My Stand-up & gigs
The Coding Craftsman
An Open Letter To HSBC
Pay What Now?
Hearing the music
When to quit
I am not as other men
Tonight I was funny
Attack of the Drones
Notes on your set
Why Pissing off a Fellow Comedian was Fun
This Is It
It's a positive and a negative feeling right this moment. I'm about to leave my rather nice home life and venture off into the unknown, with a show I haven't performed recently, and a bunch of technical and practical problems to solve when I get to Edinburgh. I've got sore legs, it's cold, I'm on anti-biotics for the soreness caused by the flea bites that have reddened my skin and made me uncomfortable. I'm a bit tired from last night. I've been sitting in a quiet house all day, so feel a bit hemmed in. In sort I feel a bit small...
...but I'm also prepared. I think everything is packed that could reasonably be packed. The iPod is charged and raring to go. The Sat-Nav is upgraded so well that it now doesn't work, but I rather like the upgrade, so I'm going to live with it for a bit (hopefully they'll fix the SIM card problem in the next upgrade). The car needs fuel, but I know how to sort that out. There's just a computer to stick in a bag and I'm on my way. I've been planning this all year.
So off to Edinburgh. It's been the centre of a lot of my performing life, and it's been the city where a lot of good things (and one or two bad) have happened for me. I love being in Edinburgh in general, and in Edinburgh during the Fringe exponentially more than that. I'm tired of following the festival through tweets and reviews. I want to see it for myself. I want to smell the damp, get annoyed by the crowds, have the ups and downs of good and bad audiences for myself, and generally grab this baby by the horns (horned babies, eh?!).
However, I'm also nowhere near as fit as I should be. I'm fat and sluggish. I'm either going to work and sweat this off, or be found mewling in a heap in a couple of days' time. Time will tell. I'm hoping that the act of heading to Auld Reekie will awaken the very core of my enthusiasm for the Fringe, starting the tireless motor that will drive me around the city. I'm usually of boundless enthusiasm and energy for "doing the Fringe". Usually.
I don't want to leave my girlfriend behind, though. I'm going to miss her horribly. She's coming up in just over a week, so we won't be apart for that long, but it will be long enough.
That's where I'm at. On the brink of heading to where I both want to and don't quite want to be.
From this point forward, though, the funny is set to ON.
E is For
Well, E is for Edinburgh, obviously. It's also for Elephant, Escapade, Epsilon and Extra Extra Large, but only the last of those (with a hint of the first) actually applies to me this evening. I'm preparing for Edinburgh, which has taken many forms, some of which have been rehearsing (or not) and some of which have included just thinking about, or nearly doing stuff.
The way to kick start my Edinburgh final packing preparations involved going through my wardrobe and kicking out my quite-fat clothes, in the acceptance of the fact that my very fat clothes are de-rigueur (there's a spelling I had to look up) with a body like this. Fine. So I'm fatter than I've been at the Fringe ever and have one of my most demanding schedules. Fine. I'll burn off the flab (or die trying).
The next step was to get out my soldering iron. I find it easy to be slowed down by things I know I'll find easy and enjoyable to do but haven't managed to do yet. It's not the doing. It's the starting. The simple act of firing up (well, plugging in) the soldering iron so I could convert one of my leads (hopefully one that WAS dodgy and has now had the dodgy bits cut off) into a nicely tamed guitar lead with a right-angled end (which turns out to be very very useful) was all it took. Finally, I was on top of my Equipment. This it the major E for this year's Fringe. My show is very equipment intensive and I need to have stuff with me. I need spares. I need leads.
The soldering wasn't the easiest task in the world, mainly because it's not very desirable to hold a rather hot thing that you've just heated to the melting point of solder. However, I soldiered on (see what I did there) and the lead is ready for trying out on Thursday, which is my next gig.
Next I turned my attention to the guitar bag. I can't remember when I bought this bag. It may be three years old. It might be older. It was bought in Edinburgh and has been falling apart ever since, largely because someone (me) keeps overfilling it and then dragging it around. In a previous year a little gaffer tap was put on the bag. I've just given it a full gaffer tap make over. I've even made little envelopes for all the shit that usually gets lost in the depths of the pockets, so hopefully I can keep the whole thing under tighter control. In short the guitar is now in a better carrying bag than I've been using.
