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Wednesday, March 28

Toys

I don't know why I've chosen to write this on my tablet, but I am doing that. This is one of the blights of the modern age. You buy toys without really knowing how you are going to use them, and then feel obliged to make use of them, whether you wanted to or not. In this case, I've turned off my noisy loud laptop, and I'm using my tablet - The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 - to write a blog entry, mainly because I can.

Writing is a muscle, and it's important to flex it. Because you can. Everyone could write if they wanted to, you only need to use the same bit of brain as you use for speaking and type the words you hear in your head. Seriously, anyone could do it. The hard part is the editing, and I don't just mean making the words make sense after you've written them. Most people self-edit too much. They start to be so self-conscious that their words will be wrong, that they don't form complete sentences. Having the filter on is a really good way to stifle creativity. I feel the same way when I'm speaking to people for whom English is not their first language and I feel the need to try to simplify my vocabulary to words I believe that I would know if I were speaking in my second language. Boom! No more meaning... for anyone.

So, I have a toy to play with and so I'm playing. I think sometimes the reason I do many of the things I do is because I can. I am in the process of organising something big, and the reason I'm doing it is because I can. As a result, I bloody well will! That's not the most sound of reasons. However, good things happen when people actually get out there and do stuff. It's back to the idea of self-editing. If you worry too much about whether you'll do it perfectly, then you don't get to do anything. You don't get to play and the fun stuff doesn't happen. If the world were a toy, then you'd just have fun with it. I reckon that you can play with the world, so long as it's in a way which doesn't harm others, or at least doesn't harm the innocent or righteous.

Note: innocence and righteousness are in the secular context here, not the religious. I have just watched a Doctor Who episode in which there were lots of clerics, and in which a fellow stand-up plays a character who gets beheaded (no prizes for guessing the episode), but that hasn't inspired me to take up some sort of religion. If it had, I'd be in the religion with the glowing swords. Easy.

Back slightly to the point, and if I'm honest there isn't really a huge point behind this blether, the reason I'm sitting and writing is because I can. There are lots of reasons why I can. The work I did on my desk over the weekend, constructing this:


probably helped. Now I can work.

Yes, that is an Aqua CD on the desk.

Enjoy!


Tuesday, March 27

Do Something

It's quite a common phenomenon. Something's going wrong, it's not your fault, there are other people around, perhaps you can just walk on by.

There are times when you can walk on by because it's not for you to deal with. You see a couple having an argument, you decide:
  • Is someone in danger?
  • Does the aggressor look harder than I am?
  • Am I feeling like a busy body today?
More often than not, you just walk away, because it really isn't your concern.

Or maybe you see a crying child walking apparently lost, and you look around and decide if their parents are probably in sight... and again, maybe you deliberately leave it well alone.

But then there are times when you can't leave it to someone else. You need to take ownership of the situation and you need to get off your arse and do something. It's way too easy to whinge about the state of the world, but it's so much better if you actually bother to try to make it better.

There are even situations where everyone nudges you as if to say - "Do something - it's up to you - he lives in you Simba" - possibly without the Lion King references.

Generally, it should be a matter of your own conscience, though.

Yesterday I did two good deeds and one bad one.

Good Deed 1
I found a pay slip on the ground outside a car park. It had an address on and looked like it had fallen out of someone's bag. I popped a stamp on it and posted it to them with a note saying that I'd found it.

Good Deed 2
This was more of undoing a bad deed. I'd given a rather scathing review of a book on Amazon, to which the author had replied. I'd replied to him, which had been censored by Amazon, so I emailed him my reply, to which he replied in a quite magnanimous way. I'd not replied to this.

Last night I finally replied, having let the trail go cold for a couple of months. I apologised for the scathing way I'd treated his work, and acknowledged the risks of sticking your neck out and facing reviewers - something that I've faced as a comedian and now face as a writer, having recently put my name to an Amazon book.

Furthermore, and I didn't mention this to him, and went back to Amazon and toned down the review. My apology to the writer had been unqualified and genuine, but it didn't mean I suddenly liked his book. From the review, I took out the gratuitously inflammatory phrases and left the meat of my intellectual assessment of the work.

I also took away another rather uncharitable comment I'd made on someone else's review.

I think I undid a bit of bad.

