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When I first started writing this blog it was to have a voice. “I’ve interesting things to say” I thought, “on interesting matters”. So I started to write and it turned out very quickly that I had nothing interesting to say when I tried to write something interesting. Instead it came across as someone trying to write something profound and deep and, well, failing.
Then I moved on to writing reviews after I was offered a couple of things for free, that quickly progressed to ideas, then reviews of gigs, marketing thoughts and general musings. None of which particular interesting, but there nonetheless, building slowly to create a distorted picture of a digital me.
Part of the reason I kept the blog I think was from a sense of finding the process of writing about what’s going on in my life quite cathartic. Never with the intention of anyone reading it (which naturally begs the question “why a blog then?”) and certainly not as a cry for help, but more as a space for me to pop down what’s in my head and start that process of mentally building solutions. So if you’re reading this, then no, I don’t want to talk about it, the point of this is so I don’t have to (or have to less).
I’ve been struggling at work recently with a feeling of drowning, of being utterly overwhelmed. At first it felt like the natural beginnings of a new job but now increasingly feels like the norm. Part of the issue I think it the deluge of e-mail that we face on a daily basis. I had a moment today where i decided to try and clear my inbox. In an hour I cleared 23 e-mails. Unfortunately in that hour I received 24 e-mails. A net gain of +1 e-mail.
80% of the e-mails I receive are things that require a quick answer. It’s the 20% that’s the challenge. The ones that must be crafted, reworked to create something that causes least offense with the smallest chance of misinterpretation. It’s exhausting. Imagine writing 4 formal postal letters in an hour and you’d go mad, yet that’s what we do.
I’ve also been working away from my desk a bit in a separate office this week. It’s an odd experience being away from my team. I feel distant, but, at the same time, find i’m more focused and efficient and am able to tailor my working environment to suit me and work in a way that is best for my needs and style. The business world talks about the need for Open Plan lives, but I genuinely think that’s naive as a one-stop solution for everyone – it’s about making individuals work better to support the greater machine, rather than making the machine more uniform for ease of setting it up and our own sense of order.
I’ve been pondering if there’s a solution, a way to work more efficiently, and this is what I’ve, this evening, come up with (with help from the internet). Some of these require compromise, but all are about the greater good of getting more done in the time I have.
This is a gig I’ve done before (as compere and doing storytelling) and while I love it to pieces it can be a bit tricky sometimes.
The seating configuration is in thrust, so, as you’ll see from the video below there’s audience behind and in front of me. This means that delivery becomes harder – I realised that trying to offer nuanced facial expressions is part of where i get some laughs so I lost that a bit as well as good eye contact. I also found myself getting a bit distracted and riffing more than I should and bumping bits of material so I can hit the songs I want to test quicker.
I think the main thing I learnt was how important doing a sound check is (it was a bit unbalanced at the top) and being disciplined, it took me longer than usual to get them onside and even at the end it felt like by dicking around at the start I’d lost something.
I need a stronger song / set piece after my opening song Bestiality, it needs a follow up or something to contextualise it. I have 3 types of songs, the crude big laugh, the smartly clever and the link. I always worry about the smartly clever and the quieter songs as they’re not belly laughs, but the addition of the link element (70s TV star here) really helps when it follow straight on, it moves from thoughtful to dark and provides a dynamic shift that I quite like.
Here’s a bit of the video from the night.
It’s been a week or two since I last put my gig report online so I thought it’d be high time to keep up and write up what’s been happening. Well, I’m now up to gig 5 of my return and I’ve still not died hideously on my arse…
Gig 4 was Danny Mc’s gig at Alexanders in Chester. I arrived horrifyingly early to discover that I was both the only act and only audience member. Turns out I was very, very early. A nice crowd of 25 people came down and it was a fun, nicely set up room. I tried a couple of new bits with some bits that I know are solid. So “70s TV Star” as a reoccurring theme was tested and seems to work nicely to keep people on their toes, although disappointingly I did the two setup verses and then entirely failed to do the big payoff punchline – if I remember to do it then I’ll be a happy man. My dialogue was a little too whimsical and I needed to develop the punchlines and throwaways that litter those sections more to get that gradual build to support the main punchlines. I ended with “I love you” which is replacing “David Cameron Song” as my closer at the moment. It’s not quite strong enough, but offers plenty of opportunity to play with the audience and demand their participation.
Gig 5 was in Bolton in a bar called Metro Rocks. The epitome of the “character building” gig, it was, nevertheless, really useful for trying some new things, albeit to a smallish audience. “Finger up my bum” works as a song, particularly if I play with the tempo. I also started playing more vocally, adding ticks and quirks to my vocals that just makes the songs more vibrant (if less musically good). I’ve noticed I’ve shied away from the quieter songs, mostly because they tend to be a bit longer, but also because they’re the more intellectually robust, Guardian reading sections of my set.
My next few gigs are Warrington’s Albion Pub this Wednesday, then Soderfest in Manchester and a gig in Wigan. I feel like I’m closing in on that point where I’d feel confident applying for paid middles, but I’m missing maybe 2 – 3 songs to get a robust 20 and also a better sense of some of the supporting material to ensure it’s rock solid. ALSO, I’m going to invest in a piano case with wheels because fuck me my back hurts from carrying kit. (If anyone wants to offer me a gig then please do, I’m also ready and probably won’t disgrace myself).
Meanwhile life in theatre land has been, well, pretty hard tbh. I’m having a period of feeling like I’m running at full pelt pretty much constantly but not actually catching up at any point. There’s a really interesting article in The Stage today by a designer saying that the boom in admin jobs has hit technical jobs. I don’t know why but my initial reaction was fuck off.
My second reaction however was more moderate.
I think there is a common lack of understanding across venue departments about what everyone does and the time it all takes. When I started in marketing the departments were bigger but since then the channels through which we have to market have increased while the resource has decreased. It’s about the understanding of roles and how we communicate what we do**.
