Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Surbiton, Surbitoff.

My favourite bit of tonight's gig in Surbiton was having an ex-employee of Woburn Safari Park confirm that you can still bypass the monkey enclosure if you don't want to go through it.

It's good to know that the reference I make to this in my material, which is based on my childhood visits, is still accurate. The last thing I want to do is spread rumours about their facilities, or worse still, their emergency exits. If I'd had time, I would have also asked whether Woburn still had the Rainbow Ride (perhaps the most terrifying platform-spinning-around-and-dropping-from-a-great-height contraptions I've ever seen in my life, and I've seen thousands). 

It was a fun laidback gig. The venue reminded me of The Croft: Mostly Comedy's second home, where we were based for two years. There was only a small crowd in, but they were friendly and attentive, when they could have been easily distracted by the surroundings. I reinstated my joke book material - something that dates back to mine and Glyn's 2010 show Big in Small Places - which helped me kick my set off informally, and relax. The promoter was lovely (reminding me alarmingly of my ex-Big Day Out band-mate Mark), as were the other acts. It was a confidence boost, after my recent London mixed bill experiences. 

I prefer out-of-town gigs in many ways. The audience is usually more relaxed and prone to listen. Coming to the comedy club is the sole focus of their night out, rather than just a part of it. The market is saturated in London; people often decide to go to a gig last minute without investing a lot of thought in it. Pub venue audiences can be pissed and rowdy - and if they don't know who you are, or you don't pick on them, they feel short-changed; it's a case of 'Knob Gags Ahoy, or Get Out'. 

I didn't stay to the end tonight, which made me feel guilty as I missed two of the acts' sets, but when you're crossing London and coming out the other end it's good to have a head start. It certainly wasn't a wasted visit. Now I've reminded myself I can do solo spots on mixed bills without provoking confusion or silence, I'd like to buckle down on writing new material. It would be great to use the last three Mostly Comedys of 2015, plus the odd spot elsewhere, to get to grips with some sharper, more accessible stuff; no pressure there then.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Hanging About.

I'm currently sitting on a park bench on the outskirts of Letchworth, killing time before my meditation class. 

I'm here, rather than waiting at the school where the sessions take place, to prevent social awkwardness. It's damage limitation. I'd sooner slip in discreetly last minute than feel trapped in a situation where I have very little to say. It's not that the people who attend the classes aren't pleasant - they're the opposite, in fact - but I spend my life equidistant between one pratfall and the next, so if I'm out of sight, I'm less likely to create embarrassment. 

Unfortunately my park bench 'cover' isn't perfect, as I'm in full view of the main road that leads to the school entrance, so most of the other students will probably have to drive past me on their way to the class. "There's that strange one who always walks in just before we start", they'll say. "I knew he was weird". Not that sitting on a park bench is particularly unusual - it's what they're for - but if anyone is able to make the ordinary look outlandish, it's me. At least I appear busy, as I'm writing this blog. Oh well, I'd better go, before I'm late. Here's hoping no-one brings my strange public-seat lurking up.   ‎

Call Me Egon Spengler.


The roof of my friend Steve’s new Mercedes isn’t high enough to accommodate my hairstyle.

It’s annoying that he didn’t take this into consideration when he bought it. He’s aware of my lofty barnet. I know he was tied to a timeframe and a budget, but he could have shopped around a little longer, or at least spent some money on modifying the ceiling above the passenger seat to fit my quasi-quiff in. As it stands (the situation, not my hair) he’ll wind up with a waxy patch front-left, which is not my fault, but is. I’m not compromising my style to protect his interior.

Having said that, I’ll make a concession. My hair’s recent extra height had led to structural difficulties; so much so that I’d moved up a Silvikrin strength. The additional inches above sea level meant greater wind resistance too; it was like having a drogue parachute above my head. Yesterday, I bit the bullet and had a haircut. I still think Steve will benefit more from this than me. Through being slowed down I was taking in my surroundings. I was more mindful and more at one with nature. Now, I’m £11.50 lighter and five minutes early – and all because he wouldn’t fit a supplementary sunroof. It’s times like this when you learn who your friends are.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Strictly Come Tweeting (26.09.15)


Today, in a fit of laziness, I'll use my blog to document my tweets about this evening’s Strictly Come Dancing; they need to be preserved for future generations (which implies they’re not already available online).

