Monday 30 March 2020 4:19 am

No laughing matter: The impact of coronavirus on London's standup comics

Luke is a former City AM features writer, now features editor for Tyto PR

One of the benefits of living in a vibrant metropolitan city like London is seeing live entertainment. For many, the highlight of their week — before the coronavirus crisis — was enjoying standup comedians at pubs, open mic nights and comedy clubs across the capital.

As well as being a source of entertainment, live comedy also makes a big contribution to the UK economy, generating around £500m every year.

But of course, due to the social distancing measures implemented to combat the current crisis, live events and social gatherings have been totally cancelled. For comedians who relied on standup to make a living, this is proving devastating.

Rich Wilson, host of the mental health podcast Insane in the Men Brain, has been performing standup comedy for 15 years. He says that the circuit has been “completely wiped out” by Covid-19.

“There’s a few people that are doing comedy in other areas, like TV and writing, but for everyone who was solely reliant on live work, it has completely devastated the whole thing,” he says. “That was my sole income, and it’s all gone. For people who were solely reliant on standup comedy, it’s going to be a tough few months.”

Because of the impact on his livelihood, Wilson says he is applying for other jobs, including stacking shelves and van driving. He has also taken a pragmatic view on the crisis.

“In some respects, it has done us a favour. It’ll take a while for things to rebuild and get to a version of what they used to be, but I think it’ll make us realise how lucky we all were,” he says philosophically.

There have been some attempts for the comedy sector to adapt. For instance, The Stand, which runs a chain comedy clubs across the country, has put on two virtual gigs featuring well-known names like Frankie Boyle and Daniel Sloss. These have been free to watch, asking viewers to donate rather than charging them, but most of the proceeds go towards keeping the company’s three venues going during the lockdown.

And while chancellor Rishi Sunak’s proposals last week should hopefully help self-employed comedians, offering them 80 per cent of their average profits, these payments won’t start until June, leaving our entertainers in the lurch.

More immediate help for potentially-impoverished comedians is coming from NextUp Comedy, a Netflix-style streaming website focused on standup comedy. The company recently launched a crowdfunding campaign, to raise money for comedians impacted by the shutdown.

“We set up the #hecklethevirus fundraiser because, as a platform that supports comedians in as many ways as possible, we know that the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent promotion of social distancing and cancellation of live events will have a huge impact across the whole industry,” says Chloe Richardson, spokesperson for NextUp Comedy.

“It’s killed the main revenue source of so many comedians and rendered them unemployed overnight. We want to limit the negative effects of this as much as possible, with the help of those that love comedy as much as we do.”

At the time of writing, the campaign has raised £81,870 from 528 supporters. Around £10,000 has been distributed to over 40 comedians in urgent need of financial support.

“Our aim is to allocate £10,000 a week to as many people as possible, distributed to those comedians who have applied via our online form and answered a range of questions to assess the severity and urgency of every request,” explains Richardson.

“Our initial target is £100,000 but we have no idea, realistically, how long this is going to last. Once we hit that first target, we will definitely aim to keep raising and issuing funds for as long as comedians are unable to perform at live events and therefore unable to make a living.”

While we have all been affected by Covid-19 to some degree, it’s heart-warming to see initiatives like the #hecklethevirus campaign spring up to help those in need in specific sectors. More innovation and charitable ideas like this may be needed in the months ahead. For now, let’s support those aiming to keep us laughing during these turbulent times.

If you’d like to donate to the campaign, follow this link.

Main image credit: Getty