I think what annoyed me was that I think it’s probably naive to assume that there is a singular cause and effect – that admin jobs have simply cancelled out tech jobs – it’s not as simple as that – yes that will be an effect there’s also an economy of scale, of outsourcing and competition, of changing technologies, of space and equipment that has mean that it’s happened, rightly or wrongly (I don’t know which), over the last few years. The comment is the kind that divides us rather than recognises that we are in an industry that is evolving and changing at a tremendous pace and that the effects are not limited to a single group.
A couple of years ago I had a conversation with a friend about theatre and he said that the problem with theatre was that it sees problems and considers that working harder is the only solution. He said that working more efficiently would lead to better long term results but it’s often overlooked for the short term sweat. An inevitable effect of the grind, the constant churn of the day to day. I think that’s something we miss and need to find again. How do we complete our work more efficiently to create time, to enable us to ensure the quality of what we do is reflective of the great art onstage? To ensure that we are creative in a way to compliment the stage? To ensure that the day to day is automated and the important, life and business changing stuff gets the care and attention it needs?
That question is not one for 12:20am on a school night – but it’s one I’m going to ponder and get back to you about*.
*I wonder if I should write a blog about the 10 things to make us more efficient in theatres? Useful?
** Originally I wrote a pissy tirade in here about people saying they’ve not seen posters when shows aren’t selling. It didn’t seem that constructive in the context of the post.
I was back at my old stomping grounds* down Liverpool’s Lark Lane to do a set at Pros & Coms. It’s a gig I have a long history with having compered it regularly for 2 years and it being my home gig. It’s moved venues since I performed there regularly to a bar called Milo Lounge. I have to admit, I was nervous in the first half. Not least because there was an audience of 4 of which 3 had said they “had to go at the interval”. I was on second after the break. So the break arrived, they promptly left leaving one, slightly bewildered audience member. Yet all was not lost, George, the promoter, had been raiding the street and brought in 14 willing audience members for the second half.
So how did it go?
Well, it was good. I used this as an opportunity to try 2 new bits and a regular callback of which all three worked well. The song, Finger Up My Bum, has audience participation potential and could maybe be a closing song. The call back, a repeated song called 70s TV Star which is mixed with me making comments about “them not all being guilty”, until it reached the 3rd time, I was pleased with a structural device.
It was a little odd having that structural device when I messed around with the order of the songs. So much, I realize, relies on understanding of pace, dynamic and ensuring that it has peaks and troughs**. The better and more intimate I make the drops*** then the bigger return I get from the more filthy or silly songs. I think I did around 10, aware that I didn’t want to overrun.
Did a bit of audience control which resulted in a drunk girl crying. She kept chatting, like when someone’s in the cinema and asking questions about what they’re watching and also saying things like, “it’s a song about sex”. So I shouted, comedically, this sounds bad, everyone laughed, and then she cried, but was very drunk, so although I don’t feel (too) bad about, I wonder if I should have put her down more musically rather than just yelling “shut up” like a deranged psychopath.
However, all in all a nice return to the old stomping grounds*.
Gig rating: 7/10 – tried new bits
My Performance: 7/10 – trying new bits so not a planned performance, but okay.
*the phrase “stomping grounds” makes me sound like such a prick.
** this is the wrong word for this… I mean the quieter bits.
*** by which i mean troughs**
There are some gigs where you arrive and you think, “this is going to be fine”.
There are other gigs where you accidentally take a wrong turn on the way there forcing you to drive through (and pay for) the Mersey tunnel twice despite there being no need, to arrive, in Birkenhead, at a bar that looks like it’s been ripped from the set of Sons Of Anarchy.
The venue is a rock bar and I had trepidation to put it mildly. How would piano led comedy and songs work in a bar clearly more suited to rock?
It turned out to be better than fine.
Lesson 1 – Don’t judge a gig by everything you can see when you arrive.
I opened the night, always risky as you have to set the tone for the evening and I was really conscious of that. The need to be high impact, go at a furious pace and try to inject as much energy as possible into the night. I opened with “Now are you ready to rock” which, in a new development, I managed to play mostly right. It’s the simplest part of my entire set but I seem to lose the timings quite a lot. I followed that with “beasteality” which worked really nicely.
Lesson 2 – Make sure each song is supported by two “talking” punchlines or moments.
The set was probably one of the strongest I’ve done in the musical guise, with the opening particularly getting much better. I lagged in the middle, the songs lacking adequate supporting jokes or content to make it interesting. Missed out the call back with the “70s TV Star” AGAIN. I swear to god if I ever remember to do it it’ll be the best part of the set.
Had a lovely improv moment halfway through a song the audience were lukewarm about where I changed it to a song about an audience member. Caught people off guard and the unpredictability seemed to be effective.
Lesson 3 – Improv is good, but needs to be controlled to ensure it doesn’t just become an improv thing.
Ended with the Tory song (formerly David Cameron) which doesn’t quite work now it’s been rewritten. It needs a figure of hate more strongly in it. Also I failed to bring 2 x new songs with me that I wanted to try. Overall though a fun gig with lots of great feedback afterwards. Still, however, lots to work on before I ask for pro-gig trial spots or try it at pro-gig tryout nights.
Gig rating: 7.5/10 – fun for trying new bits
My Performance: 7.5/10 – much better but with a noticeable drop in the middle and a weak(ish) ending
So I’ve started again.
I realised the other day that it’d been 12 months since I did a proper set, what with the excess MCing I’ve been up to, so I approached this gig at first with trepidation. I’ve put this as gig #1, in reality it’s probably gig #180ish, but it feels like I’m making a new start at stand up so hence the restarting of the numbering system. In reality though, the nerves weren’t really there, it was excitement and I felt mostly pretty at ease on stage.
The first time I did this I was, as a very new act, incredibly brutal, focused on my feelings lots and also, quite naturally had a complete lack of perspective. Every gig was life changing, a step down the road to going pro. Now I’m older, further along, my ambition as changed to not necessarily wanting to be a professional, but definitely wanting to be better than everyone else.
