Value and Comedy

Posted on 08 November 2012

I participated in a business consultation at a university the other day. I have a few new ideas for projects and wanted help in how to set up a non-profit organisation. The consultant started discussing comedy as “a hobby”.

More Than a Hobby

How many of you think of what you are doing as “a hobby”.

I know many painters, musicians, writers, actors, dancers, etc as well as comedians. Many of these are forced to have other more regular paying jobs, but they all take their creative endeavours seriously. They practise all week, they perform evenings and weekends, they invest time, money, and passion into honing their skills and getting their work out into the world. These are not dabblers. These are people who put themselves out for critical observation.

The problem we acutely face as comedians is that everything is assigned a dollar value in our culture, and that value is used to determine our importance in the world. This is crazy, unfair, and ultimately bankrupt. We breathe the air for free. Does that make it unimportant? Nevertheless, I have repeatedly heard people scoff at some creative endeavour, then quickly prepare to amend their opinion by asking how much money the person makes.

Many of you, myself included, have had to face the judgement of friends and family. You could be busting your gut making other people’s lives a little lighter with a well-turned one-liner, but if you haven’t made a down payment on a large house, the people closest to you may feel you are wasting your time with a distraction. Alternatively, if they do believe it’s possible to make money in your creative field, they expect it to be in the millions and wonder what’s wrong with you that you’re still working open mics for free.

Choosing The Creative Life

I grew up in a comfortable middle class home. Simply being able to afford a TV and a nice car wasn’t enough. I want to live a fulfilling life, rich in creativity and laughter. I willingly kicked off into the outer space of the creative life without knowing if I would ever find a shooting star upon which to ground my feet and make a little money. I have on more than one occasion had to live out of foodbanks and receive special funds just to buy a pair of shoes.

The amount of time it takes to establish yourself as a creator and receive any recognition can take its toll. Emotionally and physically you may find yourself hanging by your bloody fingernails to keep yourself happening. What you have to do to survive is be clear on your own values, and not let shallow commercial values crush you.

Values That Work

1) The world only functions when we have an interconnected diversity of people working on a diversity of projects. We don’t need just farmers; we need clothes manufacturers, roadworkers, builders, and more. We don’t need just doctors; we need journalists, teachers, programmers, and so on. And for those jobs to exist in the form that they exist, we had to have people willing to take a creative leap into the unknown and develop new materials, processes, and machinery. You have as much right to choose an unconventional path as anyone. That’s how our culture grows.

2) The world needs creativity and the world needs laughs. We are facing some significant problems: global climate change, unfair distribution of wealth, discrimination… We aren’t going to change these situations by doing what we have always done. We have to break out of our cages and see things in surprising new ways. This is what comedians do best. Being able to see a bigger picture and play with ideas is a skill that we funny folk exercise every day. And when people need a hand up because despair has temporarily paralysed them, a few laughs go a long way toward lifting their spirits and making them resilient.

3) How many millionaires from a hundred years ago can you name? How about 200, 500, or a 1000 years ago? They have done nothing more interesting than accumulate money. Have you heard of John Elwes, Esq? I’m sure you’ve heard of Charles Dickens. He immortalised the spirit of John Elwes when he used him as a template for his character Ebenezer Scrooge. Don’t let anyone judge you by the size of your bank account. What you are doing is much more interesting and memorable than being able to afford a George Foreman BBQ.

You have people who will see it as good luck when you succeed and your responsibility when you fail. Some aren’t willing to give you any sort of credit for what you have achieved, because they would like to believe they can do the same thing with ease, if they just gave it a whirl. But trust me, don’t worry about these people. You are just fine and doing something worthwhile. Keep reaffirming that to yourself and find others who will remind you, “You’re fine, you big dummy.”

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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