Thursday, 23 April 2009

Brunch in Edinburgh, every day for a Month...


Just when life seems as weird, twisty and utterly, unfathomably complicated enough, someone goes and offers me an Edinburgh show.

A proper one, in a proper studio space.

I know. No-one was more shocked than me.

It's been a pretty intense week of gigging and trying to write, hence the lack of Bloggage...well,, okay I probably could have fitted in a blog or two, but that would be failing to account for my pitiful self motivation and built in Inertia. Friday saw me performing Poetry at the brilliant, brilliant, BRILLIANT Bingo Masters Break Out, in which all the acts have to do Karaoke. I did 'You Give Love a Bad Name' and the room was SLAIN. Saturday brought with it Miow Kacha, a cabaret night based on Fatherhood in which I performed a slightly edited version of this routine, as well as dusting off 'Gods Cock' just to see if I could remember it. Both went down really well and I went home quite chuffed with myself. Which was quickly punctured on Sunday Night when I did the Amused Moose Laugh Off audition stage and didn't even get through to the next round.

This was no huge surprise...we were only allowed to do a minute and a half, and I try really hard to write self-contained 5 minute sets that have a beginning, middle and end...thus making quite hard to strip out the punch lines and boil the whole thing down. Still, the laugh rate was depressingly low.

And just when everything seemed glum, Tuesday happened. At the Saturday night event, I'd got talking to the father of one of the organisers -who had performed a piece himself-, a rather nice and impressive gentleman who it turns out is Artistic Director for Off West End Theatres and happened to have a gap in his Edinburgh schedule, which he was impressed enough to offer to me. Which was quite flattering.

Okay, I know, I'd never attempt to do an hour show myself. I'm not ready...I'm quite far from ready. I'm closer to Alpha Centuri than I am for doing a successful hour of comedy, and besides who would pay to see me? BUT the idea of that available space proved too tempting, so on I emailed pitching him a mixed-bag showcase of new talent which I would head up. The slot is 11.30 in the morning, so I very quickly wrote a pitch for a 'Brunch' themed show mixing stand up, poetry and musical acts. Which he liked. Deal is done, all is confirmed, I'm going to Edinburgh.

Which of course raises a list of things I need to do.

1) Write and cast an hour of Comedy
2) Find a way of driving people to it at 11.30am at the Edinburgh Fringe
3) Find a way of surviving in Edinburgh for a month.

The pretty stonkingly amazing Rob Auton is already on-bored to fulfill the poetry quotiant. I'm pretty sure it's going to be called 'Comedy Brunch Buffet, because I can't think of a better title.

I'm very excited indeed, although frankly, the panic is beginning to set in. Just a touch.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Daddy Issues

Here's an interesting challenge...I've been asked to perform at the Meow Kacha caberet night this Saturday, (being held at the Scooterworks, 132 Lower Marsh, Waterloo, London SE1 7AE if you fancied popping along), the event is titled 'These Be The Verses' and the theme is fatherhood and relationships... meaning I had to write somethign brand new, reflecting something unique about my relationship with my Dad. It's been quite a tricky ride, because I kept getting sidetracked by emotional baggage, and though I'd love to be the kind of comic who can talk about weightier personal issues with wit and warmth, I'm not quite there yet. That said, this is the kind of comic I want to be so it was worth having a crack at. Below is my work-in-progree first draft, I thought it might be interesting. It needs more jokes, and the ended will probably change -it doesn't quite ring true enought for me yet- but It's a start...

Christmas 1990, and my 4 year old sister has just got the most amazing Christmas present ever from her Daddy. Big blue eyes are shining from beneath blonde curls, her little mouth locked in an awestruck 'O'. It's a whole toy Kitchen, and it's literally twice her height, complete with plastic fruit and a breakfast bar, a coffee pot, and real cereal packets. It is 5ft by 2ft of plastic domestic joy, and it comes in a cardboard box that is, if anything, even more exciting than its contents for sheer potential playability. The thing is, we're poor. Really really quite poor. We'd lost our house in the recession...which if anything makes this story bitingly relevant, rather than fleeting nostalgia...and we're living in a rented 2 up 2 down in Leicestershire. But that was okay, because like so many of that years gifts the Kitchen had, to quote my Dad, "fallen off the back of a truck". I'd got a Liverpool shirt, as I was in one of my periodic phases of denial about hating football. I hate football, It's shit, but it made Dad happy that I tried. That came off the back of a lorry too. I forget what my brother got, but it was probably truck-back-based in origin as well, as was most of our furniture.