Did I mention that I restrung my two main acoustic guitars this weekend? No? Is that because it's not an interesting thing to talk about? Well, even so, there's a fringe benefit to having done that. Firstly, the guitars look lovely and shiny and new (I polished them too) and secondly there is a load of clipped guitar string bits in my study bin. This turns out to be a very useful thing to have around when you've got a prop to fix.
For the previews of the Seven Deadly Sings, I had a kneepad with a sleigh-bells attachment. This was made by screwing the rubber mounting of the sleigh-bells into the knee pad. Though the pad is made of, well, padding, the screws penetrated the outer material and seemed not to want to go anywhere... except that one side would have a habit of falling out once in a while.
When I was recording the Christmas Song For Jews
track for the CD, I decided to disassemble my sleigh-bells kneepad and play the sleigh-bells by hand, tapping the assembly into my hand to avoid the bells ringing even longer and even more tinny-like than they already did (sorry to people with tinnitus who end up getting the CD). Anyway, my sleigh-bell kneepad was in pieces. This is the sort of problem that can dog a man on his way to the Fringe.
I've been stressing over the absence of my nice bag of cable ties - a sure-fire solution to the problem of the knee-pad. The answer, my friend, is that nobody knows where they are. By which I mean that I don't know and nobody else cares enough to search. Why should anyone care, it's 50p worth of plastic. How can I more permanently fix my sleigh-bells to the kneepad (noting the fact that I don't want it to be totally permanent as I may one day stop playing sleighbells and start tiling floors again)?
It's like when we watched Toy Story 3 the other day and I knew how the characters would be saved from their ultimate peril; you look for the thing that's been set up, the characters that are missing, and work out that they're going to come in and save the day. Yes. The Guitar String People Save The Day.
I used a D or maybe G string from my bin as a cable-tie. It poked nicely through the kneepad and threaded into the sleigh-bells strap. A bit of cable twisting and some gaffer taping and the deal was done. Boom.
This is a lot of information about not very much. I feel like I busied myself nicely tonight, and I feel a step closer to Scotland's capital. It also feels like it'll never be Friday afternoon at this rate.
The internet is not being a help. It's either full of the silence that indicates that everyone has better stuff to do, or full of the snippets of info that prove that they're having way more fun than I am. Reading reviews, good or bad, is a distraction, but a recipe for no major happiness.
I did discover the worst sort of review that can be given, though. A review that's negative, and absolutely reasonable and fair comment; that surely must be the worst sort. There's no get-out clause. You can't say "they didn't understand me" because this sort of review proves that it did. You can't say "it was a bad show" because the review's got that covered. You can't say "they don't know what they're talking about" because such a review not only knows its own business, but probably knows more than the reviewee does about what the reviewee was trying to achieve. A reasonable bad review will pretty much subtract the obvious from the picture and just leave the features. Imagine a picture of your face with only either your spots or blemishes, or your perfect features visible. It wouldn't be a caricature. It wouldn't be unreasonably harsh or glowing. It would just be the truth... and if it said you weren't up to much, it would be the worst sort of "mirror mirror on the wall".
This is why I don't really want to read any review of my show until I've done the last one... yet I suspect I'm too weak to avoid it.
E is for "Expectations".
That's an abrupt end to this, but nobody expected me to go on forever.
At The Back Of The Mind
I'm distracting myself. I'm trying to avoid the obvious fact that the Edinburgh Fringe is getting deeply into its stride and I'm not there to stride along with it. I'm seeing Tweets and other news snippets of people's reviews, colds, good shows, bad shows, parties and other jiggery pokery. While this is going on, I'm having my normal life, trying to be oblivious.
Sometimes it's easier than others. We had a very nice night in last night and watched a silly Nicholas Cage movie. There isn't a Nicholas Cage movie that I don't want to see... well, maybe one, but I haven't seen it. That was very nice and I didn't think of Edinburgh once. Well, I did. I thought about making 20 posters for the show (by making, I mean sending for print, they were already made). I even did that work, but I did it as any computer operator might use a computer to send some files over the internet. I didn't do it while visualising being in Edinburgh.