So the gig. It’s a lovely night run by Tuesday Tony with a huge amount of acts trying 5 min slots. I was in a section on my own as a “musical interlude” which either helped or hindered, it’s hard to tell, most likely made little difference. It was a mixed audience, one table quite hard work and then well supported by surrounding tables. Probably about 25 in.
I did a musical set and learned one thing straight away – keyboards (and associated kit) are heavy. I totted up the weight of kit and with cables, spares, stands etc it comes in around 30kg. My back now kills and I think I’ve pulled a tendon in my knee.
Lesson 1 – get a lightweight, fold-able keyboard stand.
The opening was pretty weak, I tried to do the clubland (“are you ready to rock”) and it didn’t really work. However when I improvised at the start around the audience I got them on board really quickly. It plays to my strengths of MCing and also being able to listen, assess and then improvise something short and sweet quickly.
Lesson 2 – improv song at the start is a good place to go from
The Bestiality song, needs to be 2 lines and that’s it – any more labours the point and actually it’s punchier and means I can talk nicely and get to know the front row. I followed this with the Racism song. This was far too early for this, it needs something bigger before it as it’s very quiet and reserved. The racism song works, needs more context to tie it together and make people listen – maybe i need to talk about me and breadmaking? It needs to be more delicate to really find the contrast in the songs otherwise they can meld together.
I followed this with I Love You (Like I Love Creme Eggs). Generally was okay, playing the pauses for people to have the gross out moment works well – didn’t play the last verse which is a shame as it ties it together. Ended with the new Wedding Song which worked beyond my expectations, not really a closing number but a solid middle item I suspect. The context again needs fixing, I forgot the accompanying material which was fine but it’s important to have it so that I’m heading in the direction of comedian who does music, rather than musical comedian.
I need to work out how to structure the songs so that there’s a flow and so I can be responsive in the moment. Tricky while I’m still learning them. I think I need them printed on card rather than in a notebook so I can play with the order as I go.
Lesson 3 – print out set on carboard.
All in all, fun and useful.
Gig rating: 7/10 – fun for trying new bits
My Performance: 6/10 – hit and miss but done with gusto
I’ve just got back from a week at Edinburgh Fringe, supposedly a holiday, but, invariably the combination of sprinting venue to venue in the driving rain, up flights of steps, shoving teenagers flyering their student production of 4:48 Psychosis out of the way and into the path of oncoming unicyclists advertising their one man Lord Of The Flies show can, on occasion, be a little tiring.
It was a lot of fun, nice to see some familiar faces. It was also the first year that our viewing became much more heavily theatre rather than stand-up. In part it was where we were staying, closer to Summerhall than my traditional hangouts of The Stand. As most of you know I’ve tended to do a theatre show every couple of years to “keep my hand in” the creative side and so, as it’s been 2 years that urge is coming back.
I’ve been writing a play for about 6 months called Opposition which I’ve nearly finished that will scratch that itch, invariably until a huge pile of rejection letters cascades through my letterbox. To sell it slightly – it’s the story of a humble MP who against the odds become leader of the opposition, fighting their cause with honesty and integrity – it’s the story of how people can be broken and how power is concentrated so that the democracy we have is different to the democracy we believe we own. When I started writing it seemed to voyage into the land of fantasy, but gradually over the last 6 months that fantasy has become increasing more real to the extent where, unlike anytime in my life, I think I’ve written something in tune with the zeitgeist. Will it ever be produced? Probably not.
The trip to Edinburgh however was great as it opens your mind to things you could be doing, and it was there that thoughts kept popping in my head. I’d like to share a few of them here – maybe you want to talk to me about one, or be gently encouraging, or simply ask to read the first page.
I’ve not really written about why I moved away from wanting to create work in the last 2 years. It was, in truth, a couple of reasons. Firstly it felt like opportunity wasn’t there – producing Gaffer on a shoestring was a lot of fun. It was the intention to do the Liverpool run and then, after a short break, tour the show. We had strong indications that it might be able to tour to Sweden and it felt amazing. Then the rights were pulled by the writer and that was that. There was no follow up, a change in artistic leadership shortly after and the trust you’ve earned as a creative to do that sort of project is gone, helped on its way my my own lack of fight I suspect.
I think I’ve always imagined that I’ve got a thick skin and can endure disappointment well, what I now realise is that creatively, whether it’s standup, theatre or storytelling, I also don’t believe that I belong there. This sounds like an incredibly negative post, but I think it’s about self identification and the bravery to say what you are when it’s not what you do.
A good friend of mine once, rather astutely pointed out that the difference between a normal person and a consultant is that the latter says they’re a consultant and the former believes it. This same person also, astutely (they were having a very astute day), noted that the difference between them and us is they do not say. Admittedly we were watching the football at the time, but still, the point stands. Artists describe themselves as artists and do. They don’t say they’re writing a book, they’re doing.
As I get older I wonder where I shall end up, why/how/should we make that jump to something that’s not where we’re at, should it be done with a safety net or without. I wonder about happiness and what it even is – it’s not like the movies nor is it a constant, but how do we know when we’ve peaked, or should we never believe that? Maybe happiness is raising your average contentment to a point where you’re indifferent and unwilling to break the status quo? I wonder where I am on that scale, and whether being on a scale is good or bad. All the questions life doesn’t prepare you to answer.
Or maybe I just need a holiday on a beach somewhere.
I thought I’d write up a little about some of the shows I see this year!
Chris Stokes: The Man Delusion
A nice show by a comedian I really rate and admire, he has a real like-ability that comes from avoiding the cliches of the ego-driven stand-up and instead being low key and incredibly humble on stage. His material is relate-able but also clever in sending you the wrong direction with some clever pull back and reveals and intelligent wordplay.
