My Stand-up & gigs
The Coding Craftsman
Hi, we’re calling from Some Criminals.com
An Open Letter To HSBC
Pay What Now?
Hearing the music
When to quit
I am not as other men
Tonight I was funny
Attack of the Drones
Notes on your set
Realising that I had to lose some weight, as I was feeling increasingly uncomfortably fat, I decided to try to control my eating again. You may, if you've read the shite that has been hurried assembled on this website recently, have notice some dietary wavering going on. I've been eating rubbish and putting on weight. It can't continue.
Anyway, that night there was another preview of The Great Big Comedy Picnic
to attend. This time it was in Newcastle, so I hopped along, did my thing and then left. I followed a rather poignant touching poet, who was part of the night as a whole, rather than the comedy bit. It's hard to follow a miserable poet. So I orated a poem I can use at probably no other gig than the one I was at. It seemed to help me do a gear change. Then I did my usual schtick... then we left.
Despite the diet, I indulged in some eating of curry at a local Wetherspoons and the Poppadum frenzy was probably unnecessary, as was sampling (sampling, not finishing) some of the lasagne my girlfriend couldn't eat. Her appetite is not immense and my concern is that if I finish what she doesn't eat, then I will grow to immense proportions!
Anyway, this gig was my last for a bit and I could enjoy some "us time" with my girlfriend before she headed back to Reading (she'd saved me a visit by coming to me) and I started revving up for the Fringe festival.
The week, after Reading, had gone by reasonably enough. I'd been to the comedy gig I frequent on Tuesday nights. It had been a good turnout. On Wednesday, I got a call telling me that I was now the proud owner of a new lawn. After all the waiting, I have grass in my front garden. Good stuff. I was also invited out for drinks after work with the person who supplied that lawn.
So, I sauntered out of the office around 7ish on the Wednesday, put some money on the car to avoid it being ticketted, wandered to get some cash and then met some friends at a bar in town. I also rang a friend of mine in London I'd not spoken to in a while and had a bit of a chat. It was probably a good idea, as we'd not spoken in ages. It was also a bad idea as I arrived at the pub while talking to him and managed to feel simultaneously rude to him and the people I was supposed to be meeting as I had to end the call.
A few minutes later I was even ruder. I got a call from my girlfriend:
"Where are you?"
"I'm at a bar in town? Where are you?"
There was already a guillotine on the pub visit, as my co-drinkers had reservations for dinner. I dropped it prematurely though by basically going - "[gulp (of drink)] BYE!" and rushing home.
I know I'd seen her only a couple of mornings before, but I was excited to see my girlfriend return. She was due to spend a bit of time with me before she went back home to pack for her forthcoming holiday. It was a great surprise.
Compared to the car fires on Saturday night, the rest of the weekend was fairly sedate. There was pool, in the pub on Sunday afternoon, a meal, and then pool in the pool bar on Sunday evening. That's a whole lotta pool, but I like pool.
I got to spend Sunday night in Reading but I had to hurry back to the office on Monday morning to an afternoon's work. This I did, even staying reasonably late on the Monday evening - getting the job done.
Not a great amount to report. We went to see Batman Begins
which I really enjoyed. It was something a bit more than just a superhero movie and it seemed as dark as I remember the first of the batman movies being.
We were awoken in the middle of the night by a crack. I wasn't sure what it was and thought perhaps that it had been a dream. The fact that my girlfriend had heard it too somewhat spoiled that notion. Then I thought perhaps it had been something falling down the stairs - perhaps knocked by the cat... however, it didn't sound like it could have been that either. So I listened some more. I had a few theories. If you hear scampering feet in the house, it's burglars, and if you hear snap, crackle and pop, then it's a fire.
It was a fire. I looked out of the window and saw smoke. Oooh a fire. What could it be. Then I heard a whoosh - fuel. It was a car fire. As my girlfriend went to wake up her mother and call the emergency services, I got some clothes on. The parked cars across the road were ablaze. I was worried about the fire spreading and the people of the next door house not realising they were on fire until it was too late.
Well, it was quite exciting. The fire brigade arrived and sorted out the blaze. They also kept the siding of the flats overlooking the blaze, wet as it was plastic and melting and potentially something that might go up in flames itself. It was quite a drama for 3 in the morning.
I also liked the sound that the fuel tank made when it caught fire - no explosion, just a rapid burning of all the petrol. I liked it, but not enough to become an arsonist and make my own.
I'd had a gig booked in Manchester for the Friday night, so off I headed after work. I was due in Reading that weekend, but the gig came in the middle and I had directions from the gig to Reading from TheAA.com, so I knew the most efficient way to get to Reading afterwards.
