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Previous Posts

Idea to YouTube in Two Hours
It is worth a whole new site?
Neglectful
Round and Round my Brain
Fat Fat Fatty Fatty Fat Fat
No Fringe No Holiday No No No No No
Where's my New Microphone?
Lockdown
Locked Down
I Know What I Did This Summer

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Tuesday, May 26

Idea to YouTube in Two Hours

It's odd that I posted the writing process for a song on here and then had the impetus to go away and write a new song.


The process for this video was similar to the one I used for "Tax That", a song I challenged myself to make in the time it took my daughter to have a nap.

It was similar, in that I didn't give myself a long deadline, and aimed to get something done within a short timeframe. I'm not a huge fan of the Tax That song, and I don't like the video, which was just a montage of pictures of Gary Barlow. What was I thinking. It's no longer publicly listed on YouTube, but you can see it from the above link.

In this case, I wrote a page of observations on the daft things that I've seen happen with home workers, or have suspected home workers from doing. Then I started a verse to lead me into the song... then I realised it had a calypso vibe, so write a chorus that fell into that sort of rhythm - this allowed me to rhyme my observations or put setups in for observations. The setups themselves were brought out of my head, prompted by the rhyme I was aiming at.

I put in a nice trick rhyme to bridge chorus 1 with verse 2, which was cute... then I had to start writing verse 2 on the right hand of a double page as I wanted to make it easy to flip back to the left hand page where I'd written by list of observations.

Once we got near the end of the song, it was a matter of trying to put some cherry-on-the-top observations on.

Up comes the guitar, play with the chords, try to avoid the obvious ones. Learn the song a bit... tune the guitar a bit...

Then out comes the phone - point it at my face, record a few terrible takes... get one that's basically ok.

Into the video editor to add subtitles and a final titles card.

Upload.

Share.

Done.

Couple of hours, easy mate...



It is worth a whole new site?

I discovered some comedy notes and thought I'd share them here. Then I thought I'd share them on a whole new site about stand-up comedy... that's going to take a while, so they're coming here first.

I like old notebooks. Specifically, I like finding in old notebooks half-finished versions of something that later did get finished. It's interesting to see how something evolved. That applies more to the work of others than myself. I'm fascinated to see how musicals get adapted from original works, or how the later familiar version of a show is different from some earlier incarnation.

In today's installment of my braindumping, here are some evolutionary steps of the Where's Wally song that's available on my Discograffiti album. It wasn't intended to be in the Discograffiti show, but ended up replacing a song about Roget's Thesaurus that was ultimately less enjoyable. The Where's Wally song was originally written for a one-off show called "Not Now, Bernard". I say it was a one-off. It was for me. It was a run of shows where people were invited to bring along material about favourite works of fiction.

I think I ended up doing 4 pieces in the show, one of which was never seen again, and two which ended up in the Discograffiti Album, and one of which ended up in The Seven Deadly Sings. As I recall, I did an ill-conceived version of Anne Frank's Diary as a Ladybird book, where it had a happy engine with a rescue by Space Badgers. Not a zinger.

Then I did The Gruffalo, reimagined as a musical theatre song of self-doubt. That's on my album. I did a break-down of Doe A Deer from The Sound of Music, and then Where's Wally. Not necessarily in that order.

I used my piano and everything.

So, the main driver was to write a song about a childhood hero character, and Where's Wally is, of course, a blank slate as far as this is concern, not having a personality as such, just surface features.

Version 1

Wally, where are you?
You're really quite elusive
It's totally confusing
That you wear a woolly hat whatever the season
Wally where are you?
For crying out loud
You ask me to meet you in the middle of a Crowd
Then you don't seem to stand out, there's got to be a reason.

What are you hiding from?
Is it love? your sexuality? or debt collectors?
What lies behind your fixed smile and dead eyes?
Did you lose your mind in Vietname?
Did you only ever buy one set of clothes?
Or did someone lose the others in a laundry incident?
Have you ever been somewhere that's not very busy?
Are you a secret agoraphobic?

Wally, where are you?
You're hiding like a chimp [possibly wimp - can't quite read it]
Are you a drug dealer or pimp?
I've wasted hours trying to find you
Wally, I'm leaving!
I've waited long enough
Spotting you's quite tough.
Oh.... you were behind me.

What the hell was that?

I don't think that was quite intended to be the song. It looks more like a deliberate attempt to force ideas out into the open. On it, I've gone and marked certain lines with dots to show how powerful I must have thought they were when I read them back. This is a good trick I've used before with written material. Write the expected reaction type on the page and then review the density/quality from your own point of view. Then edit.

Version 2 (incomplete)

Wally where are you?
You're impossible to find
I've wasted a whole lunchbreak
Trying to meet you for coffee
Wally, what's with you?
Suggesting we meet in crowded places
Everyone has red shaped clothes and similar faces
and no matter the season you're in winter clothes

What are you hiding from?
Is it love, your sexuality, or debt collectors
What lies behind your square jaws, enigmatic smile, and haunted eyes
Did you lose your mind in vietnam?

Version 2 thoughts

It was more structured, but it died on the page. Perhaps at this stage, the lack of structure wasn't helping it. There are a couple of lines starting to take shape, but still it's relatively weak.

Version 3 (of 4)

Wally where are you?
You're so difficult to find
You ask to meet at lunch
When when I finally spot you it's teatime
Your suggest the meeting spot
Where everyone's in red and white
You're proof that the best hiding places are in plain sight

What are you hiding from?
Is it loneliness, debt, or your sexuality?
What's behind your fixed smile and dead eyes?
Did you lose your mind in vietnam?

