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
I posted some uncharitable comments on Twitter tonight. I wasn't in the wrong, but I wasn't in the right either.
Quick bit of background: comedians sometimes do double-up gigs. This is where, theoretically, you can earn twice as much in one night by agreeing to do two gigs. Given that my previous gig had paid me £5, which was £5 more than I was expecting (it was a preview, I was doing it for the try-out of material), I wasn't expecting money from my agreed double-up tonight. I was just proving to myself I could do it.
The problem with double-up gigs is that they're actually quite hard work. The first gig has the shadow of the second one hanging over it, and then there's the inevitable rush between venues. In Edinburgh, I managed to rush between about 3 venues doing consecutive shows, running slightly late for each. I was nearly in a situation where all three shows I was performing in were overlapping, but I think that the first had ended when I took to the stage on the 3rd... which was about the 5th or 6th gig of the day, but I digress.
So the first of tonight's gigs, potentially a nice one, ended up going pearshaped a little for three reasons:
- The audience took a while to arrive, so the room was a bit empty when I took to the stage
- The audience present were served food just before I went on, and it got awkward
- A comedy hero of mine was in the room, and I really felt more like I was making an arse of myself than a good show of myself
That said, the definition of pear-shaped for me now would have been the definition of "great gig" to the me of my early years, so it's all relative.
I sped (legally) off to the second gig and then I tweeted a few disparaging remarks. The gig was in the open bar of a venue. There was a lot of noise, you couldn't hear the sound properly at the back of the room, and the audience weren't really listening to the act before me, who was a music act.
Though I do musical stand-up, following musical acts can be an issue owing to the British tendency to talk over music, rather than admire and chin-stroke. You get that sort of thing at acoustic clubs, but the atmosphere of this night was not acoustic-clubby. I found out later than it normally is like that, but tonight was a bit crazy.
I didn't know when I was tweeting, that I would also be performing my set front stage as a band set up behind me. And when I say stage, I mean floor, and when I say behind me, I don't mean behind a curtain, or silently. I was basically standing in the middle of a melee of people setting up and even trying out drums.
I acknowledged it a bit, as the drummer knocked four times (he will knock four times) and then realised that I had the perfect set-up for a "badum-tish" punchline drum hit. So I asked him to do that. He did. It was fun. So I told a crap one-liner that I'd written today and he put in the drum bit again. Burrr-illiant.
I got to my last song - the song with the long notes - and I told him to drum along when it was obvious to do so. What I should have said was "12 bar blues in A, watch me for the changes and try to keep up" but I only just thought of that. So off I went on my song and he did put a suitable drum part to it. It sounded great. Tick! another dream fulfilled. One small problem, though, I normally up the tempo at the end to make my long notes seem longer than they are while I actually don't have to perforate a lung to achieve them. I hadn't had any time to inform the drummer of this, so I just did it less and then made lots of body language to end the song, and the chappie followed me and made it work.
I tweeted "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun" thanks to the Sherman brothers and Mary Poppins there. That's the secret. If you're a comedian, or thinking of being one, I've just illustrated how to enjoy a gig and, by definition, get the audience to enjoy it. Find something fun to focus on, to put all the silly environmental or self-doubting distractions to one side. In my case tonight, I turned the distracting drummer into a temporary part of the act and it made me happy.
So I was wrong to be so negative, but I'm glad I found the silver lining/little drummer boy.
Don't Watch This
Last night's preview was fun. Of course, material always has to be tried and tested and some stuff works and some stuff doesn't. With a writing partner you can edit more in the writing/rehearsal room. I had more fun putting The Musical!
together - my first fringe show - as a result... and here it is... but don't watch it. Warning! Eyes may bleed!
It's easier to destroy than to build
|Just a bit too much "me"|
At 38 I'm old enough to feel like I'm in touch with my failings and optimistic enough to think I can still do something positive about them, or about life in general. Whether that's true is anyone's guess. All I can say is that there's more to be gained by making things than by destroying them.
I took the photo to the left a couple of days ago, as I think it summarises some aspects of my life. Pictured include:
- Some bits of technical geekery - an iPod and a tablet PC
- DVDs - one is Phantom of the Opera and the other an adaptation of Les Miserables into a non-musical film.
- Glasses - two pairs
- A filing cabinet with some scrabble tile magents on it
- A desk lamp
- A desk shelf that I built myself
How much more "me" can you get. DIY, geekery and musical theatre in one bundle. Brilliant.
