Monday, 30 June 2014

Pass the Paper Bag.


Last night I made Eric Morecambe’s son laugh. I’m chalking this down as a personal achievement.

(It was probably out of politeness, to be fair. I don’t care: I’m still proud of it.)

The location of this momentous event was St Albans' Alban Arena (try saying that after a few drinks). I was there to watch my friend Bob in the exceptional Olivier-Award-winning one-man show Morecambe. I’d tell you to go and see it, but you can’t, as yesterday was the final performance. If you missed it, you missed out on a treat. Bob’s portrayal of the comic legend is uncanny; as Eric’s daughter Gail said herself in a brief post-show Q & A: “Even his shadow looks like my dad’s”.

It was during the interval that I managed to score a couple of laughs from one of Eric's descendents. His son Gary was sitting front of house, signing copies of his latest book on the nation’s favourite duo (not us). I’ve read a couple of his books about his dad in the past and found them fascinating, so I couldn’t miss out on the chance to say hello.

Our conversation was brief, but lovely. He was very friendly. I also surprised him by saying that I owned a copy of one of his first books, ‘The Illustrated Morecambe’.

“Blimey, that’s an old one” he said. “Where did you manage to get that?”

What made him laugh doesn’t bear repeating. It doesn’t matter. To briefly amuse the son of one of the funniest and most beloved men to walk the planet is something to cherish.

(I promise he was laughing with and not at me.)

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Final Curtain.


Yesterday saw the final performance of the Victorian Melodrama I’ve been doing at The Market Theatre for the past month, Marry Me or Be Evicted.

Last shows are always strange. It’s odd to think that everything you do will be the final time you do it. They can also feel pressured; if you have a bad night elsewhere in the run it doesn’t matter so much, as you get the chance to put it right, but you always want to end on a high.

Yesterday’s show wasn’t a bad one to close on; not the best of the run, but by no means the worst. We’d had an excellent turnout the previous night who were really up for it, so anything that followed was always going to be a little anticlimactic. Still, they laughed in most of the right places.

It was nice to revisit the play after a ten-year hiatus. I shouldn’t think I’ll do it again. I won’t completely write it off though. I might feel differently in 2024.

I’ll remember it fondly either way. It’s definitely one of the most fun shows I've been involved with.


Saturday, 28 June 2014

You Can't Touch This.


Why do footballers hug after they score a goal? It’s their job.

It’s one of the few acceptable instances of tactility in the workplace. It wouldn’t translate to many other walks of life. If I cuddled Glyn every time one of our jokes got a laugh it would be weird. Sexy but weird.

(At least we know it wouldn't happen often.)

What makes it strange is football is notoriously close-minded. Homophobia in the sport is rife. There are no openly gay players in the top four divisions, which is a statistical impossibility. A footballer’s sexuality is, of course, irrelevant, but the fact that no top-level players are prepared to come out only serves to illustrate how much of a problem there obviously still is.

Why is one of our most lucrative industries still intensely homophobic, sexist and racist? If a fraction of the huge fees paid to the players each week was channeled into their reeducation, we might start to tackle the issue. No pun intended.

Players are obsessed with appearing macho in all instances except for post-goal celebration. It’s very depressing.  Do you know what also upsets me? I’m now older than most of them. Fuck it.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Commemorative Crockery.


What better way is there to celebrate the career of America’s foremost Western actor than painting his picture on a plate?


I spotted John on display in the window of my local Garden House Hospice. The staff obviously felt he had the requisite appeal to entice people in. I’m amazed the original owner wanted to part with it. They must have gone to the kitchen cupboard in the sky.

Commemorative plates are a confusing concept. When are ever they a fitting tribute? I’m a fan of many prominent figures, from Paul McCartney to Tony Hancock, yet I’ve never felt the need to eat my dinner off their face.

Perhaps I’m missing the point. Think of the mealtime guessing games you could play. It’d be like the Catchphrase bonus round, with food in place of shapes.

(Insert a Mr Chips gag here.)

My foremost commemorative plate memory – and let’s face it, I have many - concerns my first tour with the tribute show, Buddy Holly and the Cricketers. Our company manager Chad secured a batch of rock-and-roll-themed plates from a shady character known as Memphis Pete. The transaction took place in a pub car park. Chad tried to sell them front of house at each venue for rest of the run. We played at least sixty dates and yet he didn't sell a single plate. It was hilarious.

I guess it's a failing market. What was once synonymous with the back page of a tabloid colour supplement will soon be no more. The target audience have all died out. It’s a crockery-based tragedy.

I wonder if Chad would have been able to shift this lot?


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Hark at Barker.


