Saturday, 28 February 2015

'Work in (Hope of) Progress' #1


Tonight’s work-in-progress show felt like a world of difference to last night’s gig; people laughed and everything.

Dare I say it, I enjoyed it. It’s the first time I’ve performed a sizeable chunk of what will eventually become my Brighton & Camden Fringe show ‘…and Ephgrave’ in one piece. Tonight’s response made me feel that I’m at least on the right track.

Being in an intimate venue with a comedy savvy audience makes the world of difference. It helped me scale down my delivery, to make it more conversational. I didn’t have to fight for attention. I still need to find where the laughs are in the material, so I can sit back on it, but the fact that there were laughs has given me a confidence boost.

It helps that I’m sharing the work-in-progress dates with the lovely Peter Broughton-Rates (I’m a poet…etc). He has an exceptional knack for positivity. As we left, I apologized for the fact I’d only had two people turn up to watch, when he’d supplied the other eighteen.

‘That’s still ten percent of the audience’ he said. His optimism perfectly offsets my in-built pessimism. He’s also very easy to watch. He has excellent comic judgment. I like how he can be both brazen and ‘out there’, while also being subtle and naturalistic. He’s a good chap, that chap.

I’m looking forward to our next date, now I know the feel of the space. I’m sure both of us will be more relaxed for ‘Meet Here’ / ‘Work in (Hope of) Progress’ #2. Date to follow shortly...

Setting up at The Actors' Temple. In the 1970s, apparently.

Doing it For Charity.


I enjoyed mine and Glyn’s set at tonight’s charity gig.

I’ve always felt our material comes over best in an environment where we are just an act on the bill rather than the hosts. It gives what we do more impact. It’s also a lot less pressured. You’re not overseeing every aspect of the show around you. You’re not playing to a returning audience who've seen your best stuff before. You can rock up, do your thing and go, without having to run back on stage twenty minutes later to keep the momentum going.

It’s also nice to share the stage with Glyn; to have him to bounce off of. This is probably accentuated by the fact I've spent so much time working on my solo stuff in recent weeks. I’m enjoying it, but it’s good to go back to the dynamic I know so well, and to not be solely responsible.

My solo set was testing, but by that stage of the evening the audience’s attention was waning. Davinci (formerly Plinston) Hall is a tough room for comedy. Charity gigs are also always hard. Glyn and I have done enough of them to know that.

That said, it was nice to be back at the venue. I did my first amateur show there in the early 90s (playing the title role in Plinston Player’s self-written musical Old Misery Guts; I was typecast even then). My band supported Slade and The Troggs there around 1999-2000, and I did the Buddy show there a few years later. It's an ever-present part of my life. I can’t escape it.

The students running the gig were lovely and did an excellent job. It was also great to see my friend Stephen Halliday return to stand-up after a seven-year hiatus, and to finally see my other friend – yes, I have more than one - Katie Pritchard do her thing. She's got bags of energy and confidence. It was a great to watch. I also got to draw the raffle, which is always a bonus. Still, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s work-in-progress show. At least then, the audience’s attention won't be split.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Backwards Criminality.


Last Sunday, I survived the tense experience of shopping in ASDA with a pack of custard creams I’d bought from the same shop on Saturday secreted in my bag.

I was carrying the biscuits due to poor forward planning. ASDA run a three-packs-for-a-pound deal* that I regularly take advantage of. Not because I’m addicted (though I am); more for the fact it enables me to keep one packet in the office and one at home, and have a spare pack left over for the commute.

I didn’t do it for the buzz. I wasn’t playing chicken with supermarket security. I had no intention to attempt to shoplift in reverse. I was taking them to my office. This didn’t stop me feeling on edge. If they stopped me, I’d be unable to prove my innocence without going home for the receipt, and I wasn't sure they’d let me do that.

I browsed Hitchin’s spindly arm of Walmart expecting a hand on my shoulder at any moment. I avoided the biscuit aisle entirely. Going there would be tempting fate.

Thankfully, I escaped the shop unscathed. I’m glad I did. While I had an alibi for the custard creams, I'd never have been able to explain the countless other ASDA products concealed about my person. "Boom tish". 

