Freelance Funnies

by Lesley Evans Ogden


As a freelancer, you’ve no doubt read a plethora of recent posts about the gloomy outlook for journalism, and how tough it is for freelancers to make a living these days. Yet we’re a tenacious bunch, and there is much to enjoy and celebrate about our flexible jobs. One of the best antidotes for doom and gloom is humour, so I’ve scoured the freelance galaxy for a selection of anecdotes about funny, awkward and embarrassing moments that naturally arise from our unconventional and erratic work lives. Some are so awkward or embarrassing that the sources have requested to remain anonymous.

I suspect that many of these stories will resonate with your own experiences.



Jennifer S Holland, Contributor, National Geographic, and Author. Latest book: Unlikely Heroes: 37 Inspiring Stories of Courage and Heart (2014)

Let’s see, which OOPS to share…there have been so many. One good one: I’m on the phone doing a serious interview when my husband arrives home in a silly mood, doesn’t realize I’m on the phone, comes bursting in singing–loudly–a very juvenile version of Strangers in the Night (in this version they’re not exchanging glances…I’ll leave it at that). I do the crazy snapping and cut-throat motion at him, but my source has stopped to ask if I need to call him back.

Yikes. I guess it’s just part of our charm.




Don Genova, Canadian journalist specializing in writing and broadcasting about food and travel. Author of Food Artisans of Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands (2014).

This wasn’t really a ‘media’ thing but definitely a ‘freelance’ thing. I was asked to sub in for the late, great, James Barber as a ‘celebrity chef’ at an RV show in Chilliwack. So I got to spend a whole weekend out there. I thought the money was great. The clue should have been when I told the organizer how much I wanted and he said ‘yes’ very quickly. Should have checked with James!

Anyway, my ‘stage’ was a platform in front of an RV that did not have a working kitchen…no water. I had a table and a barbecue to cook on. I had to trudge what seemed like half a mile in this huge barn-like structure to get to a kitchen where I could do my prep.

First appearance…not used to the new barbecue, totally burned a quesadilla I had put on the grill. Next appearance, guy from a couple of aisles over drops by and asks if I want to use one of his new products, a small barbecue that operates on about half a dozen briquettes. Invented in South Africa. Fine, I say, throw it on the side shelf of my barbecue. I light it up and get a chicken breast going on it, try to left the lid to check on it, it’s stuck. Why? Because the heat of the big barbecue was melting the plastic exterior of the little barbecue, so basically I was barbecuing a barbecue! Disaster, right? Not so, a couple of hours later the vendor who gave me the BBQ to try came over and said, ‘I don’t know what you did, but everyone from your demo came by and I’m nearly sold out!’

Put that under the ‘no publicity is bad’ file…and a weekend I’ll never get back.




Emily Schooley, CEO – Laughing Cat Creative

I don’t know if this is more hilarious or tragic, but one of my first freelance film gigs was making a short film for a client. This woman was recording some audition tape to send, and it involved something or other to do with a fairy kingdom and make believe and all of that kooky stuff. Without knowing what would come next, I quoted her something ridiculously low, like $100, for the project.

Now, what was supposed to be a short one to two page audition morphed into a ten page script that she had written, with herself as the star, of course. The day we were shooting, I was extremely sick but determined to push through. On top of that, her co-actor was only available for a short time as he had some other audition to run off to as well. Basically, I had about 6-8 hours total to shoot a ten page script while I was dog-sick and miserable. Of course, not only did she and her co-actor NOT have their lines down in advance, which would have saved significant time, but the dress she had chosen to wear had her all but popping out of it, and her director spent more time going through the lines than actually providing any real direction.

I did the best I could with what I had to work with, but after a 14 hour editing session with this woman afterwards (who insisted on running a single shot for almost a minute, might I add!) she turned around and blamed me for things like her poor acting choices, her wardrobe malfunctions, and so on, and decided she would need to reshoot the whole thing with someone else. At that point, I thought “good riddance!”

If nothing else, this whole fiasco taught me to charge properly for my time, and to listen to my gut instinct when meeting potential clients.




Jennifer Carpenter, Toronto-based freelance science journalist

I was reporting a piece for the BBC World Service about dyslexia. Studies about the condition have always interested me because I’m dyslexic, in fact, I wasn’t able to read until I was 10, and when I first learned to write, it was always backwards. Here was study that offered people some relief from these difficulties.

