To better understand the day-to-day impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Manchester’s creatives, we’ve launched a new series inviting spokespeople to share their thoughts on what the future of their sector might look like when things return to normal. This week, we hear from stand-up comedian and podcaster Rachel Fairburn…

That message we got the other day was ‘if you can’t work from home, go to work’. I can’t work from home but I also can’t go to work because my work’s not open so I don’t really know what you want me to fucking do. That’s the main challenge: comedy clubs aren’t open. I do this really morbid thing where every week I have a look at my diary and see where I was supposed to be at the weekend. This weekend I should’ve been in Glasgow doing three nights at The Stand.

I was supposed to be going on tour. I did one tour date and then the week after, everything started to get locked down. I had about six or seven shows booked in after that. They’ve all been rescheduled but there’s absolutely no point publicising them because people don’t really have money to spend frivolously at the moment. I don’t think anyone’s priority is getting tickets to something because no one knows if it’s going to happen or not.

We had the massive Edinburgh show for All Killa No Filla that sold out in 12 hours and of course it means nothing now because it’s not happening. It’s gone. When something’s so beyond your control you just kind of go, ‘fine’. It’s okay for comedians that have other things going on – because of the podcast, people will still buy tickets to my tour show and people will still come and see me do stand-up. Other acts who rely solely on the circuit – purely earning their money through that – I have no idea what they’re going to do. They’re stuffed really and until when? Even when gigs do come back there’s still going to be so many acts wanting the work. The waiting lists will be huge, so some people might not be gigging until next March.

Even if you do decide to put out content online, you’re in a weird situation. If you don’t already have that audience built up, then where does it go? We’re still able to do the podcast and have realised that it actually sounds better recording remotely. We’re putting out more than we ever have because we have the time. I’ve also become an Agony Aunt on Instagram after someone suggested it. People just DM me their problems and I’ll be honest with you. I’ve been quite shocked at how much they’re willing to tell me. Also I’ve been doing weekly ghost stories which is a continuation of a live storytelling night that I run in London. People send in their ghost stories and I read them out and people are really into that. If you’re doing something people are enjoying, you’ve got to take their feedback on board and adapt it to keep them interested.

Asking for money feels grubby and performers are expected to work for free. I think there’s still the attitude that entertainment is just showing off for a living and people don’t actually think it’s a living. But when you think about how much people rely on entertainment and comedy and music, it’s so strange that people don’t want to pay for it and don’t see it as important. Obviously it’s not as important as nurses – but you still need to have some culture because what would you do if you didn’t have it? You’d just be staring at a wall. There’d be no paintings.

When you do start putting things online, there’s pressure to come up with new material and new things for people to keep watching. You’ve got time to write but you’ve got no inspiration because you can’t go anywhere or do anything. The last thing people will want to hear after this is the lockdown. ITV are doing isolation stories. Fucking hell – we’re stuck in the house, can’t go out and you’ve made heavily pregnant Sheridan Smith record a thing about being isolated at home? I can’t comprehend this.

I’ve done a couple of ‘virtual gigs’. I did the first Covid Arms which was great but it’s not the same. Online gigs are perfect for me because I just stand still on stage but for physical performers like Russell Kane, it loses something. That said, it’s the best we’ve got at the moment. After all this, I can’t imagine anyone would want to watch people perform to a webcam in their living room again. I think gigs might get streamed more – actual live gigs with an audience. Clubs will have online ticket options if they’ve sold out and offer a live stream. Until then, I’ll crack on with The Only Way Is Essex. That’s how bad it’s got.

Guest Post
Published on:
Wed 27 May 2020