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My money…Carl Donnelly

The comedian on how gigging in the early days has paid off and spending his cash on bird boxes

What was your first job?

I STARTED working in a pub when I was 13. I collected glasses but I’d serve behind the bar when they had lock-ins. I got £5 an hour. I started doing weekends and then did shifts during the week. I was making £100 a week at 13 but I spent the money on utter guff. I bought loads of clothes and trainers. It was the start of my bad money management.

What has been your best investment?

Doing comedy. You’ve got to do a lot of gigs around the country for free when you start. I’d go to Manchester to do a ten-minute spot but I had to pay to get there. You’ve got to spend money to prove yourself and I did that for two years just to get my foot in the door.

What luxury wouldn’t you give up?

I’m renting a flat in London with a garden. It’s the first time I’ve had a garden and I wouldn’t give it up. Having a bit of green space is good for your mind. I’m growing a few tomatoes and I’ve got loads of bird feeders. The area is a bit lairy but you go into the garden and it’s a different world. I don’t expect to be able to buy a flat any time soon, but spending a bit more to rent a place with a garden is a luxury.

What’s been your biggest financial regret?

Not saving any money. If I saved that money from the pub when I was 13, I’d be a property mogul now. My parents were never any good with money either so I got my money management from them. You can only learn from what you see in front of you – watching them squander it on horse racing. At least I don’t do that – I spend it on bird boxes. And I recently bought a hot tub for the garden. I haven’t used it yet but I’ve set it all up.

Are you savvy with your personal finances?

No. I’m constantly treating myself and justifying it by saying: ‘Well, it’s only money.’

What was your last impulse purchase?

I’ve just got back from doing gigs in Japan. I went past a knife shop – apparently the Japanese make the best cooking knives in the world so I treated myself to a professional chef’s knife, even though I’m not a chef. It cost £140. That’s unacceptable, isn’t it? But the guy in the shop told me it would last 30 years.

Cash or card?

Card. That’s another reason I’m bad with money. It doesn’t feel like you’re spending money when you’re tapping a card. Then you look at your bank account two weeks later and find out you’ve managed to spend £500 on nothing.

What are your money-saving tips for comedians doing the Fringe?

I’ve found that you don’t need to spend as much on marketing if you do a lot of smaller gigs at other venues in the week. You’ll pick up an audience if people have seen you doing ten minutes at a free show in the afternoon somewhere. I’ve done Edinburgh for 12 years. I used to share a house with loads of people sleeping on sofas but when you’ve got to focus on your show each day you don’t want to come back to a stressful and smelly house. So now I spend a bit more on where I stay.

Does the difference between the free fringe and paid-for fringe affect comedians?

The main venues which are all ticketed charge quite high fees to hire the rooms. With the free Fringe, comedians can get rooms for free with the venue knowing they’ll get extra foot fall for that month. It means comedians don’t have the expense of room hire and you can spend your money on marketing and flyers. But you never really make money unless you’re a big name. If you’re doing a 50-seat venue charging £10 a ticket that’s £500 a day, but you’ve got to pay for travel, living costs, accommodation, publicity — so you can’t make money unless you’re in a big room. But with the free Fringe venues you don’t have stuff like proper lighting rigs and people managing the rooms all day.

Strictly Carl Donnelly!, August 2-26, Counting House Ballroom,,