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Take That China!
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Friday, October 29

Spoken Word
Last night I entered a Poetry Slam. It was my first time on stage reciting a serious poem of my own devising (if not my first time reading a serious poem of anyone's devising). It was a lot more nerve-racking than my last stand-up gig. I quite enjoyed it. I didn't win anything, but the artistic victory was mine.

I'm still a big anti-fan of near-miss rhymes. I think half-rhyming is the wrong term for what riles me. It's not-really-rhyming that bothers me. I frequently break rhyming rules, but I break them gently. I'll have a plural rhyming with a singular, or a hard consonant rhyme with its soft-cousin:

Many many many rhymes / at any any any time : the trailing "s" is not in both rhyming words
I put my hands on the keys / and I find my release : the hard and soft "s" in "keyz" and "releeees" are close rhymes but imperfect

I can cope with this more than the following examples:

Pint / spike
Bomb / wrong
Copper / rocker

The above examples jangle in my ears and make me angry.

Not getting angry
I took the bus into work this morning and contented myself by reading the free paper as the journey progresses. Buses used to annoy me intensely, but I feel distinctly more placid about them as time goes on. On Saturday, I saw the bus coming from the end of the street and ran for the stop. At one stage, I was running in the same lane as the approaching bus, but I (foolishly) jumped off the road onto the pavement to continue. I would have assumed that if you are an experienced bus driver, and see a large man, who probably never normally runs, running along the road in the direction of a bus stop, you'd expect him to want to catch your bus. This particular bus driver either didn't notice me (unlikely, I'm immense), decided not to chance being wrong, slowing down for me (after all, the bus is surely meant to be for everyone - that's how it gets its name - omnibus - for everyone - so surely it should be prepared to include me), or decided to take the piss out of the fat boy and leave him out of breath 10 feet from the bus stop.

So, I watched my effort of a spontaneous run along the pavement turn to nothing as the bus disappeared round the corner. I could have become angry, but I just laughed and went to the newsagent for a well-earned drink. I realise now that I should have remained on the road. There's no way that the bus driver could have avoided stopping for me... unless he mowed me down, which would probably be beyond his remit as a driver of a public service vehicle.

Thursday, October 28

The week's getting on a bit
We're nearly through this week and I've been sparse with my comments thus far. I chose not to say anything about the death of John Peel when I found out about it, despite the fact that it touched me personally in an odd way. Perhaps I'll start by explaining that.

John Peel was certainly an icon in broadcasting. Of that, there's no doubt. He was also in "The Dead Pool 2005" - a sweepstake of celebrities who may or may not be likely to die this year. He was actually in my allocation, which means that I've now had two celebrities die on me this year, so I'm in joint first place on the leader board. I didn't expect that I'd find out about the loss of an icon in such a harsh way. Congratulations Ashley, Peel's dead, and you're now in joint first! What a mix of emotions. Pleasure and pain. I commented on the news of Mr Peel's demise to some neighbouring work colleagues and found people treated the loss with genuine shock and that denial that's usually reserved for the most cataclysmic of news.

In more death-related shenanigans, I was primed to falsely report someone's death last night. I went to a comedy night with the specific instruction "if she asks after me, tell her I'm dead". For reasons which probably make me a bad person, I was really looking forward to this happening. We concocted a believable story for how the person died and how we knew and got ready to be asked. We didn't look for the person to tell, since it would be a lot less believable for them if a stranger approached and said "so and so is dead". It's much more believable if they were in the process of asking and had the news broken to them. Trust me, I understand wind-ups. Anyway, it didn't happen. Instead, I simply watched another night of comedy and went away having laughed my chest and throat into a worse state than they were at the start of the evening. They say that laughter is the best medicine, but I think I took a backwards step in the recovery from my current cold.

Busy week
This week was empty in my calender, but I've been out every night so far, and I'm off out tonight too. So much for taking a break. The house still needs some TLC. I'll be there for all of 9 minutes before going back out tonight. It's been a good week, mind.

Tuesday, October 26

Comedy Competitions
There's just some unholy and wrong about making comedy into a competition. I went along to the BBC Talent stand-up comedy thingy tonight at the Hyena to watch 12 acts get put through the rigours of performing short sets to an increasingly tired audience while simultaneously getting judged on their merits. Although I was not participating, I managed to get exceedingly nervous about the whole show, almost as though I was up there with the acts and having to face the same pressures.

I'm also turning into a comedy snob. I spent a lot of last night shaking my head with my arms folded. One song about a tortoise made my chest tighten and I felt physically ill, embarrassed to have witnessed the event. I hope I don't come across like that doing my stuff.

There were some genuine laughs. The compere was very good, and some of the acts came out with lines which I enjoyed. I went along with the aim of supporting certain acts and felt that I was supporting a worthy subset of the showcase.