Every so often I remember that Ronnie Barker is no longer with us and it makes me sad.

He was such a wonderful comic actor. In fact, he was the best. He brought truth and warmth to everything he did. His portrayal of Norman Stanley Fletcher in Porridge is an acting tour de force, as moving as it was funny. He was always in control and never missed a beat.

I can still picture the moment I found out he was dead. I went to my local garage to do some shopping and as I walked to the door the newspaper rack slowly came into view, to reveal his face smiling back from all the front pages.

“Oh no” I said to myself.

He was somebody I’d always hoped to meet. I wanted to tell him how great I thought he was. It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d heard it, but I would have still have loved to have had the chance.

I once gave a flyer for one of mine and Glyn’s Edinburgh Fringe stand-up shows to Ronnie Corbett (another comedy hero, who is vastly underrated). He took it graciously. As he glanced at the front I was painfully conscious that half of one of the most famous double acts of all time was looking at a picture of us: another, unknown comic duo. Here was someone who truly knew what performing in a partnership was like. He'd been in one of the best.

It’s a moment, which, though fleeting, I'll never forget. Oh and the jokes are true, by the way: he really is that tiny.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

On The (Glucose) Buses.


Yesterday, I watched a boy down a family-sized bottle of Coke on the bus.

Seeing it made my teeth itch. I dread to think what damage it was doing to his. This sweet tooth couldn't be satiated by fizzy drinks alone. He was also working through a bumper pack of pink wafers.

This is what happens when you let kids make their own way to school. They use the time to speed up the onset of type 2 diabetes.

I watched him savour each pink wafery bite. He was clearly enjoying himself.  He’d lean over the seat in front as his teeth sunk into each biscuit, to prevent his school uniform from being coated with a telltale layer of pinkish dust. Any throat-clogs were cleared with another glug of Coke.

This clearly wasn’t an isolated event. This was his daily routine. He was on the bus to Letchworth Garden City via obesity.  

(Mars and Crawford’s must be raking it in.)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Brushstrokes.


My chosen brand of toothpaste promises whiter teeth in fourteen days. Will this be the case ad infinitum? 


I can’t imagine it makes your teeth progressively white for the rest of time. You’d soon reach optimum whiteness. What would you do then? Switch to a different toothpaste? No-one wants to look like Donny Osmond.  

(Except for, perhaps, the other Osmonds, though they don’t have much of a choice.)

The time frame on the box is alarmingly precise. Not twelve days, or thirteen, but fourteen. So, you won’t notice any change to your teeth until exactly a fortnight in. If true, the impact of your morning routine on day fourteen would be nothing short of miraculous.

If you stopped brushing a couple of days before, would you see no improvement? Conversely, if you used this brand for the rest of your life, how long before you look like you’ve swallowed a UV light?

This isn’t my only issue. Take a look at this:


A brand that suggests you should have a tooth with no others in close proximity is not to be trusted. A light must be shone on this dental negligence. You’ve heard of Watergate and Plebgate. This will be known as Colgategate.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Walk This Way.


I’m starting to think that most people exist in a vacuum, completely unaware of anything going on around them.

I spend far too much time trying to negotiate my way past people on the street who walk without any spatial awareness. This is particularly exhausting at the moment, as I’m suffering from labyrinthitis*. I feel like I’m constantly leaping from one potential collision to the next.

Some travel at a snail’s pace, whilst staring at their phone. Others walk one way while facing another. Sometimes, whole families spread out across the pavement, creating the pedestrian equivalent to the Israeli West Bank Barrier. God forbid anyone who wants to squeeze past.

Perhaps it's just me. Am I an inept pedestrian? Whatever it may be, I'm often the only one who's prepared to apologise, whether the near-smash was my fault or not.

The world would be a happier and easier place to live in if we spared a thought for others, rather than solely thinking about ourselves. Not just in the big things, but also with the small. Holding a door for a passerby is a simple and selfless act.

Check they want to go through it first though. Otherwise it’ll be awkward.

*Stop picturing David Bowie's skintight trousers.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Comedy.


I’ve spent the afternoon sifting through photos taken at Mostly Comedy over the past six years, then uploading them to Flickr.

We’re lucky to have such a meticulous record of the club since it began. Looking through the pictures serves to remind me of how many people have appeared at Mostly Comedy (and our various side projects) through the years. They capture a mix of well-established and soon-to-be-huge comics, alongside a wealth of acts pitched somewhere in-between. Then me and Glyn, just to make up the numbers.

The list of people who’ve appeared astounds me. Everyone from Phill Jupitus to Josh Widdicombe, Phil Kay to Nick Helm and Michael Barrymore through to Norman Lovett. The photos conjure up many memories. More than that: they bring those memories to life.