*I'm not on commission.


Insufficient Baggage.


I’d like to live in a world where my bag isn’t just big enough to fit the things I need to carry in it, provided I don’t want to take anything out at any point.

It’s the ultimate status-lowerer. It’s intensely frustrating. Filling it is akin to a game of Tetris; there’s a very specific method to take, and Lord help you, should you attempt to deviate from it. As soon as I’ve slid my laptop in (I say ‘slid’; it’s more of a fifteen-stage force), there’s scarcely room for anything else. I then squeeze in my umbrella, knowing there’ll be no hope of extricating it quickly in the case of a sudden downpour. It would be easier getting it out if it was encased in concrete.

(I exaggerate for borderline comedic effect).

The simple answer to my problem would be to buy a new one. This relies on me having the funds to do it. I bought this one in a state of emergency and haven’t yet had the requisite cash to replace it. Such is the life of a professional actor / comedian / pauper.

My evil bijou bag struck at least twice today. The first instance was when I visited the venue for Saturday’s work-in-progress gig. I was ostensibly there to check their in-house projector worked, and to have a quick fiddle with the lights. I had a thirty-minute window to suss things out before I had to leave for another gig; half an hour that was mostly disastrous. I couldn’t get the screen to stay down. It took me forty-five minutes to get the projector to pick up a signal from the computer. The moment I got it vaguely working, Martinfrom EastEnders walked in. He was helpful, but we were talking at crossed purposes. I think I came out of the conversation looking bit of a dick.

Martin left, confused. Then, just as I was trying to fit my belongings back into my bag in order, which meant taking everything out - tangerine, book, bottle of water, HDMI adapter, audio lead, umbrella, keys, tiny travel deodorant, notebook, pens etc. - people started filing in for their next class. I was kneeling over my bag, sweaty and stressed. I looked like I was playing one of those ‘guess which item I’ve taken away’ parlour games. One of the actors offered me a prawn cracker. I think he’d taken pity in me.

I had similar problems at tonight’s gig. There I was, on my own, trying to be inconspicuous, with a bag fit to burst at any moment. It didn’t help that I’d rushed to the venue, having stuffed everything back in at The Actors’ Temple, in fear that another familiar soap opera face would walk in to discover my undersized bag shame. Oh, to be normal and financially solvent.

At least the gig went okay. Not the best, but by no means the worst. I’m writing this on the train home, fully aware that when I finish, I’ll have to remove everything from my bag to put it my laptop away. The train;s absolutely packed. Life.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

How Long Has This Been Going On?


I’ve been with my wife for ten years this month.

This doesn’t seem possible. Has time flown by that quickly? It seems like only yesterday that we went out on our first date. If it wasn't yesterday, it was the day before at least. It can’t be a decade ago. I wasn’t alive then. Did somebody move Christ’s birthdate?

While we’ve been in a relationship for ten years, we’ve been married for less than one. Our anniversaries in complete disarray. I don’t know how to chart them. Official documentation suggests we've been together seven months. Our eleventh anniversary will be Cotton or Tin, depending on how you look at it. If I analysed this too much, I’d never leave the house.

However long it’s been, it's not been long enough. Meeting my wife was the best thing that happened to me. Making her my wife was the second best. That doesn’t mean she didn’t have a choice.

(Feel free to reach for the sick bucket.)

Monday, 23 February 2015

Massive Weaver.


I’ve been at Doggett & Ephgrave HQ today, stitching together material for Saturday’swork-in-progress gig.

The biggest challenge at the moment is to make it feel cohesive. Parts of it sit together nicely; others feel pretty cut-and-shut. If the material doesn’t flow, it could be irritating and tiring for the audience. They’ll be no natural resolution and no sense of an end in sight. I don’t want that.

There’s a loose theme forming, centring on my relationship with my family, but not everything fits into it. I’m not too concerned if the links are a little haphazard on Saturday  – I’m using the gig to find out what works and what doesn’t – but it’s something I’ll need to smooth out before the Soho Theatre date in March. The audience for that will probably be a lot less patient, based on previous experience. That gig is a month away today. No pressure.

