Friday, 24 November 2017

More Mostlys Than Most.

Yesterday saw the second sold out Mostly Comedy in a row, though this time we were playing host to a line-up who’ve all performed at the club in the past; one of them, very regularly.

(The bill - in case you're wondering - was Lucy Porter, Phil Kay and Brodi Snook.)

I think it was inevitable yesterday’s show would be more relaxed than the day before, as we had less to prove by nature of the fact we knew everyone on the bill, and the gig hadn’t had the same dramatic ‘selling out in fourteen minutes to be cancelled and then reinstated’ lead-up. That said, there’s always a risk you’ll keep telling yourself it will be easier for you to be too laid back and make mistakes.

Phil Kay, on top form last night (23.11.17)

The glaringly big difference was I was hosting alone, as Glyn was in Wimborne, kicking off the adult panto tour he company manages every year. On paper, this shouldn’t have been too much of a challenge, as I was turning up to a room that had been set up the day before and didn’t have the pressure of meeting acts who’d never been to the club before to therefore not know the score. That is a little bit of a simplification though, as it’s always easier when we're both there to share the load of the mundane bits and pieces that have to be considered when you run a gig, like banking, briefing the staff and rearranging chairs (which had been turned into barricade-like carnage the night before as people left), to the more obvious responsibility of performing.

Lucy Porter was effortless at last night's gig (23.11.17)
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, as the hosting part was a lot of fun. During the day, I’d looked through a video of last year’s solo show to pick out some material I hadn't done since then to kick the second half of with, plus I reminded myself of a routine from this year’s show, which I did at the top of the gig. I was concerned that tiredness - mainly due to my constant vertigo - would make me feel more vulnerable and less in control, but it was clear from the off that the audience were on board and enjoying it, which led to me probably doing one of my better solo performances at the club (my friend and long-time Doggett & Ephgrave director Glen Davies gave me some lovely confidence-building feedback after the show to this effect) - and while I’ll always prefer to be leading the gig as a double act, it’s good to know I can do it alone when I need to, when Glyn can’t be there.

The excellent Brodi Snook (23.11.17)

What truly made yesterday so good was the other acts, who were all on top form. Lucy Porter is one of the nicest, most disarming comics you could meet, as is Brodi, who has amazing onstage control, and Phil Kay is officially / unofficially my favourite comedian. He was on absolute top form yesterday and left me literally crying with laughter; it was the tonic I needed after a difficult couple of weeks.

I'm All Right Jack.

Last night, Jack Dee played Mostly Comedy; something we would never have dreamt would happen when we started the club, back in 2008.

Jack Dee at Hitchin Mostly Comedy (22.11.17)

I regularly have to catch myself when another big name comes to Hitchin, which happens these days with alarming regularity. In 2017 alone we’ve hosted an impressive list of acts who’d never been to Mostly before, such as Ardal O’Hanlon, Reginald D Hunter, Mark Watson, Angelos Epithemiou, Katy Brand and Hal Cruttenden, not to mention some of our favourite regulars, like Arthur Smith, Norman Lovett, Richard Herring and Hattie Hayridge. For an event that started solely as an excuse to write more material, it’s crazy how it’s snowballed, and having a household name like Dee come to town is the icing on the cake; I’m already searching my mind for who to try to book next.

Ivo Graham at last night's gig.

The unexpected treat for many last night was Ivo Graham's set, which was fantastic, not least for the wonderful coincidence that he shared a house at Eton with local MP Bim Afolami; a person of some infamy among the non-Tory local community (myself included). While it was clear from the audience reaction that Bim hasn't exactly won over his naysayers, the pantomime boo that filled the room at the mere mention of his predecessor Peter Lilley warmed my heart, as our run-in with him a few years back proved the man's an unutterable cunt.

Admittedly, the lead-up to yesterday came with its stresses, but by the time we got to the show, everything was ironed out and we were able to enjoy a great night. The roar from the room when I introduced Jack was pretty extraordinary; here’s hoping he comes back soon.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

That's the Ticket.

Tonight, Phill Jupitus’ forthcoming appearance at Mostly Comedy in March next year sold out to our mailing list in just a couple of hours, showing once again that our regulars are a splendid bunch.