We’ve also filmed every Mostly Comedy since the beginning. That’s a lot of footage. Alan Yentob will find the tapes invaluable in years to come. Doggett & Ephgrave have shared the bill with some exceptional performers. We’re like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of comedy. This is both a blessing and a curse.

All of the pictures were taken by my favourite photographer and ‘second opinion giver’ (next to Glyn) Gemma Poole. Have a look. I'm sure you’ll like them. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Armchair Advice.


Though it happened sixteen years ago, I still vividly remember the time my dad’s friend told me that my band should be like Shed Seven.

It was actually worse than that. He said, “You want to be more like Shed Seven”, which implied that we already resembled the band a little bit, but could do with sharing more of their traits. It also suggested that he knew my feelings on the subject better than I did.

He couldn’t have been further from the truth. If we’d showed even slight similarities to that nondescript Indie rock band, I’d have wanted to knock them on the head. If anything, we needed to be less like Shed Seven.

It seemed an odd band to aspire to. I can’t remember any of their songs. It would be like deciding to be a politician, then modeling your career on Lembit Öpik.

(Though he isn’t bad on the harmonica.)

My dad's mate also said that we needed only one lead singer, as bands with more than one frontman didn’t work. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and ABBA had apparently completely escaped his attention.

What irked the most was he wasn’t even a musician. He’d never been in a band. He was an engineer. While he may have been able a build a stage, he wouldn’t have had the bottle to step up onto it.

He gave his advice after we’d played our first heat in a county-wide Battle of the Bands; a competition that we went on to win. We were lucky Shed Seven weren’t competing, or we would have had to make do with second place.

He’s probably forgotten this conversation even took place. I haven’t. If I’m alive in 2030, I’ll still be pissed off about it.

Shed Seven? Fuck’s sake.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Toilet Escapologist.


Today, I was briefly trapped inside a disabled toilet.

It didn’t feel brief at the time. I wrestled with the door for ages. I nearly pulled the emergency cord for assistance. This would have been embarrassing on two counts: (1) because I’d have to admit that I was stuck, and (2) because I’d then feel the need to justify why I was using it in the first place.   

I have a chequered past when it comes to disabled toilets, so I was grateful that I managed to get out before anyone knew of my predicament.

I once got stuck inside a toilet cubicle at a wedding. I shut the door to discover that there wasn’t a handle on the inside, nor any mechanism to speak of. Once closed, it was impossible to get purchase. It was the bathroom equivalent to the front door at 10 Downing Street.

I called Glyn, who came to release me discreetly. We didn’t tell anyone what had happened, but we laughed a lot. I felt like a toilet escapologist.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

My Favourite Mistake.


The other day, as I was working in my office, I could hear a woman outside the window discussing “…that film where Tom Hanks has AIDS, called Twelve Monkeys”.

I was tempted to shout out to correct her. Would that have been bad cricket? It wasn’t my place to step in. I wasn’t party to the conversation. Not directly, anyway. It would have made her jump to hear a voice from on high, correcting her filmic mistake. She might have thought I was some kind of God with a penchant for movie trivia.

I enjoyed the offensive undercurrent. Did she think that monkeys gave people AIDS? If so, she could do with a little reeducation. Perhaps she thought that Hanks contracted Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome after a dozen-monkey gangbang.

I found myself in a similar situation last night, whilst on the train back from London (not a gangbang). The people in front had been to see Jeeves and Wooster in the West End – and kept mentioning that Mark Webb was in it. Not Mark Heap (Jeeves), Robert Webb (Wooster), but a Heap / Webb amalgamation.

I think I’ll wear earplugs in future.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Thought for the Day(vid).

At yesterday's meditation class, my teacher talked about being kinder to yourself. This is something I'm not very good at.

I have very high expectations. I also disappoint myself easily. It doesn’t take much for me to beat myself up. I’m trying to learn not to do this. I’m finding that practicing meditation daily is starting to help.

At the end of our class we had a little chat on the subject and I mentioned an example I felt was relevant. Sometimes, like most people, I’ll be running late. I’ll be on the train into London for a casting or a rehearsal and, for whatever reason, I didn’t make the train I wanted to catch. I’ll spend the entire journey looking at my watch and getting stressed.

“I’m late, I’m late, I’m late” goes the mantra in my head.

I was doing this a few months ago, when it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t late yet. I was painting a mental picture of all the people disappointed with my tardiness, forgetting that no-one knew about it yet. It hadn’t happened and it might not. If it did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

(If it was the end of the world, it was unlikely to be my fault.)