Growth by Luke Norris
A great play about a man finding himself in the face of a testicular cancer scare. Incredibly funny I think that Luke Norris writes some of the best, wittiest dialogue around (reminds me of Tim Firth sometimes!) and a clever way of playing with time and structure. I love playwrights who adhere to the get in quick get out quick mentality of writing but who don’t sacrifice character by doing it. Well acted and directed in Edinburgh’s most lovely venue.
Lucy Porter: Consequences
I’ve been watching Lucy Porter perform, I realised today, for over 12 years. This show (which we went to with my parents) was clever and while not world-changing or life-changing gave astute and hilarious observation, had a real connection with its older audience and had a genuine warmth about it.
David O’Doherty: Big Time
A mixed night really. I love David O’Doherty, he’s brilliant, clever, anarchic and silly. His new show is no exception with all the wonderful tropes and traits in this as have been present in his other shows. The venue however was disappointing (Assembly Hall) with poor sight-lines, high ceilings and a lack of connection for the full audience – you want each laugh to boom, to be all encompassing, the roll and echo – but although the show was as funny as ever the room didn’t work as well for me – that said, I’d gone to the wrong venue in advance (George Square not Assembly Hall), so maybe I was just a bit pissy.
Work in progress for a show that will in all likelihood never happen. It was really interesting to see new material being workshopped. A very friendly room – I always have that question about the credit in the banks famous comedians have that makes testing material and getting an unbias opinion hard to come by. That said, I fucking loved it.
Probably my favourite show again – brilliant physical theatre for all ages about a man trying and failing to deliver a piano recital – had some minor changes since the last time I saw the show – superb.
Some lovely puppetry damaged by bad writing, dubious direction and examining the over theatricality of the show – being meta I think it’s called – all in all it felt like some very talented people had created something that lacked conviction and clarity and was a piece by theatre folk, for theatre folk, with all the injokes that go with it.
I’ve never taken crack. Or coke. Or ecstasy. This show was a little like what I imagine snorting all those would be like. The first half was a fake story about Marlene Dietrick the second half was the first half reversed telling the real story. It was utterly bizarre which had a huge amount of experimentation and technical ability but lacked precision, presentation, direction and clarity.
A nice show where a new musical is improvised from scratch. Great performers and some brilliant vocals but I thought it suffered in the same way much improv can by feeling like it became too complex to resolve the story and occasionally a little self centred. Fun!
Max & Ivan
Probably my favourite of their shows since Con Artists, their show is slick, quick and clever with a real understanding of how story arcs work and how to build empathy while not losing the funny. Also the pants were very tight.
A best of show featuring extracts from all the shows he’s done in Edinburgh. Interesting and a bold, in yer face performer who has more nuance and acting ability that many actors I’ve seen.
Storytelling by Hugh Hughes about the curious relationship between himself, the refugee crisis, his mother and a model of the Duke of Wellington. I really wanted it to work but it felt like it would benefit from being slicker and from a directorial eye – I kept wanting pace changes and the link between the two stories to be stronger and feel symbiotic rather than incidental.
Mark Watson: I’m Not Here
Quality show from the man I apparently look like – very funny, perhaps without the strength of narrative that his previous show had but incredibly funny and bold and with a clever device to raise the energy on 45 mins. Ace.
A clever one-location show about three sisters going to visit their brother in a mental institute. Clever writing to capture those personality clashes and traits that occupy siblings, the effect on choices they make on their relationships and how we talk about mental health.
The Blind Date Project
A clever directed improvised show where a girl goes on a blind date with a different person each night. Our night she was set up with Nina Conti. It was a clever and moving glimpse that felt voyeuristic but also very cleverly performed. The key was that it was played as a team rather than any sort of oneupmanship and it was dynamic and oddly moving.
Love, Lies and Taxidermy
Another show in roundabout (my favourite Edinburgh venue). Fast paced storytelling from a shit-hot cast with really clever direction and technical support. The same cast as Growth, I preferred Growth as the subject matter appealed more, but this had a whimsical edge that raised a smile..
A great stand up this at times felt like two shows – one about a man’s breakdown and the other about how data is mined and we assess the world around us. There is an amazing show waiting when these two are successfully linked but at the moment it felt like two separate shows without a strong enough sense of connection.
Things I also saw or heard good things about:
It’s become a bit of a tradition that on the way home from the AMA conference I gather my thoughts and write a blog post about the events and things it has raised. Luckily this year’s conference was in Edinburgh so I’ve a full 4 hours until I get home to do “thought gathering” – I’m sure when the AMA is eventually held in Liverpool it’ll put a stop to this (35 mins is too quick a journey!). I want to start with a few thoughts about what was said at the conference and what thoughts I had as a result and then move on to the conference itself.
This year’s theme was “On A Mission To Matter” – a worthy theme – looked at organisational relevance. My thoughts however, although vaguely linked to the theme were more about the broader role of marketing and theatre itself. My notes from yesterday can be found by clicking here and there’s a few bullet points about today’s sessions below.
And the conference… Well, I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote last year.
The conference was, I must say, a little disappointing, despite what I have written and learnt, that’s not to say bad, just a little underwhelming. It felt a bit tired at points, a little traditional and a little slow paced. However I thought it was worth going to. This seems a little negative, but, I still gained ideas and felt refreshed (in a work sense) by the conference, and that is of great value in itself.
What would make it better? Shorter seminars (90 mins is a stretched 45 mins – let’s be concise) and more of them, 8 seminar sessions should be a minimum over 2 days – which would also help with networking. Short sharp keynote speeches – an hour is too long to be consistently inspirational, funny, empathetic and dynamic. Round table events on key subjects, issues, groups (touring companies round table) – perhaps programmes & strands of work? Maybe even exhibitors sharing seminars – let’s seem them fight it out.
This year the same applied. If I could change it then I’d add the following sessions…
Down the Pan: Learning from Failure
2:30pm – Thursday – (40 min)
Four Marketing Director’s talk about their greatest failures. From creating totally white leaflets to papering all but one seat, we talk about the errors, what happened next and what advice they’d give.