I was intrigued to see how quickly tickets for the show would go, what with the fact it’s still a few months away, the price is slightly higher than usual (as it’s Phill’s full tour show rather than a usual club night) and what with the disappointment from those who missed out on tickets for the Jack Dee still ringing in my ears, but it turns out that none of these things had a negative effect. We hadn’t actually intended on putting the event on sale for a few weeks yet (to give some breathing space after all our recent fast-selling dates) but brought it forward to coincide with the on-sale date for the rest of Phill’s tour, which is from tomorrow at 10am, but once again, our pre-sale means there’ll be nothing left for that, which is a great position to be in; it’s astounding how much interest the club now generates, with four of our five currently announced dates now sold out.

Outside of orchestrating tonight’s pre-sale, I also had a meeting with our technician Paul to discuss the plan for tomorrow and Thursday, and had a physio assessment for my vertigo, which is currently at full pelt. It wasn’t until I did some of the exercises in the session that I realised just how much my vision is having to compensate for the mix signals being sent by my vestibular system, with me barely able to stand with my eyes closed. At least I haven’t got to stand on stage in bright lights over the next few days or deal with the stress of running a comedy club; oh…bugger.

Monday, 20 November 2017

'University Challenged: Week Eighteen' (20.11.17)

Tonight’s University Challenge was - as with her last appearance on the show - completely overshadowed by St John’s Cambridge’s McKeown’s outfit.

As my first tweet of the evening put it, she looked like a walking affectation; There’s a slim chance that her style choices formed completely naturally over time, but I, for one, doubt it. She’s like a child dressed as an adult, and an irritating adult at that; if she wrote an autobiography it would be filed under fiction (I think I’ve made my point).

See below for a record of my live tweets from tonight, for posterity, like:

St John's - Cambridge Vs. Corpus Christi - Cambridge (20.11.17)

8:02PM: McKeown is a walking affectation.

8:04PM: Roberts looks like Langly, one of the Lone Gunmen from the X Files.

8:04PM: Roberts should smoke a pipe. I hope he smokes a pipe.

8:07PM: McKeown looks like that English teacher at secondary school you never connected with, who couldn't keep control of the class.

8:08PM: Is Levin wearing a roll-neck under that jacket? I'm asking for a friend.

8:09PM: McDougall's hair. Discuss (disgust).

8:11PM: McKeown has a middle-aged woman who enjoys amateur dramatics as a doppelganger.

8:12PM: Levin, son of the Milk Tray man.

8:14PM: Roberts owns his own Bunsen burner, tripod and gauze.

8:18PM: Jeremy Paxman has a personalised number plate that simply says 'NO'.

8:20PM: If it's not McKeown's crushed velvet jacket that irritates you - or her glasses - it's the scarf.

8:22PM: Turner (as in 'Ike and Tina').

8:25PM: McKeown picked her outfit from the Tory Dressing-up Box.

8:26PM: Paxman should record a cover of 'Just Say No'.

8:28PM: Got to love a round on Archbishops of Canterbury.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Magic Moments.

It’s hard to fathom it, but Paul Daniels appearance at Mostly Comedy was two years ago today.

Nothing will ever top that gig for me. We’ve been fortunate to play host to some truly fantastic acts in our nine years, but when your childhood hero performs at your club and you get to spend a good few hours in his company, you have to sit up and take note. I can clearly remember the huge smile that crossed my face when I walked down to the venue, knowing what was ahead
 “I’m just going to enjoy today”, I thought to myself, and enjoy it I did.

I met Glyn this evening to discuss our plans for our two shows this week, and the subject of our Daniels-iversary inevitably came up; it was a benchmark for the both of us. We also talked about how pleased we are about Debbie McGee’s reinvigorated popularity as a result of her clearly knocking Strictly out of the park (despite ending up in tonight’s dance-off). At risk of feeding the cliché, she really is lovely and deserves to be celebrated for her ability and for just being all-round nice; it’s great that the general public seem to be grasping this (aside from the usual tabloid bullshit).

