Gail Clough is co-founder of the UAE comedy club The Laughter Factory. Born in Manchester in the United Kingdom, she worked on cruise ships before moving to Dubai 25 years ago to work as a DJ. Ms Clough, who is 52, lives on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My mum was an Irish immigrant who went to England when she was 17. She was a cleaner and dad was a bus conductor. It was tough, economically. We lived in one of the poorest parts of Manchester. I never bought a new item of clothing until I started work, hence a love and appreciation of clothes, shoes and handbags since. I grew up mainly in the ‘70s and was brought up on jumble sales, second hand clothes.
How much were you paid in your first job?
A Saturday job on the pie counter at John Lewis; I was paid Dh30 a day. It was the wealthiest I’d ever felt. When you’ve gone from Dh3 pocket money - it’s not often you make such an exponential leap, financially. The first thing I bought was leather pants, then a white leather mini and stilettos. We were into the early ‘80s by then, when I discovered nightclubs, and danced all night. I had a whole new lifestyle and started DJing at 17.
What brought you to Dubai?
When I was 21 I went travelling around the world, by myself. I did seven years and ended up living very happily in Cairo, DJing at night. Then there was disruption in the country and the company I was working with said ‘we don’t think you’re safe here’. In 1993 I came to Dubai and started in the nightclub at the InterContinental, on the Creek, now the Radisson. I also got a job in Music Master; these were CD shops in BurJuman and Al Ghurair Centre. I realised there was big money DJing weddings and corporate gigs; Dh5,000 a night then. You’re lucky to earn Dh500 now. I built my client base until I’d got half a dozen gigs a month. My salary in the shop was Dh5,000 and I used to rent a two-bedroom flat for Dh18,000 and let the other room out. It was just the money that kept me here in the beginning.
Why did you start The Laughter Factory?
We didn’t really start it for business reasons. We were bored. There were duos with mullets singing ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Black Velvet’ on a loop; that was your entertainment. You might get Tom Jones or Bryan Adams every two or three years. I started Laughter Factory in June 1997 with my business partner, who was a drummer. I’d worked for a promoter in the ‘80s who had a comedy club who initially supplied us with comics.
Are you a saver or a spender?
I would love to be a saver; I used to be, but I haven’t saved for four years. I don’t earn enough to save.
So are you wise with money?
I’m moving out of my flat, downsizing, and I sold my car. I cut back my lifestyle. I won’t do debt. I know what it was like to be poor. It terrifies me. I know what I’ve got coming in and what I’ve got going out.
What is your biggest luxury?
My Botox habit; every four months, for 20 years. I’ve had everything done, except my chest. I’m one procedure away from turning into a washing up bowl. It’s probably Dh500,000 worth. I also ran a plastic surgery company for 10 years so wasn’t paying for most of it. People used to come from England to get work done; the exchange rate made it cheap.
Was it a challenge building a comedy business?
Promoting those shows was easy; you could tell a couple of people and others would know about it in five minutes. We packed 500 people into the Hyatt Regency the first night. It was a British club for British people. Now 80 per cent of our crowd is non-British; five years ago you’d have had blank faces and dead spots as you need to get the context of the joke, but people watch so much comedy online. We have one of very few totally global comedy clubs in the world.
Is it a tough business in which to earn a living?
The business model was kind of flawed in that it was set up in a ‘hardship posting’ full of people earning lots of money, with nothing to do. Now you have every celebrity chef, beach parties … you have more things vying for people’s earnings. We used to have to ‘bribe’ comics (with inflated fees), but nobody wants to take a pay cut - and we’ve got to maintain the standard of comics. That’s the most important thing. The environment around us has changed and the club doesn’t make that much profit, but it’s like a child to me. What’s been good for us is we have proper comedy fans; they could be sitting in a restaurant, but come to the club because they ‘get it’. In the UK most people go to comedy clubs on average twice a year. From our data, they come to us five times a year. There are probably six clubs as old as ours, globally.
What is your best investment?
I bought a two-bedroom flat in the centre of Manchester two years ago. It’s my security, but (the rental income) only pays half my rent here.
What are you happiest spending money on?
I like to travel. I’m not a business class, five star hotel person; I just like to see different places. My indulgence was to hit the mall, buy shoes and handbags. I won’t do that if I don’t have it to spend. I have enough ‘stuff’ now.
Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?
Cash. The comedians all get cash on the night. I’ve credit cards I use occasionally. I’ve never paid interest – I pay them off straight away.
Do you plan for the future?
We’re doing pop up shows in communities. We’ve a lot scheduled over the summer and I think that will grow the business. That could get me back in the handbag shop. Summer is the best time for us because our competition is outdoor concerts and beach parties. We have a tour every month. It’s more efficient that way and that’s how we get amazing comics. We’ve adapted with the market. People are always going to want to laugh; it’s just how it’s packaged. It’s my job to navigate that, to find different formats that people want.
I work a lot with The Comedy Store (in London) and the owner is 86, still running his own club - when I grow up that’s who I want to be. I don’t believe in retirement. When you have a room full of people laughing … there’s nothing better.
If you won Dh1m what would you do with it?
I’m happy with my life, so I’d probably put it in the bank and save most of it. And I wouldn’t tell anybody.