The festival will come in its own time. I'll be there for a time which will feel at once both extremely long and tiring, yet fleetingly short. This is normal. The pre-Fringe blues aren't too bad at the moment. I feel a bit like Friday is a deadline and I'm not sure if I'm ready for it. I feel more prepared than I have in previous years, but I won't feel that way for much longer, I'm sure.
Tonight is supposed to be for packing. Tomorrow night is meant to be a night out with my girlfriend - our last private night together before I go away (I'll be away for a week before she joins me out there). Then there's Thursday night, when I have a gig. My last normal gig before the Fringe - the first one on the new strings of my guitar, which I'll no doubt end up getting out of tune about 5 minutes into the performance, unless I warm them up very thoroughly just before the sound check.
To distract myself further from the Fringe I'm trying to sort out any loose ends that are sitting about in my work environment. I tried to submit the codes from my collection of diet coke bottles on www.cokezone.co.uk (I didn't make this as a link, because I'm increasingly of the opinion that it's a phenomenal waste of time). This leads me to the following letter that I won't send.
I notice you've barred me from entering incorrect codes into your website for another 24 hours. Do you think that the reason I enter codes in is because I'm trying to hack your site and so deserve delaying? Is that the reason you put that safeguard in place? Is the necessity to stop people guessing codes a serious problem for you?
IF SO, THEN PLEASE MAKE THE CODES FUCKING LEGIBLE
I'll continue to guess whether it's an H a K a N an M or a W for as long as you continue to print the codes in badly drawn dots which are covered by glue and fragments of label. Perhaps you could relax the rules for people guessing codes...
I wouldn't mind, but the points seem utterly worthless.
Lots of love
A new 7-Up drinker.
The CD for my show comes tomorrow. Very exciting. I'm hoping that I'll like it more now I've stopped stressing about it. It will be on sale. Hoo yeah!
The Beginning of A Story
I was driving home tonight and I met a man on the road who had crashed his car. I say his car, and I say crashed, and I even say man, but these are not correct. The chap was a teenager, an au-pair, working for a local family. The car wasn't his. The crash was more a skidding out of control on a corner and resting with three wheels in the verge. The smell of beer was followed with the suggestion that it had only been one.
We discussed what to do to pull the car out. I had no desire to start towing a car of equal size to my own off a verge... I suggested he call the family and get their breakdown recovery people out. I suggested a call to the police for assistance, but he was worried about being breathalysed. In the end I gave him a lift back to his family's place.
Then I had the exciting drive home. It was exciting because I have no fuel at all in my car - all gauges say 0. So I've no idea how I got back (coasting and cruise control helped) and I've no idea if I'll make it as far as the filling station tomorrow.
What was more exciting is wondering how the story ends for my Czech friend. I'd given him various bits of reassurance in the car - to try to make it seem a bit less of the end of his life and more just a problem to be solved. I don't know if the family will have a sense of humour about it and sort it out, or whether there'll be fights. In short, the answer is already known as he woke them up about 30 minutes ago... but I'll never know.
I pointed out that he was able to walk away from the car accident, which is surely a benefit. I pointed out that he just had to face the music. I told him that today's tragedy is tomorrow's story; in five years, he'll tell people about "the time that". I don't know if it will help. The shame is that it may make a great story, but I only know the beginning of it.
Tricky Second Album
This is not the first time I've sat down to create a CD that would be duplicated and given out/sold in quantity. It may not even be the last time, though I'm pretty sick of the whole escapade right this minute. Last time I made an album, it was with a friend. We worked on it for several days and did a lot of takes of our songs. In general, we played live and got the whole thing in a single layer, with occasional places where we added layers, or played over a backing track. I remember it being enjoyable.
That said, we were often recording at night, so sometimes it sounds like we're whispering to avoid completely pissing off the neighbours, because we were.
After the original recording, there was then a bit of a mixing process, complicated by the fact that we did our takes back to back, so I'd often have to keep winding to 10 minutes 23 seconds into a track to play with the take we were actually going to be using. I don't remember this process being too challenging. Then the mixes were played at the computer where some additional filtering was done, resulting in... da-dahhhh... the final track.
These final tracks were sent to the CD-R people and I got 500 CDs back (in retrospect, that was about 450 too many!). I remember it being easy.