To throw a spanner into proceedings, I started the day by discovering my computer didn’t work. It wouldn’t switch on. It wasn’t plugged into the mains initially. When I did, it powered up, but the battery wouldn’t charge. My first thought was that the battery had died, which would be a lot less serious. The downside is it’s a MacBook, and therefore harder to have a fiddle with yourself. I’ve made an appointment at one of Apple’s poncily-named Genius Bars in their Cambridge store on Friday. I could do without going. I’ve got a gig in Letchworth that night, for which I’ll need to use it. I don’t want someone to knock the power lead out mid-performance to have it all cut out. It’s charging now though, so it may be all right.

The music stand I ordered for Saturday’s show arrived today, which is good news. It’s far easier reading notes from it than from the back of my hand. It makes me feel like getting my recorder out. That's not a euphemism.


Sunday, 22 February 2015

More Than Mostly Editing.


I’ve spent the last few hours putting together the latest episode of the More Than Mostly Podcast.

It's one of my favourites. Arthur Smith and Jay Cowle were good, relaxed interviewees and the chat flows freely (sorry for channeling Alan Partridge). I enjoyed listening back to mine and Glyn’s banter too, which is surprisingly cohesive considering it was recorded at 2am.

This episode was quick to edit. The last one was a bit of a faff, as it wasn’t recorded directly onto GarageBand (as Glyn’s laptop was giving up the ghost and mine was plumbed into the venue's PA to run our cues). Each audio clip had to be synched, which was a pain in the arse. I had to do the same with this month's too, though it was easier. The God of Editing was smiling on me.

I went to the office this morning, to attempt to pin down a running order for next Saturday’s work-in-progress gig. I timed everything I’ve been working on, in whatever state it was in, to see how much I’ve got. I plan to do twenty to twenty-five minutes on Saturday. I’m doing five at an open mic gig on Wednesday and fifteen at a charity gig on Friday, so I’ll get a bit of a run up. I’m starting to feel more relaxed about having enough for the Soho Theatre date in March, but I’m going to have to up my work rate to be ready for Brighton in May. I think I can do it. I have to do it. At least I have this blog to fall back on. I’ll be plundering it for ideas in the coming months.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Caturday Ramblings.

 My cat is sleeping on my lap as I write. 

It's not particularly comfortable for me, but that's not the point. A cat shows little consideration for its owner's comfort. They only have their own interests at heart. It's not comfy, but it's comforting. It's a pleasant way to bring the evening in.

It's nice to be writing at home. I spend a lot of time holed up in my office at the moment. I like having a place to work, but it gets repetitive. It pays to have a change of scenery now and again.

I was in the office this morning. I sat through the video footage I have of recent gigs, to get a handle on what I should do at the work-in-progress date at the end of the week. I have more material than I thought, which is good. I now need to put it into an order that sits comfortably and then learn it. While I can afford to be informal at next Saturday's date, I'd like the Soho gig to have more rigidity. This will hopefully stand me in good stead for when I flesh it out into a show. 

My cat is unaware of all of this. She's never been to a theatre. She thinks I cease to exist the moment I leave the house. This doesn't matter. She gets a restful sleep and I get a warm lap. Win-win. If the temperature decreases my chances of becoming a father, then so be it. I'll save money on babysitting. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Wrong Demographic.


I think yesterday’s Mostly Comedy was the most I’ve been aware of people coming solely to see the headline act.

It’s not like the audience were unfriendly. Far from it. They were nice. I just felt like a barrier between them and who they wanted. Either that, or our style wasn’t to their taste.   

The club's ethos has changed a lot in seven years. There was a time when the majority of our acts were unknown. The audience had taken a punt. These days they’re enticed in by our headliner. Despite this, we don't usually bomb.

There have been other shows when I expected it to be worse. Last September, we followed Stewart Lee. We were very aware that everyone was there for him. We expected people to leave after he’d finished, but most stayed. Not only that, they were quite responsive. Well, as much as you could hope from an audience who’d been blown away by one of the country’s top stand-ups. We felt like a welcome bonus.