The trick is to be prepared. Do what you can to make yourself feel comfortable. If things occasionally do go wrong, accept them and move on.

The meditation teacher kept using the phrase ‘ease of being’ last night. That’s something I want to cultivate. Why create so many mental barriers that only make your day-to-day life more difficult?

I’m still late occasionally, by the way.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Immobilised.


I’m using a replacement mobile phone for the next few days as mine is faulty. In the meantime I shall closely resemble a member of my dad’s generation as I try to fathom out how to work it.

It took long enough to set it to vibrate. No function is stored in the logical place. I felt like I was using somebody else’s hands.

Frustratingly, the people in-store were unable to migrate my contacts to my replacement handset. For the next week or so, answering my phone will be an exercise in pot luck. Each call could be someone offering me work or asking for money, with absolutely no warning as to which.

If only I'd been clever enough to memorise my numbers. If I had, I could have gone on You Bet!. That's their exclamation mark, not mine.

I’ve sent off my old phone because of an abnormally high bill due to an inexplicably massive use of data. I normally pay around £50 a month; my last bill was £256! That exclamation mark was mine.

Vodafone were helpful enough to put a freeze on my bill until my handset has been checked. This is a shame as I’d like a reason to be bitter; I was penciled to do a commercial for them until yesterday, when I found out I didn’t get the job.

Until I get my old phone back, I can only call my girlfriend, Glyn, my agent, my parents and myself. These are the only numbers I can remember. I could also phone the Going Live!* studio, though I imagine the line has long since been disconnected.


(*Theirs.)

Monday, 16 June 2014

Stress at Breakfast.

I’m worried that my Weetabix portioning will be out of sync for the rest of my life.

Let me explain the situation. I got to the end of my Weetabix stocks a few boxes back, to discover that the last biscuit in the pack was broken beyond all recognition. I was left with a pile of wheaty dust. I’d usually put this in my breakfast bowl regardless of its non-solid state, but in this instance there wasn’t any point. It would have clogged up the milk unnecessarily.

The time had come to make an executive decision. I poured the remaining chunks of wheat into my food bin – I’m very conscientious – and opened up a new pack, so the penultimate Weetabix from the old box could have a fibrous companion.

(I like to have two for breakfast. I’m that sort of person.)

Ever since I’ve been out of sync. Weetabix is sold in even numbers. It makes for simpler packaging. You wouldn’t want a little adjunct to the standard box shape just to house an extra biscuit. That would be impractical. You also wouldn’t want to eat a Weetabix by itself. That would be unsatisfying.

That's my dilemma. I either have to accept that this is the way things will be until the day I die, or at some point eat an odd number of Weetabix. Tomorrow, I think I’ll just have toast.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Dizzy Rascal.


My labyrinthitis has got worse over the past few days. We had to cancel last night’s show as a result.

It’s tiring more than anything. It takes a lot of effort to negotiate your way past people on the street without bumping into them, or going into an awkward little dance as you work out who should step to the left and who should step to the right. People seldom look where they’re going anyway; what would niggle on the average day becomes exhausting when your head is mid-spin.

If the show wasn’t as physically demanding I would be all right. I’ve been trying to pace myself, but this is difficult. The play doesn’t really work if it isn’t performed full out.

Cancelling last night’s show wasn’t a disaster. We only had six booked, who are likely to move to a different night. I still didn’t like having to do this; I hate being the reason something didn't go ahead.

I’m having a blood test this week. I’m also about to start a new course of medication. Hopefully this will sort things out. I just hope it doesn’t hang on for as long as it did the last time I suffered from it.

I promise I’m not pissed. Well, no more than usual.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Super Trooper.


I’d pull the same face as the Queen if I’d seen so many Trooping The Colours.

She’s attended all bar one since her reign began, plus a good few before. That’s a lot of times to watch the same procession. The novelty must have worn off in the late 1950s.

It’s not much of a birthday celebration if it happens every year. No wonder she has two of them. It must be hard to feign interest.

The last eighty-eight years must be a blur of red, gold and black. They probably all roll into one. The faces beneath the bearskins may have changed through the decades, but not so much that she’d notice.

I bet she longs for variety a little once in a while. If a guard’s hat falls off or a horse shits in the square it must feel like a blessed release. Here's hoping Prince Phillip adds his own sotto voce commentary to spice things up.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Saucy Sorceress.

The first woman I saw in underwear was Grotbags from Emu’s All-Live Pink Windmill Show.

It wasn’t a sexual situation. I was too young for that. It was also completely accidental. There’s no need to contact Operation Yewtree on my (or her) behalf.