We had a lot of things that had apparently fallen off of the back of Lorry's. It was sort of natural actually...Dad was a lorry driver, a lorry driver with slightly dodgy ethics when it came to his load.

Well,I say Lorry driver...that's what he did. Technically, In the eyes of the law he was unemployed. But then my Dad always had this knack of claiming benefits while still maintaining full time work, it was a knack he had developed into a master art form of deception. We were all drilled with strict instructions that if anyone ever called the house asking for our Dad we were under absolutely no circumstances to tell anyone he was at work.

There's an interesting argument about role models. How can you grow up with a decent grasp of what's right and wrong when your father-figure's take on the law is so morally grey? Sure we were poor, genuinely struggling. We'd had to move in with my grandparents for a month, we'd had to sell the car and by a cheaper one, we were living by the skin of our teeth. Dad was only doing what he could to support his family, surely? If a man steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, is that wrong? What if they're not actually starving, just a bit peckish? And okay if a man steals a loaf of bread he'll feed himself for his day, but let him steal a Kitchen and he'll feed himself and his family for a lifetime. And, okay, maybe that Kitchen is made of plastic and aimed at 4 year old girls but the principle still applies. It's sound.

We never felt what Dad was doing was wrong. Our Mum was and indeed still is quite a moral person, and took great pains to instill in us a strong sense of right and wrong. Instead it felt cheeky. It felt like he was getting away with it. He was Del Boy. He was Arthur Daily, playing the system to get what he wanted and winning. It wasn't wrong, it was about bending the rules, often to a state of elasticity that defied conventional physics.

It all seemed a bit of a joke somehow, not quite real. I remember being 14 and hearing on the news that a Timberland clothing warehouse in Nottingham had been burgled and thousands of £'s worth of merchandise had been stolen. This wasn't a massive shock to me.... Dad had had me selling Timberland Jumpers at my school for a £10 a pop for the last week. I knew he had nothing to do with the robbery itself though. He skirted the edges of other peoples crimes. He'd gone out "to see a man about a dog" and came back with some jumpers. He always knew a man who knew a man, that would invariably end up with my Brother and I going out with him on a freezing saturday morning selling car covers, or Christmas hampers, or on one occasion boxes of sweets that had literally come out of a big box from the tip that Dad had been delivering too.

The thing is, despite all of his faults, as a child I completely idolised my Dad, in a way you only can with someone whose hardly ever there and whose faults you're largely blind too. I envied how easily he could make friends, how easy going he was, and also how fearless. I'd go to school, or talk to my Mum, and I'd learn about right and wrong, but this wonderful person I knew became a voice in the back of my head, saying 'you don't always have to do it their way'. I learned the black and white, but Dad taught me there were shades of grey.

As an adult, I've hardly become Del Boy myself. I don't know a Man that knows a man. Most of the men I know don't know any Men at all. And I know that Dad's point of view was slightly warped. He wasn't trust worthy and so never really trusted anyone, where as I'm naieve and trusting to the point that it can often be pathetic. But I like to think that some of the best of him has ended up in me. He's always there, as a little voice in my head. Literally sometimes, when he rings me and tells me how to live my life. He's not changed, only last year he turned up at Mums saying "I've got a boot full of meat, do you want some?". Fundamentally I play by the rules, pay my taxes, and get by. But I'd like to think that on some level, I've never forgotten that sometimes you can bend the rules. That somewhere is a man that knows a man who can get you what you need. That sometimes somethings can fall off the back of a truck and not be missed. Dad can get away with it, and if it makes a little girl smile at a plastic kitchen, it's probably okay.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Planet Of The Dead: Predictions...the debrief


In this post on Saturday I oh-so-smart-arsely tried to predict what was going to happen in Doctor Who. Here's how I did...

1) They will be a subtle but ominous foreshadowing, ala Medusa Cascade, unrelated to the plot
Correct! Liz from Teachers, who was prone to the odd prediction -and apparently more accurate than me- weaved some mystic mumbo jumbo about something that was returning, and someone who'd knock four times. She also echoed the Ood back in series 4 by saying that his "song is ending". Ominous foreshadowing a-go-go.

