Turns out that stand-up comedy is a hell of a lot easier than homeschooling

·6-min read
Andy Parsons performing at the Hammersmith Apollo in London (Getty)
Andy Parsons performing at the Hammersmith Apollo in London (Getty)

This Monday’s “freedom day” was due to see theatres back to full capacity but it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

When theatres closed 18 months ago, I was mid-tour and that tour was due to resume this coming weekend with the first three of my rescheduled dates. Sadly, a lot of theatres couldn’t take the risk that freedom day was going to happen as planned and so these gigs have been pushed back yet again – but I did get to do some “warm up shows this week in a couple of arts centres.

On Saturday, the arts centre I was in had a capacity of 150 but with social distancing in force, this was reduced to only 38. With comedy, if 51 per cent of an audience are on your side, you are in the game. If well over 51 per cent have been prevented from attending, the game has obvious challenges – and it was somewhat surreal to be able to walk out to a quarter-full auditorium and say: “Welcome to the sold-out show.”

When theatres closed last year, I still had 40 gigs of the tour left to complete. The tour was called “Healing The Nation”, which won’t go down as one of my more successful tour titles. The ill-fated “Healing The Nation” tour has now been rescheduled three times so far – first to Autumn 2020, then to Spring 2021, currently to Autumn 2021/Spring 2022. The 40 unfinished-tour gigs that were due to be completed by May 2020 will now not be completed until May 2022. What should have taken two months will now take two years – and there is no guarantee that it will be finished by then.

We will see what this winter brings, but with the expected resurgence of many other illnesses as well as Covid-19, it seems certain that healing the nation is going to take many years – and quite possibly the tour of that name even longer.

If you are self-employed and earned more than £50,000 in the tax year 2018/19, even £50,000.01, there has been no financial help from the government. The only outlet for the gigging stand-up has been the odd Zoom gig – a particularly challenging working-from-home scenario when you factor in language, volume and sleeping children.

Part of the joy of stand-up is getting dressed up in your performance kit, turning up to wonderful venues and going onstage to the roar of a crowd. That joy is somewhat diminished when you get dressed up in your bedroom, go next door into your box room and click a button that reveals 50 tiny thumbnails on a screen of people lounging on their own sofas eating crisps.

At a comedy gig, there is nowhere for an audience member to hide and no devices are allowed – whereas on a Zoom gig, the audience are often on multiple devices, have the luxury of a mute button and can heckle in multiple formats when chat is enabled.

British theatres certainly seem to have been at the unfortunate end of regulations. In some countries, borders were closed and theatres allowed to stay open to domestic audiences. In the UK, the borders were left open but theatres were closed. The Delta variant is running rampant in the country because of not closing borders, not because of the Hackney Empire’s country-wide touring production of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Comedy is also uniquely affected by masks in that it completely muffles the laughter and it’s very hard to work out who’s heckling just from looking at people’s eyes. However, this is made easier as it appears the demographic that are most keen on heckling tend to be the people who have their mask hanging off one ear, or under their chin, or have been told they don’t need to wear their mask when they are drinking and have thus decided to drink continuously.

For my “warm up” arts centre shows, there was a white line across the front of the stage which I was forbidden to cross so as not to jeopardise my social distancing from the audience. There was to be no running around the auditorium and no high-fiving any audience members.

We will wait and see if the government introduces Covid passports for theatres, but they have said they will be necessary for nightclubs from September. Who knows how this will impact the atmosphere in nightclubs when the only wild party animals allowed in are the organised and responsible wild party animals.

When I started off in stand-up, there was no stand-up circuit to speak of and there was negligible chance of making a living. Over the last few years, there has been an influx of young people to stand-up, not because comedy has become any more secure, but because virtually every other job has become more insecure. When the choices are Amazon or Uber or Deliveroo, a lot of young people are thinking that they might as well take their chances with stand-up because at least with stand-up they can tell a customer to f**k off without losing their job – and, with stand-up, when you have a go at one particular customer, often all the other customers really enjoy it.

The great thing from my perspective is that theatres and comedy clubs are back open because, regardless of whatever restrictions may be imposed, it is still way more fun than homeschooling. I make no claims about my abilities to homeschool a nine-year-old and a three-year-old, but I know I did a better job than some. A friend of mine walked in on her husband, who was in the process of homeschooling their four-year-old, to hear the husband say: “Don’t be a dick”.

One of the great things about stand-up comedy is that if somebody in the audience is being a dick, you can call them out on it. If you ask an audience member a question and they give you a stupid answer, you can tease them, ridicule them, question their fashion sense or their intellect or their parentage. After a period of trial and error, I have realised these are not advisable paths to go down when it comes to homeschooling. You can let an audience know how you truly feel and it can all be part of the show.

However, it’s not always constructive to let your children know your true feelings. When you mention how tricky homeschooling is, and your nine-year-old retorts: “Well, you’re the ones who decided to have me”, it is not helpful to reply: “Well, no we didn’t actually – it was something of an accident. You may not know this, but in Hawaiian your name means surprise.”

The skills for homeschooling are endless patience, restraint and letting others express their feelings – for seven hours a day, five days a week – and then you’ve still got to look after them in the evenings and at weekends. However tricky it may be in theatres, with social distancing or masks or Covid passes or endless tours or quarter full “sold-out” audiences, I’ll take it – just please don’t close the schools again.

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