Monday, October 25

Just listening to the musical Song and Dance, as performed by Bernadette Peters. There's a smashing line:

I spilt tea on your bongos

Makes me chuckle just to look at it.

Sunday, October 24

Donner und blitzen
There was something quite amazing about the drive back from Yorkshire this evening. The rain was pelting down, I had Radio 2 playing classical music loudly in my ears (during a rather eclectic 90 minute show which also features broadway hits) and the skies were on fire. At first, I thought that there were a few rogue fireworks about, but then I realised that this was nature's own work. So, as they played the waltz from Swan Lake, I was treated to a night-time display of natural fireworks, almost in time to the music. It was truly beautiful - occasional arcs of lightning could be seen among the flashes.

Sadly, the immense rain brought with it the occasional moments of concern as the wheels of the car were too immersed in water to be effective as road grippers - during these moments, you have to trust in the laws of physics and assume that the momentum will bring you out the other end pointing the right way. Driving under such conditions is one of the few ways I can get an adrenaline hit these days.

Home and watching
I decided to plum the depths of the unwatched DVDs on my return and I've now seen Johnny English, which I'd heard was pretty good. It's not. It's not bad, and it paints a wonderful picture of young Miss Natalie Imbruglia, but it's hardly a work of classic British filmmaking. I've come to believe that the script is to blame. The pace and special effects were excellent, as were the performances from Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, the aforementioned Aussie act/song-stress and the man who's always being John Malkovitch, John Malkovitch. Watching the making of, I realised that the director, who hinted at some fantastic insight into comedy, was actually Our Joey from the now defunct comedy, Bread. However, despite all of these, the script was predictable and the humour beneath the obvious talents of the cast. If you were going to cast a hapless Mr Bean style character in a spy movie, this is the obvious way for him to bumble through it. We've seen it all before in Naked Gun...

...which was a shame, because the core of this film was very watchable. I enjoyed it. It just didn't impress me. I know it could have been so much better. Still, the DVD cost all of £3 and it was one way to while away a wet Sunday evening.

Anyway, the week ahead is to be a busy one, so I'm off for some shut-eye, to sleep, perchance to have a bit read first.

Saturday, October 23

A mixed day today. I dropped into town for a bit of lunch and to meet a friend for coffee. I'd intended to stay out and go out with another friend for the evening. The cold and the need for rest and warmth got the better of me. So, tonight I have mostly been watching movies. I saw Office Space and also Ghostbusters, which were both recent DVD acquisitions. Ghostbusters was bought on a whim after the subject was brought up and work and I realised that I'd not seen it in a while. I've seen it very recently now. It's a classic, but not worthy of the highest of praise. I certainly enjoyed it.

Office Space was recommended by some punters in a comedy club. I got talking to them after the show about things like Dilbert and they recommended the movie. There are some important moments of observation in the script which might make this film one to pass around my office.

Enough for now. This has been a fairly unproductive day, though I did manage to get some ironing and vacuuming done, and more laundry went through the machine. Overall, I'm disappointed with myself, but I'm ill, so I blame the cold.

Friday, October 22

Another run of failing to update this blog. It has been a busy week. It's not been busy in the way that last week was - a run of 4 distant gigs could drive you mad. Maybe I'm now too mad to notice, or maybe I'm now immune to the rigours of gigging. Sadly, I'm not immune to the cold-like virus I appear to have contracted. I feel somewhat run-down. This is perfectly in sync with increased responsibilities at work and the backlog of household tasks I've failed to perform recently.

A quick retrospective on the week:

Rehearsal night. Er... that's about it. I also started reading a book I'd bought on Monday (or maybe I started it on Monday, but got into it on Tuesday). It's not desperately important. I like to read and I seldom make time for it. The fact that I lay in bed with a book is a good thing and I'm pleased to announce it. The book was, in fact, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz.

I had a rather odd-feeling gig in Sunderland. I am told that I have shown a marked improvement since I last gigged there. Either that, or people remembered me as being poorer than I really was. Either way, I did okay on the stage. One of the songs I did died somewhat, but such is life. I got something out of the crowd.

I met a fellow Newcastle-based comedian whom I gave a lift home to and we discussed the subject of practising kissing on Oranges, which is an amusing (though I suppose handy) tip from Just 17 magazine - this was a suitable sequel to the hilarity I'd had reading Bliss over the weekend. Bizarrely, it also transpired during the conversation that this performer had been in a show I saw at the Edinburgh festival 2 years ago - thankfully, I'd actually liked it - it might have been embarrassing had it transpired that my online review was scathing.

At home I read into the small hours. More reading... I'm becoming a worm!

