Alongside sporadic comedy and acting jobs, I make my living running a business that supplies lasers to the construction industry. This leads to a weird double life, where I juggle a disparate and unconnected set of tasks. Last month I had one day where I delivered a couple of lasers to building sites in the morning, then hot-footed it up to Soho for a sitcom audition before holing up in a cafe to write an article for the Observer. Having another job whilst trying to make a living concurrently as a performer is nothing new, and reminds me of Jimmy Carr's amusing, if slightly too close to the bone, quip: "what are you studying? Acting? Well, I'll say to you what I say to every aspiring actor I meet: A large coffee, please."
However, this is not a phenomenon limited to the baristas-come-thespians of this world; amongst my friends I count an advertiser who runs a popcorn company on the side, a social financier who owns a summer school, a strategy consultant who sells wooden sunglasses plus a PhD-student and a banker who are both developing different apps. Then just last week, a corporate lawyer friend revealed that he was trying to start his own events company (though I'm a little skeptical about the capacity for someone working a sixty-hour week to successfully pursue a side project). I would argue that all of these jobs would have previously been seen as the sort of jobs-for-life that see you go in as a graduate and go out with a pension or in a coffin. But it seems - and this may just be a reflection of the sort of people I hang around with - that people want more than just a secure job. It's also probably likely that I'm of the age that my contemporaries are thinking "if not now, then when?" about their business ideas. Any longer being sucked into the corporate world and they would find it increasingly difficult to devote time to external pursuits, especially once they start getting married and having their time taken up by pesky things like "having children".
The lack of kids and financial responsibilities could certainly be a contributing factor to this burst of entrepreneurialism and creativity. Perhaps we've got Cyril Connolly's observation that "There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall" at the back of the mind. With one in three start-ups failing in their first three years, younger people can afford to delude themselves into thinking they will be a great success - after all, if they're not, who else does it affect? Setting up a new project in the face of such statistics can be a leap of faith, but it is one that enormously benefits the economy, with SMEs accounting for a combined turnover of £3,300 billion and employing 24.3 million people. If people like my friends can turn their passion projects into viable businesses, it could be the best way to put rocket-boots on this sluggish economic recovery. Then again, it might just result in a raft of hipsterish non-viable dead-end enterprises. Who knows? For my own part, I'm going to stick to lasers, comedy and writing. I think that's probably enough for now.
PS. Half-way through writing this, I realised my comedy group had already filmed a sketch on this very subject. So, here it is:Suggest a correction