The gig is co-run by someone I've had run-ins with in the past, though they have been smoothed over. I was a bit worried about ensuring that it was a trouble free experience doing this gig, as I would like to put run-ins very much in the past and it was a step forward to be doing this gig at all.
Well, I went out there and did my stuff. As well as the promoter of the night in question, there were also three other people in the room who run gigs. I had a tough job going onto that stage under those circumstances, but I did my thing and people laughed. Subsequently, one of the promoters told me when to call him for a booking another one emailed me with dates a few days later and the promoter of the night has booked me in again. Not bad from one performance.
After my bit was over, I reclaimed my guitar from the stage and took to the roads. I was directed by the instructions to use the M6 Toll road. This is worth every penny. It's a new surface, there's nobody on it at that time of night. There were no speed traps. There was even a fence to hide the regular joes on the normal M6 from view. Nice. I zoomed my ass off.
I arrived in Reading, safely into the arms of my sweatheart, who was freshly showered. I grabbed my own shower and then we got some sleep. A good end to a busy week.
Today was the day of the big meeting. I was called to represent the team and do some big-style waffling. This is a challenge a rose to quite well. Later on, I spent some quality time with the software making it not annoy me. I'm not quite sure what I did, but apparently, I felt better at the time.
That night, I had another night in. This week was proving quite busy yet it had its stress release points. Tuesday and Thursday were for regrouping, the rest of the time it was all systems go!
I mentioned that we'd been working up to an important meeting/demonstration. Today was the last day before big meeting. Everything went wrong. Colleagues broke the software two times over and a machine died. Not a good thing. However, we sorted it all out and then I headed off to my gig.
I hadn't originally intended to do this gig, but they went an act down and while they could have managed without me, I decided that I could support the team more by doing it than by leaving them to it. In addition, I wanted the promoter of the gig to see me do my thing. The gig was another preview of the comedy show we'll be doing at the Fringe. There wasn't much of an audience and our preview was only half of the total show. The second half was to be Rob Deering, doing a preview of his Fringe show - 12 Inch. I didn't really want to be on the stage too close to Rob. He's an excellent musician and I'm... well, I can get by with an instrument or two.
So, I opened the show. It was a slow start, but there was some nice big laughs. So, job done.
Rob's show looked really good. I skipped the end of it to go and chat to my young lady - the girlfriend, that is, not some random young lady. I'm 100% faithful to my girlfriend and will even avoid any unwanted female attention where I can. I do that by using my generally unattractive looks, though apparently, I do look more attractive now I shave less and now I wander round with a bit more spring in my step through being in love with my girlfriend. So now they're interested... or at least, it's convenient for me to think that they might be and that I'm turning them down of my own free will.
I only mention all this attractive to women stuff after I gave someone my mobile number - as comedians sometimes too to colleagues and then got a text soon after. I thought, perhaps, that there may have been some ambiguity, so I made some comment in my reply about chatting to my girlfriend on the phone. That seemed to unambiguously, yet also indirectly, convey the message that I'm not available. What I should have said was "where were you when I was single?" but that might have been confusing.
This week in the office we were in the middle of an important process. We were supposed to be making our product work really well in a real life situation, leading up to a demo to show how good it really is in that situation. The way we achieved this involved watching someone use the software and complain to us about what was hard. We'd then fix the biggest problems and try again. I quite liked this approach. It gave me chance to justify some fixes I'd been looking to make for a while and the turn around was really good. We'd meet every couple of hours and see real progress.
However, we have a problem in the company where I work. People are frightened to be authoritative. In addition, people tend to talk up the point they're making and maybe make a big deal of everything. This is down to years of people ignoring each other, and it's also down to a lack of taking responsibility for just getting something done. We're frightened of what might happen if we do something that's not perfect, yet can never possibly achieve perfection. Something that's 80% there is good enough as a starting point. It's frustrating.
I'm reminded of a time when a marketing person wanted to take a new approach with the software. We had a meeting, and I asked him what would it do. He started speaking in superlatives about how good it would be. I asked again what it would actually do. He kept going on about how it would turn things on their head and revolutionise stuff... again, I asked him what... would... it... do. I never got a straight answer. So, again, when we were trying to get to the point this week, we were finding waffle instead of straight answers. I used being obnoxious as a tool to cut through the crap. I am patient, but I know that we can't afford to wait around for this thing to finish itself, so I pushed things a bit. I may not be popular, indeed, some people may cite stories about me when they leave my employer, but I'm getting the job done. Anyone who doesn't like it can dislike it.
I had had a gig that night, but my diary was full enough without it, and it was only a local new-material night. So I gave my spot to the comedian who I'd gigged with the previous night and spent the night in. I played "Sketchmaster" online with my girlfriend. We cheated a bit, but it was still fun.
