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Tuesday, October 26


I gigged in Taunton tonight (Monday night). It's a venue I've performed in on several occasions and I pretty much knew what to expect. You take a youthful audience, give them a free comedy night in an arts centre, import a bunch of London acts (with me as a lone ranger coming in my own car from a different direction), and see what happens. As I knew the venue and the format, I was comfortable clocking in a few minutes after the gig start time, after a nice leisurely drive (listening to Robin Ince and Josie Long's podcast).

The only real challenge was the absence of a techie, which meant that I had to do my own sound - this proved remarkably unchallenging. Of minor note was the fact that the rest of the show had been short and to the point. I don't think any of the acts had done particularly long or self-indulgent sets. This was about to change. I videoed the gig, and I shall, at some point, see how I behaved. It was a version of me that I may or may not be proud of.

I think I was wrong, the other night, when I said that I'm not the sort of comedian who appoints a gimp for the duration of the night and then makes them the butt of every joke. I don't set out to do that, and I don't always see it as necessary, but I have been known to do that. It can work awfully well. I think it's usually some minor detail of someone's behaviour which draws me to them and enables me to create a whole world of insults around some made up character traits that I've exaggerated.

So it was the rather unfortunate Tom, tonight, who found me throwing jokes at him, with a room of baying people basically egging me on. Of the 35 minutes or so that I did on stage, poor Tom probably got about 5 or 6 minutes of attention - it wasn't that bad. In some cases, I was just using him as punctuation. However, I have to admit that I don't always keep myself as the victim of my own humour.

I wonder what it means. Do I attack pleasant young people during my set as some sort of curmudgeonly attack on youth itself? Do I find weakness, when I'm playing the alpha male role, to be a lure? Is it just that I like mimicry of whatever I see in front of me, and know that returning to the same subject, like a chorus, can be very funny? Does it matter?

I don't think I was brutal. I tried to be creative, while not being too afraid to wander through stereotypes and well-worn joke territory. In fairness, I censored out quite a few things that entered my head, so I wasn't going all out to attack the poor fella. I also changed tactic. On the one hand I was creatively making visual comparisons between the chap and "Where's Wally?". Then I'd move to teenage pregnancy. The next minute I was mock-flirting in a gay-cowboy-woodsman kind of a way. It wasn't so much an attack as an explosion of enthusiasm.

I wish I'd had longer with the crowd, but they pretty much frosted up at 25 minutes, so I was pushing it harder and harder as I did longer. The energy levels (figurative, not spooky) weren't quite right, so I brought the thing to a conclusion.

On the way home, some Doctor Who podcasts, including The Ood Cast and The Doctor Who Podcast. Google them.

In summary, I like gigging in Taunton.

Monday, October 25

Gotta Love The Net

Only on the net can you press a button, buy an album, and then within a few hours, enter into a discussion with the artist of that album on the delightful contents of said purchase.

Sometimes it's like everyone and everything is just one click away.

Doctor Who Soundtracks in Midi

Thursday, October 21

Food for thought

A point made to me last night about my objection to homeopathy was quite interesting. The person I was discussing it with used an argument that summarises thus:

"Aren't you just getting offended on behalf of other people? Would you take it yourself? No? So what's the problem?"

Interesting point. Is it my responsibility to protect the foolhardy? Does it really do any harm? What's the harm in Homeopathy?.

The person was more making the point that one should share knowledge about how crackpot it is, so people can judge for themselves, rather than try to stop it directly. So, I recommend we make more jokes about it.

On the occasions that my girlfriend drinks a mug of boiling water, we always refer to it as homeopathic tea. I recommend you do the same.

Also, I recommend you refer to mediums as being "guessers" and reflexologists as "foot-fetishists".


I didn't quite get yesterday. It wasn't a day of things making sense.

Work had me reading a bunch of 150 page documents where people promised the world and I was left wondering whether they really could deliver. This is way too dull and melted my brain a fair old bit. I think my brain grew during the process, but only in the sense that it became inflated by the hot-air it was forced to process. This is figurative... and rather unintelligible - a tribute to the documents I was reading.

During the day I went online and noticed a discussion on Rhys Morgan's blog on homeopathy, which is one of my bete noirs. The simple fact is that there's no active effect of homeopathy in itself. There are three effects that make people believe in homeopathy:
  • Placebo - belief can heal, apparently, which is great, but no proof of a medical treatment method - arguably, you could replace homeopathy with smarties and get the same effect
  • Return to mean - the fact that people can sometimes get better for no singular reason, or because their illness has run its cause outside of any intervention
  • Confirmation bias - the idea that "I was doing this when that happened, and I thought this would cause that, so this causes that"
I made some reasonable points about an anecdote on the above blog, and got into a dialogue with a contributor, doing the classic well it worked for me argument about this hocus pocus. His parting shot was "Would you rather be right, or get better?" made me spit my dummy out... a little.

