Saturday, 30 November 2013

Lost in Translation.

For some reason I'm never able to make people understand what I’m saying.

It happens all the time, so much so that I’ve started to account for it. I’ll walk into a situation with a readily-prepared statement in my head – and consciously take my time when saying it; trying to allow for the inevitable confusion that follows in my wake.

Even all this forward-thinking doesn’t seem to help; more often than not, I still end up with conversational egg all over my face.

It occurs most frequently in bars and restaurants. A good example took place a couple of months ago. I’d met up with a friend in a local pub - and, as I’m generally not drinking alcohol at the moment, I decided to have a hot drink instead.

I walked up to the side of the bar where the coffee machine was situated. Behind it stood a big sign that said ‘Speciality Teas Available’. I’m a bit of a herbal tea nut, so this was right up my street.

A surly, monosyllabic barman loitered over. I didn’t know he was monosyllabic yet, admittedly, but from the looks of him the chance was high.

“Yeah?” he said (I was right.)
“Hi there. What teas do you do?”
He looked at me like I’d just shat in his mouth.What?” 
(Never had so much venom been concentrated in so few letters.)
“I just…wondered what teas you do”, I replied, losing faith. “The sign says you do different teas.”
His face screwed up with a mix of confusion and derision. “Just...TEA,” he spat.

All while the large sign behind him contradicted what he was saying, in big, jolly writing.

I guess part of the problem lies in asking for something that’s a little unexpected. This was definitely the case this morning, when I popped into my local garage to do some shopping.

A few days ago I bought a Kit Kat from the same garage - and, on opening the wrapper, I discovered that I’d instantly won another; an offer that can be redeemed at selected stores. I’d been carrying the wrapper around ever since. As I’d bought the Kit Kat from the same place, I thought I’d see if I could claim it while I was there.

“Hi there. I won a Kit Kat in a wrapper the other day," I said. "Can I claim them here?” 
"I won another Kit-Kat in a wrapper I bought here the other day. Do you do that promotion here?"

The woman looked at me, confused, then turned to her colleague and said, ”This man says he’s won a Kit Kat in a raffle.”

Perhaps in future I’ll just do all my shopping on the internet.

Friday, 29 November 2013


The other day when she was on her way home from work, my girlfriend spotted this:

It’s quite appropriate really, as that’s probably the best place in which to cast your UKIP vote.

I’m surprised that the owner wasn’t struck by the irony of scrawling ‘VOTE UKIP’ on the side of their dustbin; I can think of more appropriate places to declare political affiliations. I know all publicity is supposed to be good publicity – but it’s probably best to not concentrate your campaign on an object most associated with rubbish.

Maybe it was meant as a metaphor for the state the UK will be in if we remain a part of Europe? If so, that's not the way it comes across. At least they chose the bin that matches the party's favoured colour scheme the most.

If nothing else, it's good to have a place to file your UKIP propaganda.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Shoe People.

I spotted this on the footpath on my way into town this morning:

Nothing beats the sight of your first autumnal croc of the year.

Stumbling across this single, solitary example of tasteless middle-class footwear called to mind a question I’ve been pondering for ages: why do you often see discarded shoes by the roadside?

I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen this (not that I was knowingly keeping tally). I could probably count the occasions a shoe slipped off in public on the fingers of one hand (at the time of writing I have four fingers on each). Most took place at secondary school, when some wiseguy or girl snuck up behind me; walking too close on purpose, so they could step on the back of one and force it off. Even then, with the threat of mocking voices hanging over my head, I’d still take the time to stop and slip it back on again.

I’ve never been in such a hurry that I haven’t had time to do this. Surely no-one’s schedule is that hectic.

The strangest thing about ‘street shoes’ is they seldom come in pairs. The culprits must have noticed when one of them slipped off; you don’t have to be looking at your feet to know you’ve got both shoes on. It’s not the sort of thing you only become aware of when bending down to tie your laces.

You usually see them by the motorway. I guess this makes some sense; if you’re darting across a busy road you mightn't have the time to pick them up. That said, it's not the speed you’re walking that determines whether a shoe stays on or off; if that was the case, cross-country running would be a nightmare. 

If this is a regular occurrence, then your shoes must be a couple of sizes too big.

Even if the owners weren't wearing them it doesn't make much sense. There can't be many situations where you'd need to get rid of your footwear so urgently that hurling them from the window of a speeding car is the best option. Unless you'd battered someone to death with them. Don't these people have access to a bin? 