I think it's fair to say that the cold managed to take a stronger grip on me. I considered calling in sick. That book wasn't going to read itself and sleep felt like a good move. Having said that, I have responsibilities now and I felt the need to live up to them. So, I had a relatively stressful and busy day. By home time I really didn't feel like I wanted to do the gig. Still, I went home, stuffed my belly full of food and headed out to the gig.

At first it didn't look like we'd get an audience and I was almost relieved at the prospect of the gig being cancelled and the early night which that might create. However, people came. Not too many, but not too few. It was a tough room to play, but it slowly built up into a good mood. By my turn to go on, the room was in a good mood. I swallowed down some phlegm and bounded onto the stage...

...and had a complete stormer. They laughed at pretty much everything and anything I said/sang. I was immediately in a totally cheery mood. I was making them laugh with my mood as much as my material. I was getting giggly myself. I've no idea how that happened. It was great fun. For the duration of my time on stage I didn't feel remotely ill (though my voice wasn't quite at full strength).

Immediately afterwards I felt quite ill again, but give me a spotlight, microphone and guitar, and I have a temporary cure.

I went home and read late into the night and finished the book. It was a simultaneously surprising and predictable ending. I'd guessed it, but then been diverted from believing it. That's the joy of reading.

Today (so far)
Yeah... er... work. Feeling headachey and croaking. Lots of meetings with one participant on the telephone, so lots of for the benefit of those unable to see what's going on in the room commentary. I wonder whether my "hilarious" descriptions of people's attire (falsified) will fade in their popularity as we go along.

Tonight I'm off to a rehearsal for South Pacific. I'm still unsure whether I can juggle two shows. Let's see.

Every so often, the internet surprises me. I consider the forumla - Google+theinternet = the-answer-to-anything - to be totally true, but you usually need to do the research yourself. It seems that the writer of this blog has considered the same question as me and answered it for me. Read the second paragraph on the link. I was wondering what the phrase "Hollanderize" meant in the lyrics of Take back your mink in Guys and Dolls. Not only did the writer of the blog consider and answer the question, but they even made a witty reference to the lyrics of another song in the show while writing about it. They deserve a licorice tooth as a reward.

Thursday, October 21

I would quite like to have a go at this.

Monday, October 18

Another absence
Sorry about this. I keep having stuff to do. The first thing to go appears to be this blog. Actually, I've not been all that bad of late, but I'm still a few days out. Things were somewhat compounded by my extra responsibilities in the office, coupled with a rather tough gig schedule last week. This week should be a lot easier. I've still got an action packed bunch of days between now and the weekend, but all the action is close(ish) to home, so it makes life a lot easier.

Let's see what, of note, happened last week.

Actually, nothing much stands out about this day, except for the fact that I had a rehearsal. I may even have tackled a massive pile of ironing, because there appear to be a lot of ironed shirts in the house and I can't afford a maid.

I left the office reasonably late on AND did a gig. This involved driving to Manchester, of course, and I arrived close to 9pm. I was closing the gig, which meant that I felt under no pressure to arrive for its start. I pretty much did arrive at the beginning, but it was nice to feel I could pack more into the day than the usual early-departure-from-work-lest-I-be-late-thing.

The gig on Wednesday night went pretty well, considering that I was playing to the smallest audience of the night (it's a frequent problem, when closing a free gig, that people just leave before you go on). I think I gave a good account of myself and managed to snatch myself back from the jaws of the audience's hatred with an uncharacteristic gag for which I found a new punchline on the spot.

I had been looking forward to playing a weekend at The Stand since I was booked in September for it. The Stand is definitely one of THE clubs to play in Scotland. I was down to do a 10 minute set in the middle of the show on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in their Edinburgh venue. This was a superb opportunity to find out how I'd get on with a nicely run club and a nice audience. Emphasis on how easy it should have been. As such, I suppose they must need to be quite discerning when they decide whether to invite an act back. Anyone can look good when everyone's laughing at them.

I had an early appointment at The Stand on Thursday. I had to be there for 7pm for soundchecking. Given that it takes about 2hours and 15minutes (in good traffic) to get there, I was out of the office at speed and flying up the A1. I've come to the decision that the A1 is such an easy ride that it's worth the extra 10 or so miles it puts on the journey.

I actually arrived in Edinburgh about 20 minutes early and had time to get some cash and a Starbucks. The sound check was good and the gig was even better. One of the people I met during the Fringe came along to see the show (I got guest tickets organised) and seemed to enjoy themselves. I had a great time. The audience laughed, I felt good. Job done.

After the gig was over, it was time to jump into the car and drive back home. I actually reached my bed at 1.30am on Friday morning, which is not at all bad for a gig night. I had to pack a suitcase, though, because I was due back in Edinburgh at 7pm the following night.

