Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Gig Report – Chorlton, Manchester

I realised on the drive back from tonight’s gig that I’d not written a gig report for a while. I think because my gigs have become so infrequent and I’ve been struggling with them (more on this later) I’ve not felt like writing them, and also I’ve just been so tired. Not tonight though, tonight I had 2 packs of Real McCoy’s on the way home, beef flavour as well, there was no dicking around. So with the equivalent of 3 Sunday lunches in my stomach (in crisp form) I write to you, dear reader, now.

So, some background, a few months ago I applied for a load of gigs and was met largely with a wall of silence. Then I got a call from a girl in Manchester asking me if I wanted to do a gig run by the radio station XSManchester. With literally no other gigs in my diary I decided I’d do it as my last gig, certainly in the immediate future, possibly forever.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I have a passionate yet brutal voice in my head that tells me that everything I do is shit (or, when it’s feeling more imaginative, a bag of balls). It’s a horrible self doubt that means I tend to see gigs as a collection of my own misjudgements, failures and inperfections rather than what they actually are. I can talk about it but I generally can’t think like that with any honesty. I’ve found gigging, or rather feeling confident enough to get gigs hard, really hard, occasionally I kick myself up the arse and book one or two and that’s been the way for a couple of years, a gig a month to keep me regular (gig fibre).

Interestingly this doesn’t effect me as much when I do solo shows (show here – first 15 are shit, rest is better) – I think it’s because it’s not a shared bill so the insecurity about being the worst doesn’t have a chance, instead I reconcile myself to the fact that they’ve made the mistake of coming to see me and me alone and well, they’ve only let themselves down. Anyway so the gig.

So gamely I turned up and realised very quickly that it wasn’t a normal gig but instead a heat of Manchester Comedian Of The Year judged by the previous year’s winner, a respected promoter and comedian Justin Lee Collins (more later). It was an odd gig. In retrospect I shouldn’t have done it. It was the day before my Nan’s funeral which I was cut up about and while I did okay the drive home was punctuated by tears and a fair whack of self pity. I’d left early as I knew there was a 4 hour drive early the next morning. But I thought nothing of it.

Fast forward to this week and I get a call saying I’ve been selected as a wildcard for the final. So tonight I found myself in the final of Manchester Comedian Of The Year. I was drawn to go on first and, in a room without a compere did 9 minutes and tried my best to punch up the room and, at the bare minimum, get people looking at the right direction at the stage. It was, I think okay in difficult circumstances, probably a gig I’d have been better compering than performing on, but considering I was opening I though, I’ve taken one for the team, sit back and relax knowing you’re out for the count.

It was tricky doing an opening set in a cold room for such a short period of time because I found myself falling onto the least nuanced of my material and trying to compere a bit (very light touch) to draw people in. Frustratingly I rushed and also found myself doing that dickhead thing of self-referencing the challenge (a cardinal no-no). Anyway I finished up and that was that.

It was a really strong lineup and so when it got to the end I drained my cup of tea grabbed my keys and got ready to go. Apart from I came third. It caught me a bit off guard, or rather, threw me a bit. I had mentally calculated that I’d come fifth or sixth at the gig so went up massively apprehensively, a little unsure (part of me wondering if they’d made a terrible error, maybe added something up incorrectly). I think I probably looked like an arrogant twat, nervously going up to say thanks and then fucking off as quick as possible, but my head was reconciled to the fact that I’d taken the bullet and like a lame horse would live out the rest of the gig in relative obscurity before a bolt gun to the head and off to the local abattoir.

I remember hearing a Daniel Kitson bit where he asks a girl to dance and she says yes and he talks about how he is unprepared for this eventuality. Having always done badly at competitions (and never even beaten the gong let alone win a gong show) I was unprepared. It was a bizarre feeling to have your inner monologue subverted by clapping and the promise of a £50 cheque (my career earnings now stand at £87.90).

Two things happened afterwards.

Firstly a woman from the audience in her late 50s (maybe early 60s) came up to me and, without batting an eyelid said “I think you were good enough for fifth at best”. She then informed me that my 70s TV Star song was terrible and would offend people before telling me a joke I should use instead (she’d seen it on facebook) about Jimmy Saville fixing it for someone to go camping with Gary Glitter. She also told me that I was mostly not funny and that I should keep trying.

Secondly I ended up having a conversation with Justin Lee Collins. During my set I’d made a joke at his expense (which I regret retrospectively, but he took with good humour) and so when he came over and was incredibly complimentary of my set (as he had been in the heats) I was really surprised. We should also remember that if anyone tells me they like something I’m doing I tend not to believe them (from the voice in the back of he head). But we got chatting.

So, a bit of history here, JLC started as a standup before turning to TV presenting and doing musical theatre. He was very successful but then in 2011 was convicted of harassment. I know there will be people reading this who at this point will be thinking “oh my god”. We chatted and I was struck by a few things.

Firstly that we live in a society that lets justice be served yet never forgives. I have a personal view that, most of the time, crime is a consequence of circumstance, situation and history. I have a friend with a conviction for drug dealing and he is not a bad person, he made a mistake, but he learnt from it and moved on – he is a person of humility, good humor but also someone who recognises his own error – something that is admirable and I am proud to call him a friend (he also knows lots about the nicknames for drugs – one is called Charlie, it might be the same as Beak but is different to Grass, Green and X – I literally have no idea what any of this means). If we judge people based on their mistakes rather than how they learnt from their mistakes what kind of society are we.

Secondly that online the comments directed at people from the anonymity of an avatar and a fake user name are vitriolic and uncontrolled. Social media has been such a good thing in so many ways but it fuels misinformation, distrust and turns people into people they’re not. I am sure I have tweeted things that are incorrect, taken aim at politicians for things they’ve done wrong (in my perception), but it is not a dialogue I’m having, it’s not a fact finding mission, it’s shouting in the dark. The problem is in a kingdom where outrage fuels interest and fact is flexible and often disputed how do you break that cycle without leaving a dark land of trolls to consume itself.

Finally that people can change. The JLC I met this evening was polite, humble, interested, honest and accepting. The cynic out there will say it might be a front. But if you do believe that then what does that say about humanity? What does it say about our ability to change and move on? What does it say about us, are we cynics or optimists?

I like to think that people can change, learn from their mistakes and grow as people. If I don’t believe that then I also can’t believe that I can change (unless I’m a massive hypocrite), can’t say goodbye to my self-critical voice in my head and grow and become the person I want to be.

I’m conscious that this has got overtly moral and questioning of our/my beliefs/attitudes, so I’ll finish with this, as I walked back to my seat tonight after finding out I was the THIRD BEST COMEDIAN IN MANCHESTER*, feeling slightly better about myself, a man shook my hand and said “lucky there mate”.

Not “unlucky”.
“Lucky”.

Night x

 

*This is a fact**
** Of those who entered***
***Not everyone entered****
****Noone seems to have noticed I am a) not from Manchester and b) don’t live in Manchester.

 

GIG REVIEW: Performing a show for the first time

So on Wednesday night this week I performed my new show, Truth, for the first time from start to stop. It’s always terrifying when you do anything new in front of any audience, what’s particularly galling is doing some solo hybrid comedy/theatre/storytelling, literally everything can go wrong. So did it?

Well…. No, not quite.

So I’d run elements of the story a couple of times at gigs in Warrington and Leeds so felt confident there was a basis of interest there – no point taking something dull and making it funny, at it’s core it has to at least prick interest. The previous Thursday I’d done the opening 25 mins of the show and it had been rip roaring. Wednesday was different, much quieter, much more nervy but still, for a first draft of a show, successful.

So what did I learn?

  • It’s hard gigging to an audience who know you. There’s an interesting thing about how you break expectation for audiences – things that seem quirky and different to a new audience will seem like recognisable tropes to people who know you better and will, of course get a different reaction.
  • I set the stage up wrong. I need to screen on my left and angled. It’s mostly about where I look and feel most comfortable, but also it’s about staging, I have to dominate rather than the screen.
  • It’s a slow burn. It took the audience 20 mins to get on board and even then I think there were at least 6 who weren’t (that’s okay at this point). Compereing off the top would help to get that warmth into the room a bit (but tricky when you know the majority).
  • It’s not stand up  nor is it storytelling. I need to decide which route to go down, or, perhaps, find a way of segmenting between the two, so that it feels more cohesive – the funny must drive the narrative and visa versa.
  • It needs more jokes. Obvious really, having not written any actual funnies in there it felt obvious where I was overreaching. Interestingly the onion bit about the kebab shop was really successful on Thu but died on Wed – probably because it feels like an attempted joke (and isn’t very good).

