If you'd asked me this time last year, tell me about yourself Lauren, I'd have 1. Thought that was a weird question to ask outside of a job interview or therapy session but 2. Been able to do so easily.
I'd have told you I was a comedian, or depending on who you were I might have glossed over that and told you I was a writer to avoid being asked to tell you a joke, or to be the recipient of a racist anecdote presented as a joke from yourself. I'd have told you I loved my job, and was so lucky to be doing something that made me so happy. I'd have told you I was in the process of writing my next show, I wanted it to be my strongest, funniest show yet and I'd hoped it was going to open some of those doors that were still shut for me in my industry, and that I was going to do my first proper tour. I'd have told you I was really excited for this year. More than likely, I'd have told you I really liked dogs.
Ask me that a few months later in April 2020 and I probably would have told you to quite simply fuck off.
Back in March, I watched all the work disappear out of my diary. They say it never rains but it pours, and it's safe to say it didn't rain over those next few weeks but absolutely chucked it down. A monsoon season of cancellations. Naively, at first I thought I'd just lose a month of work, that Covid would have upped and left after causing minor disruption to our lives, like an unexpected guest at your house when you had other plans to be getting on with, but as time went on, my optimism exploded with as much force as someone's head getting crushed in an elaborate contraption in a Saw film.
To get to the point as a comic where you can go full time takes a lot of work, particularly full time as a circuit comic. There seemed to be an assumption from some people online when comics dared to express their sadness at losing their livelihoods, that comedians were all well paid arena fillers or TV regulars with a comfortable bank balance to see them through the coming months, seemingly blissfully unaware that an entire circuit of working comics exists as well, and they rely solely on those live gigs to pay the bills and stay afloat, gigging four, five, six times a week around the country. You will have grafted on the circuit, gigging for free to begin with, travelling up and down the country at your own expense, to improve as a comic. When you start to improve, you may get paid a small amount, enough to cover your travel if you're lucky, more likely enough to get a celebratory (or commissary) Mcdonalds post gig, but you can't live off it. But you work and you write, and you travel and you die, and you learn, and you die some more, and you improve, and you become a comic. You start getting paid at a couple of clubs for the odd spot, then you start to get full paid weekends, you're playing with the pro's now, the bookings are no longer few and far between, but you've got regular work at every club in the country, you're booked up for the next 6 months and you're earning a living doing what you love. It takes time but fuck me it is worth it.
Once the Fringe went, aptly on April Fools Day, I knew that this wasn't something that was going away anytime soon. By this point, virtually all my work up til August had been pulled, the Fringe going knocked off August and my subsequent plans to make my mark as a touring comic in the autumn. I had a few gigs still clinging on to the sinking ship of my google calendar, but I knew they wouldn't happen (and of course they didn't.) My work was gone, and along with it I was rapidly beginning to lose the sense of who I was as well.
Comedy, at least for me, is one of those jobs that is all consuming. You don't just show up and do your job, then switch off the second you leave ready to unwind. Your mind is always switched on, always thinking, you're writing in the day, sometimes still writing until moments before you go on stage. You leave the gig and you're fizzing with adrenaline, riding high off what went right, or thinking about how to make sure what went wrong doesn't happen next time. It makes your day or it ruins your night.
You don't work with the same people day in, day out - sometimes you might find yourself working with a friend you've not seen in months, there's the buzz of working with a comic you idolize for the first time, the excitement of working with somebody new who proper smashes it and reminds you that you've not seen it all just yet. It is such a social job, not just by the nature of being up on stage talking, but your colleagues can make or break a gig for you. There's nothing like a belter line up, made up of comics you love on and off stage. A green room over spilling with laughter, from people who love what they do and are lucky to work with such brilliant people.