After a day at work, consisting of being spectator/heckler during the coding, followed by various doing-a-lot-of-talking meetings, I was back on the road. I had an appointment in Edinburgh at 7pm. This time it was not for sound check. I was staying in the company of an adorable young lady, who is probably reading this, and who deserves all the praise in the world for providing me with company and accommodation over the course of the weekend. In case this looks like some sort of declaration of undying love for the lady in question, I should point out that we're just friends... a slumber party is about as "saucy" as we got. Even then, there's nothing much saucy about reading the problem page of a teenage girl's magazine to each other.

Ah... I should also point out that the lady in question is a mortgaged adult, and not a teenage girl - the magazine was something of a piece of harmless amusement to while away Saturday afternoon. But I digress.

So, on Friday night, I played the same club as I played Thursday. I was alongside the same acts. The pressure is on more when you have a track record to maintain. For some reason, the audience, didn't laugh at all at what I consider to be my first big laugh. I pressed on unfazed and they got into line quickly enough. Giving me another solid reaction. I enjoyed Friday night. Waiting to go on, you wonder whether you will get any laughs at all... standing in front of a crowd who have just failed to laugh, you wonder even more. However, there's something to be said for material which has been played over 150 times and which you know has another punchline, just around the corner.

Friday night was my 200th gig. I enjoyed it.

Once awake on Saturday, we set off in search of lunch. I had the "badass burger" or something like that. Our number had swelled to three (not as a result of the badass burger, though it swelled my beltline a bit), and it was at this point that the subject of buying teenage-girl-oriented magazines arose. The magazine provided much in the way of childish laughter over the course of the afternoon.

Saturday night was spent back at the comedy club. My guitar had been left there on Thursday night, sitting back in the gig bag. I'd actually left my guitar in another city while I drove home for the day's work on Friday - I've never done that before (or maybe I did something like that when I day tripped it to Newcastle on the train from Edinburgh a few months back - but the guitar wasn't left in someone's club - I forget). On Friday night, emboldened by the safety of the club and the convenience of the green room, I left the guitar OUT of the case. Oh yes!

So, now I'm feeling more comfortable at the club and more like I can do this comedy thing. Now is the time to get complacent and do a bad gig. I didn't. I had another really nice reaction. In fact, they were the most up-for-it of all the crowds I played that weekend. I really enjoyed it. I still ploughed through my set at a breakneck pace. Luckily, the compere was quick, so the room were already quite trigger happy with their laughs. It was really good fun. I hope I get to do it again.

I even left my guitar in the club overnight, which was odd, because I wasn't playing there on Sunday!

Guess where we had lunch? I'll give you a clue. I picked my guitar up afterwards. Not only does The Stand pay me to play to 170 people on a Saturday night, but it also runs a free improvised comedy show on a Sunday lunchtime. We attended, we ate potato wedges doused in something lovely and I got my instrument back. This was a superb weekend. There should be more of them.

That's today. Life is a little more dull for there not being a gig to go to - a run of 4 consecutive gigs was quite something to deal with. I have decided a set piece 10, 15 and 20 that I'll roll out from now on, which appears to hit hard enough to work more often than not. My next gig is on Wednesday and I can also try out some new material, which should be fun. There's quite a lot of material that I've not used in a while. I ought to note it all down, lest some of it is actually undiscovered gold.

I also would like to declare today to be Nathan Lane day. During lunchtime, I did a bit of shopping and then attended the post office to pick up the crap-I-keep-ordering-from-ebay-that-doesn't-fit-through-my-letterbox. Included in this batch of jiffy bags was the 1992 broadway version of Guys and Dolls which I hadn't realised included Nathan Lane among its cast. Nathan Lane is known to me specifically because he was in The Producers on Broadway (and is going to appear in the movie of this musical of the original movie - all of which is by Mel Brooks). Anyway, I remember thinking, as I looked through the Guys and Dolls sleeve notes - "ooh, he's from The Producers, I'm going to see that next weekend" - cos I am.

For other reasons today, I checked out the ticketmaster website and was reminded that The Producers opens on Friday 22nd October at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with Richard Dreyfuss and Lee Evans in the billed cast. Well, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, was where My Fair Lady opened. I saw it there as well (albeit a different production) and I was in it in Durham. Camelot also opened in the Theatre Royal - and I've been in that too in Durham. There's clearly a link between The Producers and Guys and Dolls (which, yes, Durham, blah blah blah). That link is Nathan Lane. But he's not in the London cast.

At about 4pm today, I got a message on my answerphone. Richard Dreyfuss isn't in the cast in London anymore. Nathan Lane is. How cool is that!?

It's pretty cool.

