Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Psychic Teacher.

I didn’t find out until the morning that one of my old junior school teachers was at last night’s show.

It’s a shame I didn’t know he was there, as I would have liked to say hello. It’s lovely to think he saw my name somewhere, remembered it and thought he’d come along to see what I was up to now. Apparently he’d been to Mostly Comedy a couple of times so he must have known what I do for a while, but it was still nice to find out someone from my past was checking in on me; it’s proof that you never quite know how many people still have you somewhere in their minds.

It was pretty notable that he of all people should come, as he was the one teacher who dropped the odd hint or two that might I end up doing comedy. He described me as having a dry sense of humour that was blink-and-you’d-miss-it and suggested I might one day turn my hand to being a comedian; it turns out his premonition was eerily right; so much for using a pile of school reports as an excuse to ‘phone it in’.

As I said, I didn’t get the chance to thank him for coming personally as he’d gone before I came out, but it would have been a delight to talk to him and mention his accidental hitting the nail on the head. I can’t help wonder if he enjoyed it as apparently he has problems with his eyesight, which would surely effect his enjoyment of the show, which is very visual. Still, it was good of him to come.

Market Down.

I found tonight’s preview at The Market Theatre a tiny bit frustrating, but to fair, most of that frustration was more to do with what was happening in my head then what was happening on stage.

Me in victory stance at tonight's preview at The Market Theatre. (25.07.17)

The main problem for me is was I couldn’t help bit compare it to my final preview this time last year at the Broadway Studio in Letchworth, when I could tangibly feel things falling into place; so much so I walked off-stage content with the fact the show was there; it was finished, it was done.

Tonight’s show, conversely, was a personally a little hit and miss. For the most part, it felt reasonably slick and there were some good responses from the audience, but there were also moments when the reaction was a little muted and slow. Some of this was to do with the Curse of the Hitchin Festival; it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of and I’m very grateful for the cross-promotion it creates, but I can’t help but feel that it sometimes pulls in a crowd who wouldn’t necessarily come to this sort of show usually. I don’t mean to sound hard or judgmental - as I say, this is mostly to do with my slightly skewed personal perception - but the festival in Hitchin sometimes encourages a slightly older demographic to your usual comedy gig; something that was reiterated when I asked the audience at the end if they’d ever been to Mostly Comedy and the majority of people hadn’t, which is surprising when you think the club is the most likely way for you to stumble across what I do and therefore show an interest in seeing my own show.

As I say, I’m being a little hard on myself and on tonight which ostensibly went well. I’m just feeling the lack of a director to take me to one side and not just tell me what they didn’t like but also what they felt I’m doing well. It can be tiring constantly being your own self-motivator.

Monday, 24 July 2017

'University Challenged 2017/18: Volume Two (24.07.17)'

Can it really be that time again? Has the new series of University Challenge come around this quickly?

The answer to both of the above questions is yes, as barely three months after we waved goodbye to the likes of Monkman and Bobby Seagull, the world’s most perplexing quiz - both in terms of the questions and the style choices of some of the contestants - is back on BBC2. Unfortunately, I missed the first episode last week as I was gigging, but I was in front of my TV in good time today, with my phone in hand for a spot of live tweeting.

See below for the bumpf I said; I like to offer an audio descriptive University Challenge experience.

Trinity Cambridge Vs. Bristol (24.07.17)

8:03PM: Petrie? PETRIE?! What a dish.

8:04PM: Look at Bowes.

8:05PM: Hosegood...Hosegood...he's Ebenezer Good.

8:06PM: I hadn't noticed the curls in Bowes' beard until the close-up. I'm speechless.

8:07PM: Bowes looks like he's going for five looks at once.

8:07PM: Dev's wearing a cosy jumper.

8:09PM: Petrie knows how to tie a bow-tie unaided.

8:11PM: Bowes' Checklist:
Waistcoat? CHECK.
Pubey beard? CHECK.
Different consistency to the hair on his head? CHECK.

8:11PM: Petrie's so brittle he may snap.


8:13PM: My dad would refer to Bowes as a tool.