2) This episode will be a bit too RTD-lite, ala Voyage Of The Damned
And it was! I enjoyed it more than 'Voyage...' though.

3) Michelle Ryan will snog David Tennant for a spurious reason not related to romance. This maybe something to do with enzymes, genetic transfers, or hiding. She will clearly fancy him, he will explain it's all a bit complicated

Half true. She did snog him, but there was no pretense about it. He seemed to quite enjoy the experience too. But then DT is the kissing Doctor. William Hartnell would never had got away with it.

4) I will fancy Michelle Ryan a lot more than I previously have
Sort of.

5) There will be some veiled camp reference about Captain Jack.
Wrong.

6) There will be a joke about Cliff Richard/ Summer Holiday/ Blakey/ Orrible Olive/ Holiday on the Buses
Okay, no. I think they missed a trick here though. I bet there was one in an earlier draft. Confidential used 'Summer Holiday' as a soundtrack. so thats half a point surely?

7) There will be a joke at the expense of London Transport. Possibly somehing about routemasters.
Another missed trick.

8) Lee Evans character will be wacky and annoying.
As wrong as I could be. I actually fould Malcome to be really sweet.

9) There will be a reference to Star Wars/Laurence of Arabia/Dune
Wrong again, but James Strong does mention David Lean in the commentary.

10) There will be an Eastenders reference at Michelle Ryans expense
Thanksfully no.

Clearly i'm not as clever or as geeky as I make out. Opinions?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Predictions for tonights Doctor Who

I actually wrote this for a private email, but I thought I'd make it public and stand by it...this is my ten predictions for Planet Of The Dead:

1) They will be a subtle but omnious foreshadowing, ala Medusa Cascade, unrelated to the plot
2) This episode will be a bit too RTD-lite, ala Voyage Of The Damned.
3) Michelle Ryan will snog David Tennant for a spurious reason not related to romance. This maybe something to do with enzymes, genetic transfers, or hiding. She will clearly fancy him, he will explain it's all a bit complicated
4) I will fancy Michelle Ryan a lot more than I previously have
5) There will be some veiled camp reference about Captain Jack.
6) There will be a joke about Cliff Richard/ Summer Holiday/ Blakey/ Orrible Olive/ Holiday on the Buses
7) There will be a joke at the expense of London Transport. Possibly somehing about routemasters.
8) Lee Evans character will be wacky and annoying.
9) There will be a reference to Star Wars/Laurence of Arabia/Dune
10) There will be an Eastenders reference at Michelle Ryans expense.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Bible Bashing Britain

Right, most regular readers to this blog are clearly rubbish. Did I not state, quite clearly, the other week, "Any days I don’t update this please send me a long email telling me I’m a wanker who can’t stick at anything." It's right here! As it was only one person contacted me to point out my epic fail. In my defense, no-one says you have to Blog every day. This is the best Blog I've ever read and is only updated a couple of times a week. So there.

There's always excuses isn't there? Always something to blame. I'm going to plump for that old chestnut of busyness, and it's almost sort of true. I've been gigging the last three nights, which is nice and makes me feel like I'm actually getting somewhere with all of this, been attempting to write a brand new 5 minute set for the upcoming gigs, and have been attempting to watch both series of Vic Reeves Big Night Out from beginning to end. It's all kept me rather busy.

The gigs have been really nice, especially since Sundays gig at 1 Mighty Craic in Belsize Park, and Monday's Soho Comedy Club gig, were actually infront of proper stand up audiences as opposed to open mic crowds. I don't mind the new-act circuit, but my stuff always seems to go better at the more established clubs. Maybe the pro's make me up my game. It was last nights gig (an unplanned return to Party Piece in Stoke Newington...I'm back there on the 21st if anyone's interested) that finally jolted my return to blogging. I bumped into another stand up on the open-mic circuit, whose name I shall keep to myself for now, who -for the second time- took me to task on the Bible-based material he'd seen me perform before.

(I should point out at this point that I've already shelved this particular material for now...not because I don't like it, but because I wanted to refresh my set and every month or so I chuck the whole lot out and start again)

As I've said before I quite like getting critique from my bigger brothers and sisters on the circuit. I'm very much a new act, still within my first 20 gigs, and need all the help I can get, so I'll always listen gratefully. The comic in question told me -and this is paraphrasing from memory-

"There is virtually no point in doing stuff about the bible or religion in this country. No body cares, in America you can get away with it, but over here no-one cares and when a comic talks about the bible I just switch off".