It didn’t help that last night I did ten minutes of untried solo material. The reaction was polite, yet muted. I found the response hard to predict. At one point I compared the relative merits of McBusted and the Traveling Wilburys as a supergroup. Though the crowd were slightly older than usual, they sided with McBusted. I didn’t expect that. Comedy can be a fickle business.

Not So Incy Wincy.


This morning, a large spider revealed itself in my bedroom just long enough for me to reach for the designated spider glass, then disappeared. Jeopardy.

I was looking in the mirror at the time, as is my wont when my wife's at work. Whole days are spent gazing at my reflection, usually to the soundtrack of Joe Cocker's You Are So Beautiful on loop. Everybody needs a hobby.

I was styling my hair when it homed into view. The second I saw it, it froze. I've seen smaller fists. My two eyes met its eight and we sussed each other out. It was a Mexican standoff with two participants. By which I mean ‘a duel’. Without weapons. Shit analogy.

I had to work quickly. I ran to the kitchen (where the glass is kept), picked up an old Doggett & Ephgrave flyer to slide under it, and ran back to find an arachnid-shaped hole where an arachnid once was. My eight-legged friend had vanished.

This was not what I wanted. A huge creature was scuttling around the bedroom and I had no idea where. It was liable to lie in wait until I slept and then creep into an orifice. Hundreds of baby spiders would crawl out at a later date. I’d end up on the cover of Take a Break.

I needn’t have worried. When I came home later to get changed for Mostly Comedy I saw it shoot across the bedroom carpet. Glass and card were grabbed in a trice. It was ejected from the property. I can now sleep soundly in my bed. Provided it was the same spider, that is.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

I Saw The Sign.


Low-ranking performers like me don’t expect to look into an audience mid-show to see a banner like this.


Whatever level you may be on the theatrical spectrum, you pray you'll never see this.


What made it worse was they did. Chilling stuff.

In September 2005, I took to the road for my first tour with the actor / musician show Buddy Holly and the Cricketers. It was a grueling affair: four months of one-nighters booked up and down the UK and Ireland with scant regard for geography, doing five or six shows a week. I was playing Buddy, which was exciting yet daunting, not least because I had to keep myself in vocal shape while spending most of my waking hours in the back of a van; not to mention all those lonely hours in the dead of the night, trying to get to sleep in another dodgy B&B.

The last two shows were at The Brewhouse in Taunton on the 22nd and 23rd of December. This was a blessing and a curse: it was nice to end the run spending a couple of days in the same place, yet you knew you’d have to travel back home from Devon on Christmas Eve.

The final performance was a strange one. A family sitting front-centre were getting hugely into the show. At one point, the mother and daughter threw underwear at the stage – literally – while the father looked on. It was wrong on many levels.

After the show, we got talking in the bar. It turned out that they’d been fans of the show for years. Watching it was an annual event. They’d sneakily taken a few photos of that night's performance. They offered to send me them, so I gave them my address; the names Mark, David and Chapman clearly meant nothing to me.

We returned to the venue with the show a year later, which was when the sign was revealed. It was pulled out during Maybe Baby. It was hard for me to keep on top of the lyrics. I appreciated the fact it was reversible. It was sinister, but ecologically sound.

We've since become friends. They’ve supported our shows up and down the country. It’s always good to see them. I’ve also yet to be assassinated, which bodes well.

New Opening.


I snapped up a short open spot at a new material night tonight. I very nearly didn’t go, as I wasn’t in the mood, but I’m glad that I did.

I need to get used to turning up to gigs on my own. Until recently, I’ve never done this. The closest I came was playing the odd solo acoustic gig after my band spit up due to my then-constant touring. Even with that, I had an accomplice: my guitar. The banter in-between songs was loosely comedic, but this wasn’t the main focus. The music was the important bit. If I made the audience laugh that was a bonus.

I made the gradual transition into comedy with Glyn by my side. I thrive on the connection we have creatively, and on being able to make each other laugh. We aim to please each other first. We’ve worked together in one way or another for so long that sharing a stage is like putting on a comfy pair of shoes. It’s easy to get back into a rhythm.