8:14PM: Bowes, Briggs, Hosegood and Hewett sounds like an incantation.

8:15PM: I suffered from an acute block once.

8:16PM: Bowes' arms-on-hips stance gets wider with every passing shot.

8:18PM: Do you think Bowes owns a bowler hat? A boater? A top hat? First Edition copies of the complete Lord of the Rings? YES.

8:20PM: Pass Petrie some vitamin D supplements.

8:23PM: Paxman even looks disdainful and dismissive of the question cards as he holds them.

8:24PM: Pitt the Glint in the Milkman's Eye.

8:28PM: The Giant's Causeway (or the 3-Dimensional Blockbusters Board, as I refer to it).

Sunday, 23 July 2017

So Tired...

Today has generally been spent recovering from the exhaustion of the past week.

Without wishing to sound unduly sorry for myself, I’m shattered, thanks to the combination of two Mostly Comedys, my two Etcetera Theatre dates at the beginning of the week, the outdoor Mostly event in Letchworth yesterday and a few other bits and bobs besides. I was supposed to be previewing tonight at The Actors’ Temple with the comic Daniel Cook but we decided to pull it this afternoon as there’d been no sales, which was a relief really, as I was finding it hard to sum up the energy to consider doing it, particularly when I would have had to lumber a lot of gear into London with me, due to the venue’s limited tech set-up.

One thing I did do today was draw together a list of the people who’ve played Mostly Comedy so far this year to post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to act as a space-saver until we’re back again in the Autumn. This served to reiterate how great the line-ups have been since January and how well things have been going; it doesn’t matter how often I’m reminded of this, it’s still something I’m impressed with, considering how small it began; it’s fair to say we’ve been spoilt.

Mostly Comedy's January to July 2017 role-call.

I also spent some time trying to catch up on admin for Edinburgh and doing a mailout about my show for the Mostly mailing list. There’s still so much to do before I leave for Scotland in just over a week, including finishing the show. Here’s hoping I manage to keep on top of it.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Mostly Herring and Hayridge.

Tonight’s Mostly Comedy was another great gig and a lovely way to see us into our summer break.

150 people watch Hattie Hayridge at tonight's Hitchin Mostly Comedy.

The bill this evening consisted of Hattie Hayridge, Richard Herring and us, with Richard previewing his new show ‘Oh Frig, I’m 50’ in the second half. While I always enjoy Richard’s stuff, tonight's show was one of my favourites, even at this stage, managing to tackle the topic of his fifth decade on the planet in a typically silly, sometimes thought-provoking and often brilliantly pedantic way. I’m always impressed by his extraordinary work ethic and the quality of the content he consistently puts out; there aren’t many comics that throw so much into what they do so constantly, which clearly has gained him a lot of respect from his fanbase, who were out in force in Hitchin tonight (as was clear by the volume of their RHLSTP shout-out when he name-checked the podcast in his set).

Hattie was also on great form and was very well-received, getting perhaps her best reaction at the club. She’s such a nice, genuine person who’s very laidback, and was a great counterpoint to Richard, not to mention another instantly recognizable face to share the bill; it was an exceptional line-up and a pleasing echo of the last time Stewart Lee played the club, when he shared the bill with Red Dwarf’s other Holly (and Mostly Comedy regular) Norman Lovett.

Glyn and I kept our set brief at the top of the first half, with me also doing a solo set (as I did last night) that was taken from the new show. It was good to do this both nights, as the more I try my new routines, the more I grow confident in where the laughs are and am able to solidify the material as free-standing sets. It’s pleasing that the new stuff is being well received, though there’s still a fair amount to be done to improve the show itself, particularly towards the end. Hopefully I can iron this out over the next week. At least Glyn and I can approach Mostly’s month off happy in the knowledge of a great first half of the year with some excellent line-ups. Now all we have to do is confirm bookings for September to December; no rest for the wicked. It was also great to see a lot of positive feedback on Twitter, but the best tweet was undoubtedly this:

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mostly Watson and Hill.

