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.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Sunday Night at the Horse

Some gigs, as I've said, are just fucking weird. But then some weird gigs are actually quite fun. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to this comedy wotnot I've involved myself in. Last Night I rocked up, with a hopeful spring in my step, to Laughing Horse Camden, on the off-chance I could get a spot. I wasn't the only one, as it turned out. Between the booked acts and the walk-up comics there was something like ten potential performers, and as it turned out about half that amount of actual punters. I'm coming to see a pattern to gigs like this. There are effectively three options.

a) The gig gets cancelled
b) The gig goes ahead, the comics perform to each other and it's weird and uncomfortable
c) The gig goes ahead, and everyone has a bit of a laugh.

Option (a) is actually the least appealing, particularly at my level when every gig is exciting regardless of the amount of people in the crowd. You spend your whole day building up to it, thinking about your material, mentally limbering, being excited about stepping up to the mic once more. Imagine spending several hours watching porn and thinking about every delicious sexual encounter of your life in preparation for a night of unequaled passion with a sexy blind-date from some sordid website, only to realise -just after you've necked the Viagra- that you've got the day wrong and have to have tea with your Nanna instead. The only hope is to ensure the old dear isn't looking while you pathetically yank one off into the biscuit tin and have a bit of a cry. Cancelled gigs are a bit like that.

Option (b) is a bitter-sweet affair, where the sordid blind-date turns out to be 40 years older and ten stone heavier than her picture. It's not quite what you imagined, but there's usually something to gain from forging ahead anyway.

Fortunately this was a (c) gig, where it turns out the blind-date is actually an old girlfriend using a pseudonym. It's a bit awkward, not as spontaneous, but in it's own way quite comforting and worthwhile because everyone knows what to do.

It was decided not to charge the guests, and that everyone would try and do new stuff and everyone would get a go. Seeing as there was a couple of chums involved (Grainne Maguire was MCing, the ubiquitous Alistair Grieves was lurking around a corner and Lou Sanders who helped me get my first ever gig, was in fine fettle) there was a nice supportive feel, and okay, it wasn't the most perfect of comic experiences, but there's always something to take from gigs like this. Grainne, who really is a delightful comic, gee'd up the crowd quite nicely, only to have them remain stoney faced for the actual acts. In fact most of them vanished in the interval, despite some impressive hard work from the comics. The lack of actual punters (now down to one) didn't damped the second half though, if anything it went a bit better. Now playing purely to the comics, Lou delivered some of the strongest gags I've yet seen from her (and I've seen Lou Sanders LOADS), Alistair had some cracking stuff (Warhammer fans should look out for his Ice Planet gag) and Grainne was waving her Guinness around with obvious enjoyment. It was an even smaller crowd but everyone was pretty cheerful.

I went on last, and got introduced as the 'Headline Act', which if you were a paying punter would be bit like going to a Beatles gig to find yourself watching The Pete Best Band. Brilliantly Grainne got the single last genuine audience member in the crowd (who as it turns out wants to try stand up himself, he later revealed at the bar) to bring me on by repeating what she whispered in his ear. She had to tell him my name twice, which pretty much said it all (and I said so.)I decided to just do new stuff and play with ideas, managing to work up some bits I want to develop further, which was nice. It was quite exciting to set myself the challenge of not using ANY of the material from my more rehearsed set, and I quite enjoyed myself despite about 60% of the gags falling flat. I even did the Spandau Ballet poem.

Not the most successful of Comedy shenanigans then, but a nice time had all the same. Still, it will be nice to get away from the open-mic and playing-to-the-other-acts affairs next Sunday when I do One Mighty Craic.

One final thought for you, Jerry Springer style. Proof if proof were needed that vanity will ultimately make you depressed. I was googling my own name yesterday and came across this:



I don't know who this other Marc Burrows is, or how he met his demise. But I hope, wherever he is, his T-Shirt and Westlife tribute makes him proud, and that he is doesn't think i'm sullying his good name with my low quality beginner comedy. RIP indeed Marc B.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Good Words and Good Books

I'm not sure if yesterdays critique of my critique (are you following this?) was the wisest move, and very possibly I was a bit hasty. I know a couple of the comics on the night said they had a great time (both pointed to the free beer as an important factor), although other comics I have mentioned it to were far more outraged on my behalf than I was myself.

