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Friday, May 14

Musings on Amusement

As my girlfriend would undoubtedly jump up and shout "Damn Right!" to, I'm a bit obsessed with comedy. By a bit, I mean a lot. By obsessed, I don't mean obsessed in the way that I am with something like Doctor Who or (less so these days) musical theatre. In some of my obsessions, I'm fascinated by the details, the minutiae, the relatedness of the details, the sheer amount of stuff there is to know. With musicals, I was additionally fascinated with "how is it done?". I suppose, in a different lifetime, I might have become an illusionist, as that's a world which I'd similarly enjoy learning the trickery from.

However, with comedy, the obsession is a lot more consuming. It's a combination of me being a fan, an analyst and a practitioner. As a fan, I look for a hit of enjoyment from my various comedy drug suppliers - Bill Bailey, Stewart Lee, Harry Hill... there's a long and diverse list that I won't go into. But, as a comedian and thinker about comedy, it goes a lot deeper. Being a comedian is about finding a way to create the sort of thing which causes laughter. Being a comedy fan, means basking in the laughter caused by a joke. Being both makes the whole thing very very personal. You're constantly looking to take the very personal feeling of enjoying a joke and find a way to force it on other people.

It's weird.

Done well
When comedy is done well - i.e. in a way that works AND is also worth the effort of doing, as it needs effort, as opposed to being facile and pointless - it's amazing. It's truly amazing. When comedy is done badly, it's a disappointment. When it's done badly with a bad attitude, then it's more tha a disappointment, it's worthy of getting angry about. When you're a comedian, when you've driven 3000 miles in a week to pursue the distant gigs, when you've lost sleep, played to small unappreciative audiences, but given your all anyway, when you've done all that, and you see someone else make a mockery of the craft with their attitude - it annoys you. It's even worse if they look like they're being successful with this dross. It's even worse if they're being more apparently successful than you are.

It's easy to hail an act as brilliant if they're doing well. Strangely, it's easy to brand them as brilliant if they don't do well, but you can claim that they were being misunderstood, or the world's not ready for them, or the audience were wrong... This is where the emperor's new clothes effect kicks in. It's received wisdom that a lot of people in the popular media and arts worlds are idiots who don't know quality when they see it. That may be true. It may also be true that they're fairly young, latte sipping iPhone slapping buffoons, looking for something to call fashionable, rather than looking for something which could widely be hailed as quality. There are acts out there, in pretty much every field, who have been brilliant-bordering-on-genius for many years, but that's not what "the kids" are looking for.

The King is not altogether any good
The emperor's new clothes story comes down to this single element. People couldn't quite see the clothes, but they were convinced that they simply didn't understand how to see them. They thought they'd better appear to see them because surely they were there. So it is, in my view, with certain comedians. There's nothing actually there, but there's the impression that something MIGHT be there, but you can't see it. It takes a small boy to point the finger and say "here's what I can see".

So far, this looks like it's a rant against bad comedians, or bad comedy with a sort of holier-than-thou attitude, as though I, perhaps, think I'm a better comedian that someone, or that I'm an undiscovered gem. That's not where I think I'm coming from (who knows what my subconscious is up to, though). I think I'm coming from the point of view of someone who really cares about the world I inhabit. I was buying a DVD last night and pointed out, more for my own interest than anyone else's, about one of the performers on it, "I know him". The till assistant took it as meaning "I know who that is". I didn't push the point as I didn't really want to be a celebrity name dropper... but inside I was proud. I get to meet and gig with people who are bloody amazing. That's brilliant. There are people pushing the boundaries all the time, and there are people whose mind works in a fascinating and enjoyable way.

As an intellectual snob (no point in doubting it), I get very uppity when I see someone with all attitude and no intellectual process. "I'm making a serious point", no, you're making a vacuous point as though it is serious.

How do you come to terms with all of these inner thoughts and conflicts? Well, I know how I deal with being a comedian, and I think it's partially right and has a few problems. In the rest of this message, I'll include some notes about recent me-Activities.

Since my comedy world is largely about what's in my head, it's rather neat that I'm involved deeply in the creative process for my show - The Seven Deadly Sings. This is not high art. It is a bit of fun, and has a few minor points to make, which I think are fairly lightly put and then we move on. Having performed it three times, twice as a fee-paying show, I think I can see where it is right now, and it's got a way to go before it's complete. But it's my baby and I care about it greatly.

This is the second hour-long stand-up show I've been involved in, my first solo effort. It's a big challenge and I've grown a lot while making it.

On Wednesday night, I sat down in Pease Pottage services, being disturbed by the noise from the TV and other users of the service area. I wrote the show plan from scratch again, including the re-writes and reworkings that I've decided to do based on feedback (largely in the form of laugh/no-laugh, though some was the sort of vaguely veiled criticism that people let slip when you ask them about it). Most importantly, if you think of a show as an attack on people's funnybone, then I've decided how to reconfigure my comic army to hit more consistently with bigger skirmishes. This metaphor has gone too far.