There was loads of other stuff too. The show ran at 55 minutes which was good, flowed coherently but lacked reinforcement and call backs to emphasis points that would payoff at the end. The ending split opinion a bit, I think I liked it but it needs to be more comprehensive and explain behind the curtain a bit more.

So the plan is…

This WIP was all about seeing if I had a tangible, workable idea. Yes I do. The next stage is booking a couple of previews further from home and repeating and editing as I go. I think I’m aiming for Edinburgh next year via a few fringe festivals so I’ve plenty of time. I need to think about character and costume (as it has an impact) and where I can simplify the powerpoint to balance the focus between screen and man.

SO… If by any chance you a) run a venue, b) run a gig or c) want to do a double header then let me know. I’ll do it on a bucket collection, I just want it to be good.

I’ve included 15 mins of the show below – because of it’s nature and structure I can’t put the full thing up as it’d ruin it. If you’d really like to see the full version then drop me a facebook or tweet me @mrfreeman1984 and I’ll send you the full video link. Oh and if you saw it and want to feed back then please do in the comments below – it’s really helpful!

Cheers!

Another week of Sam Freeman’s life

I’ve not written a proper “bloggy” post, I realised earlier today, for quite a while. I’ve tended to focus on things with actual purpose or focus, you know things like “my thoughts on marketing” or the classic “please come and see my show on Wednesday at 7pm at 81 Renshaw Street in Liverpool“.

I thought I’d try and avoid that today. Avoid it and simply talk about what goes through my head.

I appreciate that these sorts of blog posts are incredibly self indulgent and if you’re not a fan of that, well, tune out now.  I’ve bullet pointed all of these because, well, there’s clearly no good narrative structure or theme to link these together and it seemed easier. I’ve also added headings, because, well, I’m a writing legend who fundamentally understands that things need a break and clear markers.

  • Petits Filous are overrated
    For years I’ve believed that these tiny pots are full of yogurty joy, tiny foil sealed parcels of dairy filled delight. They’re not. They’re slightly shit, underflavoured shittubs of underwelming and often separating (what is that water on top?!?) disappointment. They’re not good because they sound slightly French, if you need that get a Creme Caramel.
  • Atomic Blonde, Fortitude and True Detective Season One are good, Fantastic Four is dogshit.
    I went to the cinema to see Atomic Blonde with super-low expectations, fully expecting a style over substance film with an obvious pull back and reveal at the end. It almost is all those things, but it’s saved by stylish cinematography, a stunning performance by Charlize Theron and a script that gives enough while never feeling rushed. I’ve also been watching Fortitude and True Detective again, both of which reminded me that the slow burn drama can be as watchable and compelling as shows with dragons. Then I watched the 2015 film of The Fantastic Four which, after a relatively good opening 30mins then spends the remainder of the film pissing on what had the potential to be an interesting franchise, undoubtedly there will be a follow up out soon.
  • I’m not ready for suburbia, I am ready for suburbia.
    I looked at a couple of houses this week in Bromborough and Bebington. We’ve been pondering moving towards the Wirral for a while, essentially we want a garden and a house less ridden with issues. I find myself at a weird point, I definitely don’t want to live in the centre of a city, but nor do I want to live in suburbia where the first thing estate agents tell you is the quality of the schools and the fact that the conservatory is great for entertaining. No it isn’t. So I think we’re settling on a different house that doesn’t make me actively sad.
  • Opinions
    I’ve been struck this week as to how irregularly I actually give my opinion. I am constantly tailoring my responses to make them “appropriate” to the context, but increasingly to prevent people from thinking I’m a massive dickhead.  I find myself softening what I say to avoid other people feeling bad, or, more regularly, so that I don’t sound like a cock (it’s all about me, I’m incredibly egocentric). I guess it’s a good thing, looking out for people’s feelings but at the same time I feel a frustration of holding back constantly (also that people must think I’m very inoffensive). But then noone likes a smartarse and if we spend the small amount of time in this world being disliked then life is going to go downhill mighty quickly. Swings & roundabouts.
  • We don’t all age at the same rate
    I have days where I wonder if I should be doing the grown up thing with my life like many of my contemporaries, birthing a mortgage, buying a child and getting walls I can paint and get insurance for; classic grown up fare. Then I have days where I notice that in many ways I’m more grown up than other people I know. Finally I think, does it actually matter. So long as you’re happy and non-regretful is there a right or wrong, or don’t we find that out until we’re sat alone in 40 years time wondering why we didn’t do things earlier.
  • Jogging hurts but makes you feel better
    We’ve been going jogging. 20 minutes every 3 days after which I feel like I’ve been brutally assaulted. However I’ve found it has made me a bit more chipper, so maybe exercise is the answer. Either that or an inhaler filled with endorphines. Maybe a little less painful.
  • Being a bit sad is okay
    I feel sad sometimes and it feels like a terrible thing to actually say. Now please don’t think I’m depressed, I’m not, it’s just I find myself getting waves of sadness that I can’t attribute to anything in particular. They go quite quickly and, y’know what, I wonder if, for me, they’re actually a good thing, I wonder if it’s a sign of conflict, ambition, of living life’s spectrum, or as a moment to search for something. I also wonder how many people also get it and are told that it’s terrible and that becomes more than what it is. I don’t know.
  • I’d like a dog but I don’t know my motivation for wanting one.
    I like dogs and while I’m not in the situation to have a dog I can’t decide where my increasing like of dogs comes from. Is is the 10 week old Golden Retriever puppy that now lives next door? Is it the adorable greyhounds at work that are very gentle and soft. Was it the 5 month old Welsh Terrier puppy under our table when we went for food. Or is it, just maybe, the constant indoctrination from my girlfriend with videos of puppies being adorable.

That’s it really, as always if you want to comment below (unless you’re Russian wanting me to buy viagra, seriously stop adding comments) then please do, and if you’re in Liverpool on Wednesday at 7pm with nothing to do come see my show at 81 Renshaw Street. I promise it’ll be okay.

Finally, if you enjoy reading this and would like me to e-mail every so often with things I’m doing then do so by clicking here.
Night x

10 things about being an arts marketing manager that I now know…

I’m not at the AMA conference this year, yet, despite the fact that I’ve a habit of being über critical of it, I find myself with a tinge of jealousy. People gathered round chatting about arts marketing, the challenges they face, the solutions they have come up with, a melting pot of arts geeks with fabulous shoes drinking white wine is, at points, glorious. While for the last few I’ve been to I’ve got more from the networking side than the speaker side I think they’re, broadly, a good learning experience and great for building confidence in what we do, how we do it and the possibilities that risk and experimentation offer.  While jealous I’m also excited that another of our marketing team is having her first AMA conference experience and so instead I find myself at work, tuning in via tweets.

My first AMA conference was around 2007 when as a fresh-faced Marketing Assistant I listened eagerly, took everything as gospel and drank so much I got hideously ill on the final day (which I disguised with Red Bull) after finding myself dancing in a Tikka Bar at 4am the previous night. I remember looking round at veterans of the conference and wanting to be them, to do the jobs they were doing. Now I find myself in that position and I wonder what I’d have told the 2007 flowery silk shirt wearing edition of myself to prepare him for the road ahead.

So, here’s the top 10 things I’d mention. If you’ve any to add then comment below.