I wonder if I should go back next month and learn some more?

Either way it was a relief last night to find myself in the warm fuzziness of the excellent monthly poetry night Bang! Said The Gun. I've mentioned before that I occasionally a dabble a bit in poetry, although it's very rare that it gets a proper outing. I like Bang! though, it has a lovely welcoming feel and is quite unlike other nights of it's ilk, being a showcase for its four regulars with an open-mic slotted in the middle. When it comes to poetry I seem to have accidentally fallen into a tradition of always writing something on the day I perform. Once I realised I'd been doing it, it seemed obvious to carry on...meaning I needed something new, fresh from my head...this what I came up with.

Spandau Ballet
Why can't the whole world be more like
Spandau Ballet?
Ready to put aside their differences in the pursuit of
Art, Music and lots and lots of money.
Oh! Tony Hadley
Oh! that one off Eastenders...
And his Brother.
Oh!...the other two.
If only everyone was more like you.
Only with better songs.

Now, eagle eyed followers of That Joke Isn't Funny will spot some connections to this blog entry from wednesday. To my delight my words are eating themselves. I'm blogging about my life, but the process of writing is actually producing creative results I can take away and use, and then blog about again. It's a literary Ouroboros. I'm also developing some stand-up based around my Job Centre rant. I will be Richard Herring before I know it, only younger and substantially less talented and successful than he was at my age.

I like performing at Bang!, it doesn't have the high pressure of a comedy club -which means its less innately thrilling- but still gives me the opportunity to banter a bit, try out mini-routines and make people laugh, and if I'm not funny it's fine because people aren't really there for funny. I'm going to do a longer spot on April 30th. It's at the Roebuck on Great Dover Street, near Borough station, you should pop along.

It also afforded me the chance to see the baffling Ant Smith, the self styled Gene Pitnet of Poetry who sings all of his words in a rather spiffing tenor. Very much a new experience.

And if that wasn't enough to cheer me up (and get me over my first official sign-on at Peckham Job Centre today), tonight I found myself selling t-shirts for the lovely Good Books. I go back with the band a little way, I did their merch for over a month of gigs on their first headline tour in 2007, and it was lovely to get requainted. Their new stuff is great and I can't wait for the second album. There first record, Control, was cruelly over-looked. It was one of the albums of the year for me. Go and have a listen.

My favourite moment of the evening came from one punter who visited me at the merch stand and told me she'd loved my performance. I pointed out I wasn't in the band, and she refused to believe me, mistaking me for GB Basstype Chris. She seemed to think he was even dressed in my shirt (he wasn't). I tried to prove her wrong by claiming that Chris wears glasses, and she said "well you could have just taken them off". I had no come-back to this. She had a point. I gave up. There are worse things to be mistaken for than Chris from Good Books.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Critical Reaction

There are three reasons why I was worried about doing last nights gig. Firstly this was my first gig since this time last week, and that had been half poetry which obviously I don't tend to include in my normal set (I'm hoping I can marry the two at some point, but just now it comes out sounding like Tim Key, and I can't do Tim Key better than Tim Key does). This is the longest I'd gone without doing a gig since kicking off my stand-up 'career' properly at the end of January. Secondly this was a Gong Show, and I'd never done one before. Gong Shows are nerve racking affairs where the audience can boot you off whenever they think you're lagging. Heckling is generally more accepted than usual and a couple of duff lines in a row will end your stage time pretty smartly. I'm not sure I'm quite prepared for the scrutiny and disapointment. Finally due to yesterdays pervasive lethargy, I had yet to follow the example of Spandau Ballet and get some work done, rearranging my set into a more Gong-Friendly version, nor really written anything new.

This in mind, it was a slightly nervy me that wandered down New Cross Road yesterday, looking for the venue. As it turns out none of the above turned about to be huge issues, though the gig wasn't exactly an ideal experience. Read on dear follower.


