Gig #146: Anarchy, Willenhall. 3rd September 2014

Rob Kemp strolled across the car park like a stretched Bruce Campbell. The smile beamed across his face so strong that three streets away people felt its glow. In one hand was a blue sports bag which contained a change of clothes. He was heading towards the toilet cubicle at the United Kingdom pub where he would strip out of the sodden clothing he currently wore. “This,” he said to me, “is how I dreamed a comedy night should be.”

It was another Anarchy and yes this is another collection of words that simply sings its praises. Normally, I’ll talk about how I’m feeling during a gig or what led to me doing such and such material but it is all unimportant when viewed with an Anarchy night. In hindsight I think it’s safe to say that neither Rob nor I were comedy geniuses on the night but it doesn’t feel like we need to be for Anarchy. It’s our job to warm up the crowd (and they’re warm) and then set the tone and that tone is, “we’re going to have a laugh, here’s some people to make you laugh and us two will just try to give it a bit of structure.” It shouldn’t work but by Jiminy Cricket at a welly convention it does.

With Rob’s birthday being the following day and after promising him that I wouldn’t mention we started the night with me telling everyone it was his birthday and getting the audience to give him the bumps. Then you just bring on the first act. I mean that’s it, isn’t it? The MC job is done.

We had another argument on stage which is just far too much fun for both of us and something we’ve already said we have to be careful of not milking and the night just ticked along. Then we got to the soaking. Rob had been nominated three times to do the Ice Bucket Challenge and my own opinions on this piece of peer pressure, self publicity bullshit is already documented. However, Rob decided to do it at Anarchy on the condition that the money went to a local charity and people donated on the night. £3 each would see Rob do one Ice Bucket Challenge and £5 each would see him do all three.

Rob then pointed out the story of Amber Porterfield. A local girl with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy who needs £60,000 for an operation so she can walk again and suggested this should be the charity. We went for it and the Anarchy audience dug deep. At the end of the night I sat at a table and counted out the £140 we had raised with a stunned look on my face. Anarchy audience… you are fantastic. I thank you and love you all.

And that is why at the start of the third section we ended up outside with a washing up bowl, a bucket and some sort of giant trough which all ended up over Mr Kemp. Of course, once back inside I had to comment on the ridiculous nature of the Ice Bucket Challenge and that’s when Kemp poured water over my head. We both stood there, soaking, caked in sweat and laughing like we’d just seen Jamie Oliver trip up over his own tongue.

Combine into that Alex Hoyle’s version of the Elephant Man which turned musical and homoerotic, Jon Hipkiss being the best I’ve ever seen him and Mike Crump spending 20 minutes chatting up the male members of the audience and you have great night. Chuck in there Micky Baker with humour so dry we needed him at the end of the night, Chris Hall proving yet again that he’s just getting better and better, Steve Bell returning to the sight of his first gig with more prowess and Mike Dryburgh closing the night with a well received and beautifully delivered set. Even nicer was watching acts having the confidence to just dick around with material and try things out.

It’s no wonder I don’t feel Rob and I need to do a lot. We have a warm crowd who just want to laugh and will give anyone a chance. We have a fabulous landlady who cannot do enough to support the night. We have acts who feel all that energy and deliver great sets. Finally our audience dig deep and a local charity gets a little better off.

You know what… young Master Kemp is right. This is how a comedy night should be.

Gig #145: The Roadhouse, Stirchley. 25th August 2014

Into the mic that stood before me like an unwilling phallus I explained how some people are “scared of heights”, how some people are “scared of the idea of Islam formed in our minds by a corrupt group of media conglomerates and the political classes to create a divide and rule mentality to prevent the proletariat from rising up in a bloodless revolution and creating a new society based on mutual respect and shared wealth” and how some people are “scared of spiders.”

“My biggest fear,” I said, “is to be ignored. It’s for me to live my life with no justification of acceptance from those around me. But, if I go on Facebook and do this…”

It was here that I poured a pint glass of water and ice over my head before continuing with “…I will be a fucking hero.”

Like!

Big Blue Thumb!

Hannah had put out a shout for acts for on Friday and after making sure that no insufferable bellends were on the bill and after realising that Mike O’Callaghan could do with a lift to the venue I agreed to do the gig. In the back of my mind I did think that if I couldn’t come up with anything by Monday I’d just do whatever I’d done at the Roadhouse two weeks previous. Yet inside I knew I didn’t want to do that.