My favourite moment of that gig two years ago was when Paul asked me to set his props.
“This is a high-tech piece of kit”, he said, as he handed me the gear in question.
“It’s a wooden box I made myself and screwed to a high-hat stand”; I can’t imagine David Blaine being that hands-on about it.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

'Strictly Come Tweeting: Week Ten' (18.11.17)

Tonight saw the much-lauded Blackpool week of this year’s series of Strictly, which couldn’t really help but be a little anti-climactic, much like a trip to Blackpool is generally.

The ballroom was a sight to behold of course, and some of the routines were fun, but it didn’t set me alight as a whole. I particularly liked Jonnie’s tango to the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and Davood’s paso to Live and Let Die, but this as much down to the music choices as the routines. This is often the case for me, as I always prefer the dances that naturally fit with the song than those where the connection is a little clunky, like Mollie and Debbie’s were tonight for me; sometimes the routines can be too concept-heavy, which is risky if the concept isn't seamless.

I’m a bit concerned about Debbie not staying tonight, though if that’s the case, I think it will be more to do with the slightly messy idea than her actual dance capability. Hopefully this will be enough to keep her in if she does end up in the dance-off, as she’s such a strong contender with high hopes for making the final if she can keep things up; fingers crossed she stays in.

See below for tonight’s tweets from me:

6:51PM: I look around with the same expression of wonder when I'm in the Sun Hotel Ballroom.

6:54PM: I once took a taxi ride from near London to Blackpool to do a Buddy show because the company manager put diesel in the tour van's unleaded engine.

6:56PM: Bruno bloody loves it.

6:56PM: (No more Robbie Williams please.)

6:58PM: If I go on #Strictly , can I describe myself as an "actor, singer and theatre star" too? It's technically accurate.

7:04PM:  AJ's hair = tousled.

7:07PM: Right...set aside an hour or two for Peter Kay now. You may have to cut at least three of the dances.

7:09PM: #Strictly Come Strictly Ballroom Dancing.

7:10PM: Kevin's Paso trousers are also good for wading.

7:13PM: "Like a pressure cooker"; Madonna's first draft.

7:17PM: My first "Oh fuck off, Tess" of the evening.

7:19PM: I know #Strictly @glyndoggett won't be watching yet, but as an owner of the Special Edition of Spiceworld, he'll clearly be ecstatic about Debbie's Spice Girls routine.

7:21PM: Should have done Debbie's Spice Girls routine in the hotel at St Pancras.

7:27PM: Jonnie and Oti have come dressed like the futuristic bit in Blackadder's Christmas Carol.

7:28PM: Sweet Dreams. Cracking song.

7:33PM: The shiny bits of Jonnie and Oti's outfits were made from the tinfoil from thirty-two Kit Kats.

7:37PM: Watch out for the trams, Gemma and Aljaž; didn't you learn anything from Alan Bradley?

7:40PM: Downton, Downton, Downton, Downton, Downton.
7:45PM: Davood's wearing an outfit from one of my deepest, gayest fantasies.

7:46PM: They've borrowed the pyros from Macca's live act for this.

7:48PM: "Stop getting Bond wrong".

7:49PM: Finally...Wings are back on prime-time TV.

7:52PM: They could make a TV game show out of those coin-pusher machines. Oh.

7:54PM: You can't really fail with the classic stuff like that. 

8:01PM: That early Nineties piano sound.

8:02PM: But I can't see Joe. I CAN'T SEE HIM.

8:03PM: Joe's so likeable.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Wash (Not Wash).

My washing machine decided to die mid-spin yesterday, which is ironic, as my vertigo’s currently so bad I may as well have my head stuck inside it.

(If it was still working, but had no water in it; oh, you know what I mean.)

To be fair, it had a good innings, as I’ve owned it for seven years (the washing machine and not my head, which has been about my person for thirty-six and counting). I kind of knew the game was up when I did a general wash in the morning, for it to make a screechy rattly sound, the like of which I’d never heard before. Like all pretend adults, I shrugged and told myself it would be all right later, but this was my first mistake; my second was to attempt a jeans wash in the evening for it to decide enough was enough and claim my trousers as its own. I managed to convince it to relinquish them eventually, but now the door’s locked again with a small puddle of water in the drum and nothing I can do about it.