As any comic will tell you some gigs are just fucking weird (although none quite as weird as this one recently endured by the excellent Tiernan Douieb), this is especially true on the new-act circuit, mostly consisting as it does of near-as Open Mic nights where the promoter books 15 or so comics and relies on them to bring in a couple of mates each, making a decent sized audience. Fairly often the 15 or so comics will actually be the audience. Which is always a bit disheartening but can create quite a nice little atmosphere of camaraderie and support, and anyway at this burgeoning level where stage-time and experience is valuable whatever the crowd, any time in front of a mic is worth the effort.


Pretty much as soon as I walked into the New Cross Inn I knew it was going to be a comics-as-audience sort of gig. The promoter/MC, Karl Edrik, was excitable and friendly enough and introduced everyone who walked in to everyone else, but admitted straight away that he had no-idea how many people were going to turn up, as the venue had done the promotion, not him. The gig was due to start in 40 minutes and the pub was completely empty. It was quickly decided to ditch the Gong element, which is pretty sensible as no-one wants to gong off another act, and just go for it. There were a couple of familiar faces lurking round, including Johnny who runs the Saturday night 'Looks Like We Have A Comedian' open-mic in Picadilly, which is a really lovely gig, and Alistair Grieves who runs 'Comedy Lake', which I'm playing next month. Both great blokes and good acts. There was also some free beers and everyone was taking things in their stride...as I said gigs like this happen fairly often.


I decided seeing as it was a crowd of comics (and 4 genuine punters. And the bar staff) I'd try and stay away from my usual set for a while and play off the top of my head. It's not something I get to do often, and I was genuinely interested in how I'd cope off-script, just to see where my mind would take me. So I ranted for a little while on my wonderful experience in the job centre on Tuesday, which yielded some good bits I might use again, Karl had brought me on as "fresh faced" so I dug out a little of my "I look younger than I actually am" bits from the first routine I'd written, and did a gag I was quite proud of about the green and pink lighting making the gig best enjoyed using 3-D glasses, finishing up with my "God's Cock Shame" routine. This last part, which i've done at all my gigs for the last month, irked me a bit as it felt quite unrehearsed and sloppy compared to last week, highlighting the need to look over my material when I have a week off gigging. It all went okay, if not extraordinary.


What happened next was a bit of a surprise. I took my seat feeling it had gone sort-of okay considering my aim was to see what came out when I opened my mouth. The PA was really loud so it had been hard to hear the audience response, but I'd gleaned enough of what had and hadn't worked and felt reasonably happy with what I was taking from the experience. Which is what it's all about at this stage, really. Which is when Karl stepped back up to the mic. Of all the things you expect to hear an MC say after you've done your bit "well you started out well" isn't top of the list. What followed was a short critique of my set, words I shouldn't have used, things I shouldn't have said, and an admonishment for making his job harder to come and pick up the pieces after me. I was, frankly, a bit stunned. Is this normal? I've not done all that many gigs after all (last night was gig #12) maybe new acts are entitled to some good-natured advice from the old pro's. I honestly don't know, but something tells me it was a bit of an odd move. Not really sure what to do I pulled my notebook out and pretended to take notes, which drew a small laugh, then I sat down. He did the same thing to the next act.


Okay, I'm not saying I'm above criticism. I've asked people for honest opinions after pretty much every gig I've done. I'm a New Comic, I need the feedback have always listened eagerly to any advice my big brothers in the comedy world have to bestow. It's just I think I'd have appreciated it a little bit more had this particular elder sibling given his opinion at the bar in the interval, or maybe via email after the fact. Not smack in middle of the second section, from the stage in front of a bunch of other comics.


I left the gig a little earlier than I normally would. Some gigs are a bit too weird to stick around.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

I know this much is True

It's difficult to write a frivolous and moderately entertaining account of the life of an unemployed wanna-be Stand Up, when such titanic news is unfolding around the world. Not just the failing economy (which is all Twitters fault by the way), not just the ongoing saga of terrorist action and religious fundamentalism, but the reunion of Spandau Ballet. Still, we can all learn a lesson from the foppish dandys who penned 'Gold'...If the Kray twins, and the sweaty fellow in the suit from Reborn In The USA, can put aside their fairly tutonic differences in the pursuit of lots of grubby cash, then he rest of us have no excuse. Cash conquers all.