So when the Bank Holiday weekend became “Ice Bucket Challenge Weekend” on Facebook it was obvious to me that I’d have to poke fun at the ridiculous concept of it all.

“But it’s for a good cause, Dave, you Scrooge. What have you got against charity?” I hear at least one person say.

I’ve got nothing against charity. I’m proud that the audience at Anarchy Comedy nights donate so generously to local charities. I have an idea that we should all donate on an individual basis to charity. We should seek out charities, find out about their work and donate what we can.

And we should do it anonymously.

ANONYMOUSLY.

Posting videos on Facebook, nominating others and ultimately seeking the approval of those in your immediate social circle for standing in your garden in swimwear, close to a towel and fresh clothes and emptying clean water over yourself in a video is an act of self-promotion. It screams, “look at me, aren’t I a good individual for doing this for charity?”

Well why not just give some money to charity anonymously? Why not use that post to promote a local or little known charity to a wider audience?

Plus how many people did their Ice Bucket Challenge knowing who the ALS is? Or what they do? Or that 7% of their income goes on executive wages? Or that they do animal testing? Or that the research they have done is not all that effective? I’m not saying these are reasons to boycott the charity, far from it. But I am saying that you should know this sort of thing before donating to the charity. But it’s not about donating, is it? It’s about looking like a hero. It’s about that “like” button.

So I let all this pour out. Throughout the writing process I was constantly thinking, “Is this funny?” And yes, it was. It felt like I was saying something I wanted to say and also making people laugh. I know that if I’d have been the audience I’d have loved it.

On the night it went down badly.

One reason for this was just how uncomfortable some of the audience were at what was happening. This made me angry at them but also pity them. On the journey home and immediately after the gig I was cursing that section of the crowd and I was wrong.

It wasn’t helped by being the illusive Roadhouse Graveyard shift which is always a bit odd. However, to just blame that would also be wrong. After looking back at the video it was my fault. I’d dumped the pledge of allegiance at the start and went straight into the Attenbourgh bit. This dive straight into anti-comedy threw the punters because the rhythms and pauses are all different. That pledge of allegiance breaks that journey down into smaller chunks and makes it all easy to navigate. Therefore, when I started the Attenbourgh bit and the opening joke got nothing my mind started racing. All those bees came out of the hive and started flying around. Was it them? Was it me? Was it my delivery? Was it my attitude? In the cold light of day it was just too much of a jump from straight comedy to anti-comedy. It needed that pledge to ease people in. So there I am thinking that I know what is coming. I know that it was a one-performance deal because no doubt by next weekend Facebook will be filled with some other tripe. The trouble is, thinking all that is not a good idea while doing the set because it made the set suffer.

Like I say, my fault.

As that ice water hit my head it didn’t cool down the thoughts. Suddenly the rhythms and pauses were all off. I had to keep referring to notes which broke it even more.

If I’d have delivered the set faultlessly, the way I’d done in so many rehearsals and got the same response then I’d have simply moved on and not worried about it. But I know I didn’t perform it well, I know I screwed up because I know what it could have been. Yes, there was a section of the audience who would never be able to deal with that set (and when I accidentally dropped a pint glass and smashed it their discomfort was amplified) but some of that crowd would have got it and deserved a better performance from me.

My fault.

For someone who doesn’t know why they are doing comedy I’m putting a lot of work into this.

Looking back, it was nice to spend time in a room with Mike O’Callaghan and he was full of self-doubt about his MCing skills on the journey over so it was lovely to see him do about 20 minutes at the start of the night when he admitted he had no idea what he would say. It shows that his MC skills are developing.

And it was particularly nice to see Tom Christian again. It’s been a while since I’ve bumped into the long haired lover from the Marvel Universe and he just gets better and better. On a night when so many dropped out this guy who was suffering with some sort of Delhi Belly still turned up and still delivered a great set. His new material about TGI Friday’s was superb and put that alongside his excellent section on TV Channels and this guy is one to watch.

Whatever I decide to do with comedy it’s obvious that I’ll still be around, visiting nights and seeing others progress. There is some immense talent out there and I’m pleased to say that I know them and can call them friends. If I add anything to comedy then I can say that I don’t want people to change their minds, to agree with me or even to find me funny but I hope my experiences can help other acts to not make the same mistakes I have and continue to.