Karmic Balance - The Bad Deed
In fairness to me, this last thing was a bad deed done in the name of good. I'm sure the recipient didn't want to hear it, though.

Here's the email I sent to someone who has raised money to take a family member to the controversial Burzynski Clinic. I recommend following the links to see why they're ultimately being fleeced in the name of false hope.

Hey guys,

I looked up the treatment you're getting for your daughter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antineoplaston

I hope it works out for you.

One thing. If this treatment doesn't work, then it will coincide with some of the precious time you have to share with your daughter. If things get too much, if it looks like it's making life unbearable, then get out of there. Quality of life is worth more than the lottery odds of the treatment working.

Some further reading:

http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2012/01/burzynski-supporting-charity-loses-funding.html
http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2012/01/burzynski-in-court-patient-treated-like-a-cash-machine.html
http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2012/03/the-burzynski-millions.html
http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2011/11/the-burzynski-clinic-threatens-17-year-old-blogger.html

Please note - I'm not affiliated with any group. I'm just a regular guy who heard of your story and have also been reading the various articles and blogs on this treatment. I don't know what I'd do in your situation, and I know you're doing your best.

I wish you all the best of luck.

Ashley

So just Do Something
I'm now in the planning stages for this year's campaign for justice. People are looking to us to do something on the subject of female comedians as Funny Women runs another exploitative business model for its comedy competition. Don't worry: we're on the case!

Monday, March 26

Grumpy Monday

I'm not sure why I should be in such a miserable mood this Monday, but I am. I'm a bit short tempered and what I'd like to describe as "a bit eggy". Comedians like to be edgy, but I'm eggy, and that's not good.

It was a good weekend, so perhaps it's the contrast of weekend to weekday that's the problem. I even enjoyed mowing the lawn yesterday, which was nice. I made friends with the cat who had been potentially terrorising our cats, but has since seemed to make friends with them. I've decided to call him Roger. I don't know why.

Various tasks were done, some of which were outstanding for a long time, so my personal backlog seems a bit better. In fact, I even did some accounting today, which even seems to make my life a bit more straightforward as I have fewer receipts in my pockets and my memory can ditch some data it was holding, pending entry into a spreadsheet.

I should be in a better mood, but I still feel irascible.

Could it be the adjustment to BST. What does BST stand for? Bloody Sleep Thieves?

I'm not sure. I got a reasonable amount of sleep, I think, so perhaps I should be able to adjust to the new clock.

I don't know.

It could be the adjustment to a new season. I've long-held the opinion that adjusting between seasons leads to all manner of annoyance. Let's call it that, then. It's Spring, and I've not yet got a suitable amount of bounce.

One thing I've discovered is that watching this YouTube clip is a restorative. So enjoy it.



If all else fails, grumpiness can be ameliorated by the sight of some blokes smashing the hell out of each other.

Saturday, March 24

Oh What A Night

I think there is definitely a certain category of performance I am doing these days that can be described as a cry for help. My stand-up style has always been pretty cheerful and declamatory, and that hasn't changed as I am a pretty damned jolly individual. However, the aging process, coupled with my unbelievably poor weight control, coupled with the perspective of being very happily newly-wed, has made me behave a bit oddly, regretful but high spirited.

Last night's gig was in three sections and I was closing. My set was itself in three sections as I will try to recall, recount and explain.

In the opening section of the show we had the natural ups and downs of an audience in a space that wasn't ideal for comedy - it was too echoey - but which was eminently playable, as the MC aptly demonstrated. The audience proved to be one where you needed to keep your foot on the gas to make it work. I watched and was amused by the acts and by the audience.

I even managed to spot one of my favourite types of things in a room - a thing in plain sight which nobody would have given a second thought to, but which I could joke about. It was a sign that read 'strictly no smoking' which could easily be joked about as a small town version of 'Strictly Come Dancing' replete with Bruce Forsyth impersonation... No it doesn't read funny.

In the middle section there was an excellent performance from one of my favourite comedians, Anna Keirle. She was barn-storming, and gave me a good measure of the nature of the audience as well as a belly full of laughs.