  1. Don’t lose sleep over sales
    You’ll have a show, probably multiple shows that won’t sell. The one thing that won’t help is being tired, grumpy, staying up until 4am to run countless sales comparison reports and changing the formatting of an ever growing to do list. I can’t state this enough – it is a job – you need to find a balance between life and work and make sure there is a divide. I have seen arts marketeers have near breakdowns through worry. If you feel like this then talk to someone. If you think someone is feeling like this then talk to them. If people are racking up 20hrs of lieu time every week then it’s a sign. Fresh minds approaching what you’re doing beats tired ones every time.
  2. Lose sleep over sales
    Ignore point #1 completely sometimes. Sometimes you have to go hell for leather. Sometimes you have to [insert generic metaphor] or [insert another generic metaphor]. There are times when you’ll have to work late, where doing that extra will make a difference. But, and this is a big one, prioritise the easy wins (which mightn’t be what your creative director thinks or what the cast of the play thinks needs to be done – posters on the toilet doors of pubs can wait) and make sure you take the time off to balance it out.
  3. Knowing what didn’t work is hard
    After each show 40 people will have an opinion on why it did or didn’t work. In a wonderful marketing world you’d evaluate and work out exactly what did or didn’t succeed – in a venue with a fast-moving programme that is hard (or specifically, finding the time for it is hard) – it can be so tempting to get on board with the “wrong image”, “wrong copy”, “no names” bandwagon. Honestly, most of the times the thing for sure you can say is “it excited people” or “noone came”. If it’s the former then survey them, if it’s the latter then, well, wait until you hit a success and spot the differences.
  4. Make friends, stay friends
    This is dead easy. Meet as many people in the other venues near you as possible. Go for coffee, organise drinks, do a Christmas night out. I was incredibly lucky when I went to Liverpool in that Sarah Ogle from the Everyman took me for coffee and cake and we chatted about our respective venues for a couple of hours every month. It’s a support network that is essential, without it I would have found my job infinitely harder. Your problems are never unique, your venue isn’t a snowflake, or a special case, someone else will have experienced something similar – it’s just a question of finding them and asking them.
  5. If/When you fuck up admit it quickly
    Obvious. Seriously, it means you get problems solved quicker. Everyone has fucked up at some point. You’ll feel better having told someone and people will (generally) respect you more for ‘fessing up and taking responsibility.
  6. Pick your battles
    This blog is increasingly turning into Sun Tzu  but it is true in my experience. Most venues project a persona of being nimble, flight of foot and quick thinking – imagine them as a jet ski, dodging waves and errant surfers – in reality most are oil tankers – no one decision turns it round, instead hundreds of processes, steps and moments do. Also, most battles aren’t battles, they’re the start of a series of skirmishes.
  7. Rome wasn’t built in a day
    Thank you Paul Clay for hammering this into my face. Don’t try and change everything straight away. When I started at Unity I though, “well, on day one I’ll analyse, day two I’ll do the change, day three I’ll reap the bounty and on day four I’ll rest, three days faster than God.” Nope. Things take years. One year to move up a level. One year to move something from average to better than average. Ten to go from shit to perfect. Unless you have a huge team and infinite budget in which case knock yourself out.
  8. Noone remembers how things were, only how things could be.
    After you’ve been at a place for a year you’ll forget everything you’ve achieved. Write it down. It’ll be useful when you’re trying to value yourself and also if you need to remind people that, in fact, contrary to popular belief, things have changed.
  9. Don’t be a cock. Or at least try not to be.
    Obvious really. But people remember and everything will come back to haunt you (or save you) in the end.
  10. No-one dies because of theatre
    Sometimes we forget that we make theatre/art. We are in an incredibly privileged position. We should share our passion for what we do. We should be frustrated when things don’t go right. But there is more in the world than theatre. There is love, football, Danish furniture, The Wire, Coffee made by hipsters, birds singing, the sound of the sea crashing onto a beach, lust, sweaty nightclubs, cool bars, hungry children, warm embraces, loss, pub lunches next to rivers and much more… When you feel stressed, want to cry, feel a tear in the corner of your eye, remember this.
  11. And one for luck…
    If you look at something you did three years ago and you think it’s better than what you’re doing now then consider a career change. Constant improvement is what the arts deserve. Nothing more and nothing less.

Please share/like/retweet or comment if you enjoyed this or found this useful.
If you didn’t then shhhhhhhh, quiet time.

Creativity, Confidence and a Show

There are, it is said, two types of creative people. There are those who talk endlessly about the book they’re going to write and then there are those who write the book.

I’ve been feeling over the past year that I’ve been falling, increasingly heavily, into category one. Sure I’ve done gigs, created some new bits of comedy and written a script that could be, generously, described as “pretty poor” but ultimately I’ve not really taken that jump.

I guess there are two problems – firstly, when you work in a sector which is still relatively bipolar, broken into the “creative” and the “supportive”,  it can feel tricky if you’re on the supportive side to feel a confidence in your voice. Secondly, if you get out of the habit of being “creative” outside of your day-to-day, of trying to do the big project where there’s the major possibility of failure (by which I mean “artistic”) then you forget that failure is, arguably, in the early stages of creating something, far more useful than success.

Creativity and the confidence to create is also massively personality dependent. I have a friend who believes that everything they do will be great. They believe in their art, that they can create and fuck anyone who doesn’t believe them. I find it really hard. I naturally defer to others and will regularly venerate the achievements and abilities of other artists and will stay quiet (or more often be massively self-deprecating) about myself. That’s not to say I don’t talk about it (see para 2), I do, but I will try to avoid seeming like a dick even when my head is yelling “I could do it better in my sleep”.

Of course the proof is in the performance. You can’t just sit around waiting for someone to ask you to do something, you have to take the bull by the horns and actually do it. Sure I’d love to direct another play (ideally In A Forest Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute or A Steady Rain by Keith Huff – both of which I’d nail directorially) but realistically one has to be taken seriously to get those chances, and to do that you have to do as Samuel Beckett is famously quoted: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

SO. HERE GOES.

I’m doing a show. It’s a one-man theatre/comedy show about truth. It uses projection and tells a story of something that happened to me in the last year. At the bottom of this blog post is a link to book a free ticket (or click here). It’ll last about an hour and will not be good, it will have possibilities and, more importantly, will be out there.

Of course you might be thinking, “shit Sam, this is really misjudged” or “if it’s going to be shit I’ll give it a miss”. It won’t be shit (just not good). For reference here is a link to a show I did that was quite similar from a few years ago – click here.

So please come along (it’s on the 6 Sep at 81 Renshaw Street in Liverpool). Support me. Book a ticket now (it’s free) so that the pressure is really on for me to work hard at it. If it’s good then tell me, if it isn’t then tell me the following day.

I’m trying not to talk about the book, I hope you can sit down and have a read.

Fixed-term contracts in the arts

The Stage posted a poll on twitter today asking whether Theatre’s Artistic Directors should be on fixed-term contracts. It’s one of those notions I find really interesting, and also a question that I don’t think should be, necessarily, linked to just the Artistic Director (but that’s for another time).

I am also fully aware that I write this while wearing a metaphorical flak jacket. To answer your comments in advance.

  • Yes I’m wrong.
  • Yes you’re right.
  • Certainly that’s ridiculous
  • Absolutely, it’s an opinion and nothing more so ultimately doesn’t matter.

To answer the question posed to start. Yes I think that Artistic Directors should be on fixed-term contracts. I think that to keep arts organisations fresh the rejuvenation at the top should happen relatively regularly (across all the management team, ideally in rotation). It means that fresh thinking can be brought in, doctrine can be challenged and audiences can experience something new through the choices of what is, or is not programmed.

The trickier question becomes “how long”?

Well, I don’t know (I never claimed to have all the answers). We could all argue it depends on the person, the organisation and the location.

What about nine years? Is that a fair crack at it?
Let me break it down.

  • One year finding out about where you are and learning about your team
  • Two years finding out about where you want to be and what your team can do
  • Two years planting seeds
  • Four years of unprecedented success – Blooming amazing success…

I mean that feels fair? Doesn’t it?

You’re right, it’s ridiculous and doesn’t see the variation in the work that all the theatre’s do and the differing needs of them all. It also doesn’t recognise how the world doesn’t stay the same, how stability can be a very good thing or indeed how audiences are creatures of habit. Artistic Directors put up with all sorts of crap that most of us never see – adding job insecurity and an arbitrary timeline is not a helpful thing. So what’s the alternative?

  • Hand to hand combat: AD’s must kill a series of pretenders to the throne over a period of years until they themselves are slain. Imagine Rufus Norris standing over the slain body of Nick Hytner, clutching the all areas pass to the National Theatre in one hand and a bloodied copy of Assassins in the other. Also the first rule of Artistic Director Club is don’t talk about Artistic Director Club…
  • Reviews aggregatoring: Longevity is decided on the number of five star reviews received. For every 20 five star reviews another year is granted. Five stars from anything online only is a 1 month deduction while an appearance on the One Show is an extra four years. Critics become the most bribed people in the UK for giving both positive and negative reviews.
  • Hamlet Off: Every 5 years everyone who wants to be the Artistic Director must produce a one-woman version of Hamlet. If the show is staged in Manchester it must feature Maxine Peake and if it’s in London then it must be played by David Suchet (playing a double bluff). Each one will be watched by a school and the winner will be decided by the kids.

