Sunday, 30 November 2014

"Get in the Back of the Van."


One song that sends me whizzing back to my student days is ‘And it Stoned Me’ by Van Morrison.  



(I was born in the wrong era.)

Any time I hear it, I’m suddenly sat in The Smoking Room of the flat I briefly shared with my drama school friends, playing cards late into the night while Van Morrison, Bob Dylan or my band Big Day Out rang out from the stereo.

(I'd never put the last one on, by the way. I'm not that egotistical.)

We spend a lot of time in that room. It can’t have been good for our lungs. We only knew one card game - the prettily titled Shit Head (presumably named after Piers Morgan) - which we’d eek out for hours, over endless rounds of tea and biscuits. It’s amazing I didn’t become an overweight, oxygen mask-wearing mess.

The flat stretched across the entire length of the floor above a car showroom. A large open rooftop space led up to its front door, which led to a big open-plan living room / kitchen. It was a centre point for parties. With this and our near-constant pot smoking, I’m surprised we were ever in a fit state for college. You should have seen me in some of the dance classes. Actually, it’s probably better that you didn’t.

We had a lot of fun back then. It was a time before stress or commitment. We were in a bubble, not yet facing the realities of life. We still had three years of training before we had to really think about it.

Sadly, I seldom see the friends who frequented the Suzuki Garage Smoking Room these days. Even the building has gone; it was demolished a few years later. All that remains is the flat’s comfiest chair, which sits in my living room like a testament. My cat bloody loves it.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Something Old, Something New.


The downside of writing a blog post every day is you'll sometimes think of a subject, only for a quick Google to reveal you’ve already written about it.

Such was the case today. It didn’t help that I set to work quite late, after spending a couple of hours sifting through old posts looking for ideas for stand-up. The sift proved lucrative, but left me creatively spent. There’s only so much of my own writing I can take in one sitting. When it came to thinking of something new, I kept drawing blanks.

That was until I remembered a conversation I’d had with my friend Steve earlier this week. We were talking about caricaturists – as you do – when I recounted the story of the time I posed for one as a kid. For some reason, I took it upon myself to pull a weird face to help the artist out; briefly forgetting which of us was supposed to be doing the caricaturing. In doing this, I scuppered myself, ending up with a picture looking nothing like me.

I thought this would be good fodder for a blog, until I realised I’d thought the same thing almost exactly a year ago. This is what happens when you work up ideas quickly; you forget about them promptly too.

All is not lost. I think there’s the essence of something in the story that might work for stand-up. If I hadn’t remembered about it the other day, this wouldn’t have occurred to me. It would be good to find the drawing. Though if I do, the likeness would be too tenuous for me to be able to correctly identify it. This doesn’t mean I own lots of sketches of children.

Friday, 28 November 2014

'O Solo Mio


Today I decided I'll take a solo show to the Brighton Fringe next year, provided they’ll have me, of course.

I’ve been umming and ahhing for ages over whether to do it. Not in regard to Brighton specifically, but festivals in general. It’s been in the offing for a while, but I wanted to get the timing right. I’m still very new to the doing stand-up on my own and, while I’m pleased with how things have gone so far, I didn’t want to rush into my first hour. There’s a big difference between putting together a short or an extended set.

There are a couple of sticking points. Firstly, can I pull together something cohesive? One thing me and Glyn have been guilty of in the past is making our extended stand-up sets too bitty. Our 2010 Edinburgh show ‘Big in Small Places’ was a good example. While there were plenty of nice moments, it didn’t sit comfortably as a whole. Part of this was due to our venue, which didn’t suit our technical set-up, but a lot of it was to do with the material. We’ve tightened this up in our current show ‘Doggett & Ephgrave Project Stuff’, but if I’m to put something together on my own, I want to keep this in mind.

That said, I have ideas about a few loose themes that could tie a show together. The stitches between short bits of material should be less noticeable anyway, when they're not built around projection, like mine and Glyn’s stuff.

Then there’s the question of whether I could actually write an hour. Can I stay motivated without much outside intervention? I realised this morning that this was ridiculous. I’ve written a blog every day for over a year. That suggests commitment. Then there's all my different writing projects with Glyn, plus my collaborative and solo songwriting in the past, to stand me in good stead. In theory, at least.