Performing on my own is a different kettle of fish  (to use a surreal cliché). The comfy shoes have been wrenched from my feet and replaced with insufficient footwear. There’s no-one to cajole me into being funny, or to fall back on onstage. I don’t even have a slideshow to maintain structure or pull focus (in a good way).

Today was one of the first times I enjoyed it. The material was rickety in places and needs work, but there’s an end in sight. This time last week, I took a friend with me for feedback and moral support. Tonight, I turned up on my own. I was anonymous. This suited me better. I had a nice chat with a couple of the other acts too, which relaxed me. The organizer was lovely and said nice things about my set, which gave me a little boost.

While it’s good to experiment with the solo stuff and try something different, I’m looking forward to Doggett & Ephgrave's forthcoming projects. We’ll soon be hosting a radio show on a small online station. I can’t wait. I’ve always preferred our off-the-cuff stuff (like The Buddy Tapes and our Edinburgh video diary) to our more formal writing. It’s more fun. It’s also less effort, which gets a big tick from me.

That’s enough late-night rambling. I’m going to reward myself by watching the Simpsons episode where Homer adopts a lobster. How’s that for a wind-down? 


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Maybe I'm Dismayed.


I watched Paul McCartney’s performance of Maybe I’m Amazed on the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special today with my head in my hands. It made me want to cry, and not for the right reasons. 

It’s no secret that I’m a big McCartney fan. His work ethic and output continues to inspire me. If you’ve only seen his unsurprisingly Beatle-heavy public appearances in recent years you wouldn’t know it, but he’s still a diverse and highly-creative artist. His albums over the last decade have been, for the most part, excellent. Check out 2005’s Nigel Godrich-produced Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, or 2008’s largely improvised ambient / electronica / psychedelic rock album Electric Arguments (made with producer and Killing-Joke-bassist Youth under the pseudonym The Fireman) for starters. If you haven’t time then read the reviews, which are mostly glowing.

His live shows are great. He plays for nearly three hours without pausing for a sip of water. I'm not saying this is a hallmark of a good performer – there’s nothing wrong with being hydrated – but his stamina is impressive. You'd never think you were watching a seventy-two-year-old.

Despite his love for forging into new ground, each time he does a show that's widely televised he tends to lean on the songs he wrote forty or fifty years ago, many of which no longer comfortably sit in his range. Maybe I’m Amazed is the biggest culprit. It’s so high, only dogs should be able to hear it.

It’s no wonder it’s now a challenge. He had an exceptionally wide vocal range as a young man. He still has for his age, but the chances of a seventy-two-year-old replicating the vocal fluidity of a twenty-eight-year old are unlikely. Why does he bring it on himself? Why did he choose a song he can no longer manage unless the wind blows in the right direction? And why will nobody tell him? If they do, why won't he listen?

(I suppose it's hard to put an ex-Beatle in his place).

These are the things which stoke the public's perception that he can no longer sing. He seems to keep walking into it. It's like a delusion. It makes me sad. He's so much better than what he presents; what he can almost get away with in a live setting is painfully exposed on television. I dread to think how many million people watched it.

Come on, Macca. Embrace your age. Sing the songs that fit your voice, or you've written recently, rather than trying to do something you might not be able pull off. Change a few keys to suit your current register. There’s no shame in this. Everybody does it. Maybe I’m Amazed is defining moment of your career, but I’d much rather people remembered how effortlessly you sang it in the Seventies than saw you struggling to keep control of it now.


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Two-Week Hiatus.


I’ve decided to pull the shutter down on writing any new stand-up material for two weeks.

This will help me to focus on getting to grips with what I’ve already got. Three deadlines are scorched into my brain: the first work-in-progress gig on 28th February, the Comedy Project date at the Soho Theatre on 23rd March and my first Brighton Fringe show on 8th May. The middle one is the most ominous. I’ve always found Soho Upstairs difficult to play. I’ve never performed solo there before, but have been in countless sitcom readings, plays and sketch screenings with Glyn in the past. It’s wide and sound doesn’t travel well. A panel of industry people will also be watching, who give feedback afterwards in front of the audience. This adds extra fun to proceedings.