I wonder if The Stage would put that in a poll…

 

Return to cricket…

This week I did something a bit silly. Naturally with an opening like that (and imagining for a second that you’d started reading while also simultaneously circumventing this blog’s title) you’re thinking it’s probably drink related, or maybe you gigged in Preston or even tried to write a play.  In fact, none of these, instead I pretended to be 16 again.

I’ve had a few conversations about cricket recently, in particular village cricket. It started with a few conversations of shared anecdotes and then, when my mate Chris visited a few weeks ago, got back into my head. To give a little context, from the age of 9 to 16 I was obsessed with playing cricket. I wasn’t good, I wasn’t bad, but, like all cricket mad Yorkshire kids I was definitely the next Darren Gough.

I started, as all tall, skinny lad do, as a “fast bowler”, with a middling pace and a tendency to drift, far too often down the leg side. I then learnt to bat a bit and opened the batting from time to time, scoring fluke edges at a glacial rate while better players implored me to step on my wickets. I was not a great fielder, not a great tactician and not that keen on the exercise element. But I loved it nevertheless. I hurt my back and ended up bowling leg spin, the type of brutal leg spin that’s all wrist, rarely on target but would get ludicrous movement and for some obscure reason scare the shit out of batsmen who thought the good deliveries were deliberate. I was a strong junior player, then made the jump and was an incredibly average and often borderline poor senior player.

I stopped playing when I broke both my legs and walking wasn’t an option (a long story) and never really played again. I’d occasionally dabble, the odd nets session, but that was it. I focused on badminton for the next 15 years (until my shoulder finally packed in). So on an impulse  (Tues) I decided I buy a cricket ball and go to some quiet nets near where I live and see how I got on.

The first ball was tentative. What do you bowl to mark your great return? Is it a fast paced bouncer? Maybe an off break, or maybe underarm. I decided to go for a leg break – pick up where I left off and… and… well, it was actually pretty good. I swung an arm and dropped it 3ft in front of the crease on off stump (corridor of uncertainty), it gripped the astroturf and spun away 8 inches. Great I thought, let’s do a few more of them and then get in the England team.

The next half an hour was the most painful bowling experience ever. I tried spin, pace, even an optimistic attempt at swinging it. My head was all over the shot, arm started painfully then dropped with every delivery and knee hurt. One delivery I let go of so early that I’d have killed anyone stood behind me. If hawkeye had been involved it’d look like Devon Malcolm on acid, imagine that legendary Steve Harmison delivery at the start of his final ashes, but for every ball. It was as if my mind had focused on hitting, literally anything, but the wicket.

But then after 40 deliveries i started getting more consistency, hitting the mark more, going for line and length and as much speed as a 5 step run up can allow. I’d estimate from my point of view around 80 – 85mph. A batsman/casual observer might judge that to be around 18 – 22mph.

But did I enjoy it?

I kind of loved it. Sure my shoulder feels immensely tender right now and it’s smothered with deep heat that went out of date in 2013 (true), and yes I tried to put frozen peas on it and the result is a kitchen floor covered with frozen peas, and yes, clearly, I’m not good. But it was mind numbing, freeing and relaxing. Each one on target felt warm. Every bad delivery invoked a smile and shake of the head rather than anger or frustration. Non-pressurized cricket. Bliss.

I’ll be going again as soon as I lift my arm over head height again.

Election Polling Data

A new poll has come out from YouGov surveying the carnage of the post-election landscape. It was incredibly interesting how over the course of the election how the polls changed and shifted towards Labour and then how the exit poll correctly predicted a hung parliament.  This new poll only offers basic details, nor does it have how the information was collated,cross tabs, long term comparative data or any specifics about the questions that were asked. But, despite this we can glean some things we’d expect and some things we maybe wouldn’t.

  • Conservative Voters Are Dying
    The older you are the more likely you are to vote Conservative. People aged 70+ are 3.5 times more likely to vote Tory, and, crucially, they are much more likely to vote. For all the talk of the youth surge impacting on the Corbyn vote the elderly are keeping the Conservatives in power. Put bluntly a cold winter helps the Labour vote. This is also reflected in the fact that the retired predominantly vote Tory while working people vote Labour. Coincidentally these people are also the people more likely to own a house and, in the polling data, house owners are more likely to be a Tory.
  • Every age is a little bit Liberal Democrat
    Curiously the Liberal Democrats have a pretty even spread across the age ranges which suggests their policies are cross generational (or at least the idea of being a Liberal is cross generational). They also poll considerably higher than UKIP voters which might lead you to think that we’re nationally a little less racist than we think.
  • Social Class has less impact on likely voting
    We imagine that Labour is for the poor and the Tory’s are for the rich. Turns out that’s not the case, the battle is not between rich and poor, it’s between young and old. Yes, there’s a slight slant but overall not massive differences.  The other socio-demographic area that seems to have a good impact is education…. 
  • Education makes you more liberal and left leaning
    Education makes people less likely to be a UKIP or Tory voter. A degree or higher increases you likelihood of voting for the Liberal Democrats by 100% and also increases your chances of voting Labour. All of which is undermined by the fact that everything/one is undoubtedly influenced by media consumption habits… which leads to…
  • The Daily Mail holds the keys to the kingdom
    The Mail has the biggest readership online and one of the biggest offline with 74% of their readers voting Conservative. A small shift in editorial direction could potentially decide things.

So how do they all win?

  • Labour
    Protect and get support from ages 50 – 69 year olds while maintaining the youth surge.
    Push for latter years learning initiatives for ages 40+
    Suggest increased funding for later life care (dying with dignity)
    Target social media at Daily Mail & Telegraph readers
    Pray for cold weather
  • Tory
    Write off all student loans (or promise to) (short term)
    Introduce Grammar Schools & limit HE & FE education (long term and counter productive)
    Protect press freedoms (aiming to turn The Guardian & The Independent’s editorial bias)
    Introduce Government backed low-interest mortgages.
    Find a candidate that’s dynamic enough to connect with younger voters
  • Liberals
    Align more closely with Labour’s youth policy and Tory senior policy.
    Brand as the Labour lite / Less cunty-Tory party.
  • Everyone Else
    Give up.
    Unless you’re UKIP, BNP or EDL, in which case fuck off first then give up.

Gig Report: New material in Warrington

There’s a few gigs that, since I started, I’ve kept coming back and doing. They’re not the most glamorous gigs or even the easiest to get to, what they have is something better, an audience that is brutally honest but also not cocks. The Albion is, for me, one of those. I’ve tried out loads of brand new stuff and they are always receptive and even if I die on my hole, appreciative that you’ve tried hard.

I’ve been working on a new show, tentatively called Momentary Lapses Of Extreme Signmaking. I’m at that early stage having tried the opening 10 minutes once (although I had tested it on people at parties and when out). It’s much more storytelling than I’ve done in the last 12 months and, crucially, is less device driven (I don’t use a crutch like a book or keyboard). While I’ve faith in the narrative I’m not sure if it’s standup or storytelling or a mix between the two. I’m also not sure if it’ll need visual support (projection or not).

So I was trying bits out, incredibly rough and with big chunks of blagging…

I’ve popped some notes below on the recording (at the bottom – but just the first 6 mins or so…). I thought it might be interesting to talk about what’s going through my head on the drive home? Maybe not.

To start I will say that the audience were quiet and the background noise is from the adjacent bar and I was on first.