After work, I had a gig in Kidderminster to go to. I was to be headlining. It had been arranged the previous month, when I'd put an advert up on a comedians' website, advertising my empty diary - some people would keep such a thing quiet, but I was looking to fill it. On the afternoon of the gig, I got a phone call from the promoter, asking if I could bring an act with me, or suggest someone to fill a 15 minute spot. I knew just the person to ask. I gig with her a lot and she'd only recently asked me to look out for the possibility of getting her gigs. So, here was my chance to come through. Anyway, she's a good act.
So, I gave her a call and got it all sorted and the lonely drive to the midlands had turned into a "road trip". This is good. I cleared it with my girlfriend. Well, I didn't quite clear it as make sure she knew about it in advance. I don't think we should get into an asking permission sort of a situation, but if someone doesn't know what's going on, then it can create tension if they find out... etc etc.
So, off we went to Kidderminster. I'd been to Kinver a couple of weeks previously and Kidderminster is quite close, so a lot of the territory was familiar. On this occasion, I was in the driving seat, with my colleague as navigator. We made pretty good time and got to the gig. Just at the end, the directions stopped making sense, so we had to get directions from the promoter's wife over the phone. This didn't slow us down very much and we arrived at the gig before it started.
There was some talk of my colleague having to go straight on, as the opening act was delayed, but he arrived just as the compere was mid-flow and he was sent onto the stage. It was the best I'd seen him in some time and he gave quite a tight set, densely packed with gags. I was very impressed. He did about 15 minutes and came off. I set off for a comedy poo while the open spot for the first section came on. This guy, by all accounts, did about 20 minutes, which is a lot for an open spot.
Middle section and my colleague did a sterling job. Another tight 15, followed by another open spot over running by miles. However, this particular open spot was victim to one of the best heckles I've ever seen. There's nothing smart about this story, but I will tell it, as it remains, for me, the perfect heckle and still makes me chuckle. To understand the story, you need to know two things. Firstly, the secret of comedy is timing. So, if you're going to heckle, you have to do so at exactly the right moment, or you may miss the point. Secondly, a lot of acts, especially newer ones, do an opening line which usually goes like this:I know what you're thinking [insert some banal reference to one's appearance, name or similarly obvious feature of oneself that one then makes a self-deprecating comment about]
This is a dull intro, though it often works. The problem with this particular act is that he was desperately and rather uninterestingly verbose, so his opener was something like - "I am a mind reader, I can look into your thoughts and work out what you are thinking..."
to which some wag shouted out, perfectly in time (as though we were hearing his thoughts) - "Tosser!"
. A good heckle, and the act in question probably did the right thing by ignoring it.
This act did about 20 minutes. I remarked to the promoter, in the interval before my bit
that his paid acts were keeping it short, at his request, and that he new acts were getting free run of the show, which hardly seemed fair to anyone, especially the audience. He took this on board.
The audience had been up for it and really quite excitable thus far. After a long night of comedy, though, would they go for 20+ minutes of Ashleyness? Well, apparently, the answer was yes.
I gave them 35 minutes of solid laughter. There were some moments with heckling, which I dealt with cheerily (I quite like going off script here and there) and I paused the set-up to my Star Wars bit as a woman walked across the front of the stage to leave the room. I asked her if she was ok and she announced that she just needed the toilet. Given that she was obstructing my view of the audience, I let her go. As she got to the door, she paused and announced - "I have a weak bladder", as though to excuse her leaving. I retorted "Your bladder is weak, old man" in a Darth Vader voice and then laughed hard at what had been, for me, quite a quick-witted response.
I had a really good time. I'm glad I did the gig.
I had to leave Reading much earlier than I wanted to. I assumed that I'd get a moderately leisurely drive to Newcastle, where I was picking up a fellow act, before we headed to Berwick to do the business. En route, I discovered that I had no time to spare at all. The gig was earlier than I had expected and I had to really kick some ass on the road to make it to Newcastle.
In Newcastle I had time to buy some petrol and some provisions before I was back on the road. We hit Berwick and I had to deal with the fact that I'd been driving for over 6 hours or so and had a gig in a few minutes' time.
I did the gig and I didn't do too badly. I was opening the show, so it's important to give a good showing. Having said that, the driving had made me a bit stuttery, so I wasn't on perfect form. Still, the promoter was happy and I got paid, so not a bad job.
After I'd been on, I went outside and chatted to my girlfriend for a bit. We spend time on the phone saying very little. It's what we do. Well, why not, eh!?
Given that Berwick is reasonably close to Newcastle, it wasn't an incredibly late night back. This was probably for the best as the week was probably going to be one of the busiest, and the preceding week hadn't exactly been quiet.