Now That’s What I Call Adwords
11am – Wednesday – (40 min)
A blast through Google adwords, running your first campaign, the difference between display ads and search, and some of the features you never knew were there. When I say “Ad” you say “Words”!
Survey ManKey: A quick guide to the perfect survey
4pm – Wednesday – (40 min)
All the Artistic Director cares about is whether they enjoyed the show – what else should we ask? A guide to questions you might ask, information you might receive and things you might change as a result.
Little By Little: Top tips for a marketing oasis.
11am – Thursday – (45 min)
What are the tiny changes that can make a big difference – bring a notebook as 10 top marketing professionals give you 1 minute quick fixes for your organisation. Top tip #45 – Never use the phrase “world-class” to describe something shit.
Obviously I’ve written them to be funny(ish) but on a serious note, I’d go to all these and might even run one or two..
I’m up in Edinburgh for this year’s Arts Marketing Association conference which is this year about relevance, or, as they’ve catchily titled it, On A Mission To Matter. I’m going to write up more extensively once the conference as ended but here’s a few bits and pieces I’ve thought about today.
I rent a house and the wall outside was chipped, cracking and looked a state.
So I sanded it down with the help of a friend, removed the dirt, the flaking paint and weeds. I bought paint and painted it so it looked fresh and new. My next door neighbour saw me outside painting and said “oh have you bought the house?” “No” I said, continuing to paint “we’re just renting”. “Is it worth it if you’re renting” he asked looking a little confused. I paused for a second and then said “Just because I’m passing through doesn’t mean I can’t make it nicer on the way”.
This will be the last time I write to you I’m afraid, our acquaintance must come to an end, I fear you, like many of your contemporaries will be consigned to the history books, mere headings, subtitles and footnotes in the annals of politics, talked about in hushed, nervous tones. But I want you to know that you won’t be forgotten, time may weary you, the years may pass, but I will remember you and what you have done and stood for.
Now I know that the chances are you will never read this – I know this because I monitor the people who read my posts and I know I have a core audience of about 13 people – it’s statistically unlikely – in many ways simply writing this would be a waste of time if it wasn’t so cathartic, so freeing, so important to say the things I’m about to say.
I want to ask you what you have done with my country.
I was brought up to believe this was a country where knowledge, learning, education was incredibly important. Instead I find a nation where the young are burden with mountains of debt from trying to achieve more, better, to reach higher. Where experts are not listened to and unsupported opinion reigns strongly while fact and critical thinking is left to die by the wayside. Where education is increasingly narrowed, where the only thing between a joyless experience of learning is the dedication of overworked, underpaid, under appreciated teachers. Where initiative, innovation and experimentation are taken from the hands of expert educators.
I was brought up to believe that we were an inclusive nation. Where we cared for those less fortunate, where we opened a door to help a neighbour, where we comforted those downtrodden and offered them safe haven. I thought we wanted to help people get off the streets and into safe, secure homes rather than put people there. I thought we’d look after the poorest, rather than take away all they have while scapegoating them. I thought we believed that every member of this country was equal, regardless of whether they lived in a Conservative, Labour or Liberal area. That everyone deserved the best, not those simply in the right constituencies.
I thought we were dreamers. A land of James Dyson’s, Clive Sinclair’s, of eccentrics who wanted to push the barriers. Make the air cleaner, roads safer, land greener and sky bluer. But all I see are huge corporations sucking, draining country. All I see are obscene amounts of money passing from state to individuals. All I see is the bullying tactics of media moguls, changing the very direction of travel with a headline, a poster, a hateful word.
We fought evil. Racism had no place, we thought in bigger pictures, we thought about ideals, about how the greater good was the unity of all, to help bring the liberalism and British beliefs to other shores, not to lose them on our own. We would challenge lies feverishly and without mercy. We were the nation who recognised the early signs of right wing racism and offered support, helped, we never thought we see it here.
I thought that Britain’s place in the world was to make the world a better place – to make it happier, safer, more caring and stable – all achieved with a stiff upper lip and a fundamental belief that if we all worked for the betterment of others then our own happiness would be secured.
So what went wrong?
Maybe those beliefs were all lies. Maybe it’s an imaginary view of an imaginary place that never really existed. Maybe I was the only one who wanted them, maybe society isn’t ready to work out what comes next after the greed, the selfish self-gratification and capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I know the answers, I’d just hoped we were prepared to try and find better answers rather than fall backwards to the failed solutions of days gone by.
And so I ask you David, what did you do, what did you really do? In that rose-tinted world where experts, facts and truth were cornerstones of British values – did you leave this place a better place than you found it?
So David, if you want to chat, have a coffee, talk about it all, then tweet me @mrfreeman1984, let’s work out what you do now to make amends, or maybe we could just sand and paint a wall and leave it a little better than before – just see how that feels.
I woke up this morning and felt sick, a wave of almost grief coming over me, that was swiftly followed by anger and then sadness. The UK has voted to leave the EU. It feels like the worst decision that has ever happened, it quite likely is a massively bad decision, but it is a decision nonetheless.
My immediate thought as the markets crashed were, selfishly, how will it effect me, what for the future and what should we learn from this.
There is a reality that the UK is considerably more conservative and right leaning than many people generally think. While this is a devastating result we should, perhaps, not be terribly surprised. Bare in mind that while UKIP only has 1 seat in parliament (0.2% of the seats) they received 12.7% of the popular vote at the last election. Certainly the first-past-the-post system has insulated us from this right-leaning part of the nation. We should also be aware that more people voted for UKIP than the Lib Dems, SNP and Green Parties – they are the third most popular party in the UK.
However, and I say this with an incredibly heavy heart, what we have witnessed is democracy in action – yes, we may hate the result – yes, the older generations have forced change on younger generations they didn’t want – yes, Nigel Farage is still being a smug, arrogant, arsehole. But democracy has been served – elected officials placing the fate of the nation in their own hands – rightly or wrongly – the people have spoken.