Then there’s the big one: am I funny? Or more specifically: can I be funny on my own? These questions spark a crisis of confidence. The resulting worries are usually distant from fact. Actors will often watch plays thinking ‘I could never do that’, forgetting that if they were in the show, they would have done all necessary the work leading up to it; they wouldn’t do it without any rehearsal or preparation. Unless they were under the employment of a certain theatrical company who shall remain nameless.

If I was to answer the questions above with brutal honesty, I’d say ‘Yes I am, when I’m in the right mindset and have done the preparatory work.’ For most of the comedy gigs I do, I’m split between the roles of promoter, tech and performer, with the least emphasis of all put on option three. I’m often pitted against people at the top of their game, doing their best material without any of these additional concerns. While I won’t be able to completely relinquish promoter responsibilities when working alone at my level, I can at least try to put the emphasis back on performance first. I also won’t have to faff around with a projector.

So, that’s where I’m at for the moment. I’ll give it a go. I’ll hopefully crop up at a festival or two next year, subject to Doggett & Ephgrave deciding our 2015 game plan. I’ve got half an eye on Edinburgh, but there’s still a little time for that. I’d also need to sell most of my internal organs to fund it.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Bottoms up!


This morning, I was forced to listen to the hairdressers beneath my office discuss a male friend going to A&E because he’d inserted “a whole champagne bottle up his arse”.

(I wasn't actually forced; I switched my fan heater off to hear the outcome.)

You learn a lot when you rent an office above a salon. Some of it you wish you could unlearn quickly. Apparently the bottle was “up there for a day and a half”. I can’t help but question the logistics. I also doubt the stylists’ testament: you couldn't get the whole bottle up.

How did he manage to assume a position to slide it in there in the first place? Presuming he didn’t have assistance. Was he then forced to stand for the duration? Why the hell didn’t he see a doctor sooner? The urgency of the situation would negate the embarrassment. Particularly if he didn't take the cork out first.

His chosen object sets the mind boggling. There are plenty of other household items and implements he could have used (I'm not speaking from experience). A champagne bottle is decadent. It suggests celebration. Perhaps he was raising a toast to a job promotion, then thought he’d take his party up a notch. Actually, not so much a notch as a neck.

I hope it wasn’t a Nebuchadnezzar. I'd start with a Jeroboam, then work my way up.


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mostly Editing.


I’ve spent the afternoon editing the next episode of Doggett & Ephgrave’s More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast, featuring John Thomson and Nathaniel Metcalfe.


I think it’s a good one. They both make interesting and easygoing interviewees. We know Nat reasonably well, having gigged together a few times in the past, but hadn’t met John until the day of the show. We had plenty of reasons to be anxious. Firstly, we didn’t know if we’d get time to record it. We’d hoped to do it pre-gig, but John was waylaid on his way into Hitchin, so didn’t arrive at the venue until moments before curtain up. Thankfully, he was staying in town overnight, so didn’t mind hanging around after the gig had finished – but we didn’t start recording until past midnight, so were very conscious of not wanting to keep him for too long.

We were also a little nervous at the prospect. We’ve interviewed a few prominent comics since starting the podcast, so we've grown used to the situation on the surface, but it’s always going to be tense when you’re sat across a table from someone you’ve admired since childhood, and have to pretend that you’re on a level. At a number of points during the conversation, I thought ‘Shit, I’m talking to John Thomson’, but I managed to suppress it. I didn’t kiss him too, which was a bonus.

It helped that he was lovely. The chat flowed easily and was fascinating (on his part, not ours). He also briefly made reference to my material, and complemented it, which I’ll chalk down as a small personal achievement.

I’ve realised lately that I’m lucky. While Mostly will never make a fortune, and shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of our careers, it brings about exciting opportunities. If you’d told me when I watched The Fast Show Live at Hammersmith Apollo aged fourteen that I’d one day run a gig with my favourite cast member on the bill, I’d never have believed you. Mainly because you’d have no way of knowing it.