The rewritten show plan for a show with 7 in the title took 7 pages. Woooo... well, it was seven and a half... but still... woooo.

I feel positive about the changes, and I have a fair bit of rehearsing to do. I think I may also release an album.

The next performance is June 7th in London. Tell everyone. Box office details to follow.

Do you live here?
Understandably, since I've been away from home for 4 nights in the last couple of weeks, and have felt remarkably distant, my girlfriend has started to forget me. The cats may also run the risk of miaowing in my direction as if to say "oh, it's you, we thought you'd died". So, last night was the opportunity for a nice night in. It was an opportunity well taken up. I only did a little bit of admin stuff, which didn't take too long and was just the essentials.

We watched Jonathan Creek (original series) which is reasonably enjoyable still, even when you remember the secret behind each mystery.

New Material
It's important to write new material. I've got some techniques for material generation. Here are a few of them.
  • Write something that is the opposite of what you want to say and then reverse it
  • Write a series of individual ideas as quickly as possible, without stopping, keep them coming
  • Imagine you were doing a certain sort of gig - how would you explain yourself in that environment?

There are more ideas, and better bits of advice than that out there... one trick I like is the "write the opposite" trick. My "christmas song" is based on a generic christmas song I wrote without any jokes in, though I think it had a placeholder line of "throw fruit at the ceiling" which isn't a christmas thing to do at all. Once I'd written a template for the song as a straight song, it became clear how I could make an alternative subverted song.

The new bit of material I'm working on is based on an idea I had a while ago. It relates to the fact that albums often contain filler tracks, or, worse still, only the 3 singles you've heard of and then a bunch of non-descript other stuff. So, I want to write the perfect album filler track... it may not work live, but I want to make an album in the next few months, so it may fit. To write this, I'm working through a page of quips I threw together on the subject. Some of it may stick. If it's dilute, without artistic merit and over long, then it's the perfect album track!

Appreciating Others
A comedian, who shall remain nameless, is good. I contacted them today to tell them that I enjoyed their work. This is worth doing. If you saw a good comedian last night (or whenever), then google them and tell them how great you thought they were.

The Last Picnic In Brighton
I didn't realise it at the time, but the last show of the picnic in Brighton was my 850th performance as a stand-up comedian. If you're meant to celebrate that one, then I'm glad it was celebrated in the company of (among others) the following people:
  • The local hero - a comedian and gent whom one can have lunch with
  • The thrusting starlet - keen to be the life and soul of the post-match chat, and charming too
  • The insane-comic-powerhouse - never one to leave the room in any doubt that something special and funny is happening
  • The stalwart - solid, dependable, an all round good bloke, the man who could take the world on his shoulders, but doesn't need to
  • The non-cuddly curmugeon - a comedian who isn't even half of what he claims on his poster and rudely spoils the mood by abusing his free entry by being visibly miserable in the thick of the crowd
  • The three witches - a fee paying triumvirate of drunken women, who'd rather not be there, think it shold be free, like the last show, and refuse to enjoy themselves, resentful that they'd been asked to move into the middle of the room with the rest of the audience so they'd feel more involved
  • The silent majority - audience members who are rather enjoying themselves, but can't seem to put that into noise
  • The two live-wire front-row bellowers - they sole providers of all the laughs-in-the-right-places

I hit the stage determined to enjoy myself, and it was quite a silly experience. Financially, the show was a wreck, emotionally, I could have hoped for more, but it felt like it was fun at the time. Sometimes you just need a bit of inspiration and joie de vivre. I was going for a repeat of my personal record of singing a note for 16 bars on the last song, but at bar 13, I felt like I would either be sick or pass out, so I stopped... no point in spoiling the last show.

Still reading
Shame on you - this stopped being interesting ages ago!


Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting and thought-provoking blog as always Mr Frieze, especially when you know all the people in question!

I love reading people's thoughts on comedy, I know it must be pretty dull to anyone not in the industry (or not a comedy nerd) but to me it's fascinating.

I really should blog myself and then I can get all my pent up vitriol and ill-thought out views out of my system.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I enjoyed it too. I'm rather hoping I was the thrusting starlet, but I suspect not.
Good work fellas.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A seriously stunning piece of writing....again! (And he can sing and play stuff and has an important job too.....oh and he's v. funny......and he used the 'C' word quite unexpectedly one night but quite delightfully too (oh how a simple word can make a man raise a bench mark), but to make me feel car has a bigger engine....and four wheel doesn't count does it??? Never me when your book is out Ash, I will be first in the queue. Bring on Brighton 2011 boys!

11:12 AM  

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