibly galling. Especially for those in my industry who have received no financial support. Some have qualified for Universal Credit and many, myself included, received the SEISS grant. We started at 80%, then 70%, and now we’re told to expect just 40% of our average monthly profits from the past 3 years. From a government whose own leader openly admits he can’t survive on £150K a year!
Ironically, having been a full time stand up comedian before lockdown, doing online gigs has made me feel like I already have a cyber career, though the sensation of trying to entertain a faceless audience always felt to me less IT and more Babe Station!
Whether or not the government thinks we’re viable, while there’s a platform on which to perform, there will always be an audience to entertain. They may not want to pay for it, we may have to work for “exposure” but we will still work, and continue to invest in our futures.
So that is how we stay viable, but can it also keep us solvent? Let me share with you how I’ve achieved both whilst also balancing homeschooling and parenting, and in part precisely because of that balancing act. My kids needed entertaining during lockdown. And I figured that if my two did then other working dads might have the same issue. So I came up with…
I created, produced and hosted a YouTube comedy series where kids sent in their jokes for me to tell. This has led to a few live streamed gigs for youth groups (Brownies, Cubs, etc) and a children’s joke book that will be released later this year. To boost the profile of the show I ran a crowdfunder as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, which was very successful. Among the rewards I offered in return for support were two other projects I’ve been able to monetise during lockdown:
Having played and voiced Daddy Pig in the UK theatre tour of Peppa Pig I have been producing personalised video messages to send to children.
A lim’rick’s a poem or song
A ditty that’s just five lines long
For £10 of your money
I’ll write something funny
Oh what could possibly go wrong?
I’ve always loved the more creative & humorous side of writing and for my wedding I wrote bespoke limericks for every family that was coming. Over 100 in total, all beautifully personalised, which makes for a perfect gift.
Along with fellow Jewish comedian Rachel Creeger, we have created a new comedy chat show podcast, produced by series producer for The Mash Report and 8 Out of 10 Cats, Russell Balkind. In each episode we chat to comedians, writers, presenters, broadcasters, journalists and actors, each sharing their own unique perspectives on being 21st century Jews as well as their memories of growing up and what being Jewish means to them.
So far this hasn’t generated income, but it’s a great platform and a wonderful learning curve as a way of remaining active within the industry.
So those are my two main projects alongside my regular (albeit online) comedy work. As well as hosting a Zoom comedy events for companies, school PTAs, etc, I’ve also continued writing comedy, with much of it going out on social media platforms (@PhilipsComedy for Twitter, FB and Insta) including TikTok (www.tiktok.com/@philipscomedy).
You see, here’s the thing: comedy and the performing arts is not like other careers. For a start, it’s not a career it’s a vocation, filled with small jobs along the way. It’s not something you can just move on from when it’s not working. There are different levels and everyone measures success differently.
Most of us are happy to just be working and earning a living from our passion, especially if dong so means we can provide for our families. And being happy in your work doesn’t just make you a better dad because you’re more content round the house and easier to be around. It’s also an important example to set your children – that work isn’t just about making a living (though that’s really important). It should also be about doing something that fulfils and sustains you creatively.
But for many civilians they rate comedians based on how famous we are. “Have you been on Mock the Week?” “Why don’t you try and get on Taskmaster?” are common annoying questions. As it happens I work on both these shows and have done for many years, but I wonder if people realise how offensive that is? Sure, it’s great to be able to aspire to these things, but would you ask an easyJet pilot why they aren’t working for BA, or Virgin?
Not all of us are made for stardom, but with the right support (no different from other industries) we can all be the very best we can be, even Fatima.