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Comedian Tiernan Douieb explains why working dads must pursue work that they love in the face of economic uncertainty if they can
I’ve never really liked the term ‘freelance’ for my job situation.
The etymology of the word comes from the early 1800s where mercenaries would happily just fight for whoever paid them the most, which isn’t really what I do. Not just because I pretend to have some vague personal morals – I still baulk at a job I turned down some years ago for a pepperoni type company that would’ve financially saved my neck while simultaneously undone my 39 years as a vegetarian. At the time I thought it was incredibly strong of me to reject the gig as I struggled to pay my rent. But years later I can’t help but think I probably just should’ve eaten the odd sausage. You can make your own jokes about freelancers having to use that phrase.
It’s more that I don’t think what I do is just go and fight for whoever, mostly because I’d be terrible and would’ve served at best as some sort of human shield for everyone else. It’s more that what I do is a desperate attempt to hawk my wares on anyone careless enough to pay for them.
‘Self-employed’ doesn’t really cut it either, as that’d mean I could pay my own wages instead of desperately applying to everything – well except pepperoni companies of course– in order to finally earn some money.
I think, really, I’m just ‘stubborn’.
Because it’s definitely not that I’m comfortable enough financially to waft through life doing what I like. More that I get incredibly bored unless I’m invested in work and be as creative with it as I want. A hugely employable quality I’m sure you’ll find, and one that is absent from my CV for obvious reasons.
While there have been many downsides to this as my bank account would agree, it’s meant over the course of my career, if you can call it that, I had got to a place where I was only doing work that I wanted to be doing. Pre-pandemic, that is. But some of that has meant that during the past few months of germs doing to jobs what they did to aliens in War of the Worlds, work that I’d done as a passion project has ended up slightly helping me survive. Emphasis on the slightly.
I have a weekly podcast. Yes, I know everyone does. And as you’re reading this you’re probably recording your own one while working out which one of the 8000 unlistened-to podcasts on your app you should attempt to catch up with.
I’m a middle-aged white bloke with very little to say, so of course I have one. I think if I didn’t people would be worried. To my credit, I think, I started mine – the Partly Political Broadcast – four years ago.
With a growing need to talk about the constantly aggravated global political situation in my stand-up and jokes often being out of date by the time I was doing them at gigs days after I’d written them, I decided to just put out content by myself. I read all the blogs, forums and bothered people I knew who did podcasts. I worked out the equipment I could afford to get, how to edit things, researched guests and then started churning out a weekly hour of audio.
It was entirely selfish. I had jokes I wanted to tell before they were no longer relevant, and I wanted to talk to clever people who could actually break down the stupid world for me and my own personal need for knowledge and understanding.
Four years later, it’s now part of my week to add more rubbish to the internet. I write notes on what’s happened in politics throughout the week, endlessly joke about it online and keep notes of what jokes might work on the show. I bother potential interviewees until they reply and find time to speak to them in the week before, then edit that all together.
Then every Monday I get my daughter to nursery, I run home and type it all up start to finish, pick my daughter up from nursery, make her some dinner before saying night-night, record the podcast, edit it together with the interview, and post it out, ready for listeners to have by 00.01am on Tuesday morning. Why? I have no idea. I just sort of feel a need to.
It’s got in the way of other work I’ve needed to do, or meant I’ve had some very late nights when other things have to happen on a Monday. It’s occasionally got in the way of my wife’s work, or childcare needs, or trying to plan a few days away. Life is generally planned around big political events to make sure I don’t miss them.
This is why ‘freelance’ or ‘self-employed’ don’t work as they don’t really surmise the weird need to work at something you’re obsessed with, in the hope you might survive off it, which is what my stand-up career was since day one.
That took four years of working full time in the day and gigging 4-5 nights a week minimum before I could afford to quit the better, more stable job that I should’ve kept. It’s also what got me a job hosting and writing a podcast for a social innovation charity last year, which did pay, as well as a number of other jobs from hosting work to bits of voiceover. And most of all it meant that while doing a comedy show in Hong Kong two years ago, an audience member came up to me after the show to say they came along as they’d heard me mention the gig on my podcast and I tried to act very cool but basically blustered an overly humble thank you and then ran away.
And now, in the pandemic as the stand-up career is non-existent, the podcast is keeping me going. It’s got a steady few thousand listeners a week whose donations to my Patreon and ko-fi were pretty much my only income for the first few months of everything being cancelled. The very rare bit of advert revenue I get from it also helped, you know, buy a biscuit or two or something extravagant like that. (To be honest, I think I may have hindered the ad revenue possibilities when last year a ‘Get Ready For Brexit’ advert was inserted on the show by the host platform. Seconds later was my eight minute bit on why that was a truly rubbish campaign. Not sure it’s the sort of PR the Department of International Trade were looking for).
It’s also the lovely feedback I get from listeners, the nice reviews and tweets and comments that certain jokes made them spill their tea laughing. That instant gratification has definitely helped when it’s otherwise felt like not only the arts sector, but self-employed people overall, have been largely forgotten when it comes to financial support from the government. (Sure 40% of my overall profits is fine to survive for three months on, if you can just let me know how to explain to my landlord that I can only pay 13.3% rent every month thanks).
So, you see, it’s not going to fight for anyone who’s got cash, as it’s more fighting for your own weird ideas with zero resources apart from your own deluded confidence. I suppose I have self-employed myself in a way, but in a sort of zero hours unpaid apprentice manner which isn’t great. But really, I’m just ‘stubborn’. It’s not the safest path to financial security. Or a path there at all. If anything, it’s a dirt track in the opposite direction.
But I like to think I’m setting an example to my daughter that sometimes it’s more important to do something you enjoy and take care of yourself, a concept that she does understand at the age of two and a half as that’s pretty much all she does. Maybe I’ve learned it from her? Or possibly it’ll be what leads her later in life to pursue the career she wants? Or alternatively, do one that actually earns a living, which would be great as then she can buy things for me.
I can’t deny though, that I’m pleased I have my podcast, as without it I’d be in real trouble now, moneywise and in terms of mental health.
Of course, what I could really do with more is having eaten the odd sausage.