Thursday, 31 October 2013

Greggs The Undead

Today is All Hallows’ Eve, or Hallowe’en – and what better way is there to mark a centuries-old Pagan festival than buying a novelty pasty?

It’s an interesting marketing ploy on the part of Greggs The Bakers – and suggests they have a lot of faith in their product. I’m not sure that I would suggest the use of the prefix ‘scary’ if I was in charge of their advertising campaign; eating a Greggs pasty is daunting enough, without having to point it out.

I’ve never understood the need for unnecessary gimmicks. If I want to buy a pasty, I want to buy a pasty; dressing it up with a Hallowe’en theme isn’t going to entice me in.

I don’t look to savoury snacks to reflect current events; I look to them to satiate my appetite.

Jumping onto every going trend just smacks of desperation. It’s like a few months ago, when Kate Middleton gave birth to the royal baby - and within hours, I received the following email from the rail company, London Midland:

They didn’t even attempt to make the offer relevant.

If Greggs really want to add a frightening edge to their Chicken Madras Lattice they should leave it in direct sunlight for a couple of hours before serving. At least then customers would have genuine reason to be scared of it.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

What did you just say?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will probably have noticed that I have a bit of a fascination for overhearing snippets of conversation.

There’s nothing voyeuristic about it. I’m not snooping. I just enjoy the confusion that often comes with hearing a statement entirely out of context.  For a split second you are let into someone else’s world – and just as you’re getting comfortable, the door slams shut, with you left on the outside, trying to suss out the circumstances.

The best ones often involve mobile phones. Hearing just one side of the conversation only adds to the confusion. Sometimes, you are left intrigued:

...and other times, the mundanity captures your imagination:

One thing all these overheard conversations serve to illustrate is: none of us know what we're doing. We all stumble our way amateurishly through life, trying to make the best of our circumstances. Nothing is rehearsed, and as a result we often make mistakes. Most people don’t give this a second thought - but if you’re hyper-aware, you can’t help but pick up on it.

Here are a few favourite conversations I have heard and subsequently tweeted, just for the sake of it:
"I said 'I've got tent pegs, but they're the medieval reenactment ones.'" 

 Boyfriend to girlfriend: "When I saw your dad for the first time I thought 'f**king hell."

 "I reckon my elbow's got a lot to do with my shoulder."

  "My dad was a fan of John Wayne - but then he was very much a man's man." 

 Child to Father: "Is that a white train?"

 "He'd like a filter coffee; he was doing a mouthwash so he couldn't talk."

 "I couldn't be a lesbian if I wanted to."

"A mate at school was always breaking his bones. I think he had something wrong with his stuff."

 Customer: "A very dishevelled man just walked in. I think he might be a tramp." Barmaid: 'What's 'dishevelled'?" 

"It was when Silvia was in India that she caught the disease where all her hair fell out."  

The other day we interviewed the musical comic Jay Foreman for our MoreThan Mostly Comedy Podcast – and during our chat he mentioned how, since becoming a comedian, he finds it much harder to find a contrived, honed joke funny; these days, he is much more amused by a happy accident. It’s much the same for me; I thrive on looking at something mundane and everyday from an unexpected angle; turning it on its head to point out its ridiculousness.

Possibly one of the finest instances of this occurred after Glyn and I previewed our 2010 stand-up show 'Big in Small Places' at the Soho Theatre. We were performing in the room upstairs to a largely industry-based audience; always a tough crowd, but we managed to get through it. However well I thought it had gone, my ego was soon brought crashing to the ground when overhearing a couple on their way out.

“Those two were very funny”, said the woman to her partner. “I wonder if they’d ever consider trying stand-up.”


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Bye Bye BlackBerry.

I think you know the game's nearly up for your current mobile phone when you have to wedge a plectrum into the bottom of it to make it work.

I have a BlackBerry Curve (for those interested in technical detail). It's pretty indispensable; not just for obvious uses, such as texts, calls and email, but also to store ideas and photographs for mine and Glyn's material. Look through most other people's mobile photo albums and you'll find pictures of friends, family and pets; go through mine and you'll find scores of badly-worded signs, odd window displays and amusing screen-grabs I've pulled from the internet.

This is my rather depressing legacy.

What I like most about my BlackBerry is that it has both a touch-screen and a qwerty keyboard - which, for me, offers the best of both worlds. I’ve never wanted to own an iPhone, or any other smartphone with just a touch-screen facility. I may be in a minority, but I’m happy for it.

Sadly, this is becoming less of an option; part of the reason I’ve remained patient with my current handset, as one by one, each of its functions ceased to work.
The plectrum trick, incidentally, was discovered by a happy accident. I haven’t been able to make a call for the past few days as, whenever I attempted it, I couldn’t hear the person on the other end.

