Accounting for laughs
As an accountant by day and a comedian by night, Wellington CA Craig Savage says his accounting gags go down brilliantly.
- Craig Savage CA says it’s hilarious to talk about accountants on stage.
- He tried stand-up comedy as a one-time-thing, now performs regularly and won Wellington’s Raw Comedy Quest last year.
- In his day job as an accountant, Savage enjoys working with small businesses.
By Alexandra Johnson.
It’s a freezing, tempestuous Monday night in Wellington, New Zealand and about 30 people are gathered in a dimly-lit bar downtown in search of a laugh to warm their bones. The line-up consists of five amateur comedians and a cocky MC who’s treading the boards there for the last time – he’s off to try his luck overseas.
Towards the end of the night, Craig Savage CA steps onto the stage. He moonlights as a comic, plying his trade in Wellington’s comedy venues. He’s unassuming, dead-pan, and very, very funny.
But how did a chartered accountant come to this? Savage was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where there’s a lot of live comedy, and he’d always thought it would be interesting to have a go. “I’ve always been the clown in my groups of friends, and through backpacking I ended up with a couple of funny stories,” he says.
So, on the night before he was to leave Edinburgh for good, Craig took command of the microphone and he hasn’t looked back since. “It went really well. Well, nobody threw anything and I got a few laughs. To be fair, I expected that would be the only time I would ever do it. But I got a massive buzz out of it. It felt good, so on my way home (to NZ) I ended up doing it a couple more times in the US.”
(Pictured: Craig Savage)
He admits that in hindsight, those US gigs were “pretty bad”. “I possibly didn’t have the comedy chops to get up and tell them America wasn’t going in the right direction,” he laughs. “I’m not sure if I had the gravitas and dignitas to take on some of those issues. I was a nobody from New Zealand telling them things they didn’t want to hear. I maintain the defence of truth, but it wasn’t appreciated.”
After a brief spell back in his hometown of Hamilton, he moved to Wellington in 2015 and there found accounting joy, comedy opportunities and even love.
When growing up, Savage says he never really considered any profession other than accounting. “At school, I was alright at maths and I wanted a good career path. My father was an accountant, so I knew it existed. When I think back, I never had any other thoughts – which is weird and depressing in some ways.” But Savage is very happy with his career choice.
It seems that people have been crying out for ledger-based comedy. Who knew?
“I’ve always done public practice in smaller firms and I really like it. I like working with small business people, like Joe the plumber. What you do affects them, their business and their family. “I say this slightly facetiously, but I enjoy it because of the people, which is not what people think of accountants.”
Wellington is an easy place to do comedy, he says. “There are a lot of comedians here giving it a crack, lots of venues and some good producers who bring in decent audiences. It’s so much easier doing comedy to 50 people than five.”
But isn’t comedy notoriously difficult? “I’ve always found freedom in it,” he says. “Someone gives me a microphone and I can say what I like for six minutes. People talk about it being hard, and if you are having a bad night, you know about it straight away. But I’ve been lucky enough not to have too many bad experiences.”
He says if even things are going badly, it can be joked about, as the audience is there to have a good time. Savage has always felt comfortable with public speaking. “I’d be far more scared if my car broke down on the side of the road, to be honest. I know where the indicators are and that’s about it.”
For subject matter, Savage draws on his own experiences, his name, his profession and his travels, which creates a persona people are happy to laugh at. “I’ve been doing some accounting material lately, which has gone brilliantly. It seems that people have been crying out for ledger-based comedy. Who knew?
“I’m almost cheating, because I’m just tapping into 100 years of people sniggering at accountants. It’s OK to laugh at us. You couldn’t get up there and make jokes about politically sensitive stuff – but talk about accountants and it’s hilarious. Which is fine, we’ll take it.”
He doesn’t have any desire to perform comedy that will offend people. “Not because I’m trying to please everyone, but people have come out and paid money to have a good night.” He also steers away from “pro-feminism” subjects such as sexism. He’d like to tackle it but “I don’t think I have the skills or ability to do that, so I leave it alone. I also try not to be graphic or vulgar.”
But on the night Acuity witnesses his comedy set, Savage admirably manages to tell a funny story very much about sex without being sexist, offensive or lewd. An achievement in itself.
So how does he come up with material? Contrary to what many think, most comedian’s sets are scripted and painstakingly prepared and Savage is no stranger to that. “You come up with the idea, write it down, re-write it, read it, think ‘this was never funny’ and start again until you get it right.”
But when you read and re-read the same jokes 50 times, he says, the funniness can be hard to gauge. “I find now that I mix up the old jokes with the new ones.”
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For a very much part-time comedian, Savage has done well, winning the Raw Comedy Quest in Wellington last year. “I got to go to the national finals in Auckland and perform in front of friends, extended family and 300 people. It was an amazing experience.”
He admits he has done a lot better with comedy than he would have thought, given initially it was to be a one-off experience. “Accounting is my career, and I’ve never planned to make anything more from comedy, and still being asked to perform fairly regularly is very gratifying.”
Savage says he was very proud the first time he got paid to do comedy. “I’ve been paid twice. I’ve worked out the hourly rate and it’s pretty good, NZ$50 for six minutes. But I could have done a vehicle claim for NZ$47.80, so I’m hardly making huge money from it,” he muses.
He’s considering putting a show together, solo or with someone else, for the next comedy festival in Wellington. But he doesn’t feel any pressure to perform. “Comedy is a creative outlet rather than my driver, but I love doing it. If I can get a gig a month, I’m pretty happy.”
In the meantime, he’s aiming for a partnership in the public firm in which he works. “I’m happy in Wellington. It was one of the best moves I made. I came down for work and have met someone I got engaged to about six months ago. “I’ve built a really nice life here and don’t think I’m going anywhere in a hurry.”
Alexandra Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Wellington.