Monday, 31 July 2017

'Universitty Challenged 2017/18: Volume Three' (31.07.17).


Tonight’s instalment of University Challenge was a total washout for Team Cardiff.

For much of the game their score was frozen at minus five, which is worse than even I would manage; consequently, they spent most of the programme wearing a look that was a mix of exhausted confusion and grim inevitability. They’d been steamrollered and they knew it and every passing second compounded their failure; they may as well have all started sucking their thumbs.

As ever, I covered my view of the programme on Twitter. See below for what I said and when; who wouldn’t want to read that?

Southampton Vs. Cardiff (31.07.17)

8:01PM: "Asking the questions..." a tetchy, miserable bastard.

8:01PM: Ledesma loves it.

8:03PM: Ledesma's borrowed Paul McCartney's septuagenarian hairstyle.

8:04PM: A bow tie on this programme is always a cause for concern.

8:04PM: "Rook's off".

8:06PM: Conway's hair has a Ken Dodd aftertaste.

8:07PM: Cardiff's Strachan.

8:08PM: Ledesmaon. Knighton. Frankelon. Joneson. Southamptonon.

8:10PM: There's nothing more final than Paxman's "Erased".

8:11PM: Try as I might, I can't remember Jones' face.

8:13PM: Everyone in the studio (bar Jeremy Paxman) is so young. We're so old. Damn it.

8:15PM: -5? MINUS FIVE? I bet Conway's regretting the bow tie now.

8:17PM: ...not the best advert for Welsh education, this.

8:17PM: Cardiff fucked it.

8:19PM: Colleran's a young Seth MacFarlane.

8:20PM: Just one more zero and Cardiff and Southampton will be neck-and-neck.

8:23PM: ...Jones' open mouth.

8:25PM: ...what makes it worse: you know Conway's bow tie ISN'T a clip-on.

8:26PM: STOP CALLING THEM KELVIN.

8:27PM: Cardiff's team are sponsored by sadness.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Retake on Me.


In typical me-style, I had to rerecord a jingle from scratch that I wrote today to put into my show when the file decided to corrupt at the last minute, after having worked on it for a couple of hours.

To be honest, the end result actually came out better after remaking it and it didn’t take as long to do, but it was frustrating when all I wanted was to relax for my penultimate evening at home before I bugger off to Scotland. It was one of those classic ‘should have saved it earlier’ situations, but it worked out all right in the end, so I don’t have much to complain about.

There’ll be a lot to fit in tomorrow before I go, inevitably, but hopefully it won’t be too stressful a day. I treated myself to a couple of new suitcases today; I’ve been using the same one for touring since I first did Buddy back in 2005, so I think it was time for an upgrade. I also renewed my railcard that was conveniently set to run out tomorrow and sent a few Edinburgh-related emails, so I’ve done pretty well. The one thing I haven’t had time to do is look over the show, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to do that tomorrow, slipping in the new song I recorded today somewhere and working in some new material around it. It’s finally edging toward being finished, which is a relief; there’s nothing like leaving things close to the wire.

Telegraph Line.


Today I was deeply surprised to find out one of my jokes had made it into The Telegraph’s list of 20 Funniest One-liners from the Edinburgh Fringe.

STOP PRESS.


It’s fair to say I’ve never had this level of coverage for something I’ve written myself, even if it’s just a few words, and it’s a hugely encouraging prelude to my Edinburgh run. I know these lists are arbitrary but there’s still a tiny sense of accreditation about the whole thing, particularly for someone who in his darker, less confident moments questions if he’s even a comedian at all; today, in a small way, a member of the national press said I was, and that’s a small achievement.

Why is someone else confirming you’re a thing so important? My problem is I’ve always been a bit of a ‘Jack of all trades’ type, with the secret assumption this makes me a master of none; I’m an actor / musician - which sounds like a compromise - who’s wormed his way into writers’ groups and runs a comedy club by accident; playing host to a lot of big names while constantly questioning if it’s a world he fits into himself. Taking my first solo show to Brighton in 2015 and my second to Edinburgh last year were small steps from the shadows, but not without the same old self-doubt creeping in; it’s hard to believe you’re a thing when so much of what you do (playing instruments and writing comedy) was entirely self-taught.

Today’s mention in the Telegraph was a tiny step up for me; a moment when a recognised source deemed something I’d written worth relaying - and while the tangible outcome is equally tiny, it’s still a metaphorical plus-point in my head; maybe I’m not just a blagger after all - and who cares that a joke about a woman who died 481 years ago isn’t topical?

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Turn! Turn! Turn!


My labyrinthitis kicked in with a vengeance today, which is something I could do without.

Quite often when it rears its ugly head, it’s the dizziness I notice last and the emotional response I notice first. Around lunchtime today I was overtaken by anxiety. Initially, I assumed this was due to the enormity of what I have to do over the next few days and the more mundane fact that I was waiting for Parcelforce to pick up the parcels I was shipping to Edinburgh. I thought it was just 'The Fear': the moment your body decides to exhibit the nerves you’re subconsciously feeling that haven’t bubbled to the surface yet.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with feeling anxious about the job ahead when you have a lot coming up - that’s natural - but it wasn’t until I walked into town to do some shopping and started having problems coordinating my way past dawdling pedestrians that I realised my head was spinning and that was why I was on edge.

The most frustrating thing about labyrinthitis is it’s very hard to put to bed; when it hits, all you can do is try to gently work your way around it. It’s very tiring and akin to being drunk without any of the positives that may have led to that. It’s often at its worst when you go to bed as lying down accentuates the head-spinning (see: it is like being drunk) and is accentuated by stress and bright lights; even looking at my computer screen as I type this is setting it off.

All I can do is be patient and try not to get too caught up in the symptoms as eventually they will pass; at least I haven’t got anything demanding coming up, like doing a twenty-five day straight at the world’s biggest fringe festival, for example.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Help!


My Edinburgh prep is now at the manic, multitasking stage.

It's been an exercise in juggling from the beginning to be fair, with too much attention given to the administrative side of proceedings, but things are approaching their most difficult. Next Wednesday I somehow have to orchestrate checking out of the hotel I’m staying in for one night as my digs won’t be ready yet (hopefully leaving a month's worth of luggage behind) to get a taxi to a depot on the outskirts of town to pick up my screen, projector stand and a suitcase full of gear; bringing them back knowing I may not have a place to store them until I can get into my digs after 4pm (which I have to pick the keys up for from an office that’s another taxi ride away). I also have to collect my posters and flyers, meet my flyerers and my technician and do a technical rehearsal in the evening; I’ll be lucky if I end the day on top of everything and still in one piece.

Today was stressful enough in itself, when I suddenly realised Friday is the cut-off point for my show gear to be sent so it'll be in Edinburgh for Tuesday. Thankfully, my wife helped look up the details and sent me a few links so I could book the delivery using my package dimensions from last year (which turned out to be wholly inaccurate even though they should have been the same; God knows what happened there). I also filmed and edited footage for a press interview and managed to squeeze in a mini-meltdown when all of the above became a little overwhelming: I wouldn’t mind if I felt my show was ready or had some time to rehearse it; next year, I’m getting a helper monkey.

Parcels containing the equipment for my show (I'm in the tall thin one).

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.

8:12PM: NONE OF THESE PEOPLE ARE MONKMAN.

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.