If there's any correlation between all these abandoned shoes and the kestrels that hover by the roadside, I might be on the brink of discovering something sinister.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Casting Blues.

Today I had my first casting in a couple of weeks - and it didn't go very well.

At least I think it didn't go very well. Sometimes it's hard to tell. There have been a handful of occasions over the past year where I thought things went as well as they could and consequently heard nothing - and other times when I've not been pleased with my performance and ended up with a recall.

The most frustrating one happened about six months ago when I was up for a corporate video for a building society. I was sent three long pages of script to learn, to be delivered straight to camera. The dialogue was intricate and jargon-packed. It took me quite a while to get to grips with it, but I persevered and finally committed it to memory. 

The casting was one of those few occasions when everything went perfectly. The director and crew were lovely - and I felt relaxed from the moment I walked through the door. I got through all the dialogue on the first take and even managed to inject it with a little personality. Both the director and client congratulated me on my performance, thanking me for taking the time to learn the script; evidently most people that morning had struggled to get through it. 

It was one of the few occasions when I've left the casting suite quietly confident. "I think I've got that one," I said to myself. "I'm going to be the face of (A BANK THAT SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS)."

The shooting dates came and went - and I didn't hear another word about it.

Ultimately there's no point in second-guessing it. There are so many factors that play a part in commercial casting that it basically amounts to the luck of the draw. At the very least it's good to be seen. Casting directors have surprisingly good memories; if I don’t get a call about this particular job, there’s always a chance they'll remember me for another.

The job I went up for today involved a scene where I’d have to appear in just a pair of underpants – so at the end of the casting I had to strip down to my underwear and do a full 360° to camera. “So, it’s come to this,” I quipped to the camera operator, as I undid my trousers.

You wouldn't have to do that at a standard job interview.  

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Cardiovascular Exercise with a Difference.

Yesterday I saw a woman smoking a cigarette whilst riding a bike – and couldn’t work it out whether this made it more or less unhealthy.

She came speeding around the corner, steering with one hand while the other took the fag from her mouth for a moment; releasing a plume of white smoke that she cycled straight into. It was as dexterous as it was no doubt cancerous.

Her lungs must have been working overtime. I can’t decide whether this heightened activity would push the smoke from her system more quickly, or enable it to cause some more lasting damage. There must be some sort of experiment I could set up to determine this.

(I probably won’t bother, though.)

The cigarette looked very incongruous: it was hard to draw a parallel between someone so keen to do exercise and someone who needed to smoke so desperately.

It reminded me of the time I stayed in a holiday camp in Cleethorpes. I was on tour with a show called Rock & Roll Heaven – and one of the venues on our itinerary was Grimsby Auditorium. A few of the cast decided to give the holiday camp a go for the week, to make a change from the usual theatrical digs. That was our first mistake.

It was extremely unpleasant – and the moment that best defined the experience took place at the camp's swimming pool, where I watched a teenage girl lower herself into the water with a cigarette in her mouth, light up and then do a couple of lengths whilst puffing away at it.

She looked like a steam-powered Sharron Davies.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Praise be to Herring.

It’s just taken me about thirty seconds to rebook Richard Herring for a date at next year’s Mostly Comedy (which is nice).

One of the things that’s great about him is he always gets back to you quickly. It was like this from the first instance, when we emailed him late one night to see if he might be available to cover Henning Wehn’s headlining spot the following evening, after Henning had to pull out last-minute due to illness. We got in contact with Richard on a whim (we thought he was too big an act for Mostly Comedy) – and were both amazed and delighted when he emailed back a couple of minutes later to say he was happy to do it.

I have a lot of respect for Richard Herring. His work ethic is astounding: this year saw his tenth consecutive Edinburgh Fringe stand-up show, with numerous other appearances at the festival since the mid-Nineties. He has also written a daily blog for the past eleven years; suddenly my seventy-one day straight run doesn’t seem so impressive.

On top of that he has his regular Leicester Square Podcast, where he interviews other well-known acts in front of a live audience – plus various other podcasts, columns and side-projects, too numerous to mention.

(Rough translation: “I couldn’t be arsed to look them all up and copy them into this blog post.”)

He’d certainly get top marks for commitment to his art.

Back in July of this year he previewed his latest show, ‘We’re All Going to Die’, at our club – and before it started, we sat down to interview him for our More Than Mostly Comedy podcast. It was a daunting prospect, but he made it very easy – and was happy to tweet the resulting interview about when we finally put it up.