Keep an eye - and ear - out for Episode Fifteen of the More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast, featuring John Thomson and Nathaniel Metcalfe, which will be available for free on iTunes in the next few days. As Thomson’s Jazz Club-presenting alter ego Louis Balfour would say: “Nice”.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bone of Contention.


If I’d just overcome erectile dysfunction, I’d smile into the middle-distance too.


(Though I wouldn’t use the word ‘overcoming’ in this context.)

Was that picture taken pre- or post-coitus? If it’s the former, it’s a flagrant misuse of the couple’s time. While it’s nice to gaze out at the horizon and appreciate the subtle curvature of the Earth, there’s a time and a place. You don’t do it at the precise moment you've cheated impotence. Not unless it assists arousal (which would be a cause for concern).

There are other ways to interpret the photograph. Maybe the person who’s recovered is a friend standing out of shot. They could be about to indulge in a threesome, presumably after a very long wait. If so, I hope he isn't doing a run up.

There was an alternative suggested to me via Twitter, that paints the picture in a whole new light.


 I wish I’d thought of that. Bollocks. Well, nearly.

 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Over the Sunhill.


Every time I hear a police siren, I sing the beginning of The Bill's theme tune in my head.

This is an almost constant affliction, thanks to the dodgy area I live in, that is starting to get on my nerves. Anyone who doesn’t believe I do it should take a look at the first episode of mine and Glyn’s 2010 Edinburgh video diary (specifically at the 9.41 mark) for evidence. See? What a dick.

What makes it worse is it’s now a retrogressive reference. The Bill’s final episode was broadcast on the 31st of August 2010, yet I’m still going strong. I’ll never stop. If in fifty years time the planet is on the other side of nuclear Armageddon, with only me and a police officer surviving, if their car was functioning and they passed me on the street, I’d still sing it. Providing their siren was working as well.

(That situation was too specific.)

It’s not just police cars that set me off, but any klaxon-blaring member of the emergency services. I don’t discriminate. Any excuse to doo-dah its familiar 7/8 stylings and I’ll doo-dah-do it.

It’s just occurred to me that the YouTube clip above has a sombre undercurrent. It was uploaded on the 20th of August 2010, just eleven days before the last Bill episode was broadcast. It’s possibly the last time I sang the theme when it was still current. I need a moment.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Massive Benjamin.


On Friday I climbed up the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster, more commonly known as Big Ben.

(In case you don't know what it looks like.)

I went up the inside, not the outside, by the way; I’m no Peter Duncan. While I once took part in a circus-skills workshop led by him at the Gordon Craig Theatre as a child, we didn’t cover how to cling to a massive clock face. If we had, I’d have shimmied up Stevenage Clock Tower like a shot.

I was surprised by how small it was on the inside, like a TARDIS in reverse. It confused me how something that dominates the skyline and public consciousness could be so compact. I’m not saying you can fit it in your pocket, but its relatively slight scale was marked; particularly when you walk around the inside of the faces.

The tour is planned impeccably. It’s done tightly, to a stopwatch. We’d left Portcullis House reception at 9:10am and by 9:15, we were a third of the way up. We were in the room housing the clock mechanism for both the half-past and quarter-to chimes, and next to Big Ben itself - the bell, I mean – in time to watch it toll the hour.

Standing next to it as it chimed was profound. The sound it makes is ingrained in our awareness. It’s symbolic of so much: passing time, the passing years and all the lives that passed in war. It has gravitas and finality. I’ve heard it often and yet I never thought I’d see it. At risk of sounding like a UKIP supporter, it made me proud to be British.

(While its volume made me glad I had earplugs.)

From 1961-1965, my mum worked in an office, both in view and earshot of Big Ben. The sound she heard then was the same sound I heard fifty years later. She’d never anticipate she’d have a son who’d one day stand so close to the source. If she did, her psychic ability would be alarmingly specific.

My mum's old office (right).

It’s fair to say it’s something I’ll never forget. Howard Donald was right.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Is it Bedtime Yet?


I’m too tired to concentrate today.