Confirmation bias is fascinating in its own regard. I have noticed people flashing their lights at traffic signals to make them turn green. Do you think that flashing your light at a red light can make it change? If you do, then maybe you have a reason for it... don't emergency services, with their flashing lights, make lights change in their favour? Haven't you seen someone flash at a signal and then it changes to green? We have a plausible mechanism and a bit of anecdotal evidence there. My ex-girlfriend first taught me about this trick - making the traffic lights change by flashing them... mind you, it doesn't always work. So, is this a real thing? or is this confirmation bias making us believe a rumour, coupled with the fact that if you flash enough, the lights will eventually change (regardless of your flashing)?

I emailed the highways agency to find out. I'll tell you their answer later on.

On the way to the gig last night I was discussing all these crazy beliefs with my in-car companion. I was explaining some of the wacko treatments out there, like Cranio Sacral therapy, which I think boils down to "your head's a bit out of whack, let me screw it on properly for you". I explained the term "Woo" as the name for the practioners of alternative medicine. I think it may have other origins, but for me it comes down to the fact that the people who haven't got any clinical evidence and proven mechanism behind their so-called treatments have, ultimately, to answer questions on how it works by basically saying "Woooooooo!".

Punter: So you manipulate my head and then what happens.
Head witch doctor: Well, we align your energies and then, wooooooo, it sort of teaches your body how to tune into not-being-ill-FM.
Punter: How?
HWD: [waving hands and fingers around like a poor conjuror] Ooooooooh.

Simple fact. If alternative medicine actually worked, with proper evidence, and plausible mechanisms, it would be called medicine. In other words, it's an alternative to what is consider effective and logical. If you want to get better, you want the most effective treatment, not the most bold empty promise.

We got to Windsor and had a long pre-gig warm up. We played the biscuit game. Not that one. The game where you make biscuits into films. I had Breakfast at Tiffin-ys. But that may not be a biscuit. Running late, the gig got started.

I then discovered, bantering with the audience, that there was not one, but TWO Chiropractors in the audience. My head exploded. It was too early in the gig for me to know I'd have the audience behind me if I launched into them. To me, these guys might as well have been dressed as witch-doctors with hats on that said "Give us your money for our dangerous and ignorant treatment". I asked them their opinion on Simon Singh, and they hadn't even heard of him. If you haven't, then I recommend reading Trick or Treatment (not that I've read it myself, but I've read the reviews, seen the aftermath, and read his other work, so I'm happy that it's a good recommendation). Eventually, I made a joke about not having a go at Chiropractors because it might "get their back up". What was interesting was that they were sitting with an NHS Primary Care Trust worker. Who knows what they've been up to. I had bantered with this guy and made jokes about NHS cuts. I didn't think to set up an expectation about quackery in that discussion, it would have been gold.

I'll explain about set-ups in this situation. If you're bantering with someone, I've realised that it's a good thing to create a big expectation. You can declare, from the evidence in front of you, that someone is very very manly, for example, then ask them a question about their manliness; their answer will either meet or confound expectations - a laugh either way.

So, in the spirit of "turning back time" (thanks RH) here's a re-script.

[What sort of happened]

Me: What do you do?
Man 1: I work for a PCT, in the NHS.
Me: You don't have to clarify that it's the NHS - I know what a PCT is. Maybe the audience don't know, though. Anyone not know? [some murmur] do you want to tell them?
Man 1: It's a Primary Care Trust, hospital management.
Me: Oooh, these cuts must be affecting you a lot. How's your job?
Man 1: Yeah. Not good.
Me: 16% tougher, eh? What's your favourite... cut...?
Man 1: No comment.

[Things that should have happened]

Me: Perhaps if the government forced the NHS to cut all the quack treatments they pay for, there'd be more money for proper medicine. These quacks, they're stealing your livelihood. Sorry for your bad luck, mate. [turns to person next to him] So, what do you do?
Man 2: I'm a Chiropractor
Me: Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. You pretend to cure people by giving them a back rub. Do you do NHS work? [audience laughter]
Man 2: [Murmurs of indignation]
Me: Sorry. I didn't mean to get your back up. Your sort believe that the back is the seat of all medical problems and that you can re-align the back to cure stuff. How would you deal with a back injury?
Man 2: [Mumbles some more]
Me: Sorry. I'm sure you're highly qualified at this made up treatment. Is it right that you don't need to read the inside of the textbooks in Chiropractic, as you can just look at the spine. Sorry. I don't mean to your your nose out of joint. That would hardly be relevant. I'm sure you're a well-meaning guy who's trying to help people. At least there aren't that many Chiropractors out there. [To next man] So, what do you do?
Man 3: I'm a Chiropractor
Me: Oh, this is awkward... Nevermind, what's your name?
Man 3: Zeno. [That was his ACTUAL NAME and the next bit happened]
Me: That's unusual, where's that name from
Audience member: It's a greek philosopher
Man 3: It's not a greek name.
Me: It's not like Xenu, the thing from scientology is it? No, you wouldn't be involved in any woo beliefs, would you...