Oh... and Miss Saigon played the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Monty Python played there too, as did the League of Gentlemen. I've only been to that theatre once before. I'm looking forward to going again.

Tuesday, October 12

Another Monday Night's Festivities
For some reason, I've designated Monday night as the one where I go out for my own entertainment (rather than the plethora of nights where I go out to cause entertainment for others). So, it was hardly surprising that I grabbed some food at home after work last night and then headed townwards in search of intoxicating refreshment and company.

I should point out that Monday is still a "school night" so, intoxication was to be kept to a manageable level of moderation. The aim is to have a little fun and let my hair down. My hair keeps letting me down in its staunch refusal to cover enough of my scalp, so it's only fair that I should return the compliment.

The evening involved playing pool (the first time I've done so in a while - and it was hard to play with glasses on), and visiting not one, not two, but three different drinking establishments. We ended up at The Head of Steam, near the station, where I ran into a few notable people. Of most note was a young lady who approached me reticently and asked whether she'd seen me perform in a show in Edinburgh. I was slightly bowled over. she'd seen The Musical! You forget, when you perform a bunch of shows, that ever individual in the audience get their own unique experience from it. I can't really deal with compliments very well, but I had a go.

I also got into a discussion with the barmaid about etymology. This was one of many random discussions that occurred last night. Monday nights are quite good fun, really. I didn't get to bed until a bit later than planned.

Monday, October 11

Check out the, often hilarious, Spamusement.

A week's worth!
Although only 3 and a bit days have passed since I last wrote an entry in this blog, there is a huge amount to report. Sadly, much of what there is to report is not all that interesting, so I'll try to avoid the pointless minutiae, and focus on the meat of the last few days.

Thursday night - Stockton gig
For the first time in a while, I left the stage on Thursday with a strong sense that it had gone very well. This was largely down to an audience who were well and truly "up for it", along with a last minute decision that I made to open my act differently. My protestations of "But I'm not a guitar act" were going down badly among the other comedians, who pointed out that I spend a lot of my time behind a guitar, so why deny it? So, I decided to open with the guitar. This can be a strong start and it paid off. For short sets, I think it's imperative at the moment. D'oh. I like the freedom of standing on stage with a microphone in my hand! I'll have to learn some non musical songs, then!

A day in the office was followed by a trip over to Manchester to have another crack at The Comedy Store. At the time, I thought I'd done quite well. As I was driving home afterwards, I realised a few of the mistakes I'd made, but I didn't lose my nerve and I also took an opportunity to improvise with the audience, getting one of my best laughs. I wasn't totally self-assured, but I was able to make eye contact with the acts and crew afterwards, which is always a good sign.

Saturday is a good day for it. Whatever it is. In my case, it's a day when I get out of the house and get some miles under my feet. It was my extreme pleasure to go for a couple of hours of walking with my cheap £1 radio playing in my ears. I managed to time the walk so that my arrival back into the vicinity of my house, specifically the nearby food shop, coincided with the end of the radio programme I was looking forward to hearing - Richard Herring's That Was Then, This Is Now or TWTTIN. I think I amused some passers by during my walk by laughing and giggling uncontrollably at bits of the show. In fairness, you can tell where some of the show is going, though that's not disappointing, and some (5-10%) of the material met with a respectful silence, but perhaps I'm more aware of that sort of thing these days. It's still a classic.

Saturday afternoon included a bath and then a drive to Edinburgh. Of course! Once in Edinburgh, I was to pick up a companion for the rest of the evening. We're looking at writing a musical together, so I hastily completed my draft of the Act 2 synopsis while in the car waiting. I had enough time to do this, and I think that the synopsis is what it would have been if I'd done it earlier in the day.

Saturday evening was spent watching a gig in Glenrothes. I MCed this gig last time around and it was interesting to see how differently it ran this time. It's a good room, but I can see how it could also be a hard room to play. I enjoyed a number of the acts who played, laughing uncontrollably in places. I was in a good mood on Saturday, so laughing uncontrollably was a natural symptom of being amused.

I enjoyed Saturday and left Edinburgh, after dropping off my collaborator, in good spirits... I also have a Batman DVD box set (the movies, not the TV series) which this person was able to arrange for me at a ludicrous discount! Hoorah. More DVDs. I've no time to watch them, I'm too busy buying more.

I woke up mid-morning, which gave me the perfect opportunity to do some washing up, have some breakfast and put some more washing into the washing machine. Is it difficult? No! It's easy like Sunday morning. Doing other bits of housework seems to be eluding me, mind. I really must get some cleaning done! However, I digress.

On Sunday after-lunchtime (I don't know exactly how I got to that time of day without achieving anything of note, though I suspect it involved slobbing around for a few hours), I headed over to Tynemouth. There was coffeee, a browse round Tynemouth's market and then a walk along the coast to Whitley Bay. Most pleasant.

