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Friday, May 27

The Like Button

We've all needed a like button at some point. Well, here's one for you. It's the Ashley Frieze simile generator:

It was   


It's Not Luck

Last night I was watching an old recording of Dave Gorman's Important Astrology Experiment, a deeply flawed scientific experiment on whether taking your horoscopes seriously can make you happier. Don't worry. I know Gorman was doing it for comedy and for TV, and the flaws in the experiment aren't really the point.

In the show, the outlandish and ridiculous behaviour of horoscope-following Dave is compared with the life of his twin brother, who is painted as a family man who stays at home mainly, and doesn't do much out of the ordinary. Dave's "happiness" measurement swings wildly from very miserable to very happy and has a lot of variation. Conversely, his brother has a much more stable and generally positive (but not too positive) life.

This reminds me a lot of The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman. Luck, it seems, is not a product of fate, privilege or some external magical influence. It's all a question of whether you bother to do things that are out of your comfort zone. Quite simply, if you take more chances and if you treat failure as less important, and if you're open minded to the possibilities that lie in front of you, then you will most likely experience something that you can describe as good fortune.

It's a bit like what happened when I asked for new car mats from the man at the car leasing company, when he said "anything else I can help you with?". The answer was no, which I didn't take to heart, but he said it with a smile in his voice and followed it with the blessing of "shy bairns get nowt", which is North East for "I like the cut of your gib, you daring buffoon".

Quixotic though it may seem at times, the same "just do it attitude" has seen us go from a standing start to a full blown national event with our female comedy competition - The Funny's Funny Female Comedian of the Year. We spotted an opportunity to do something we truly cared about. We decided that we would commit ourselves to it, regardless of any slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that may come our way, and we shared our enthusiasm with a bunch of people we saw as allies. The result is that we are now running one of the largest comedy events of the year. It's only 27th May, and this idea was only born on 19th April. In less than 40 days we've seen so many amazing things happen.

The point is this. Life doesn't happen to you. You make of it what you choose. Many things are outside of your control, and it's a convenient delusion to think we can exert too much control over our environment. However, if you so choose to, you can cause good stuff to happen. Good fortune causes other good fortune, and a bit of subjectivity on how you treat your own luck (i.e. pretend it's more positive than it is) can help you achieve even more.

So, read the book and come to our events and you too will feel lucky.

Monday, May 23

Select All Friends on Facebook

If you were to paste the following into your address bar with a friends box up, then good stuff will happen:

javascript:elms=document.getElementsByName("checkableitems[]");for (i=0;i<elms.length;i++){if (elms[i].type="checkbox" )elms[i].click()};

Thursday, May 19

A Comedy Review

Live Review of Pappy's, 18th May 2011, Swindon Arts Centre
It must be quite a gear change to go from playing your sell out hour long show at the Edinburgh Fringe to touring the Arts Centre circuit. Pappy’s current show takes their last Edinburgh offering – All Business – as the second act of a game of two halves; the first part sees them warming up the audience with a selection of sketches and songs with no particular through-line.

Despite the sparse audience at Swindon Arts Centre, the Pappy’s team hit the stage firing on all cylinders creating belly laugh after belly laugh. They could not rely on their reputation or their fan-base to win this crowd over and they didn’t need to. Their particular brand of shambolic silliness, childlike rudeness and verbal slapstick is underpinned by a preciseness of writing and structure, which balances the material to get the most out of the audience.

The stand-up skills of Matthew Crosby and Tom Parry are relied on to fine-tune the relationship with the audience making sure nobody misses a moment. Ben Clark provides the warm heart of the group as well as the musical strength behind their songs.

Often, though, it’s Tom’s wild improvising which threatens to steal the show as he gleefully jumps off the script to see how far he can push the audience and his fellow performers. With Matthew’s sometimes unsubtle signs to Tom to come back on track, and Ben’s frustrated attempts to follow suit, the improvising often ends up as a shared joke between the performers and the audience. Tonight the ad-libs were effortlessly hilarious and were yet another highlight of a show where nearly every joke hit the mark.