So then it was my turn to take to the stage. We already knew a lot about the audience at this stage, including the man who sold bull semen for a living, the girl who wouldn't turn around to face the stage and the way they all responded to diffent types of joke. My set, as I said before was in three parts. In the first part I hit them with gags and routines, I quipped about the venue, did my strictly no smoking joke, bantered on bull semen sales - apparently it is sold by the straw. Ick. In general, I was in control and they were listening.

However, this was the audience that needed the pressure putting on them, so then we hit a faltering middle section. By faltering, I mean that bits and bobs were kept a bit wrong and I would have to either joke my way out of it, or accept that a certain bit of material wasn't quite right for that audience at that moment. In many ways this is what the middle of the set is for, a dip before the finale. There was one odd moment, mind, when I was interrupted by some music coming from someone's phone. She hushed it, but it sounded familiar. I identified the chord and played it on the guitar to check... Then I realised what it was. She had recorded the song I had just done, my Britney Spears as done by the Rainbow puppets - it sounds crap written down. I was being heckled by myself. We had some business about that, but that was probably the point at which the balance of power started to change.

In the closing part of the set, the audience discovered that they outnumbered me, and it became a bit like a hostage situation. I was heckled with a request to reprise the Rainbow impression. I agreed and it was a fun and interesting aside. I kept fighting back, throwing gags, observations and such like at the audience, including random things I had noticed from watching them earlier, including people's names, tatoos, anything... I was going down, and I was taking them with me. It was making laughs and it was fun, but I was almost deliberately standing on the line between in and out of control.

I think the moment I started screeching 'Private Dancer' while pole dancing around the mic stand was probably the moment I knew I had to stop.

I closed on my usual closing number, was paid and left.

The rest is not silence... It was a two hour car journey home listening to podcasts with the stresses of the week burned away. I guess a bit of extreme silliness is an answer.


Friday, March 23

Pay To Play vs Investing In Your Career

It's that time of year again. Two things are in the news. The first is Funny Women, an organisation that claims to support women in comedy, who are running their annual competition and are charging people to perform in it. The second news item is the brewing excitement about the Edinburgh Fringe, where performers go to perform, spending money to have shows at venues.

In both cases, acts spend a lot of money and then perform, and so the words "Pay To Play" are being bandied about.

Let's be clear. Pay to Play, as defined here (and yes, I did write that) is a bad thing for stand-up comedy. There are lots of potential reasons it's a bad thing, the main one being this:

How DARE a promoter make up for the lack of profitability in their business model by attempting to invoice the very PRODUCT they're selling!?

I think that puts it simply enough.

With the above righteous ire, it's now easier to separate the comedy promoters who charge people to perform in comedy nights they're running, from the Fringe venues who charge show producers for the staging of shows.

In my view, the Edinburgh Fringe is Pay to Produce, not Pay to Play. There is a big big difference. The Producer is the business person who is responsible for investing in a show for various possible reasons. Perhaps the show will be profitable (my Fringe show last year made money). Perhaps the show will develop the act. Maybe the promotion of the act will be a loss-leader in terms of getting their name out there. All in all producing a show is not an altruistic endeavour, it's an investment made by the producer.

In my view, there should always be a potential profit or pay back in putting on any sort of commercial show. The producer should sign a deal where that profit can be achieved. So, Pay to Produce is simply capitalism and is a relationship between two businesses.

It's made more complicated by the fact that many smaller shows have an act who is also the producer. If you segregate the roles, though, I think it's very different to pay to go to the Fringe than to pay to be on a bill in someone else's show.

I include "bringing people along" as a term of the contract as being Pay to Play. If you are required to provide money or services as a pre-requisite of being allow to perform for no fee in a show which someone else is selling tickets for and keeping the money for themselves, then you are being suckered into a Pay to Play scheme.

I hope that's a useful definition. I'll be producing my own show Discograffiti at the Brighton Fringe and the Edinburgh Fringe this year, and I'm charging myself nothing for the right to be allowed to go on the stage I've booked for myself.

By the way, you can read more about what it's like to put shows on at the Fringe in the book I collaborated on, which is now available in print as well as on the Kindle.

Tuesday, March 6

Some Random Song Thoughts

From here, there's the quote:

The classic case in point is the song "We Wish You A Merry Christmas", which starts jolly enough, but then begins to demand some Figgy Pudding and if they don't get any, then they're going to sing and sing until they get it. I've not even got a fig roll. This song is surely the "I know a song that'll get on your nerves" of the Christmas music canon.