By scripting the bits that didn't happen, I've learned that I need to be more on the ball in setting up expectations, as there were some remarkably jaw-dropping moments that could have genuinely happened if I'd been a bit more manipulative with the conversation... sorry to pull back the curtain a bit on how I do MCing, but it's all about cheating in conversations. I was actually quite thrown by having these two quacks in the audience that I got a bit giddy and off-centre. The first act had to use the full extent of his calm and centred delivery to take control of the room, for which I'm truly impressed and thankful.

The gig was hard work, but a lot of fun in the end. We'll see how show 2 goes next month. I dropped off my co-comedian and then went home. I had, by this stage, already received an email from the highways agency saying that the majority of traffic signals do not respond to flashing lights, and that there are other ways for signals to be changed for emergency services. Some can respond to strobing, but only at a certain frequency, which could not be simulated by someone manually. At a red light on the way home, I flashed my lights and it went green. Woooooo!

I had an abortive attempt to record episode two of The Roadcast yesterday. The simple fact was that I stopped being in the mood after the gig, so didn't record the journey home. The journey to the gig was recorded, but the in-car chat with James might not have been good enough in terms of levels (it was good in person). I'll have to have a review. I may use some of the blether, but may have to do some serious editing to get much out of it.

And that was a big bag of confusing yesterday.

Tuesday, October 19

It Builds

Just when you think the audience have switched off... well they get more into it.

Apparently I'm A Podcaster

Episode 1 of The Roadcast is here:

This is the podcast I'll be recording occasionally and running from my podbean account.

Facebook select all friends

Great "hack" from Facebook - to select all your friends, just paste this into the URL bar:

javascript:elms=document.getElementById('friends').getElementsByTagName('li');for(var fid in elms){if(typeof elms[fid] === 'object'){[fid]);}}

Great for events and suggesting pages etc.

Don't look - brain hurty stuff

Thursday, October 7

Worlds Collide

Sometimes worlds collide. It can be good, or it can be bad. Either way, it can make you go "Oh My God" (other non-existent deities are available). On Tuesday night I had two world-colliding experiences.

What Are You Doing Here?
The venue I was performing at is an experimental theatre event. I had seen the names of the organisers in passing and had also performed at the space the previous week. I had been booked by someone whom I don't know personally, but nearly know. My booker was a comedy cabaret/character performer who uses the same venues as I do when I go to Edinburgh. So the worlds are joined, but we're not close.

I arrived at the venue last night with an ex-colleague, who has graduated from "someone I used to manage in my team" to "London pal". He also moved from Hungary to the UK for the privilege of this upgrade in life. It's more complex than that, but I'm simplifying for brevity. On the door, a lady greeted us and then things kicked off a little.

The woman running the theatre space used to be a co-volunteer on a scheme I did 6 years ago. In the intervening time, when she fell off the radar, she's managed to get married, have a child, have most of her 20's, and then reappear in my life (or maybe I reappeared in her) in a totally incidental and unrelated way. Not earth shattering, but it felt like things had to re-tilt and re-align after.

Why Are They/Is He Acting Like That?
Then the fated performance. I think there were a couple of mix ups. I don't think it was clear when I should have started or ended my performance. There was a billed start-time, but a directive to flex it to get an audience, and not a strong statement of "but you must end by". I was in the wrong starting late and doing a full slot. It would have been better to do a bit less.

Part way through my performance, two women came in, dressed as clowns, and fussing slightly. Not terribly disruptive, but not terribly observant of "don't interrupt the performance". As I was in stand-up mode, I bantered with them "Ah, Stephen Sondheim got my message, then". This is a joke I'm too proud of. "What are your names?" - "Doris and Gladys" - "Two of my favourite 'iss' names". Light hearted.

Partway through a routine, one of them asked, bluntly, "When do you finish?". I pretended it was a heckle, quite a scathing heckle if you think about it... then I pretended it was a chat up line. In the end, it was clear it wasn't a joke and they wanted to go on stage now as it was their turn. I wrapped up, over which they talked, and then gave them the floor. Using a space is a matter of cooperation, and it wasn't like I was holding a full room in rapture.

At the time I was quite peeved with their behaviour - bustling into my performance, in character, and making me feel a bit like I needed to control them as audience members. Even worse, I felt they could have spoken to the techie, quietly, rather than been all weird about it. From their point of view, I was in the wrong - the overrunning smart mouth on stage, cracking jokes about them.

So the worlds collided - we saw things differently. We probably needed to be more sympathetic to each other. I think I tried, but my bete noir is when people talk over my performance. So when the woman complained about my "hotel song" and said "What have you got against Walthamstow", I replied "It's not Walthamstow, it's the hotel I stayed in; you'd have found that out if you'd listened to the song rather than talking over it". I can't keep my big mouth shut.

It's Good When Worlds Collide
You learn something when new combinations are formed. It always opens up a new opportunity or a new way of doing something. Even if that new way isn't to your taste.

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