The greatest hits element of their first section suffered a little from its lack of narrative arc and climax. Their use of the dinosaur “Dean” from their 2009 show became a simple recurring character sketch, rather than its original character journey, and the links between most of the sketches seemed to step out of the show a little too much. That said, these sketches are well worth their repeat airing in any format, with classics like “Old Louis” and “Anne Frank’s Boyfriend” showing how a simple idea, realised well, makes comedy gold.

In the second act, the team proved again that all they need is a few low-tech props in carrier bags, and the energy to have fun with them. The show threatened to run off the rails a few times, the “Four Foot Freddy” character was acknowledged as not really working, and their techie for the night didn’t quite hit all the sound cues, but Pappy’s used this as even more fuel for their performance. Sometimes it seems like they’re on the stage to make each other laugh, as much as the audience, and watching the usually serious Matthew trying to keep a straight face is almost as funny as seeing Tom’s insane slapstick.

This is a show worth seeing more than once. A night with Pappy’s is side-splittingly funny.

Quite Insane

If we really knew why we did things, I think it would surprise us. I am the sort of person who will throw myself into things without stopping to consider too much of the pros and cons. I can be thoughtful and think things through in advance. In some cases, I overthink. However, I'm at my best when I leap off the mountain with the confidence to believe that I'll probably find something to grab onto on the way down - figuratively speaking.

I can see how I react when I see people doing that. Such was the case with Tom of Pappy's last night; his apparent raison d'etre on stage seems to be to toy with the script and the audience just to see what happens. I suspect there's more structure there than it would appear, but the beauty of watching him is to be swept away with the sheer excitement of "just going for it".

So, we, a bunch of activisits, decided to "just go for it" with Funny's Funny an organisation that's putting together a national event by using the goodwill of a whole heap of people who all agree that what we're putting together is worthwhile. At the centre of the event is a team of overworked people, holding all the details together as coherently as possible.

We didn't stop to consider how much work this would be. The answer, had we asked it, is "an insane amount of work". However, we followed our beliefs and the feedback we've received for daring to do it, has been extremely positive.

We've had criticism, of course. It's easy to criticise from the sidelines. Everything one does is a compromise, but you have to work out what you're compromising. If it's other people, or your core values, then you're probably compromising too much. If you compromise on details because it's an imperfect world, or because of respect for the boundaries of the people around you, then you're doing the right thing, probably.

I'm lucky to be working on something I care about with a team of people I like and trust. We're having to give a lot to achieve what we're achieving, and when we reach the conclusion we'll be satisfied of a job well done... there's still more to do.

Wish us luck. The hard part isn't over.

Tuesday, May 17

Why I believe it was Chomsky who said...

Wouldn't that have been a pretentious start to a blog post?

I think any sentence starting in "Why I" should probably continue with "man" as in "Why-eye man, yuz ganna have a reel piss-up like".

Language isn't communication, it's a tool that sets of thoughts in the brain. Words are just words, but by experience and convention and luck, we respond to them. If I write the following:

"There's a giant black dog on my keyboard"

you'd be hard pressed not to at least visualise some of that.

This is why I got interested in how to make a computer generate sentences at random, and how much this can be used to make me laugh in the middle of the night while I'm sitting in a towel, after a shower, with nothing better to do. Those days are gone, but the programs remain. Here are some links:
  • The Haikulator - this generates random haikus and was the subject of some haiku research
  • The Bibulator - this generates random tracts of nonsense biblical gibberish
  • The Nth Commandment - more biblical gibberish, but in the form of nonsensical imperatives
  • The Chartulator - last night's discovery - a program to generate pop charts that are meant to be perverse
Why do some of these make me laugh more than others? Why did some of the Haikulator's Haikus end up embroidered on shirts, almost as a slogan that meant something to me? Why is the Chartulator not very good, causing it to end up in a "crypt" folder that I rediscovered by accident last night with no recollection of ever having made it?