After work on Friday, I headed to Reading to be with the love of my life. The road is long, with many a winding turn. However, I've made the journey several times before, so I didn't get lost. Frustratingly this wasn't to be a full weekend's visit, as I had a gig on the Sunday night in Berwick upon Tweed.
Anyway, after a Friday evening in, coupled with the bounty of the all-night garage, we set off from the house on Saturday in search of Longleat. We found Stonehenge. It wasn't quite like that. We'd changed the plan mid-drive. It turned out that we'd get to Longleat - a sort of safari-park type of a thing - a bit later than would really be sensible and so we decided to reserve the visit for a day when we'd been less lazy and gotten up earlier to do it. In fairness, we were both very tired and needed the rest of a lie-in. So, we went to Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is quite impressive and I'm glad I went there. It wasn't a religious experience for me, but it was interesting to be in the wake of the rocks put in a circle for some reason or other by people of ancient times. The portable handset/speaking tour thing gave no definite reason for the positioning of the stone, but they seem to have been positioned according to some empirical measurements of time. Fair enoughski. It's still impressive, even if they were put there for a laugh!
After walking around looking at the stones from different angles we visited the gift shop where I nearly broke a "Stonehenge shot glass". Whoops. We left the place via a visit to their cafe, where we bought "Stonehenge rock cakes". Brilliant! They were a good idea and were nice large carbohydrate rich comestibles. That's what I like!
After Stonehenge, there's only one place to go. Bath. Actually, that's probably not a rule as much as what I can empirically deduce from the only time I've visited "The Henge".
In Bath we tried to make the most of the city in the time available. We took a bus tour, which showed us much of the compact city centre. In places it showed us it a few times. The guide was quite a character, attempting to crack very poor jokes throughout. Still, it kept it interesting.
After the tour we went to a restaurant for an evening meal. Very pleasant indeed. Being together in a couple is just that. Very very pleasant indeed. We had nice food, good company, good surroundings. It was like a date.
Returning back to the house, we watched Shrek 2. I think the cat watched a little too. Like Shrek 1, I wasn't all that fussed by it. Shrek 1 broke me down by the end and I enjoyed it. This one left me fairly unbothered, though it was nice to play "guess the voice" with the cast of celebrities playing the characters.
I'm glad we made the most of the day as I had a busy day to come and we weren't going to be spending much of it together.
I had a gig in Edinburgh this evening. I managed to get my friend, who had accompanied me to the gig on Tuesday to come along for the night. The gig itself had been booked with me on Tuesday. In some ways I was being drafted in as a support act, in others, I was transport for the open-spot who was performing in the middle section. Such is how things go.
The MC was great. He is a local act from Newcastle too (in fact, the closing act was also from the Newcastle area, so this was a veritable "Chillingham Arms Road Show"). He solidly worked the crowd making my bit of the night fairly easy to do. I had a good time opening the show.
After the show I drove my car load, now increased in number by the headline act, who had decided not to stay in Edinburgh. We chattered as I drove quite sedately back to Newcastle. The time passed quite easily. I can't remember what we talked about, but it was probably comedy. The open-spot comic and my friend had been on the drink (not in a Stella Artois, beating up the girlfriend sort of a way, just in a "few pints with the lads" way) and so we had to stop for a wee break, which was a bit fun and a bit weird. It always is.
Possibly the highlight of the night had been the young lass from Miami Beach whose look of combined amusement and shock at one of my lines had been so funny that I had to stop the song I was singing to laugh at it and remark on it. I also quite enjoyed dealing with the hecklers. One of them came up to me to point out how good I was at dealing with heckling and I pointed out that his heckling wasn't worth doing and that it was just making it harder for everyone else to enjoy themselves. The hecklers were better behaved after that.
The point about heckling, as clearly stated by banter-god Daniel Kitson, is that you have to make a point which contributes to the night. Just shouting out stuff isn't enough. You have either to steal the show from the comedian, or make them look a complete arse. Just grabbing attention is dull. The lads who were heckling were up for a laugh, but they weren't comedians. Being funny is not as easy as some people make it look. Mind you, I can make being funny look very very tricky... so I have some sympathy for the misguided heckler who is just trying to join in with the show. The best way to join in is to laugh along... or stay silent if it's not funny... or use some immense wit. Anything else won't do.
The heat had been playing havoc with me. I slept in a room with the windows open and no covers and yet I was still too hot to get to sleep properly. I then slept in. The heat must have destroyed what little ability I have for waking up. I wasn't at work too late.
I worked a busy day, and got stuff done. I felt quite on top of things and started planning for a very important sequence of events, relating to the project, that is.