Tonight’s Mostly Comedy was one of those effortless gigs where everything fell into place.

A selection of shots of tonight's line-up, featuring us, Mark Watson, Bec Hill and a bonus pic of Glen Davies.

After the show, there was a definite sense between Glyn, our tech Paul that it was a night we should be proud of. Mostly’s one of those things that can comes gently in and out of favour in your mind, what with all the organization and the fact our identities get lost in the midst of an event people forget we’re the originators of. You also start to take for granted the level of line-ups we have as a matter of course, which are really quite extraordinary.

This week is a case in point. Tonight was the first in a three-day-straight of Mostly Comedy shows, with Mark Watson and Bec Hill tonight in Hitchin, Richard Herring and Hattie Hayridge tomorrow in Hitchin too and an extra bill of five previews in Letchworth tomorrow topped by Norman Lovett. Any of these dates on their own would be of note, yet this week, we managed to cram in three of them - and the two dates at The Sun have sold out; the first time two gigs in a row have done that. This Thursday and Friday will see over 300 people crammed into the Sun Hotel Ballroom, which is a number we would never have dreamed of when the club started nearly nine years ago. It’s a hell of an achievement at a time when money is so tight.

Mark Watson on stage with wine in hand.

It helped that tonight’s bill was excellent. We’ve been after Mark Watson for years (which isn’t a threat) so it was a delight to finally have him. He was so nice and was on top form. The first half of his set consisted of him trying to find the owner of a pint one of the bar-staff gave him as he came upstairs, with the proviso that it was “for someone in the room”. This didn’t round things down, and though it took a long time to finally be claimed (and when it was, it was clearl by someone who didn’t order it) the resulting chaos put us all at ease.

Bec Hill, previewing her new show Out of Order.

One of favourite acts - and one of the nicest - Bec Hill previewed her new show in the first half which was lovely with a great premise, with the audience choosing the order of play by selecting Post-It notes off an easel with prompts written on them. It was a great way to kick off the gig, with set full of invention.

I also did a little bit from my show in the second half which was well-received and Glyn and I did a short set at the front of the gig which went well too. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s show is just as fun, even though we’re bound to be markedly more tired for it.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Compulsive Masticator.

Sometimes, I have very little patience with humanity; last night was such a time.

I was travelling back from my preview in London when I found myself opposite a man on the train, who was displaying the sort of horrific eating habits you’re likely to be confronted with when on a train late in the evening (as Eric Clapton might put it).

As is often my way, I decided to vent some spleen about him on Twitter, as apsychological release; here’s what transpired, compiled together for posterity; enjoy:

9:56PM: There's a guy in the second carriage of the 21:52 fast train to Cambridge who's eating crisps in a way that makes us all a part of it.

9:58PM: To compound the situation he's wearing headphones...and keeps wiping his face elaborately with the back of his arm after each & every crisp.

9:58PM: I won't lie: it's disgusting.

10:00PM: He just answered the phone by saying "Yow". He's also getting off at Hitchin. I'm very disappointed.

10:01PM: I dislike him intensely.

10:02PM: It's an abominably massive packet of crisps. They're Walker's Sensations.

10:05PM: The packet of crisps is on the shared table in front of him. Dead centre. Lift, crunch crunch crunch WIPE crunch crunch crunch.

10:05PM: He thinks he's IT.

10:05PM: (Not Tim Curry.)

10:07PM: Does he need to make such a meal of it? (No pun intended)

10:07PM: He just tipped his head back and poured a handful down his gullet.

10:08PM: Never has a face been wiped so much.

10:09PM: Big glug of Coke.

10:10PM: Huis clos.

10:12PM: Big ole sniff.

10:13PM: He's having a good hard pick at his teeth in-between Coke glugs.

10:13PM: I may share a taxi with him.

10:16PM: He just answered a second call with "'S'up". Obnoxious shit.

So Very Different.

It didn’t matter that there were only two people in for tonight's show, as it was both enjoyable and useful in equal measure.