The reason for my indolence is valid: I spent the day walking around Buckingham Palace – and yet I’d rather write about trashy TV than flashy Buck House. This is due to tiredness. I’m sure I’ll cover my regal exploits tomorrow, unless I visit a more opulent residence in the meantime. That’s enough thesaurus swallowing for the evening; here are the tweets:

6:16pm: Cue the on-beat hand clapping. #Strictly

6:19pm: Shaddap You Face and Dance with Me. #Strictly

6:23pm: According to Alan Dedicoat, Daniel O'Donnell doesn't just sing; he entertains as well. #Strictly

6:27pm: What Aliona's wearing is technically not a dress. Just sayin'. #Strictly

6:28pm: Aliona's dress doubles as a car wash. #Strictly

6:29pm: Shaking like gravy? What? #Strictly

6:30pm: "We all know that Jay has been suffering from..." BAD HAIR. #Strictly

6:35pm: "News Anchor". Don't miss out the glottal stop, Tess. #Strictly

6:36pm: When @doggettephgrave rehearse, my mum comes in with a plate of biscuits too. #Strictly

6:37pm: Not sure about Vincent in waltz-time though. #Strictly

6:41pm: Len: "Get that old bum working". No way to refer to Brendan. #Strictly

6:46pm: I'll never watch Election coverage in the same way again. #Strictly

6:46pm: (I thought Jeremy did quite well, actually.) #Strictly

6:48pm: Constructive criticism from Craig there. #Strictly

6:51pm: Georgia May put her best Foote forward. #Strictly

7:02pm: Slight air of Fester Addams to Ainsley's dance stance. #Strictly

7:02pm: ...liked his confidence and energy though. #Strictly

7:08pm: My #Strictly Challenge: try to fit the theme from Black Beauty in-between the timpani beats as the judges give their scores.

7:10pm: She didn't do this on ITN. #Strictly

7:20pm: The band's arrangement of Keep on Running didn't resolve. Must play an A. #Strictly

7:24pm: Jamelia just said she's "on". #Strictly

Leicester-less.

I'm annoyed that I've sailed so close to the Leicester Festival deadline that I don't think I'll be doing it next year. 

That's the downside to being in charge of all your own admin: things can easily slip through the net. Glyn and I nearly missed the deadline the last time we played Leicester two years ago too, but through knowing a promoter, we just managed to squeeze in. They no longer run a venue, so I was unable to pull the same trick this time around. "Dicks". 

(I'm the dick, not them.)

It's frustrating, as it was part of my game plan for working up a show for next year. If I don't get in, I'll have to substitute it for a few dates elsewhere, but it's great to have the cross-promotion of a festival to shift tickets; I am, after all, an extremely unpopular person. It's a shame, as I really enjoyed the festival both times we did it. 

There's still a chance I might snap up a venue last-minute. Be it a shed, a cupboard or a hastily chalk-drawn circle on the pavement, I'll play it.


Friday, 25 September 2015

Let Them Tweet Cake.


Yesterday, I reached the dizzy heights of Twitter superstardom.  



It had to come around one day, let’s face it. It's a question of fate. When I vacated my mother’s womb in mid-1981, my social media turning point was predestined. He, whose He is spelt with a capital H (I'm referring to God) already knew that four years later, less than twenty miles from my birthplace, a girl would be born who'd discover a love for baking at twenty years old - and a decade later, I would comment on it. Such is the wonder of the Universe.

(…and now I’ll stop being a dick.)

I’m not surprised that my most popular tweet to date is about the Great British Bake Off; it was either that or Strictly Come Dancing. Despite going against my character – or 140 of them – I’m addicted to both shows. I like to watch people with skill (in the case of the GBBO contestants or the Strictly professionals) or people learning one (as in the Strictly celebs). I also love cake and Claudia Winkleman, so it’s no wonder I was suckered in.