Then I went home and spent the night with my Keane album and the computer. I think I was trying to get this darned blog up to date. Clearly I didn't manage it as this entry is still being written a month after the fact.
In the spirit of getting life into order, I cycled into the office and settled into getting on with things in the office. It seemed to go pretty well. I had a gig that night, so I cycled home and did some sweating. I sweated so much that it seemed appropriate to have a shower to cool off, or at least wash off. I'm not sure where most of the water that went down the plug hole came from - I assume it was the shower head, but it may have been my own pores.
Anyway, after the shower, I was still feeling hot and sticky, but I felt a bit cooler. I got dressed and went to the gig in the hot upstairs room of a pub in Newcastle. It was to be my 250th performance. I didn't realise it at the time. It's interesting that some of these landmark gigs are often the least celebrated in my career. I remember pretty much dying at my 100th gig in Moseley. Sometimes I tell a story about that experience.
Anyway, the slightest movement, like picking my guitar up to tune it, caused me to sweat my ass off. This didn't bode well for performing 10 energetic minutes in front of the audience. On top of that, I was closing the show. I should add that closing at this gig is more of an incidental thing, rather than being pegged the best act of the night. The best act of the night was the guy who went on before me and rocked the place. I had trouble following that, but what the hell. I did my best.
The act of the night for me, though, was the local fruitcake, whose idea of character comedy is my definition of "mentally ill". However, it made us laugh a lot - ineptitude is often funny.
The weekend had passed by without event. We had originally been going to go to London to spend time with my sister. However, there had been a rethink. The events of the 7th July had undoubtedly influenced our thinking, but we also had to recognise that the plan of having my girlfriend in Newcastle for the whole summer wasn't working out as planned. She'd intended to get a job and earn some cash for her holiday. That hadn't panned out, and there was some stuff for her to do back in Reading. So, we'd enjoyed our weekend together in Newcastle, and she would return to her family home on the Monday. I wasn't looking forward to the separation, but could easily head down on weekends and would.
The only thing I have noted down about the weekend was that we spent Friday night at the bowling alley, bowling, and subsequently playing pool. Apart from that I mowed the lawn. Whoop!
Not only was Monday a turning point in the plan for the summer, but it was also a day of rethinking things in the office. The rethinking finished in time for me to drive to my gig in Chorlton, Manchester.
I was on second in the middle section and the preceding act died. I had an easier job as a result. That sounds horrible, but it's just the way gigs go. If the act before you dies it usually makes your job really hard or really easy. I was lucky in that it was an audience who were up for it and so the preceeding act's antics gave them a hunger for someone to go in and be confident and funny enough to make them laugh. Apparently I was. I had a good time.
I watched the closing act and really enjoyed his stuff, which was good as he was doing an extended set. Then I drove home, hoping to see my girlfriend's car still outside my house, despite the fact that I knew she was going back to Reading. It wasn't there. Shame!
Terrorists blew up bombs in London. I worried about my friends and family. They were, thankfully, all ok. This event showed me what was important. Being a silly arse on Chortle doesn't feature on the list of important things.
I took the bus into town again (I'd done so the previous day too for post-work pick-up action). After work my girlfriend came to pick me up and we headed down south. We were travelling further than the previous night. We were going to Kinver, which is near Stourbridge, apparently.
There was a bit of an atmosphere in the car and some silence. My girlfriend is not as accustomed to gigging as I am and the previous night had tired her out and put her out too. It took some doing, but eventually we broke the mood. It was a warning that I can't expect her to just adapt to the silly lifestyle that I've made my own over the last couple of years. I learned an important lesson. Let's see if I can't remember it.
A few days previously, probably in our sitting-on-our-arses-in-front-of-the-TV phase, we'd watched some of Phoenix Nights. In situations like this, because I'm basically a small-minded enthusiast, I like to point to the telly and say - "I know him" or "I know her". This makes me look like I'm trying to make myself look big and clever by virtue of having worked with people who are much higher in the business than me... almost as though I am, in fact their equals. In my head, though, the real reason I'm doing it is that I'm excited. I got into comedy because I wanted to meet people who go round being funny and I wanted to be like them - in so much as I wanted to have the abilities that they have, rather than just nick their act. So, anyway, the point is that I had pointed to a particular female star of Phoenix Nights and said something like "I know her, she's really funny and I've gigged with her". This is true, and I didn't expect my girlfriend to be impressed.
Hoever, perhaps I often feel the need to justify things I say and do. For goodness' sake, look at this website - the whole thing is a network of words to set my life into some sort of perspective, whether I realise it or not at the time. I may look at this in 10 years and realise what a small-minded muppet I am now (or will be then, who knows). I digress. As we were driving to the gig, I remembered who was closing the show that night. It was the person I'd pointed to on the TV. She plays a stand-up character called Mrs Barbara Nice. As such, she is one of my favourite acts from the comedy circuit. That was something to look forward to.
