It was the longest day of the year, and thanks to a series of coinciding events this will probably be my longest blog. Prepare yourself for some rants, some plugs, some name-dropping, some self-analysis, and maybe some video when it is uploaded for me.
It’s been something like 6 weeks since my last gig. Somewhere in there Jo Caulfield kindly answered a question I posted on the ComedyForum, and recommended me some books to read. I picked them all up cheaply enough online, and also took a punt on a fourth which had dozens of great reviews. I flicked through them as they arrived, and got far enough into it (about ten pages) to read “Just write. It doesn’t have to be funny, yet, just write.” During my brief foray into screenwriting – my one screenplay – this was the recurring advice that cropped up again and again: Don’t get it right, get it wrote; Great scripts aren’t written, they’re rewritten. So this made sense to me, and since then I’ve read nothing further in any of the books and have just been writing down anecdotes and lines I’ve been telling/using for years. I moved all my existing files into a new folder, and began afresh, creating Word documents titled by theme to try and keep like with like. To be honest, I’m still working out how best to structure my files/notes, but this seems the most organised way I’ve yet come up with. I will return to the books in due course.
As a result of this flurry of writing, which makes it sound a lot more fruitful and disciplined than it’s been, I had several new routines ready to try. The tale of the Nightbus Vomit goes down well in conversation, but I also had an idea to open a set by declaring my hatred of the audience, tales of my time in Buxton, and a couple of others, including some character acts. In the end, I put it to a facebook vote and my two favourites came out on top. I’m on again in a fortnight, so that meant I could try both of them. Tonight, I went with a set I call “Hating People Yet Being Exceptionally Nice To Strangers”, which combines some existing material, expanded and linked to an anecdote about a trip to The Stand. Having decided on the routine, I opened the file to finish writing and honing it, only to find it already documented to my satisfaction. I don’t even remember writing it all down, but there it was fully formed and satisfactorily structured – so at some point I must have been remarkably and uncharacteristically productive. All I had to do was commit it to memory, and as I’ve related the anecdote a few times in conversation my work was already half done.
I’ve had about six weeks to get on top of this, so it almost goes without saying that I left it until the afternoon of the gig to really rehearse. King of the procrastinators. I had a meeting with the broo in the morning, one of their regular patronising sessions where they invite me to lie down and then proceed to stick the boot in. It went the same way they all do, with me patiently explaining that the one thing most hindering my job search is the lack of a driving license and them explaining with equal patience that there is no funding to obtain one. Ho hum.
Me: If I could drive, there is work available. I’ve been told explicitly that not driving is holding me back.
Advisor: We have people signing on who can drive and they can’t get work.
Me: Are they in my industry?
Advisor: Well, no…
Advisor: The best I can suggest is you get your SIA card and just try to get work on doors.
So you can imagine my delight, that after studying for three years and accumulating £23k of debt it turns out I’m not even qualified to be a fucking bouncer. There’s a long and bitter tale I try not to tell anymore, but my degree in “Technical and Production Arts” qualified me to be a carpenter without giving me any sort of qualification to say I’m a carpenter. When I went to work at the RSAMD as a carpenter they told me I wasn’t qualified. Guess where I got my degree. Even the place I studied doesn’t recognise my qualification. Par for the course.
I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
– Fight Club
Anyway, boo fucking hoo, cry me a river. I know I’m not alone and at least when I graduated there was a vague hope of work. Who knows why today’s graduates even bother. The revolution can’t be far off now. On the subject of the RSAMD though, they wrote to me recently to say they are rebranding as “The Royal Conservatoire in Scotland” – pretentious wanks. Good luck with not just getting called “The Conservatory” by Glaswegians, we nickname everything and that seems the obvious choice – see the Armadillo, the Squiggly and Squinty Bridges and the Hielenman’s Umbrella for current examples. I also remember the time we were all asked (as alumni) to work with Scottish Opera for expenses and experience. “You got your degree, now want to work for nothing?” That opera went £100,000 over budget, on everything except wages for whatever poor sap said aye. This is why our industry has no value, they propagate and advocate hiring people for less than a living wage. Fuck them.
So that was my headspace, as I prepared my material for the gig. A friend who managed to put her degree to decent use and emigrated to work for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada is back just now and was coming along. Last time she saw me was the atrocity of the Laughing Horse competition, where she was the only person in the whole tiny audience neither competing nor judging. There’s a blog on here about that gig, essentially I forgot my material then over-ran and had to sit trapped in the audience when I just wanted to leave and drink copiously. It occurred to me to phone a couple of our mutual friends and arrange a small reunion tonight, since the pair of them have also expressed interest in seeing me do comedy. So I did.