(What an exciting, yet clunky paragraph that was.)

Thankfully, we live in an age when it’s easy enough to order a reasonably cheap replacement (says the man whose wife paid for it) and have it delivered within a few days (it will arrive this weekend). Sadly the same can’t be said for my head, which, like it or lump it, I’m stuck with; I can only hope the physio assessment I have booked for next week will set in motion - unfortunate wording - a treatment that will ultimately help; I hope so, as my dizziness is the worst it’s been for a long time and I'm exhausted by it.

It’s perhaps hard to comprehend how debilitating labyrinthitis can be if you haven’t experienced it. I currently live in a permanent state akin to having just stepped off a fairground Waltzer, except with that you know the spinning sensation will eventually pass. For me, it doesn’t stop for weeks or even months, which makes the simplest tasks ten times more difficult. Today, I met my parents for lunch but spent the whole meal trying to pretend I was fine when my anxiety was through the roof, and all because my brain was receiving mixed messages about my balance. Just looking at the screen while I write this is hard, so I'll stop mid-

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

In the Works.

Today I confirmed four work-in-progress dates at next year’s Brighton Fringe in May, thus setting in motion the whole ‘putting together a new show for 2018’ process.

At the moment, I’ve no real idea what this show will contain, but the action of getting some dates in the diary is at least a bit of a catalyst. I’ve not been doing much in the way of writing over the past few months as I haven’t really been in the mood for it, but I know I need to start chipping away at new material so I can make the most of the time I still have to try things out; there’s plenty of opportunity to do this, but the sooner I get going the better.

I hope I can opt for a similar process to this year, when I managed to get just the right balance between working precisely on it and keeping a light touch; this more relaxed approach made the whole thing a lot more fun than previously, as well as making for a better show (in my opinion).

The other thing I did today was make an appointment to see a physiotherapist next week regarding my vertigo, which has got a lot worse over the past few days. I spoke to them over the phone, when they summarised the service they offer, which is a form of vestibular rehabilitation involving a retraining of the brain. I really hope it will be beneficial, as I’m tired of having suffered from prolonged periods of dizziness since 2010; it’s fair to say I’ve done my stint.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

...and I Will Sing a Lullaby.

If there’s one song that hits me smack bang in the soul, it’s The Beatles' Golden Slumbers.

It’s one of the shortest songs in their back catalogue, clocking in at just a minute and a half, yet it somehow manages to define everything about them in those ninety seconds. The fact it was written and recorded at the tail-end of their career, in the midst of bitter acrimony, makes it all the more touching; like a beacon of light shining from the darkness, from a man who knew the band that meant so much to him - and was desperate to keep alive - was falling apart.

One of the most common clichés McCartney’s detractors raise when discussing his work is the suggestion he doesn’t emote; that he can write a pretty melody, but that he tends to keep his true feelings out of it. To say this, is to ignore countless examples to the contrary: from Let it Be to Calico Skies; from Maybe I’m Amazed to The End of The End. For me, the vocal in Golden Slumbers is a case in point, and one of the most powerful moments he committed to tape. When he sings the word “home” he somehow sums up everything it could ever mean to me; it’s a brave, vulnerable performance that gets me every time.

I’m not one for Christmas adverts, least of all before December, but the fact Golden Slumbers has been used in this year’s John Lewis commercial (covered by the excellent Elbow) may lead to me uncustomarily unmuting my TV when it’s on. And while Guy Garvey’s a great singer, he could never beat the power of the original; but then, who could?

Monday, 13 November 2017

'University Challenged: Week Seventeen' (13.11.17)

Tonight it dawned on me that we’ve now seen all the candidates for this series of University Challenge, so there’s now no chance of any other amusing characters coming along to spice things up.

We now know there’ll be no contender to rival Monkman, or even Bobby Seagull; no-one’s going to steal their throne. In one sense this is annoying and in another, it’s a relief. In a way, I don’t want them ever to be bettered as those are some big shoes to fill; but at the very least it would nice to have someone even gently amusing as, without this, it can get a little tedious.