We got to the gig, met the promoter and other acts and I went off to do my soundcheck. Janice, who plays Barbara is a very warm person who made both myself and my girlfriend feel very welcome and relaxed after our somewhat tense four and half hour drive. Nice one.
I opened the show and it went pretty well. I was pleased with that, as was the promoter. Another act on the bill is also a promoter, a promoter who had, for a time, booked me for a comedy tent in a music festival in September. That booking had mysteriously disappeared, which is what had set me worrying about the "racist" slur against my name... hence the previous few days' backlash. However, he assured me that it had nothing to do with the racist thing and he was pleased with how the gig went and so should be able to use me in future.
Janice had urged me and my girlfriend not to stay around on her account and to feel free to leave. However, I decided that part of the reason for going to gigs is to see some great comedy. While the comedians had been sitting out of the main comedy room during the majority of the show, we all decided to go into the venue and watch Barbara Nice close the show. It had been a good night so far and it was a packed-out room in the upstairs of a nice venue in a small town, I'd never heard of (despite having had some weird deja-vu about the directions on the way to the gig - I've been in that vicinity before, don't ask me when or why!). So, up we trotted. I stood with my back to the bar, my girlfriend stood in front of me. I had my arms around her. We laughed until it hurt, her laughter running into my hands as her body convulsed through entertainment of a wholesome and, well, nice, nature. It was a great moment.
This is one of the up-sides about gigging for me. If the drive is gruelling and my position as opening act difficult with a slow-to-warm up audience (we had the first, that night) then there's often the closing act to put it right. I might feel low and miserable in the middle of the show, but a stunning closing act can inject the joy back into me. This happened in Prestwick on 1st May, when I left the stage feeling like I wanted to cry and then had the pleasure of watching Vladimir McTavish storm it and make me want to laugh again.
So, we left Kinver happy. I drove us back home and we got some sleep.
I had a gig in Ayr. With my girlfriend boycotting my car, we went in hers. Fair enough. She picked me up from work and off we spent to our destination. The general rule of a trip over long distance to somewhere you've not been before is that it's the unfamiliar last 5 miles that are the hardest. That's where you're most likely to get lost.
On this occasion, we got lost at Carlisle. This was for no good reason. I've been to Carlise on a lot of occasions and it shouldn't have been too hard to pick up the junction we wanted from the road we were on. There was, however, a bad reason for our going wrong. I was not paying attention to the road. I wasn't driving, so I sort of forgot myself a bit. I was, however, navigating, and I wasn't doing a very good job of it. I should have been paying attention. I was, instead, messing on with my mobile phone. Not only that, but I was messing around on the mobile phone using the Chortle forums. The Chortle forums are where comedians go to take the piss out of each other, try to make themselves look clever, and generally bitch about the world of comedy.
There had been some recent moaning about my act on the Chortle forums and I'd sensibly risen above it and not responded. I'd still read it. I'm not completely mature enough to walk away from it and forget about the fact that they are people who mean very little to the best judges of a comedian - the audience they happen to be playing to at the time. Anyway, on this particular occasions a debate had arisen surrounding something I mention in my act. Someone had started a rumour that I'm taking a BBC reviewer to court. This is not true, though I wrote to that reviewer warning them that their remarks were unwarranted and bordering on libellous. I also pointed out that I hoped they would not take offence if I asked for them to be removed, which I MAY do if I found out that they're costing me work/reputation. This reviewer had described me as "mildly racist". It sounds like a mild accusation, but it still suggests that I'm racist.
Well, over the course of a busy day's toing and froing on the forums (or two - I think this has started the previous day). The whole story had emerged. I had done a routine in a club in Stockton on Tees based on Bernard Manning. The idea is that if you take a fat-northern-racist-comic like Bernard Manning and put a guitar in his hand, transforming him into a guitar act, he'd still be an unacceptable fat-racist-northern comic. Here is the routine in full. Bear in mind that I do a ridiculous "Fat northern comic" voice for Bernard's bits.Bernard:
I've decided to become a musical actMe:
Really Bernard? How did this happenBernard:
Well, I woke up this morning [Guitar starts the blues]
I were a big fat racist bastard
Telling shit jokes about mother-in-laws
and having a problem with me xenophobia
Oh yes, I've got the "I'm a big fat racist northern bastard" blues
I hate the Pakis, the niggers, the wogs and the je...Me:
NO BERNARD! You're not a musical act.