I think Nadiya's fabulous, by the way. I hope she wins. My money’s on her or Tamal. If Ian lifts the coveted glass cake-stand, I’ll shake my fist at the BBC; the man owns guinea fowl, for Christ's sake.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Keep Talking.


There’s a woman who lives near me who I can honestly say I’ve never once seen not on the phone.

(Brief hiatus for you to work past the ‘never’ and ‘not’ to understand the gist of this sentence.)

This isn’t an exaggeration. She’s on it every time she walks past (and I’m going to apply the oft-misused word ‘literally’). I see her every day, usually more than once. I don’t want you to think I’m spying on her - I am, I just don’t want you to think it – but it’s very hard not to notice her telephonic proclivities, particularly as most of her conversations take place right outside my window, any time of the day or night. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was addicted to speaking to people she can’t see; if there’s such a fetish, it’s sick.

I’m not the only person to notice it. My wife has spotted it too. It happens so often, it’s comedic. She may as well have a handset skin-grafted to her palm. She usually adopts that annoying hands-free technique favoured by teenagers and show-offs, who wish to create the impression they’re too busy to lift their phone to their ear whilst walking down the street. She’s not averse to having it on speakerphone by my bedroom window in the middle of the night. If she’s having a conversation, we're all party to it.

She’s the same when she has guests. I once saw her walk out of her flat on her phone, to meet a car that pulled up. She reached onto the back seat and pulled out a toddler, who she carried indoors, on her phone throughout. She emerged an hour or so later - child under one arm and her mobile at her ear – to give the kid back to the driver. I bet she didn’t speak to the boy for the duration of his visit (unless he phoned her up).

I hope she’s on a good price plan. I dread to think of the size of her bills if she isn’t. I wonder if she's the speaking clock?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Dirty Laundry.

I had to take my jumper off when I got to tonight's meditation class, despite being cold, as it had a stain from the pain au chocolat I ate this morning on it. ‎

This is possibly the most middle-class statement I've made in my life to date. Not that jumpers are particularly aspirational per ce, nor meditation - but stick them in the same sentence as a French pastry and I may as well be looking down on Ronnie Corbett and up at John Cleese. 

(It's a reference to The Frost Report.)

What makes it worse is I went about it knowingly, as I had no alternative; everything else of suitable tog was in the wash - as technically was this. I had to grin and bare it, hoping no-one would spot the dirty mark when I took my jacket off. I didn't want to look like the sort of person who goes about wearing unclean clothing, even if I am. I have an image to live up to, albeit a low-grade one. Perhaps I should invest in a bib.  ‎

Monday, 21 September 2015

Sieving With Your Eyes.


A quick flick through some of my recent blog posts has given me a confidence boost when it comes to writing new stand-up material.

A downside to writing a blog every day is you quickly forget the content. It’s like satiating the Beast: you see an idea through to its resolution and then it slips from your mind. Thankfully, you’re left with the written evidence – but it takes a lot of sifting to find the bits that would work in a live setting.

I like the thought of employing someone to do this sifting for me; partly for a second opinion but mainly due to laziness. There’s a lot to get through. It would be like employing a cleaner, chucking your house-keys at them and saying, “You deal with it”.

(If I did this, I’d be more polite.)

The good thing about this form of creative amnesia is that what you’ve written will often take you by surprise. You see it with fresh eyes. Believe it or not, the odd line I reread this morning made me laugh out loud, and I’m my own biggest critic. If I can take bits that work and reform them into stand-up, it will feel like half the battle won; I’m no longer faced with a blank canvas.

I could still do with an editor. I'd put an advert in the local paper if I thought someone would accept endless cups of tea in lieu of payment.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Mouths Wide Open.


Where would we be without the text at the bottom of the screen in the Fixodent commercial?


And there was me thinking it was a genuine event. I thought that women balanced on dentures all the time. If I were asked whether eating a carrot or having someone stand in your mouth was most likely to cause your false teeth to come loose, I’d have opted for the latter if it weren’t for the writing; it’s a simple case of size and weight. Even when doing the double whammy: biting the vegetable would be the least cause for concern in this instance.

