Comedian Tiernan Douieb writes about how opening up the economy is good for his bank balance but he worries how it’ll affect his role as dad
They say it takes around 66 days to form a new habit and for that habit to become automatic, like normal, like you’ve never done anything else any other way. I’m not sure who they are exactly but as the pandemic kicked off last year, I reckon it took me only a fraction of that to adjust to having absolutely no work and sitting around in my pyjamas 24/7.
Don’t get me wrong, having no real source of income has been stressful and at times very scary. That and the everyday efforts of trying to find things to do with my three-year-old daughter when the weather was imitating a splash-park in Greenland, all added together to make the past year quite tough.
So, on the one hand, I can’t wait for normal or the new normal or shiny, all-star, all new normal whatever they want to call it to make it seem like it’ll somehow be different to before and not just because lots of shops are closed now. The prospect of actually being able to do real stand-up gigs again to live audiences is very exciting, as is being able to let my daughter run around soft play for an hour catching all the other illnesses that have been neglected since early 2020.
But on the other hand – the one that has been firmly clasping twelve cups of tea a day during lockdowns 1-20 – the return of full-on work is nothing but daunting.
In 17 years of self-employment, I had so rarely taken time off that even free days between gig or writing work was spent booking in more work, writing new comedy material, or pitching ideas.
There is a general conceit that stand-up comedians only work for 20-30 minutes a night, much like how people only suppose that bin men only work on the day of the week that the rubbish is collected in their area. Much like bin men, I would shout my way through the week doing at least three or four shows a night, with children’s shows in the daytimes. The stage time would only be 20-30 minutes long, but the driving there could take hours to get each venue across the country especially on a Friday when the motorways would gather cars and not let them go for hours.
I’d often be away from home for a few nights at a time too, staying in hotels of varying quality and buffet cart palettes. In-between that there are the hours of writing material and working it through, testing it out at smaller gigs during the early half of the week and of course other writing and script-work, recording podcasts and so much admin cautiously emailing different promoters and producers trying to find different polite or interesting ways of basically saying ‘Can I have paid work please because I like eating and paying my rent?’
And to be honest, I loved it. I loved being busy. I loved giving my brain billions of things to do at once and I panicked if I saw gaps in the diary or workload, as though it was an omen of workless times to come, rather than a nice opportunity to have a breather and possibly even socialise, whatever that is.
Parenthood, as you can probably imagine, changed that attitude quite a bit.
It turns out that children not only take up a vast chunk of your time – weird I know? – and suddenly I preferred spending that time with my daughter than being stuck on the M1 with an unsatisfactory egg mayonnaise sandwich.
The past year was suddenly a lot of time to just be a parent and have time to be a dad, watch my daughter become a proper idiot toddler and play bonkers games with her or argue about why she has to have a bath despite, as she says, ‘it’s too watery in there’. Not only that but I’ve had time to exercise lots, eat vegetables that aren’t just in a motorway sandwich, sleep before midnight and, well, occasionally stop for a bit. Only occasionally though, as my daughter is three so it’s pretty much just once she’s asleep.
Its only from stopping that I’ve realised the level I was working at, wasn’t really all that good for me, even if it was a lot healthier for my bank account that is currently clinically deceased.
So now, things going back to normal is good, but also, I’m concerned how I’ll find time in my new schedule of entirely being a dad, to fit in all the work stuff too in-between bath arguments and nursery drop offs. I’m not entirely sure where the work will squeeze in, or if I really want it to. Hopefully I’ll find a sort of middle ground between the two and enjoy actually having a career again, balancing the crap sandwiches and affording things, with making sure I’m not away quite as much and can still spend a good amount of time in my PJs and take my daughter to collect the latest pandemic from soft play too.
It seems a lot to take on board, but I guess it’ll only be 66 days and it’ll probably feel like I won’t have ever known anything different.