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.