I haven’t slept properly since Thursday’s Mostly Comedy. By the time we’d interviewed John Thomson and packed everything away, it was 2:30am. I then got up at 5:30am, ready for my trip up Big Ben (which I’ll cover in tomorrow’s blog). Last night’s sleep was similarly broken, thanks to the back pain sustained from climbing 334 stairs to see a massive bell. I like to moan.

While I know the essence of what I want to say today, I’m finding it hard to word it succinctly. I don’t want to waste an interesting story by getting it half right. Rather than forcing it and being unsatisfied by the result, I’ll call it a day.

I don’t like writing posts like this. It’s not what I set out do when I gave myself a daily deadline. But there’s no point in burning out my tiny brain when it’s hard to find a replacement; something Steve Martin would vouch for.

I need a quiet evening and a good night’s sleep. So I'd better get on the case. I’ll leave you with a little trivia: my watch is just ten seconds shy of London’s most famous clock. I’ll bear this in mind next time I make an appointment. There's nothing worse than tardiness.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Caught by the Fuzz.


Today I saw a policeman use a urinal: the ultimate leveller.

(I don't mean Mark Chadwick.)

Are they allowed to empty their bladder in full view of the public on duty? Seeing him stand there took away all the mystique. It also lowered his status. He's hardly in a position to uphold the law when he's up, holding his thingy.

(Insert a truncheon joke here.)

What would he have done if I'd committed a crime while he was in mid-flow? I can't see him running after me. That would be horrific. He'd need exceptional control to ‘close the faucet’. Either that, or he’d have to chase me like a crab so as to not soil his uniform. 

He’d technically be breaking the law himself. Perhaps our two crimes would cancel each other out. It would make for an amusing game of cat and mouse.

I saw this Pee-C in the public toilets at the Houses of Parliament. It says a lot about my state of mind that I visited both the House of Commons and the House of Lords today, and went up Big Ben, yet these things only serve as a footnote. I must change my outlook. 

"Nice."


At tonight’s Mostly Comedy I got to introduce John Thomson in his guise as Bernard Righton, thinking how I used to watch him do the selfsame character on my copy of ‘Steve Coogan: Live and Lewd’ as a thirteen-year-old.

What made it particularly ridiculous was, while we were talking over the introduction backstage, he said ‘If you could just mention that Bernard used to be racist and sexist, but has seen the error of his ways’, not realising how often I’d heard Steve Coogan say much the same on my overplayed VHS over half my lifetime ago.

They say you should never meet your heroes. I’ve yet to be disappointed. John Thomson was a case in point. He was lovely. He also had the exact same onstage sparkle behind the eyes that drew me to his performances as a youngster; a look that says we’re all in this together, we’re all on-side.

It was also a good night for me. I did my longest solo set thus far, and felt I’d started to turn a corner. Half of the material was untried (and the other stuff had only been performed a few times before), yet most landed pretty well. It’s given me the confidence boost needed to plough ahead. So, I’d better get my plough out.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

He's Electric.


Today, I switched a socket on with my first finger while my ring finger was wet. I’m a maverick.

It’s official: I live life on the edge. The edge of electrocution, it seems. The buzz I get taking risks is akin to the buzz I'd have got if I'd pressed the switch with the wrong finger. I like to practise extreme sports on a small scale without leaving the house.

You should see how I iron: standing in a bath full of water, letting the flex tease the surface. I lick my cheese grater clean in a downward motion. I kick windows open, gargle bleach, and climb inside my preheated oven on cold days, closing the door behind me. I’m addicted to the rush that comes with peril, without wanting to commute to the source. I'll risk my life, as long as I don’t risk missing the beginning of The One Show. I can't live without Matt Baker’s cheeky face and winning banter.

The chances I take are nothing compared to that of my friend’s mum. She once punched a horse in the face. It had my friend's ear in its mouth and wouldn’t let go. That woman is hardcore.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hawaii-Fi-O


I spend most of my time leaping from one Wi-Fi signal to another.

It’s like an addiction: I MUST HAVE FREE INTERNET. I’m like a monkey swinging through the trees; though in my case, the vines have been replaced with iCloud, 02 and BT Openzone. It’s a clunky simile that almost works.