That being the case, why did I find it such a struggle to get out of bed before 2.30 this afternoon? Every morning my brain undergoes a familiar internal struggle: on one side, the need to get up, to search for a new job, to try and get myself some gigs, to write some jokes, to try and do something with my life that will put food on the table and keep my psyche from descending into a depressed mass like a concker dipped into hot marmalade. On the other side of my brain, the less taxing option of staying put, eating biscuits and watching the telly holds true. And that way lies the Marmelade.

Today which ever part of my head that favours watching bad sitcoms and last nights telly clearly got the upperhand because moving proved quite impossible. Maybe it was a reaction against yesterdays Job Centre horror? Maybe my subconscious demanded a little shut-down time. Maybe I just really wanted to watch Will & Grace this morning.

Either way, today is a day of very little achievment. My mind tried, but I just couldn't put words on the page. Which is a shame, as today I'm doing the Ivy Comedy Caberet Gong Show and I really should reorganise my gags into something a little more Gong-friendly, as I would really like this to go well.

Still, further examination of the Spandau Story does reveal one thing...the Kemp brothers are as far away from Tony Hadley as possible in the promo photos taken today on HMS Belfast. Perhaps I'm not the only one finding it difficult to do what they know is best.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Day of the Dole

I feel like my unemployed status has been some how legitimised. Obviously merely the absence of paid work isn't enough, in order to get the full experience one requires government rubber stamping. Today I went on the dole.

For a lot of people signing on is a bit of a right of passage, and obviously there's nothing to be ashamed of here. Some of my best friends sign on (not true, to my knowledge none of my friends sign on at all, but they would if they had to). In my home town its probably more the norm than actually having a job, and as a child -particularly during the last recession- I have very clear memories of both of my parents happily taking cash from the council. My Dad even had this uncanny ability to sign on while still working.

And why not? I've spent the last 13 years of my working life losing part of my salary to something called 'NI'. This is my chance to take some of it back. This is, after all, what it's for. This is what William Beveridge managed to avoid fighting the war for. This is my right as a British citizen. Free money! Right on.

All this being the case, the family imperative, the genuine rights as one of her majestys subjects, the fact that i'm effectively spending money that I've put aside myself, why does signing on feel so soul-crushingly awful? Why does it feel like I'm admitting defeat? I'm a namby-pampy Guardian-reading card carrying wooley liberal wanker, of course I approve of the government supporting the unemployed. I actually believe they should get more. Especially now. It's just when the poor sod without a job is me, it still feels a little like I've failed.

Earlier today I went for my "new claims interview" at -brilliantly- Peckham Job Centre, because obviously East Dulwich doesn't have one of its own (unemployed? in Dulwich? Goodness no, how would we pay the organic butcher?) Foolishly I believed this might be a quick process. Alas no, I was in plenty of time for my 10.45am appointment -and as dole scum I resent being asked to get up before 11, ta- and didn't actually leave the sodding place until 2pm, having attended 3 seperate interviews, signed 7 different pieces of paper, and been ignored by roughly 5 members of job centre staff. Aside from a chirpy conversation with a guy on the door regarding my Watchmen badge no-one seemed especially interested in my situation, in helping me get a job that might in some way aid my career or use my experience or qualifications (okay, a 2:2 in Sociology from Loughborough isn't exactly vocational gold but they could have tried).

Why exactly did it take 3 people to sort that out? If the first fellow had dealt with the lot I'd have been out in half am hour.

Instead I sat in the waiting room tweeting ideally, reading a book of Neil Gaiman short stories and listening to the other sad stories going on at the desks around me feeling by turns

a) a complete snob.
b) guilt at feeling (a)
c) annoyance with the system
d) an utter failure.

The whole experience seemed to warp my thinking in some way. I actually found myself having this thought at my first intereview...

"Jesus, he could have at least worn a tie".

I was wearing a tie. Why was this suddenly bothering me? I wear a tie because I decided on it as a good look for me. Tie-absense in others has never even begun to bother me before. I was turning into an old lady. It was probably a good thing I couldn't go on Mark Thomas' Daily Mail protest, I'd more than likely have bolted into their offices and demanded a subscription. The dole office has turned me into someone I don't like much.