Now I may be a megalomaniac, but even I understand that a phone conversation can’t be completely one-sided. So I set to work – and after a little fiddle whilst on-line to the speaking clock, I discovered I could make the speaker work by applying pressure to the handset. I carefully wedged a plectrum into a little gap on the side and found that it did the trick perfectly.

This doesn’t stop me looking like a dick when I use it in public.

My mobile has been dropped into the bath twice and onto countless pavements – and until recently it kept going strong. It’s a survivor: like Destiny’s Child (or those men who sang the theme from Rocky). 

However, even I can accept that when you can't make a phone call, it's time to get a new one.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Oh no, Ono.

Recently I’ve started paying more attention to the tweets of Yoko Ono – and I’m starting to wonder if she’s taking the piss.

I understand that she’s a conceptual artist and therefore her work doesn’t follow the same rigidity of structure as traditional art: it’s more about the thought behind each piece than the aesthetic result. Some of her ideas are beautiful in their simplicity: a good example is the card she gave to John Lennon on their first meeting at the Indica Gallery in 1966, which simply said “Breathe”. He couldn't really argue with that.

When it comes to her Twitter posts, though, I'm a little dubious. 

Yoko’s tweets are more than likely to contain the buzz-words ‘sky’, ‘sun’, ‘rain’ and ‘cry’ – and nine times out of ten, they tell you to bury something. It’s like a one-woman attempt to create a time-capsule resurgence.

It’s similar to those websites that generate spoof Daily Mail headlines – except with Yoko’s Twitter feed, I suspect that nothing is meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
For me, the saddest aspect of the coupling of John with Yoko was that with it, Lennon seemed to lose his sense of humour. Watch any of his interviews from the early / mid-sixties and his sparkling wit shines through; turn to pretty much anything after that and it’s as if his pilot-light has gone out. He still has passion – but most of the joy behind it was gone. He is either earnestly fighting his latest cause, sniping at the other ex-Beatles, or sounding strangely passive about it all.

The last one was probably down to the drugs.

A particularly telling example is their 1969 interview with Sir David Frost. Frosty plays a couple of excerpts from their latest album, ‘Unfinished Music 2: Life With the Lions’, while John and Yoko listen on – and despite John’s typical posturing to defend its concept, it’s almost as if at that exact moment he hears the album for the first time from another person's perspective. You can feel his awkwardness at its lack of accessibility.

That's not to say that I'm anti-Yoko. It's obvious that John loved her intensely and that they both wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They faced an almost constant battle - either with the public's perception of their relationship, or just to stay in their chosen country of residence - and evidently became all the stronger for it.

Also, no-one should ever have had to go through what Yoko did in 1980: watching the man she loved gunned down in front of her; murdered mere metres from the place she still calls home today.

In the case of this final tweet, however, I wonder if she could find it in herself to practice a little of what she preaches with her old adversary, Sir Paul McCartney:


Sunday, 27 October 2013

Clarkson's Bookface.

Thanks to literally minutes of research I have come to the conclusion that Jeremy Clarkson is asked to sum up each of his books in just one facial expression at the cover shoot.

It’s really quite a skill, when you think about it. Take his 2009 book, 'Driven to Distraction': 

466 pages, which – working on the assumption that a typical hardback averages at around 350 words per page – would total 163100 words. 163100 words, neatly summed up with an expression I would best describe as ‘resigned acceptance’.

(Showing my workings.)

Then there’s his 2012 tome, 'Round the Bend': 

432 pages (an average of 151200 words, give or take) - all summed up with a look of mild distress. Perhaps the punning title was causing Jeremy to lose sleep;  judging from the Daily Telegraph quote, he had very little to worry about.

A year later, and his anxiousness has been replaced with a look of serenity. 

I guess this should come as no surprise: he’d reached volume five of his 'The World According to Clarkson' series, and was no doubt enjoying a sense of creative plateau. I bet the photo shoot took a matter of minutes: his cheekily asymmetrical shirt-cuff certainly suggests that he didn’t hang about.

Spin back seven years to ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and Clarkson’s demeanour is that of a man who’s relaxed and at one with himself. 

Here’s a chap who’s found his stride – and while his body language suggests a direct lift from Eastenders' Mike Reid, the outfit shows a disregard for smartness: remove the jacket and you're left with a person who just hasn’t made an effort.

By the time you reach 2012’s ("I got paid most for") 'The Top Gear Years', Jeremy's high standards have returned: 

Okay, he may not have felt the need to leave the photographic studio to pose in the actual presence of the car in the background - but what's a little superimposition between friends?

Here's a man who never had to face the chore of presenting Total Wipeout.

