Updated: Mar 31
A MESSAGE TO OTHER ARTISTS WHO HATE REELS TOO AND WHY IT IS OKAY TO NOT DO THEM
“Look, I know you don’t want to, but if you did go on TikTok and you went viral… it would make a huge difference… doesn’t have to be loads of clips… just one or two select ones… but it means you can have access to loads of different programmers. I did a tik tok and then my preview sold out the following week”
I met a wonderful programmer last month. They asked what work I made. I explained I create alternative comedy that usually involves violence. They asked where they could watch clips online. I responded, “You can’t, I don’t put clips online”.
“You have to put stuff online, that’s where the future is” they replied.
I realised, that, possibly at the expense of my own success and chances of being booked for their gig, it was probably not going to happen. Because I am not going to put clips of my work on the internet.
Why? Because they do not make me happy.
I respect all my friends who do and who have achieved great success from them, but the idea of making TikTaks does not give me pleasure. And life is too short.
I already struggle with Instagram, with Twitter and the complexities of having a website. It already takes more time out of my day than I would like, when I would much rather be creating work. So here is an open letter to myself and other artists who are facing the same internal battle I have regarding the current focus and obsession with reels and TikTak - and whether it makes you less of a contemporary artist and at risk of being a less successful one...
IT IS OKAY TO DISLIKE REELS AND HERE IS WHY
FIRST: I have never thought a good reel represents the artist that it shows. No comic I know who is brilliant live, is funnier on TikTak. No matter how funny the reel may be, I have never watched one and gone ‘yes, that represents that act perfectly’. It simply does not match the live experience.
Reels encourage a consumerist, corporate and guzzling attitude to how we experience and discover art which I think is unhealthy. Reels and TikTak present the work of artists I know who are transcendent and condense them into a gobbet. A short 30 second clip can be taken out of context, re-edited, and re-examined without the circumstances and factors surrounding the gig the footage was taken from. A huge amount of physical, alternative and subversive comedy does not work in this format.
I think Van Gogh would have hated Tik Tak.
SECONDLY: ARTISTS - Your creativity is not valued in metrics. Despite the pain to my bank balance, I would rather 100 keen people seek me out as opposed to 10,000 who watched one clip of me doing a routine about anal and then after 10 minutes are already gagging for their phones because I have lost them during my Spider Mime.
Just because someone has millions of followers, or someone has only 100, does not mean the former is a better artist than the latter. They are different – but the focus on metrics creates a horrible conflict in the relationship between the two and how we view their work and its calibre. EL JAMES’s 50 Shades of Grey was translated internationally into 52 languages. Was that the best book of 2011?
THIRDLY - YOUR WORK SHOULD NOT BE OTHER PEOPLES IDEA OF ‘WASTING TIME’.
When I ask people what they did – being on TikTak, scrolling Instagram and looking at reels is often associated with 'wasting time’. How often have you heard the statement “I wasted so much time on insta last night” or “I procrastinated for ages scrolling on tik talk….[….] but here is this funny reel I saw whilst I was on the toilet”.
This may sound snobby, but the truth is… I don’t want you to discover my work whilst you are on the toilet. I don’t want my work to be associated with what you consider wasting time. No – when you watch me perform either by chance discovery or on purpose, I want you to feel special, to feel part of something. I want my work to be part of an evening well spent. An evening that you will write about in your journal. Not something that is group shared instantly to casual friends in your DMS. I want to be associated with a great night out in Soho or a chance encounter in a downstairs alternative underground bar, because that is what I made it for. Not a bowel movement.
CRUCIALLY, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE AT SOME POINT
ARTISTS, you are going to die. So is the most famous person in the world right now. The most famous person in 60 years is going to die. The most famous and successful person 44 years ago is going to die or maybe already has. I don’t know who that person is.
Without sounding too much like Eeyore, at some point you are going to be the best you are ever going to be, and chances are, you won’t be recognised for it. You won’t be famous; you won’t go down in the history books; and if you do, not everyone is going to know about it. There is someone out there, despite all your success, who does not know who you are and doesn’t need to. Remember that.
Tik Tak and Reels won’t make you more valuable as a human being.
Sad you are not as well-known as you think you are? Pick a country on the map and try and list as many acclaimed academics, artists, singers, writers and teachers from that country who are alive now that you know.
It has taken me a while to push past my own pride and ego, reflecting on the choices I made that worked and the choices I made which did not. The key is that I want to make art that I would want to watch. If that makes me less successful, less financially stable and a less attractive investment for brands, venues and promoters to book – that is fine.
You have to carve your art out in your terms,
When AI takes all our jobs - live comedy, live theatre, live clowning, anything LIVE will be the last bastions. When the world falls apart and technology crumbles, those still alive will get their news from the travelling actors who move from village to village. I want to be part of that tribe. I don’t care if my kid's kid's kid's kid's don’t know me or the work I made, what I care about is now and that YOU do.