What's with those winter clothes?
You're in a woolly hat come spring and summer
Have you considered a change in style
Might help you out of your obvious case of depression

Wally, where are you?
Are you even real?
Or are you a hallucination, brought on by eating too much yoghurt...

Close but not quite

This is very close to the final version. It runs out of steam, but it has a lightness of touch in between the darker punchlines. It reads familiarly, but hasn't been finessed in terms of some of the choice of language.

The problem was that it didn't really know how to end. In the end finding an ending involves a visit to Wikipedia as you'll see from this last draft.

Final Draft

Wally where are you?
You're so difficult to find
We arrange to meet at lunch
But when I finally locate you it's tea time
You suggest a meeting spot
Where everyone's in red and white
You're proof that the best hiding places, are in plain sight

What are you hiding from?
Is it loneliness or debt or your sexuality?
What lies behind that fixed smile and dead eyes?
Did you lose your mind in vietnam?
What's with those winter clothes?
You're in a woolly hat come spring and summer
Have you considered a change in style might snap you out of your obvious case of depresssion?

Wally, where are you?
Are you even real?
Or are you an hallucination?
Brought on by eating too much veal... I should say cheese, but that doesn't rhyme
I hear you change your name
When going abroad

In the U.S. you're Waldo
In France you are Charlie
Estonia Volli
In Iceland you're Valli
In Israel Effi
In Sweden, you're Hugo.... HUGO!?

Where did you go Wally?
Are you Jura, Willy, Holda, or Worri
Or Weili or Walter, I'm sorry
I cannot find you in a hurry

What happened?

Some of the above happened when the song was sung through with a tune and better lyrics suggested themselves.

Some of this is applying the usual musical comedy cliches of awkward rhymes, either a good rhyme that doesn't make sense, or a shoehorned half rhyme (sorry/hurry).

There's even a structural decision that a rapid-fire laundry list at the end of the song, taken from the aforementioned Where's Wally Wikipedia entry, and full of probably lesser-known facts about the character, would bring the song to a crescendo in terms of interest and density of material.

It's not stand-up club funny this one. It's amusing. I think it's written ok.

You can hear it here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008U8XRIG/ref=dm_ws_tlw_trk10 as well as your favourite streaming services.

Monday, May 25

Neglectful

Somewhere a few years ago, I stopped writing this blog. I'm going to say that it's been about 4 years since I even hit approximately monthly posts. I for one have no grand desire to go back and see how frequently I was posting before then.

I can't give a good reason right now why things changed. Parenthood, career, life, other blogs. I'm sure all have factored into the equation. I think the more I blogged on my coding blog, the less time I had for my what I did on my summer holidays style posts for here.

But, as people keep saying, these are unprecedented times and I think it's ok to return to the fold. I seriously doubt anyone beyond a few stragglers accidentally hitting here owing to weird searches, will read this. These posts are intended for my present mental state and for the confusion of my future self, who will, no doubt be in equal measure:
  • Embarrassed at the folly of my future youth
  • Unable to remember what the hell I'm talking about
  • Cross that I didn't prof read this better
Sorry future me, the "prof" was a little joke.

There's no doubt that the past is a foreign country... and sometimes even the present can be. I had no idea, for example, that this blog didn't properly work if you accessed it from its native address, rather than the wrap-around shell you get when you visit via www.incredible.org.uk its original home.

Blogger stopped publishing to my own webspace years back, so I allowed a compromise where the www.incredible.org.uk site would be hosted by me and would enwrap the blog, in the hope that the address would still kind of work. The redirection tricks I did were superseded a couple of years ago by something cheaper, and the upshot is that my blog hasn't properly loaded for years and I've not noticed...

I fixed that today. This is what happens when you revisit an old home and notice the maintenance issues... easily fixed, easily not noticed.

To illustrate that the past is a foreign country I shall now read a blog post from 10 years ago to the day (ish).

Blimey, younger me was into:
  • Comedy gigs
  • Doctor Who
  • Cats (the animal)
  • Long drives
  • Criticising bogus proponents of mediumship
and ironing.

It's reassuring to know that apart from the last one, these are still a good summary of me.

It's also weird to imagine a life of peaks and troughs of effort where work and gigs were frenetic, and then there's room for chilled out mornings of dozing hugging a cat...

Then you have children and all this turns to something else.

Then you have facebook and all this turns into endless fruitless scrolling.

There's probably a song in here somewhere.

Saturday, May 23

Round and Round my Brain

There's a potential play on words here. Round - is it me being fat? or is it repetition? In this case it's the latter.

The weightloss regime continues (day 4) and I've lost 11 pounds in weight... but in fairness, this is just shock weightloss that doesn't particularly affect one's actual body. It's just a reduction in expendable baggage.

However, dropping carbs, does lead to a general shock to the system and I felt awful this morning. I had a headache, a tummy ache, my tinnitus was particularly strong... I was living the ACTUAL dream...

... and I was dreaming of a song I'm writing.

Another bloody song. The problem with them is that while you're working on them, they're almost all you can think about.

For some reason, I've chosen to pair some angry, intellectual invective with a rather poignant and jazzy accompaniment. Worse than that, because the song is in 4 keys (it key changes every verse) and because it's in two time signatures, and because I've hitherto, only written down the chord structure, with a couple of bits left to a later draft, I have a ghost ship of a song banging around my head with a melody that has variations in it, depending on how I remember to play it.

It was this half-finished tune that was going round in a loop in my head this morning, making me want to shut it out.