It comes down to the same reason that we find puns funny or not funny. Words, in orders which don't quite belong, or with leaps of logic or connections that we know are absolutely unsafe/insane/ridiculous cause us either pleasure or pain depending on how artfully done they happen to be... or how nearly coincidental they turn out to be when just picked from a virtual hat by a computer program.

I'm not saying that some comedians are funny because of pot-luck... but some computer programs are.

Monday, May 16

Rediscovering my webshite

I've been doing a lot of web development recently for Funny's Funny. In the process, I've consolidated all my web hosting into one easy to manage web hosting solution.

In the process, I even rediscovered an old in-progress bit of silliness - The Chartulator. Why!!!

Monday, May 9

Be Right On - Sunday

What's better than one day of performing 3 shows nearly back to back where two of them are the same 1 hour 1 man show? Why it's finding half a worm in your apple.

I should take a moment to publicly thank Ian Hawkins and Aidan Goatley for their involvement in the show. Ian stepped in as technical support and general show-runner as well as an act for the Great Big Comedy Picnic. Not only that, but Ian has also provided excellent company and post-show analysis, offering good feedback and ideas. Aidan, though not specifically enlisted for the goat-herding that needs to be done for a Fringe show, has taken the bull by the horns and... I realise now that this sentence has been banjaxed by his surname and his description, in his act, of his work in a pet shop. The point is that he's turned up early, watched my solo show twice, given excellent feedback, and pitched in for the show he was asked to do.

This is what Fringe is all about: doing shows, working with people you like, and chasing the dream of entertaining an audience.

Sunday's dream was... well... it was what it was.

Pre Show Stuff
I spent the morning and some of the afternoon in my hotel on their wifi. I had breakfast, hid in my room on the wifi, went down to the bar on the wifi, and eventually left, having been slightly hijacked by a strange man with no front teeth, who wanted to tell me "man in the pub" conspiracy bollocks. He managed to do JFK and Diana within 5 minutes. I did slightly goad him into this.

As I was walking around Brighton, I got to thinking about a corner of my show which has never really worked. I had another idea for it and started chewing that over. Eventually I went to the venue, early, to try out the idea before it was remotely show time.

Let's Go On With The Show
Show 1 - A nice audience, some of whom had decided to see the show before I went round attempting to drum up some business. It was a fun show, but I overran a bit. Overall, enjoyable.

Show 2 - Nobody came. In the end, I scraped the barrel of the bar and offered to comp in anyone who wanted to come in. This gave me a rag tag bunch of misfits of an audience who slowly whittled down any vague authority I might have been able to pretend to have from the stage. That said, it was interesting to do the show with such a crowd and I think we had some fun along the way. As we'd started late, and as the show hadn't been hitting home as much as I'd liked, I ended up doing edited highlights... I think we ended on a truce.

Interestingly, one of the people who came along, bought me a drink - a Jager-bomb (whatever that is) - which I passed on to a friend, given that I was driving.

Show 3 - The Great Big Comedy Picnic - after the previous show's "fight", I was expecting something along a similar line. In fact, I got an audience of 4 who were lovely to us. Sometimes you need an audience to fix the work of the previous audience. I told them that they could be supportive, they obviously believed me, and we had some fun. I even dug out some of the whimsy for them.

I went back to my lodgings tired but happy. Fringe stuff is hard going. It's worth it, but the lows could get you down if you let them.

Every show is a fresh opportunity, though.

Be Right On - Saturday

Gosh. So much happened on Saturday, it was bound to go a bit wrong. And it did.