So where do we go next? My initial thought was back to bed, screw the lot of them. But that’s not terribly helpful and despite everything I still have to go to work. I thought I’d jot down my thoughts.
This is the start of a new journey – a new and terrifying journey. For hundreds of years we have been Great Britain, the United Kingdom. We need politics to find a new message, a new goal, perhaps even a written constitution so that we stop making a mockery of the words Great and United and live them.
Today is a hard day, the start of many hard days, it can seem bleak and dark, but it’s our duty to find that light, find our future and make our nation everything it promises but doesn’t yet deliver.
Viewing habits have completely changed.
Whereas once upon a time we’d anxiously plan our forthcoming unmissable shows in the Radio Times, carefully highlighting the key programmes and negotiating with family members for sole use of the television, and, or VHS, now we’re all on-demand, streamed and downloaded.
We’ve also lost, to an extent, that long drawn out process of watching a series. No longer do we (with a couple of exceptions) patiently tune in at a set time, watch and then curse that it’d be a whole week until the cliffhanger was resolved. Now I binge watch like a terrible addict, unwilling to sleep, desperate to know the next twist, a culture of “just one more episode” or “I’ll be up to bed after just… oh yes, another hour gone.” We overlook that we can pause shows, the whole story arcs have to be taken in, we’ve moved on from Last Of The Summer Wine to a world where episodes are episodic as part of a broader narrative rather than stand alone.
In the past 12 months I’ve watched the following shows: The Bridge (amazing), Hinterland (amazing), Line Of Duty (amazing), Making a Murderer (intriguing), Love (overrated but still good) and Breaking Bad (amazing). However I felt like I was needing a break, after all there are only so many shows about murder, deception, corruption and despair you can take, sometimes you need something fun.
Let me introduce Community.
It was one of those shows that popped up on Netflix, the type which looks like it might star Adam Sandler and thus be of no inherent value*. It wasn’t helped by Netflix’s categorisation of the show – “suggested for you” – no, fuck you Netflix, you don’t know me, I make my own choices in this world and don’t need your help.
Apparently I do.
Community is a show about an arrogant former lawyer (Jeff), fired from his job for faking his degree and qualifications, going to community college to retake the exams and, well, get back to lawyering. It’s about the study group he becomes part of and his journey towards humility**.
Let me start by saying the first 4 episodes are slow burners. There’s a lot of character work, the progression seems slow and the apparent lead, named Jeff Winger (played by Joel McHale) is unbelievably unlikable. It all feels very staged and a little bit like a sitcom by numbers. However don’t let that draw you into a false sense of security that this is another shit American TV comedy. Once you get past episode four you hit a clever, rich and silly series. It’s not serious, deep or going to change the world but it’s funny and experimental and is so heavily littered with pop-culture references that it constantly surprises.
The point where it really flies is where the focus moves from Jeff to the other cast members and becomes a more ensemble show. The cast includes Chevy Chase (who nails the role as the unintentionally racist, homophobic, elderly rich guy), Gillian Jacobs (who, despite having a story that starts around her being wooed by Jeff, develops a really interesting and rounded character), Danny Pudi (as Abed, my favourite character who acts as the vehicle to bring film and TV references into the series) in a great double act with Donald Glover (the ex-sports star) with reoccurring cameos from Ken Jeong and John Oliver.
So why watch?
It uses physical comedy better than many shows out at the moment – at a time where someone falling over is generally not added as a joke here it is included – included and done well. The film references – so far I’ve seen Apollo 13, Dawn Of The Dead, Battle Royale and Mean Girls – all clever, not always subtle, but always respectful of the source add a cool, weirdly alternative dynamic. It’s also fun, and light. It’s the pudding of the TV world. You don’t need it, it’s not going to fill you up or give you nourishment, but everyone will be happier with it.
*harsh, but he is criminally badly used as an actor, someone get him doing realism and he’ll be great.
**this is in no way a spoiler, it’s pretty damn obvious.
This last weekend I did the usual things people like me do. I went to Waitrose wishing I’d brought my Aldi bags so people would regard me as “dangerous” and “a maverick”. In my new found capacity as a garden-renter I pulled up some weeds, watered some inexplicably expensive plants I’d been forced to buy and used some mint from my new herb-garden to add something extra to my boiled potatoes. I also wore shorts, with converse and socks. Like I said “dangerous”.
It was all going rather well, I’d read The Guardian, Independent (sport only) and then flicked around on Lifehacker.com to discover how I can become, well, even more me when the doorbell rang. It was a Leave campaigner.
The bald 60 something man was very jovial and he, like me, expected that the interaction would last less than 30 seconds. He’d ask me if I could help, I’d lie and say I’d think about it and then he’d leave happy that a tiny step had been taken. It’d be like the Oxfam people all over again just with less guilt about children dying as a result of wanting to get back to, well, anything.
“Hello, I was wondering if you knew which way you were voting in the upcoming election” he said, smiling and handing me a flyer. “Oh I think so” I replied with a knowing smile. “Right” he said, taking out his clipboard on which a list of houses with either ticks or crosses was fixed, “can I ask which…” It was at that point that something broke in me, I looked down at this flyer in my hands, at the lies printed there for all to see, at racism and mistrust disguised as fact and I thought, no, not today, we’re going to talk about this.
The conversation lasted 20, maybe 25 minutes, all conducted on my doorstep with both of us feeling irritation but, towards the end, perhaps admiration towards the other.
It didn’t start well. After he’d explained that he’d lived in Spain for 15 years after buying a house over there with a carrier bag of cash (it’s how they do it), and how he’d never heard anyone speak Spanish once (I didn’t ask if he’d in fact moved to Essex) and how it was better we left because of the USSR (not sure about this one, it just came up), we chatted about how the EU had offered protections to workers that UK governments were against in the past, how tenants were better protected than ever (at which point he told me he was a landlord…), how only 12% of our laws were really influenced by Europe and they tended to protect worker rights, and y’know, do good stuff.