(You can download it for free here if you fancy a listen.)

I shall look forward to having him back at Hitchin Mostly Comedy in March – and seeing what new ideas he’s working up at the moment. One thing is for sure: his output is always as fascinating as it is funny.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Herr Hogg.

Over the past few weeks I keep seeing my old German teacher Mr Hogg about the town – and what I find most extraordinary about this is he doesn’t look a bit different.

I think I left secondary school in about 1997. You’d would expected some sort of aging to have taken place with Mr Hogg in the intervening years, but it hasn’t; he also taught my friend Steve’s father in the mid-Sixties - and apparently looked exactly the same then too.

He must have made a deal with the Devil (or, as he'd say: “Der Teufel”). I guess some people just start out looking middle-aged – and then their birthdate starts to catch up with their looks.

Mr Hogg was an excellent teacher, but one hell of a character. What you noticed first were his eyebrows; they must have been modeled on Dennis Healey’s, as they stuck out a good couple of inches from his face. If he’d walked into the classroom slow enough, you would have seen them poking around the door frame for a good long while before you saw the rest of him.

Not that he ever entered slowly. He would burst into the classroom like the Tasmanian Devil; yanking the revolving blackboard so violently that it spun upon its rollers, before going at it with the board-rubber like a maniac. He’d then throw the rubber in the direction of its little allotted shelf, missing every time – and turn to address the class in a frighteningly severe manner.

He spoke in German throughout the class. Even if someone knocked on the classroom door during the lesson; he would shout “HEREIN” in response, obviously working on the assumption that anyone who wished to visit him must have at least a basic grasp of the language.

I sat next to my friend Steve for all of our German lessons – and despite Mr Hogg’s strict manner, we somehow managed to get away with chatting on most occasions. We once spent the best part of a term compiling a list of 101 things you could do with a turnip; scribbling alternating ideas into my school rough book, with a little cartoon illustration accompanying each one.

There was one particularly memorable occasion when Steve was on the receiving end of Mr Hogg’s wrath; on failing to respond quick enough to whatever question was asked of him in German (we obviously weren’t paying much attention), Mr Hogg shouted exasperatingly, “Go, Steve. RUN AROUND THE BLOCK.”

It made for an extremely surreal punishment – one that seemingly only the two of us were aware of; the class continued as if nothing untoward had happened, whilst I looked out of the first floor window, watching Steve as he circled around the building.

Despite our turnip-drawing and lap-running, we both came out the other side of our GCSE German classes pretty favourably: I managed to scrape by with a B. I have Mr Hogg to thank for that.

The last time I saw him was a couple of days ago, when he was walking his dog across a playing field at the back of my flat with his wife. The dog wasn’t behaving – and Mr Hogg was shouting at him to sit in the exactly the same manner that he used to address our class.

Perhaps he should have tried “setzen” instead.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Day of The Doctor.

Tonight was definitely a night for watching television.

This evening saw the broadcast of the much-hyped fiftieth anniversary special of Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor – and I, like many others across the country, stayed in so I could watch it.

I’ve become something of a fan of the series over the past few years. I saw it occasionally as a child, during the Sylvester McCoy days, but didn’t really get into it until its ‘regeneration’ in 2005 (see what I did there). Even then, I was a bit of a late-starter; I only really started watching properly after I bought a couple of box-sets for my girlfriend for Christmas.

It’s probably not that surprising that I would like it. I was always a bit of a sci-fi fan as a kid (I used to watch Star Trek almost religiously; braving the cold to sit in my mum and dad’s conservatory each week, as the original series was repeated on BBC2).

What I particularly like about the revamped Doctor Who is that it is always built around a good story. It also doesn’t fall into the trap of being too geeky; it’s as accessible to those who have been into it for years as it is to the casual viewer.

They’re also excellent at making the show scary without being gory; you never see blood – and the ‘baddies’ are always something creepy and suitably dark, that plays upon your mind. It makes for perfect children’s television; the sort of thing you’d beg your parents to let you stay up and watch, only to spend the rest of the evening cowering behind a cushion.

Fans of Doctor Who are a little bit like fans of The Beatles; they are very protective of the legacy of their obsession – and always feel that they know best about it. As a result, I’ll keep my writing on the subject brief; I don’t want to step on the toes of the many who know more about the programme than myself.

I will say this, though – much as I like Matt Smith as The Doctor, tonight’s special did make me miss David Tennant. I also would have loved to have seen Christopher Eccleston in it again, though I know that was going to be very unlikely. 

