Written & illustrated by Idil Sukan.
I peel the banana and I mush the banana and I pour sugar on the banana and I stir the banana and I bake the banana for the banana does not judge me, the banana does not mind my tears, the banana loves me and I love the banana. I share my breads made from the banana, sure many thousands before me have shared their breads but mine is surely more glorious, more delicious, so much so that my banana might save the world.
You may know me for making male comedians feel handsome on camera and then never being credited for it. And sure, it was a skill that brought me immense artistic satisfaction but unfortunately it is useless when having to socially distance oneself during a pandemic. It turns out that the most useful transferable skill I have is being constantly terrified.
I am a world-renowned expert in this field. I’ve been socially anxious for years, terrified of the outside world before it was cool (and demanded by law). Over the last decade I retreated increasingly into myself, frightened of making art, of socialising, of getting back to people. I would apologise for turning up to events I was specifically invited to. I would not return lovely texts or emails, mortified at my own existence. The more you turn things down, the less you are invited to do them; a reliable self-fulfilling prophecy. You are both stuck but relieved to be stuck. Anxiety is a prison and a comfort.
The rest of the world surged ahead, and I marinated in a thickening FOMO. I made things just to not feel left out. I allowed people to take advantage of me, It took all the running I could do just to keep in the same place, and yet none of it ever felt like it was enough. More was better. Bigger was better.
Feeling like we’re just not doing enough is a trick designed to distract us so that we never question the system that keeps each of us in that perpetual state of panic. We’re gaslit to believe a lack of success is our own weakness, and any scrap of achievement is down to how tough and talented we are rather than privileged forces clicking together in our favour for once. It is not a meritocracy as much as we tell ourselves it is, and a meritocracy would only support those at the top anyway.
As the Edinburgh Festival Fringe grew, it unfortunately reinforced such vulnerabilities and inequalities. It became a mandatory hazing for aspiring comedians, where success is measured by growth. More tickets, more shows, more visitors. This enforced fallow year the Festivals are taking because of the Coronavirus has been met with a thunderous chorus calling for EdFringe 2021 to be “Bigger and Better”. We don’t question this cute, little, alliterative phrase. Bigger means better, right? This is what all good neoliberal capitalist children fetishise. Everything must be bigger, especially the title on the poster. But a banana bread too big will crack and collapse and then what other lockdown outlet would we have?
By freeing us from our perennial FOMO, the pandemic lets us realise a system that relied on dividing us and keeping us vulnerable was not normal. Thousands of artists faced absolute financial and existential catastrophe overnight with no safety net in place. The question “How can we help each other?” shouldn’t feel so revolutionary.
Because normal is spending £10,000 for the privilege of performing at the festival with no insurance or guaranteed income. Normal is an artist having to work below minimum wage. Normal is a mental health breakdown in week 3. Many venue & production staff too are treated as expendable and the sheer volume of trash generated every year is unfathomable. Marginalised voices — working-class artists, black artists, Asian artists, artists with disabilities - have been dissecting these issues for years. A system should be judged for how it treats its most vulnerable. It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for us to finally have this reckoning.
Desperation for work forces compromise on safety. Many artists work with people who can be fatphobic, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, or predators. There is no one to report them to. The shocking death of Eurydice Dixon, murdered while walking home after a gig, was eye-opening to the extreme dangers everyone — but unfortunately especially women — face just doing their job. We should grieve the voices we lost rather than grieve a system that put so many lives and livelihoods in danger.
We also fetishise the romance of a depressed clown; we joke that performance is cheaper than therapy. But risking financial, emotional and physical safety should not be a prerequisite for making thrilling work. We have a chance to entirely rethink this industry for the better from the ground up, without defaulting to just making it BIGGER.
Indeed, right now comedians and independent producers are putting on comedy shows on their own terms, from their homes to thousands, at minimal cost, with little to no waste. Artists are supporting and helping each other. This is a rebellion.
The stunning development of Kiri Pritchard-McLean’s stream the Covid Arms proves that monumental rebellion can happen in only a few weeks. Kiri’s show Victim, Complex was a brilliant dissection of gaslighting, so no wonder she saw through all the bullshit so quickly off the mark. More game-changing solutions will appear from wonderful people that allow artists to not just navigate the pandemic, but also forge a new, safer industry waiting on the other side for us. You have to let the gaslight burn out before you see everything for what it is. Covid Arms is lighting the way.
Bigger is not better when it comes to comedy or banana bread. We can bake it all perfectly sized together. We don’t have to be so terrified any more. @idilsukan
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