Monday, 30 November 2015

University Challenged: Volume Four (30.11.15)

I’m not a bully. To be one is would mean displaying some unpleasant personal traits. While there’s nothing to be gained from being nasty, for some reason University Challenge encourages my worst side. See below for this week’s perhaps unnecessary tweets.

8:04pm: Kitchen, in the kitchen, with the dagger.

8:05pm: The player far left in York's team's name was just a noise.

8:05pm: York's mascot: excessive.

8:06pm: York's mascot: big - or York's team: small?

8:07pm: York's Cole must bring their average of twenty-two up.

8:08pm: Morton's hair gets paler the more you look at it.

8:09pm: Kitchen's hair looks like a cross between a mop and a gouged out Tribble.

8:09pm: Cole's neckline isn't fooling anyone.

8:10pm: Christ's Midha is completely emotionless.

8:11pm: Morton's hair colour faded in the wash.

8:13pm: Witnessing the horrific crime Kitchen committed turned Morton's hair white and rendered Midha emotionless.

8:14pm: Where do you even source a rubber duck that big?

8:15pm: York's Smith's hair suggests his mum couldn't find a bowl big enough.

8:16pm: #UniversityChallenge brings out my much-suppressed inner Internet troll.

8:18pm: York's McLoughin's intense smugness isn't warranted.

8:20pm: Cambridge's Morton is the secret third member of The Proclaimers who was left too long in the wash.

8:25pm: Carrying that giant rubber duck to the studio must have made whoever did it feel self-conscious.

8:26pm: For f**k's sake McLoughlin: SIT UP STRAIGHT.

8:27pm: York's Smith's hair is completely devoid of product.

8:28pm: Paxman's constant impatience suggests he's always double-booked.

8:30pm: In the 1990s, Christ's Kitchen fronted Kula Shaker.

8:30pm: Sorry. Everybody.


I’ve been feeling slightly overwrought for the past few days.

This partly comes from taking on too much. I have a habit of doing this, and not allowing myself downtime for my mind to reset. Meditating helps, as does adopting some mindfulness techniques, but my brain is so used to doing the opposite, and thinking ahead, that it takes a lot of unlearning for me to relax.

Today’s a case in point. I’m trying to fit writing this blog into a ten-minute window before a meeting, knowing that after that I need to get my mind around a recording of Glyn’s and my radio show tonight. It helps that we roughly planned the episode a couple of months ago before our unexpected broadcast hiatus, but I still want to give myself the time to give what we’d sketched out then (which seemed funny at the time but less so now) justice. I’m also behind on my blogs, which is a self-enforced deadline, but I still don’t like it.

I could do with taking a leaf out of my cat’s book, who is snoring on my lap as I write, unaware of the fact I’m about to turf her off. She has no concept of stress; the little git.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

"Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitress."

Tonight I did a stand-up gig in a restaurant. 

The words 'stand-up' and 'restaurant' don't sit together comfortably; they're the antithesis of 'Ebony' and 'Ivory', 'Stoppit' and 'Tidyup' or 'Wogan' and 'wig'. When you've settled into a booth in an American-themed diner to devour your BBQed rack of ribs, the last thing you want is some bearded git - me - talking to you through a mic in the corner of the room, doing material about AIDS. It's not an appropriate digestif. 

The situation could have been horrendous, if it weren't for the fact that the other acts were lovely, and the people who ran the restaurant were too. It couldn't be helped; sometimes an event has to go a certain way to know it shouldn't go that way again. Comedy needs full attention to work; it's not jazz (thank God). We were also treated to a meal on the house, which was a nice touch. Well, I hope it was free; if not, I committed a massive faux pas. 

As children and bar staff squeezed past while I approximated my set, I could rest, safe in the knowledge that I've done worse. I've performed an hour-long play to an audience of one and a stand-up show to four. I'd just sooner people don't masticate while I speak.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Keep The Customer Satisfied.

There’s a woman who works in my local Caffè Nero who openly forces me to make positive comments about her on their online survey, every time I go in-store.

It’s got to the point where I dread going in, for fear that she might be accost me. She does it in a friendly way, if such a thing is possible, but is no less insistent – and to make things worse, any time I visit after saying something nice (as promised), she tells me I didn’t bother to fill it in.