I was a huge fan of Rod Hull as a child. So much so that I had my own Emu. By this, I mean I owned the puppet; an outsized bird was not an appropriate pet to keep in a modest semi-detached house in Stevenage.

My love of The Pink Windmill Show was all encompassing. I was desperate to see Emu in person, ideally whilst nestled in the armpit of my favourite puppeteer*. When he came to The Gordon Craig Theatre my mum got us tickets. It was one of my first gigs and I loved it. 

(Little did I know I was about to see more than I'd bargained for.)

I was a member of the theatre’s drama club and spent a lot of time backstage. So it was that, during a break in our session later that week, I happened to walk into the quick-change room as my favourite TV witch was in the midst of changing into her outfit.  

She was sat facing the mirror in just her bra and pants. It was a shocking way to learn that she wasn’t green all over.

I exited the room as quickly as I could. My life was never the same again. I suppose it could have been worse. At least I didn’t stumble across Rod Hull’s prosthetic arm, or a limp and lifeless Emu. Then I would have truly needed therapy.


*By which I mean Emu, not me.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Biscuit Barren.

My office's biscuit barrel currently contains what I would best describe as ‘biscuit detritus’.

It’s a sorry state of affairs. There’s nothing good left. I purposely bought a variety pack to keep things interesting, knowing full well that the joy could only last so long. I ate all the best ones in the first few days and now I’m left with the dregs.

Transferring the biscuits from the packet to the barrel was tense. There were a lot of different shapes and sizes to fit into a comparatively tight volume. I felt like I was playing Biscuit Tetris. In the cut and thrust of biscuit decanting there will always be casualties; some will be broken while others are fast-tracked straight to Biscuit Heaven (A.K.A. my stomach.)

Perhaps I should be more optimistic. The current situation may be uninspiring, but it will improve before long. As soon as I finish off what’s left I can move on to something else. I might even buy some Party Rings; then I can have a party in my mouth.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Roll With It.


I just walked through town carrying a twelve-pack of loo roll. What about it?

We all need to use the toilet once in a while (some of us more than others). It’s a fact of life. There’s no need to be ashamed about it. It links every man, woman, child and beast since the dawn of time, or soon after the first mealtime at the very least.

No-one in history was exempt from this excretive need. All the major players, from Hitler to Gandhi to Robert Kilroy-Silk have visited the little boys’ room once in a while. It’s just a shame that two of them ever came out of it. Not Gandhi, though. We like Gandhi.

While this should have reassured me as I paraded through my hometown with a bagful of bum paper, it didn’t. The fact I was walking quickly didn’t help. I looked like a man with a plan and a purpose: to use up my new purchase in one sitting.

It wouldn’t have been as bad if I’d also bought something else. Then I wouldn’t have felt so conspicuous. In future, I'll get my bog roll delivered.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Look Into My Eyes.


The lengths one of my neighbours goes to to avoid making eye contact when he passes me on the street are really quite impressive.

I’m not sure what he thinks will happen if he acknowledges me. Perhaps he’s worried I’ll go in for a kiss. He needn’t be concerned: I’d only do this he was wearing my favourite of his many sexy outfits.

The effort he puts into constantly attempting to create the impression that he hasn’t seen me, usually right outside our block of flats, far outweighs the energy it would take to nod and say hello. I’m not expecting to be invited round for dinner.  

(Not that I’d say no if he asked me.)

To be fair, I know what it’s like. I'll sometimes take a ridiculously convoluted route through town rather than face the prospect of seeing somebody I know. I even do this with people I really like. I am the King of Social Awkwardness.

Monday, 9 June 2014

For Rik.


Death comes to us all. That’s one of the few certainties in life you can rely on. Despite this logic, I find it hard to believe that Rik Mayall has gone.

How can a person with such boundless energy and enthusiasm not be about? He represented the eternal teenager. Even as he approached middle age, he'd never aged with it.

As a kid, I’d tune into Bottom every week, revelling in its rudeness. If my parents entered the room, I’d initiate a loud conversation, in the hope of masking the filth spouting from my television.

My best friend Chris owned a book of the scripts. Whole days were lost to acting out the episodes, with me as Richie and him as Eddie. I still remember Richie’s lullaby from the camping-on-Wimbledon-Common episode verbatim. God knows what important information it replaced in my head.

Every performance was given that distinctive wide-eyed, nostril-flared Mayall stamp. There was nobody like him. Take Flashheart in Blackadder; he’s surrounded by the finest comic actors of his generation, yet still manages to steal the scene for himself.

Rik Mayall made me cry with laughter time and again. Today he makes me cry. We’ve lost one of the best.

Here's hoping there's some smashing blouses in Heaven.