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Thursday, October 24

Psychoville Series 2 - a belated verdict

I recall seeing Psychoville's first series on TV when I was living in Reading back in 2008. I saw one episode and thought "I'm going to miss this on broadcast" and immediately bought the DVDs. I watched them avidly and then forgot about the series.

About a year ago, on a plane to India, I re-watched the first series and decided it was even better than I remembered. Series 2 went onto the Amazon wishlist. I've only just gotten round to buying and watching it (including the Halloween special, which is annoying abridged on the Series 2 disc, though I somehow managed to watch it unabridged).

I am in equal measures enthralled and disappointed by this series. I'm glad to have had more of the show, but glad it stopped here. I think the problem stems from the fact that it's more of the same. Taken as part of the whole canon of the League of Gentlemen, it feels very much like old ideas are getting a repeat airing. That's not to denigrate those ideas - they were worth using the first time and are given a new angle/spin the second time. Unfortunately, they just don't feel as fresh to me this time.

Even the music is thematically quite similar to the League of Gentlemen's original music.

That said, there are so many lovely characters, silly events in dark moments, bits of cheeky onscreen wordplay you have to look for. It's still a multi-layered show which had its laugh-out-loud moments. That's the frustration. Strip away 25% of it, and there's a core of lovely, captivating, addictive TV.

The way that grotesque characters can be made sympathetic and even heart-stoppingly poignant is art. Just art.

It still ended up with some predictable plot turns and a bit of magic - the Deus Ex Machina ending - standard fayre.

Great but not great.

Sunday, October 20

Things I didn't say today

- Because it's not the 1970's
- Maybe I should try to book Dave Allen, then... though I'm afraid he's dead
- I could probably rustle up some amateurs for £30
- Who even says "blue" these days, when they don't mean a colour or a boy band?
- I don't know sales, but I know buying signals when I don't see them
- I'm out
- Bad Santa
- Your gross profit must be shit

Some debates are worth having.

Saturday, October 19

Oh What a Night

I recall doing a bit of on stage material, perhaps improvised about the song Oh What a Night. Perhaps I am misremembering and perhaps I only wrote the material and didn't use it. The nub or crux of the material was that the events of late December back in 63 are somehow immortalised and in our collective memories. Some bloke got laid 50 years ago and we all know about it.

Tonight wasn't so momentus. It might have been.

I went for a night out with some old work colleagues. A good time and a nice curry was had by all. On the way home something odd happened. I was driving along when a light flashed on the bridge over the road. Was it a speed camera? Was I speeding? I checked. I didn't think I was and it looked like I was fine. As I was pondering what was going on, the road ahead didn't make sense. Lights and shadows on my side of the dual carriageway were not correct.

I kind of instantly worked out what I had been seeing. The guy on the bridge was flashing me a warning as there was a car across the carriageway. It looked to be doing a three point turn in order to face me. I didn't really have time to think. I just reacted.

Years of trying to react logically kicked in. My inner director took control, found the gap, had me applying the brakes in a controlled fashion while ignoring the shock of the situation. My hands were firm on the steering wheel. In fairness there was most of a lane and the hard shoulder to work with. It was not a close shave... It was weird. I couldn't work out whether the car that had been across the road then turned to face me, or drove back up the carriageway facing the oncoming traffic.

I still don't know. I was fairly adrenaline charged as I pulled over at the petrol station. I asked the next car to pull in whether they had encountered the same thing. They hadn't. No need to call the police.

I didn't die.

Result.


Friday, October 18

Putting off the scammers

It's been an amusing day. I received an email, claiming to be from a fellow comedian whom I've never met. It was clearly a scam, but I thought I'd play along to see where it went. The answer is not far. Still, I hope I've contributed something to the world in the process.

First email was:


Can you be of help? Am in a terrible situation right now.

I replied:


What's the situation?


The rest unfolded:

Just hoping this email reaches you well, I'm sorry for this emergency, and for not informing you about my urgent trip to Ukraine but I just have to let you know my present predicament. Everything was  fine until I was attacked on my way back to the hotel, I wasn't hurt but I lost my money, bank cards, mobile phone and my bag in the course of this attack. I immediately contacted my bank in other to block my cards and also made a report at the nearest police station. I'm physically OK and fine but I'm urgently in need of some money to pay for my hotel bills which is £2,600 Pounds or anything you can afford, and i promise to refund it immediately as i get back home. The fastest and safest means of getting the money to me now is via Western Union Money Transfer . I will have to show my valid passport as an identification to pick up the funds here.

Below are my info's needed at western union:

NAME: xxxx yyyy redacted to protect the innocent
ADDRESS: Vintera Blvd, 30, Zaporizhzhya, Zaporizka, Ukraine
STATE: Zaporizhzhya
COUNTRY: Ukraine
AMOUNT : £2,600 Pounds

Let me know when you have it done and keep me posted with the transfer details including the 10 digits MTCN# confirmation number code.