Surely there's something wrong with this arrangement? Aren't I supposed to give feedback voluntarily? I also thought the survey was meant to be anonymous; while it presumably technically is, what I say isn’t, as if I put anything either way, be it good or bad, she’ll clearly know it’s me. I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t, and if I do do it, I’m still damned, as I’m told I didn’t do it when I did. My life’s as confusing as it is stressful, and the caffeine intake isn’t helping either.

It’s quarter past ten on a Friday night as I write, and rather than relaxing, or considering an early night, I’m looking at my latest Caffè Nero 'We Would Love To Have Your Feedback' card and feeling tense. This shouldn’t invade my consciousness as much as it does. I only wanted a black Americano, not a guilt trip. I wouldn’t mind if I won the iPad they use to entice you in.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Getting Better.

Tonight's gig was a world of difference from last night's, as often seems to be the case when I've recently had a bad one. 

The room was small and sparsely populated (mostly with other comics); so much so that we took a straw poll just prior to 'kick-off' (football parlance) and nearly decided not to go ahead. Though I wanted to do it, to put to bed the previous night's teeth-pulling open mic experience, I'm easily swayed; another way of putting it is 'lazy'. If there's a chance of bowing out, I'm the first to bend over, so to speak. 

I'm glad we did it in the end. Everyone was friendly and easy-going, and the acts were great. It had none of the oppressive undercurrent of last night's OpenMicGate. In many ways, it helped that the room was small and brightly lit, as it forced us all to be a part of it. It was essentially an informal chat over a P.A. system. I didn't see a single stern face either, which was a blessed relief. 

It's surprising that it went so well, as I very nearly didn't make it. Less than an hour before the show started, I was still in Hitchin, thanks to a bus that never came and a signal failure between Hatfield and King's Cross. If the gig hadn't been in Highbury & Islington, I would have been a no-show...and no-one wants a no-show at a show. I'm rambling. That's all for today.

Tough Crowd.

Sometimes, doing stand-up isn't good for your mental health; when a set doesn't go well, it can serve to reinforce all the bad, yet false things you think about yourself. I find this flares up for me the most at open mic nights.

(I'm feeling dramatic, so bear with me.)
I like to think of myself as a supportive audience member in these situations. I listen to the other acts, rather than shutting myself off, and above all, I smile when they're on. This isn't a contrivance; it comes through knowing what it's like to perform to a sea of blank faces. It's a small thing, but it can help to egg a performer on. I enjoy listening to people's stories, and watching them do their thing.

Sadly, this often isn't reciprocated.  Tonight was a case in point. I did a five-minute spot at a well-run New Material Night and decided to take the title literally, and use it to road-test three new stories I hadn't told in public until today. It wasn't polished and it wasn't perfect - yet there were points when I looked out to see people I'd subliminally encouraged during their sets looking at me with expressions approaching disdain and disgust.

When it's a bad day, this hurts. Those poorly timed faces become an embodiment of all my disappointment in myself. I start to destroy my performance from the inside, by joining in with their assumed judgement. I reference what's not working, shining a light on how I feel about it, and making things worse. It's amazing how much can go on internally in the space of a five-minute set. 

Ultimately, I need to put things in perspective. Tonight's gig was in a different room to usual, which is a tough space to play. The sound wasn't great, and I wasn't on until towards the end of second half, which was a good ten to twelve acts in (by which point I was tired, and had lost the will to do it). Also, one act in particular whose unhelpful expression I caught sight of had performed exactly the same set as the last time I saw them, completely ignoring the concept of a new material night; one point to me.

Deep down, beneath all the bullshit, I know I can be good. I have experience and form - and I'm trying something different to what I'm used to (performing alone for a kick-off). I just wish some people would show a little consideration. It's a huge blow to the ego when something you've quietly worked on for a couple of days, tinkering away at it, is seemingly hated, and those negative faces are your only feedback. Fuck them; I'll keep going. My Dad put it well in a text:

I'll do my best. Anyway, Paul Daniels seemed to enjoy it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

St. Evenage

Never underestimate the power of Stevenage Town Centre for lowering your morale.

I was only there for an hour this afternoon, which was still enough time to create a negative impact. It’s just so bleak. I swear it didn’t used to be like this; when I grew up there, I was its biggest defender, but I may have been looking through the rose-tinted spectacles of youth. Whatever the case, there’s been a definite decline; what was once an aspiring new town is now the sort of place to avoid eye contact at all costs. God forbid you ever stand out.