Perhaps it should have made me want to go to the piano and play it, but nope. This was a "shut up" tune.

However, once the day got truly started, and I'd finished lying on the sofa like a beached whale, then I did go to the piano and try to map out the song.

Here's an interesting problem with my "skills" as a composer. To be honest, the best way I can understand the melody of the song is to have it as written music. I can't quite read music perfectly, but I can definitely decode it, and it can be a permanent record of which notes were in a particular song. I've cheated before and written a list of notes down as letters, knowing I can assemble them back into a timed melody in the right key... but that's not something I can do perfectly in real time, and it's not incredibly helpful if I'm going to record the song and make an accompaniment in some music software.

So my instinct and my abilities are add odds with each other; another reason for the conflict in my brain.

I want to just sit down and write the music out... I physically do not have the skills. How do time signatures look? Do you put the flat or sharp symbol before or after the note? Where does the tail go? Which rest means minim?

I can read this musical notation fine and even use it to put notes into a computer, but the moment I have to write it with a pen and paper, I'm at the writing age of my 5 year old son.

But I persisted with it and had a damned good go, because that's how you learn.

Why I've chosen to write a song in 4 keys is anyone's guess... perhaps it's because I'm a cheap musical comedian using the tricks of the trade...

That said, I've never heard a comedy song in this idiom before, so maybe I'm just doing my thing.

Friday, May 22

Fat Fat Fatty Fatty Fat Fat

If I hit 18 stone, I should buy myself an expensive Fender Stratocaster... FATOCASTER more like!

Now, I've hit that weight before... mainly on the way up. Arguably, I must have hit it an odd number of times - approximately the same number in each directin, because to hit it on the weigh up, I must have either hit it on the way down, or been under it to start with - something that's definitely been the case before.

I was about to write wistfully about the time in my life where I'd never exceeded 18 stone, but I don't think it's appropriate.

I'm pretty sure that I once found I was 16 and a half stone and was shocked into crash dieting, but I was younger, less experienced, had no idea that I could be attractive and fun, and squandered such youthful folly in a series of darkened rooms.

The darkened rooms of my older age are much better. They come with better facilities, more screens, and a more comfortable savings account.

They also come with fears for the future, a deep complex relationship with the tax man and my accountant, and a continuous sense that life would be better if there was less stuff.

It's odd. The desire to have loads, and the desire not to be burdened by it all, seem to go hand in hand. And this is both a metaphor for weight and the actual problem with weight.

My weight has been a heavy part of my life in recent years. Two years ago, weighing a little more than I do today, I was at a waypoint in a weightloss journey that began the previous year with a health scare. I lost a lot of weight while worried that I was doing so to get myself ready for an operation. Then the operation wasn't necessary. But I was healthier and happier, I did a musical, then rehearsed like crazy for another one's dance moves, managed to stay at some helpful weight equilibrium and was generally in good shape.

Since then life's had its way of tossing me about. Each dip or toss of the waves results in a weight reaction, positive or negative. The nature of the weight change isn't entirely related to whether it's a good or bad turn in my fortunes.

I changed job, and my new lifestyle caused me to gain some weight. Then I took control and lost some. Then I changed jobs again, and I got a part in a show, and steadily gained weight, despite feeling I'd be more in control of it. Then, with a job change imminent, I flicked the weightloss switch and steadily and sustainably brought the weight under control... until November last year.

Auditioning for a part I'd not even intended to audition for at first, and then getting hooked on the maybes of getting it, and doing ok in the audition process... that let me to another spike when eventually the part went to someone else. Worse than that, after many successful months (from June) of multiple dance classes a week, I was suddenly unable to do them owing to a knee injury.

Christmas last year was an eating competition - me vs my common sense.

Then January and I went to work, decided I actually couldn't quite bear to use the work kitchen to prepare healthy lunches, so just went without, and I came up with my best invention ever - losing weight by just eating briefly between 5pm and 9pm. I could largely eat what I liked, and the weight was dropping off again.

Fast forward to March and lockdown began. We self-isolated as we were under the impression it might be in our household and supplies waned a bit. I ate even less...

I broke a stone barrier I'd not broken in a while...

.. then things got easier... and I relaxed my regime... and packed weight back on.

At this point, I'd like to state without any fear of disagreeing with myself retrospectively, that eating loads of mashed avocado on sourdough toast is absolutely fantastic from the point of view of how it feels while you're doing it.

I also seemed to crave cereal.

I'm going to call this the lockdown-carb-addiction phase.

And it was a real shame. I'd been looking trimmer and feeling healthier and then things went back to binge eating.

On the up side, the local mobile fish and chip shop provided some very excellent food which me and the kids enjoyed enormously.

Something has to give, and ideally not the waistband of my trousers, or the central post of my office chair.

Before I became too much heavier, I decided to join in with my wife's "Fast 800" diet plan. It combines three things which we know to be effective for weightloss, but I'm not enjoying them and I'm planning to continue not enjoying them, while earnestly giving them a fair old crack of the whip.


  1. Interval fasting - you could do 8 hours, I'm trying to about 4 (or less). That's the period of the day when you consume calorific food. We're assuming that coffee and fizzy squash don't count.
  2. Low carbs - where previously I was trying a vague carb avoidance, and low carb works enormously well for me in general, here we're calculating the carbs down to very low numbers... scarily low
  3. Low calorie - fat not an issue... just keeping the calorie count around 800
It's day three and I've lost 9 pounds!

Though in fairness, they're not real pounds... but they still count!