However, a combination of incorrectly set up microphones (or poor quality ones) and lack of experience and inability to "wake up" the sound when it got to the computer resulted in something which I didn't expect to sound that good when I listened to it again a few days ago. It actually sounds ok. However, I expect to be able to do better.
I now have a lot more experience (some 80 more tracks more experience), better equipment, including a new sound card and some software that I've partially bought (I've bought a time-limited licence). In short, I should be able to take the music I've been recording and make it sound great. On the subject of the recordings themselves, I've been working on them for weeks. Really. Weeks. I've been painstakingly adding layers, instruments, re-takes, effects... I've really tried hard. So I expect my second attempt at an album to be much much better.
The thing I listened to in the car on the way to work - the so called "release candidate 2" of the CD - sounded weak. Worse than that, when you tried to turn it up, it sounded poor. This led me to wonder, again, whether the answer lay in some magic settings. I tried a whole new magic set of settings, remastering most of the album's 37 minutes in a 1 hour lunch-break. A lot of this was applying settings by rote and hoping they'd come good. In short, when you're mastering that much sound, you can't sit and listen to it all between each iteration. I top, tail and sample it.
I set off from work with a new release candidate, I'd hoped that it would sound so good that I'd stop off on the way home to post it to the CD-R people.
It was awful. Actually really really awful. I was upset. I was stressed.
I've had another go. I think I've cracked it this time. While I was at my gig tonight, in the intervals, I had another think about how I want to do this process and found a better combination of settings - on the way home, I listened to some sample tracks I burned to disc at the gig; they sounded pretty good.
So we may be there. Tomorrow morning's car journey to work will either make me glad I got it right, or angry that I'm a few days away from driving to Scotland, and I'm stuck doing a job I want to sign off as done in time to get the CDs before I start the engine for the 8 hour journey next Friday.
In other news, I managed to accidentally piss a lot of people off by parking badly today. I also managed to enjoy a very nice gig this evening with a headline act who is brilliant. I had no agenda when I started chatting with the audience... so stuff happened. It was fun.
I haven't listened to it through, but there's a 37 minute long CD which contains all the stuff I've been working on in the "studio" for the last few weeks, in a form which, imperfect in some ways, I'm planning to immortalise by getting it replicated.
I say it's imperfect because it is. There are some aspects that I could improve on, and there are some which I just don't know how to improve, but it's going to have to do because I'm pretty much at my deadline for getting it replicated. Of the 37 minutes, some of it was taken from live recordings, which just sound "as they do", and one track is a "remaster" of an existing song I have on my website. In all cases, I've done my best to engineer something that sounds as good as I can get it.
In fairness, I could have spent the entire time it's taken to make the "album" in getting one track right, and still not really done it. However, this hasty recording has been hugely time-consuming and I think I have the right to be proud of the results. I'll know for sure on my ar journey in the morning when I listen to it through. I hope I'm happy with it.
Wish me luck.
Then it's onto the next insane scheme... something about heading to Scotland...?
Do These Rituals Work?
A lot of comedians have a special ritual that they do before the gig. I could construct some sort of a hybrid ritual from comedians I know if you like. For example, it might involve doing 20 minutes of specialised vocal and physical warm-up (not necessarily a ritual, as it can help with performing, though it can form part of a ritual if the reason for doing it turns out to be more psychological than muscle based), sipping a can of Red Bull, washing your hands thoroughly, applying lip salve while looking at yourself in the mirror and doing smiley faces, and being sure to have a certain something in your pocket as a backup plan, or for luck.
I'm not sure I really have a ritual. I do a mini vocal warm-up, where I try out the low and high registers of my voice, just to make sure they're working and have broken in a bit. I only do that if I'm worried about it. I have to make sure I have a plectrum in my pocket, but that doesn't really make for a ritual; it's practical. I have the pseudo-ritual of the sound-check to worry about, and this usually focuses my mind. Setting up the guitar isn't complex, but it's a process that's as soothing as ironing can be (unless you hate ironing, in which case this is a bad example). If I'm feeling in the mood, I might hop around a bit, and I certainly pace the floor a bit, whether I like it or not.
There may be some anti-rituals, though. There are things you should not do. You shouldn't touch an act who didn't go down well, in case you get "shit gig lurghi". You shouldn't allow yourself to hate the audience in any way - this won't end well. You shouldn't be seen too much by the audience before going on. These things are meant to protect you from bad things happening, possibly.