In the next couple of months I'm going to be putting a lot of things together. I only do creative things out of a fascination in the results and the optimism that there'll be benefit to all people involved if it's done well. I think I'm way past the stage of making things to prove that I'm an untapped goldmine of genius. Honestly. Parading my ego is not the major goal. It can look that way, but that's not it.
I fully expect to see some people sitting on the sidelines sneering away at me for what I'm trying to achieve. This is something of a shame, since sneering is easy and doesn't add much to the world, where it's much harder to set about creating something.
I will do my best to ignore the modern-day adult equivalent of the school bullies smoking behind the bike sheds. It's easier said than done, but it's the right thing to do.
Friday Night is Music Night
Owing to various trips and commitments, it had been over a week since I last performed and I had a gig to go to. On top of that, I was using the gig to run in some new material. Running in material can also be a way of saying "trying to do something unwritten to see if there's any point in bothering" - we all have our euphemisms or ways of putting things, like that time at the checkout of the garden centre when I said "Right, thanks... now, off home to plug these into the soil and see which ones die" - that's pretty much what it's like with new jokes.
I scribbled some stuff down, in as much as I put it into the computer and then printed it out, and then headed off. I discovered my arrival time was going to be put under time-pressure when I received a call from the MC that night asking if I'd help set up the PA system. Would I? Yes, I would. The traffic had other ideas, mind.
Eventually, I arrived and discovered the PA system had already been set up. To call it a PA system would be a bit like calling a cardboard box a "storage solution". It was an amplifier with a mic plugged in. These things should probably not even work, but they do and it did.
What followed was a perfectly pleasant comedy night in which various people performed and after which I chatted to some lovely Australian people, one of whom gave me their card (examples of which pictured right) which I immediately filed under "things I will need to explain to my wife if/when she sees them".
I even took the opportunity to plug the book which I was involved with, which is an act of altruism, since I don't get anything other than job satisfaction from any sales that the book generates. Still, perhaps job satisfaction is what it's all about. Of all trades, comedy is one which seems entirely based on job satisfaction, as it's the one where you get the most instant of feedbacks possible.
In an office you could slave away at something and then it may never get any feedback, or people may take a while to process it and then tell you something. There's a real delay between effort and reward. In stand-up it's instantaneous. You can watch the audience reacting as you set a joke up, and then you find out at the punchline whether it was all worth it or not. This is why comedy is great and also why trying out new material is so nerve racking.
Owing to experience, both mine and the other acts', I was put on last at the gig. I had a choice - I could play it safe and go for laughs, or I could do some stuff to establish I knew what I was doing, and then go for the new material. I chose to top and tail the set with tried and tested and then stick the experimental stuff in in the middle. This is a sensible formula.
I can tell you now, it pays to rehearse. Well, it would have. I found an immediate sense of surprise at the material I was trying - I had no idea where to push it and what to expect. On the up-side, though, even in this poorly thought out form, some stuff worked and I feel I've got some key feedback to help develop the material. On the downside, when? I'm awfully embroiled in stuff at the moment. See the next post.
Anyway, it was a fun night, and I saw some great comedy before I took to the stage. Instant satisfaction. That's comedy.
Reading over the shoulder and the fun at the airport
I am one of those people who reads over someone's shoulder and that's probably quite rude. I can't help it. I'm not nosey, per se, just easily captivated by things I can read. I like words, so when I see them I want to know what they say. I have reasonable vision (by which I mean my eyes, rather than my grand designs for the world) so can often make out stuff over someone's shoulder, which is only going to encourage me to do it all the more, I fear.
I've probably been pissing off the guy next to me on the plane by craning to see what is on the page of the copy of the Daily Mail that he's been reading, which is irritating, since the Daily Mail seldom has anything on its page that I'd prefer to be reading. I guess it's a case of any old port in a storm. The storm in question is the bit on the plane where they don't let you use your electronic items, which is kind of annoying, since this tablet PC is pretty much my entire entertainment/distraction/work zone for the purposes of this flight.
The guy next to me sort of got it own back by peering at my device as I was using it just now, but I've turned the screen away so he probably won't be able to read this, and I suspect he's more interested in my lithe fingers as they sail over the keyboard that I think I wisely bought when I got the tablet. There's a lot benefit in using it as a pure touchscreen device, in some situations, but I don't think I could use it for more than a few hundred words per week without the dinky little keyboard that I'm now using, a keyboard which got me into trouble earlier on.