Hi

I'm so glad you got in touch. Are you sure £2600 is enough. Remember the time when I was in trouble with rent and you lent me £3200. I still haven't paid that back. Should I just transfer the £3200? Then we're even and you'll be able to buy your way out of the Ukraine.

I didn't realise you were over there. You should keep me more informed, dude. What are you doing in Ukraine? Is it a gig? or just a vacation?

Let me know urgently, I've got my cheque book and I'm on my way out of the door, once I know what you need.



£2,600 is all i need right now, kindly go ahead with the transfer and keep me posted with the Western Union confirmation number as soon as you are done.

Many Thanks.



Dude, I won't hear of it. £3200 is what you lent me and £3200 is what you're getting.

I was worried for you, so I rang your mum. She's sending your brother out to meet you. He's booked a flight that gets in tonight at 8pm and he'll get a taxi straight over to your place. He seems pretty angry that someone's attacked you, and you know how violent he can get. I recommend you buy him some drinks to calm him down, you don't want him killing anyone do you?

Just confirm all's ok, and I'm out the door to send your money.

Cheers


I should point out, I'm not the sort to call people "dude", it just made me feel more authentic in this pranking the tosser scenario.

Okay, keep me posted..


That was a bit too brief, so I thought I'd amp up the pressure.

Hi again

I've got even better news. Your sister is joining your brother. They're going to bring the cash with them. What currency do you want it in? They can bring it in pounds, but perhaps travellers cheques would be better? Would dollars work? Which currency is best for you?

I think your sister will help keep your brother under control a bit, but he seems pretty amped up. Could you drop him an email to tell him you're ok. He's talking about going out and looking for the guys that got you. I think he might be coming with a few "tools" to smash some faces in.

I reckon if you buy him a couple of beers and show him you're ok, he'll calm down.

I'm just going out now to write a cheque to your sister so she can get the money. I'll take my iPhone with me. Message me soon about the currency.

I know this is a bad time, dude, but at least your bad luck is bringing your family together. I reckon it's going to be a great night tonight.

They asked me about the address you gave. Will you be there at 9pm tonight?


No reply thus far. Someone with more time on their hands would probably push it harder. I can't be bothered.

Sunday, October 13

It's Not All Showbiz

Writing about my life as a stand-up comedian, I may run the risk of glamourising it. There are two possible ways this might work. If I express my enthusiasm for what I do, why I do it, and how excited I am about the prospects ahead of me, one might assume that I am somehow a successful showman; you can project on such stories all manor of images of VIP rooms, agents, adoring crowds and the like. Conversely, if I somehow appear to be self-deprecating on the subject of how my comedy career is going, you might assume that I'm being modest and that actually there's a Humvee outside waiting to zoom me off to yet another showbiz party.

This is not my life.

I am a comedian. I am earnest in this pursuit. I love making audience laugh, and I know how to do so. I care about the quality of my material - that it's not selling old rope - and I care about what comedy should be. I'm also realistic enough to know that I'm yet to achieve the highest standards that I have set for myself, and that many other comedians are non-plussed by what I do. I don't do it for them. The real pleasure is in the laugh, and if I have to make do with making the laugh by the means I most have at my disposal, then I'd be a fool to wait until I have other means, when the opportunity is already in my hands. Improve from within.

To give a reality check on what a night of my comedy career can be like, I thought I'd share some details from Friday night. Since the baby was born, I do not gig anywhere near as often as I did before she was born. In addition, I only bother doing gigs that are lucrative. This means that I've somewhat polarise the sorts of gigs I do - they're either comedy for a non-comedy crowd, or the occasional delightful independent comedy club who knows and likes me. There's not much in between.

The setup for Friday's gig is pictured. This was my view from the backstage area. I say backstage area, there were some chairs between the place where I set up my microphone/piano/PA/guitar and the area of the bar where the fruit machine was. I was hanging out there so I wasn't in everyone's way. What you can see in the right of this picture is one of the chalkboards used for darts at the social club at which I was performing. I was the comedian provided as entertainment for the darts final.

Let's just let that sink in a little.

Let's also not be ungrateful to the very nice organisers of the event, and the nice people at the venue who did their best to welcome me into their world and even ensured I was paid before I went on stage. Normally, I find this a bit odd, but in this instance I felt it was probably for the best, since we'd not have to worry about whether the organiser felt the night had worked while he was paying me. It hadn't happened yet, and there was all to play for.

The plan for the night was that the darts tournament would have its finals and then, before the prizes were given out, at around 10pm, I would do the first half of my set. Then, after the prizes were given out, I'd come on and do the second half of my set. Despite the lateish start time of the show, I'd been asked to arrive at 7.30 to set up. Part of this would enable the group to use my PA system to announce various aspects of the evening.