While walking from the car to the market, I spotted these cars:

These cars are stationary!

Note the caption. These cars are not driving, they're parked. It's like some sort of crazy parking competition. Who can get their car furthest away from the kerb? The car at the front is the winner as far as I'm concerned!

I got home mid-evening had some food, decided I was tired and somehow managed to make the night disappear with no effort. I probably wrote some emails. Pass. No idea. Where does the time go?

The only news to come out of last night is the possibility that I might agree to enter a production of South Pacific which is on 2 weeks after Guys and Dolls. If it's possible to rehearse the pair of them simultaneously, then I'm quite happy for the majority of my February to be spent on a stage. I'm not sure how practical this plan would be, but if the South Pacific lot can take the fact that I've got commitments, and will be prioritising the other show, then I'll do it. I'd look good dressed as a sailor!

Thursday, October 7

Drinking the impossible
I just drank a 500ml bottle of Orange and Carrot juice. Reading the ingredients, I found the ingredients to be the juice of oranges and carrots. Now, there's a problem here. I've a reasonable knowledge of carrots... and... they don't have juice coming out of them. Cut into an orange, you'll get wet. Cut into a carrot and... nothing. It's a woody root with little fluid in it. What do you have to do to a carrot to get juice?

I have this image of a really tough steel press being used to throttle the life out of the humble carrot for about 9 drops of slightly wan-looking water. Is that how it's done? It sounds a bit cruel. I know that carrots don't have feelings, but surely they deserve a more respectful treatment?

Having said that, I did once make a jam out of carrots - it was reasonably pleasant in my recollection. I'm not sure whether carrots contain any natural pectin. Luckily the "jam making sugar" contained plenty, so I got some sort of jam-like substance in the end. I recall I had to add water to the carrots in order to make them moist and turn into a jam making pulp because, you see, CARROTS ARE NOT JUICY.

Yabba babba deedle daidle
Well, I managed to open my mind up and head off to the Theatre Royal to see Fiddler on the Roof last night. I wasn't certain that I wanted to see this show for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the company who did it did a reasonably lack-lustre version of Singin' In The Rain last year, and I wasn't certain they were going to do a better job of this one. Secondly, I wasn't sure that the glamourised view of a sentimental memory of a Russian-Jewish culture would really be tolerable to watch for me. However, I really do like musicals and suspected that a lot of the songs in this show (which I've never seen before) would be familiar to me.

The cast did a reasonable job. It was still clearly an amateur production - in fact, the archetypal, but it was a good amateur production. Indeed, the pressure on the chorus to continue delivering was high and they met that requirement with aplomb. Their leading man was very charming, managing to get laughs, towards the end, with a mere roll of his eyes. This is how it should be.

"So," I hear you cry, "What are the hallmarks of the amateur production?". Okay, you asked for it, here they are:
  • A strange demographic in the cast - some are too old to be doing the parts, some are too young, and they're predominantly female
  • Bad accents - they'll find it hard to lose their local brogue
  • Chaotic choreography - there'll be random moments of chaos among the well choreographed scenes, which quickly disappear as they fall back into line
  • An oh my god, I'm doing it leading lady - she'll have a bigger beam on her face than she needs and will be playing up into the spotlight as though she's just seen Jesus (even if she's not playing Mary in Jesus Chris Superstar) - this will seem cute at first, but will ultimately make her character seem like that of an imbecile
  • False starts - the amateur chorus is frightened of coming in too soon, and not necessarily certain of the first word in the song - they'll wait until someone else has started their bit confidently and join in - expect crescendoes at starts of songs as everyone joins the back of the queue to get going
There's more, but those are the ones which are really easy to spot. In some shows, the cast can't sing, act or warrant putting on stage at all - those are actually quite rare. Most amateur groups have an eye to the quality of what they're actually doing. At the end of the day, getting people on stage and entertaining punters is the main thing - not everyone is going to be a legendary star of stage and screen, but they should still have a chance to do something that fits their abilities. That's why I keep doing it. I have some ability to do something. If I thought I was totally incapable, I'd hope I'd have the wisdom to stay at home and be very very quiet.

Musical summaries
It strikes me that all musicals should be summarisable in two word phrases. So, I shall, occasionally, add some descriptions of musicals in this format to this site. Enjoy. Here are today's:
  • Musical Jews - Fiddler on the Roof
  • Bloodthirsty Plant - Little Shop of Horrors
  • Inevitable Crucifixion - Jesus Chris Superstar
  • Miserable frenchmen - Les Miserables
  • Domestic violence - Carousel (don't get me started on this one)

Wednesday, October 6

Now I have to work out how to stop myself buying the Star Wars movies on DVD. I've sort of copped out a bit - I've postponed the purchase until next month! Grrrr...

