There are no days off when you're a comedian

Milo McCabe finds it tough to relax...

Having a day off as a comic is more of a problem than you might expect.

I have several friends with traditional jobs who look at what they perceive to be my three 20-30 minute windows of work a week and laugh in my face whenever I describe myself as ‘working hard at the moment’. The irony is, I sometimes find myself getting jealous at the absolute nature of their downtime: evenings and weekends where work is the furthest thing from their minds.

But as a self-employed professional comedian, the effort is constant, with no definite breaks. Time not spent gigging or travelling to gigs (which, to be fair, is most Sundays to Wednesdays for me) is spent writing the next Edinburgh show, coming up with – or trying to come up with – new ideas, booking and confirming gigs, chasing gigs and thinking about all the other things I COULD be doing to further my career.

Time spent not doing that stuff can be spent worrying about the fact that you aren’t doing that stuff as much as you should.

Being a comedian means that you are absolutely in control of your professional future, at least within an unquantifiable ceiling of comic development, and while that can be considered an incredible freedom, it’s also a burden of responsibility. A socially healthy brain will recognise that if things don’t work out to the extent they could for you, there is no one else to blame. And that can lead to a fairly stressful day-to-day existence.

Combine that with the fact that on a gig day, I am aware all day long that I have to work that night. It’s a low-level sensory awareness, there from the moment I wake up, an ongoing internal physiological preparation for what is to come. This feeling isn’t relieved until after the gig, where it translates into a temporary euphoria (provided everything has gone as it should!) which lasts for about 45 minutes, then replaced by a kind of nothing. I’m sure other comics feel similar things, maybe not to such extremities, and this can be construed as the body and mind working very hard, all day long.

I think the thing to do is to isolate a certain day in the diary where, as a comic, you don’t think about work in the slightest. Again easier said than done. It’s actually quite hard to have a ‘fuck all’ day without feeling guilt. I’ve lost count of the number of times a badgering internal monologue has ruined a perfectly good Xbox session.

I guess the point I’m making is having defined periods of relaxation is a luxury not afforded to doing this job – although when you love the job you do, time off is less important, since we don’t have the endless hours of boredom in our jobs.

But that means comedians’ boredom thresholds can get lowered to the point where situations such as shopping, family get-togethers or speed awareness lectures can take on nightmarish proportions of tedium. But that’s an entirely different rant…

Published: 5 Feb 2012

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