It's fairly straightforward. It's not itself a racist statement, though it uses (ironically) racist language to make its point. At that gig, the audience's reaction had been shocked and I explained that I was doing an impression of a racist to demonstrate that they were racist... we moved on. Off stage, I discussed it with the other acts, who pointed out that context is everything and that I might easily be misunderstood if someone had not listened to the set-up. The racist langage jumps off the page and, taken out of context, could be misinterpreted.
I was, for a while, amused at the review's description of the night in question. I was also fairly amazed that the reviewer, the girlfriend of the promoter for whom I was gigging for free that night (I'd asked for the gig, so I wasn't being exploted) had chosen to be so bitchy in her remarks, which included a review of my trousers. Overly tight, apparently.
However, I was starting to realise the risk of the BBC officially branding me as a racist, especially since I had a specifically anti-racist agenda in the material I was using. Only a complete dimwit would misinterpret it if they'd listened to the routine. Some of the audience had, apparently, been offended, but perhaps that's a good thing. Comedy should push boundaries a bit... having said that, I'd decided that I wasn't the comedian to be pushing boundaries that way. Particularly as my actual point wasn't incredibly groundbreaking - "ooh, isn't racism a bad thing!". It wasn't worth the misunderstandings it might cause. The routine is a lot safer now and works pretty much every time. The original draft had worked perfectly, from start to finish, once, and seemed to need workshopping at the end, so I decided it was flawed. I'm happy to admit when a routine doesn't do what I want it to. I am not happy to admit censorship in comedy, when the point is clearly worthy of support. I'm also not happy to see myself branded a racist by a reviewer, who had missed the point.
I'm still passionate about this. The debate on Chortle raged on, and for once, was generally in my favour. The reviewer had their writing slagged off a treat. Perhaps that wasn't fair on her, but when you write a review, you are putting yourself forward with an opinion, perhaps in much the same way as when you sing a song about racism. So, bad luck girl. Perhaps this would have been easier to take if the reviewer was some unknown in the world of comedy, but as the girlfriend of the promoter, who is himself not an unknown to the fraternity... well, it just came across as snarling and bitchiness. In addition, another review from this reviewer, of another act entirely (one whom I've been accused, unfairly, of plagiarising) seemed to contain a sniping remark, aimed at me. Perhaps I'm being over sensitive, or perhaps there's simply some bitching going on in the Stockton camp and I've come to notice it. So, I was basically involved in some silliness of a debate on the subject. Yes, I know it's not important. Yes, I know I'm small minded to have wasted the time then, and again now, documenting it. However, I've gotten it off my chest, so that's something.
The question is whether these things have any impact on what happens on stage. Well, I'd soon find out. I had a gig to do. Once we got onto the right bit of road, the gig was in sight. We arrived just as it was starting, which is fine, as I was due to close it. The stage is right by the door and I was slightly startled to be introduced as I entered the room, but, in fairness, that's all the MC could do as the door was such an obvious feature of the room that the only way to work the room was to react to what happened in the door area.
Anyway, the gig went underway. The MC did tons of material, the opening act came out and did his bit, delivering what I thought to be a genuinely racist joke - not mildly racist - which was this - "Why do jews get circumcised? because they're tight." hil-fucking-arious, not! Anyway, things tootled along, the middle act did his bit and then I was given the stage.
I did 30+ minutes then an encore. About 40 minutes on stage in total. This was my personal record. Included in the audience were a couple of people who knew about the day's silliness on Chortle, so my "mildly racist" routine, which is how I satirise the stupidity of the review and make peace with the whole thing, got a nice big laugh. However, having been forced to encore to an audience that were not ready, I decided to go for broke. I did loads. I did the b-material, I lost the laugh and the room started to cool. I didn't care. It serves the promoter right for forcing an encore out of them. They were laughing heartily by the end of the set I decided to do a finale in.
We drove back from Ayr and I got to drive my girlfriend's car for some of the return journey, which was nice. Ayr is quite a long way from Newcastle. It had been a tiring night. The following night wasn't planning on being any easier.
Well, after the trials of the weekend, with ended in a very relaxing Sunday, it was good to go into the office and begin a new life. Just as the team I was leading was getting nearly complete, we restructured everything. Half my team and half another were joined together to create the team to complete the project we had been working on. This new hybrid team had the team leader of the other team in it too. We had to work out between us who would go on to be the leader. We both got what we wanted and I wasn't the leader any more. This is good as I get to be irresponsible, have less admin to do and I can subvert the system from within.
As an initial step we moved desks round and got ourselves a plan. I was feeling quite switched on. Not turned on. That would be plain wrong. But I was really up for it. We were going to motor along and make miracles. It would be great. Except that we had the office moron in our team (me? maybe, or maybe someone else).
