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Monday, May 28

So, How Did It Go?

Here's the view from the show writing.

Nothing turns out the way you expect or plan it to. The picture on the left here is not to be taken as a representative of my writing skills. It's more the example of what you write in order to make room for writing something better.

My show for the last couple of years has had an Elton John element to it. As I'm doing the musical-comedian-at-the-piano thing in my shows, distinct from my musical comedian with a guitar thing in my stand-up (and there's more piano than ever this year), it makes sense to look to Elton John for inspiration.

I had an idea that I might do something where Elton sings about the water cycle. I had the lyric "It's a cycle of water" in my head, because the idea of Elton singing those words amuses me. I wrote out some lyrics, worked out a "Circle of Life" parody, of sorts, and thought I'd be able to bring some suitable material together for it.

I was wrong. It's not funny enough. Or at least, my angle wasn't getting me anywhere.

Similarly, I thought I could write something about Tina Turner and explain how Simply The Best isn't simply or even complicatedly the best song out there. This proved to be quite wrong in a few ways. As you would see from the right hand side, I even sat down and produced a written musical score for my first, AWFUL, draft of this song, a song which thought it was funny to poke fun at Tina herself.

It may seem surprising to say that I'd deliberately decided that the one thing I wasn't going to do with Elton John was poke fun at anything that he's easily poked fun for. Sure, he's gay, outlandish, recently adopted a child, etc etc etc, but these aren't the sorts of things I think he can reasonably be criticised for. He's not acted in an unfair way with any of these things, and I respect him as an artist. If I'm to poke fun, it should either be something he'd find funny himself, or something so surreal that he's reduced to a cipher, and not an object of bigotry.

With Tina Turner, I'd made the mistake of writing a song which poked fun at the way she looked, and I'd written a routine debunking the entire lyric of a song that nobody really cared about. I did several rewrites of my own original song, which was originally called "Simply a Shame" - a Simply The Best parody (original words and tune, but in that family). It didn't work for audiences and I didn't find it altogether funny myself.

So then I tried dropping the misanthropy and made a silly song. I'll probably put this song on my album. It's called "I'm Your Pirate Dancer". It's not quite "stage funny" but it's again the sort of thing that I think Tina might appreciate, and that's a nicer way to do comedy.

I'm trying to grow as a writer and performer, as I head headlong to my 10th anniversary of being a stand-up. There are some important lessons to learn along the way. Having an easy swipe at cheap targets is simply not good enough.

None of this is directly related to my recent experience at the Brighton Fringe with yet another pair of previews of this show.

How can I best describe the shows? Briefly would probably work.

Friday Night
Only 3 "paying" audience members plus my show assistant. I say they were paying, in that they gave me their time - I deliberately prevented them from parting with money as I felt it wasn't reasonable under the circumstances, it could only be a workshop. I skipped the opening song as it was too big for an audience of 3. I ran through the material and they laughed in most of the right places. I also skipped a new quirky bit as we were short of time, and I didn't know how I'd play it.

I then zoomed across town to do a guest spot at a venue when I got venue jealousy and door-take jealousy. In short, there was an audience, there was a generous collection, the atmosphere was joyous, and I felt like my venue wasn't doing me any favours.

Still, I didn't really mind. I had a nice time with the audience and felt like my hotel would probably be open when I arrived, which would be an improvement on last week.

Saturday Night
I'll only say that I could have made this more likely to be successful if I'd only turned left, rather than right. I ended up on a fool's errand looking for a print shop, failed, ended up chatting up a preacher man for an hour or so, and only found a place to get my flyers printed right before it was time to go to the venue to prepare for the show. Likewise, chatting to some punters stopped me from effectively exit flyering the show before mine.

However, I had an audience that was in double figures, and I did all of the show. Some bits felt like me doing some pointless talking, so I cut them. Some bits worked. Some bits didn't. One bit surprised me by working nicely... it was a useful experiment.

Overall: Brighton
In short, Brighton was meant to be an experiment where I could try the material out and see if fail. I've forgotten all the failures I had with the last show two years ago, and how they helped improve the material. Now I'm being forced to remember.

My description of failure is not the same as the general feedback I've had from the audience who enjoyed themselves. I'm just aiming higher. Which is the right way.

It's those comedians who aim low who gain nothing.

Doing the Brighton Fringe effectively seems like a pretty tall order. I can see how it's supposed to be done, but I'm not sure it's possible if you're in a venue on the outside of things on a hot sunny weekend when people don't give a toss about you.

I'm glad I've had these four shows in Brighton. It's been costly, but the script is better and the fear of failing in public has made me raise my game nice and early.


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