Lockdown is an opportunity to do a bit of self-care. I know a few people who've had a more constructive experience than the one I've had... i.e. a gradual thing, rather than the awkward spike leading to a food-based lockdown.

However, black and white rules can work well for me. Let's see how long this attempt lasts!

No Fringe No Holiday No No No No No

I don't know why I was slow in trying to arrange our trip to the Fringe this year. I'm usually champing at the bit. It's probably something to do with the fact that the cat was dying in February and I didn't quite get around to turning the conversation with my parents, when they visited, around to plans for August, as my mind was on other places, and I generally don't like to steer the conversation around to big favours.

That we're not visiting the Fringe has nothing to do with poor Spax the cat losing his short fight against cancer... I say short fight - he probably had it ages, but he was under treatment for a short time. Poor thing.

It soon became apparent in March that we were facing a real risk of the Fringe either being cancelled, or being a risky place to visit given the pandemic. After a few weeks of vacillations, the Fringe Society cancelled this year's event and now August has a giant hole in it.

It's weird. We only really go to the Fringe for 4 days, but it's a huge feature of the year nonetheless. In recent years we've followed it up with a family holiday, which helps decompress after the turbulence of enjoying Edinburgh. It is turbulent too. The diary becomes a series of 60 minute (ish) adventures, including the show and the race to the next one. Each show has an emotional curve, and your mood gets swung around for a day and then you repeat the crazy for a few more.

I like the way we do the Fringe, but it's not the way it used to be.

As a comedian facing a life-altering period of time, one's mind is always drawn to the possibility of the hour-long show that might emerge from something... the situation, one's own imagination, the availability of spare time that's suddenly been enforced on you.

So will I be back at the Fringe next year with an hour long show?

Probably not... but maybe the planning for the long return to the Fringe may start.

Next August, the kids will be 6 & 8. There's a high chance that we could take them to the Fringe and entertain them there... but making child care/entertainment work AND seeing/doing the sorts of shows we did before they were born is a big old ask.

I'm racing towards 50 years old... (next Fringe I'll be 47)... how long could I reasonably expect to charge around the city of Edinburgh with the sort of energy I had back in the day.

Some of this comes back to my long-term bizarre relationship between my weight, stand-up, and Edinburgh.

The worse my weight, the harder Edinburgh is to blast around, yet I always have a special burst of energy when I hit the Fringe... yet Edinburgh has, in the past, poisoned me with its plethora of unhealthy eating options. Yet Edinburgh has also acted as my annual exercise and diet plan. Weird.

Stand-up has been a good place to explore my feelings around weightloss, yet the late night driving and eating of the stand-up comedy circuit have been quite toxic for my health.

If I look back to last year's trip to Edinburgh, I was in a great place weight-wise and Edinburgh proved it. I'd packed on quite a bit of weight in the first half of the year, despite my desire to use an introduction to a dance-based fitness class, and a part in The Producers as my excuse to get fitter... in the end I regressed to stupid eating and gained weight... but the end of The Producers was like a switch being flicked.

I blasted harder than ever at my eating and exercise, doing multiple classes per week, doing building projects at home (two sheds!) and I lost a fantastic amount of weight in a short period and was genuinely more nimble.

We hit Edinburgh and I left my wife in the dust as we blasted up hills... Which is not very polite. She was, I think, amazed that I was being so energetic.

It's out of character.

These things come and go though... post Fringe, though the diet regime held for a bit, other things clouded the sky, health-wise.

This is what happens when you head into middle age. It just gets harder.

So, I find myself wondering how well the leisure industry will bounce back after this pandemic, how quickly the Fringe Society and other organisations will recover, given this year's aborted attempt at holding the festival, how much disposable income we'll really have in a year's time, and whether my aging bones will have it in them to do one of my favourite things.

Time will definitely tell.

As negative and conflicted as this all may sound, I'm looking forward to finding out what time does tell, and I'm not going to give up easily on the Scottish August silly season. 

Where's my New Microphone?

That I have bought a new microphone is not a personal first. I own several microphones, though this new one will be the most expensive one I've ever bought. The question to ask is "Why now?".

I've been using GarageBand on my MacBook more than usual. I bought the MacBook about 3 years ago to be able to do this, but hadn't touched GarageBand at all until a few weeks back. So, again, why now?

I have been writing more songs than normal for the first time in many many years. The last time I was this prolific was because I had an hour-long show to fill... now I don't.

So why now?

I mean, the answer is obvious. This is not the story of a man and his microphone. This is the sort of thing that happens when the world is turned upside down and locked down.

For the sake of emptying my mind of this stuff, and creating a record that I'll look back on and perhaps even laugh at (who knows what lies the future will make of the following), here's where we're at.

Current day job: IT - in a contract role that I'm still managing to hold down, despite disruptions from the UK tax regulations, a huge disruption to the aviation industry owing to a global pandemic, and varying degrees of challenges owing to home working. On the whole, I've worked consistently and hard throughout and done some good software engineering.

Current other day job: still editing for Baeldung.com, for which I have spurts of effort and periods of nothing to do, or so much to do that I can't imagine how to start it. I'm presently on top of the pile of things to do.

Stand-up comedy: somewhat on hiatus as the leisure sector has imploded/stalled. I've been on the circuit for years, and have some regular haunts. If the truth were laid out plainly, I've not "broken through". It still seems a struggle to be taken seriously, and I constantly say to me that I'll be appreciated more once I've written some new material... which I don't actually get around to writing.