So suddenly I found myself with no work, with no sense of when that might come back, and in what shape. Much of my social life centered around gigs, my routine, my days, my year was all shaped and planned and fueled by comedy. And I felt so fucking lost without it. I felt useless,like I didn't have much of a purpose. Seeing the reactions from some people online about 'whinging' self employed, particularly those in the arts, I felt like I wasn't allowed to be upset over losing everything I had worked so hard for, simply cause my job looked different to theirs. I know my job isn't the most important in the world but that doesn't mean it's not a valid one. If you don't think it's valid, fancy refunding me all the tax I've paid in the 3 years since it became my full time job? No?
I was terrified I'd wasted 8 years of my life daring to be ambitious and chase my passion, when maybe I should have settled for something instead that maybe didn't light a fire in my belly, but was stable and valued by employers. I didn't come into comedy from another career so its not like I have something to fall back on, I worked retail & hospitality jobs throughout uni and post graduation because those jobs were the easiest to fit around comedy and I told myself I would make this my full time job one day.
Use this time to write Lauren, people told me. I did! I wrote script pitches, podcast ideas, a whole script pilot - and while this maybe filled some time, it's all fine and well telling someone to 'just write' for free, with no commissions guaranteed off the back of any of this work, at a time where income and lost earnings was prevalent for most. I had various ideas for daft little projects I could record or film myself, but to be honest my heart wasn't in these things and they were making me sadder, I felt like I was just clawing at ideas for the sake of it and putting more pressure on myself to 'adapt.' I needed to occupy myself, yes, but I also needed money coming in.
Just like Quorn exists to fill the meat void for vegetarians, up sprang online gigs for comics. They tried their best to imitate what we'd lost and they definitely served a purpose, but obviously they just weren't quite the same as the magic of a live gig, of course we were all still gonna be pining for a hit of real live comedy beef and not just virtual Linda Mccartney cauliflower nuggets for the rest of our days. The good ones left me tingling with happiness, reminded me I was a comedian, a good one, I love to make people laugh, I am so proud of this daft little bunch of misfits who make up the industry that's allowed me to live my dream. The less good ones, left me missing what I'd lost even more, craving being in a packed comedy club, with an electric atmosphere, sharing a drink with my mates before watching them kill it ... instead of sat on my bed in joggers and a nice top (the uniform of the unemployed zoom comedian) with an unstable WiFi connection performing to a handful of people while anonymous lurkers in the chat box complain that you aren't the famous TV headline act.
I went and got a day job within a month of the lockdown announcements. My first day in the supermarket was exactly a year to the day I'd been doing stand up at the Sydney Opera House. I remember standing in the wings of that gig thinking you know what Lauren, you're so lucky to be here. Every amazing opportunity I got in comedy, be it the chance to travel the world performing, or sharing stages with the comics who 16 year old Lauren used to save her money to buy tickets for, I'd think how lucky I was. But thing is, sitting here with the benefit of hindsight - it's not just luck is it? Because luck implies you're here by chance, luck undermines the work that has gone into building a career. And you're here because of more than just luck, because you have worked so so hard to make this happen. You've devoted your whole adult life to trying to have a career in this world and your hard work paid off. You didn't give up and you worked and you slogged up and down the country doing gig after gig because you wanted to be good. You spent your student loan on megabuses to places you hadn't heard of, you saved your wages to go to the Edinburgh Fringe while your colleagues got to spend theirs on things young adults should be spending their wages on, nice holidays and recreational drug habits. You are lucky to be able to do a job you love, of course, you are lucky to have done some wonderful things as a result of your job - but you are not just 'lucky' to have had these opportunities - you deserve them, you earned them. Because that's the thing, for a lot of comedians like me who weren't blessed with the ability to hold a God like opinion of themselves (I mean, that's why most of us end up being comics we're insecure as fuck), the comics like me who've grafted day jobs to fund their career, who've managed to go full time and feel that rush of no longer being stuck in an office or behind a bar, but being on stage where they properly feel they belong, the working class comics who don't have a financial safety net behind them - a lot of us spend our careers thinking we are lucky to be doing these things and never accepting that yes, that is in part true - but we deserve these good things. We can never truly relax in our careers, because we're so scared someone is going to take this all away, our luck is going to run out. Because why would something so good ever be happening to someone like me? One day this could all be taken away from me, I'll wake up and this will all disappear and then what? And surely enough ... it happened.
