Accountants have not typically fared well in comedy. Monty Python famously lampooned Michael Palin’s feeble chartered accountant’s lion taming aspirations.
But rather than being the butt of the joke, tax expert Pete Miller is attempting to dispel this stereotype by participating in a sponsored stand-up challenge raising money for the Big Difference charity.
Pete Miller is a natural storyteller. Miller’s bombastic, quick-fire delivery only stops long enough to draw breath and give the audience a chance to chuckle, but delivering a stand-up routine is a different beast than conducting a tax seminar. “When you are giving a three hour seminar, you can drop in the odd joke and if no one gets it or finds it funny you just carry straight on because you got loads of material and you are not there to be funny. The real challenge is for that five minutes I am there to make people laugh,” Miller said.
But Miller won’t be the first accountant to stand-up from behind the desk: Bob Newhart, Arnold Brown and Eddie Izzard all pursued a career in the profession. Miller theorises that accountants can make the transition to comedian with ease because comedy is an intellectual exercise.
Comedian Tom Goodliffe was an accountant before swapping the spreadsheets for the stand-up spotlight. While Goodliffe says comedy is a little more fun than accountancy (he’s quick to counter "I love a good spreadsheet!"), it’s not nearly as lucrative, unless you’re on TV. But Goodliffe dismisses the accountant’s born dull stereotype. “I tell you what's boring - people still using "accountant" as shorthand for a boring job. How original!”
While accountants make the transition to comedians with aplomb, the topic of accountancy and the finer intricacies of the British tax system may be a little difficult for the audience to comprehend. But Miller will be including a dash of tax humour to his routine. “There are a few little stories I can tell about my time as a tax inspector without breaching the official secrets act,” Miller said. The tax expert will touch on the subject, since people can relate to funny stories vaguely relating to work, but the key, Miller says, is in remembering those things and highlighting them without making them an in-joke. “The nice thing about tax is that everybody pays it, or certainly everyone in my audience is likely to be paying it,” Miller says. Miller hastens to add that “Interesting jokes about corporate reconstruction are not going to go into the act; it’s a fairly safe bet.
Goodliffe is similarly reticent about leaning too heavily on his accountancy experience on stage, saying: “I think some of the finer points might lose the "well-lubricated weekend crowds”. But Goodliffe does use it as a jumping off point for talking more about maths. “I also have a routine in which I imagine a conversation between Luca Pacioli and a fellow monk about the invention of double entry bookkeeping, but I'm careful with which crowds I perform that one to!”
While the audience may not be privy with the minutiae of tax, many will be aware of stand-up jimmy Carr’s entanglement with the K2 Jersey-based tax avoidance scheme. Miller is naturally toying with the idea of using his tax inspector history to mention the comedian. “Does telling anything about Jimmy Carr end up being a bit of a cliché, but then of course, it doesn’t stop a cliché from being funny,” Miller muses.
Considering Jimmy Carr’s struggles with tax, Goodliffe’s fellow comedians have only hassled him once or twice a year for tax advice. However, Goodliffe concedes that he only scraped a pass on his tax exam. “Most of my practical experience is in management reporting, budgeting and forecasting, so I'm not in a position to be giving tax advice. In fact, if anyone fancies doing my taxes in return for a couple of show tickets,” Goodliffe offers.
So has Goodliffe completely turned his back on the accounting profession? “I might spend more time on writing and performing nowadays, but I'll never turn my back on number-crunching completely,” Goodliffe says. “I do far too much analysis on the KPIs of my fantasy sports teams. It would be a shame to let my Excel skills go to waste!”
And Miller isn’t prepared to ditch tax for comedy either. “The idea of standing up in front of 200 people and making jokes and telling funny stories for five minutes is absolutely petrifying,” Miller says.
You can support Pete Miller’s expedition into stand-up comedy on his fundraising page