The main thing going against it is the logistics; where was the sense in building the town centre so far away from the residential areas? Damn those new town planners. Damn them to Hell.

Perhaps the most depressing thing I saw on my visit to Stevenage was the Santa’s Grotto in Westgate Shopping Centre. Surely no child would be foolish enough to think the real Santa would set up shop there. Which reminds me indirectly of my favourite festive equation:

Christmas = Christ’s volume x Christ’s density

Monday, 23 November 2015

University Challenged: Volume Three (23.11.15)

Another week passes and another episode of University Challenge airs. See below for today’s low-level Twitter unpleasantness; if it’s any consolation, I was retweeted by Bennett and Wainwright, so they must have seen the funny side.

8:01pm: How many times will Jeremy say "Come on"? Too many.

8:02pm: Goggin; daughter of Postman Pat's boss.


8:04pm: Robin Wainwright: born for #UniversityChallenge. It was written in the stars.

8:05pm: Cable has murdered more people than you'll ever know.

8:07pm: Wainwright used to be close friends with Scooby-Doo.

8:07pm: Wainwright's hair comes off in one piece.

8:08pm: Bennett thinks his jacket makes him look 'wacky'.

8:10pm: Bennett is dressed like a waiter in a Two Ronnies sketch.

8:11pm: Wainwright's hair is made of Fuzzy Felt.

8:14pm: Cable: seen in a petrol station robbery photofit near you.

8:16pm: Neither team has heard 'popular music' before.

8:21pm: Even Bennett knows his jacket was a mistake.

8:22pm: When walking around Liverpool, Bennett has to watch his back.

8:24pm: Wainwright's shirt clashes with his hair. FACT.

8:24pm: I never knew a jacket could make me angry until tonight. #Bennett #UniversityChallenge

8:27pm: Rub Wainwright's hair against Bennett's jacket to make fire.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Uneventful Sunday.

I wasn’t as productive today as I would have liked.

I went into the office in the afternoon to work on some new material, but didn’t get very far with it, save going through the last few months’ worth of blogs, making a list of a few I felt might be suitable. I don’t think it helped that I haven’t slept particularly well over the last few days, so haven’t had much in the way of brain capacity when it comes to working things out.

While I may not have got much writing done today, I did manage to do a few things around the house. Top of the list was taking my recycling out, which had built up over the past couple of weeks and was close to reaching crisis point. It’s collected on Fridays in my area, and if you don’t put your stuff in the bin almost as soon as it’s returned, you stand little to no chance of fitting it in. Thankfully, there was just enough room left today, though not without a little gentle encouragement.

(This is riveting stuff.)

This evening, I caught up on a little television, and then watched The Lost World with my wife, to revel in some unadulterated Jeff Goldblum action. He’s at his finest in that film, delivering line after line of dry commentary on his precarious situatation. He may not recline open-shirted like he does in the first film, but you can’t have everything. At least he speaks in sound-bites.

Now, it’s time for bed. Hopefully tomorrow will be more prolific. I also hope to be as cool as Goldblum. There'll be no flies on me; no Jeff-Goldblum-in-The-Fly on me.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Pod Casts.

I’ve just finished editing episode twenty-one of the More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast; or, to borrow the parlance of the sitcom Friends, ‘The One with Paul & Debbie’.

Listening to it reminded me of how lucky we are to interview the people we do. The conversation with Daniels and McGee takes up a sizable portion of the podcast - a good thirty to forty minutes – and covers a lot of ground. It was a privilege to talk to them in such detail, bringing up subjects and asking questions that have been on our minds for years. I, for example, was able to tell Paul about visiting Television Centre as a child to watch him film an episode of Wipeout, and share an anecdotal joke about it that made him laugh. If you’d told the younger version of me that I'd get the chance to do that, I would never have believed it.

In many ways, the podcast is the best and most useful part of Mostly Comedy. It gives us the chance to have a proper chat with the acts, briefly separating us from the admin. I like how it runs alongside the gig, as a companion piece to it. It can be stressful to fit it in (particularly during the early days at The Croft, when we had to record it standing in the corner of a working kitchen), but I think this stress will be alleviated when we move to The Sun. Finally, we’ll have the space to do it in comfort – plus the earlier start time will make it feel less of a bind for the acts.

