Don't Give Up the Day Job

Doctor by day, standup by night? A funny media exec? A Late Night Gimp Fighter-cum-barrister? The world of comedy is moonlighting central, as Si Hawkins finds out

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Abigoliah Schamaun
Published 22 Jul 2017

This could be an awkward few weeks for Cally Beaton, even if her Fringe show is a huge, sell-out success. The problem: many of those seats might well contain fellow comedians, all wanting a quick, loaded chat afterwards.

Beaton is in a unique position. A relatively new standup, she’s also a senior vice president at Viacom, the media giant behind Paramount Pictures, MTV, and other major channels. Which makes socialising with contemporaries tricky.

“On the circuit I don’t talk about what I do by day,” Beaton admits. “Not least because I don’t want everyone going, ‘can you get me a show on Comedy Central?’”

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that many standups hold down second jobs, as performing is a famously precarious existence. But those jobs—and their compatibility with comedy—can vary wildly. Beaton uses a sort of alter ego—Caroline at work, Cally on stage—but opens up about the day job in her debut Fringe hour, Super Cally Fragile Lipstick.

Now 40-something, she started gigging two and a half years ago, after hosting glitzy launches so successfully that some stellar associates—notably Joan Rivers—urged her into standup. Corporate slickness might not cut it at her new base, Just the Tonic, but in person Beaton sounds like any keen new comic. As the title suggests, her show explores how execs can be vulnerable too. “I don’t in any way want to come across as alienatingly high status,” she says.

Moonlighting media bigwigs are rare, but certain careers seem to actively push people towards comedy. Teaching, for example. Greg Davies, Micky Flanagan, Geoff Norcott, Romesh Ranganathan: all switched to barking at boozy, heckling adults instead. Clearly transferable skills apply: preparing material, holding the attention. And August holidays help, Fringe-wise.

Paul Revill still teaches, although his debut Edinburgh hour, Revillations, reveals that he was previously in perfume, and put a £10,000 bonus towards a punt on comedy. Teaching arrived later, and he became a cover supervisor, which involves taking random lessons. Improv, basically. “Thinking on your feet and confident delivery are vital,” he says. “It’s like a comedy crowd: kids can smell fear and if they smell it, you're in trouble.”

Is it good for material though? “I still do various bits,” he says. “My first sort-of decent routine was about taking sex education class. Eye-opening and embarrassing.”

Hospitals are also fertile ground for spawning comics: Harry Hill, Paul Sinha and Adam Kay all swapped patients for paying customers (insert your own NHS privatisation joke here). Fringe 2016 also saw two current doctors—Phil Hammond and Ed Patrick—do NHS-related hours, and this year Kwame Asante talks junior-doctoring in his show Open Arms. Comedy must do them good. “It offers a unique kind of release,” Asante agrees. “With standup you get to take big chances. Sometimes you can go on stage with no plan at all, the complete opposite to working in a hospital.”

He took a year’s sabbatical to concentrate on comedy, but is most amused by Fest’s query about which path he’ll eventually pick. “Six years of London student debt! If anything, I need a third career.”

So does it work the other way? Can second jobs relieve performance anxiety? Ohio-born Abigoliah Schamaun moved to New York to act – but also became a Bikram yoga instructor. It features in her show, Namaste, Bitches, which delves into wellness and happiness, and she’s certainly happier now. Part-time instructing fits nimbly around an increasingly busy comedy career, but doing both was painful initially. “I had to balance 11pm New York open mics with teaching 6am classes,” she says. “I was tired and dehydrated for years.”

Does Schamaun teach during the Fringe? All those stressed out comics... “I'm not in a very good headspace to lead people in a moving meditation there,” she says. “I'm too busy Googling my own name and being impossible.”

Sometimes the other career wins, even when TV comes calling. Richard Campbell has a particularly diverse double life, although both involve dressing up: he’s a barrister and one fifth of popular sketch maniacs Late Night Gimp Fight, who return for 12 shows this Fringe. During previous Fringes, Campbell brought paperwork along, “so a month away wasn't too disruptive”, but opted out when the Gimps hosted Impractical Jokers, on the aforementioned Comedy Central. “I just knew I couldn’t do a hidden camera show with my job,” he says.  

He’s back for the live stuff though, and has only been spotted in court once, when the opposite counsel recognised him from a kids’ gig the day before. “It helps that as a barrister I get to wear a wig and gown, which is essentially a full-blown disguise.”

What occurs in comedy clubs isn’t always suitable for workplaces. “I've had kids find a video of me doing standup, and it made life tricky,” says Paul Revill. Different stages call for different personas. “You can tell Terry the mechanic to shut the fuck up in a comedy club,” Revill agrees, “but if you said that to his 15-year-old son Jimmy in a GCSE maths class you'd be kicked out. And punched by Terry.”

As for Caroline/Cally Beaton, she’s confident that the jobs are mutually beneficial. Standup is honing her hosting skills, and the experienced exec has introduced movie studio methods to recent Edinburgh previews.

“I’ve been giving out index cards, for feedback,” she admits. “You can take the woman out of the corporation, but you can’t take the corporation out of the woman.”