  • Opening (00:00 – 01:40) – This I’ve used hundreds of times as an opener, it won’t make the show I don’t think as it’s not relevant. Enjoyed saying “boom” a bit too much.
  • The Bar (01:41 – 03:05) – Not tremendously funny, really scope for setup here, also dropped the C-bomb far too early. There needs to be more scene setting about where I am (Chester + Hoole + Local Area) to help audience understanding and make the context play stronger. (AJ Hill who was also on spotted this and was dead right, if you use obscure references you lose people – explain it, clarify it or lose it).
  • Kebab Show (03:06 – 03:24) –  There’s two bits in here – 1/ there’s better stuff around me chatting about sustenance and the need for a kebab and it’s social function – 2/ “Retard” is a crappy awful turn of phrase that’s terrible and stupid, I was reaching for “moron”, failed to find it and landed badly.
  • Kebabs (03:25 – 03:32) – I missed Garlic Mayo
  • Walking (03:32 – 04:01) – This is just boring as shit, it’s got lots of unnecessary stuff in and again needs to set the context better – people need to be able to see the street – poss something about the bins (3 bins) is needed)
  • Fifa (04:01 – 04:25) – The Fifa bit needs to work more broadly (for non-geeks) – maybe replace with a sleeping man with pizza on his face and a cup of tea dribbling down his leg?
  • Margaret (04:25 – 04:38) – This has potential but needs to be undercut – doing a good deed is fine, feeling the warm glow of people watch me be a good guy is better, me avoiding eye contact with her in future to avoid any subsequent bag carrying is funnier and sets me up better.
  • Wank (04:38 – 06:15) – This I decided to do about 7 minutes before going on. Real potential for this character to be reincorporated. Does he need to wear glasses? How do I ensure I enter his narrative? Also, stamped the end of this – actually that should be a general note – I went a breakneck speed to see how far I could get.

Tonight’s gig…

6 things I thought watching “The Battle For Number 10”

I’ve been watching Sky’s coverage of Jeremy Paxman vs Theresa May vs Jeremy Corbyn. It’s been interesting watching it while also being logged into twitter and facebook – seeing both sides claim victory and the opposition’s calamitous performance – I would like to bet that in every comedy club in the UK this week we have a string of jokes all about it, most probably venomously anti-Tory and most probably pro-Corbyn.

Now before I go any further I will say that I am a progressive liberal, my opinions fall, in general, on Liberal, Labour and Green policies, so I am bias (please don’t comment to inform me of the fact, I’m well aware). I should also mention that I once did a quiz where it turned out I was 10% UKIP – I’m not sure which bit, but as a friend at the time pointed out, deep inside every well rounded liberal is a twat waiting to get out. I can only assume that my UKIPpiness has been muted by smashed avocado, sourdough and hand-churned butter from Waitrose.

Initially I thought I’d write about how each candidate answered the individual questions, after all, policy is what this should be all about, but The Guardian seemed to have that covered so maybe not worth my time. Then I wondered about writing something about Jeremy Paxman coming out of retirement but managed to do that on twitter..

So where did that leave me? I think with simple observations on what I saw and how I felt. So here are six things I thought while watching the show. Please comment if you’d like (I won’t reply) or retweet or share if that’s your thing.

  1. Corbyn came across as calm but missed moments
    Corbyn at points had a zen-like calm to his responses, batting away Paxman (JP) with ease at points. He seemed to make a smart decision by closing down questions he didn’t want to answer by staying calm, being concise and trying to make JP look aggressive and unreasonable. There was a point where I thought he had JP on the ropes and it felt like he missed an opportunity, I wanted him to send a few punches back and show a bit more steel, however that isn’t particularly his style and would have been off-principle. It was interesting how he seemed to speak a bit slower and quieter towards the end which made it tricker for JP to  interrupt him.
  2. May as defensive and a little fraught
    May came across as defensive and dealt with Paxman less easily – she fumbled a few replies and generally didn’t get JP on the ropes. She was, I think, given a harder time than the Labour leader, not in regards to the content (although curiously less references to things she’d done in the 80s, 90s & 00s), but in how aggressively Paxman pursued her and refused anything other than a soundbite answer (we’ll come back to this).  She was, I think, right not to put a figure on the cost of leaving the European Union but often failed to get her message across clearly, she needed to be concise, clear and structurally simple and also find nuance to her delivery to talk through Paxman (something Corbyn did more).
  3. Getting dressed right makes a difference.
    This is really shallow but I found it striking the change in Corbyn since he became Labour leader. As a society we are terrible for judging style over substance, but the reality is that we do. He looked sharper in a good suit – professional, responsible and more groomed. It’s little things like this that influence people – he has won the hearts and minds of those who know that’s not important – but for those he hasn’t he looked like he could lead a nation and not just a Geography expedition.
  4. It was all about the soundbite
    “Just let them speak” – The number of interruptions that both candidates had to endure was silly. I know Paxman is there to keep them in check and get the answers, but he was often pulling focus before anything had really been said. I found it interesting that when either one answered straight it killed the flow a bit. References to the IRA, Falklands and Monarchy felt dated and while have some relevance into the character of Corbyn they also made it about personality and not policy which felt like a waste. Paxman’s technique looked a little dated and a bit sensationalist (almost a parody of “Paxman”) – he didn’t so much set traps and wait for them to stumble into them than barge in with a baseball bat swinging wildly.  I wondered if Krishnan Guru-Murthy might have been a better choice to host?
  5. It’s a battle
    It occurred to me that tactically it’s a fine balance to succeed at a political interview, particularly with Paxman. If you go too defensive then you fail to get your point across, not defensive enough then the next interruption hits you with two or three examples of how you’ve failed. If you attack then you come across as a bully and aggressive. Try to hide something by talking around an issue and not answering the question leads to the pointed repetitions of the question. Big philosophical statements that change the entire narrative completely away from the question however do work. Corbyn talking about Social Injustice instead of the monarchy was a good example. Essentially fighting fire with fire (in terms of interviewee style) makes it all hotter. Trying to take away the heat is more effective.
  6. It was all too short and needed the candidates to face off.
    It all felt a bit rushed. There were clear points when Paxman looked like he’d been told to move on, the follow up question lacked bite (or just covered the same ground) and it felt like we covered not very much in a short amount of time and learnt very little. Multiple candidate debates featuring the top 6 candidates with each dedicated to a specific issue (defence, social care… etc..) would be much more informative. This wasn’t constructive debate or May v Corbyn. It was the candidates battling an interviewer who wanted to be impressive.

Right, that’s it. My thoughts, please disagree heartily (that’s okay), or agree (also okay).

Oh and this is my favourite tweet of the evening…

Insecurity

It’s 1:48am as I start writing this blog post.

But before I get to the point, the crux, the pips in the core of this particular apple I’m going to give you a bit of context. So tonight I had a bad gig, I was dog shit, absolutely crap, i wasn’t met by boos or active hatred, simply ambivalence. I’ve also been feeling like I can’t necessarily win at work at the mo – overwhelmed at some points and at others feeling like I’m trying to navigate a maze. Finally my creative work, plays, storytelling ‘n’ that isn’t happening at the moment.

That’s the context and we should also bare in mind that it’s 1:52am as I’m writing this post.

I’ve started to worry that I’m wasting my life. When I was younger I had such ambition. Being good wasn’t enough, I wanted to be the best, to beat everyone else into submission. Now I find myself being careful, not taking risks as much and accepting that there are people far better and more talented than me.

I wonder if part of the problem is calling. The idea of having “a calling” does, when you think about it, rely on a belief in fate, that there is a destination, predetermined for us all to arrive at. I’ve always thought my calling is theatre, but what if it’s not? What if it’s fishing? Or golf? Or plumbing? If we decide that we don’t believe in a pre-determined fate, then what we are left with are circumstances influenced by a set of moments and singular decisions to bring you to one place. What if instead of doing my GCSE work experience at the Stephen Joseph Theatre I’d done it for Cooplands Bakery? Would I be a baker now? Would I be marketing baking? Would I be happy marketing baking?

While reading this you should bare in mind it’s 2am as I’m writing this post.

I find myself fascinated by those who took big jumps in life, who risked it all. One of my favourite films is Into The Wild, about a young man who leaves his life behind to live in the wilderness. Isn’t that an esquisite idea, to escape, try and find meaning in something different, a different way of life and existance. I mean sure, he ended up dying of starvation and disease in an abandoned bus in Alaska, but until that point it’s pretty inspiring.

It’s now 2:03am.

Stuart Goldsmith on his podcast the Comedians Comedian often asks his guests if they’re happy. They often say contented and I find myself unsure whether that’s a good thing or not. Is contented acceptance of one’s place in life, a breath out that says my lot is here, an ungrasping of the need to succeed further, to reach beyond what is currently held? Is it a beautiful moment of self actualisation where life gains meaning? Is it a good or bad thing and who defines that good or bad?

2:09am.

Insecurity undoubtedly plays it’s part. That’s the problem. I know full well when I don’t apply for a gig, stop writing for fear of more rejection or don’t push myself to do something it’s the voices in my head stopping me. I know it’s a circular event, a self perpetuating event that goes round and round.

2:19am.

So what to do? Who knows. Maybe I’m content. Maybe I’m risk averse. Maybe I need to blow my world up to see what happens. Or maybe, just maybe, I need to go to sleep.