When I think of the people we’ve sat across the table from so far – Paul Daniels, Phill Jupitus, John Thomson, Arthur Smith and Richard Herring to name a few – it’s a little ridiculous. This wasn’t meant to happen, but I’m glad it did. I think we’re getting better at it. Hopefully we’ll have more interesting interviewees to add to the list in 2016.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Now, That's Magic.

Tonight’s Mostly Comedy was one of the most surreal and exciting gigs of my life.

Paul Daniels at tonight's Hitchin Mostly Comedy (photos by Gemma Poole).
I never dreamt I’d share a bill with my childhood hero Paul Daniels; least of all at my own event. I never thought I’d make him a cup of tea (milk and sugar), share a laugh backstage with the genuinely lovely Debbie McGee – and get to interview them with my equally ecstatic double-act partner, and then watch Paul perform a trick just for our benefit. The evening was packed with pinch-yourself moments; so much so, the ten-year-old inside me didn’t know what to do with himself.

Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee onstage at Hitchin Mostly Comedy (19.11.15)
We’ve played host to a lot of big names at Mostly Comedy, but somehow, PD trumped them all. The atmosphere in the room when he was onstage was electric; the roar from the audience when he let a “Not a lot” slip towards the end of his set nearly took the roof off (but it’s a pretty rickety venue). I couldn’t blame them for this; if you’re going to watch the country’s - perhaps the world’s - most skilled and famous magician, you may as well watch him in a jam-packed, hundred-seater venue, where everyone is close to the stage; even better when you got to chat with him backstage as we did. The man’s a consummate professional; no less in control of the room at seventy-seven than he was at half his age; the fact he described one of my other favourite acts, Bruce Forsyth, as “The Master” during our interview made is all make sense. He’s learnt from observing, working with and being the very best.

PD at MC.
(I don’t want to leave Bec Hill out by the way, who was also on the bill and on top form; if you haven’t seen her videos, go check her out.)

Paul Daniels hits Hitchin.

Perhaps my favourite part of the night (aside from seeing Paul’s iconic silhouette appear in the coach archway as he walked up to the venue, carrying his case of tricks) was when he sang a snippet of the theme tune from Wizbit to Glyn and me during the podcast interview. I liked that: not not a lot; I liked it a lot.

Ephgrave. Doggett. McGee. Daniels.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

"Don't Play it Again, Sam."

Any regulars at Mostly Comedy tomorrow will be pleased to learn that after seven years, I’ve finally got around to changing the house music.

We haven’t really played the same tracklist at every gig, though it isn’t far off. The reason it’s taken so long to switch things around is it’s not as simple as choosing a different CD or putting our MP3 player on shuffle. For ease of running on the night, all of our technical queues – be it music, video or pictures – are built into a slideshow, which I control from the stage by remote. This was originally done to simplify things, as everything comes from one source (which was useful when we did our shows in Edinburgh and ran Mostly Comedy in London, as we didn’t have a technician) – but it’s also because I’m a control freak. If I had my way, I’d be King of the World; like King of the Hill, only less cartoonlike.

It’s not that we didn’t want to change it - we’ve had the best intentions – but when there’s a lot to do in little time, it’s always the first job we sacrifice. There’s also a sense of tradition; we wouldn’t want to play just any old thing; well, Glyn might, but he bought the single ‘Teletubbies Say “Eh-oh’ for non-ironic reasons.

Tomorrow, there’ll be no ‘Best of David Bowie 1969 / 1974’ and ‘Very Best of Elvis Costello’ (Declan's 'Best' is clearly slightly better than Ziggy). But what will there be? You’ll have to come down to find out. One thing’s for certain: we’ll close the show with The Beatles’ Hey Bulldog. If we didn’t, the planet would collapse in on itself.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Wise Man / Moany Man.

My meditation teacher has an alarming aptitude for explaining things clearly and succinctly.

Seldom will a class go by without him making an excellent point or analogy illustrating the message he’s trying to get across. He makes you stop and think, which is great, as this constant reiteration of what’s important is vital, as it can be easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Far better to take stock of where you’re at from time to time, than let your plans run away with you. He’s very wise, that man.

I nearly didn’t go to tonight’s lesson, as the weather was uninspiring, but I’m glad I did. I missed the beginning, due to public transport, and had to leave before the end as the class had overrun, but what I did take part in was worth being brave enough to venture out of the house. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was the journey there, as there were a handful of teenagers on the bus, being low-level threatening and unpleasant. They gave me a great Quote of The Day though, which was said with real venom:

“College is stupid”. I imagine they won’t be there very long.