It doesn’t help that the Doggett & Ephgrave office doesn’t have a hub of its own. We’re both with BT, so have opted to just use their hotspots (“…and what is a hotspot not?”). This is fraught with pitfalls. Yoghurt pots connected by string offer a more reliable service. I open my laptop each day, hoping for the best.

It’s the same when I’m out and about. One of the first things I’ll do on entering a public building is attempt to connect their wireless. I’m not the only one to do this. It’s become a part of most people’s routine.

While the prevalence of free Wi-Fi is convenient, there’s a hidden expense. It affects face-to-face communication. Watching a couple sitting at a table more engrossed in their phones than each other is a depressing sight.

I make it my mission when I’m with someone to be present. What’s the point of being there when your mind is somewhere else?

Monday, 17 November 2014

On the Back of the Bus.


Listening to conversations on the bus this morning made me think of the Beach Boys song 'I Just Wasn't Made for These Times'. 

You could argue that it's my fault for eavesdropping. These interactions were none of my business. To be honest, I can't help myself. I always do it; something I've covered here before. It's often a good source for material. 

It was the unnecessary aggression that got me. One couple were swearing at each other under their breath while discussing vegetable oil. The man had bought the wrong brand and the woman was furious. The hissing curses batted back and forth suggested it wasn't about the oil at all, but something much more deep-seated. He’d probably also bought the wrong butter. 

A couple of seventeen-year-old schoolgirls chatted animatedly about how the majority of their friends either had children or were pregnant. This didn't shock me. If anything, I was more concerned about the fact at least two of these babies were called Jayden. 

I don't mean to sound like a snob. That isn't my intention. I know these are just snapshots: a brief window into other people’s lives.  God knows what they thought of me. My big scarf and long jacket probably make me look like a faux Doctor Who. That and the sonic screwdriver in my hand. I must stop getting it out in public.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hitchin is Mine.


As of six o’clock tonight, I take over the Hitchin is Yours Twitter account for a week; a stewardship I’m anxious to get right.

I’m proud of my hometown. It’s a great place to live, with so much going for it. I've always sold it to my non-Hitchinite friends; so much so, that a lot have gone on to move here. Any town expansion plans are partly my fault. Feel free to picket outside my house.

I love its history and architecture. Take St Mary’s Church, for example. The building is beautiful inside and out, and huge for a town of our size. There has been a place of worship on site since the 7th Century. Much of the present building dates from the 1300s. You wouldn't get that in America.

(Don't forget the British Schools Museum too.) 

Hitchin is a hive for creative people and a hub for the arts. It boast two theatres, two comedy clubs, a couple of art galleries, a festival for world music and a thriving music scene. This drew me to the town in the first place. I grew up in Stevenage and my band Big Day Out started gigging here in the late-90s. I studied performing arts at North Herts College and acting at Hertfordshire Theatre School: a professional drama school that had Hitchin as its home for twenty years. Not a lot of people know that.

A lot of actors live in Hitchin; not surprising, what with its proximity to London and its fondness for drama training. When I was in the West End production of Dreamboats and Petticoats*, I'd pride myself in being home in three quarters of an hour. This was better timing than much of the cast living in London.

I should mention that Hitchin is also home to the fantastic photo-realistic artist Sarah Graham (she really looks that real) and "TV's Glen Davies", as if I didn’t, they wouldn’t forgive me. ;)

I’ve lived in Hitchin for fifteen years. My comedy partner Glyn Doggett often mocks me playfully for growing up in Stevenage when he born in Hitchin. I see it as moving here by choice. It didn't take long to know it was right for me. I was born in Welwyn Garden City anyway, so I still get a few points on the aspirational-middle-class front.

I shouldn’t be daunted by running Hitchin is Yours for a week, but I am. I want to represent the town in the best possible light. I suppose this shouldn’t be difficult; I only need a quick glance around to see what’s good about it.

*name-dropper. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Street Fighter.


I find walking through town on a Saturday extremely stressful.

There are far too many people about, most of whom aren’t looking where they’re going. Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s me. Perhaps I'm the only one with the problem.