Which is quite enough information for today I think. On the thin chance of someone actually reading this far down the page, I'd prefer you to actually like me.

Anyway, my claim has been processed, I have a pile of paper work to fill in-including a sheet of A4 devided into rows which I have to fill out every time I take an active step at job hunting such as "reading the paper or searching online". Apparently if I do that less than 3 times in a forntight they'll stop my money. Surely no-one ever fails that? Even if you werent looking -and most people could fill that page in a week- faking it would be pretty easy. My application should take 7-10 days and I have to call the council about housing benefit. I now must return to the job centre every 2 weeks on a Friday afternoon.

Oh, and to top it all off the festival I was booking the comedy for in May has lost a chunk of it's funding and probably won't be happening.

It's hard not to be bitter on days like this.


Monday, 23 March 2009

Diary of an Unemployed Comedian- An Introduction

Like a once proud former-lover whose changed his mind, I’ve come crawling back to my blog. I will need to do some grovelling, possibly buy it some flowers, and be really dismissive about all the other blogs I’ve written while I’ve been away, but I think…given time, we can rebuild that trust and enjoy a fruitful blogging relationship once more. What do you say Blog? Do you still feel it too?

But there’s going to have to be a change in rules. When I started ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’ last year, it was to give myself an outlet to review, critisise and muse on assorted TV shows and comedy shenanigans. I set out a very careful house-style, with everything written in the 3rd person and the subject matter being more important that the writer. I nearly always stuck to it.

Then I got really busy, and didn’t watch enough TV, let alone have time to write about it.
But now…I have all the time in the world. I hear-by re-christen my review blog ‘Diary of An Unemployed Comedian’. The reasoning behind this being, that these are the only apsects of my existance that can be considered interesting. I’m hoping it’ll be at least a tiny bit readable for you the, well, reader, and me the…er, me, to see how these dual aspects of my current predicament pan out. And it’s always nice to see a record.

The ‘Comedian’ Bit.
I don’t want anyone to think I’ve got ideas above my station here. I’m not exactly a comic yet, what I am is starting out on the road to stand up success, mostly by doing 5 minutes here and there on the open mic/new act circuit, booking gigs myself, or pulling favours from comic friends to get a few decent gigs in the bag. I’ve been gigging a couple of times a week since my first proper London performance (discounting my Edinburgh debut in August) at the very lovely House Of Mirth in Waterloo, a gig ran by the supremely talented Jess Fostekew and TV’s Sara Pascoe. To get it out of the way, here is the only footage currently in existence of me doing stand up. This is gig number six, at Tom Webb’s excellent new-act night Party Piece in Stoke Newington.


As you can see there’s still some distance to go. But every gig gets a little better. Except for the one I did last week in Battersea, where I was on 18th of 20 acts and no-one enjoyed themselves. I barely raised a titter there.

I’m doing a Gong Show on Wednesday. That’s going to be really interesting.

The ‘Unemployed’ Bit
As of Wednesday 11th March I am bereft of full time employment, a hapless victim of this cursed recession. Bother. The main problem is I’m not really trained for much, for the last couple of years I’ve worked behind the scenes in the comedy world, first booking gigs for Avalon, then making videos for Warner and Myspace. I have a certain ability with the written word and a head full of mostly pointless trivia, but these skills are rather specialised and post Crunch there isn’t much out there. It’s been over a week since I had my second interview for this plum job, which I rather think I blew quite superbly by talking too much about comedy when I was told that comedy only really counted for 20% of the role. I’m hoping my application for this comes off, but frankly I’m probably dreaming with that one.

I may try and get a job in Dominoes in East Dulwich.

That just about brings us up to speed I think. 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.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Your humble author stars in a sketch

Normal service to be resumed very soon. It's a new years revolution!

In the mean time, please enjoy spotting me in this brilliantly accurate spoof of the hideous Microsoft 'Life Without Walls' Campaign, by the perma-talented Sarah Campbell

Microsoft I'm a PC Spoof