I was up very late on Friday night, doing websitey stuff, so I ended up being exhausted and tired and incapable of understanding why my other half insisted that I deal with the cats at 6 in the morning when they were bleating and making a nuisance of themselves. In the end, I got myself downstairs and fed (and secretly medicated) the cat who wanted to go out. I say secretly medicated and I mean that you can't give a pill to a cat directly - it has to be hidden in food. The food then has to be eaten and inspected for refunded pill.

Then the other cat came in and I did the same process.

I think I must have gone back to bed at some point.

All I know is that I woke up a bit later than planned and had to get to Brighton. I'd rehearsed the previous night, trying out my new PA system, and deliberately not changing the battery in one of my guitar pedals, to force myself to remember to do it in the morning and, thus, take the pedals with me.

After some more internet flummery, where I struggled with getting the thing to work that wasn't working. I got dressed and started packing the car. I'd changed the battery in the pedal. I'd got a plan for how to pack the car efficiently. I'd packed my overnight bag and got details of where I was staying. I felt on top of things...

... let's fast forward to me arriving at a venue, unpacking a car and going upstairs to set up the stage about 2 hours earlier than necessary only to discover a remarkably vital missing component. The bloody box of guitar pedals.

Don't Panic Captain Mainwaring
Some people would panic, but I did that once, and it didn't help me. Other people would choose to get angry, but that's futile too. It doesn't solve the problem.

I double checked the situation and then walked directly to the big music shop in Brighton, via the small one that didn't have what I wanted. I insistently got the staff to provide me with the equivalents of the missing items and then I handed over a credit card. With the second hand market and the nearly-new appearance of these replacements, I'd only be down a few quid.

What a good idea it had been to set up the show early.

Show time
Show 1 - The Seven Deadly Sings - a modest audience, including a reviewer. Lots of new stuff was tried out and The Improvised Love Song worked. More on that in a moment.

Show 2 - The Seven Deadly Sings - again! This was harder because I was more tired, had had to set up the show in a hurry as the previous one kicked out, and had forgotten to attach the foot pedal to the piano. A few technical hitches. An audience who were nowhere near as easy to please as the first one... in short, I worked for it, and I was a bit confused by having already performed the show once that day. Tiredness kicked in. The love song bit was great too, though.

Show 3- The Great Big Comedy Picnic - immediately following the tear down of the previous one, I was now utterly confused and exhausted, but feeling somewhat relieved that the hard stuff was done. I had some friends in the audience, but it was a definite late-night Saturday feel, with an audience who needed big stuff to make them laugh. So, we had fun, but it drained the last of the sapped energy.

Ups and downs, then. Overall, a positive experience. I went back to my hotel and went on the internet to do more website geekery, and played Angry Birds a bit. Then sleep.

Improvised Love Song
This is the new idea for this year's show. The audience are handed cards with words on. Each word is a classic boy-band love song word. They then hold their cards up in random order, as they feel like it, and we, using the hive mind, create a new love song. It's really really great fun to do. I'll be looking forward to the next 20 of those.

You can't rehearse something like this, and I guess it was a bit of a risk. I invested heavily in it, even buying a laminator so I could make the cards. One of them is blank, so the last word of the song comes from the audience member who has the card - written on with a whiteboard marker.

It makes me and the audience laugh together, which is nice.

Internetty Stuffy

First of all, apologies to the half a person who bothers to visit this site and discovered that it was a bit broken for a couple of days.

I'm in the process of changing my web hosting provider. I'm now going with WebHost4Life who are totally powered by wind energy. Given that I'm a big windbag, this seems somewhat apposite.

I've also been reinventing my use of email. All roads lead to Rome, and almost all of my email accounts had been converging on my mailbox with my old web hosting supplier. This is now changed. I'm on GoogleMail which makes a heap of sense. I can use it pretty much any way I want to, and the result is that my email life is going to be a lot better.

I'm yet to switch off the last remnants of my old service provider... you won't notice, nor will you care, but it's been a big sweep up, and I think it's going to be brilliant.

Tuesday, May 3

Hotel Hell

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