We chatted about how the £350 million figure was clearly not true and that the EU helped regions that would never get the support of central government (particularly Tory governments who have a habit in not investing in a place unless you vote for them). We talked about how everyone who is a respected, analytical, intellectual thinks remain is a no-brainer.
We talked and nothing changed. He told me about how the problem was immigration (apart from the good ones) and how it was the English language that was the problem. Being the best at music and culture had taken its toll, encouraging people to want to live here (said the man still tanned from 15 years in Spain). He left convinced that I was an idiot firmly putting a cross on his form and shaking his head, asking to take his leaflet as he shook my hand.
I realised that the arguments I’d given for staying in the EU however were those largely given by the media and started to think about the reasons I believe we should stay in the EU. So, here they are – agree or disagree, that’s your prerogative, comment below if you’d like.
My five reasons for voting to stay…
Today I went for a drive to Wales with my better half.
It started fairly certain enough – the same roads I go along each day for work – then a slight mistake and then a single lane track with grass intermittenly growing out of the centre, dubiously small “passing points”, clammy sweaty palms on the steering wheel as the hedgerows got taller and taller and then, after a few miles the blessed relief of another A road leading to safety again.
It was a lovely trip, to Mold for a bite to eat then over the winding roads to Ruthin (pronounced Rithin) for a relaxing stroll next to a river, past some lovely houses, through a field of cows and then back to my incredibly hot car for a journey back made longer by fading mobile internet and a reliance on apple’s sat nav.
There was something lovely as we walked through the fields, incredibly relaxing, as if a burden had been lifted that I think I needed. I wonder sometimes if we spend enough time looking around at the beauty around us, instead choosing to focus on the minutia of our lives, the little things that gradually get to us.
I’ve been reading a book recently called “don’t sweat the small stuff”. It was one of those Amazon purchases bought when I was feeling a bit under pressure and had various things whirling round my head at 2am preventing a solid night’s sleep. I’ll save you reading it, the title says it all, essentially, it’s about picking what to worry about and what is, on the scale of things, not that important. It’s a lovely theory, unfortunately one that is both incredibly difficult to live by but also incredibly frustrating for those around you.
You see loads of those memes (i think they’re called that) across facebook, twitter and the internet in general like they’ve been scattered at random. Mostly I tend to steer away, not least because they’re usually accompanied by either a cute animal in an unusual location, a sandy beach with a single set of footprints or of a famous person who is now dead.
The nearest I’ve got to a saying to live by, I think, is Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day. I like the idea that it’s about the multitude of small steps that build to create something bigger and better.
The question I find myself asking is what is Rome?
I think it’s something different to everyone and not necessarily to do with work, or careers. I think it’s more general than that, it’s to do with what sort of society we want to live in, what we want life to be, how we want to treat people and in return they treat us, it’s to do with society, community, faith and love. But most of all it’s about peace. Finding peace that you built your Rome and with your dying breath can smile and say “I made a difference”.
Which gets me back to the wrong turn. Those miles going down the single lane track, the hedges getting taller, seemed incredibly daunting, but now I know what’s down there, and that, if taken carefully I won’t die and I’ll come out the other side – it is now just another path. There’s a metaphor or maybe a parable in there maybe. Or maybe I’m tired, have eaten too much ice cream and need sleep. Night.
IN OTHER NEWS
I’m conscious that creatively I’m doing fuck all* at the moment so need to get back on it. I’m considering making a short film, probably a documentary, so if you’ve any suggestions of something I could create in a day that’d be great. I’ve been considering going down the ipad filming road, one that seems eminently sensible to me at the moment considering the ease with which to work them and also the quality of the footage… Anyway, thoughts welcome… It’s either that or storytelling/standup and tbh I’ve lost my nerve so badly I suspect that’s beyond me at the moment.
I realised on my drive home today that it’s been a while since I wrote anything, or indeed saw people. For those wondering, I’ve started a new job in lovely North Wales at Theatr Clwyd. I think it’s important to say that as years ago I went off radar for a few weeks and a friend put “RIP Sam” on my facebook wall. This led to some people genuinely thinking I’d died which weren’t helped by people winding them up. So, anyway, I’m not dead, I’m in Wales. Or, well close to Wales, I’m in Chester.
This feels increasingly like one of those slightly awkward letters that you’d invariably get at Christmas from family or friends who lived a bit too far away to see. They’d include all the year’s events in one side of A4 and would always describe various member of the family as “getting taller”, “achieved the A-Level results he wanted” or even “flirts with danger”. I always wondered what the subtext to these letters, written by the matriarch of the distant family might be. Instead of “getting taller” you might read “needs to leave home”, the A-Levels quote could easily be replaced with “failed” and “flirts with danger” is definitely code for “Is a cock”.
The new job has been pretty intense with quite long hours so far. There’s that part of you before you start somewhere new that is always the optimistic planner – in week one I will assess, week two I will solve, week three I will rest with my work done. Of course it doesn’t quite work like that. I feel I’m still in the assessment phase, getting to grips with the quirks and oddities that are inherent in any job. There are some incredibly friendly, genuine people working at the theatre which has made life a lot easier and has made me excited about getting to work in the morning. It feels like a bit of juggling at the moment perhaps with lots of balls in the air and the VHS on fast-forward. I think I’ve definitely dropped a couple but equally have caught a fair few too.
The best moments so far have been when my team made a cool video for an upcoming show, getting file sharing working (it’ll work perfectly by the end of next week mark my words!), walking up the box office staircase every morning to the most incredible view of green fields, small mountains and endless skies, the green room keeping me alive with huge portions of food, and eggs. Yes eggs. There’s a lady who brings eggs round from a local farm and you can buy eggs, from your desk, from a farm. It made my day.