While I’m hoping my dad will come over to look at my broken boiler today, the downside to this is I feel the need to swing into action an ‘Operation Cleanup’.

It’s not that I live in squalor. It’s just that, being a man of limited means – and limited DIY ability – I find myself surrounded by a string of things I haven’t fixed, or little household jobs I haven’t got around to doing just yet. While this leads to low level frustration from day to day, when nothing quite works how I want it, when someone else comes to visit, I start to see my flat from their perspective; worse still when this person is my dad, who takes the underlying definition of dad (i.e. Handyman Machine) to the extreme. He makes a mockery of my skill-set of basic juggling and pronouncing-Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch-capability.

At the time of writing this (7:39am) the military manoeuvre has begun. It started with fixing my loose toilet seat, which I did before breakfast. There’s nothing I can do about the broken kitchen door handle - that needs a new mechanism - but I can deploy a few distraction techniques (“Look, Dad, a peacock”). I don’t expect success, as he homes in on the needs-to-be-tinkered-with like a shark to blood, but it’s worth making a stab at it. At least I’ll come out the other side able to have a bath, which is a plus point for everybody.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Not to Be Trusted.

I’m concerned that the woolly hat I've unleashed on the public today makes me look like I'm up to something nefarious.

It’s a Christmas present I hadn't worn outside the house until this evening, mainly due to the reason above. The transformation it brings about is miraculous. I become an identikit representation of myself; the sort of person I’d cross the road to avoid, if that weren't an impossibility. I'm sure that Kirsty Young's talked about me on Crimewatch. 

(Or was it Baywatch?)

My beanie was debuted out of necessity. I woke up today to no hot water; a situation that didn't improve as the day went on, despite my extensive(-ly limited) troubleshooting. Consequently, every bathroom visit has been made with my kettle in tow, which weren’t conducive to hair-washing ability. Until the problem is fixed, I'm 'Mr Thinsulate': the toastiest, yet shiftiest of the Mr Men.

So, if you see me on the street, don’t be afraid: I'm mostly harmless (like Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) – and if you want a laugh, whip the hat off. Without it, I’m essentially channelling Ken Dodd.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Strictly Come Tweeting (14.11.15)

Tonight's evening in the Ephgrave household (flat) consisted of eating cheese and biscuits – like the aspirational middle-class people we are – and watching Strictly – like our inner Plebeians. See below for the usual Twitter-based nonsense; how much sense it makes out of context is up to interpretation.

           6:55pm: Len could at least have the decency to get up off his seat.
6:56pm: "Singer and loose woman, Jamelia."
7:00pm: By being on TV tonight, Gleb just made fifteen million female viewers pregnant.
7:01pm: We've all seen Gleb in the park on a Saturday night, haven't we? HAVEN'T WE?
7:03pm: Bruno's 'Gleb / park' quip may have been an invitation.
7:07pm: Jay's dance started with some serious chest-thrusting-out-in-a-waistcoat action.
7:10pm: He missed Hans at the end? I must have missed Hans too.
7:10pm: Jay's neckwear: tie of a cravat? You decide.
7:12pm: Jay's compass tattoo has no inner workings.
7:17pm: I suspect @glyndoggett will be passionately miming along to the falsetto bits during Jamelia's dance.
7:18pm: Unnecessary Grinding: a magazine I subscribe to.
7:22pm: Tess may have her voice back this week, but she's lost her hairbrush.
7:24pm: One judge on each end of the chiffon then.
7:27pm: "Get them up the M1". Euphemism?
7:32pm: The split in Katie Derham's skirt is so high, it's actually above her head.
7:33pm: I don't like rumba's and I'm not Anton and Katie's biggest fan, but I have to say, I quite liked that.
7:34pm: I also don't like the misplaced apostrophe in my last tweet.
7:40pm: Please can we have a Mark Benton cameo during Kevin & Kellie's dance?
7:48pm: You're My World = GREAT SONG.
7:50pm: I liked how at the end of Peter & Janette's routine they cleaned the floor with her dress. Nice touch.
7:58pm: I was terrified for Georgia during that lift. Madness.
8:05pm: I feel for the singer having to do a Paul Weller impression. Proof of their versatility.
8:08pm: I had pyrotechnics blasting from both ends once. Horrific.