It just goes to illustrate that you can never predict these things, other than taking an educated guess at the moment. Yesterday, only two people turned up as well, and as soon as I started talking to them beforehand to see how they felt about it and whether they wanted it to go ahead, the width of their eyes made it clear that they weren’t comfortable with it; I understood completely, as there aren’t many who would be.

Conversely, I could tell very quickly when I spoke to the two women who came tonight that they were more than happy to watch it and if anything, that they thought it sounded quite fun. They seemed nice and good humoured, so the me that at other times might have decided to pull it before I went out-front thought, “What the heck”.

I should state for the record that they were exceptional sports. With the wrong people, having me pitch the show to them and them alone for an hour could have been pretty intense on both sides of the fence. The other way of looking at it is the fact there was just the three of us forced us all to have to relax pretty quickly; it didn’t take long for me to read that they were enjoying it; in fact the laughs were more consistent than at my show in Cambridge last Sunday to a far bigger crowd.

It goes to prove yet again that some of the best shows I’ve done have been to the smallest audiences. They force me to reconnect with the material. That, combined with the fact The Etcetera’s such a perfect space for my stuff conspired to make an important turning point go off in my head: the moment when things began to click into place for me to know I’ve almost got a show. I told them this and thanked them afterwards; I'm really glad it went ahead.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Nearly-gigs.

The fact I had to cancel Monday's gig goes to show how much harder it is to get an audience in London than anywhere else.

"Now Showing..."

To be fair, that’s a little simplistic. London is saturated with previews at this time of year, with many far more well-established performers vying (yes: “vying”) for attention, so it’s always going to be difficult; it’s a process you just have to go through to pull a show together, but an expensive one at that.

The preview procedure is a bit of a lottery; you start by putting as many dates as you can in the diary, striking a balance between places you’ve played before and a few you haven’t, taking into account which venues are cheapest, which have their own audience and which are best equipped. The Etcetera (where Monday and Tuesday’s dates are booked) is one of the best spaces for me, as it’s perfect for comedy, has a good profile and has a projector and a screen rigged and a proper PA, whereas somewhere like The Actors’ Temple (where I’m at on Sunday) is a great room to perform in, has a projector and screen but no PA. It’s also more known for theatre by very nature of being a drama school, whereas the Etcetera presents a bit of everything and is one of the main venues on the Camden Fringe.

The downside to it all is you have to treat each date like it will go ahead, spending time and money on promoting it, knowing full well it may not happen and that you shouldn’t dwell on it if it doesn't. Using the Etcetera dates as an example, I paid to hire the space, for posters to be printed, for a technician to run it and for my train ticket into town and have already had to pull one of my two shows there, but that’s okay (he says through gritted teeth); it was an educated risk that still has its uses, particularly if Tuesday’s show goes ahead. It’s certainly not personal to me when there’s so much competition and the dates are at the wrong end of the week. What's frustrating is I only needed a handful of people for it to happen, as a party of two did come, which was obviously too few to do it. Just another booking would have been enough to make it comfortable.

At least I spoke to the couple that came, one of whom is based in Edinburgh, and offered them comps should they ever come again. Hopefully they will; if they do, I hope they’re not on their own again or they’ll think I’m a social outcast; I am one, of course, but I don’t want them to know it.

Monday, 17 July 2017

A Portland Bill.

I had a lovely time at tonight’s preview at the cracking Portland Arms in Cambridge, which proved just how it is to arrive at a venue that’s properly equipped with a good technician to hand and a great sound and light set-up.

Me, on stage in Caombridge tonight.

As is always the case, the last few minutes leading up to the show were so intense that I went into to the gig with very little time to consider what I was about to do. It’s hard to find a space to get your head together and separate your tech and show mindset. I ended up sitting behind the screen on the stage for a few minutes so I could meditate quickly and centre myself before launching into it. Thankfully, the set-up in the space was so naturally strong that it gave me something to anchor onto (if that makes any sense) and - while yet again I have very little idea of what I actually said, it flowed pretty freely and got a good response.