And then from here there's the story of how I had an inner monologue that was singing mournful music while I was physically singing something more cheery.

With some more Googling, I found out that Microsoft have created Songsmith to automatically generate backing tracks to music for you.

Interesting.

Monday, March 5

I've been working on a book

For those of you wanting to read it, it's here. I've contributed a bit to it, and acted as editor. Owing to alphabetical order, it looks like I wrote it, which is unfair on its real author - Mr Ian Fox. I recommend it for anyone who is going to, or is thinking about producing an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

So Many Things That I Could Have Done Earlier

I am probably a procrastinator. I think, in fact, that I'm definitely one. Why? I'll tell you later.

Oh, the hilarity!

Sometimes things get put off for good reasons, and sometimes it's a case of not having the momentum to get the job done regardless. Sometimes you just need to find an extra 5% and the job is done, whatever that job happens to be.

I was at my parents' house today and they had a couple of bits of technology which they weren't using, really for the want of only a few minutes' information sharing or setting up. I showed them the things they needed to know and now they're all the more closer to getting the benefit of the item that they bought and paid for, or were given.

One of the tasks I had to do for my Dad involved exporting some contacts out of one format and into Google. Now, I've been meaning to find a way to get my email from my old Microsoft Outlook format into the Google system for ages. I had been blocked from doing this by the resistance my computer was giving to making Outlook work for me, and I'd given up after only an hour or so's playing. The technique I was about to use for my father's contacts suddenly leapt out as the answer to my old email issue.

So now I'm in the process of exporting about 8 years' worth of emails from a big file on my computer into the cloud. I'll be able to search these emails (I'll probably never read them) and will have a historic record that goes back further than last April, which is when I surrendered to Googlemail in the cloud and immediately wished I hadn't put that off as long as I did.

The problem with playing catch-up is that you end up being late and having missed the benefits. It's a bit like getting to a party at 11pm. You're under more pressure to get in there than the people who showed up on time.

I'm not an early adopter, and I never do a job if I think it can wait. Clearly, though, I should sometimes just push on through, rather than find myself dragging things about late at night when really I should be doing something else... like sleeping.

Bah! I can sleep later.

Friday, March 2

Writing books

I'll be talking about writing a lot for the next few weeks as I see what happens with the ebook that my friend Ian Fox just released and as I write a show choc full of songs that is itself about the process of writing songs. Not only that, but the fact that I will be trying to master the use of my new toy, a tablet PC... Well, tablet androidey thing... means I will not be taking the written word for granted as I become conscious again of what it takes to commit letters to the page.

It is strange how you can be competent at something and not realise it. Perhaps you don't notice this competence until you have to learn the skill afresh or realise that you don't even have it any more. I wasn't surprised last night to discover that nearly all the BBC Micro computer skills I had as a teenager had deserted me, but I still noticed it. How strange my fifteen year old self would have found me, and strange I found his (well my) code as I peered through the listing last night.

I have made things on computers for most of my life. 30+ years a computer keyboard operator. I started on the flat rubber keys of the ZX81 and now I am again fighting with flat unresponsive keys on my tablet. It all comes round and round. I have written millions of words in code, emails, blogs and the occasional attempts at books.

So I am excited to have something I have been involved in writing come out as a legitimate book. It is as much fun as having my CD out (see here for details) and a bit better than seeing my words in print in the computer magazines I have contributed to. Perhaps my article in the Mail on Sunday was a bigger hitter, but this still feels great.

Buy books and Google my output... If you like.


The day the music was born

Just under 10 years ago, my life changed. I can look back on it now, from the vantage point of a 38 year old married man, considering the end of a relationship that's the one (or so) before the one before this one and see it differently. I was sort of a different person back then, and I'm glad to be me now. The point is that the seeds for some of me now were sown back then when I was me then. If you see what I mean.

I hadn't written a song before May 2002.

Well, I had... ish... I seem to recall being in a shed with some friends in the middle of the night working out a song which might only ever exist in the form of a computer. I just Googled it...

