Monday, 21 January 2019

Bruce McMissed.

I bet you didn't book to attend two screenings of a rare Wings film today to end up missing both.

Because let's face it: that's the sort of behaviour that's reserved for me. What's frustrating was I was really looking forward to going until I ran out of time to leave for the first showing; I then booked for the second one on a whim to end up running out of time for that one too.

The reason for my tardiness was, as ever, due to Mostly Comedy, when it suddenly became in our interest to get the Dr. John Cooper Clarke show on sale as soon as possible to line up with an advert for his tour in the Guardian Guide this weekend, which for some reason took forever to do. I also had to sort out a few things for my dad before a couple of doctors' appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the race to get this all done before I caught the train to London snowballed in a stressful enough way for me to end up pulling the plug on my McCartney-based jolly; so it was that I missed The Bruce McMouse Show twice with a couple of unclaimed e-tickets to show for it; they'd better be tax deductible or I'll be livid.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Best Foot Forward.

Today, I finally finished compiling my 2017/18 tax records (with my wife as my unpaid assistant), which makes for depressing reading unless you're a fan of minus figures.

(If so, then get ready for this: -4922.679232)

(I know: phwoar)

I find myself at a crossroads over what to do next. The past four years have been primarily about performing stand-up to fringe audiences to work up my solo chops, having always performed comedy as one half of a double-act up to that point. While I've taken shows to London, Brighton, Bath, Leicester, Hitchin and Letchworth over that time, there's no doubt Edinburgh was the biggest underlying factor, with the other dates being either a warm-up for or a cool-down from three consecutive Edinburgh Fringes, with me writing another solo show in 2015 that I didn't take to Scotland, but was still put together with going there alone as my motivation.

There's no denying the experience has been challenging, both creatively and financially. You could argue I'd had it fairly easy career-wise up to that point, with my musical ability bolstering my acting work from the get-go, propelling me - if you can call it that - into large-scale tours of the UK & Ireland (and a handful of stints in the Netherlands) and then the West End, with my keenness for comedy resulting in eleven seasons with a reputable writers' group at The Soho Theatre and to co-running Mostly Comedy, where I've played host to many of the industry's biggest names. Whether this was ever reflected in my bank balance is up for debate, but I've certainly been able to scrape a living as from acting, music and comedy since graduating from drama school in 2002.

Performing stand-up was something I went into through the backdoor accidentally, after co-hosting a comedy club and seeing the acts that came through underlined that it might be a good way to be more self-sufficient; potentially carving a career from who I was specifically, rather just being an easily replaceable jobbing actor / musician going from short-term contract to contract, always waiting for the phone to ring; consequently, I began looking for an agent who could secure anything bar the actor / muso work I could easily get myself and had less interest in doing over time.

If I were to summarise my thoughts on the past four years of working alone I'd say it's been a slog, but that I've produced some of the work I'm proudest of within it. The culmination of this period was filming last year's Edinburgh show where I came out with a record that's representative of what I'd set out to do, which was to tackle the subject of depression along with my more petty frustrations with honesty and humour, getting laughs from my backstory while trying to normalise the things I would have buried in the past. Whether it's led to a phone constantly ringing with opportunities is by-the-by - that's not the sole mark of success - but while I've already committed to some work-in-progress dates this year with a few more in the pipeline, I can't let 2019 be another year of retracing the same steps; something has to change for me to feel I'm moving forward (or at least in a different direction) before I stagnate.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

This is the News.

According to Twitter wisdom, twenty-five years ago today, the satirical send up of the media 'The Day Today' first aired on BBC2; a programme that had a huge influence on me as a teenager and I still love to this day.

Until recently, I was sure I was introduced to the work of Chris Morris & Steve Coogan et al by a friend from the drama group I used to go to at the Gordon Craig Theatre, when he lent me his copy of the radio version of 'The Day Today' - 'On the Hour' - along with radio episodes of 'Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge' as a kid. I was absolutely certain of this and would have staked my life on it until I happened to see this friend again when he came to one of my shows a couple of years ago and asserted afterwards that I introduced them to him. Now I don't know what to think: it's as if the very fabric of my existence has been metaphorically ripped at source; that, or I've just got a shit memory.