Let's skip a bit of the tale now. Assume I arrived on time, set my stuff up, arranged things, briefed people on how best to run the night and that the night went into its own natural full swing. Let's assume it's now 10.15pm, there's no sign of the darts finishing immediately, and I've been sitting "backstage" next to the door that leads to the busy smoking area, next to the fruitmachine that someone's just won money on (£55 - nice!) and that I'm cold (from the smoking area draft), smoky (from the... well you can guess) and tired. Not the perfect set up for a gig.

I had plenty of time to review my situation. I even tweeted about it. I believe I likened the comedian at the darts match to the olive in the CD collection. I tweeted the picture to the left here, since it shows the quandary of being in such a situation - jaunty yet quizzical, raring to go, yet uncertain of where.

I don't want to come across as a prima donna here. Sure, this wasn't a comedy club situation - it was a noisy bar with a darts match in, and not many people sitting near what we might presumptuously term a stage - but I wasn't feeling especially surprised by the situation, nor was I feeling like I'd been treated unfairly. I expected that the gig would be much harder to play as a result of various things I couldn't really change, but I'd signed up to do the gig when offer came through and you have to expect that things are not set up to make your life easy when you do a gig like this.

The simple fact is that I'd been in similar situations before, and I suspect I'll be in one again. I've played much more unplayable rooms than this and I've been treated unfairly.

I think that's one of the things you have to get used to after a while as a comedian like me. You suddenly realise that some sort of odd, weird, unfavourable scenario is, for some reason, normal in your world. The fact that it's normal is, in itself, weird. That's the way this particular biscuit dissolves.

Before I was due to go on, the fruit machine winner, in answer to my question about what he did, then proceeded to give me a full financial breakdown of his earnings. He was attempting to show me how cushy a life he felt he had. I was somewhat mute on the subject. This gig was earning me most of his week's income in one evening. The day rate he had in his job was less than the hourly rate I put down when I do consultancy work. We existed in different worlds, it would appear.

I wouldn't normally talk about money, but he is the one who started it... and I didn't tell him any of this. It just struck me as odd that he was so intent on telling me how well he was doing while I was aghast that my mortgage payment alone is 50% more than his monthly take home pay.

Different worlds.

Yet at some point these worlds had to collide, as I couldn't accept the money for the gig, turn up to set up, and then not go on.

So I went on.

Stuff happened. Songs were sung, laughs came, gaps in the narrative came in place of laughs. It varied. The audience lacked focus. Many of them weren't even in the same room as me. There was background noise, talking, ignoring and some people clearly paying attention. I had to rely heavily on some advice I'd given someone else by email while waiting to go on.

The person I'd been emailing was showing me some material they were writing. They said it's funnier performed. I said to make a recording of the performance so we could have a look at it. They said their heart wouldn't be in it if there was no audience. I pointed out that the material should feel funny even if there's no audience.

I took this advice to heart a few times while performing. I focused on why I find these routines amusing and did them as though I were the sole recipient of the amusement. I performed them as big as I felt the room needed, so that it would fill the space, and I amused myself with all the jokes and songs I could place end to end in the set within the constraints of that audience. I did some stuff with more conviction than someone responding to the audience's "love" so far, might do. I kept the faith.

This is not a bit of advice I've made up myself. It's an answer I've had from a couple of other acts to the question "how do you make it funny when they're not going for it?". It's the single most important bit of advice in comedy. Focus on why you find it funny... if you can't, then you shouldn't even have that bit of material in your set... arguably.

So, how did the gig go? Well, to give a full report would be impossible, since I only have snatches of memory of what happened, and it may fall into the traps I mentioned at the top of this piece - to say it went well or badly might imply something quite different than what occurred. What I remember is that I got some silences that I had to suck up. I also got some laughs, though in some places they were the titter type. There were a few places when I struck a chord (no pun intended) with the audience. I dealt with heckles quite promptly, made up a song on the spot about fruit machine guy in order to shush him, really went for it with a few of my favourite songs, and got called on for an extra song after I'd called the whole performance to a halt.

So it probably went ok...

The person who booked me was somewhat more downbeat. I don't think it bodes well, when the client's main response to you is "Sorry" and "Oooh, tough crowd".

I'll be my own reviewer on this one. It was a long Friday night, a lot of which was energy sapping and demoralising. However, if I asked myself whether I felt like a washed up idiot, or a decent comic doing the job of a comic, I'd definitely give myself the benefit of the doubt.

And THAT is showbiz.

Tuesday, October 1

Windows Disc Conversion from Retail to OEM

It turns out that this person knows what they are talking about. Fascinating.

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