Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Category: Blog Post (page 2 of 12)

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.

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…


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?


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


  • 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…


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.
  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?

The Scarborough Boxing Day Tradition

Boxing day in Scarborough always seems slightly different to many places.

Not for Scarborough the simple consumption of excess chocolate and the remains of Christmas dinner. Instead we’re all seemingly lured by the call of the sea to walk around the seafront in sub-arctic conditions as lunatics paddle home-made rafts around the harbour. As hypothermia hits you might image that people retreat indoors, get a warming cup of coffee or tea, perhaps brandy to warm the cockles – nonsense, why have tea or coffee when you can get a cone of ice cream (half and half of course, I go lemon and vanilla) from the Harbour Bar – let that core temperature drop even further.

That is, they say, part one.

Part two is the Boxing Day night out. Very few places seem to have it. On Boxing Day people in normal places watch a film, or perhaps make a curry or stare at the socks they’ve been bought wondering if their personality is really so bland. Not in the ‘boro. In the ‘boro at 11am the pubs start to fill, they come from far and wide and get unbelieveably shitfaced. It builds like a wave, more and more people joining, energy building and building until carnage is unleashed at 2am and people walk triumphantly out of the Casino clutching the £4.50 they’ve “won” after spending a mere £20 on two pints and, for an unknown reason, a dry pork sandwich.

For many years I participated in this tradition. Chance to catch up with old friends, have moments with people I thought were bellends to nod and say hello while secretly wishing they’d fuck off and, of course, to dance.

It was eventful too.

There was the year I was punched in the face over a wall by a man on drugs who swiftly apologized, said he mistook me for someone else and ran off.

There was the year where deep snow fell and me and Chris McGraw played an epic game of dare to see who would walk the furthest on the frozen lake at Peasholm Park as frozen looking ducks observed.

There was Mick’s burger house (Hawaii burger with pineapple and BBQ sauce) followed by the 90 minute walk home in driving rain because taxis were booked for the next 2 hours.

Then the moment where someone I’d gone to secondary school (lots of shared classes) and sixth form didn’t recognise instead asking me if I was Chris McGraw’s brother. When I said, “no, I’m Sam” they looked confused and just backed away. It was an odd year.

Then last year came and I was too ill to do anything or go outside. The cycle had been broken. Almost.

This year was different. McGraw’s parents had moved to York, everyone our age has family and happiness, and so it was agreed that we’d move towns from Scarborough to York. What a difference a city makes. It turns out the tradition of the Boxing Night doesn’t exist in York and it was… it was… better.

Curiously quietly drinking a few pints before dancing in a packed salsa bar was really good fun. It was a nice change of scenery. It was relaxing, not pressured and a little less aggressive. It got me thinking about all the people who I used to see in that once a year moment in Scarborough and fundamentally whether it actually matters.

Here’s a thought. I have, somewhat ludicrously, 872 friends on facebook – some ex-colleagues, many friends, ex-teachers, ex-beerbuddies, ex-badminton partners and ex-ex’s (or simply ex’s) and then a huge batch of comedians – what’s interesting are the school and college friends on there who i’ve not seen for 10, 15 years, but for occasional glimpses of lives on that annual 26th Dec tour of Scarborough.

For my parents and grand parents generations this didn’t happen, i mean sure they might’ve seen people in the distance, might have heard rumours, but to have hundreds of lives a mouse click away… Lives would change, people would live, die, procreate and marry and they would be blissfully unaware. I wonder about the value of these connections, particularly ones that are lost to the past. Is it okay to let time take that connection away or is holding on a nice thing?

I’m torn. In one way I think I leads you to compare lives, to become retrospective and to immortalise people in your mind, a constant connection. The flip side is that a few years ago i reconnected, briefly with someone I knew at school and got on with them really well in a fascinating new way – i discovered a new them, the kind of discovery that can’t be made in self-curated photo album or bumper sticker status updates, but was made by going for coffee, hanging out and chatting. That moment, made me consider that those moments to reconnect can keep reappearing and that maybe social media is simply a tool to make those moments possible.

So here’s a challenge. You’ve got this far. This is over 800 words. Consider this – Should we go for a coffee or not? How much does the connection matter? And if you don’t find out how will you really know? And, ultimately, does any of it really matter?

I don’t have an answer. It might be no and that’d be okay. It could be yes and that’d be okay too. Or maybe it’s at some point in the future, when our paths next cross or when Boxing Day part two returns to Scarborough.

Gig Report #3 – Pros & Coms, Liverpool


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**

Gig Report #2 – Comedy Asylum

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


Gig Report #1 – Tiger Lounge, Manchester

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


When Ideas Come Thick & Fast

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.

  • A story cycle called “12 stories about love”. It’s 12 short 5 minute stories about love, all which link. Accompanied by a double bass and acoustic guitar, improvising a soundtrack to it.
  • Stand up with a keyboard playing silly songs.
  • A projection show about self, about who we are, perceptions of who we are and how we discover our faults. So about love then. And excel. And possibly about death and what we want to do before we die.

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.

Night x

Edinburgh Fringe 2016

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.

Daniel Kitson
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.

The Pianist
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.

Meet Fred
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.

Phil Nichol
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.

The Duke
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.

Empty Beds
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..

John Gordillo
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:

  • The Flanagan Collective
  • Bilal Zafar: Cakes
  • Brennan Reece
  • Zoe Lyons
  • Kill The Beast: He Had Hairy Hands
  • Austentatious




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