Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. Usually, I’d apologise for such a cliché, but on this occasion, I can’t think of a better way to describe the entrepreneur that is Jim Smallman: comedian, voiceover artist, podcaster, writer, and co-owner of a professional wrestling company.
You didn’t see that coming, did you?
Comedians are, by definition, often self-employed; but there’s a difference between that and entrepreneurialism, the ability to sniff out an opportunity to make a business out of either a talent, a passion, or both. And Jim has that down.
He came to comedy first, at the grand old age of just 27, back in 2005. “My Dad has been self-employed since I was young,” Jim says, “and seeing him always working at various jobs definitely inspired me to quit the 9 to 5 and take the risk of doing stand-up full time.” The 9 to 5, at that time, was an unfulfilling career in the Next head office, where he was for three years, before a six-month sojourn in a school considering becoming a teacher. But comedy had the last laugh, so to speak.
“All I ever wanted to do was make people laugh onstage, and be able to write in various forms off it,” Jim continues. “Ending up doing stand-up was an excellent bonus, as was my brief stint being a radio presenter.”
And for the last twelve years, stand-up is one of the things he’s been enjoying, all over the world. Alongside MCing for a really wide variety of shows, Jim finds himself doing gigs from twenty minutes to an hour in length, driving thousands of miles in the process.
He’s also put together some shows that have found favour at places like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – ‘The Boy Next Door Gone Wrong’, ‘Tattooligan’ and ‘Let’s be Friends’ have excellent reviews and awards between them, trumped by the nigh-on sold out success that was his 2015 show ‘My Girls’, a personal story about his relationships with his wife and his daughter. “Unapologetically, shamelessly life-affirming…” is just one description of his style of storytelling humour.
If his voice sounds familiar to you, there’s a very good reason for that. As a voiceover artist, you may know him as the voice of TV show Car SOS, or in advertising talking about Screwfix, KFC, Heinz Tomato Ketchup… he’s a man of many skills.
And that’s before we get to his role as the ring announcer of his wrestling company, PROGRESS wrestling.
Sounds like a glamourous life, doesn’t it?
“There's a lot of driving….” Jim concedes. “Some weeks I do more driving than someone who works for Eddie Stobart.
“People see you doing twenty minutes onstage and presume that's all there is, but I've often driven for four hours to get to the show,” he says. Jim is actually based in North Wales, not a place recognised as a local hotspot for any of his business interests.
And so, he must deal with the logistics of physically being in many different places – these are not things that can be helped much by the ability to see people’s faces on Skype. No matter how advanced technology gets, a comedian will always need to be in the room.
“Whilst it will always be a buzz being onstage and making people laugh, the side that the public doesn't see is all the driving, cheap hotel rooms, endless admin, chasing gigs and of course having to write material,” he adds. “It's definitely not a part time job.”
The unpaid labour is the bane of every entrepreneur’s life, but Jim recognises that it comes along with the career he’s chosen, and he’s ok with that: “It's still easier for me to drive 1000 miles in a week and take whatever chances there are than do a 9-5 job, which just never suited me.”
“You don't progress as a comedian if you don't work on writing and rehearsing,” he says; recognising that, whilst paid work takes priority, this is an equally important part of his job. “Luckily I can do both of those things during the many hours each week I spend in the car!
“I'll often do most of my writing in hotel rooms or coffee shops when I'm away from home, so that the time I have with my family I can actually switch off for a bit.” And that’s essential, as Jim became a dad for the second time just last year.