Plenty of people are laughing at the financial services industry these days. But Barry Rafe, an actuary and former director at Trowbridge Consulting, got in ahead of them a few months back when he left the industry to try standup comedy.

After attending comedy courses at NIDA last year, 51-year-old Rafe, who remains on the council at the Institute of Actuaries, recently competed in the semi-finals of the Royal Comedy Competition (the lead up to the Melbourne Comedy Festival) at Fox Studios, and is waiting to find out if he made it through.

Who knew that mortality tables could become the stuff of a good night out? Perversely, Rafe reckons people get a kick out of hearing others’ woes. “Comedy is about truth and pain, that’s what I learnt at NIDA,” he says. “People aren’t interested in hearing jokes, what they’re interested in hearing about is what pain you’re going through in your life, and they laugh at that.”

Rafe refers to his act as “old-man humour”, saying it’s really about the realities of a bloke who’s getting on in life and facing a mid-life crisis. “You do embellish stories but really it’s about yourself; in fact most people who do stand-up are loners and they are quite negative people, whereas I’m usually quite positive, which is why I’ll probably never be very good at it,” he quips.

But while he’s proved there’s more to actuaries than just numbers, Rafe isn’t about to make a full-time career out of comedy. “There’s no money in stand-up comedy for a start,” he says. “It’s actually quite high stress, the whole lead-up to it, and the only excitement you get is the 10 seconds after you finish, when you get a big high. I feel like I’ve tried it now, I’m not too keen to push it [further].” He says he’ll probably continue to do after-dinner speeches at functions, and only do stand-up shows when he craves the buzz of “feeling alive” that he gets when he’s on stage.

“You know you’re alive when you’re on stage because you’re absolutely on the edge, you’re aware of every second, of everything that’s going on around you,” he says. Bernie Madoff (pronounced Madeoff, as in made off with your money) has ruined many people with his Ponzi scam, and he’s done no favours for the credibility of hedge fund indices either.

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