One question that does play on my mind, is this: I wonder what fee Peter Capaldi got for a shot of just his eyes?


Friday, 22 November 2013

More Than Mostly Comedy.

I’m really enjoying the process of recording our More Than Mostly Comedy Podcasts.

One of the downsides of running your own night is you spend so much time concerned with admin that you seldom have the chance to chat properly with the other acts. From the moment you arrive your attention is split between trying to appease the staff and the audience; dealing with technical problems and customer queries – worrying about whether performers will arrive, and constantly keeping one eye on the time so the show doesn’t overrun, leaving them stranded in Hitchin before the last train.

It becomes an exercise in multi-tasking, with so much emphasis placed on what goes on behind the scenes that little or no time is spent thinking about your own material, or talking to the rest of the line-up.

A couple of years ago, while we were still at The Croft, we had the idea to record our own podcast. We thought that if we made a point of interviewing every act, we’d address the problem of barely speaking to them; ensuring we didn’t just become the guys who gave them a lift from the station and paid them at the end of each night.

The downside of this was we increased what was expected of us; trying to find time around hosting the evening to sit down with the line-up and record every interview.

Those first few at The Croft proved to be tricky; the only place we could set up our equipment was in the kitchen, which would still be in use mid-recording. We were in the way from the offset, which was never going to make for a comfortable interview.

Since moving to The Market Theatre it’s become a lot easier; we now have more space at our disposal – and while it’s still a challenge to find a free moment, when we have, the results have been worth it.

We’ve had fascinating chats with acts we look up to; talking in depth to the likes of Richard Herring, Phil Kay, Norman Lovett and Sean Hughes about what makes them tick. It’s also helped us redress the balance; showing we can be more than a pair of rabbits caught in the headlights, so stressed with running the evening that we barely communicate.

It’s also nice to step away from the rigidity of our slideshow-based stand-up and do something a little more off-the-cuff.

So, if you're interested in the mechanics of comedy, why not have a listen? You might find them intriguing. Episode 5 is a good starting point - if only to find out about Glyn's dubious taste in music.

The More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast is available for free via iTunes here. Episode 6 will be up in the next few days, featuring interviews with Joey Page (BBC2’s ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’) and WitTank (BBC3’s ‘Live at The Electric’).

Amateur Stuntman.

Worryingly, the biggest laugh I got at tonight’s Mostly Comedy was entirely by accident – when I fell over on stage in full view of the audience.

To be fair, the fall was pretty spectacular. It happened at the beginning of the second half. I introduced myself from the off-stage mic, bounded on energetically – and, thanks to the distinct lack of grip on the soles of my shoes, skidded and collapsed in a heap on the floor.

My limbs splayed in every direction; I wasn't aware of my own flexibility.

What made it particularly special was the off-stage introduction. I made absolutely certain that everyone was looking in my direction; I might a well have dived through a hoop into a pool full of water.

I’d like to think I made the most of a potentially embarrassing situation: I stood up afterwards with my arms outstretched, like a gymnast completing a tricky dismount – and bowed to the audience. All it needed was Glyn to hold up a scorecard for the illusion to be complete.

If all else fails, I might take up a career in slapstick.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged.

Today’s blog is written in celebration of my chiropractor. 

For the past nine years I've had problems with my back. I can pinpoint the exact moment it started: early December in Winchester. I was rehearsing for the Theatre Royal's production of Puss in Boots (playing Ratty, henchman to the evil Ogre). The role called for me to perform a one-man Chinese Dragon dance; the sort of thing I do on an everyday basis. On this occasion I launched into it without a proper warm-up – and as I dropped onto my haunches to kick things off, my back seized up and I couldn’t move.

It was agony. I couldn’t stand up. All I could do was lay on the floor and make guttural noises.

I was terrified. The theatre company sent me off to a variety of specialists – and eventually, I learnt I had slipped a couple of discs in my lower back and strained my left shoulder. I was signed off of the panto (which was heartbreaking, as I was really enjoying myself) and sent home to recover.

I remember one of the cast members, Sarah Whittuck, driving me back to St. Albans, where my dad was due to pick me up. I spent the entire journey with my seat set at a 135° angle because I was unable to sit upright.

For the next couple of months I could barely walk or dress myself: it was a shitter.

Eventually, I was put onto an osteopath (rough translation: “East-German psychopath”) - and then to a chiropractor who still treats me to this day. Literally: I saw him this afternoon.