Oh dear... one of those flash animations that just makes me get giggly. Check out Magical Trevor. Believe me, though it's on a loop, it just gets funnier.

Tuesday, October 5

Stage fright-less
Despite yesterday evening's gig being more of a starer than a laugher, I cheerfully carried on unphased. I think I've got to the rather self-indulgent stage of just enjoying a stage, microphone, guitar and audience at my disposal. If people aren't going to laugh, then I suppose I ought to find a way of being funnier, but I'm glad I'm not going to let it spoil my evening.

Yes, I'm certainly a lot bolder and more confident on stage these days. This will probably evaporate when I do the Comedy Store gig on Friday night. That gig has the power to unnerve me still.

Last night I also ended up in the Anglo Asian centre on Westgate Road in Newcastle singing Karaoke. There are so many aspects of that last sentence which are surprising. The fact that this was pre-meditated makes it all the more surprising. It was, however, entertaining. I was singing Have you met Miss Jones?, which was a lot of fun to sing. Now I'm even more keen on doing a big band number in my comedy set. I know exactly what I want to do, it's just the doing of it that's the tricky bit. I really need to get my technical stuff together and make me a home-made big band backing track. The song in question is pretty much a year old now, and so it will be nice to reinvigorate it with a new slant.

Untrustworthy with money
I really shouldn't be allowed to have money, the way I throw it away on frivolous things. I just bought the Indiana Jones trilogy on DVD. They are (with the exception of Temple of Doom) great movies, so I'm somewhat vindicated. It also only works out at £6 per disc (there are four discs) and it was most bargainous! Thank you ebay!

Monday, October 4

Things not to say in the office, part 624
"That's a lovely perfume you're wearing... which reminds me, must buy some more air freshener for my toilet."

Part 625
Me : "Don't put honey in your tea, you don't need it."
Her : "You mean I'm sweet enough."
Me : "No, you're outrageously overweight."

He's big but he's not clever
After a day of auditioning yesterday, I'm now the proud player of a role in Guys and Dolls. You can read what you like into the fact that the role I got was the only one that I was auditioning for uncontested. One of the other roles I went for was that of a rather fat man - the role I got was for Big Jule. So, they see me as big, but not fat. It looks like the diet is working then!

For some perverse reason, I enjoyed my auditions. While I'll only get to play one of the parts in the end, I have, at least, played the other two in front of an appreciative audience. In the last audition I did, I got quite nervous and found an absence of air in my lungs and a lack of tunefulness coming from me. Yesterday, I rather relished the opportunity to sing and, apart from losing the pianist a little on one of the songs, I thought I turned out a creditable effort, under the circumstances.

Of course, Big Jule is a non-singing role, so you can read into that what you like. He does make the audience laugh, though, so I shall enjoy that.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Went to see this last night. It starred Gwyneth I only appear with a spotlight in my face Paltrow, Jude Law and Angelina I've got a plummy accent and an eye-patch Jolie. What a romp it was! I really enjoyed it. Admittedly, I experienced a similar degree of glee to watching The Matrix : Reloaded where the bizarre twists of the adventure were both very silly and very watchable. For me, the moment where Ms Jolie escapes her doomed craft was a highlight.

From the first moment I saw images of this film trailed, I thought it looked worth a look. The idea is that it's a futuristic comic-book style story, set in the 40's, so it has gadgets that are both futuristic and yet also set within antique machinery. The robots are realised beautifully, but they're also old-fashioned robots - so blocky and machine-like.

The score sounded like someone was trying to do a John Williams adventure movie soundtrack. It was reasonable.

Could they make a sequel? I'd watch it.

Sunday, October 3

After Fringe 2004 - stand-up

Plenty has happened...
since I last updated the site. Most notably, I performed 67 times during Fringe 2004 - this included stand-up and The Musical!. There have been many gigs, MC spots and even some straight music gigs. I'm currently working on a plan for the next year's projects. This plan should include musicals and more stand-up. Watch this space...

See the gigs list for a constantly updated plan of where I am going and where I've been.

Saturday, October 2

Don't forget to visit apostrophell, which has gained a new article today. Oooh. It's still a goldmine of pedantry and accuracy, so worth a visit for some of the old articles too.

A shop full of horrors
I appear to be having something of a Little Shop of Horrors theme to this weekend. Last night I watched the DVD of the original movie - that's the Roger Corman filmed-in-two-days-black-and-white version. I'd bought this DVD by accident, it having been advertised as the musical version. I really enjoyed it, though. Given that I've seen the musical on stage three times, have listen to its soundtrack often, and come to love it, and it was interesting to see how it all began. There was the dental patient who loved pain, created by Jack Nicholson in the original movie and then recreated by Bill Murray in the movie of the musical. This character hadn't made it into the stage show. There were notable differences between the original story and the musical, but where the musical had changed the plot, I felt it was consistently better. The only thing I felt was a shame to lose in the musical was the constant use by both Mushnik and Audrey of inappropriate words - it was done so dryly that you could almost miss it.