Having written a piece about the study for online, I headed down to the studio in west London to do a three minute segment; a two-way, where the host (in a studio in California) asked me questions and I explained the study.  The producer, in a studio across London, was interjecting every so often to pick-up dropped sounds and ask for certain emphasis. I introduced the study, and explained how the team collected the data, but I kept messing up the delivery of the punch line, which involved explaining the difference between the treatment and the control.

Programs don’t book a long time in the studio (studio time is expensive), so the producer politely asked me to pull myself together. On the 10th or so take I finally nailed it, apologized, thanked them, and exited the studio a little sweatier than when I’d gone in.  I always force myself to re-listen to my reports — it is painful, but useful to hear where you are not using your voice fully. So the next day I tuned in. Not bad, until…the last line. I had the control and the treatment the wrong way round. A piece about dyslexia and I’d delivered the punchline backwards!

I still cringe now, years later.




Jen Moss, Freelance writer, radio & interactive producer from Vancouver.

Well my FAVOURITE freelance assignment was when CBC Radio sent me to interview an 86-year-old exotic dancer. I was quite new to freelancing at the time, and wasn’t quite sure what to ask her. Like, “Is it weird that you were kind of slutty when you were younger but now you’re really, really old?”… didn’t seem quite right. Luckily she was an absolute charmer – made me tea – showed me amazing old pictures of Vancouver clubs in the 40 & 50s, a side of the city you seldom see, and sent me on my way — mind thoroughly broadened.

It was a “love my job” kind of day.




From an anonymous freelancer.

A few years ago, I was on the beginning of my freelancer journey. I happened to be in Toronto scrumming various technology conferences for my blog. One day I attended an event wearing my colorful blazer. It’s an integral part of my brand, which helps folks recognize me in a large crowd. I got all dolled up, hopped on the subway and headed downtown. Picking up my media pass outside the conference door, then took a seat.

While the conference speakers were running over their Power Point presentations. I glanced around the room to get a better feel for the place. UMMM… Almost everyone was wearing black. I’m talking your typical professional black business suits and dresses. Even the crowd was rocking some of the black motif. SUPER embarrassing. Why on earth hadn’t I anticipated this happening?

Meanwhile, I was lit up like a bright Christmas tree in February. *Whispers like Jim Gaffigan* ‘Aawkwwwaaard.’ I felt like that one kid in grade school class that didn’t want to get called on. But on the bright side, *pun partially intended* – there WAS one person who spotted me from the previous artsy conference I had attended. And the conference staff were very cool with me.

That made my slightly awkward day all worthwhile.




Michael Schwartz, Toronto-based Freelance Editor & Article Writer

I am a freelancer now, but I remember my funniest story was when I was just starting in publishing.

One of the journals I was working alongside was covering the refurbishment of the West German embassy in London. It was customary to send a copy of the type-setting to the client for final approval. The editorial assistant sent the type-setting to the East German embassy.

The editor, who built his life around panics, was not very pleased. “This is the biggest cock-up we’ve ever made. This is like the Libyans receiving information for the Israelis.”

It generated laughter for the news editor and for me – but we dared not show it in the sight of the editor concerned.




Willow Yamauchi, Vancouver-based freelance writer and raconteur.

Author of Adult Child of Hippies and Bad Mommy.

Early on in my freelancing adventures, I had gone up to Squamish, BC to interview a potato farmer. I decided I was going to be really fancy and interview my source right in the potato field to get great ambient sound. I was really proud of myself, and feeling all professional — all decked out with all this equipment. We had to walk about a kilometre into the potato field so we could actually stand in a place where we could hear the sounds of crickets, cars driving by in the distance, and birds tweeting — this amazing soundscape.

So I’m thinking, ‘this is awesome,’ and we get there, and I’m two minutes into the interview, and the Marantz microphone just died.

I soon realized it was out of batteries, which is such a rookie mistake, and I had brought extra batteries, but they were dead! I was a kilometre into a potato field with the source I wanted to interview, and I was so embarrassed. So we had to walk a kilometre back to the potato field, past the crickets, and the cars, to the farmer’s house where he fortunately had some AA batteries.





Niki Wilson, Freelance writer, journalist, science communicator.

