Making a Living in Comedy in the East Midlands

Conference Presentation


Sedgwick, C. 2022. Making a Living in Comedy in the East Midlands . Mixed Bill Comedy in Crisis Conference .
AuthorsSedgwick, C.
TypeConference Presentation
Abstract

During those confusing first few weeks of lockdown in March 2020 I received notification that my BA/ Leverhulme small research grant application had been successful. Back in October 2019 I had applied to look at the cultural economy of comedy in the East Midlands, looking specifically at the impact of race, class and gender on comedians’ ability to navigate a career in a particularly precarious and informal industry. In March 2020, the live comedy industry effectively shut down by COVID-19, and an already precarious industry was going to be even more difficult to navigate. It became clear that not addressing the pandemic with my participants was not an option, and many of my research questions were made redundant. In this paper, I discuss the findings from my research within the context of the pandemic. The paper combines a reflection on my experience of researching during COVID-19 alongside an analysis of the findings and how they help us understand comedy as an industry, both during the pandemic and beyond it. In the first part of the paper, I reflect on the practicalities of researching comedy during a pandemic. I reflect on the ethical considerations of conducting interviews during a pandemic. I discuss the imperative on the one hand to use the research to document the experiences of comedians during the pandemic, whilst on the other hand not wanting to be prurient or insensitive during a time of uncertainty for my participants. I reflect on the impact of moving towards online interviews and how using this method during a time when stand up had also moved online opened new ways for me, as a researcher, to understand the experiences of my participants. In the second part of the paper, I provide an overview of my findings, and reflect on the impact of the pandemic on the industry going forwards. Crucially, I argue that it is important to understand the experiences of my participants during the pandemic as both unprecedented and in keeping with the precarious nature of the industry. Furthermore, I argue that although the pandemic has brought to the surface longstanding issues in the industry, especially regarding the impact that financial insecurity has on access (see O’Brien et al, 2020 for an overview of how these inequalities impact on creatives workers more broadly), to understand the current moment as limited to the pandemic is to ignore the extent to which precarity is an ongoing issue that did not require a pandemic to be problematic. However, the setting up of the Live Comedy Association (LCA) in 2020 suggests an attempt by the industry to consider the working conditions of performers in a way that had previously been ignored. Similarly, online gigs have both been a necessity during lockdown as well to make stand up more accessible. I argue that such efforts towards equity will only be possible if the experience of comedians during COVID is understood as part of a wider context of precarity and not as a stand-alone event.

KeywordsComedy ; Cultural Economy ; Covid-19
Year2022
ConferenceMixed Bill Comedy in Crisis Conference
Web address (URL)https://mixedbill.wordpress.com/
FunderBritish Academy
Output statusPublished
Publication dates2022
Publication process dates
Deposited22 Sep 2022
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https://repository.derby.ac.uk/item/98y95/making-a-living-in-comedy-in-the-east-midlands

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