All of this meant I asked Malky if I could go on really early in the gig, while my barely-remembered material was fresh in my head, and so I could then just relax afterwards and enjoy the company of friends I see all-too-rarely. The lovely and hilarious Janey Godley was down to do new material for the third week in a row, and had decided she’d like to go on third on the bill. I was offered the chance to go on before or after her, and I chose before – I wouldn’t want to follow her even with my tried and tested set I know inside out, let alone with all new and untested material. That put me second on the bill, and due to a slight scheduling error Malky had to go on first.
Rob Kane was compering, opening by speaking to all the groups in the audience. He managed to petrify my friends by conversing with them and ripping the piss, ascertaining that one is an out-of-work Stage Manager (we did the same degree. Spot the trend.) and the other makes costumes in Canada but has been laid off for the summer. The more people he spoke to, the more it seemed everyone in the room was unemployed to some extent, no wonder we all piled into a free comedy gig for a laugh.
Malky did a short set, mostly about some ridiculous easter egg packaging he’d found, and his failure to attend the final of the Fife Stand-Up of the Year competition thanks to the incompetence of Scotrail. I went outside and ran through my set again, before returning in time for my introduction. I’d decided some time back, to the delight of John McGovern, to open a set by saying “I hate people” – which is true, I do. Mainly it’s hate borne of disappointment and despair. I linked that to some of the modern phrases and overused words that really irk me, before giving an example of a time recently where I was far too nice to an arsehole. People infuriate me, on a grand scale, but on a smaller scale I try and be a lot more tolerant. Even to people who annoy me, and this was the tale of a phenomenally annoying audience member in The Stand with whom I was pretty patient, all things considered. I had the set filmed, as per usual by Matthew Cowan, and will link the video when he uploads it. I felt my set went okay, I got laughs – not terribly huge laughs, and there were passages of explanation which at least kept their attention if not eliciting laughter, but overall I felt it went well. One particular ad-lib was so well received I’m wondering if I can find a way to keep it in – Janey told me later that she’d loved that aside, and at the time I was aware of her laughing from the otherwise empty corner of the pub off to my right. Darren Connell also told me he’d enjoyed my set, and for a first time out I was really happy with it. When I see the video I’ll start making alterations to it, get it tighter.
My set, only the first airing so it will get better with practise. Filmed by Matthew Cowan.
Janey followed me, as there was no way I would have it vice versa, and was on top form as ever, relating the story of an early-morning on-air argument about Palestine she’d had with a tweed-clad smug cunt. She also alluded to her material from three weeks ago about idiot football fans, and finished with anecdotes about New Zealand. Absolutely brilliant.
Before the evening started, she’d introduced me to her daughter and podcast co-star Ashley Storrie. We’ve spoken on Twitter a few times about this and that, most recently about the event Jumping For Heroes and the Band of Brothers 2010 Cast Interviews. My friend Ross Owen is co-ordinating this massive undertaking, whereby he is reuniting the original cast of the HBO series for a run of “Ten Years On” interviews. The more actors who have partaken, the more have felt inclined to participate, and now he is at the point he has made initial email contact with Hanks and Spielberg, interviewed David Schwimmer, and has Donnie Wahlberg lined up for July. Ashley is a huge fan of Wahlberg’s, and on her birthday managed to get 200 of her twitter followers to “tweet” him, trying to secure a birthday message but to no avail. It’d make her day to get some sort of shout-out on air during the interview, so I’ve mentioned as much to Ross and time will tell if anything comes of that.
Ross is also co-ordinating two parachute jumps, in the UK and USA, under the “Jumping For Heroes” banner. Janey asked me about that, and my understanding is that the funds raised will be used to erect a permanenet memorial in Normandy to the original heroes depicted in the series. Using the clout and contacts from his interviews, Ross is reuniting the cast and it is these actors who will be sponsored to do the jumps. You can sponsor their chutes, donate, take part in raffles for rare merchandise, and see the details of what are turning into full and packed family-fun weekends by clicking here or following Jumping4Heroes on twitter. Janey explained that she doesn’t think people should be branded heroes simply for signing up to the army, as it cheapens the word when it is actually deserved, and Ashley says it in fact leads to (in America anyway) firemen and policemen developing a “Hero Complex”, whereby they feel they should be heroes and thus act without due objectivity or appropriate safety considerations. I agree, inasmuch as I feel the word “genius” is similarly overused to the point it really means very little anymore. As it happened, my set tonight was actually based around various words that have been overused to the point that they no longer hold the meaning they once had. “Awesome” is another example. My personal pet hate is part of my set, which you’ll need to watch to hear about. This is the first routine that I can say absolutely is mine and mine alone – I haven’t heard anyone else doing material like it, as opposed to my Cunt bit, Gladiators bit (even with my unique spin), and so on. So yeah.
