We all love to laugh, but not many people have the rare talent that lets you do it for a living.
Just imagine: you’re completely alone, sweating profoundly with a spotlight pointing straight at your forehead. You suddenly remember that you really don’t know any good party tricks or have anything to fall back on, and that only words can save you from imminent disaster.
Curiously, this trial by fire was exactly what pushed Jennifer Gray, a legal secretary and single parent, into the comedy spotlight.
A challenge to “be as funny in real life as she was on Twitter” propelled her onto the comedy scene last year. She told her then 6,000 followers that, if they could raise £1,000, she would compete for a spot in Comic Relief. They met her challenge and surpassed it with an astounding £3,000.
Ms Gray got to perform a sketch on the charity programme in front of an audience for the first time. This was the start of her love for comedy, one which has developed into a full-time affair.
For her, the only problem was timing. At one point, she was travelling two and a half hours for five minute gigs, in places that were “dirty and a bit sticky”.
Ms Gray admitted that she was working a full time 60-hour job with three to four night-time comedy gigs every week on the side. This made her realise that comedy is perhaps the least parent-friendly profession of all time.
According to the latest research published by Adzuna, the worst occupations in the UK are miners and couriers. Although comedians aren’t at the very bottom, being funny may be one of the worst jobs of all time.
Long hours, next to no pay and a lot of night travel are just a few of the obstacles that professional comedians who want to make it to the top have to overcome.
“It is three years before comedians get paid,” Ms Gray said, which is what makes it an unviable career choice for many people who need a stable income.
It is not just about surviving three years, as charisma has a lot to do with a comedian’s success: “I find there are a lot of competitions,” she explained. “I don’t like those things because it judges popularity.”
In comedy, women are a minority, and single mothers are seemingly non-existent. “I literally haven’t met another single parent that is a comedian,” Ms Gray said. It certainly would have ruled her out, had she not taken the risk, dropped the secretary job and become an entrepreneur – running her own comedy promotion company. She wanted to prove that nothing can stand in the way of her dreams (and a few laughs).
By advertising her events through Twitter, she filled the seats of hundreds of open mic nights. She said that it is guaranteed an audience. “Sometimes you go to gigs and only 10 people show up. I have never had less than 50.”
She is now fully self-employed, with over 30 venues where she organises a series of free comedy events called Gr8 Nights Out and schedules over 100 comedians.
I am sure everyone at some point in their life has come across a truly ghastly performance, usually peppered with nervous and awkward titters. It’s unlikely to be at any of Ms Gray’s Gr8 Nights Out though.
The next free comedy evenings in Kingston will be announced after the Christmas holiday.
Images courtesy of Jennifer Gray