Do we live in a world where this disclaimer was necessary? I can’t see the reality of the advert coming into question. They didn't need to cover their back in case of copycat incidents. It's like a takeaway coffee-cup with ‘caution: contents may be hot’ on the side, ramped up to infinity. You never find a person with a mouth span wide enough to fit it all in.

As screenplays go, it hasn't got much of narrative arc: dramatization, my arse.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Juggling Punters.


One thing that particularly pleased me about last night’s Mostly Comedy, as dull as this may sound, was the slickness with which we got the audience in.

This can be a challenge to orchestrate, particularly when the demand is as high as it was yesterday for Stewart Lee. The show sold out in four hours back in June - and the emails, phone calls, texts, tweets and Facebook messages asking for tickets didn’t stop from then until a few hours before curtain up. We’ve never had such a constant demand, except for last September’s show, which also featured Stewart Lee; I think I detect a pattern. 

Stewart Lee at last night's Mostly Comedy (photo by Gemma Poole).

The reasons it can be difficult are (1) we’re in an adjoining space to a small-scale theatre, so usually have to wait for a show to finish next door before we open the house, leaving us a tight window to get everyone in without starting too late, and (2) we’re often sold to capacity and, because we can’t offer allocated seating, will have to chivvy punters around in a tight space, to squeeze them all in.

(Long sentence: I had very little sleep.)

Don’t get me wrong: these are great problems to have in their own way. Our current venue is the best and most suited to comedy that we’ve ever had. We knew the time and space restrictions (not in a Stephen Hawking / Sci-Fi sense) when we moved there. It's amazing that the club is so popular, yet often starts at 9:15pm on a school night. It’s exciting to have a packed house, and see them have a great evening – but the thought and energy put into getting everyone in, when we can’t afford lots of staff, is pretty draining.

Displaying my Uhuras at last night's Mostly Comedy (photo by Gemma Poole)

Last night was an exception. The fact the demand was so high made us up our game. Somehow, it wasn’t stressful. We had fourteen people queuing for returns and had to turn ten away, yet the staff dealt with it brilliantly.

Maybe we’ve finally learnt how to run a comedy night after seven years. Actually, I wouldn’t bank on it.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

My Second Daily Blog-erversay.


Today is my two-year daily blog-erversary. Celebrate.

Since the 17th September 2013, I’ve written something for every day. Well, that’s not strictly true: every day bar four. I think I can let this discrepancy slide, as missing four out of seven hundred and thirty consecutive days is still an achievement.

(I’ll probably post a few extra blogs before the year is through, to quell my OCD.)

For someone with a propensity for giving in, I’m proud I’ve seen it through. It hasn’t been easy. Some days, as ridiculous as it may sound, it’s a weight around my neck. If I haven’t written by a certain time, I get very stressed. Occasionally - in fact frequently - I have nothing to say. I’ll stare at a blank page not knowing how to fill it. Then a picture, tweet or a fleeting thought comes to me, I’ll spin it out and another day is done. So, don’t expect every blog to be top quality.

Other days, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been the catalyst for my debut solo stand-up show earlier this year, for most of the stories I tell as part of Glyn’s and my radio show, plus the odd bit of our double-act material. More than anything, it’s kept me thinking creatively. It’s been away of spinning good and bad thoughts, and exciting or dull days into something of use. It can be cathartic, amusing, tiring, disappointing, or an absolute pain in the arse. Much like me, really.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

How Is 'How It's Made' Made?


Pitching the TV programme 'How It's Made' must have been easy.


I imagine the conversation went like this:

TELEVISION CHANNEL: What’s it called?
PRODUCTION COMPANY: ‘How It’s Made’.
CHANNEL: Brilliant. Lunch?

The premise isn’t complicated. Over thirty minutes, we learn HOW THINGS ARE MADE - except we don't, as they leave out a few key production stages. It’s the sort of thing they used to show in junior schools in the late Eighties; so much so that watching it on a telly that's not inside a shuttered trolley makes me uneasy. The script is so vague, I can only assume the writers were sent the footage with no explanation and had to work out what was going on for themselves. 