The Roadhouse, 25th August 2014. My fault. Move on.

The Media and Robin Williams

On Saturday 16th August 2014 I took part in a roadshow event for Worcestershire Film Festival. The previous day I had written something in my ramblings diary about how the media had reported the death of Robin Williams. Essentially, this piece was not for public consumption but upon finishing it, rereading it and wiping away a tear I sent it to festival organiser, Simon Munn. He decided that it would be printed and distributed to all the audience who showed up for the roadshow event.

I present it here for you now.

imageOn Monday Robin Williams died by his own hand. For years organisations like The Samaritans have asked traditional media to report suicides with care. Not just to help the victims’ families to grieve as they need to but also to protect members of the public who feel that taking their own life is the only way out. The advice given is that coverage shouldn’t be extensive or sensationalist. It should avoid explicit details of suicide methods and suicide shouldn’t be portrayed as quick, effective, painless or easy. Finally, there should be a sensitive focus on life achievements and the wastefulness of death.

Almost every traditional media outlet has failed in all of these points in their quest for sales, website clicks and advertising revenue.

We come together today as filmmakers, as writers and as actors. As artists. To begin let us celebrate Williams’ life and work by remembering those roles and routines we loved.

Nanu nanu.

Do you think God gets stoned? I think so – look at the platypus.

Good morning Vietnam.

It’s not your fault.

If we just count those that have sought medical advice then we know that one in four people will suffer from mental health issues. The true number is much higher. And do not be fooled. The Black Dog does not stop barking at doors of the rich, the powerful or the funny. The black dog has no prejudice. It barks, bites and shits in all corners of our society. Right now, billions of people around the globe can feel its paws pressing on their shoulders.

What happened to Robin Williams is tragic. We can only hope his family and friends can grieve and move on with their lives. For us there is a way we can thank Robin Williams for all those good times. We do not let the Black Dog ruin our life. We do not follow the same path. We remember that when the dog is barking in our face we fight it. Remember…. It’s not your fault.

 

Gig #144: The Roadhouse, Stirchley. 11th Aug 2014

As ever Scroobius Pip says it better than anyone ever could:

Soulless music, artless lyrics.
Goalless movements, heartless gimmicks
Controlled and clueless, careers lasting a minute.
If this is the big life, well I ain’t lookin’ to live it.

I’m always banging on that you have to find what you want from stand-up comedy and it is obvious that I want something from it. Afterall, I instinctively put myself into a gig for Manilla Road and I’m still keeping my hand in by Co-MCing Anarchy. I also put myself forward for this gig at The Roadhouse.

Why? Why did I do that? What do I want?

I don’t want a career in comedy. I don’t want to drive up and down the motorway four times a week to gigs. I don’t want to wander into a pub to find no microphone, a rude landlord or a pissed up stag do with their unfunny heckles ruining the night. I don’t want to do a two hundred mile round trip to perform for six people. I don’t want to chase fake promises of progression from dodgy promoters laughing all the way to the ski resort. I don’t want to have a social media strategy. I don’t want to discuss posters with Tim from Marketing. I don’t want to write a Chortle Correspondence Article to promote myself.

Which is all well and good but what do I want? That is tougher to answer.

Initially I sketched out what I did at Manila Road which was essentially:

Pledge of Allegiance
Attenbourgh
Stealing Novels
Stealing All Along the Watchtower

This had all been done with a laid back, vulnerable but world weary persona and while I’d enjoyed reading out the chord progression to All Along the Watchtower for far longer than was comfortable I knew I wanted to do more than that. However, I liked the persona and felt it had something so decided to break the routine down a bit.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a nice section. It shows the audience a chunk of the character and gets them making some noise without the hacky “give us a cheer” stuff.

The Attenbourgh bit is now quite strong. I’ve performed it about four times and it’s getting tighter and tighter. Its purpose is again to reinforce the character I’m playing. Crucially, it’s also nice and soft. There is no bad language in there, nothing that could cause upset (even to Attenbourgh). It’s nice and laid back and full of subtle exposition. I’m proud of it.

I chucked out the stealing novels section because that hadn’t worked too well at Manila Road and rewrote the All Along the Watchtower bit so it made sense without it. I timed it and I had about six minutes. Like a scar I scratched an asterix against the Watchtower bit. My note to say, “If possible, get rid of this.”

