While the Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes a hiatus this year, there is a distinct lack of comedy on our schedules.
And if ever there was a need for laughter, a global health pandemic is a pretty good excuse.
Lockdown saw an immediate end to public gatherings beyond the mid-morning huddle around the kitchen table. And things have been far from cheery for comedians, comedy clubs and the public.
Iconic comedy venue The Stand is about as much to stand up comedy in Scotland as the Cavern is to the 60s, but they are one of many venues to have stated that they can’t make ends meet with social distancing in place.
Theatres have lined up to tell governments that they need around 60% capacity to break even for a play – and around 80% for a musical. Similarly, comedy clubs have now outlined their tight margins, relying on packing the punters to the rafters and the bar to be in full flow for a decent nights profit.
The Stand, which has venues in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester, had run a weekly stream of live comedy throughout lockdown to raise crucial cash to tide them through the unprecedented times we’ve all had to weather. Yet, as the National Theatre found with their own free live stream service, the money hasn’t exactly been gushing in.
With a government-imposed lockdown, it’s understandable that businesses are turning to government for support during these times. Of course, every single sector affected – and near enough all have been – have done the same.
The vocal outpouring of support for smaller clubs that have taken a chance on a young, green-gilled act has not gone unnoticed, however. Big names like Frankie Boyle, Kevin Bridges and Susie McCabe have come out in support of these venues, calling on the Scottish Government to act now to save them.
So far, Creative Scotland have been a bit slow to act in delivering Scotland’s share of the £1.5 billion funding package to arts venues – even though the Scottish Government had been quick to issue a £10m lifeline support fund for the events and festivals sector.
All the word from the industry is clear – the time to act is now.
What we can be assured of is that Scotland’s culture secretary Fiona Hyslop is listening. Both she and the First Minister have already confirmed their own views that comedy is a valued and valuable art form – hitting back at criticism from some in the arts sector who viewed comedy as a sub-standard form.
While this unequivocal support for comedy is welcome, performers in the business are holding out for more tangible action to come.
Originally published for The Scots Independent newspaper