He went on to point out that Bill Hicks had already said it all, and really even that had dated now. This is the set in question:



I quite like it, it stands out from a lot of other peoples stuff at my level, and I think is a lot closer to the comic that I want to be. I don't think I'm quite good enough yet to pull off this type of work, but it's definitely what I'm aiming towards. Now...how should I take the advice to drop this line of comedy all together? After all, it's coming from someone whose done a lot more gigs than I have? Should I listen? Are my instincts wrong? Does the UK really want to hear jokes about religion, or is it genuinely outdated now?

It's true that you don't tend to hear all that much biblical based shenanigans on the new act stand up circuit, (with the exception of the brilliant Matt Parker who does a bit on the same obscure bible reference as I do, by compete coincidence. I have a sneaking suspicion his is funnier than mine too) although I've never thought this was because there wasn't call for it. I thought it's because it's hard to write in an accessible and funny way without causing offense. or at least too much offense. After all there is a long tradition in UK comedy of poking fun of the seemingly serious and self important, of deflating the sacred with profanities (see what I did there?) and thumbing our noses at the pompous. The Bible, with its weight of tradition, dry language and association with a reactionary outlook is a prime target, a representation of the old fashioned and the dull. It's very tempting to take these very familiar shapes and phrases and spin them into jokes, and some of the very best comics have done just this. Observe Stewart Lee here as Jesus:



Lee is an absolute master at this type of material. His intelligence and knack for pointing out the absurdities in the everyday mean he has been drawn back to the Bible throughout his career. A classic routine in his Stand Up Comedian takes apart attitudes to blasphemy in a hugely skilled way, but even back in 1995 he and Richard Herring were using basic biblical principles for really very silly laughs.

Even so, Stewart Lee (famously only the 41st Best Stand Up) hardly rates as a household name. Maybe the advice I'm being given is more to do with being as acceptable as possible, rather than the more alienating affect of 'alternative' comics? Mind...Eddie Izzard is very famous, isn't he?



Throughout his career Izzard has been doing exactly what I've been doing, finding bits of the Bible that don't quite sit right and poking the absurdities at your face until you can't miss them. He's covered everything from St Paul's letters to the corinthians to The Pope. His most recent show, Stripped, takes potshots at God all the way through, notably Creationsim.

I can keep going:

Dylan Moran...


Ross Noble...


Rowan Atkinson...


Andrew O'Neil...
The moment The Pope Learns the Truth about God: by Andrew O'Neil


Glenn Wool...


And I could go on.

I suppose the argument could be that most of these comics aren't actually using the words of scripture as I was, more using the basic bible-ness of the Bible as a spring board to their own flights of fancy. But it's okay, because here's Richard Herring doing the entire first page of the new testement...



I won't continue to hurl videos your way dear reader, although I have had a whale of a time researching this. I hope I've made my point though, because from Stewart Lee to the Life of Brian, religion, the Bible, God, Jesus and the Holy Wotnot have provided an obvious backdrop from which to launch a comedic offensive.

And okay, I'll concede that you won't often get 10 minute disections of the Bibles oddest moments at your local working mans club, or Jongleurs, but then I'm not sure that's the kind of comic I want to be. I was really pleased with the little routine I wrote, and if the general public find it alienating, boring or out dated, then at the very least I feel like I'm in in good company

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Jesus Christ Superstar!

When you spend your days practically weeping into your duvet because you can't get a job or be bothered to write any new jokes it's always nice to have a reason to get out of the house, so thank heaven for my old chums and former employers at Myspace Comedy who mailed yesterday asking me to appear in a sketch. As per it was a brilliantly funny idea, an X-Factor rip off to find the new Jesus. Title? 'The † Factor', obviously. Knowing the usual Comedybox suspects as I do it wasn't hard to sense the hand of the rather brilliant Sarah Campbell in this one, it's just her bag.

