'Pay-to-play is not evil'

Jarred Keane hits back at 'middle-class whining'

I am writing in response to the recent article by Jay Richardson, They Exploit… something or other as the current creative mouthpiece and regular host for Charlie Wright’s Comedy Club. The piece raised some good points, but none of them were handled deftly, nor interestingly, and they just fit right in line with what I’ve come to know as the whinging of those in middle-class privilege.

I will say that I agree that ‘bringer’ gigs (where comics must bring the audience) and play-to-pay gigs are shit for the comedian (if they are anything beyond their first fistful of gigs). As a structure, it’s shitty, that’s obvious because ‘comedians’ don’t have many friends, nor money, and they should gig as many nights a week as possible. No fucking shit Einstein! BUT, can we stop whining about them, and blaming them for all the world’s woes?

Obviously, a genuine audience is more assured to make the event go well for everyone, but why would anyone think that 18 open mic spots is a night worth watching? That’s longer than a movie, and do you know how much you have to clap, and encourage, and give of your own energy with a night like that? If you’re looking for something to blame for open mic nights sucking (more than usual), it is that awful structure. Bringer’s and play-to-pay are not evil, they’re not destroying your dreams or killing your children, they’re the last resort, so ask why that is first, hey?

Before I get to the situation with Charlie’s and my involvement therein, I should tell you that I’m a 27-year-old comedian from Sydney, and I’ve been around comedy for nine years. I came to London because I thought I was special and deserved the work, and because when I met guys like Reginald D Hunter and Jason-John Whitehead in Australia, they encouraged it. To be fair that was a few years back, and things have changed here.

Why? Is it the rooms in London? Is it the economy? Is it the promoters? Is it global warming and women and gays and immigrants? No, there’s just too many people trying to be comedians, and no one telling them not to. Why do so many people want to be comedians? Because it’s everywhere. It’s ‘the beez neez’, ‘the shit’; it rocks your cock off, and it’s easy to get. With all of the technology we have now, it’s an integral part of modern entertainment. Anything that might be an escape from day-job slavery in a world with inescapable debt and inequality, shitty weather, high rent, and food that’s not really food, it’s an easy fantasy to have.

You have to remember kids, that independent open mic nights, or showcase shows, or one-nighters, all exist to take care of the excess ‘talent/need’ which the clubs cannot handle, and they are shit for a reason – to discourage fools. Stop acting like everyone who wants to tell jokes for a living, deserves to be able to, Britain! Comedian-run nights were started specifically because it was too difficult to rely on clubs for gigs, and nothing’s changed.

I’m not saying they all have to be shit, nor even that I run Charlie Wright’s thinking the comics are shit, or the whole situation is shit, like I’m some nihilistic masochist (that’s probably a contradiction, I wonder if any ‘comedians’ out there have a background in philosophy, and would love to share a half-assed opinion?). I’m saying that you don’t need a zombie apocalypse to find sadistic sons of bitches who’ll torture people and leave them to die just to get a little more power in a pointless quest for survival. There are real horrors in the world; you probably don’t even give to charities, so stop pretending the world owes you something! You could make a lot of money and get attention from strangers if you had just paid more attention in school and learned a few social assertion skills.

Going back to Charlie Wright’s, I heard about it last year because I lived nearby and I could walk in there and get a spot, rather than send an email for something two or three months down the line. Mike had a decent venue and was able to give me a few quid to MC. I thought the reward for bringing five people was silly, but was mostly a non-issue as no one generally did it. The bottle of wine seemed fine as you should really be rewarded if you have a nice group of friends willing to come down to an open mic night with you. Then, two months ago, I heard about a fallout at the venue about money or something. All I knew was that the belief that you can make money from running an open mic night, right away, was as out-dated as airplane jokes and VHS tapes.

So, I emailed Mike. Well, I emailed his pseudonym, and it only took a few seconds to realise why he had one. If you’re running a London open mic, you don’t want to open your personal email to the hundreds of weirdos and strangers and desperate kids that stream through over the course of a few months do you? The messages and comments never stop. Mike had to keep that separate from his personal account so he could reply promptly to the bitches and hoes hitting him up for his mad riches and his cock.

I told him I had run a night in Sydney and knew how long it would take to build something decent in Charlie’s. I know that the scene relies on a volatile mix of comedy smarts and event management skills, which usually do not exist in the same person. Comedy fans and hopefuls often start nights they can’t promote, nor can they negotiate with useless venue staff. Alternatively, venue staff or hopeful promoters will have no idea how comedy works, or who is good, or just how to treat comedians. It’s not a complicated issue kids, and it’s not a great injustice; don’t cry about it, because there are people starving to death in refugee camps because our governments are funding warlords and terrorists to gain control of the resources in those countries. Bigger fish.

Mike and I, along with our venue staff, are going to work hard to build Charlie’s into a great night with a regular crowd and even a paying audience. Naomi Hefter, who was quoted in the article, reminded me that Mike was still mentioning that open spots would get a paid, ten-minute slot at a future gig if they bring five people to watch them perform. I have stopped that dead in its tracks since it’s not viable for anyone. No more incentives than good programming of comedy and a nice venue with cheap drinks, and eventually, they’ll have some good bar food as well. I’m launching a monthly (Monday March 25) feature show with a headliner (Bobby Mair) and hand-picked supports to get some movement, but we’ll have to work hard. It will take time and it will not be easy.

We don’t live in a world where only a few brave souls want to be entertainers, and you’re able to be seen by someone, then taken care of and whisked off to pander to the suburban drones while basking in sweet paychecks that keep you out of the day-job horror shop. So get your selfish head out of your ass Britain.

Published: 23 Mar 2013

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