Unsure what I would do I just sat back and waited to see what would pour into my mind from outside. It turned out that two subjects would bombard me. The conflict in Gaza and the issue of “controversy”. It seemed strange that the Israel Palestine conflict that has seen numerous murders and war crimes on both sides of the fence was also being fought on Facebook with pithy images which consisted of typically a misattributed quote and a semi-connected photograph. This was then shared to pin flags to political poles but it seemed to do nothing but disrespectfully condense a horrendous humanitarian conflict caused by leaders on both sides into a soundbite. That all sat quite uncomfortable with me.

To compound this it seemed like Facebook was playing one of their social experiment games with me because my timeline seemed populated with three people who were claiming to be “controversial” or “edgy”; If you are wondering who well it was two comics and one writer who I won’t name because they do everything possible to seek attention and I won’t pander to that.

I accept that art (and I’m including comedy as an art form) can be uncomfortable, it can hurt, it can make you think, it can even be throwaway tripe but I cannot see how it can controversial. Controversy is a dumb label stuck on things by an audience who are so scared of their own shadow that it makes their opinions on anything meaningless. I once heard Grayson Perry be referred to as the “controversial artist”. Do you know why? Because he wears women’s clothes. That’s not controversial. That’s transvestism. What sort of a mind do you have to have to refer to a transvestite as “controversial”? You can’t even claim it’s because of his art. He makes tapestries and pottery with sterile images on them. We live in a world where a transvestite potter is called “controversial”. Holy Mohammed on a fold up bike what’s become of this society?

So if you think you’re being controversial or edgy then you’re not. It is also possible that you are using labels of “controversial” and “edgy” to disguise the fact that your work is diabolical. Take away any ridiculous notion of controversy and edgy that you or the audience have and ask yourself do you have anything else?

With these thoughts rattling around my head like a diminutive child trapped in a big barrel that’s been thrown down a huge hill I wrote and tried to see if anything would come out.

An old routine I did about Pacman escaping the maze and running riot in the world of geometry appeared from somewhere and suddenly became a metaphor for the conflict in Gaza. I timed it all and it was about eight minutes. I wrote some more and then a bit about “controversy” popped up. It has a short shelf life, it’s full of in-jokes but I felt it was beautiful.

I have to admit, I was chuffed with what was on the page. Ultimately I found it funny but I also found it shifted my own paradigm on Gaza and the exposition explored my feelings about comedy and controversy with a deft touch.

However my confidence in the material didn’t help with the nerves. I knew it was anti-comedy again and I wasn’t sure how the audience would take it.

Zhing and I arrived at The Roadhouse and very soon and two familiar faces showed up. This person and her partner had been a regular at the comedy nights about a year before and I got on very well with both of them. Sadly, Leukaemia took her health, her hair and her ability to get out of the house. They both fought and I’m proud to say that with a new crew cut and a diagnosis of “clear” she was out of the house. I threw my arms around her knowing that there was a point I thought I’d never do that again. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside but also applied more pressure. I wanted to have a good gig for those two. I gave serious consideration to binning everything and doing the old faithful depression routine.

Happily I didn’t. I was on third and took myself out of the room to concentrate on clearing the shit from my pants and trying to calm down. I saw the second act finish and slowly walked back in. My mouth was dry, my heart was trying to thump its way out of my chest and my balls shrivelled up like they were two small steel bearings rolling around a concrete mixer.

It all went surprisingly well. I had at least a couple of applause breaks and every time I expected a laugh a got one. The other acts in the room loved the in-jokes about controversial comedy I had put in and it all felt surprisingly good.

The question remains… what do I want from comedy?

It has become apparent in the last week that the routine was the antithesis of what bores me in comedy. I never tried to be odd, uncomfortable or thought-provoking but I think this routine achieved all three. All I tried to do was be funny. It dawned on me that before I was trying to be funny and trying to fight my demons. Now I’m just trying to be funny and seeing what happens.

The game, the business, the industry… nah. Edinburgh… nah. Posters… nah. Social media strategies… nah. Long drives… nah. Progression… nah. Popping up at a local Open 10 gig once in a blue moon and trying to say something I find funny about what’s on my mind. Yeah… I think I want that. 

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