As a result, I’ve been frantically trying to get new stuff down to give myself a head start. Quite a bit of material has either been tried out once or twice or never tried at all. By stopping for breath, I hope to let what I’ve written sink in. I can then use the fortnight before the 28th to perform and tweak it. I’ll probably do a short, primarily new set at Thursday’s Mostly Comedy and try to squeeze in an open spot in London sometime before it. I’ve got a couple of gigs in the diary the following week too. Once the first work-in-progress show has passed I can take stock on what I’ve got; hopefully, more than I think.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

HDM-why?


I caught the train to London today to check a projector’s HDMI connection. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

The projector in question was at The Actors’ Temple; the venue where I’m sharing a handful of work-in-progress dates with Peter Broughton-Rates over the next few months. Using HDMI is new to me – Doggett & Ephgrave use VGA – so I had good reason to go into town for a mundane purpose.

(Stop me if I'm being dull.)

As is often the case with these things, my time in the room was rushed. I was meant to have half an hour to fiddle with the set up. This didn’t happen. I arrived to hear the strains of the film Taxi Driver coming from the studio. De Niro didn’t talk to his reflection for a good fifteen minutes into my proposed thirty-minute slot. If there had to be a bloodbath, why couldn’t he pick up the pace?

Thankfully the guy taking the classes my visit was squeezed between was very helpful. The fact he was Martin from EastEnders was something for my own silent acknowledgement. Our technical fiddling proved inconclusive. We got the pictures to work, but not the sound. This isn’t urgent for the first show, but it would be helpful if I could have it.  I’ll have a look again when I go back in the week. Tomorrow’s blog will be about me using a plug socket.

Friday, 13 February 2015

#6WordFilmPlots


I like to join in with the odd Twitter hashtag game from time to time.

It’s a good way to distract yourself from whatever you should be doing. Why work when you can spend the time coming up with dodgy puns? It’s the closest I’ll get to writing headlines for The Sun, which is probably for the best. It’s not clever, yet it’s satisfying. You could apply that to both.

The game I enjoyed the most was #6WordFilmPlots. It appealed to my obsession with conciseness. It’s something I aspire to. Sometimes I’m good at it, sometimes I’m not. I enjoyed the concept so much, I saved my Tweets to remember them. Here are a few:


·      Man-child plays giant piano with feet. #6wordfilmplots
·      Italian-American cabbie shows dissatisfaction with job. #6wordfilmplots
·      Phallic-named whale escapes Sealife Centre. #6wordfilmplots
·      Special needs man sits on bench. #6wordfilmplots
·      Hairy dad disguised as Scottish nanny. #6wordfilmplots
·      Frustrated novelist becomes hotel caretaker; mistake. #6wordfilmplots
·      Ship sinks; mono-browed Lamont lookalike dies. #6wordfilmplots
·      Blues musicians with photophobia reform band. #6wordfilmplots
·      No-one talks for duration; everyone applauds. #6wordfilmplots
·      Shitload of birds descend upon town. #6wordfilmplots
·      Ginger afroed orphan befriends bald millionaire. #6wordfilmplots
·      '80s Bowie wears exceptionally tight trousers. #6wordfilmplots
·      Temporarily disabled photographer becomes Peeping Tom. #6wordfilmplots
·      Pissed neckless alien bumps into fridge. #6wordfilmplots
·      Bloke who's dead thinks he isn't. #6wordfilmplots
·      Prisoner climbs through hole behind poster. #6wordfilmplots
·      Knifey hotelier dresses as own mother. #6wordfilmplots
·      Scottish people take lots of drugs. #6wordfilmplots
·      It's 1985, then 1955, then 1985. #6wordfilmplots
·      1985, 2015, bad 1985, 1955, 1885. #6wordfilmplots
·      It's 1955, then 1885, then 1985. #6wordfilmplots
·      Cute when dry. Nightmare when wet. #6wordfilmplots
·      Transvestite musicians avoid man in spats. #6wordfilmplots
·      A much longer episode of Porridge. #6wordfilmplots
·      Criminals drive minis proficiently; not coaches. #6wordfilmplots
·      Animated donkey Eddie Murphy feigns likeability. #6wordfilmplots

Laziest. Blog. EVER.