The Big Issue : Edition 480
THEBIGISSUE20MAR–2APR2015 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH FOR MOST PEOPLE, THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY IS ALL SHOW... AND NO BUSINESS. FAME & MISFORTUNE If you’re hired to do a show, you get paid a reasonable fee for the exact length of the run. If you self-produce, after covering costs you’re lucky to break even despite months of work. Those performers you mock for hocking their dot on reality shows, bad ads or career comebacks are trying to pay the rent. Most – and I mean the vast majority – of actors, comics, writers, singers et al, are the working poor. Another joke: How does a performer come back from the Edinburgh Festival with $20,000? Start with $40,000. There is precious little security in a show-business life, and your talent or profile has nothing to do with it. No one wants to pay you. In the US, organisers of the Super Bowl tried to make Katy Perry, of all people, pay to be their half- time entertainment, because she’d be getting ‘exposure’. Actor Vince Colosimo was in the news last December because he needed extra time to pay a traffic fine. The reports were steeped in incredulity that Colosimo, a ‘famous’ actor, had to scratch together a buck clearing building sites. This shouldn’t be a surprise: half the performers I know have retooled as celebrants. They’re also painting houses, hauling bags of concrete, cleaning offices, driving taxis, doing temp work, ushering, teaching, more teaching, writing books, whatever it takes. Big names, too. Not one of them complains, once they got past the realisation that this is how show business actually works. They get on with earning a living in between entertaining people, and the smart ones go into arts administration because the bureaucrats always get paid. The problem is not that performers have difficulty making the rent/mortgage. The problem is that they are shamed for it. Once your mug’s been on any kind of screen or billboard, you will be publically humiliated if there’s a whiff of possibility you’re not sitting back doing coke with Robert Downey Jr. The first rule of mental-health hygiene is being able to tell people your problems. Not so easy when, after one slip, you’re clickbait. Another joke: Knock, knock. Who’s there? Kylie. Kylie who? That’s show business. THERE’S AN OLD joke. Just how old is evidenced by the protagonist being a man who works at the circus shovelling elephant poo. Even when it wasn’t on the nose to make animals do tricks, this was never a top-shelf job. A single African elephant produces 50kg of dung a day, and about 200 litres of pee. But back to the joke... Our man, Doug, worked round the clock, cleaning up elephantine piles of steaming excrement. And he hated his job. He complained to the clowns. He complained to the ringmaster. He complained to the tumblers. Finally, Agrafina, the plainest of the Russian juggler’s daughters (whose name means ‘born feet first’), was so wearied by all the bitching she snapped: “Doug – if you hate the job so much, why don’t you quit?” Doug pauses, shovel in hand, genuinely taken aback. “What, and leave show business?” It’s possible that someone at Melbourne’s Victoria University has a healthy sense of irony, because this year’s Oscars ceremony coincided with the release of a research report into the mental health of people in the entertainment industry. The university study, which mirrors similar research in America, states that people in entertainment, when compared to the rest of the community, are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, have higher rates of suicide, a shorter life-span, and are paid much less. So, despite all the red-carpet glamour, showbiz is a bit, shall we say, steaming and elephantine. If Four Corners did a program exposing what goes on behind the scenes in show business, members of the public would be demanding that we cease exporting vulnerable young actors overseas, and be baying for the industry to be closed down. The public would also, ludicrously, be shocked. Because despite an almost constant stream of evidence to the contrary, we cling to the myth that artists and entertainers are pampered, rich and privileged. Yes, there’s a handful of AAA-listers such as Cate, Geoffrey and Russell. But if you think about it for more than a minute, you’d realise that there’s simply no continuity of income for most performers. When a program finishes, the performer doesn’t get stored in the back of a cupboard until the next one. » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.