In hindsight, I remembered that Limmy actually highlighted the exact same thing in a different way in his pilot:
Other acts followed, some good, some not. One came onstage in a Bill Hicks t-shirt, which I’d clocked earlier and, thinking he was a spectator, nearly warned him that he’d set his expectations for the evening far too high. He seemed to slag one of the previous acts, whom he’d also heckled during his set, and definitely didn’t draw comparisons with the icon emblazoned on his chest. I haven’t named him in case it was just a one-off, or nerves or something. Unlike James Kirk, who was as excellent as ever and had my friends declaring him the highlight of the night. Ed Whitley also had a good set, with his trademark trombone and high energy. Eddie Cassidy headlined to round off the night. Kind of.
The National Theatre of Scotland celebrated their fifth birthday by staging 24 hours of theatre, in five-minute segments. Comedian Richard Gadd had arranged to perform on The Halt stage at closing time to an invited audience of regulars. Some of the performers from The Stand came up to see it, including JoJo Sutherland and Kevin Bridges. Gadd did a really excellent piece which was part of his routine, part anecdote, and part philosophy – really very well written and very entertaining, with a wee bit of thought-provocation in it too. I will link to it if I can find it online.
I did find it online:
In the bar afterwards, and shortly before being herded out at closing time, I decided to give Kevin Bridges my business card in case he ever needs a set built for a tour or that. I’m not really sure why I thought that was a good idea, but I was a bit drunk and had that misplaced sense of familiarity you get when you see in person someone with whose work you are extremely well acquainted. Youtube sensation The Wee Man had also approached me earlier in the evening with provisional dates for his next video shoot, which I’ll hopefully be involved with, as I’ve previously given him my card too since carpentry, props, crewing and special effects are what I’d like to do, and right now I’d do it just for the fun. Already my worlds are colliding, as Matthew heads up a production company who are just starting out. Their latest short film features my props handiwork, and I got Malky involved as an extra, which is how we both met John McGovern, which is what spurred him on to try comedy and now that’s him pals with Janey and Ashley and he’s been mentioned on their podcast two weeks running. Since I know film-makers, comedians, actors, artists, all manner of crew, and so on, it just makes sense to me to try and help knit them all together, since everyone’s at the same level, creating or trying to create. I know musicians and magicians too, jewellery makers and cake bakers…maybe I should quit this shit and set up as an agent instead. I’d also mentioned to Ashley earlier in the evening about the time I met Alice Cooper (I won a competiton) and I meant to give him my card and forgot (he’s my absolute hero, so, you know, it slipped my mind in all the excitement), and with all the shite at the broo earlier in the day too I guess it all just added up. Although nothing like that much thought went into it at the time…
The Wee Man’s debut video, all three million hits of it. Search “Wee Man Glasgow” for the rest:
Anyway, I waited until there was an obvious lull in the conversation (and I now suspect that’s when he was recording his message for Janey’s 50th podcast), and went over and introduced myself with the words “I’m going to be a wee bit cheeky here”, then gave him my card and mentioned that even though my comedy might be shite my sets are no’ bad, if he ever needs one built. He was gracious enough to accept and pocket it, and asked how long I’ve been doing comedy and if I’ve done The Stand. Janey asked me to take a photo of her with Kevin for her blog, and my incompetence with technology reared its head and instead of pressing the touch-screen shutter release I pressed the actual pressable button and sent it back to the menu screen instead. On the second attempt her phone rang, so I handed it back to her, by which time only my three friends and the increasingly-irate bar owner were left inside. The four of us made our way outside, so I hope and trust she found someone else capable to take the photo for her instead.
Kevin Bridges’ breakthrough set, I never tire of watching this:
Finally, in another instance of several worlds aligning, Fast Romance finally premieres on Tuesday – click the link and click ‘like’ for a chance to win tickets. A low budget feature film, it was made entirely on the back of private investment and sponsorship and promises to be a mix of Gregory’s Girl and Sex In The City, stars a myriad of Scottish acting talent and boasts a remarkable number of household names/celebrity cameos. Made by friends with whom I’ve collaborated on the short films that can be seen by following the link at the top of my blog, it’s a great achievement that it will be released in Cineworld cinemas throughout Scotland from 1st July. My friend Ross, the aforementioned interviewer, is in it acting, I did some carpentry on it, Janey has been invited to and (on her podcast says) she will be along to see it. It’s absolutely brilliant, a really warm, charming, and witty Glaswegian romantic comedy. Makes a change to see an uplifting and upbeat Scottish film for a change, instead of the gritty ned junkie knife gang flicks we so often produce. Anyway, please go and see it because after being at two Cannes Film Festivals it now has international interest, but needs to do well in its home country before it can progress any further. You can read some reviews here, here, and here. And here’s the trailer:
Off to see Combichrist next week, for the 17/18/19th times – in Manchester, Glasgow and London – then have my next gig a week on Tuesday at The Halt, so come along on 5th July at 8.30pm if you’re so inclined, I’ll be trying out more new material. Hope you enjoyed reading this essay, constructive critical feedback welcome. Please click on all the links I posted, because it took fucking hours inserting them all. Thanks 🙂