Rory O'Keeffe. Copyright: Arsalan Sattari.

Rory O'Keeffe: Choose your side hustle with care

Fringe comedian Rory O'Keeffe discovered a perfect harmony between his two jobs...

As a comedian, it's almost inevitable that you will need an alternative source of income. If you're lucky, you will then be able to quit that job and focus purely on comedy. Or, if you're normal, you will eventually settle on that regular job as your dreams lie in tatters at your feet along with 17,000 unused Edinburgh Fringe flyers.

Rory O'Keeffe. Copyright: Arsalan Sattari.Having two jobs is increasingly common but how do you choose that second role? Depending on your job, comedy skills can help or hinder. No one needs you cracking punchlines down the customer service line to someone who's paid three times too much for their gas bill. On the other hand, comedy brings confidence; why be nervous about a speech for a work presentation when you've successfully performed an Edinburgh preview to 3 people in a shed? (true story, not a figure of speech).

A comedian once told me to 'never get a 9-to-5' because I would 'get too used to the money and security'. Dutifully, I have followed his advice and avoided money and security at all costs. I was offered a job as a management consultant but I decided to turn it down and focus my days on comedy. (I still do management consultancy in the evenings and at weekends to keep the dream alive).

Others have suggested accepting increasingly outlandish jobs in the hope that it will yield funny stories. Why not work on that goat farm? Maybe while you're doing it, you'll think of a pun. In the desperate bid for new material, it's tempting to do the most outrageous jobs possible, sometimes badly, for the sake of a story. You might find yourself driving an Uber around, feeding your passengers alcohol so that they throw up and you can get a tight 5 minutes about cleaning vomit up and giving people one stars.

Regardless of whether you follow the steady route, or the erratic freelance Sat Nav, it helps if your day job provides a source of material for your creative 'side hustle'. Since starting comedy, I have variously been a street fundraiser (AKA charity mugger), caterer, private tutor, acting extra, star of an advert for about 6 seconds, and once I had to dress up as Frenchman so Gary Delaney could mock me for a panel show run through (this is TV 'work experience' apparently).

Rory O'Keeffe. Copyright: Arsalan Sattari.Almost all of these experiences have provided some material, most notably my experiences as a private tutor. For example, the story where I was getting the train home from teaching an 11-year-old boy when his mother accidentally sent me a text clearly intended for her husband: "I'm firing Rory. I came home halfway through the lesson and they were watching basketball on YouTube. I am so cross". Sometimes a bit of levity is not welcome in the workplace.

In the midst of flitting between jobs, I have finally found a more regular gig that informs my comedy (and even my genre) in a more substantial way. While choosing which job to take next, I stumbled upon a trade which has the issue of 'choice' at its heart. I now write for an interactive fiction company (who make Love Island: The Game and The X Factor Life: The Game).

Their Choose Your Own Adventure style games showed me that choice-based narratives are fascinating for audiences and writers alike. They've rarely been explored for Fringe audiences. This year I've decided to incorporate this style into my show The 37th Question and give the audience the choice, including between a happy and/or sad ending.

People love to make choices and feel like they're in control. This is something the video game industry discovered long ago but the theatre and comedy worlds are only just catching up. In the games, you can choose your appearance, your clothing, and your name. You're supposed to play as your own name to become emotionally invested, but I like to play as Boris Johnson or Stewart Lee to keep things fresh.

As I was writing the scripts, I realised there were very few storytelling shows that let you decide the narrative. There might be a reason for that (ask me at the end of the month) but writing in a fresh style has kept me sane and, after years of depressing freelance jobs, I've finally found one that feeds perfectly into my annual summer bankruptcy festival.

If I sound smug about finding a decent freelance job, then take comfort from the fact that the company might read this, come see the show, and fire me before you can say 'watching basketball on YouTube'.


Rory O'Keeffe: The 37th Question is at the Banshee Labyrinth until 26th August. It's free entry. Info


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