The driving hasn’t been too bad, not least because I’ve now managed to relax to the soothing tones of BBC Radio 4. 95% of what it has on is brilliant if you give it a chance, the remaining 5% is The Archers – but then noone’s perfect. I love the obscurity of some of the shows that are on offer. This week, as a sample, there was a show about puppets and puppeteers hosted by a presenter with a pathological fear of puppets. Melvin Bragg’s “In Our Time”, a show with perhaps the most misleading title of all time when we bare in mind 90% of the show was about events in 1000BC and the rest was about Plato. And finally the beleaguered journalists interviewing people about the EU referendum. One particular highlight was a fish monger who came out with this confused gem.
“I sell mussels, I sell cockles, I sell fish. We won two World Wars. We need to stand on our feet again so we should leave”.
I did slightly wonder whether the journalist had genuinely asked him about the EU or if he just said put 3 sentences together that offer no coherent argument about anything at all.
Anyway. Finally tonight I played badminton for the first time in 4 years. As I’m taking the break from standup I thought I should try and get fit again. I’ve had this notion in my mind that I have, what I describe as “residual fitness”. This is like a store of fitness that would allow me, at a moments notice to run a marathon, or throw a javelin, or walk up some stairs faster than normal. With this in mind I thought I’d be okay. And in many ways I was. The skill, the racquet technique and positional play wasn’t horrendous.
Turns out though that “residual fitness” is massive bullshit. During the warm up I had sweat pouring down my face, my chest tightened, I genuinely considered just crying on court to be let off this. It was like cross country, painful and tiring, just without an overweight gym teacher with psychotic tendencies chasing you. I managed 6 games in all. Game 4 I peaked and although I was struggling, started to enjoy it a lot more. Game 5 was the killer. About half way though I realised that I couldn’t see through half of my left eye. It was like someone had put a crystal over half of it distorting the view. It came back after I sat for 10 minutes so I had one last game, make my excuses and fled.
Slightly bizarrely another person who was attending the club for the first time was someone I played badminton with at Uni. There was an awkward moment of “are you who I think you might be”. He suggested he wasn’t sure it was me as i looked younger than he remembered. Now before you think “well that’s a win” i should also tell this, in work I’ve been asked my age three times. I’m always coy replying “how old do you think I am”.
33, 38 and 40.
So there you go.
Anyway, to summarise I’ve got taller, got the results I wanted and have been flirting with danger loads.
On Friday I did, what will be, my last gig for probably the next 6 – 8 months. I’m taking a break while I get sorted in a new job and have also been struggling with my confidence to apply for gigs so it felt like a break might be good to reinvigorate me too.
Confidence is a strange beast, you see it when you watch football, the striker who whereas normally would calmly trust themselves to deliver instead lingers too long, overthinks, panics and then sky the ball kilometers over the bar, their confidence shot. For me its rarely shown up when I’m onstage but instead a lingering doubt that has accumulated with the single voice of “you’re shit, why are you doing this”. It affects me applying for gigs (and I realise as I write this how ridiculous that seems) and also has some other side-effects. In the lead up to a gig I’ll stop eating properly for a couple of days, my sleep patterns will change, hilariously I sometimes get the night sweats accompanied by dark dreams of failure. I know I obsess about anything that isn’t perfect and inherently don’t trust feedback. For example if someone says to me that I was good, my mind instant starts thinking “well you would say that wouldn’t you, because you’re a nice person and not a twat” – after all, no-one gives honest feedback, not really, unless 100% anonymous.
Which kind of begs the question why am I writing a gig report I suppose? I think as a record that I did the gig. Maybe so I can write down what it was like before it comes a tainted memory and also so when/if I pick up standup again I have a previous marker.
So the gig…
It was a charity fundraiser, a phrases that usually makes you want to stick a fork repetitively in your own eye, but it turned out to be really nice. Raising money so that kids can have new leotards for their gymnastics club is surprisingly fertile ground. I was MC which is a position I think I’m reasonably strong at and, in a hot room, I think it went okay.
The opening section is always slightly terrifying as you’ve no idea whether an audience will be coming with you – I think I need more material sometimes at the top of the show, but then I’ve seen MC’s who rely on the material and don’t improvise from the room and it can seem a little formulaic and staid(sp?). Usual interactions with the front row bounced nicely if not explosively and although they were warmish when I brought Allan Finnegan on (who is ace, book him, actually book everyone I mention) they maybe needed prepping a little more. The audience was on tables which in theory is great (somewhere to put the drinks) but in practice means you’ve audience further away than you’d like and a row of people who were late on row 2 didn’t help.
The middle section was much better, lubrication with beer invariably helped as did some pretty crude fingering jokes, material about Bluetooth-enabled leotards and a giant of a man whose sperm was the size of a subway. I think going a little crude in the middle tends to work for me if they like me after section one, it also means I can gauge it for the final bit about whether to go worse or rein it in. There are occasions I notice that I go a little panto-dame-esque with “you can do better than that” but I think I manage it by making sure that I keep dipping to my reference points in the night (leotards, man giants, subways).
Final section was spot on (which I rarely say), I asked the audience if they wanted darker material, they said yes, I said no, then told an elongated spitroast joke about an elderly 3 some in their 80s which gets darker everytime I tell it. I particularly like being able to use a stage whisper to change the tone and also find that silence for this works really effectively. The punchline “vaseline” is as horrendous as it sounds but hit perfectly and it also gives me chance to talk to the audience about how it’s lucky I’m not telling that joke tonight.
We ended, as invariably charity gigs do, with an epic raffle. 20+ prizes of differing quality dispatched within 5 minutes including the most hideous cuddly toy ever seen. Overall it was a nice gig I suppose. One downside was Radio 4 not working in my car on the way home but then I’m not sure I can include that that as an element of my gig report.
So that’s it really, keep up with tedious marketing blogs on here and the odd bits of theatre stuff and I’ll write again when I start again!
P.S. Oh, another blog worth reading is by Jim Bayes, it’s really interesting if you like the gig report/thoughts of a new(ish) comedian – click here)
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