It doesn’t help that I suffer from labyrinthitis on and off. I know it sounds like an 80s David Bowie movie vehicle, but it’s not. It’s a virus-induced inflammation of the inner ear that causes permanent damage, which sends confusing messages to the brain regarding balance.

(Call me Mr NHS Direct.)

When it hits, I feel like the world is spinning around me. It takes all my concentration not to fall over. What makes it worse is no-one knows anything is wrong except for you; walk into someone by mistake and they just think you’re a dick.

It also affects my concentration. Even writing this was a challenge. Not just ‘this’, but every word around it. I’m confusing the point.

As a result, I try to restrict my town centre visits to off-peak times. I'll also pick the least crowded route. I’m like a strictly-timetabled hermit. Why I chose a career in front of an audience is beyond me. I would have been a lot better off operating a lighthouse.

(Bagsy The Needles.)

Friday, 14 November 2014

This Blog Will Eat Itself.


Some days, I’ll start a blog post and then lose the will to finish it.

This was the case today. It’s not that I’ve gone off the idea as such; it’s just that I’m a little too tired to do it justice. It doesn’t help that I didn’t start writing until late. I spent the morning doing work around the house, then met my parents for lunch, then carried on with the housework. By the time I got to the office and sat in front of my computer it was pushing 4:00pm and my creative mojo had gone. I was working to the clock, as I’m meeting Glyn shortly to record some links for our podcast. If I start with the clock ticking I find it hard to relax. This isn’t conducive to good content.

The good thing about abandoning a post is I know I can come back to it when I’m stuck for material in the future. I usually won’t pick it up the next day, as by then, something else has often happened that’s worthy of writing about. Instead, I’ll return to it a few weeks later, when I can look at it afresh.

So, today’s post is purely about a post that could have been, and may still be in the future. That’s pleasingly meta. Like I said in the title: this blog will eat itself.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Keep it Simple.


Clinton Cards recently rebranded themselves to Simply Clintons. In doing so, they made their name more complicated than it was in the first place.

Not affiliated to Mick Hucknall.
You used to know what they sold. It was there in the title. Now, in an attempt to streamline their corporate identity and clarify their position in the market place, they've dropped the one word that explained what they did and kept the one that didn’t. They’ve created more confusion in exactly the same word-count. That’s not an improvement. If anything, they should have called themselves 'Cards'. That would be simpler.

Perhaps they're trying to be more like M&S Simply Food. Maybe they thought Simply Clintons sounded classier. Simply Food works because it’s a subsidiary to Marks and Spencer's main store. That’s not the case with Clintons. Also, who or what is this Clinton? Are they the proprietor? If so, there should be an apostrophe between the N and S.

(This is how I spend my life)

While Clinton Cards may have messed up their company name, at least they’ve improved their stock.


Finally, a frame for friends who aren’t prepared to pose together.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Desperately Seeking an Audience.


I’m just waiting for final word from our venue regarding cancelling tonight’s London Mostly Comedy.

If we do cancel, it will be due to insufficient sales. Promoting a show in London is difficult. It’s so hard to predict. There are many different factors that can potentially throw a spanner in the works. The big one, of course, is competition. People in London are spoilt for entertainment. It’s almost impossible to make yourself stand out.

(I have a similar problem with my willy.)

The start time also plays a part. London Mostly Comedy usually kicks off around the 9.00-9.15pm mark, which is late for a midweek gig. We take this slot purely due to availability. Most months there’ll be a show on in the same space immediately before us. Longer runs will always take preference.

The only thing we can do to counteract this is to book the best possible line-ups. Even then, nothing's certain. A few months back we had Josh Widdicombe on the bill – and despite his huge exposure and popularity, we literally couldn’t give away tickets; we offered out a handful of comps that no-one would take. An act that usually performs to 2000+ seater venues ended up with an audience of nine. We’ve had similar with plenty other high-profile acts. Tonight, we had a great headliner, but still struggled to get bums on seats.

(I have a similar problem with my...etc.)

That said, last month’s show was busy. We’re still building the gig’s reputation in London. It’s just a shame it’s not as easy to promote and sell as in Hitchin.