Norman Lovett was on good form. He arrived probably half an hour before the gig kicked off and opted to relax in the green room while I did my set which was probably for the best as it made me feel less pressured; it’s one thing doing a new show in front of an audience, but it’s a whole other when there’s an act you look up to watching you, even if it’s someone you know well.

As ever, there were quite a few Red Dwarf fans in who asked to pose with Norm for a photos afterwards, but thankfully I didn’t feel like they spent the whole of my set just waiting for him to come on. There were certainly some good laughs in it (something Norman said himself when I went up to see him in the interval) and some nice feedback on Twitter afterwards which was a nice bonus (if unusual for me).

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Student Loom-ion.

Tomorrow night, I preview my Edinburgh show in Cambridge, and the question on everyone’s lips is, “Will I wear my Monkman t-shirt?”


Well, ‘everyone’ is a bit of an exaggeration; it’s more likely just a few. I did raise my quandary on Facebook and Twitter this evening to an entirely positive response, but that was only from the people who replied, which in fact were minimal; is it right to assume mass-silence as a positive vote?

In reality, I don’t think I have any choice, as not wearing a t-shirt with the face of one of Cambridge’s biggest cult icons (and moat recent University Challenge finalists) emblazoned on it - when I own such a garment - would be an opportunity missed. The only genuine poser faced is “Which Monkman t-shirt?” as I’ve actually got two: a brown one and a red one. Perhaps I should change colours in the interval.

Hopefully it will be a fun gig and a useful one too. I started a run earlier this evening but stopped before the end as I wasn’t feeling my best; it was either my labyrinthitis rearing its ugly head or just general over-tiredness but I had a sudden zap in energy that meant I couldn't get through it. Hopefully, I’ll have time in the morning to pick up where I left off and maybe do another run after that too, though only if I’ve factored in the important job of ironing my two t-shirts; I couldn’t possibly risk a crease when there’s a chance the great man might attend. If he does, I’ll ask him to sign my face.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Say it With Leather.

I’ve been married for three years today; what are you going to do about it, eh?

We’ve marked the anniversary by staying in the same hotel we visited for our second one that’s practically in the same postcode to where we live, which made me feel very suspicious when I arrived alone this afternoon. It felt like I was here for some kind of extra-marital liaison, particularly as I turned up in a taxi with my luggage in a plastic bag - classy - and had to give my wife’s name instead of my own, as the room was booked by her, which somehow compounded the sense of subterfuge; I may as well have said it was reserved under John Smith.

As I got here a couple of hours earlier, I took the opportunity to quickly run my show as it stands, as I haven’t had time to do it for the last few days and I didn’t want Sunday’s gig in Cambridge to be too much of a shock. It went well, but was a little rushed, which gave me a slight feeling of panic, when I haven’t got long left to finish it. I know I’m close to being ready, but it can still feel overwhelming if I let it. All I need is a little gentle encouragement that I’m in the right ballpark, which is hard to get when I either do a run by myself or in front of an audience with nothing in-between.

I’ve resigned myself to not worrying about it too much tonight, as today should really be a day off. At least I’ve got a string of previews ahead in which to hone things; next time, I’m definitely finding a proper director, as it’s very hard to do it without an outside eye.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Watch us Wreck the Mic.

Today an interview I did a few week’s ago for Broadway Baby’s On The Mic podcast became available, and I’m quite pleased with it.

Even someone as hypercritical as me can sometimes hear a thing I’ve done back after a little distance has passed and accept I don’t come across like a complete dick in it. You never really know whether you’re just rambling on or sounding coherent when you do these things as they’re always over in a flash, and it’s all down to whether you hit it off with the interviewer and if they ask interesting questions; if they don’t, it can feel like pulling teeth.

Thankfully this wasn’t the case in this instance. Despite all of the usual concerns, I felt it was going pretty well at the time and listening to it today it’s good to learn I was right. Even the stand-up material that’s been cut around it, despite being a couple of years old and quite different to the content of my new show sounds reasonably flattering as a whole; good job, everyone at On the Mic; good job.

The only slight frustration is they’ve accidentally included a web-link to someone else’s show alongside it, but I’m sure we’ll get that fixed. Either that, or I’ll have to assume the other person's identity; whichever has the better show the least paperwork, I’ll do.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Radio Fi Fe.