Today was a necessity. I was walking down a steep hill this morning, when I slipped on a pile of wet leaves and fell flat on my back. It looked like a top-class bit of slapstick; I was lucky I didn’t injure myself severely.   

Let me give you a mark of how good my chiropractor is: my back was too bruised to treat properly, so he didn’t charge for today’s session and booked me in for another next week instead. How nice was that?

(All together: “Very nice.”)

Over the years we’ve talked about a lot. He asks me how my career is going – and whether I’ve broken the comedy / acting / musical market yet. I’ve told him about the best bits, the worst bits and the mediocre bits – and most of this has been discussed whilst I’m in my underwear and he’s in a shirt and tie.

(He also wears trousers.)

I’d stripped down to my boxers on every occasion until a few months ago, when I walked into the surgery and he said “Just the top half, David”. I started to worry that I'd been getting it wrong all these years and he hadn't had the heart to tell me.

I once gave him a flyer for a show whilst standing in my underwear. It felt like a cry for help.

...he still came to see it.

So, if you’re based in North Hertfordshire and have postural problems, look up the Hitchin Chiropractic Clinic. Give them a call and ask for Adam. He's a cracking chiropractor (no pun intended).

The Comedy Night That Never Was.

Myself and Glyn are currently sitting on the train from King's Cross to Hitchin; on our way home from the comedy night that never was.

Tonight was supposed to be this year’s final Leicester Square Theatre installment of Mostly Comedy (we still have two more Hitchin dates to go). We had a cracking line-up booked, including Red Dwarf’s Norman Lovett, Foster’s Best Newcomer Nominee Sam Fletcher, Time Out’s “rising star” Nish Kumar and us (no prefix). It was a great gig on paper – but sadly no-one wanted to come and see it.

That’s not strictly true. There probably were plenty of people who wanted to come and see it, but only two people booked - and when the performers outweigh the audience 5/2 it’s less of a comedy night and more of a hostage situation.

We’d probably have to rebill the gig as Mostly Comedians.

I think the problem is we haven’t quite got our marketing right. The London gig is obviously up against a lot of competition (they’ve got The Trocadero for a start)  – but we do consistently pull good line-ups with a strong headliner; this year we've had Phil Kay, Josh Widdicombe, Barry From Watford and James Acaster, to name just a few.

The first two London dates of the year sold pretty well, but they were both recommended in Time Out. Since then we’ve been a little unlucky: important listings have been missed here and there, shows have been booked on the same day as the Wimbledon Men’s Final (7th July) and the England v. Germany match (tonight), and consequently we’ve missed out. Missed out and lost money, which is what hurts most.

Hopefully we’ll turn it round. Come the New Year we hope to run the gig on a more appealing night; something towards the end of the week, when people are more likely to want to come out. We’ll also endeavour to be more on the case when it comes to press and marketing; speaking to the publications more directly, asking what they want from us and when they want it.

All was not lost: we had a nice chat with Norman – and had a cup of tea and a catch up with Sam Fletcher; sharing photos of kittens (Sam’s), cats (mine) and babies (Glyn’s).

Let’s hope that next year we get it right – and at least we’ve got this Thursday’s Hitchin Mostly Comedy to look forward to.

Thursday's Hitchin Mostly Comedy features WitTank, Joey Page and Luke Benson. To book, click here, or click here to download free episodes of our More Than Mostly Comedy Podcast.

Monday, 18 November 2013

None of My Business.

Today I walked past a shop called 'Brow Bar and Beauty Boutique' – and wondered whether they settled on the name for its alliterative qualities, or if this was just a coincidence.

Are the Brow Bar and the Beauty Boutique two separate businesses that trade on the same premises? Did they go halves on signage just to save funds?  If not, then surely the Brow Bar falls under the remit of the Beauty Boutique, and they didn’t need to single it out.

It's like if I ran a bakery called The Chelsea Bun and Bun Shop; the second ‘Bun’ would negate the necessity of the first. Unless (1) my business was based in Chelsea, (2) not all the produce was made there, (3) my name was Chelsea, or (4) I only stocked two buns: one bearing the distinctive cinnamon and curranty characteristics of a Chelsea Bun – and another that defied definition.

(Possibly not the clearest example; I should have gone with Newsagent and Daily Mail Stockist.)

I presume the owners of 'Brow Bar and Beauty Boutique' didn't give it too much thought. They probably just like the burst of four plosives in their mouth.

Simple pleasures.