This isn’t my only reservation about this late-night FreeView favourite. The products discussed are so country-specific, it may as well be called ‘How It’s Made in Canada’. A typical episode will cover ice-hockey pucks, Mounties’ hats, maple syrup and Celine Dion. Also, why do they insist on starting each segment by pushing the item through an abandoned warehouse?

‘How It’s Made’ is not the only example of an easy TV pitch; Des Lynam’s ‘How Do They Do That?’ was probably similar. That show ran for five series from 1994 to 1997 but hasn’t been commissioned since. I therefore find its IMDB listing optimistic:


 If it’s not been on for eighteen years, I think that's it.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Sleepstars.


I can’t imagine many people dreamt they were in a TV special about Hear'Say last night.

In fact, I can’t imagine many people have dreamt they were in a TV special about Hear'Say on any given night. It’s alarmingly specific. Or at least it sounds that way, until you learn it was actually a strange mash-up between a programme celebrating the prefabricated pop group and a function gig with Shirley Bassey. The lines blurred, yet made sense in my unconscious state. It was only when I woke up that I questioned it.

(I must stop dropping acid before bed.)

The fact I remember it so vividly illustrates how badly I’m sleeping of late. I have no trouble dropping off, but my nights are so dream-filled that I feel I’m getting little rest. I then wake up between 5:00am and 6:00am, and can’t get back to sleep. It’s a vicious, sleep-deprived circle that I’m in. 

(…which makes me write sentences like that.)

I’m surprised my brain had enough information stored on Hear’Say to work up a dream about them. The only band members I can remember in my conscious state are Myleene Klass and Shrek. This probably explains the sudden gear-change to Bassey. Who doesn’t dream about Shirl? She seems so friendly and easy-going.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Hair Hints.


I bet this man’s favourite Beatle is Paul.


Don’t let the Wilburys t-shirt fool you. It’s all in the hair. While it may be strawberry blond, there’s no mistaking that cut: it’s a mid-Nineties Macca if ever I saw it.

I'm glad he’s gone for an age-appropriate McCartney hairstyle, rather than mimicking Paul’s heyday. It would be embarrassing if he'd plumped for a Sixties moptop. This morning's BBC Breakfast featured an item on artificial intelligence in which Louise Minchin interviewed a scientist who was clearly in his fifties, yet was sporting a Maharishi-era Lennon barnet that he couldn’t pull off, both literally and figuratively. It was as embarrassing as the awkward presenter / robot banter that ensued.

Not that I can’t empathise with the man above or the android-loving scientist. I’ve made my own Fab-Four-follicular-faux-pas in the past. I remember taking the sleeve for McCartney’s lesser-known 1987 single ‘Once Upon a Long Ago’ to my hairdresser as a child and asking if she could replicate his cut. 


I'm not sure the flecks of grey would have looked right on a ten-year-old. Also, how many kids set out to look like middle-aged men?

(P.S. I hope the guy in the picture gets his house back.)

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Lillibet of a Wisecrack.


While watching that bastion of Saturday night entertainment ‘The National Lottery: In It To Win It’ yesterday, I inadvertently came up with my own joke.

A contestant called Anthony was in Dale’s Red Area at the time – no comment – who had to get the following question right to be released:


The answer, of course, was Corgi, which gave me a sudden burst of inspiration that led to this:

 
My God, my synapses were firing last night.

This tweet was of note as, despite being a comedian, I don't really write jokes; not in the literal sense, at least. I’ve only written three in the past, which is probably why I’m still relatively unknown (or known only by my relatives).

The reason for my zero-to-none gag productivity is simple: I don’t like them. I tire of them very easily. The odd pun or two is fine in its place, but a straightforward joke will more likely provoke a groan from me than a laugh, as it’s too obviously staged, forced or placed. They may be to other people’s taste, but they don’t suit me. In other words, I’m a miserable git.

