I’m often taken aback at how comfortable some people are to talk about money and ask directly how much you earn.
I’m more likely to ask someone what kind of porn they like to watch than to stick my nose into their financial affairs. (Type that into Pornhub’s search engine, I bet you’ll find it’s somebody’s kink.)
It’s happened to me though, many times at social occasions.
“So, how much do you make from your ‘comedy’?”
I have been asked from the very start of my career, 20 years ago. Three Live At The Apollos, 10 tours and two books later, there will still be a confused friend of a friend asking me this at a party after a few drinks. (Incidentally, the quotation marks around “comedian” are indicative of their tone of voice. I don’t mean they write the question down on a piece of paper and pass it to me over the potato salad, though I wish they would.)
Many people seem slightly baffled that you can make a living from jokes and other creative endeavours, especially if they have never heard of you, which, tragically, happens a lot in my case.
Over the years I have lost count of the number of times someone I barely know asks me how much I earn, how much my house was or what my book advance was. These people, over the years have, without exception, all been men.
I point this out not to have a go at men. I’m more interested in why women don’t ask. Are we more polite? Or have we been raised to believe that business, the making of money, the managing of it, is mostly a man’s job? I have found it incredibly difficult over the years to talk about money and negotiate. A crucial life skill if you are self-employed.
In my family, I am the sole breadwinner. The other two members of my family are 12 and six years old and thanks to The Man, they are not permitted to get work and keep ME in spotty pyjamas and Jaffa Cakes. It’s all down to me.
Sometimes, and by that I mean frequently, I find the responsibility overwhelming and wonder if I was wrong, all those years ago, for judging Cinderella for marrying a prince. Of course, in the fairytale, she married him for love but, let’s face it, the whole “in love” thing had a lot to do with his money and position. If he’d been the bloke at a house party who brought along half a bottle Lambrusco he’d found at the back of his fridge, Cinderella would have Ubered herself a pumpkin out of there.
Again, I’m not judging. I have done much worse things for money than get married to a man I just met who has a foot fetish. I went on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! for God’s sake, and I don’t mind at all telling you how much I got paid for it. I got paid over a year’s worth of bedtimes with my children which was worth spending two weeks sitting on a log with complete strangers who said, “It is what it is”, a lot.
I did Celebrity Masterchef for the money. You get more the longer you stay in. I was pregnant, single, and I knew that if I got to the second round, I’d have made enough for a short maternity leave. I made it through, got my maternity leave money, then made a sandwich and got booted off.
As someone who occasionally finds bank statements in her knicker drawer, I find managing money difficult. I don’t open letters in brown envelopes. It causes me anxiety. I’m a shambles.
This is the one subject I never talk with my friends about.
We talk about everything, my women friends and I. Love, affairs, love affairs, politics, haemorrhoids... few conversations are as varied and open as when female friends are catching up over almond croissants. But money, how we make it, when we worry about it, is rarely brought up as a chat. We are mindful perhaps; for all we know, our friend is in a financial pickle and doesn’t want to hear our money worries.
We have been taught that money is too personal, too rude, too gauche. Refreshingly, I have met young female comedians recently who are more open about being business savvy in this job. Being more open, we give each other a bigger idea of what is out there. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, as they say.
Why do we find it harder to ask those direct money questions than some men? If they are mothers, women do the lion’s share of the childcare, so does that affect the way we see ourselves in business? That our career is an aside, not to be taken as seriously as a man’s? Who knows. Most of the time, like so many other self-employed people, I’m so busy hustling, I don’t have time to think about whether I’m doing it all as effectively as I could be.
My general MO is to stick work out there and hope for the best. In this spirit, I hope it’s not too pushy or forward to remind readers of this column that the two-week run of my show Skittish Warrior, Confessions of a Club Comic starts at the Soho Theatre on 17 September. Will you come? Like I say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And we have run out of Jaffa Cakes.
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