I started freelancing part time when my son Dylan was little, and by the time he was two I was probably working about 15-20 hours per week, barely balancing work and motherhood.  My office was in the spare room of my house, and this story is from the days before we had call display. I was upstairs and the phone was ringing, and I wasn’t expecting a scientist I wanted to work with on a project to call me, so I answered the phone.

Up until that point, when I wanted to talk to someone about work, I’d tried to make an appointment so I could manage Dylan or arrange childcare. So when I picked up the phone, I realized it was this scientist and he’d been difficult to get hold of, so I really needed to take the call. Dylan is toddling around, so I decide how I’m going to manage this is to lock us in the bedroom together. So I put him on the bed with a toy, all the while, walking around with a cordless phone, talking to this scientist as if nothing was going on.

I turned my back to Dylan to sit at my desk, and as I’m talking, I hear him scurrying around on the bed. Then, all of a sudden, I hear the sound of crumbling plaster, and I turn around, and he’s got his arms on the curtains, and he’s teetering back. He has clearly been reefing on them, and the little IKEA curtain rod is now ripping out of the wall, with dust floating down onto the bed. Suddenly, the curtain rod rips out of the wall, and Dylan falls back on the bed with the curtains partially covering him, and dust everywhere. Meanwhile I’m trying to talk about this new analytic technique we’re going to explain in a paper.

I managed to make it to the end of the call, without the scientist knowing. Or maybe he knew – he had three kids of his own – and he didn’t let on.




As for myself, I’ve had my fair share of parental-induced embarrassing moments, such as trying to do phone interviews while two of my kids are having a full out screaming match on the other side of my thin office door (thank goodness for mute buttons). But my most recent funny-awkward freelance moment arose because I often do interviews with scientists in the UK or Europe, time zones 8 or 9 hours ahead of my own.

The only mutually convenient time I can schedule these interviews is very early in the morning, and despite spending years as a bird biologist in my previous life, often getting up before dawn, I’m really not a morning person. So that means that when forced to rise at 5 or 6am, I do anything I can to maximize sleep, such as avoiding time spent on personal grooming. One day, having just arrived at my desk in my PJs and bed-head at 5:59 am, tea in hand, I suddenly realized that the interview I was scheduled to do at 6:00 am was supposed to be on Skype, not by telephone. Too late to do anything on the personal grooming front, I Skyped the scientist (in France), and figured I would just not turn on the video. After Skype connected, he asked, “Do you want to turn on the video?” to which I sleepily blurted out without thinking, “oh I can’t, I’m wearing my pyjamas.”

Oops. Awkward international laughter, and a funny moment I hope never to repeat.

Cheers to the funny side of freelancing!


Lesley Evans Ogden is a science journalist-producer based in Port Moody, BC. The columnist of Deception at BBC Earth, she is also a regular contributor at New Scientist, Earth Touch, and Natural History, and is excited about recent opportunities to dip her toes into documentary work for radio and TV. Say hi on Twitter @ljevanso


Posted on May 20, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by editor
    on May 20, 2015 at 10:38 am
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    I feel as though I ought to cough up a few of my own awkward/embarrassing freelance “funnies” considering how many of my friends have contributed theirs to this post… Somehow mine are always more embarrassing and awkward than funny. And they almost always have to do with my recording equipment. The worst was the time I was using my brand new Zoom recorder to interview an acquaintance about a very intense near-death experience she’d had. She was near tears and had given me a very heartfelt rendition of her story. And then I suddenly realized that the blinking red light on my recorder meant that the recording function was paused… not recording, as I’d thought. I had to ask her to start all over again. She did a fine job re-telling the story, but I was mortified. And then there was the time I was interviewing an employment specialist for a story for CBC… my microphone battery died, so I had to stop her so that I could unscrew the top of the mic and replace the battery. At which point my microphone basically disintegrated into a dozen pieces, with little springs and other metal doodads falling all over the table. I had to figure out how to reassemble it as she sat there, patiently waiting for me to continue the interview. It felt like it took about an hour but it was probably only about 3 minutes. I think that was the most I’ve ever sweated during an interview.

  2. Written by editor
    on May 20, 2015 at 10:40 am
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    Also, after reading this post, Vancouver children’s author Tanya Lloyd Kyi wrote a blog post about a few of her own funny freelance moments. Thanks for sharing, Tanya! Here’s her post:

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