Family: (probably should have put them first... but this is a solipstistic blether about me, so they'll have to forgive me for not doing that) doing well. The kids are generally positive about their home schooling regime. My wife is a hero, and she's getting increasingly better at all the things she has to juggle to make things work in these challenging times. We have some great moments, but life is significantly weird.

Health: now that's where it's complex. I'm more healthy than most. I'm not dying (any more than anyone else), but I feel like I could have been in a better position than I am now.

I'll whack dieting concerns into another post.

If I take a quick mile high view of where I'm at right now, it's "doing ok". Everything is basically under control. We have supplies of things we need, especially coffee and soda stream gas. Everyone's still friends, we have a routine that gets us through the week, and there's talk of the school reopening for my son on 1st June, which, if it's safe to do so, will benefit him more than staying at home.

Trying to stay focused and on top of things in these circumstances is a challenge, but we're doing it.


Wednesday, May 6

Lockdown

Before I go into what I think I got right with the Lockdown song, it's probably worth looking at some stuff I got wrong.

The vocal take isn't good enough. There are notes missed, breaths not taken, and the phrasing's not great. However, it does manage to convey the words accurately and tells the story ok.

The video has a few glitches in it. The scene with the goats is too long and loses some context as it should really appear inside a YouTube frame - perhaps zooming out to show it was a YouTube cut... though how to do that in the video editor, who knows?

There may be a couple of dodgy lyrics in there too... trying to get officers to rhyme with scissors makes the joke work, but it should be O-fficer, not o-FI-cert...

The point is that there's always room to say why something's imperfect, and something that could have been done better. However, overall, I'm really happy with the video and song when put together. I'd like to put a few notes together on how this might not have ended up as good, but did result in something I'm proud of because of some decent decisions that happened along the way. I'm not sure they were entirely by design.

A quick lesson on how the song came about. I had the idea for a song about lockdown based on downtown because they're simply the same sounding word. I've enjoyed Tony Hatch's music over the years anyway; closer scrutiny of the song reminded me how brilliantly ironic it is that the original song is about going downtown, the opposite of the state we're in.

I wrote a couple of verses, and found it an interesting challenge, owing to the fairly complex original rhyme scheme and lyrical structure. I got something I quite liked. That was started on April 21st. I tweaked it a little. On 28th I wrote the last verse. I stood in the garage and recorded the vocal a day or so later. The video was filmed on 2nd May, though I'd recorded a snippet down the side of the house a day or so before. The process from idea to complete video was a couple of weeks.

When I write a parody song, which I've not done a lot of before, but have been doing a lot recently, I often review a performance of the original, or the original lyrics, putting them side-by-side with the lyric I'm writing to get it to scan. This feels like writing to a formula... there must be some good creative moments/decisions to make it live, and I think it here that this song jumped off the page.

Before I go on about the things I think I did, I should point out that this was a case of walking in beautifully crafted footsteps of greater writers/performers. The original song is a work of art. It must surely have done a lot of the work for me... but I also did some work. I remember doing it.

The Third Verse
The rule with comedy songs is get out before they get bored. Try to avoid instrumentals. Try to avoid repetition. Don't overstay one's welcome.

The original draft got to the line "While goats invade the centre of town" and I thought it had peaked. There's a key change and instrumental break. Stop here. Point made. Or so I thougt.

However, as writing challenges go, finding new words to fit the awkward structure was like a drug and I thought I'd have another go. All the initial more obvious ideas were now used up. They weren't bad ideas, they were just predictable.

Creating with constraints is good for you. You end up finding something new. I couldn't repeat what I'd said before. I had to dig deeper into my personal experience. I had to find funny counterparts for them. In the case of Disinfect the post/Hide in the curtains and pretend you're a ghost, one of these was something we were essentially doing - a damning summary of daily life treating the post as dangerous. The other was me coming up with a funny image that rhymed... I'm so glad I did.

The last verse is my favourite and it could so not have happened.

Trying it out on my Wife
I've been somewhat reluctant to try my hilarious comedy ideas out at home, since often what's funny to an audience is awkward in person. However, I read through the song to my wife and it made us both laugh. This gave me the mood for what I wanted to reach in the edits and the last verse. I had the perfect audience. If my wife, who can see through me, finds the material funny, then it's probably very funny. Another constraint to the writing process.

You should write comedy to make yourself laugh. I laugh most at my own stuff when it causes laughter, or when I can't believe I'm about to say/sing it.

It took a few takes to be able to sing the hide in the curtains line without cracking.

Filming on a Glorious Day
The nicest thing about the video is that it was filmed on a blue sky day with green fields. I was taking the kids for a walk. I tried getting my daughter to film me, but it didn't quite work. I did a couple of quick selfies to the camera and took some texture shots.

I must surely have mined the book of film student cliches with the spinning round bit... but it was fun and it looks good. It's obvious that the two verses are selfies, but the change in camera angle was a good idea as it makes it look more well though out than it was.

I performed the first lines of the song without any backing track.. just from my memory of the rhythm of the song. It ties in remarkably well.

Discovering the magic of Lip Sync
Once I discovered that my attempt to record without an backing track to mime to actually worked, I got bolder about what else I could possibly achieve by miming and shuffling the footage into the right position to sync.

It seems that the brain is remarkably forgiving of lip sync in videos and you just need to drag a clip to the right sort of place and suddenly it lives!

When my friend recorded a video to another song we made, without the final backing track, I was similarly surprised at the lip sync of the end result. This time, I was editing and I soon discovered how little I need to rely on making a video take of the actual track recording... not that I'll stop doing that. It's fun to see the video of the actual take you're hearing - if that's an important thing in the presentation of the song.

