A comedians' graveyard?

Terry Frisby on the Jongleurs crisis

I’ve been a comic on and off for over 12 years, even at one time making a full time living off the circuit. In terms of a career it wasn’t for me, though. The unrelenting travel, the Ginsters pasty diet, and the strain I found trying to maintain a stable relationship. Most important of all, I lost the passion to perform. All of a sudden the joy and excitement of performing had gone as soon as it had turned into a job.

Knowing this week’s gigs were to cover rent, next week’s for that tax bill and so on somehow removed the fun out of it. I was realistic enough to know I was never going to be the next Eddie Izzard or Ross Noble, but I knew I could make an OK living from the circuit for the next five maybe even ten years but then what?

I knew that ten years as a stand-up comic on my CV would look interesting to a future employer but would it get me the job against a rival candidate that had spent that same time building up relevant job experience? Did I want to find myself down the line as a 40-year-old with no solid job history behind me other than performing and wondering how I was now going to pay the bills if the gigs began to dry up?

It forced me to reconsider what I really wanted from comedy. A lot of acts use it as a way into TV or radio, but what of those who just did it for the thrill of performing night after night in front of a crowd as I had?

I made a decision to concentrate on my old ‘daytime career’ again and found a genuine balance that worked for me. I went back to my old job and at the same time reduced my gigs down to a weekend or so a month, in clubs I really enjoyed. The enjoyment of performing came back and the money became a welcome monthly bonus on top of a proper salary. I began to be able to plan much further ahead financially and with some genuine security.

With the news about Jongleurs, I began to wonder about a number of the fine circuit stalwarts I’d seen and gigged with over these last 12 years who did concentrate on their comedy. The acts who hadn’t found their niche in TV or radio. People who found the circuit an enjoyable and sustainable workplace for those five or ten years or maybe even longer, but for one reason or another are no longer to be seen on this or any other weekend. This very website even has a search facility under retired circuit comics, not a huge list at present, but growing all the same.

The one thing it does not have is any mention of where are they now. So what of these acts who used Jongleurs and the like to pay their mortgage during the booming days of alternative comedy, when it seemed there were more spots than there were acts to fill them?

Year on year, brilliant new acts continue to break through to claim their share of the spoils, which is a great thing, however the number of genuine clubs that pay enough to sustain someone making a living is definitely not rising exponentially. We can’t be far off reaching a tipping point, if we haven’t already, that we will see a lot more of those dyed-in-the-wool circuit stalwarts filed under that retired banner at a much quicker rate. I genuinely hope that we don’t end up with an elephants’ graveyard of comics, no longer in favour, who didn’t find their own balance soon enough.

Published: 21 Oct 2009

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