I was grateful to get a job at a time when many more industries than my own were suffering (and I cannot stress enough, I know performers aren't the only ones who have suffered but I can only speak about my own experience) but there was still a sense of embarrassment at first. Will people think I've failed? Are people laughing at me, and not for the reasons I'd usually want? Look at Lauren, who ran off to London to try be a comedian, back in Newcastle and in a supermarket cafe. Who did she think she was, ideas above her station that girl. But I kept telling myself, it wouldn't feel right for me to sit at home, pining over the career I felt I'd lost, complaining about the money I wasn't earning, without at least trying to find some other way of supporting myself, of doing what grafters with an impeccable work ethic (brag, she's had a wine) like me do and finding a way to get through shitty shitty times. I always felt previously I was hiding part of my personality, worried about being too weird and not fitting in, and comedy allowed me to be exactly who I was. I'd found my tribe, but as soon as I started a day job again, I had a new tribe to try fit into and in making myself fit, I didn't feel like me. On stage, I felt like I got to be the best version of me, I got to sparkle ... but you don't get as much chance to shine when you're being shouted at by customers who think you personally are responsible for fact there's a tear in the bag of parsnips they are buying, or that you dictated the coronavirus measures in place. Yes Julie, I actually was the one who dropped Boris a WhatsApp to say we should all have masks! I'm gonna do another post all about going back to a day job, so I'll not prattle on about it too much here, but for all the benefits and sanity and stability the job is giving me, of which of course I'm happy for, I still don't feel like I get to be the Lauren I spent years becoming, and I really bloody liked who she was turning into. Like when video game characters get better (and weirdly sometimes, hotter) with the technological advancements of consoles and graphic design, I was going through some excellent updates.
Over the summer, a few gigs started coming back and we got a taste of what it was like to have a shred of normality again, even if normality now meant gigging to masked audiences who are trying very hard to tell you with their lovely kind eyes that they are having a good time, but that's been snatched away again, and to be honest I am finding it a whole lot harder the second time. The temporary job I got to distract myself first time round is now looking ever more permanent, and I miss doing comedy so, so much. I don't just miss the gigs, I miss the social aspect, I miss meeting new people, I miss THE LOVE OF STRANGERS. I feel like it's wise to look for a new career, and when comedy comes back I can do it on the side, with my main career providing more security and stability than pursuing comedy full time. But I've applied for jobs in the past with a CV that is largely dominated by a comedy career (a successful one might I add) and never received a single interview, and I know that will be worse at a time with redundancies and job losses left, right and centre, so of course I feel disheartened and scared. I know I have transferable skills, before you say (lots of comics argue they have no transferable skills and I heartily disagree with that, our job is more than just telling jokes) I've poured over job applications detailing how what I've done matches what they want, but I know the volume of applicants for each job is massive, and I think my CV will always end up at the bottom of the pile in favour of applicants who actually have experience in the role they're applying for - and can you blame them? I need someone to do an ABBA and take a chance but it's not really the climate for taking chances, is it?
So I suppose none of this helps with the big identity crisis I'm having. I'm Lauren, and I'm a comedian - but I don't really feel like a comedian right now. Comedy is back to being a hobby, the supermarket is my job ... but what's my career gonna be? I'm prepared to do something else but it doesn't feel like anywhere else wants me, so I'm sort of floating aimlessly looking for a new purpose.
If you ask me right now, tell me about yourself Lauren, I'd 1. Still think that was a weird question to ask outside of a job interview or therapy session but 2. I'd tell you I'm not really sure what the fresh hell is happening with me right now, but I hope there's something good waiting round the corner for me, I do think I deserve it. I'd tell you whether it's comedy or not, just like always I'll work my arse off to do well in it. I'd tell you I'm really excited for this year to be over.
And, of course, I'd tell you I still really like dogs, by the way.
(tip jar https://ko-fi.com/laurenpattison but times are hard, no pressure, a nice message is just as appreciated)