(I clearly watch the show for the wrong reasons).

See below for my twitter commentary (as exciting as it is).
Strathclyde Vs. Emmanuel Cambridge
8:02PM: Jeremy Paxman is weary with YOU.

8:04PM: Brown had planned that wave for weeks. His worry about this was all-encompassing: would it be a mistake? Should he do it? Shouldn't he? He shouldn't have done it.

8:05PM: Emmanuel's mascot is a knitted penis in a hat

8:06PM: Derby's hair's as big as Derby.

8:07PM: It's a lot less fun writing bitchy #UniversityChallenge tweets with a 280-character limit.

8:10PM: In the bar after the recording, Paxman offered to settle Chevallier's student debt.

8:13PM: Strathclyde's Brown has the dubious honour of being dubbed tonight's murderer.  
8:16PM: File Derby's hair in the dictionary under 'bouffant'. 
8:19PM: The scene at Paxman's wedding: Registrar: "Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?" Paxman: "NO". 
:21PM: Is Dijkman actually there, or am I hallucinating again?

8:25PM: Paxman seems to think it doesn't matter how rude or disdainful he is while presenting #UniversityChallenge as long as he does that winning little smile at the end.

8:26PM: Paxman has the presenting style of a man who knows the meter's still running.

8:29PM: Logan would have felt a lot more relaxed if he'd undone his top button.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

'Strictly Come Tweeting: Week nine (23.11.17)

Tonight’s installment of Strictly Come Dancing was a great one, with lots of stupidly good routines (not to mention lifts) but a noticeably harder response from the judges.

There was a definite sense they were expecting performances to be very sick at this stage in the game. For the most part, I agreed with them , though I did feel a little sorry for Mollie King for the slating she ended up on the receiving end of. I admit her routine was a little bitty, but when it was good it was very good and she certainly looked the part.

See below for tonight’s Twitter nonsense:

6:48PM: I always express my disappointment by saying "aaaaaaaaah" too.
6:50PM: AJ's so young, he was born during the opening VT.
6:52PM: At some point, can we discuss Kevin's rehearsal studio hair, and / or stage some sort of intervention?
6:55PM: Tess Daly's never been confronted by human emotion before and doesn't know how to deal with it.
7:02PM: He's very good, that there Joe McFadden.
7:05PM: It's hard to work out where Katya's dress ends and she begins (which isn't meant to sound pervy).
7:10PM: I could cope with the "slow" and the "slow", but would sooner pass on the "quick-quick"
7:10PM: That's two audience members concussed by flying canes then.
7:!8PM: Lots of lovely shots of Davood and Nadiya's rehearsal room sofa
7:25PM: For all the couples desperate to get to Blackpool next week. 

7:37PM: Always good to hear a bit of prime-time accordion.
7:38PM: I'd still be on the stairs.
7:41PM: Was AJ run over in the rehearsal room?
7:42PM: "Hey, Bungalow Bill, what did you kill, Bungalow Bill?"
7:46PM: Layla, written by Eric Clapton while trying to steal George Harrison's wife, seems an appropriate song choice for the Curse of #Strictly
7:51PM: I say this just about every week, but the lighting design on #Strictly is brilliant; top notch.
7:53PM: Crowd supplied by Rent-a-Panto Studio Audience
7:55PM: "Dull, dull, dull"; there's some helpful constructive criticism.
7:58PM: Gobos supplied by The Two Ronnies.
8:00PM: I love Debbie...and I love the way Giovanni is with Debbie.

Phew! Take a Breath.

I’m pleased to report everything seems to be done and dusted regarding our reinstated extra Mostly Comedy on 22nd November with Jack Dee and Ivo Graham, with all the original ticketholders successfully snapping up their original bookings in under a day.

My high-tech checklist.
It was a relief when I logged into our ticketing system yesterday at 9am to see people were already re-securing their tickets as soon as they returned to sale. I continued to keep an eye on it all day, answering the odd email query, while making sure there were no administrative mistakes lurking that would lead to us overselling, or to the wrong number of seats going to the wrong person to create inevitable chaos.

