Wednesday

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

A couple of years ago I took a comedy course with a company called Mirth Control in Bath. It was the
With Arthur Smith at a Mirth Control gig in Bath.
best of times and the worst of times because I was learning the art of comedy with some fabulous people while awaiting a diagnosis on the life-enhancing dis-ease.

The guy who runs Mirth Control is called Geoff Whiting. He's both a comedian and a comedy agent and he puts out a weekly form on the internet for any comedian telling them what gigs he's offering at what price, when and where. That's any comedian — not just comedians for whom Mirth Control is the agent.

These gigs vary from open mic (no fee) to headlining (varying amounts according to what the market will bear) and they also include car shares wherever possible — a car share for an aspiring comedian is very important if we are to get to as many gigs as we want to while we learn the craft. Comedians travel up and down and across the UK all the time chasing their comedic destiny.

Geoff also offers gigs abroad in Europe. At the moment he's under attack from some comedians for not offering 'enough' for a gig in France. Here's the offer:

You know something, as a semi-pro comedian, I'd jump at that offer. The only reason I haven't bid for it is because I'm performing at someone's private party on Friday 19th — for a very good fee, thank you very much. The reason why I've got that very good fee is because I asked a comedian friend, Paul, how much I should charge and then checked that amount with Geoff.

Geoff is not my agent. But since I did the Mirth Control course I've been in touch with him several times — to ask him what he thought of my YouTube video, to explain why I wasn't bidding for gigs (when I was ill) and telling him about my month in Edinburgh and, just a few months ago, asking him if it was okay for me to start bidding for paid gigs through Mirth Control.

Every single time Geoff has read my email properly and replied in detail. Every single time he has been friendly, honest and supportive. He's never been paid a penny for helping me in my comedy career but he has done so without a moment's hesitation. When it came to the private gig on 19th June I knew I could ask him whether I was worth the amount that Paul had suggested and he said 'yes.'

I am a niche comedian — there aren't many kick-ass vicars on the circuit — so if someone wants my kind of comedy, I'm pretty much the only one who can provide it. On the other hand, there are many, many pubs and clubs where I'd go down like a lead balloon. So there's no use in my going 'I can command a LOT of money so I'm not going to do any gigs where I might have to buy my own lunch.' Heck, I have to buy my own lunch most days so doing it in France would not give me a moment's trouble.

So what's my point here? It's simply to say this to the comedians who are bitching at Geoff Whiting on Twitter: 'You think it's underpaid? Then don't apply for the gig!' That's all. It's not a sin to offer a gig that doesn't pay a lot of money when you are offering travel to France and Cannes and Monaco for free! It's a dream gig for someone who's moving from open mic to paid work.

It's also worth pointing out that Geoff is not Simon Cowell. He doesn't live in a mansion; he doesn't drive an expensive car; he doesn't sit in his office gloating over the money his comedians bring in. He's a decent bloke who just loves comedy. And in a genre which is currently hugely over-subscribed with aspirants, he's offering what the market can bear. He can only pay us what the venue will pay him.

I've only organised a few public events in my life but I know it's like herding cats and I know that getting decent money out of a venue/people who want entertainment supplied can be like getting blood out of a stone. Anyone who does that kind of thing as a living gets my vote. And anyone who complains about the service he offers should walk a mile in his shoes to see if they could do any better before they say a word of condemnation.

Up to the date of writing, Geoff Whiting has never offered me a paid gig. But he has offered me his time and his advice — and I am grateful.