I am a fairly seasoned traveller when it comes to using Heathrow Terminal 5. I take a pride in getting through the system quickly and painlessly. Sadly this didn't happen today. Part of the problem was the attitude of the staff, who were being pretty stroppy and inefficient. I think their stroppiness came from the general hassle they were getting from the public as queues were moving slowly, and I think queues were moving slowly because they were too busy being stroppy to make it work well. A vicious circle.
I've now got a bag that contains all the lovely portable devices that you get these days. All these light devices are wonderful examples of how you can carry the world with you in a few grams. A mobile phone, well two; a tablet PC; a laptop; a Kindle; a keyboard for the table; an iPod and of course some actually books and pads, just in case... I've got them all. You have to take the laptop out of the bag in order to go through the scanner, and I did this in one quick moving, scoffing at the other people who were seemingly unprepared for going through the conveyor belt.
My laptop came through, but my bag was held. I was told I had an iPad in it. I let that go - it's a Samsung Galaxy Tab and I chose that instead of iPad for cultural reasons, though I'm finding it hard to refer to it as a tablet or tab and keep wanting to call it my iPad, which is annoying me. I was also told to take out my Kindle. I don't think these things have had to be scanned separately before, but I complied.
Then my bag went through again and the tablet and the Kindle came through too. These latter items passed, but the bag was held up again. I was told it had a flat thing in it, quite solid. I was thinking it might be a book or something, but then they said it might be a keyboard. I told them where it was located and they ran it through again. I protested slightly that it was just a bit of plastic, but they said it had circuit boards on it, which is fair enough. I think I was being a bit defensive as I felt they thought I was hiding something and I wasn't. I also let them search the bag, because to be perfectly honest, I have nothing to hide and just wanted to get the thing over with.
On third scan, the keyboard and my bag came through. I asked the operated - "are you happy now?".
You will probably read that question the way he did, because you think I was cross and expect that I had my "tone of voice" on. I didn't. I was being quite calm and compliant, slightly sheepish about forgetting the keyboard and generally aware that they're just doing their job. The operator had a go at me: "You don't know the rules we have to go through. There's no need to be unpleasant to us."
I had to explain. "No. When I asked if you were happy, I meant it as in 'is everything now ok?' I don't do sarcasm." Actually, I think I called him sir, not in an obsequious way, but more in the way you might call a barman sir, or someone you meet in a lift.
I was pretty pissed off after that. I feel like they didn't make their rules clear enough. Since when does "please take laptops out of the bag" mean "and also anything with a keyboard, or maybe anything with an LCD or anything flat that some dumb twat with an X-Ray machine cannot identify.
I was also in a bit of a mood, because my bag, with all my metal items, wallet, coins and portable devices, weighs a ton.
Still, I have learned a new lesson about what to take out when I go through a scanner.
Writing Is Important
Writing is pretty important to me. It's at the heart of everything I've been doing professionally for the last few years. For the vast majority of activities I perform, the inability to string words together on paper or its electronic equivalent would be absolutely fatal. Since a lot of people I deal with largely exist on my screen, the inability to use my fingers to communicate with them via words would render them non-existent.
It's no surprise then that I take a pride in the value of writing. I pitched in to help a friend of mine write his book - a photo of which is to the right here - more information about which is here
. Seeing the book in the flesh, so to speak, really makes the efforts of putting it together seem worthwhile. I put my time in because a book well written is a book worth reading.
Over on the Chortle Forums
at the moment there is a discussion raging over the writing and crafting of jokes. In short a new writer has come onto the forums to sell their material, and has been met with a number of comedians advising them on how best to get into joke writing and how to set their expectations on how many jokes you need to write to get usable jokes out. Overall, the advice has been pretty pleasant, but I think there's a background of injured pride to the whole discussion.
On the one hand, a bunch of hardened comedians know the rules - you write a lot of jokes, throw loads away, try out the good ones, see loads of them fail, and end up with a 1 in 10 hit rate which you can use. Throwing a lot of material away is tough, especially when you wrote it in the first place, but keeping it for the sake of it is worse. This is how comedy works - it's not quite the same for non comic pieces. Writing the book, for example, we threw words and phrases away, but often kept most of the points we were making.
Then you've got the optimism of a newbie - someone who is keen to give it a go and doesn't want to hear the negatives. They want results fast. This happens with all newbies in comedy and sometimes the youthful exuberance wins, and sometimes it's just bluff and delusion.
The thing is, neither side is capable of understanding the other's points. For the enthusiastic person accepting that they may be wrong is tantamount to giving up. For the hardened experienced person, accepting that the newbie might be as good as they say they are would be detrimental too. How can someone get this right so quickly if we have to slog at it?