2:21am

Gig Report & Analysis

On Sunday night Hot Water Comedy in Liverpool let me perform and so I could record my set. I’ve needed a new recording for a while. Not gigging as often means I’m seen by less people so getting gigs from meeting people is getting harder. Also I’ve been conscious that when I record the songs on their own they lack the context of how I intend them to work in a gig situation. I also write this blog lots and for someone who wasn’t at the gig the notes make very little sense.

I was on first at this gig, the audience was warm, about 40 in, but it’s probably fair to say they were warmer in the middle and final sections. Paul (compere) had got them up for it, but there was a fairly painful man on the front row who was being a bit of a tit. There’s a fair amount of stuff I left out, some bits I rushed and also some audience interaction that I passed up. The mini-motif (70s TV Star) also doesn’t have a final verse so I missed that punchline.

I’ve not really watched the video (I just added titles and uploaded) so I thought I’d write some notes live while I watch. This might be interesting, might not. Rest assured that while watching I cringe. For those regular readers of this blog you’ll know I’m overly self critical so what you see and what I see may vary a bit. Also I’ve become increasingly conscious that I’ve clearly skipped arm day (and leg and torso day) and also that I look a bit rough. There’s also a presentational thing – I don’t look pro, or like I’m going to be funny. Not quite sure what I mean by that. Maybe it’s that I’m at the side of the stage to not annoy Paul too much.

So yeah, enjoy. Please comment on the bottom of here or on the link you found this on (it’s nice to know someone reads), and if you think it’s good then share (and if not then shhhhhh). Finally, I have a mailing list (top right on the desktop site) so please subscribe!

Video Notes:

  • Pre show thoughts were dominated by panicking that I’d failed to plug in the ipad mic correctly.
  • Hecklers are tricky, ignoring was my tactic with loaded sarcasm. He gestures a lot and kept making odd comments which you can’t really hear on camera.
  • Ready to Rock works better when people do nothing the first time round. I missed a joke here… “You’re only wasting your own time” is the classic one (a bit hack though).
  • The “ginger comperes” is something I do with whoever is compereing, makes it seem more in the moment.
  • I am a gentle lover.
  • The “Genocide” joke doesn’t really work, but the “When I was a kid” was accidental and will happen again – I think I need (time permitting) to add a few more stories of sexual failure in here.
  • Finger Up My Bum is played at too fast a tempo for the chorus which loses the audience a bit and the period joke could have dropped better.
  • Berating the audience for not joining in is quite good fun. Dropping a c bomb is a risky gambit, I think if I hadn’t the next bit might have gone better.
  • “Cured Racism, No Biggy, had a weekend free” is crap and a bit arrogant which doesn’t really fit with the character I use on stage. It really needs a story to accompany it.
  • Racist Bread they don’t go for at all and felt like hard work… Interestingly the more diverse an audience the better this goes – it tends to be a bit too soft to get big laughs.
  • Wedding Song intro is usually much more drawn out than this, usually I add an extra level of detail which builds it all up and makes verse one really fly. The extra detail to add the realism to the situation makes it all the more believeable – I think that might be a running theme of this set – rushing – with musical stuff time seems to go much faster, I was pushing but still went over by 2 and also cut the set 1 song shorter.
  • 70s TV Star reprise gets an okay response, if I do it the 3rd time then it all makes sense and there’s an artificial sense of a rounded set. It kind of disguises the lack of plot or narrative running through what I do.
  • Finger you should have lasted a lot longer, I kind of faked the running out of breath thing, whereas I suspect if I did this for twice as long then the payoff would be brilliant.

 

 

 

 

An idea, a graph and a calendar

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here so, finding myself incredibly away at 12:46am I thought I might as well write down some thoughts about what’s happening and what I’ve been thinking about recently.

Plays
Regular readers will know that I finished writing a play, Opposition, in December and sent it to loads of theatre’s to get feedback. It was the first thing I’ve written since Floating and I didn’t have huge hopes for it. So when the rejection letters came in (the many, many rejection letters) I wasn’t overly surprised. There is, of course, an argument for not sending work that, deep down, I knew probably wasn’t good enough to theatre’s – but then it marks the end of a process – the unread play is a pointless thing. It had some of my best writing inside it but was structurally weak and lacked a strong enough, simple enough premise. It was like an onion, delicious in small amounts, layered, but a full one makes you cry. The letters always hurt (except the Royal Exchange who actually give good constructive feedback unlike many places) but I though, ah shit, never mind, that’s that.

Then, as is always the case I had an idea for a play last week and decided to write it in 64 days. But why 64 days I hear you ask. Well that’s aligned to the Bruntwood prize deadline. For a while I’ve always had a nagging suspicion that if I can’t write a play in a month then it’s probably going to be a bit shit because it means the idea is fundamentally flawed. So Floating was written in a week, Revenge in a month and Opposition took 6 months. Go figure. Anyway, so I’ve made a graph of the number of words I need to write on a daily basis to get it done in time with three drafts – 500 words a day – not a lot considering that I’ve written this, so far (284 words) in less than 10 minutes. I find the graph thing is useful because a) it monitor’s my progress, and b) it’s motivating in that you don’t want to fail, drop under the line of success and miss the deadline. So this is it, in 30 days I’ll either have a wonderful play, or I’ll be writing a blog about marketing.

Marketing
I’m conscious that I’ve not written anything deeply entertaining and relevant for a bit. I have a few blog titles in my head but am unsure which to do (I suspect they’d work better as 10 minute presentations), if you have an opinion then get in touch.. Here they are…

  • My Biggest Failure – about the things I’ve got wrong doing marketing but what I learnt from them?
  • My Precious – about the most important thing marketeers never have: time.
  • An Interim Brand – this is about creating temporary brand for organisations to get stability under high pressure. We all do huge amounts of consultancy, spend months and months on branding, but sometimes there has to be interim solutions.
  • Telling The Story – this is about writing the Theatr Clwyd mission story (rather than statement), how it effects what I do and how I do it and why I think it’d be a useful way for arts organisations to engage the public and also their own staff.

Comedy
Okay, so it’s gone to shit right. I have, as you’ll gather from this blog, big issues with my confidence about comedy. My last gig was amazing, but I have voices in my head that tell me it was shit and that what I do isn’t good. I can talk about it, I can be told to the contrary, but ultimately it makes no difference. I think time is an issue too, as is my work-life balance. I’ve a few gigs coming up which I’ll list at the bottom, I think I need to plan days massively in advance where I should finish work early and do a gig. Yeah. Less than good news. Oh no, wait. I have written 3 new songs, all of which I’m happy with. I’m also probably going to do Liverpool Improvathon (which is excellent) so, yeah, come to that.

Gigs

  • 10th April – Southport – MC – The Barrel House (Sold out I think…)
  • 13th April – Liverpool – MC – Lennon’s Bar
  • 27th April – Liverpool – 20 min – Pros & Coms, Lark Lane
  • 31st Aug – Liverpool – 20 min – Pros & Coms, Lark Lane

Oh, and if you read this blog, please join my mailing list – it’s good to know people read this, and if a few more people join I might be prepared to do e-mails of stuff 🙂

Gigging with a famous comedian

So tonight I was on the same bill as a famous comedian.

Regular readers will know that my general choice of gig usually includes at least two of the following elements:

  • audience of less than 6 people
  • audience casually eating food unaware of comedy happening, sometimes celebrating anniversaries
  • compere’s begging people to not leave, or compere’s begging to leave
  • eerie silence broken only by the clinking of glasses being collected and the coughs of an asthmatic in an adjoining room.

So imagine your surprise when I tell you that tonight I did a middle ten for 200ish people, in Stoke, who weren’t eating, had deliberately attended the gig and all had great lungs.

Of course you’re reading this wondering who the the famous comedian is, and I’ll come to that soon, the main point of this blog is to analyse how I did for future gigs. I’ve not been quite as nervous about a gig for a while, literally because it’s been a while since I did a gig. I was chatting to Colin Havey (always excellent) and he mentioned the challenges as a new act of getting gigs and it’s very true, there are so many brilliant acts out there, I could comfortably take 50 in my facebook friends list alone who are in the same boat and I regard as better than me.