The Netflix bit of the song came out well with the above technique. I built a video with the Netflix background and a frame of me singing - I then played that on our TV and filmed that with a moving shot, knowing it would all tie together in the edit.

Trusting lip sync gave us some of our best shots.

Listening to my Wife's Ideas during Filming
I had an idea for each of the shots, but it wasn't set in stone. I didn't get too precious about the ideas and gave my wife the camera to try stuff with. I say camera. It was an iPhone.

An an example, thought it was my idea to go up in the loft, it was her who put the ladder up after me and then made me slam the loft hatch shut up there... a shot that made us and the kids laugh when we watched it back.

You've got to admire someone who agrees to set fire to envelopes over the sink in the name of art.

Trying to Finish It
It could have stalled and never really finished. I have a video in that state; there's some photography done, and some graphics, but loads more to do on top.

In this case, the self-imposed pressure to get it out on YouTube on the day of the main photography forced us to come up with passable and in many cases, spontaneously funny clips.

Using a Karaoke Track
It's kind of an admission of failure that I couldn't create my own backing... but there was a really rather good one I could just import. Build/buy... it's a no brainer here.

I would have had more things to worry about, preventing me from getting anyway, if I'd decided to make my own backing. The one I chose gave the end result a much more professional feel.

Editing it down to the minimum
There's a cut in the backing track I chose. It means the song goes a bit faster and there's less fill between the first and second halves around the keychange.

As a rule, never use the whole song without slicing bits out unless it's perfect.

Thinking about the Words for the Video
A video is a chance to do an act out, so each scene was a mini 3-4 second visual gag opportunity. This is a great way to make the material deeper.

Subtitling the Video Early
The subtitles ended up acting as signposts on the video editor about where we were in the video, much easier to use than the on-screen action.

I think I do a reasonable job of subtitling, trying to get the subtitle up at the point which is both funniest and in time with the music; sometimes they coincide, sometimes not.

Often the subtitle boundaries were also the perfect edit boundaries to switch between shots... it worked really well.

Building the Video Before Shooting was Complete
By putting the structure of the video together, we could dry run the shooting we'd done in context quickly, and get a sense of progress with the whole thing. It motivated us to finish it, and gave us ideas about pacing.

To be honest, the whole thing was slapped together without too much thought or planning, but that was made possible by the scaffolding of the existing shots, roughly edited on the timeline with subtitles and the backing track. It guided us to completion awfully well.

Making Static Shots move in Post
There were a couple of shots which didn't move when we filmed them. The pan across Netflix stopped, and a view over my shoulder of me watching a video had a moving video, but the shot was still.

I noticed that this sapped a little energy, so I made them zoom in, during editing... this kept the shot interesting, especially since the attention span we'd set up with previous shots was about 3 seconds.


I learned a lot doing this. I think the above went well... I look forward to future videos.

Overall, this is a silly three minute video, but it surprises me how rapidly it runs through, and how much fun it is to rewatch. It was worth the microscopic adjustments and hearing my own voice on a loop for a day.

Let's see if I do any more.




Tuesday, May 5

Locked Down



So, the world's gone mad...

This blog doesn't get much attention; usually I write an annual post-Fringe-visit review of why I like going to the Fringe and forget that I used to be an avid blogger, with myriad self-interested posts about my life.

I'm still a blogger, but not on this platform. I write technical blog posts and edit for another technical blog. It somewhat saps the creative juices to be doing it all over the place, so this blog has somewhat been neglected. It's unlikely I'll resurrect it in any meaningful way, but there are things to be said at the moment.

Now's a good time to write a few notes about life in lockdown.

Perhaps I'll take to writing a self-interested, mewling, post about how weird it is to be shut in the house for about 6 weeks with no sign of the world going back to any semblance of normal. This is not that post.

In fact, this isn't even the post I came to this platform to write.

I want to say something in this post. I made something. In fact, I made a few things.

I've even just committed to buying more kit so I can make more things in the future. Why not, eh? Now's the perfect time to devote time to doing things that I've put off.

I have released a couple of comedy albums online. They were home recordings to support the two major Edinburgh shows I did myself. Back in 2004, we recorded the album of our show The Musical!, released on CD (spoilers, it didn't sound great, because I'm a terrible sound engineer). However, it was better than not releasing one.

I've intended to do something much more sophisticated with home recording since. There have been occasional tracks, but nothing serious.

In the last few weeks, I've recorded the following songs:

  • Only One Song - a spoof of La La Land
  • How Far I'll Go - from Moana, with my daughter singing (54 vocal takes and a lot of editing)
  • The Basic Necessities - a parody song based on The Bare Necessities
  • Lockdown (as above) - another parody song
  • (half of something else I'm not going to mention yet)
I also wrote a Covid 19 song about having a new great fire of London (not especially good, but it was a bit of fun).

Given that my previous output was basically nearly zero, with one new song written a year ago, performed to an iPhone, rather than recorded properly, this is quite a change in my circumstances.

I've also quickly learned the ropes with video editing, having bought Movavi to enable me to make the Only One Song video, for which I wanted a montage of the performances of the actual takes that went into the video.

More importantly, I've started using GarageBand. In 2020. I bought my Mac in late 2017 with the aim of getting into GarageBand. I then installed Windows on it (dual boot, I'm not a monster) and used Mixcraft, which I'm more familiar with... I even upgraded Mixcraft rather than use GarageBand.

I'm an idiot.

I'm now a GarageBand user... though I can imagine upgrading to something more sophisticated if I keep up the output.