Today, I did a lovely live interview over the phone to promote ‘Now Who’s a Comedian?' on Fife's K107FM.

While I’ve done quite a few radio interviews in the past, mostly for Buddy, there’s always a bit of nerves just before, particularly if - like today - you haven’t spoken to anyone for a few hours before going on-air. You can feel strangely neutral and personalityless, waiting at home in your slippers for the phone call.

Some of the interviews I did for Buddy were ridiculous, as the show's producer expected me to do them as if I was Holly himself. A few DJs got on board with this while others thought I was a lunatic for suggesting it; one time, I remember an interviewer deciding to use this as an excuse to test my knowledge about Holly’s career by posing a list of trivia questions for which he clearly knew the answers. Thankfully I knew my stuff too, but it was irritating to find myself walking a tightrope between promoting the show in an upbeat manner while juggling the facts and a Texan accent; my Buddy definitely spent a lot of time in the Home Counties.

I needn’t have worried about today’s interview, as it was very relaxed and covered a lot of ground. The host John Murray was an easy person to talk to who knew his stuff about the Fringe and had done his research on me. We talked about my previous Fringe experiences, the derivation of my show’s title, how I approached writing it (he says like it’s finished) and about my actor/muso career. It turned out John had a vested interest in the fact I’d played Paul McCartney and Buddy Holly in the past, as he’d written a play about the two of them for which he’d struggled to find a suitable Macca; he assured me he’d drop me a line about this once the Edinburgh madness had passed; the only problem is the play is set in the late-1980s, so I’d have to age up ten years; perhaps we could do it immediately after this year's Fringe run as I’ll look a lot older by then.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Wet Wet Wet.

In classic me fashion, I managed to leave the house to go for a walk mere moments before today’s mini-monsoon hit.

It was worse than that in actuality; I lined up my one trip out - save a late-morning forage for lunch at the local M&S garage - in time to be hit by the full force of the rain whilst at the top of the highest hill in town with just enough wind in the air (do you get wind in the air? Isn’t wind just air?) to completely soak my weedy jacketless frame; this was about as ‘Ephgrave’ as things could get.

I went out because I’d gone a little stir-crazy. I’d spent much of the day trying to sort a few clerical issues (not in a church sense) that led to me spending more time on the phone than is healthy, particularly when constantly being passed from pillar to post; I ended up not even getting things sorted, despite being exposed to more than my fair share of hold music (which in the case of North Herts District Council is sprinkled liberally with slap bass).

I still managed to get a bit of work done for Edinburgh, though not as much as I would have liked. I wrote a short piece that will hopefully end the show (though I can’t say too much about that yet) and did a little admin, but didn’t spend any time rehearsing, which was frustrating. I need to knuckle down tomorrow and Thursday, though I’m squeezing in a radio interview with a station in Fife tomorrow lunchtime. Over the phone, obviously; a seven-hour car journey for bit of airtime would be a step too far.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Cracking Up.

On my way back from the Chiropractor today, I walked past some street eggs.

Street eggs.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen real street eggs before in real life, though I did once see some street carrots. I’ve spotted a single maraca and a kit for a perfect night out in Bath, but never a single egg. My run-ins with street food have been surprisingly few, which is a shame, as there’s nothing like an edible mystery to keep things interesting.

A night out in Bat.
Street carrots.
My visit to the chiropractor was a little painful, but it was worth it, if only to release my locked shoulder a bit. He’s suggested I go in once a week until I go to Edinburgh, in that hope that we can take control of it and stop it being a big problem before I go away, and I trust him implicitly with it. He’s excellent at his job and has helped me countless times in the past, so there’s no reason this should be any different.

Outside of medical appointments and run in with some Chicken produce, today was mostly concerned with admin for Edinburgh and the previews that lead up to it; all in all, it was a productive day, but I’ll be happier when I’ve had time to work on my material before I start my string of previews this Sunday; it’s all go at the moment. It’s all go.