I also have confidence issues in applying for gigs which doesn’t help, hence why I’ve not gigged for nearly 3 weeks. I listened to Desert Island Disks last week with Jimmy Carr and one thing struck me and rang incredibly true. He mentioned that he was never depressed but instead just quite sad. I can relate to that, I have periods where I feel just a bit sad and it’s a little crippling creatively. Usually it comes in batches of 4 weeks then starts to ease, where I need to cry occasionally and demand hugs indiscriminately (Louise bares the brunt of this). The area it hits most is my confidence to apply for things and also to write (although bizarrely not comedy songs which clearly sit in the non-emotional part of my head). I think how Jimmy described it, as feeling sad, rather than depressed, rings true too. It’s not that bad, it’s not a chemical imbalance or anything deep seated I think, it’s just, well, there and it happens.

Anyway, back to the gig. So I was nervous as shit. Made worse by the lack of recent gigging and the arrival of famous comedian about 2 minutes before I was due to go on. Then a curious thing happened – a sense of calm, of almost serenity – that moment where you know you can’t go back so, well, fuck it, you might as well try to enjoy it.

I opened with “now are you ready to rock”, counterbalancing it with a quiet, excessively polite opening that throws people quite nicely. It got a nice response but importantly I paused for laughs, took my time and slowed my speech to allow myself to ad-lib. Next up was beasteality which was  an easy laugh. Finger up my Bum has turned into a sleeper hit that is my get out of jail card at the moment (a man came up to me afterwards and told me the “finger up bum” song was “class”). 70s TV star worked nicely as did the Wedding Song, and I tried a brand new song, about being 64 to close (I gave the audience the option and they chose it!) and it worked possibly better than my usual closer. I missed the 70s TV star reprive though which I was annoyed about.

What didn’t work? I lost the crowd with the racism song. I asked them to wave phones and lighters as I’d done at hot water comedy club and it distracted people too much with lots of people trying and failing to remember how the torches worked which you could tell from the murmuring in the room. It’s an odd song as I need it to change the tone but it needs phrasing better to make it punch in line with the rest of the set as it’s gone from being one of my strongest bits to one of the weakest in laugh terms.

I got a nice response for my set generally, still a bit annoyed about the middle where i lost 40% of people for a few minutes. The guy running the gig said I should ask the famous comedian for a quote as apparently he enjoyed my set. I feel a bit weird about that to be honest and felt very shy talking to them  (although I had a massive sugar crash so was feeling a bit dizzy which didn’t help), it was more useful to know they enjoyed it. I’m always unsure when I see people put those quotes on their stuff – i mean sure they’re great, but there’s no sense of context – and yeah I give references for people I know in a day job context, but I’ve generally got a sense of whether they’re consistently good or whether they’ve fluked it because the MC was so good and the crowd was so nice.

Drove home listening to Richard Hawley, getting annoyed with the lack of drive thru KFC in East Cheshire and discovering that a 1999 Nissan Micra can bully me into pulling over to let them past on the A51. It was a gig I really needed I think and while I am my natural usual cynic, I think I did okay too. Which is nice.

And the comedian?

Tom Stade
(Click here if you’re not a comedy geek and need info)

30 mins thoughts: 5 opinions I have about arts marketing

I have, recently, found myself writing fewer blog posts about arts marketing and my work.

This is for a few reasons. Firstly I’ve started a new job so spare time has dissolved into a thing of the past, along with worry-free sleeping and relaxation. Secondly I’ve found myself struggling to know what to write about. I am constantly conscious that although I’ve worked in the arts for 10+ years and have been a Head of Marketing for 7+ years that I do not regard myself as a consultant, nor as an expert.

That in some ways goes to explain why I’m being incredibly non-committal with this blog – it’s opinions not fact, it’s experience rather than research. Anyway, I thought I’d write down a few things that have crossed my mind recently. If you like this then do comment below. If you don’t like this then fuck off*.

  1. No-one cares about creatives
    This is a pretty simple one I imagine that many marketeers will relate to. Often we’re told that a creative team, or company, or writer will sell a show. This isn’t always the case**. Yes, sure, there is a small minority of audiences who might recognise a creative name, past credit, or understand that an Evening Standard award is an honor, or even what the word “Brechtian” might mean – but generally, with the large proportion of your audience, “normal people”, they don’t. Very few creatives or companies have followings in regional theatres to make a substantial difference to the bottom line. There are exceptions of course, celebrity, major national companies (RSC, National) and (did I mention) celebrity. We mightn’t like it but this seems to be the reality. What they care about is story – not the context or how seminal it is, or how it’s important to the world today, but what it’s about.
  2. Mixed priorities are a real challenge
    Marketing departments play two games – the one that gets audiences in and the one to make people feel better internally – departments have priorities pulled all the time – it’s a real challenge to prioritise and to work out what to say no to. We have too much to do and not enough time, there is a wayside, something will fall there. That’s okay, just make sure you can explain it and focus on the greater good. Of course defining that…
  3.  Support from Executive and Artistic Directors
    I am incredibly lucky, I’ve an Executive and Artistic who are supportive of me, our department and the challenges of what we do – we celebrate together and we commiserate together. Without that my job would be immeasurably worse and less enjoyable. It’s not about carrot or stick, it’s about enabling and supporting – it seems from colleagues in the industry that this isn’t universal. For any artistic types reading – ask, if the show’s not selling, where is the problem, is it the marketing or is it the wrong show at the wrong time? Finger pointing at marketing about what’s not working is like trying to ride a cat, it’s incredibly hard to do, keeps moving and often has limited value other than to alienate the cat.
  4. The need to be fascinated and excited
    The best people are those who try new things, are excited about things and will spend endless hours fascinated about your cause. They will make a difference to any organisation. If someone keeps showing you “interesting***” stuff, has crazy ideas that “just might work” or are never satisfied then keep them (or abduct them).
  5. Connecting with your audience
    With every show we should ask why should people care about this show now. And not just the theatre-loving segment, all segments. As an industry I worry that we pay too much attention to the accessibility of shows in terms of pricing but forget about the very content, the narrative, the type of work we produce… I also worry that we’re too white, left-wing, Guardian reading, liberal and broad minded. Did anyone in the Arts anticipate Brexit? Or Trump? Do we reflect society, influence society or transfer our values on to society.

*only kidding. Or am I?
** Shock erupts
*** could be incredibly dull stuff…

Cologne 

We came to Cologne for three days as part of a “let’s visit Germany” trip, otherwise known as “where are the cheapest flights this month”. We flew from Manchester to Cologne, then get the train to Berlin tomorrow and fly back four days later. It’s the first time we’ve flown during school holidays (normally the off peak flights we frequent are mid week and while the kids are all in school) so an airport packed with fraught looking parents and dazed, tired, sometimes crying children awaited us. It must take real strength of character to think family flying will help your mental health, certainly from the looks of the dark shadows under the eyes of parents it does nothing to reduce stress. 

We arrived to a city engulfed in a low misty fog, light drizzle falling from the sky, briefly illuminated by the shop lights to a background of a darkening and foreboding sky. The cathedral looms across the city, dominating the landscape, it’s dark towers, gothic and intimidating. Rain with icy crystals started to form, merging into bigger and bigger droplets crashing off the rooftops onto coats, hats and umbrellas. It’s initial moments like this that can tarnish a city or even a nation – serious and moody. 

We spent that first day dodging showers, finding corners of crowded bar and café’s to hide away from the cold in, and wandering back to the hotel, looking around at a city seemingly engulfed in gloom. Not the ideal first impression.

Luckily the following day rain has been replaced by a weak but welcome sun so  we explored the city free from squelching trainers, damp smelling clothes and the odd shiver.

Cologne is an odd city, while there is no doubting the beauty of the cathedral, the majesty of the river and the impressive site of the huge bridges, the real gem of the city lies outside the centre. An area known as the Belgian quarter felt dynamic and fresh without feeling pretentious and hip. Warm coffee shops with curtained entrances inhabited by pensioners, youths and yes, the odd bearded man and dreadlocked woman mixed with friendly restaurants, quiet streets leading to open tree lined squares and the low murmur of freight trains slowly grinding, unseen, up well disguised embankments. 

The local cinema was similarly free of self consciousness – there was a part of me that wondered if they’d ever run a cinema before,  or thought about customer experience while another  part marvelled at how relaxed the whole experience was. The carpet was, well if I’m honest I’ve no idea as it was buried deep beneath a layer of lost popcorn. None knew where they were meant to be, simply that it’d all probably be okay in the end. Tiny bags of popcorn paled and blushed alongside a size of beer guaranteed to induce a hangover held by every other person. Before the film started the projectionist made a speech in both English and German. 