Ultimately it doesn't matter who introduced it to whom, except to say I'm grateful they did as the glorious attack of it spoke to something deep inside me and made me sit up and take note. It was just so precisely observed and took down the dull establishment of TV journalism so perfectly you could almost miss the fact it was comedy if you weren't paying attention; this was fake news at its best without that teak-stained feeble excuse for a human being - let alone president - in sight.

In many ways, it hit me as hard as stumbling across The Beatles back catalogue turned me into a musician overnight; I'd alway liked situation comedy, but nothing I'd seen had had the authenticity and part-cleverness yet part-childishness of this; it was like a thunderbolt to the brain, if that thunderbolt were to inspire me as opposed to wipe me out.

From that moment on, I wanted to do comedy like this; in fact it was shows like 'The Day Today' that sealed the deal of me wanting to become an actor. And what's most striking about the show is it hasn't really dated twenty-five years later, except for the politicians it references. It's still blisteringly funny too, which rhymes with John Fashanu (that's John Fash-aaar-nu).

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Poet Who Knows It.

While there was no reason to doubt it, I was delighted by the excitement today's announcement that Dr. John Cooper Clarke will play July's Hitchin Mostly Comedy Festival provoked.

I'd like to think my judgment of what our audience wants to see is pretty sound, based on the club's popularity, but every so often there'll be a slight undercurrent of worry, particularly when there's either a lot of money involved or the event's taking place at a different venue to usual. In the case of John Cooper Clarke, I'd been working on the booking for a few months and had every crossable appendage assuming the position in the hope it would come good, but knew all along it would only work if we held it at Hitchin Town Hall so we could get enough people through the door to fund it. This obviously meant whittling down a date that both John and the venue could do while striking a deal with both that wasn't too expensive when a show of this nature has more overheads than usual.

With anything outside of the norm there's more potential for problems, and the fact the Town Hall isn't our usual home throws up variables we don't usually have to deal with. For one, it's over twice the capacity of The Sun and has ongoing sound issues despite a recent multimillion pound refit (largely because they didn't seem to ask anyone who works in theatre where that money would be best spent; for example, by putting in a decent sound rig). 

The last thing we want is to not meet expectations, which was how it felt when we presented Harry Hill at the Town Hall last year, when we did our best to counter the venue's poor acoustics but still received the odd complaint. To be fair, the show was originally meant to be at The Sun and was only moved when Harry's availability changed and The Sun wasn't free for the rescheduled date, but it still wasn't as good as we'd have liked, and even though everyone knew it wasn't our usual location, it still felt like we were making excuses.

At least this time we're more prepared, plus we're using a different sound company who'll be able to provide a more appropriate rig. It should also be an easier show to mix; if no-one mentions how it sounds, I'll be happy as I'll know we fixed it.

My only other concern (although concern's too strong a word) was that our audience wouldn't be savvy enough to know just how much of a coup booking John Cooper Clarke is; whenever we present an act who's more than a comedian, I wonder if your average 'Live at The Apollo'-style punter will get it. Of course I was being ridiculous (as was proved by all the ecstatic tweets we've received); as one person said, "the man's a living legend"...and I for one can't wait to see him.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Knebworth Sands.

I have this performance of The Beach Boys song Lady Lynda on regular rotation when I listen to music on getting ready in the mornings and seldom skip it.
It's made all the better for the fact it was recorded at Knebworth Park - approximately six miles down the road from where I live (cue all those assassins trying to track me down to a less than ten-mile radius) - in 1980, less than a year before I was born, so if my family had lived in the house I grew up in by then, they could have potentially heard it from our window. I wish I could have been there myself, though if the gig was anything like Oasis' show there in 1996, it would have taken us a surprisingly long time to get home afterwards, despite the convenient location.

