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Can we talk about something else, please?

By Rachael Healy.

Illustrated by Ella Mclean. On the Sunday night before the government announced lockdown, my brain decided to implement the policy early. I’d already been in the house for five days. Everything felt uncertain. I’d read countless articles about coronavirus. Mixed messages were coming from ministers, alongside non-stop speculation from friends and strangers on Whatsapp and Twitter. It was overwhelming.

I tried to find something to read that didn’t mention the virus. That was difficult. Already, my usual escapism of beauty articles (‘The best hand creams for overwashed hands’), fashion features (‘Work-from-home fashion’), and culture sections (‘Comedy’s coronavirus crisis’ etc) had been given a pandemic makeover.

We don’t know how long this is going to continue, but we do know we can’t read, watch things and talk about coronavirus without a break. As a freelance journalist, that realisation has been helpful.

In Whatsapp groups with other freelancers, much like in the comedy world, we spent the first few days of the looming crisis despairing. Travel writers were the first to panic as countries started closing their borders. Soon, anyone whose journalism required live events joined them.

I write about live comedy a lot, going to as many shows as possible to see new acts and spot industry trends. As gigs and festivals started cancelling, my commissions for features that relied on them were obviously cancelled too. Other freelancers have seen the editors that usually hire them furloughed or found that, with budgets already allocated to now-paused pieces, there’s no room for new commissions.

We needed new angles quickly. We also shared concerns that no one would want to talk to us about anything other than coronavirus – didn’t it feel a bit tasteless to contact someone for a chat about the work they could no longer do?

I’ve been trying to think back to that Sunday. Although material that addresses the pandemic’s impact on comedy is vital, readers also need fun, positivity and hope. We’re all using TV, radio and especially comedy as escapism – why wouldn’t we want to read about it too?

It’s uplifting to see the solidarity between comedians championing one another’s past work and supporting new experiments – mini video series, podcasts, live-streams for charity and for fun, interactive games on Twitch, and so much more. This has given people like me new stuff to write about and undoubtedly helped audiences through some tough moments.

I also want to read and write articles that aren’t about what’s happening right now, and I think others do too. Obviously, talking publicly about your work while we’re in lockdown isn’t an obligation. This is a financially and psychologically draining situation for many and saying “no” to a conversation isn’t a snub.

Most comedians have previous live shows, TV or radio work, and personal projects that can be resurfaced and explored now. Or maybe you’ve started work on something new that’s not yet finished, but already prompts great conversation.

Despite the uncertainty, this will end. When it does, I can’t wait to spend night after night at your gigs and watching and listening to your newly recorded shows. Until then, I’ll continue talking to comedians, sharing your work with readers, and feeling lucky that I can call this my job.

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