Oh good grief. If you were the sort of person who wanted to visit an old Acorn Electron disk site, and then download a BBC Emulator to play the discs, you would actually be able to hear the song. I just did. It's scary. I discovered by looking at the program, that it was written in 1989, when I was probably fifteen, and that my coding has improved a long way since then!

For fact fans, the song was called "Floating Away With The Clouds" and, like some of the other nonsense you can find in my name on there, it was a bit Pet Shop Boys-esque in sound, because that's how all music sounded at the end of the 80's. I was only co-author on the music and not the lyrics. In fact, there's a god-awful instrumental called "Dance of the Ice Cubes" which was also published on there, and I don't recall getting any royalties for its subsequent putting on a disk and spreading around the universe. Given that such royalties might probably more fairly be negative, I don't think I could afford to pay, so I'm glad.

Excepting a few musical forays as I was finding myself in my teenage years, I really hadn't classed myself as a songwriter, yet in the last 10 years, I've written a lot of songs. I put some of it down to my friend Chris, who inspired me to at least have a go, and with whom I've written two musicals (I just threw that in, didn't I) including the self-titled The Musical! that did exactly what it said on the tin, really. That too is also available online, and I'm starting to worry that I'll be immortal at this rate. You shouldn't be able to Google your past so easily, even if you did put some of it up online yourself.

I've been writing comedy songs for the last 9 years and I'm about to embark on another songwriting adventure. I hope to write more about the art of songwriting soon, but for now I'll share one last link. It's my article about things to avoid doing as a musical comedian.


So many blogs

After a time away from this blog, I'm now blogging every night? Is that it? Well, perhaps. For now, I'm going to share the latest developments.

When I first started using Amazon, I never really expected to find myself on there selling products. But seek and you shall find: Ashley's Amazon Store.

The exciting new development, since I already had my album on the mp3 store well before today, is that the book I've been helping Ian Fox with is now out. Please have a look, it's here, and buy it if you're ever thinking of staging any Fringe show, especially a comedy one, since it is a genuinely good catalog of well thought-through advice.

The silly thing is that, owing to the alphabetisation of our names, I'm listed as the principal author, when this is, in fact, Ian's work, that I've simply assisted with here and there. So, credit where it's due. Buy Ian's book, enjoy the silly stories about things we've seen and done, and even a tale about me.

End of plug.


Thursday, March 1

Headling For Disaster

Tonight I was billed on the poster for the gig in an unusual way. To quote it said:

Headling: Ashley Frieze "Certainly knew how to raise the big laughs"

Now, the press quote is an old favourable review I once got, and since I seldom get reviewed, it's one of the reviews that peole often use about me... What I'm basically saying is that I am used to seeing those words. But the word "headling" is new to me.

One thing that I notice as a trait in both comedians and skeptics is their power to exaggerate the taking literally of something that isn't really claiming to be any of the things that they then extrapolate from the literal interpretation. This fallacious argument technique is known as the straw man. So, I could start to ponder what the poste writer meant when they said I was a headling... Perhaps I was born of a head, or grew from a young head into an adult male...

...except I know that this is not what happened. It was a two character typo on a poster. I was headlining, of course.

What's interesting for me is how this typo set of against the press quote. In this new context as a headling, the quote looks almost sarcastic. Yes, this so-called headling certainly knew how to raise big laughs... Bloody headlings, taking to our stages, headling our audiences. Laugh? Not me. Not even a small one!

This ability for a new bit of information, context or insight to distort your view of something that's been sitting in plain sight for ages is something I am particularly interested in as a comedian. It can be one of the most satisfying of jokes, and I find myself looking for ad hoc observations that I can pull into each gig from what surrounds me.

Tonight's show was at Richmond University, the main building of which is a deconsecratec ex seminary, I believe. With signs on the walls and windows in Latin, preaching the love of religion, this was a strange setting for our most lovely gig, and must also be an odd place to live and study... Yet it is probably considered to be perfectly normal by its residents who are undoubtedly inured to its nuances.

Today I declared, and yes you did have to be there, that it was the first gig I had done where the signs saying this way to the gig were in Latin. The elephant in the room, the thing hiding in plain sight, was outed and it was at least amusing to us all.

One of the acts contacted me after the show to tell me that he'd never seen a headling before, and that I was the best one he'd seen.

Sometimes comedy feels like satisfying time well spent.


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