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No funny business: precarious work and emotional labour in stand-up comedy

Butler, Nick and Stoyanova Russell, Dimitrinka ORCID: 2018. No funny business: precarious work and emotional labour in stand-up comedy. Human Relations 71 (12) , pp. 1666-1686. 10.1177/0018726718758880

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Freelance creative work is a labour of love where opportunities for self-expression are combined with exploitative working conditions. This article explores this dynamic by showing how a group of freelance creative labourers navigate employment while coping with the pressures associated with economic precarity. Drawing on semi-structured interviews, we argue that full-time stand-up comedians engage in ‘pecuniary’ forms of emotion management in an occupational field where social networks and professional relationships play a prominent role. First, comedians project an image of positivity to demonstrate a willingness to work for little or no pay in order to curry favour with comedy club promoters. Second, comedians suppress feelings of anxiety and frustration that arise from financial insecurity in order to keep their relationships with promoters on an even keel – even when the rate of pay and promptness of remuneration fall below acceptable standards. Our study thus has implications for other creative sectors in which precarity is the norm, since it suggests that emotional labour is a resource not only for engaging with customers and clients but also for engaging with multiple employers, negotiating pay and dealing with conditions of insecurity in freelance settings – often with unintended, paradoxical, results.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Publisher: SAGE
ISSN: 0018-7267
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 3 April 2018
Date of Acceptance: 22 February 2018
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 14:27

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