When I went to see Brian Wilson perform Pet Sounds in Edinburgh last summer, he happened to have Al Jardine (who sung and co-wrote this) in the band, which was an added treat, and while he didn't sing my favourite of his Beach Boys songs at the gig, it was still lovely to see him. He no longer has the classic Eighties Beach Boys beard or the panama hat, but this didn't affect my enjoyment. I'm just grateful Mike Love wasn't in the band at the Pet Sounds gig, so his irritating attitude and general banter could be avoided. We all know that under his trademark baseball cap he has a full head of hair, or my name's not Vidal Sassoon; my name is that, isn't it?

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Unmissable Hancock.

This afternoon, I was lucky enough to attend the recording of the last two remaining lost Hancock's Half Hour episodes for the BBC Radio 4 series The Missing Hancocks (my third time in the audience, man & boy), which was once again performed pitch-perfectly by Kevin McNally and the cast and left me feeling suitably inspired and uplifted as I exited Broadcasting House and made my way back to the tube at Oxford Circus.

I must admit visiting the BBC always gives me a bit of a lift, as the child inside still can't help but be excited by the many inspirational ghosts that occupy the building, metaphorically speaking (subject to a proper paranormal assessment); I've only been to Broadcasting House once in a work context - to do a radio interview for the Buddy Holly show I was in - and went to Television Centre once in a non-audience-member capacity - for a meeting with a producer with Glyn - but the part of me that longs to be on the other side of the mic there is always keen to downplay the thrill. At the very least, it was nice to be included on the guest list (thanks to the kindness of Kevin Eldon) as I could kid myself that I wasn't just a punter.

Whatever the context of my attendance, the chance to watch another two shows be brought back to life with such humour and affection was joyful. I've often daydreamed about being able to witness my favourite sitcom being made first time around, and while that's an impossibility, The Missing Hancocks has afforded me the next best thing three times now. As always, the quality of the writing was staggering; by rights, the last two episodes in five years of cherrypicking what they wanted to record should have been the weakest, but they were great; the second show - in which Tony was an independent MP with the deciding vote in a Parliament split exactly down the middle - was scarily topical in the wake of the current Brexit mess. Speaking of topicality, the Have I Got News For You team captain (and massive Hancock fan) Paul Merton made a cameo appearance in the first show, which was an added treat. The audience even had a line to deliver in unison, which I enunciated to the best of my ability; the things you do for a CV credit.

Saturday, 12 January 2019


I'm pretty sure if you sped up my life using some sort of time-distorting technology, the resulting image would be of me, constantly surrounded by receipts, pulling together the records for an eternal tax return. 

Consequently, I find myself in that back-aching arched-over position once again. If it weren't for the fact it's nigh-on possible to sit in a way that's comfortable and convenient when going through the myriad of receipts and invoices I've collected across a tax year while they're spread out across the floor, I'd probably go say I actually quite enjoy doing it; there's something satisfying about charting my life from coffee shop to venue to coffee shop, tying together the loose ends of another twelve-month journey. The only sticking point is that in doing so, you get a timely reminder of the money you spent and how little you've earned; such is the curse of the self-employed performer. 

As it stands, it's clear 2017/18 was a year of speculating to accumulate, with the hope this accumulation will come at some point between now and my death-bed. It saw the second of three consecutive solo Edinburgh Fringes, plus work-in-progress dates in Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, Hitchin and London, and then more dates in London post-Fringe with the intention of getting some industry people to see me (which actually only resulted in a visit from Chortle's Steve Bennett to tell me I'm not a comedian in his generous, supportive and unbiased eyes). While it was a year of general growth it was an expensive and frustrating one too, although my inclusion in the Daily Telegraph's 20 Funniest Jokes plus a Comedy Central gags list was a bit of a confidence boost, as was the continued success of Mostly Comedy. I just wish I knew I could cover any potential tax bill without selling a kidney; what I need is the same accountant who looks after Starbuck's and Mark Zuckerberg as it seems to work for them, though would doing go by symbolic of me joining the dark side? Probably...