On Saturday 14th March 2020 I left the venue where I'd just performed two sell out gigs in Brighton. I'd been headlining both shows and was heading home on a high. Little did I know then that one bubble was about to burst whilst another one formed!
As with many other self employed, freelance professionals, the coronavirus lockdown meant that almost overnight gigs were cancelled and my earnings from live comedy shrunk from about 80% to zero.
Confined to our home with a 3 year old and 5½ year old meant that I went from being a comedian, writer and actor to a supply teacher in a relatively new school that as of the end of term had an OFSTED rating of 'Inadequate' (I’m not saying they’re right, but when I wrote that joke I did have to spellcheck 'inadequate').
I quickly realised that this was a huge drain on all of our mental health, and it was important for the children to have a release. I also knew, for the same reason, that I needed a comedy outlet; a chance to perform, even if it wasn't to a live audience.
Working From Home
Over the months I managed to book in a few live stream gigs, but there's no substitute for a live audience. Not to mention how weird it feels to be performing whilst only having to worry about being dressed from the waist up. My front room became my new studio, and in an attempt to stay connected to comedy and relevant to the industry I tried to come to terms with the "new normal" of online gigs.
After a lot of thought I had an idea that ticked a number of boxes. I would get to perform and my children (and therefore other children) could be entertained rather than just having to worry about their homeschooling. Also it wouldn't hurt to give parents a bit of a break!
The concept seemed seemed straightforward enough. Children send me their jokes to perform and I put together a series of short videos they can access for free whenever they want. I posted about my idea on the Family Lockdown Facebook Group, and within a few hours the post had gone viral. The response was overwhelmingly positive with parents immediately saying how exciting this would be for their children. And so School's Out Comedy Club was born.
The practicalities of putting the show together were complicated whilst balancing shared parental responsibility with my wife (who was able to work part time as usual) and also attempting to keep at least one foot in the professional comedy camp by continuing to write new material and doing online gigs when I could. I had to find time to collect and collate the material, prep, film and edit the show, before putting it out on Facebook and YouTube. Then the promo work began encouraging people to watch, like and share the video.
The first episode went out on 1st April 2020 and received over 2K views on Facebook. I received some lovely press about the show, locally and nationally, with interviews in print and on radio. You can catch all current episodes on YouTube.
Frustratingly my ambitions to do weekly shows (originally this had been daily) weren't met due to the other pressures on my time, most notably, of course, my own family life, but here are a list of what the show has achieved in just a few months:
- Over 100 children submitting approximately 350 unique jokes for me to tell or videos of themselves telling the jokes for me to edit into the episode
- 10 episodes produced and released
- 1 feature length episode dedicated to raising funds for an organisation that supports the NHS where all the jokes were themed around doctors, nurses, key workers, etc
- Thousands of views across YouTube & Facebook
- A number of live-streamed shows performed to youth groups (Cubs, Brownies, etc) in the UK and US with bespoke sets from jokes their children have submitted
Emotionally and professionally the show has surpassed all expectations, yet despite the success of this project it's not really brought in much more than a little pocket money from the odd donation from generous well-wishers and the small fees for the live shows. I'd really love to keep this project alive as I've heard from a large number of parents how much their children enjoy tuning in to the show, especially when they get to see and hear their names as part of an episode.
From one fan & regular contributor
"Hi Philip. I'd just wanted to say thank you for mentioning my birthday. I am very glad you are releasing these because they are very funny and keep me entertained during quarantine and the jokes people are sending in are very funny!! Ben xx
In the words of Jed Bartlett, "WHAT'S NEXT"?
Now that schools have broken up and it's likely (fingers crossed) that in September homeschooling will be a thing of the past, I have been thinking what I would like to do with the shows I have produced. Here are a few options I am exploring:
- Producing a one-off live (online) show where I perform all the jokes submitted, interspersed with the videos sent in by the kids themselves.
- Filming a "special" with all the jokes submitted for general release and distribution.
- Self-publishing a joke book with all the jokes that were sent in, where all the children get credited for their submissions, and all profits go to charity.
After 4 months of lockdown it's the first idea of a live streamed version of the show that I'm most excited about. The chance to perform again to a live audience, and a fun show to put together for the children to enjoy. I'll be stocking up on the most suitable tech to make the show as good and as accessible as I can, so any and all support in getting things going is appreciated.
Now, it's over to you!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this far. Hopefully there's something here that's piqued your interest, so any help you're able to offer would be amazing.