Last night's gig was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. I think I discovered what's behind some of the rituals, and I broke a couple of the no-no's into the bargain. For example, I shook the hand of an act who didn't do so well, because I felt he deserved respect for holding his own against the odds. I also shook the hand of the act before me, who'd left the stage, while doing rather well, on the basis that his time had been called, to which the audience moaned. If an act that the audience like is pulled off and they're not happy about it, then following them can be hard. Doing a handshake with him might well have been a talisman against them not liking me, and a prophylactic against "shit gig lurghi" taking root, maybe even a way of transferring "good gig genie" onto me. But it wasn't. I shook his hand and told him he had done a good job (he had) and I said something lame like "Fuck yeah!" because it put me in the right frame of mind.
This is the secret to a good gig, more than anything else, being in the right frame of mind. Some of these rituals are nothing more than a "superstitious pigeon" route to finding the right frame of mind for doing the gig. When I'm funny I'm spontaneous, fast-talking, quick-witted, assertive, hyper-aware of what's going on around me, positive, cheerful, larger than life, loud, and a great big fat YES. That's where I had to get last night, and I did it by focusing on why the gig had been going mental, and why that was actually rather amusing (it sort of is... in a "oh dear, I'm going to be battered" sort of a way), and then making the most of the fact that it's only a game and the only way to play is to jump in at the deep end.
Here's the secret to the success I had last night, where I had it. I went off script. I did it deliberately, a lot. I also delivered different words to those on the virtual page in my head. I re-crafted my stand-up persona so that it had more alpha male in it too... I'm not normally a big sweary guy on stage; my Fringe show can be done without a single expletive. However, sometimes you can slip swearing into conversation to make out that you're the big man. This is done by using swearing as punctuation, not as the substantive of what you're saying. I'd also read the audience, and their laughter button began with a C. Well, kids, today's gig is brought to you by the letter C and the french number "un" and the letter t. Say no more.
The audience in that room needed something big that was happening right in front of them. There was no use hiding behind the script, and no use in asking them to do the work. This is not incredibly atypical of that particular audience, but it was the most extreme case of it that I've seen there. Did I enjoy blasting out my set in that way? Hell yeah! Why not become a bombastic caricature of yourself from time to time. It works for Brian Blessed... in fairness, he's stuck that way.Note to self: write a hilarious song about wanting to have sex with Brian Blessed... it can only be funny.
So what happened at the gig? Well, the audience were in attendance at a free comedy event, that's usually well attended, but by people who don't expect to give much, and can just treat the space as a cafe. Indeed, everyone seemed to be eating something very similar in appearance to a Findus crispy pancake (well, in shape). People could just as easily chat as listen to the comedy, so you had to reach out and impress them. It was actually as simple as that. If you were uncertain in any way, it didn't work. If you expected them to help, it didn't work.
So some acts did their schtick and the audience didn't care, and some acts used their schtick as a stick to stick it to the stuck up sticklers in the crowd. That, to me, was the dividing line. If it were a different sort of gig, it wouldn't be necessary to have to adapt. In the case of one particular act, who did rather well, I think he was born to play an audience that wants a powerhouse performance, and I've only ever seen him give his all. He made me laugh. I'm not going to say his name. Screw him for being so good, I'm not his publicist; he can put his own name around.
I enjoyed myself thoroughly at the gig, and I can only put it down to my "Fuck yeah!" attitude. I gave myself permission to be as big and silly as I like to be, and I got some laughs. Job done.
Or maybe I got my ritual right. Maybe the correct ritual for getting a gig to go well involves stressing over CD production techniques, rebuilding your spare room into a more practical (and it's bloody great now) office space, and falling off a ladder causing small but rather painful minor abrasions. That was Sunday's job. The ladder was only about 7 foot off the ground, and I wasn't so high up it... but when it went, I was left clinging onto the ledge I was climbing up to. When I let go (almost instantly) I thought two things - "I'm going to fall" and "It's only about 2 feet from my feet to the floor". It still hurt. Oweeeh.
I've strayed from the point, which is this: performing stand-up comedy to an audience who have been total bastards all night is a lot more fun than falling off a ladder.
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