Whether it's prose, music or one-liners, though, the creation of the perfect turn of phrase is an art that's much easier to get wrong than get right. It's also very easy to explain why something doesn't work for you, and easy to explain the basic way to make it work, but almost impossible to crystallise techniques for getting it absolutely right every time. In fact, there is no formula for getting it right, you either "hear the music" or you don't.
I like this phrase - "hear the music". It describes the feeling I get when the words are coming out right. It's that quasi spiritual connection with the muse. It's the inspiration being channelled into the perfect combination spontaneously. It's that ability to know good from bad and create something neat.
From most of the advice I've been given, the secret is that there is no secret. Perseverance, time spent, practice and trying out loads of combinations seem to result in success. For every success there's a skip full of "nearly" and "no quite" and "no way".
I've decided to start a Twitter account for jokes - @AshleyJokes
which is quite a nice name for it. I think some jokes are very me. I shall probably tweet them.
If you write, then my advice is do it lots, enjoy it, and throw loads of stuff away. Test it out first.
This is what happens when I can't quite get my Edinburgh show written, but feel passionate about writing enough to do something...
You Never Know What You've Got
How many times will I do this - look back on myself as a younger man and go "bloody hell, I looked good". I just spotted this gem on my computer. This is me when I was first dating my wife... she wasn't my wife at the time. I'm now several stone heavier and though I love eating, I don't think it was worth it.
I'm back on the fatty rations again. Although it will be hard to keep total control of what I eat, I think I can do better. I would like to be increasingly healthier again, please. If you spot me munching something naughty, please mention this post.
I'll be honest with you, and by you, I probably mean me, since I'm not sure anyone reads this anymore.
I am really struggling with the writing of new material for my new show. I think the causes for this are two-fold:
- I am way too busy
- My new show has such a generic brief, it could be about anything, so I'm having trouble starting
That said, I'm not doing NO writing. I'm just having trouble. This is only to be expected. It's all part of the process. There are various techniques for shocking some material out of my writer's brain. One technique is simply to have a deadline. I have some deadlines. In fact, the deadlines are now stressing me out as much as the absence of inspiration. In fairness, without the deadlines, the absence of inspiration wouldn't be noticeable.
Mid-term deadlines are the worst - they're coming, but not soon enough to panic, just enough to give a general sense of disquiet.
Short-term deadlines are really important. Failure is instant with a short-term deadline.
Therefore, it is a good thing that I have some new material try-out gigs in which I'm meant to be performing the material I've written, even though in some cases I've not actually written it. How can I commit to performing something as yet unwritten, or even unthought of?
I have done some rapid feats of songwriting/material writing in my time, so sometimes urgency is exactly what I need. I have gone to a gig in the past, written three new songs while the first section was happening, quickly had a go at putting a tune to them in the interval, and then performed them (from notes) straight away.
I've similarly prepared songs while on trains, or sitting in silence before driving to the gig. None of this is a guarantee of song quality, but it's doable.
In fact, my "party trick" at Edinburgh is to write a song while waiting to go on stage. Usually this is set up via the "gag challenge" or by the act on stage bantering with the audience and then telling them that I will be coming out to do my set with a song that I'll have written specifically about them. The "gag challenge" is where you take suggestions from the audience for a famous person and a household object and then have to produce a joke combining them. I would sometimes make 3 jokes and then come up with a song too. My "hussain bolt and a wallpaper papering table" was a real doozy.
Sadly, joke challenge/audience songs are not reusable, fun though they are.
Writing under a deadline is good.
Last night I sat in my car outside the venue, going over notes of some material that I had been working on, and rewriting it. I even wrote a new song - which I bet is rubbish.
The thing is, I don't know. The gig was pulled, so I'll never know what it would have been like to perform that material in that room at that time. I didn't mind. I still got the deadline. It's frustrating too, though, since I had all the build up for the gig and then had an empty feeling of not knowing what would happen if I did those songs. Plus, though I now have some more material to work with, I haven't any feedback on it in its initial draft state.
I'm firmly of the opinion that a joke is only funny once someone has laughed at it. Though I think my hilarious answer to REM's "Everybody Hurts" -> "Everybody poos" is probably a winner, I won't know for a few more days since my next gigs are not ones where I can experiment. I really need some messing around time at home, but this hasn't been possible recently. Maybe it will come.
Gigs are going well right now, so I'm feeling funny, which is a lot of the battle. I'm also feeling quite insecure about the new material, which is the other part of the battle... Still, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.
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