the justice of paying to play

There’s a popular conception of ‘justice’ as meaning ‘people getting what they deserve’.

Political philosophers like to call this idea ‘Justice as desert‘, though I’ve often thought this might be because they like making bad puns about getting the after-dinner sweet you deserve (it’s a badly kept secret that philosophers love puns; the fact that Jacques Derrida based most of his philosophy on puns didn’t make him rare, it was just rare that he didn’t mind admitting it).

Anyway, the thing about justice being the idea that people get what they deserve means a few things: firstly, it means that anyone who argues that income tax should be low on the grounds that people deserve to keep the earnings they worked hard for, while also arguing against high rates of inheritance tax, is an idiot: either the condition of deserving wealth is a person’s own hard work (ie not that of their parents) or it isn’t.

Secondly, and of more relevance to this weblog, it means that there is a remarkable amount of justice in stand-up comedy. You can call it instant karma, you can call it survival of the whatever, but it really does seem that those people who work hard at their act while making the effort to be polite and nice to people are very often rewarded, and those who don’t are, in a sense, punished (for example, I know of one act who has offended so many other acts that his gig request emails now contain a list of people he’d rather not be on a bill with. I don’t personally dislike him but he’s upset so many people that perhaps it’s not entirely by chance that he struggles to get gigs, and then struggles for laughs when he does get booked).

Anyway, I’ve noticed this phenomenon even more recently.

The day of my gig in Eastbourne on Sunday, for example, I really wanted to have a good gig, so I worked really hard on planning my act, I got to the gig early, I did my absolute best to be polite to everybody, and then in the evening I had a really lovely gig (and a pretty good night out afterwards, largely thanks to the excellent company of Bobby Carroll). On the other hand, at last week’s Scurvy Wednesday, I was fucking dire. I mean, really reeeeally bad. I wasn’t prepared properly and then I stupidly picked on a lovely and well-meaning guy in the front row; his girlfriend was offended, I got a garbled apology all wrong, headbutted the microphone and that came up in a massive infected lump which took six days to clear up.

Anyway, you get out what you put in; you get what you deserve.

But then there is the question of where that leaves pay-to-play gigs like the Lion’s Den ‘Comedy Car Crash’. Does paying to go on earn you a better gig? Of course not. But I had a stormer there on Tuesday. Obviously the concept of the night is pure evil, and Andrew O’Neill, (another act who I really admire and whose hard work and professionalism and general loveliness seem to be reaping rewards for him) rightly pointed out to me through facebook that I shouldn’t be doing any gigs like that because promoters should never under any circumstances be charging acts to put on a show for them.

But as I mentioned in my last blog, the Lion’s Den is an anomaly; it’s a great club despite its relentlessly evil business model; its a great place to try out new or risky material because they almost always have a great audience in (often bigger and smarter and more receptive than most of the clubs I’ve done for free/flyered for next to nothing). I can only guess that it’s because Tim and co. are so hardworking and so nice and so respectful of the audience and the acts (with the exception of charging them four quid, obviously) that they get what they deserve.

I think if they genuinely were just being dicks and taking the money off acts because they couldn’t be bothered to promote the night properly then I hope nobody would go and the night would fail. I certainly wouldn’t go. That would be justice.

But Tuesday’s gig was – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – it was worth paying the £4 to do, given that the other options I had for that night would have cost me more than that to get to and would usually (at this time of year) have audiences in single figures, because they can’t afford to properly publicise; and the reason I’m paying £4 at the Lion’s Den (which cost me nothing to get to) is to make sure the night is well publicised…

The question I’m wrestling with is, is it just to do a gig which is unjust in principle, if it’s for people who (with the exception of that one awful principle) deserve to be putting on good nights? Does doing the gig mean I don’t deserve to have a good gig? Agh…

I don’t think paying to play makes you deserve a good gig; that would be nonsense. But maybe having to deal with the problem of justice every time you do it…Ah, I don’t know.

I’ve confused myself altogether, now.

Perhaps that’s what I deserve.


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