I rolled up fashionably (oh, all right, typically) late to the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell (mental note, they do a fortnightily open mic night. Must wander along one of these days) to find a sunny pub garden full of people drinking beer, dressed as Jesus. As you do. It says a lot about involvment in the comedy world that I now barely blink at such sites. There was a pimp Jesus, a tramp Jesus (the brilliant Nathaniel Tapley as it happens, pictured above) a glamour model Jesus (she was very nice, her name was Chloe, she also insisted on being in the picture. You can see her here blindfold boxing), a South African Jesus, a French-Asian Acrobat Jesus, and...er...Luke Toulson. Sarah was doing the Kate Thornton/Dermot bit dressed as a Nun. As I said, I barely even register this stuff as weird these days (besides, Sarah dresses as a Nun quite often). Everyone ready to do a 'Jesus' turn in front of the judges, (a brilliantly cast Tiffany Stevenson, Brigitte Aphrodite and Paul Litchfield).

This did present a bit of a problem, in that most of the others had actually prepared some form of act for the sketch, where as I had hastily re-written an old sketch of mine that disproves Jesus's miracles, delivered as a monologue by a former public school chap who thought he was the new messiah. Before I did my bit it was suggested that maybe I should be slightly racist as well, so I went on stage before the judges and improvised about being the "new 21st century messiah, only, ya know, not a dark chap like the last one". It was nice to improvise with the "judges" and see what came out. I have literally no idea if any of it was any good, I suppose we'll see if it gets included in the finished sketch or not.

It was a fun afternoon in the Sun with friends anyway.

On a side note, last night I caught the new Richard Curtis film, The Boat that Rocked. On the off chance you're interested...it's okay, the cast is too big to really care about any of the characters and just for once Rhys Darby doesn't do as well as he usually does. But it's decent knockabout fun, and the soundtrack is ace. Go and see it if you have nothing better to do I suppose. Like me!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Cruelty to Children


Television takes increasingly weird twists and as we get progressively further towards Rape An Ape becoming reality. This morning I sat transfixed in front of the CBBC Channel while Who Wants To Be A Superhero unfolded before my baffled eyes. This may be the moment where children's programming on the BBC -the channel that gave us Doctor Who, Dark Season, Trev and Simon and Blue Peter- finally nukes the fridge. The show takes the Project Runway/America's Next Top Model formula and applies it to kids who want to be super heroes. Thirteen oldish kids (the youngest is nine, the eldest just inside their teens) have designed themselves Super Hero personas and must compete in daily tasks -Set by Stan Lee himself, no-less- to see who has the most comic book potential, the winner getting an american Holiday and a Stan Lee designed comic with them as the star.

It's not the format that's odd though, because it's the same one used by countless poorly executed reality comps around the world, it's seeing it applied to children. At the end of todays show three of them were picked to be possibly "powered down" (eg sent home) and had to stand under spotlights while hapless Dick-and-Dom-Lite Pop Idol rejects Sam and Mark picked which of the blubbing pre-teens wearing ridiculous spandex outfits got sent packing from the kids paradise they'd been enjoying, into the waiting of arms of their jeering friends, who'll probably have already got the "I am a batty man, kick me" stickers ready to attach to the back of their coats for the rest of their lives. There is no way any 12 year old is going to live this down through secondary school.

Today's challenge saw the kids first have to argue over who gets the camp bed and who gets the plush bunks ("I have to have a bed because I get sore back when I sleep, and anyway I'm not moving." said 'Mega Mighty Man' sprawling over his bunk while his fellow hero in waiting -the one with a genuine disability no less- found himself sleeping on floor level due to being a bit slow) before heading out for a running race where they were cleverly tricked one at a time into having to help an old lady or finish the race quickly. Obviously because most children are selfish fuckers, they ignored the old dear and tried to win the race while we the viewer watch on in horror at the youth of today.

It's already obvious who the Beeb are favouring. One of the children is not only black and has glasses, but has sort of gnarled and mangled hands. Ethnic and disabled? That's reality TV gold! And he stopped to help the old lady.

The whole thing feels creepy and exploitative. Of course children are cunts, that's no reason to show us their darker side on a supposedly frothy feel good show. And I certainly don't enjoy seeing them being forced into a stressful vote-off finale in humiliating outfits.

At what point did Knightmare, Fun House and Run The Risk stop being acceptable formats for childrens game shows?

The world still has some goodness left though. I went to see the brilliant new production of A Little Night Music last night in the West End. It's a pearl, go and see it.