I'm also committed to solving my vocals recording issue, some of which I think comes down to not understanding the dilemma of gain, proximity, and apparent loudness before compression... nobody cares but me, but that's not the point. I'm trying to perfect a craft here, and that's fun.

I just bought a new microphone and other associated bits for better recording. All of this is great fun...

The lesson here is not to neglect one's craft. It shouldn't take a lockdown to teach that, but learning the lesson counts regardless of how it's taught.



Monday, August 19

I Know What I Did This Summer

It’s time for my annual August blog post. I used to post far more regularly, but... you know... life and stuff.

I always believe I’ll come back from the Fringe fizzing with ideas and just, kind of, shit out a new show, or at least 20 minutes of zinger material. There’s something about the Edinburgh bubble that activates my comedy synapses and also the bit of me that imagines I’m funnier than I actually am.

I am quite funny...

... mainly because of dogged determination and practice. I’ve been a stand-up comedian for nearly 17 years FFS. If I hadn’t learned how to be funny, I’d probably have stopped.

So, as is customary, this is a blog post from a train to a blog I seldom update and nobody but me reads. Hello me from the future... turgid, isn’t it?

Anyhoo, the lady across from me on the train has just opened a banana the wrong way. But she hadn’t fathomed out how to open her coffee cup lid either, so I’m not too surprised. It was one of those cups where you have to tear off a flip up flap - a flip-flap - to open a mouth hole; the flap is then reflexively secured by plastic jaws to the lid. To be honest, it’s a pretty unfeasible system and hard to guess at. It’s also a real waste of ingenuity, given the fact that the cup and its lid won’t compost and will kill us all.

Anyway. The point is that this is the journey back from Fringe number 18.

That’s a number derived from last year’s. Let’s double check the maths.

I went to two Fringes in the nineties. 1994, and 1995. During these I saw the likes of Lee and Herring, Greg Proops, Mark Little, Mervyn Stutter... you know what, I can’t really remember. There was definitely Richard Thomas in the mix, with a character I can’t remember, but a song I can. Peter Baynham too... It’s been a while.

I resumed going in 2002. Performed for the first time in 2003. Did “The Musical!” In 2004, “The Great Big Comedy Picnic” from 2005 onwards. Hannah George and I did “The Seven Deadly Jokes” in 2009, year one of “The Seven Deadly Sings” was 2010, in 2011, I did a rework of the show and also got married (not at the Fringe). 2012 was my last year of doing shows with Discograffiti. I’d been to 11 consecutive Fringes, performing at 10 of them.

We started visiting the Fringe again in 2015 doing what is now an annual long-weekend - Friday afternoon to Sunday night (with a guilty slink back on Monday morning to our waiting children - we leave them with my parents, not just in the left luggage at the station). So that’s 2015, 16, 17, 18, 19 - 5 consecutive years.

So 2 + 11 + 5 = 18. My wife’s at 9 years of this.

It’s not really about keeping score.

I’m definitely keeping score.

This year we saw 18 shows. That’s a pretty respectable hit rate. I remember bygone years of doing 9 show days, but my memory may be faulty, and I didn’t stop to eat as much then as I might do now.

To have seen 7 shows yesterday was made all the more impressive by the fact that we crossed town a ridiculous number of times into the bargain. The Edinburgh North/South or New Town/Old Town divide was in full force this year. We wanted to see things which involved nipping from The Assembly Rooms to Bristo Square - the home of The Gilded Balloon Teviot site and The Pleasance Dome (among others).

These old legs can walk, apparently. Recent advances in my fitness (or reversals of my unfitness) have stood me in good stead. Edinburgh is a city in which I often feel I have boundless energy, and that’s not all caused by the Irn Bru.

It’s odd to be messing around in a city when the country is falling apart and the narrative around environment is much the same. This is a place where you can be both informed and distracted from the awful truth of the world. Maybe it was ever thus, maybe it’s the end of days...

I’ll answer that in next year’s post...

...maybe.
x

Sunday, August 11

Funny Old Week

It's been a funny old week. So much so that I'm onto my second post of the year on this blog.

If the truth were told, I'm clearly not blogging on here like the diarist I once was. I've gone from an almost religious zeal to tell each day as it happened, or at least blog about the major appointments in my diary (I'm pretty sure I wrote most of 2005 retrospectively like homework).

Last year: 4 posts.

This is post two of 2019.

Highlights of the week:


  • Did two gigs
  • Went to a circus (today)
  • Got rained on randomly a lot
  • Was offered money for the rights to my online training course
Whatta week!

If ever there was a moment's thought that my life is glamourous and going well, let's quickly establish that I was offered a mere $100 for the unlimited distribution rights to a training course that's supposed to sell on Udemy.com at $9.99 per student. I declined. Offers like that are as much insulting as they are ridiculous.

Similarly, the trip to the circus was interesting and fun, but somehow not quite the exciting thing it could have been. Call me a jaded old performer, but the crow work and structuring of a circus show seem thin and transparent and for me take away from the skill of the performers. That said, it's a matter of taste.

I for one, don't like it when the staff start applause breaks every 15 seconds or so, and I also really despise shows which run on the basis that the audience want to stand up at the end, sing along and dance... and especially I abhor shows which end with the audience on the stage.

If I'm going to go onto a stage, I'll do it because I'm the performer. Otherwise I'd prefer that I sat and enjoyed something inventive and entertaining which I can't see through.