Thankfully nothing like that happened; in fact, only one of the 48 individual ticketing links had been sent to the wrong person, and that was the fault of the ticketing company and not me (smug face); this was swiftly resolved before the proverbial doo-dah hit the proverbial doo-dah doo-dah day.

(I’m not sure what happened just then.)

The best bit of all was every booking was snapped up in its entirety by the person who’d succeeded first-time around, so literally no-one missed out as a result of the gig being cancelled and then reinstated; this was a huge relief, as the last thing we wanted was to create any ill-feeling. It also didn’t cost anyone a penny more than what they originally paid, as we covered everyone's booking fee; see, we’re not that mercenary after all.

What I didn’t expect was a string of lovely emails from people when they’d successfully rebooked. One person said, “I hope you know how much folk appreciate all your efforts with Mostly Comedy. It’s a really top quality night out everytime”; I may print that out and keep it in my wallet.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Doughy Diversion.

Today’s been a strange mix of organising the ticketing situation for this month’s once-cancelled, now reinstated Mostly Comedy with Jack Dee and making pizza dough from scratch; I wonder if you can guess which was more therapeutic?

It’s fair to say the former of the two was the most complicated; while we’ve known the show was going ahead for a day or so, we had to sit on it until we’d spoken to our ticketing provider (the excellent WeGotTickets) to work out the best way to ensure everyone who’d originally booked would have a chance to reclaim their tickets (minus any booking fee) before they were returned to general sale; this was by no means as easy as it sounds, as I had to set up forty-eight individual ticket links (one for every original transaction) and send them our manually to the people who nabbed them in the first place, making sure each individual punter would only be able to buy the same amount of seats or fewer than they bought originally; not to mention the links for our mailing list pre-sale on Sunday and general sale on Monday. It wasn’t a fun job, but thankfully my wife helped me cross each ticketholder off the list with 99.99% accuracy.

Making the dough was fun, not least because it gave me the chance to have a break from thinking about gigs and tickets and just enjoy doing something for the sake of it (and for the sake of having dinner tonight). I followed a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (which my wife had admittedly laid out the ingredients for) and came out the other side with a very tasty bread, both in pizza-base and dough-ball fashion. It was a welcome diversion from an otherwise frustrating day; I’d make a pun-based joke about really kneading it if I didn’t think it was crass.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Mystic Mog.

My wife made an illustrative prediction of the scene she’d come home to when she finished work yesterday evening, which was unsurprisingly spot-on.

A Study of Man with Cat (© 2017 ‘Her Indoors’)
We have a running joke between us based on the episode of The Simpsons when Bart gives a drawing to Lisa in a sealed envelope, prophesizing the carnage they’d stumble on when they returned home from a Sunday drive with Marge, while Homer cleaned out the garage.

“Time to open the envelope I gave you”, Bart says as they pull up to find Homer being repeatedly crushed by the garage door; Lisa does so to reveal a perfect representation of the scene with ‘THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN’ scrawled across the bottom of it.

Thankfully, the situation my wife expects to walk into is a lot less catastrophic, though it does involve a cat. Pretty much every day, about an hour before my wife's due to get back, our cat Millie decides to wake up from the armchair by the window, which she’s claimed as her own - and doesn’t move from during business hours - to relocate to the sofa and, more specifically, my lap.

Her body clock is impressively accurate, though the timing is often inconvenient, as her desire to show affection (or steal my warmth; delete where appropriate) coincides perfectly with the moment I’d like to do some last-minute household chores, like washing up or hiding my drugs stash. If I were being sneaky I'd use this as an excuse to do nothing, but I wouldn’t really want to as having my wife come home to an untidy flat makes me feel back-footed and anxious; it also affects the nature of our evening, as it’s much nicer to settle down in front of the telly and / or think about dinner, without having to negotiate your way around the endless stream of mugs that accumulate with alarming speed for a flat that houses two.

While my wife's drawing was reasonably accurate, there were a few discrepancies. For one, I don’t tend to sit with my feet in first position with my hands concealed up sleeves. I don't style my hair like Rowan Atkinson in The Black Adder and my beard isn’t pubey, but you can’t have everything.