Notable changes.

  • Seymour isn't an orphan in the original movie. He has a mother who is a hyperchondriac and is obsessed with health potions. This character is ok, but doesn't add much to the story and does add another location, inappropriate for a stage show. Making Seymour an orphan, living in the basement of Mushnik's florist, is a much better way to get sympathy for him.
  • Audrey isn't remotely tragic in the original version. She's better off as a lost soul looking to be rescued by a sweet little guy "like Seymour".
  • Audrey isn't going out with the Dentist in the original. Although the Dentist is one of the corpses to be fed to the plant, there's no good reason for it in the original. He's a bit manic, but he's not particularly evil, as he is in the musical. Seymour kills him by accident (as he does the other corpses in the film) but it's not as excusable as in the musical. The love-triangle and abuse of Audrey make for more interesting drama in the musical.
  • Mushnik ends up selling his soul to the plant in the original movie. He realises what is going on and decides to keep the plant on, even feeding a burglar to it. In the movie, Mushnik tells the burglar that the money is inside the plant and he should just knock for it to open. In the musical, when Seymour finds out that Mushnik suspects him for murdering the dentist, he tells Mushnik that he's put the day's takings in the plant and he should just knock for it to open. This is where Mushnik dies in the musical.
  • The climax is quite different. Although Seymour challenges the plant in both shows, he's trying to kill it from the inside in the film, having reached the end of his tether and with no regard for setting up a life with Audrey, who has survived. In the musical, the plant had killed pretty much everyone, including Audrey and Seymour is trying to take revenge. In the movie, we have a rather cute reveal where the blooms of this plant open to reveal the faces of everyone it has killed. I suspect that this trick has been used by people staging the musical over the years too.
Differences are details and I love details. I enjoyed watching the movie last night. This morning, a new item arrived. LITLA HRYLLINGS BUDIN - the Icelandic version of Little Shop of Horrors. The phrase caveat emptor never applied more than when buying items on ebay. I bought this CD of the Icelandic cast in the assumption that it would be the musical, as performed in Iceland. I hadn't considered that it might not be sung in English. I know that, for instance, the Danish version of Chess is sung in the original language. However, this version comes in Icelandic. This is not a bad thing. Actually, it's quite interesting. The thing about this musical is that the writing is so very good that even a bad version of the show is still wonderful. When I saw the poor performance of it in July, I still enjoyed myself, because I could hear and see a good version of it in my head (my memories of good versions filled in the gaps in the show in front of me - I'm not having hallucinations!). So, the fact that the language currently being sung in my ears, as I write this with the CD playing, is itself totally unintelligible to me, is irrelevant. I know exactly what's going on. I can appreciate this as a piece of performance in its own right. It's pretty good. Not brilliant, but pretty good.

So far, my favourite recorded version of this show is still the original off-Broadway cast.

More vivid dreams
I'm still suffering from vivid dreams. There must still be something on my mind, and it's not just tomorrow's auditions for Guys and Dolls. Weirdly, I dreamed that I was raking the lawn. That's not going to be happening today. A lot of rain just descended from above. I might risk going for a walk later, though.

Friday, October 1

Camera Fun
The beauty of having a camera phone is that you can capture things which momentarily amuse you and post them on the internet. Last week, walking home after the theatre, I was finally amused by the name of a local takeaway:

Boti - that's like botty

I was so amused that I actually sent that image to a couple of friends. I don't know if either of their phones have the facility to receive picture messages. Ah dear - it's a place named after your arse. Ha ha ha.

Then the following morning, I walked past the following sign. It's the sort of sign that the council would post for official reasons - despite the fact that nobody reads them, or reacts to them.

We officially have nothing to say

Finally, when my car wasn't working properly a couple of months back, I went to a scrap yard looking for a spare part. I found this most appropriate use of a Nissan Micra:

A local gig
Gigging within 5 miles of my home is great. I was back in the house before 11.30pm and I'd had a good night out. I was at New Word Order. I witnessed a very excellent victory at its poetry slam. Well done John.

Being home within the same day as I'd left it was a novelty and so I went through some paperwork, carefully preparing all the things I had to get done today. I managed to forget every last one of them this morning, so will have to get them sorted on the weekend. I did my accounts for the stand up, and I'm still running at a modest loss on my petrol/travel expenses vs money raised through performing. Looks like I need to organise some profitable work in the near future!

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