Talking of paper-thin performances... I closed a new material night in Hereford this week and it was fun. Some of the new acts were exactly what you'd expect of new acts. There were a couple of brilliant older comedians from Cheltenham, who were a complete delight to watch and had me roaring with laughter. As a comedian, when you're cheek-achingly laughing at an act who is earlier on the bill than you, there's always a part of you thinking "how the hell can I follow that!?" but that's insecurity at best. 

Every comedian can follow the previous ones. Go out there and do your best!

Last night I opened at a gig I thought I was MCing. It's a regular show I do in Bristol. Last week I opened, the first time I'd done a set there. Warming up last week's crowd took more work than MCing them, but by the end I'd dissolved their resistance and dissolved my own sense of decorum. I found myself riffing on something or other which sort of worked, but was half formed.

On the way back to the car last week, I did a what I should have said in my head, and decided to incorporate that into the bit of the set where it had happened. I tried that out on Thursday and it worked (enough to try again, at least).

Where last night I was expecting to shoe-horn it into a non-set bit of my MCing, arriving at the venue it seemed there were two MCs and no opening act. Great... a quick rush back to the car (20 minutes of power walking - good for the weightloss) and I'm back as the opening act.

So a week after making it up on that stage, I'm doing the corrected version of a bit of silliness, and to be honest I felt both delighted and cheapened by the reaction it got. Delighted, because this is how stand-up works: perform, invent, refine, perform, perfect... but cheapened, because my Sodastream Knob bit is hardly going to go down as a bit of literature!

It's all daftness... and that's worth the driving, walking and getting drenched in the British flash monsoon season for.

Saturday, July 20

The History of The Haikulator

A recent tweet after someone discovered The Haikulator has rekindled my love of the old thing.

There were 7 versions made. I suspect they varied mainly in the number of phrases they contained and I think one of the early increments added a counter so that the haiku generated was given a permutation number out of the maximum number of possible haikus. It started out as 100,000 or so and rose to 350,000.

To call it a haiku generator is a little bit of a misnomer. It's really a haiku fruit machine. It comes with a bunch of first, second and third lines, each of which was written in isolation, with the idea of evoking abstract ambiguous feelings. The real generation of a haiku happens in the reader's head, where the three lines are put together and you can't help but try to make sense of them.

I followed up the haiku generator with some other sentence generators; I've written loads of them over the years, but the Haikulator is still a favourite.

I'm trying to find some research on Haikus that I helped with. The paper, written by David Platt, is cited in this article on Haiku analysis. I provided two bits of help to David. One thing I did was provide him a tool to turn his Haiku analysis numbers into fake 1D Gel Electrophoresis images so he could abuse an analysis package of such images to create Dendrograms showing the relationships of his Haikus.

The other bit of help I provided was giving him the Haikulator. He used the machine-generated haikus as a control group with his analysis. If I track down the exact article, I'll be able to clarify my original memory that the machine-generated poetry came up as an outlier in the analysis... perfect!

I have some plans for the Haikulator in the next few months - why not rekindle an old friendship for today's generation!?

While I have the facts in my head, it's probably worth recapping the history of the thing.

If David Platt wrote his article for June 2000's issue of Blithe Spirit, which I believe he did - reference "Fingerprinting Haikus: Help, Hindrance or Heresy?" - then this means I wrote the Haikulator in 2000. Early 2000, perhaps. My own records suggest that it first appeared on this site - which was both a blog and a set of static web pages - in around January 2001. However, it's quite clear that the January 2001 version - still available here - was an update. It was version 3.

Earlier versions are lost in the mists of time, I suspect.

The Haikulator got me through some tough times. In May 2002 my life was turned around by a long-term relationship ending and a new life starting as a consequence. As part of rebooting myself, I threw myself more and more into the things which entertained me.

I now can't remember which year it was that I had three polo shirts made with Haikulator'ed haikus on them. It may have been 2002 it may have been 2003. I remember rattling round the Edinburgh Fringe with my haiku shirts and attracting some attention as a result. The girl in Starbucks who leaned over the counter to read my breast made my day. Let's just say the feeling was somewhat mutual.

Forgive the younger me!

I remain fascinated by the way that meaningless words, interpreted by a human, create such glee.

My most recent foray into computer-generated text is the slightly flawed Excuse Generator.

I think the Haikulator is due a renaissance. Watch this space!

Friday, September 28

There Must Be 50 Ways To Make A Gig Difficult

Ask any comedian for a list of things that might make a gig difficult, they would probably tell you some of the following:

  • Free entry - the dearth of the stand-up gig - nobody cares/has committed
  • No separate room - it's almost like people went out to the pub and a comedy club happened among them
  • Nobody knows the comedy is on
  • Nobody in the venue is organising the show - they're too busy doing other stuff
  • People are being distracted by being served food or drink during the show
  • The comedy risks getting in the way of someone's dessert
  • The seating doesn't naturally make everyone face the stage
  • There's noise coming from something else - music, other people, the outside world
  • There are other distractions - TV, fruit machine etc
  • The people present are of the wrong age - too young, sometimes too old
In short, if the person staging the night at the venue hasn't thought it through, or hasn't created an environment in which comedy can happen, then the comedy won't happen. Comedy is not about comedians talking into a PA system, it's about creating an atmosphere and environment in which people can share a joke.

In case of any doubt, the criticism here is aimed at non comedy folk. Any comedian or promoter with any amount of experience would know this.

Today I suggested to a hotel manager that he might be better paying me not to perform rather than paying me to antagonise some unsuspecting patrons in his bar.

He acquiesced and sent the comedy night into a separate(ish) space.

Thus one of the most stressful days of my comedy career ended in laughter.

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