Scottish comedy in new funding plea amid fears for mental health of performers

A leading Scottish comic has pleaded for lifeline funding to be released for clubs and performers - amid warnings that the mental health of people working in the industry is rapidly declining in the absence of any public funding support.

The Stand Comedy Club has been staging live shows online to help raised funds to keep its venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow afloat.
The Stand Comedy Club has been staging live shows online to help raised funds to keep its venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow afloat.

Mark Nelson made an impassioned plea to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Creative Scotland during a live show broadcast staged by the Stand Comedy Club at the weekend.

Nelson said the entire industry was “struggling” to survive without any financial support whatsoever despite being the comedy sector being promised help by the government at the end of August.

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He said there had been an “unbelievable” impact over the last few weeks on the mental health of comedians in Scotland and suggested the country was lagging badly behind England, where some clubs have been able to reopen and public funding has been allocated to help keep businesses afloat.

Although some publicly-funded theatres were allocated emergency funding from Creative Scotland in August, comedy venues will not know if they have been allocated funding until November.

It emerged earlier this month that the £15 million funding pot they are eligible for, which is also open to commercial theatres, music venues, galleries and nightclubs has been oversubscribed by £7 million.

Mark Nelson has been hosting the Stand Comedy Club's online live shows since its venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh were forced to close in March.

Comedians are also eligible of a “hardship fund” for freelancers, which was also announced in August, although it has only just opened up for applications, which may take six weeks to process.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has hit back at suggestions from Nelson that comedy was being neglected.

In response to fresh criticism recently, she tweeted: “At some point @marknelsoncomic will reluctantly acknowledge that comedy and comedy venues were always going to be supported from the Covid Culture funding - as I kept telling him all along.”

She later told Nelson: “Appreciate you feeling the need to speak up. I am Culture Secretary and made the decision that comedians and comedy venues would be able to access financial support. It’s tough for so many people – certainty and not anxiety is important.”

However speaking on stage at The Stand’s latest online fundraising event, Nelson said: "In Scotland, we’ve still not been given anything. Despite the money being given (to Creative Scotland) two months ago venues are still waiting. A freelancer fund has been announced, but it’s going to be well into November.

“People are struggling. This entire industry is struggling. I know every single industry is struggling right now. I can’t speak for other industries. I am only trying to protect the industry that I am in.

“I’ve been asking questions about it a lot on Twitter. Fiona Hyslop tweeted me last Friday night. It was quite snipey. The fact is the money has been there and nothing has been seen. This place has been closed down and people have not been paid wages for seven months. Comedians have not been paid wages for seven months.

"For people there to snipe back like that, all I can say is: ‘You’ve not had to live the past seven months on no wages whatsoever. You keep saying you understand but you don’t really know what it is like.’

“It is so tough. Over the the past month, the harm that this has done to the mental health of people is unbelievable.”

Nelson added: “I am in a WhatsApp group with comedians that are some of the most confident and talented people I’ve met in my life.

"Ever single one of them has gone through some kind of struggle in the past month.

"People are still ashamed to admit to it. This is a ridiculous time, but the stigma is still there.”

Katy Koren, spokeswoman for the Association of Scottish Comedic Arts, which was set up in response to the pandemic, said: “We are incredibly concerned that Creative Scotland have revealed that the venues fund is almost £7 million oversubscribed.

“There is yet again a very real worry from the comedy sector that our venues may be the ones that will be squeezed out of this fund. This is a very nerve wracking waiting game we are being forced into.

"It’s been incredibly frustrating for all of us to see venues opening up in England with no information about a reopening plan here in Scotland.

"This long without being able to open our venues at all has been financially and emotionally crippling for us all and this fund is vital and urgently needed for our sector as well as having clear guidance on reopening our venues safely as soon as possible."

Creative Scotland has been approached for comment.

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