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My money… Daliso Chaponda

The comedian on how Britain’s got talent helped him out of a financial fix and why he hates using cash

What was your first job?

Cleaning a bar in South Africa at the weekends when I was at school. It paid the equivalent of £10 for three hours of cleaning. The money went on going to the cinema and buying pizzas. I was at boarding school so we had everything we needed and the rest went on luxuries.

What’s been your best investment?

I did my own dvd in 2014. It was expensive but it opened doors for me. I was a club comedian and it was very hard to get to the next level. So I sent it to producers who wouldn’t have seen me otherwise, and it meant I got work from it in other countries. I also had something to sell after gigs. If I was getting £100 for the gig and managed to sell 20 dvds for £5, then I’d double my earnings. To cut costs, I filmed in Zimbabwe but it still cost £6,000 to produce. I’m doing a professional standard dvd now in the UK and it is much more expensive. At the time, I was living in the UK and would do gigs here and in Africa but the dvd meant I started getting work in Europe.

What would be your money-no-object purchase?

A comedy club. It’d be good to be able to host that every week and book comedians I like.

What luxury wouldn’t you give up?

Books. They’re not very expensive but I read a lot to relax. I read lots of fantasy novels. At the moment I’m reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson.

What’s your biggest financial regret?

Taking out a big loan to cover a run at the Edinburgh Festival. I was paying it back for years. I was at a level where I was just getting by and then the loan put me into debt for years. I only finally cleared the loan and credit card debts after I did Britain’s Got Talent [he was a runner-up last year]. Lots of comedians get into debt from doing Edinburgh but all your peers do it, so you think you need to do it as well.

Where does the money go if you perform at Edinburgh?

Accommodation, venue hire, marketing – because there are so many comedians there and you need to attract an audience – and to cover the fact you’re not working that month. Most people lose around £6,000 but I lost more because I went all the way – I hired a 150-seat room and did lots of posters. I had to do two-for-one tickets just to get people in. It would be full at weekends but not in the week – the worst thing was when 12 people turned up and you still have to try to be funny, knowing you’re losing money.

Are you savvy about personal finances?

No, I’m terrible. I take a gamble – going to Edinburgh, doing the dvd or self-publishing books – because I always think one of these things could light up and do well. But it can go horribly, too. Entertainment is perilous. I’m doing well now, I think my dvd will be profitable, I’ve got a good agent, and I’ve done Britain’s Got Talent, but people can forget about you very quickly.

What was your last impulse purchase?

A snazzy computer. I had a functional one but this is really fast with an absurdly large screen. It was entirely unnecessary but I was walking past the shop, saw it in the window, thought ‘I can afford that now’ and bought it. I’d need something that fast if I was doing graphics or some sort of big banking system – which I’m not, but I just wanted it.

Cash or card?

Card – I’m too worried to carry cash. When you’re a comedian so much of the work is cash in hand, you can be paid a week’s wages all in one go, and when that used to happen I couldn’t wait to put it in the bank. At least with cards, you can cancel them.

Daliso Chaponda’s What The African Said tour, nationwide, until September 1.