“Hey guys, look I am your projectionist today, I am projectionist in this room and the other two rooms. I also tidy up all three rooms, so, yes. There will only be one trailer because I am busy”

With that the audience clapped, he walked to the projection room carrying himself like a king and we settled in to watch the film.

One of the things I love about northern European cities are those odd similarities contrasting with huge differences all the nations have. Take for example crossing the road. In the UK, Belgium and Holland road crossing is a skill, demonstrated daily through increasingly difficult movements. Noone waits for the lights to change, or the green man to flash, instead we cross in the smallest of breaks between traffic, often on corners, dual carriageways or major roundabouts with no discernible route or path. In the UK I’ve seen grown men argue about who is the best at it, then later, pints later try to vault a wall simply to prove a point and avoid the dreaded crossing. Meanwhile in German, Denmark and Sweden people wait, boy do they wait. Today we stood at a crossing in silence, not a car to be seen, staring over the road at other people waiting to cross. “Fuck it” we said, jogging over, carefully looking around for the danger that was nowhere to be seen. We were greeted by the type of look a pub in Yorkshire might stare at an outsider with a “I’m a sex offender” t shirt and Lancashire country cricket cap on.

We popped into a local neighbourhood bar, shunning the usual tourist traps of the centre. In Copenhagen we were welcomed as friends, Sweden was relaxed with a precise smile, Belgium felt like a free for all, while in the UK providing you’re not wearing the wrong counties cricket cap or a Manchester United shirt everything will be fine.

In this bar, busy but not packed, we sat down and got two beers. We sat at a table  chatting and recharging after an epic walk – then we got told off. I can only assume the only attribute the bar owner was looking for when hitting staff was abrupt. “Are you eating?” the waiter shouted at us with a tone that suggested we had intruded a military toughening up session. “You cannot sit here if you are not, you must stand” he said, ensuring everyone in the surrounding streets could hear. So I mumbled apologies and we stood 12 foot from the table where we had sat, as customers returned to their conversations in the aftermath of our eviction. It all felt a little unfair, as if the tourists were being picked on, until, half an hour later a German couple in their 60s sat down for a drink, were informed of the rules in the same uncompromising tone and asked to move. They in contact fought it, shouted and complained before storming out, yet again leaving the table bare, a momentary pause in the room and then the resumption of life in the sleepy street in cologne.

Next, Berlin.
P.S apologies this isn’t well written, an writing on a tablet that keeps jumping which is proving harder than you might think.

Gig Report: Hot Water Comedy, Liverpool

Sometimes you make a mountain out of a molehill and build things up to a ridiculous degree in your head until you find yourself driving to Liverpool wondering if you could persuade your car to break down on the way so that you don’t have to do a gig.

Now. I appreciate that is an odd start to this report. Hot Water Comedy is probably the nicest comedy room in the North West now, the laughter reverberates and builds, it’s a friendly crowd, the compere is a little too good for comfort and you feel incredibly looked after every time you do it. But it is the gig that makes me panic and worry.

I suspect the reason is that I learn how to do comedy on their comedy course and so have always had a relationship with performing there as it being a huge deal. I gigged at the Crown, the pub where I first met them and it was dingy and dirty but it was the room I learnt in, it felt so incredibly natural to gig there. The Holiday Inn I struggled with – it was too cold and “business” as a venue for my personal taste. I think think was the point I started to build it up in my head – I think I worried that I’m going to let people down who are expecting better and the surroundings at the Holiday Inn were better, just not for me.

Now installed at their custom new venue I had visited a few times to look around and knew it was an ace space. A Saturday night as paying audience confirmed it. Essentially I didn’t want to be shit in such a well set up room.

So was I?

In a nutshell no. I was okay. By no means perfect, but i got the laughs, some lovely comments afterwards, and a slightly awkward moment where someone complimented my set and I froze and said “are you sure”,

Key things learnt.

  • I’ve got a new keyboard. Knowing what all the buttons do is essential as my start was weak because I pressed the wrong one.
  • My opening is still a bit ropey, the first proper song needs to be punchier and get people on board and at the moment I’m missing this from my set.
  • Doing a song about racism in a pitch black room illuminated only by the swaying light of the audience’s phones and 2 cigarette lighters is cool as fuck. Excellent from Binty in dimming the lights.
  • The sound in the room is great but really difficult to judge on stage.
  • I ran out of time for new stuff which I am desperate to test properly.
  • I need another “70s TV Star” reoccuring song to throw in.
  • My set lasts 14min without really trying and with taking out 2 songs.
  • I need to have free CDs to give out at the end. (or maybe for £1 if it goes well!)

End result
My performance: 7.5/10

Also on who were massively impressive and have also appeared in The Skinny:
Simon Lomas – First time i’d seen his set – very clever, brave with pauses, some smart but simple crowdwork.
Hannah Platt – Seen this set before but it’s getting more layered with extra callbacks that I enjoyed.

Oh and here’s the song I didn’t do…

Resolutions 2017

Regular, loyal readers will know that every year I write 10 New Year’s Resolutions, then, at the end of the year, mark whether I’ve achieved these resolutions and make 10 more. It’s been my version of motivation all-bran – keeping me doing things productive in a world where I own a PS4 and Fifa 17 and there’s a kebab house 3 minutes walk from my front door. It’s also useful in that people read these and, sometimes, when the wind blow the right way, they become collaborative, or, at the very least I’m bullied into doing them where otherwise fear might have held me back.

So enjoy, comment on this post below, tell me yours or offer to collaborate. 2017 is here.

2016 Resolutions

  1. Finish a play and send to theatres and competitions
    DONE! So far 3 rejection letters but fuck it I sent it.
  2. Write and perform an hour long show
    FAIL! I followed up my 2015 epic show with fuck all.
  3. Direct and edit 5 short semi-improvised films
    Semi-Done! I made 10+ videos but they weren’t amazing.
  4. Write a solid 20 stand up set
    DONE! Musical comedy. Of course no-one still books me. But I did it.
  5. Go to Aberystwyth (this is because I’ve been watching Hinterland on BBC and I now want to go to Wales for some inexplicable reason – made even more odd by the fact that everyone in the series is a murderer)
    FAIL! Although I did get a new job in Wales, go to Harlech and Conwy and eat Bara Brith (sp?)
  6. Together with the other members of The Pete Turton Experience, perform a gig.
    FAIL! Pete’s fault.
  7. Write 5 new comedy songs (much reduced ambition).
    DONE with excess!
  8. Continue to do my work podcast (aiming for 20 episodes) but aim to interview: Mark Watson, George Egg, Ben Folds, Will Adamsdale, Dan Bye and Chris Stokes. Listen to it by clicking here.
    FAIL. HUGE MASSIVE FAIL.
  9. Run a half marathon (this is in every year and fails epically every year on account of my knee being screwed so I can’t actually run more than a mile…but still, it’s a tradition… see, i even just copy and paste the same tired status now…).
    FAIL – I am so unfit this is now a joke, a tragic joke at the expense of my clogging arteries.
  10. Visit the following people: Bren & Miri, Matt & Dom, Steve and Emily, Suz & Jamie, Dan and Emily, Paul and Fran (and anyone else who requests it!).
    2/6 Which is a poor show..

So there we go, a decidedly average 4/10. However I also moved towns, changed jobs and proved my Maradona style skills at comedians football. But as Newcastle fans will appreciate, we all have a bad year now and then.

2017 Resolutions

  1. Compere a gig regularly and get that key skill back.
  2. Create 5 short videos that are funny and, crucially, good.
  3. Write 10 new comedy songs and assemble them in an album.
  4. Write a new play, about cricket and murder and send to theatres
  5. Write a new hour-long storytelling show and perform it to wild acclaim.
  6. Write a new stand up projection show about truth and perform it to muted acclaim.
  7. Have piano lessons to make my songs better.
  8. Go to Aberystwyth (the new series of Hinterland is due out soon)
  9. Run a half marathon (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha)
  10. Visit the following people: Bren & Miri, Matt & Dom, Steve & Emily, Suz & Jamie, Dan & Emily, Paul & Fran, Rachel, Nigel & Holly and Robbie and Mrs Robbie.

So there we have it. Resolutions to be fulfilled and broken.

What are yours?

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