Despite being anti-one-liner, I was proud of my little royal jest, particularly as Her Maj's recently record-breaking reign had almost made it topical. That was until I Googled ‘Corgi and Bess’ this morning and found this book:


This proves that whatever idea you come up with, someone probably already got there first. At least I hadn’t started scoring my proposed comedy opera just yet.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Sit Down Stand-up.


One thing I’m not doing much of at the moment is writing new solo stand-up material.

This annoys me, as it’s the one thing I’d particularly like to be doing, yet I seem to have lost my mojo. I hope this is temporary; if not, I'll have to eke out what I’ve written thus far for the rest of my career.

Part of the reason for this was the mad panic dash of putting together my first solo show for the Brighton and Camden Fringe Festivals this year. This happened largely by accident. A slot came up as part of The Comedy Project’s season at the Soho Theatre in March, at a time when Doggett & Ephgrave didn’t have anything new to present. We discussed it between us, and Glyn kindly gave me the green light to use it as a chance to do some of the solo material I’d been writing and tentatively trying out since October last year.

Then, me being me, I perhaps decided to run before I could jump. After committing to do thirty minutes of new material for TCP, I thought I may as well keep the ball in the air for the few months that followed. My next intended port of call was the Camden Fringe Festival in August, which I felt would give me time to work up an hour of work-in-progress material. Then a couple of dates came up as part of the Brighton Fringe in May, which I thought was a good way to bridge the gap, so I said yes to them. This led to me doing a show in Brighton that was still in its early stages, but foolishly not marking it as such. It was well-received by the punters, but reviewed scathingly by Chortle. This knocked my confidence (that thing you’re not supposed to admit in public) and briefly slowed me down. I picked things up again for Camden, enjoyed the shows, but as there were only two, I didn’t have time to consolidate on them – and I’m now in the aftermath, deciding what to do next.

I think I can afford to give myself a few weeks’ break. I’m proud of the inroads I’ve made in eight months. The style of stand-up I’m doing on my own differs a lot to the stuff with Glyn, as it’s more personal and storytelling-based and relies less on projection. I’m still finding my feet with it. At least when I start working on my next solo project, I’ll have over two years’ worth of blog to fall back on. If all else fails, I'll read it out loud from beginning to end. Imagine the reviews for that.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Paul Said "Yes".


Today was completely overshadowed by booking Glyn’s and my childhood hero Paul Daniels for November’s Hitchin Mostly Comedy.

So was yesterday, to a certain extent. It was from then that we knew he might say yes (Paul). I was on tenterhooks until noon today, waiting for the confirmation email. When it came through, I didn’t know what to do with myself (other than text Glyn so we could share our excitement). It was genuinely thrilling – and a solid reminder of how much Mostly Comedy has grown since it started in 2008.

Paul Daniels was one of the main reasons I decided to become a performer. That’s no exaggeration. Before I set my sights on being an actor, comedian or musician, I wanted to be a magician. I was obsessed with conjuring as a child, snapping up every book or trick I could find. While my junior school friends were busy wrestling with their Rubik’s Cubes, swapping Garbage Pail Kids cards or attempting to create some semblance of a discernible image on an Etch A Sketch (I’m creating an Eighties backdrop), I’d be at my mum’s bedroom mirror, trying to master the linking rings. I was egged on by watching 'The Paul Daniels Magic Show' on television religiously each week, with a little 'Every Second Counts' thrown in now and then to cleanse the palate.

Like most children of the time (including Glyn) I started out with a Paul Daniels Magic Set. This was swiftly followed by the Wizbit Magic Book. I eventually progressed to more professional props from Davenport’s or by flicking through the pages of Goodliffe’s Abracadabra Magazine, but it was Daniels’ box of tricks that kicked things off and made magic accessible. His TV show essentially introduced me to live entertainment. It was also through learning his tricks that I discovered I liked to act, so he’s got a lot to answer for.

If you told Childhood David he would one day book his hero to perform on the same bill as him, it would have blown his mind. He’d also wonder why I was suddenly being referred to in third-person, because he's pedantic like that.

I once made Paul Daniels laugh during the filming of an episode of Wipeout, though I doubt he'd remember. I hope he'll give me and Glyn a private showing of the cup and balls trick (which is not a euphemism).