At the time of writing this (March 2021), I have been trading for over eight years, so I thought it was high time I did an about me! It’s probably more of an about the company, but there is some personal stuff in there. For any more, you’ll have to wait for the biography.
In 2012, I was attempting to become an actor. It’s is a very hard industry to break into for anyone, but for a 34 year old single dad, it is even harder! My partner at the time was moving up to Manchester from down south, and gave me the ultimatum that if she was coming to me I had to ‘stop all this acting nonsense’. Which was fair enough!
As anyone who has attempted to become an actor will know, pretty much all the work you get when you are starting out, is unpaid. I thought maybe if I was actually getting paid for it though, it might be a little less nonsensical.
One of the few things I had done that I actually got money for was Murder Mysteries. I’d only done three, and I thought that the company I had worked for was pretty rubbish at it, so I thought, well if I just end up doing one, and break even, it will probably be a laugh.
A friend in my acting class owned a restaurant in Buxton, where the annual Gilbert and Sullivan festival was coming up. Let’s do a Gilbert and Sullivan based Murder Mystery then, we thought! We’ll make a killing (pun intended)!
The script was written, parts cast, and we went out in hired costumes during the opening weekend of the festival, leafletting for it. We created a buzz, got loads of people coming over to chat and take photos, but they were all either a) only come for the weekend from miles away, or b) would be in the theatre watching the musicals on the night of our event! So none of them came!
Somehow, we did manage to sell out (I recall lots of discounted tickets!) and it was a great start to the next 8 years. The Gilbert and Sullivan script has never been performed again though!
Over the next few years I was performing between 8-12 shows a year. I had a lot of success with a big casino chain, who were falling over themselves to book me, because I pretty much always sold out. It was brilliant to hit the ground running, hone your comic talents and feel very successful, but on most sales I was making about £3 a ticket owing to selling them on daily deal sites. I remember making losses on some gigs with full rooms! All good lessons about your worth and the importance of good business sense along with creativity.
For the first few years I looked on the business as a nice bit of extra money. Pays for holidays and Christmas. This all changed in 2017 when I googled all the email addresses of hen and stag weekend websites, and asked them if they’d be interested in listing my Murder Mysteries (having prevaricated over this for about two years! Another business lesson – just do it!). The company that took the plunge on me were Last Night of Freedom, and this was an absolute game changer.
After having a record high of 12 shows a year, in 2018 I did 60-odd, and in 2019 I did 100! 2019’s success was also down to a partnership that I made through LNOF (at their supplier Christmas party!) with Casual Dining Group, who ran Bella Italia, Café Rouge, and several other big UK chain restaurants. They had me performing up and down the country pretty much every weekend. For the first time I started hiring actors local to the venues we were playing in, instead of dragging my long suffering colleagues along with me from Manchester! So I now have a network of fine comic actors all across the British Isles.
All throughout this time, I was amazingly still working in a full time 9-5 Monday to Friday job! And I still am now! But in the 100 show year, I made a quarter of my total salary from Laugh and Let Die. I came to believe that this could actually save me from my 9-5 muggle job, and I could do what I loved for a living! But 33% of your wage is not going to pay the bills, so I realised in needed more in my roster than just one event. That is when the Secret Agent Challenge and the Wedding Games came along. But also, came Covid.
2020 was an awful year for everyone. It’s difficult to find rays of light, but there have been some pluses for me. I have a renewed appreciation for the outdoors, I have spent a lot more time with my son, and also, I have enjoyed the challenge of taking Laugh and Let Die online.
After a few charity one man gigs from my living room at the start of lockdown, I lay dormant until the universities were reopening in September. I was watching the news with students being interviewed saying that their freshers’ week was all online. An untapped market, I thought. And I was right!
And they didn’t only want Murder Mysteries. ‘Can you do comedy nights?’. ‘Yes of course I can’. Puts the phone down and immediately starts messaging comedians on Facebook! I quickly expanded my online repertoire and from Magic Shows to Speedquizzes, it’s been a great experience to work with other performers over the past 6 months.
In between lockdowns, I did manage a couple of live gigs. I followed the government restrictions for live performance to the letter, and adapted the show using technology, PPE and other equipment to completely cut out any contact. I am proud that I managed to perform these shows, and this format is still available to book (and is being booked!) between milestones 3 and 4 out of lockdown restrictions!
And then have come collaborations! I met a comedy event producer at an online business networking event and we talked about what we could do together. Out of this came a repurposing of their event for the Stag and Hen market – Court Room Roast! We are both very excited about this event, (on the first H&S website we listed it on, it got it’s first booking in two days!) and have plenty more plans and projects for the future.
And that takes us up to the present day. Thankfully lots of clients have been rebooking cancelled shows after 12 June, but very sadly, Casual Dining Group filed for bankruptcy during the first lockdown, and 3000 people lost their jobs. I feel so sorry for all of them, but especially all the staff at the venues we regularly performed at, who were always very helpful, and the management staff who had the belief in me and promoted our shows so well.
So what’s next for Laugh and Let Die. Well, who knows! I will definitely be seeking more opportunities to increase my repertoire though, and although I’ve enjoyed all our online shows, I can’t wait to get back out there in my natural habitat, live performance!
I couldn’t do an About Me without mentioning my interest in looking after your mental health, and my support of Manchester Mind.
Mental Health has been a cause I am passionate about for a long time. Who today does not know people who have had issues with their mental health. I certainly have and so have my friends and family.
When we started performing less and less big cast shows (about 90% of our shows nowadays are with a two actor cast), I decided I wanted to start doing a big show every year that would be in support of a charity. Because of my closeness to mental health issues I decided on Manchester Mind.
We also started selling our police hats at each show, with a proportion of the price going to Manchester Mind. It means a few less of them get nicked than before at any rate!
What I have learned from my 43 years on this planet, is the most important factor in good mental health is you. Of course we have to look out for each other and ask if people need help when they look as though they are struggling, but no one knows how well you are doing better than you.
Don’t be afraid to seek help. Talk to your family and friends, and go to the doctors or organisations like Manchester Mind if you feel you need to.
Like any illness, prevention works better than the cure. I know it won’t be as effective with clinical issues, but self care is absolutely key to good mental health.
Get regular exercise, see your friends and family, take time to relax and most of all, do things you enjoy. I made a contract with myself that I was always going to do things that I enjoyed, and I’ve been much happier ever since. And one of those things is running this company. My life would be less rich without it.