Sunday 16 June 2019

Astute female comedy duo laughing all the way to the bank

Sinead Culbert and Sue Collins
Sinead Culbert and Sue Collins

Alan O'Neill

Actors, artists, athletes, musicians, performers and writers know well that "there is no business like showbusiness". We are regularly seduced by the famous A-listers such as the Hollywood set, global brands like U2 and writers like Cathy Kelly who have made it big in terms of fame and money.

But spare a thought for the millions of other artists around the world who have chosen sport, entertainment and the arts as a way of life. They too are self-employed business owners that have to earn a living. They have products or services to sell, customers to please, distribution channels to consider, overheads to pay and profit and loss accounts to manage.

The DirtBirds

A few weeks ago, I was invited to an evening in the Viking Theatre in Dublin's Clontarf. I don't think I have ever laughed as much in one evening. The DirtBirds took us on a rip-roaring 'p***-take' of the beauty industry, yummy mummies and so on. And guess who was brought up on stage to help with injecting botox into a facial crevasse? I may be the Change Agent, but seriously?

Sinead Culbert and Sue Collins have been working together writing comedy for 10 years. Some of that material has even made its way to the BBC. They formed The DirtBirds just over a year ago and, already, are making a great name for themselves across Ireland. Their show is made up of a series of sketches with gags every 20 seconds.

They write all their own funny and very intelligent material. They are the performers and they are also their own managers and agents. They are running a lean, cost-efficient business.

Having worked with Disney in Florida - one of the most successful entertainment companies in the world - I saw the business behind the magic first-hand. I was impressed when I saw many similarities with Sinead and Sue's business.

The Business Behind the Magic

Why start a business in the first place?

Just this week I met a young friend who wanted some advice on setting up a business. When I asked him why he wanted to do it, I was heartened by his answer. He believes his idea will add value to organisations, he wants independence and, thirdly, he'd like to make more money than he would as a PAYE worker. I'm so glad that 'money' was not the first or only answer.

Sinead and Sue love to make people laugh. For them, that comes before making money. But of course they know only too well that this is their livelihood. It's a business that has to make a profit to sustain it for the long term.

In a recent Meaningful Brands Index, organisations that embody 'purpose' before money usually see higher than average results in all key metrics.

Your Product and your Customer

A first step for any business startup is to develop your product. This will require some level of market research to establish the gaps in the market, the competition and pricing. This should also be done in parallel with determining the profile of your target customer.

Sinead and Sue identified a gap in comedy that women between 30 and 50 could relate to. They are passionate mothers themselves and have first-hand experience of life's challenges, such as what it's like when kids' homework takes over the home. They identified a niche and developed their USP (unique selling proposition) to cater for that.

Their comedy is based on observing normal-life situations and turning them into very intelligent quips, sketches and stories. They hone their content by writing, rewriting and with constant tweaking after each performance.

Rather than just relying on their 'best sellers', like most businesses they keep their fingers on the pulse of daily life and trends to regularly innovate with new ideas and concepts.


When the pair started out and had lots of material written, they filmed several sketches. They posted them for free on Facebook and got over 100,000 views with some. There is no income derived from these online videos. What they do get is customer engagement. After all, they are building a brand. That is no different to a boutique using Instagram, or inviting customers into the fitting room, or a motor dealer arranging a test drive. We can't assume that new products will be a hit; testing and seeking feedback is essential. Market research and sampling is vital for all businesses.

Sales and Channels of Distribution

That success gave Sinead and Sue confidence to start creating and selling live shows. There are 60 funded arts centres in Ireland and the women used the brand to go out and sell the concept. They themselves sold their act to the theatres and then collaborated with them to market their show.


Sinead and Sue are all about making us laugh and they do that very well. See them for yourself - their dates on Comedy is a tough business that takes no prisoners. With every performance, they know what their 'customers' think of them and they react accordingly.

Just because The DirtBirds are a recent startup, don't assume that the steps here are not relevant even if your business is a hundred years old. The world is changing constantly. Your customers and your competitors too are changing. It's good practice for all of us to take time out now and again to reboot. Are you sure that your products are on trend and that you are satisfying your customers?

Alan O'Neill is a Change Consultant, Speaker and Non-exec Director. For over 30 years he has been supporting global brands through change. Contact Alan at Business advice questions can be sent to

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