I had a gig in Glasgow tonight. I wasn't sure of the plan for it, but one emerged of its own accord. The previous evening had seen a few drinks with the lads (and laddesses, well one or two) from work and had given us a chance to arrange something. As a quick aside, I'd been a bit worried about asking my girlfriend to join me for drinks with the workmates. As I suggested it, I wasn't sure if she'd be up for it, or might, perhaps suggest that I go alone, which I could do, but wouldn't want to, as that would leave her alone, and then there'd be bound to be some tension, whether I decided to go or not... such is my previous experience with this sort of thing. Anyway, after various disclaimers about the insignificance of the event, I asked my girlfriend if she'd like to join some of my work folks for drinks after work on Friday and she put a hand reassuringly on my knee and said "Do you want me to drive so you can have a drink?". What a girl!
Anyway, the reason to mention the previous night is that a friend of mine was coming along to the drinking and he had noticed the gig I was doing (on my gig list) and asked whether I was considering attending the Make Poverty History
march in Edinburgh during the day. I hadn't really considered it, but I put the idea to her-adored and it seemed like a good plan. We clarified arrangements over drinks and, come the morning of the march, we were assembled in my car to drive to Edinburgh. The plan was to do the march and then head across to Glasgow for food and the gig. It seemed like a good idea.
The march met in the Meadows and was intending to make a band of marchers through the centre of Edinburgh. They were hoping to have enough people to march perpetually, thus creating a complete band of marchers, which joined itself. Unknown to me, they'd asked people to wear white, so that, from overhead, the march would look like a white band (like the rubber wristbands they sell) campaigning to the G8 leaders to make poverty history. How? Well, write off the developing countries' debt, improve aid and make sure that the aid is better focused on the needs of the recipients. It all makes sense. I probably waste more money in a year than would be necessary to keep an entire family alive... so I accept the value of converting some of the wealth of my nation into support for people whose lives are nowhere near as easy as my own.
I had some idea what I was marching about. I also spent much of the day taking the piss... but that's just my way. A lot of people in the meadows were just there for the hell of it. It was like some sort of cross-cultural family fete. In many ways, I think that's good in itself. Nobody was there for a bad reason and we stood together as some sort of super-community, bound by our sense of obligation/morality on this issue. There were a lot of us as well.
Because there were so many, we spent much of the time queueing for the actual march. Yes, we were queuing to go for a walk around Edinburgh, something I've done many many times before without having to queue. But, what the hell, this was an event and we were a part of it.
They'd set up a big Live-Aid style stage in the meadows, with video screens on either side. Over the course of the day we got speakers and bands. One of the speakers was Eddie Izzard. Now I was impressed. Eddie Izzard... what would he do? Some jokes? No. He was introducing people and giving announcements about where to find lost children. Weird! We also had Elaine C. Smith - one of Scotland's family favourites. She was taking the afternoon off performing in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" to explain how the G8 leaders should be given some tea and toast and put in their pyjamas to put them in the mood to relieve poverty... it didn't make a heap of sense!
Sharleen from Texas performed, which was pretty cool. What wasn't cool was the midday sun, which pretty much burned my head and chest as we stood waiting to go on the walk. "What do we want? Piz Buin!".
Still, once the walk got going, it was quite good fun. There was a good vibe to it and there was a crazy vehicle, called "The Rinky Dink", operated by some stone nutters who were singing songs about going "a hurtling through the void". Very memorable.
We got back to the meadows after the walk and found out that the march had exceeded expectations and we were all to be congratulated. We couldn't hang around feeling smug, we needed to get to Glasgow. So we did. I had an A-Z of Glasgow in my car, so this wouldn't be difficult. With my friend navigating on the back seat, we soon arrived at the address I gave him.
It was the wrong address.
Then we arrived at the address that I should have given him and were early for the gig. The sound set up was to be a problem. I didn't know that at first and so went off for a night Italian meal at a nearby restaurant. However, once the meal was over and I got into the venue, I discovered the problem. There was nowhere to plug the guitar in on stage. I tried several methods of sorting this out and then discovered a new problem - the PA system wasn't working properly at all. It just cut out. This was ridiculous. Still, the show must go on.
We did the gig without amplification. I didn't do especially well. The other lads on the bill pretty much killed it and I jumped in its grave after them. The disinterested audience paid attention long enough to take offence at the mention of diabetes and then pretty much watched me struggle to get their attention. It wasn't much fun. I was tired and hot and wondering why I'd bothered.
Still, there's always the long-drive home to make things better! Ha.
We made it back ok and my girlfriend vowed never to travel in my car again. Great. The problem is that the car has developed a bit of a wobble and the brakes were also grinding on every stop. The wobble was the bother to her - the vibrations made her nose go numb.
The day had been very busy and I wish it had had a climax. However, it had texture, which is something, I suppose.
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