In summary, it seems that the dust jackets of Clarkson's oeuvre express the full length and breadth of human emotion. Perhaps one day I'll be tempted to delve a little further: if the inner content is half as rewarding, I'm in for a treat.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Keeping it up.

Some days you don’t want to try to be funny.

The main reason I started a daily blog was to keep my brain ticking over and force myself to be more productive. Like most writers and performers, I have an in-built laziness; while I could spend my time being creative, I’d often sooner not. It’s much easier to just sit and be quiet (with an optional biscuit).

So far the blog has definitely helped. I’ve always worked best with a deadline – and having self-enforced one every day has encouraged more proactivity.

That’s not to say that it isn’t sometimes a pain in the arse. I’ve fired up my laptop on a fair few occasions without a clue of what I should write. I’ll flick through my ideas folder on my mobile (or in the couple of notepads I carry with me) – and sometimes draw a blank.

Any time I get stuck, though, I remember that Richard Herring has kept a daily blog for the best part of eleven years – and suddenly the blank page in front of me doesn’t seem so imposing. At just under six weeks, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I’m of the opinion that if you want to get good at something, you need to do a little bit every day. At least then, whatever your natural ability, you’ll reach your apex faster than if you were just to do a little bit every now and again.

If nothing else, this blog will act as a personal diary – and in a few years time I’ll be able to look back and remember how I felt in more detail than if I wasn’t to keep it up.

Ask me how I feel in a couple of months, though, and I might have a completely different opinion. I may even decide not to keep it up - or at least not write so regularly.

Whether I do or not, it's when I start discussing my stool samples that you’ll know I’m running on empty.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Coffee Roasting.

I’m drinking far too much coffee at the moment.

It’s a habit that’s only come into being over the past few months. I’m generally quite health-conscious: I’m a pescatarian that avoids milk and eats very little dairy produce (that’s right: I’m a barrel of laughs) – and at home I’ll generally opt for caffeine-free drinks such as redbush and camomile tea. I used to have one cup of coffee a day at most.

It's worth clarifying that I’m not completely clean-cut:  once a week I pop down to my local duck pond and punch a swan, just to redress the balance. Everyone’s got to have a vice.

This blog is part of the root of the problem: this is my fortieth consecutive post in so many days (dickhead) – and the vast majority of these have been written whilst sat in my favourite local coffee shop. If I’ve got nothing else on (diary-wise, not clothing), I’ll arrive mid-morning, and try to knock something up in a hour at most.

(Possibly not the best choice of wording.)

As a by-product, my caffeine intake has increased considerably. I do try and intersperse the mugs of coffee with the occasional herbal tea - but sometimes the lure of the black Americano proves too much to resist.

It’s also reached the point where the staff recognise a black coffee as my “usual”. Who am I to contradict them? I try my best to live up to my own self-enforced cliché.

I’m usually all right whilst in the relative safety of the coffee shop – but it’s during the walk home that my caffeine overdose becomes evident. Some days I’m as shaky as over-worked Judy Finnegan.

God knows what I’d be like if I discovered crack.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Same Old Material

One thing that comedians often worry about is revisiting old material. Nine times out of ten, an act arriving at Mostly Comedy will ask what our audience turn-around is like – and whether they can get away with performing some of their older, tried-and-tested stuff.

At our club it isn’t normally a problem: we do have a few regulars, but since moving to a bigger venue and securing better-known acts, we’ve noticed that a large proportion of our audience are often new faces; people will travel from further afield to catch the likes of Henning Wehn and Richard Herring at a small club like ours, rather than at a bigger, more expensive venue.

When it comes to performing past jokes, we’re as guilty as the rest: thanks to time constraints (plus the added stress of overseeing the night and finding time to record our podcast around it), myself and Glyn will often resort to older, more familiar material; it gives us one less thing to worry about on an always frenetic evening. Also, when it comes to Mostly Comedy, we’re in a slightly different position to the rest of the line-up; we’re on the bill every month, whereas they turn up every once in a while and can still do their best lines.

Tonight’s gig will be one such occasion – though in my case, I will be revisiting old material in more ways than one.

Tonight, thanks to laundry oversight, I will be wearing exactly the same shirt I wore at last month’s Mostly Comedy.

I’m normally quite good at preventing this; I tend to have a shirt in mind a few days before the gig – and make sure it’s washed and pressed, ready for Thursday. Not this month, though; this month I’ve been very lapse.

Will anyone notice? Hopefully not. Let’s face it: if the audience is paying too much attention to our clothing then we’re definitely doing something wrong.

There is a chance, though, that I’m not giving myself enough credit. Maybe I’m a bit of a trendsetter – and from tomorrow morning, the streets of Hitchin will be awash with pink and blue stripes.

With a bit of luck I can turn North Hertfordshire metrosexual overnight.