Friday, 31 March 2017

Get Your Own Page.

There's little that can match the unbridled joy of discovering you’re next to Dave Benson Phillips in the Brighton Fringe brochure.

Dave Benson Ephgrave.
I wasn’t aware of this strange quirk of fate until I flicked through the copy I picked up from Brighton Station last night, on arriving in town to do a spot at a comedy night. On balance, it isn’t that bizarre an occurrence - this is how alphabetical listings work - but it’s still a moment to savour; anyone who thinks I'm not a success will now be laughing on the other side of their face (which isn't healthy).

It’s not the first time I’ve rubbed shoulders with celebrity in a festival brochure sense. In 2008, Glyn and I had an advert in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure on the same page as one for a show featuring the drummer from Dodgy. As a low-level fan, I’d noticed this instantly, but had it neatly underlined when I happened to bump into him flyering on the street. He spoke to me like he knew me and I played along, though I suspect the only reason he thought this was because he’d seen my face next to his in the programme and had stored it away subconsciously; the fact he even did that - to use a pun - was Good Enough for me.

Funnily enough, I once met Dave Benson Phillips at a mutual friend's 30th birthday party at Elstree Studios. It was a busy affair - so much so, it took a long time to track my friend down to pass on a happy return or two. He happened to be talking to my Brighton Fringe page-sake at the time; Phillips turned to me as I chatted with my friend as if he was trying to work out who I was. Or so I thought: he may have been having a sixteen-year-early premonition.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

London, Brighton, Hitchin, Peckham.

Today's been a good day, but a busy one, with a gig in Brighton to round things off.

I caught the train into London this afternoon to meet a potential PR for Edinburgh at The Ivy (he said, as if this was an everyday occurrence). Before arriving, I'd had visions of being turned away at the door for being insufficiently important; I was so unsure as to the club's rules for admittance that I meant to ask a friend who'd been in The Mousetrap at the theatre over the road if I needed to wear some sort of blazer-and-cravat combo or learn a special handshake. Thankfully, i needn't have worried, as a mention of the chap I was meeting didn’t provoke confusion or a punch in the face; in my life, you can't ask for more than that. 

The meeting was encouraging - and that, combined with me having watched a video of my set from last week's Mostly before leaving for London and enjoying the content gave me a much-needed shot-in-the-arm of confidence to carry me through the rest of the day. I made my way back to King's Cross to catch the train from St Pancras to Brighton feeling strangely positive for a man of my disposition; it was nice to know I had a long enough journey ahead to relax for a bit, read my copy of Private Eye and listen to this week's (excellent) episode of The Missing Hancocks that I'd had the foresight to download to my phone before leaving the house; it helps that the journey to Brighton is one I'm very familiar with; it doesn't feel that long to me now I've done it so often. 

(I'm rambling.)

Too easy.

I arrived in Brighton just after 6pm, with enough time to find the venue and sit in the park opposite, so I could flick through my notes before going in. I walked upstairs to find the gig's host and her techie in the room, setting up. We chatted briefly about each other's forthcoming Brighton Fringe shows before the room filled up (with more acts than audience) and the show kicked off. 

Brighton: the Meaning of Bowie's Life.

I closed the first half with ten minutes of an equal mix of new & old material, which went down well for a room filled with more comics than real punters. I said a quick thank you to the host and then sprinted out the door to the train. This sprint wound up being more ambitious than I’d first thought, as it was mostly uphill with a large flight of steps at the end of it. Still, it was worth it, as I managed to catch an early enough train to be home before midnight; all in all, it was a successful day, even If the burst of exercise towards the end of it proved I’m not as fit as I thought.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Musical Catch-ups.

Today didn’t contain much in the way of writing, though I got to see my friend Rob, who came to Hitchin for one of our not-as-regular-as-we’d-like catch-ups.

It’s always great to see him, particularly now we don’t get the chance to work together like we did when I was knee-deep in actor / muso work. Those gigs were far more bearable whenever he was in the band, particularly when we did the Buddy show together.

I first met Rob in 2006, on my second Buddy tour. I did the first one the year before and hated it as - outside of the rhythm guitarist and drummer - it had a horrible atmosphere, with a band that didn’t click. Despite playing Buddy and being at the centre of the show, I was constantly undermined onstage by the emcee, who didn’t trust my ability and would consequently talk over me. He did this with good but misguided intentions, but it was tiring to always be backfooted by someone who was jaded with the show anyway, and didn’t consider how it was strange for Buddy to keep being corrected by one of his band from the outside looking in.

The tour with Rob was completely different. We shared the same sense of humour (which was great as he was the emcee) and played well together too. Suddenly I didn’t have someone working against me. The atmosphere lifted and the show became fun, then even better when Glyn became tour manager halfway through.

While I don’t miss the crap that went with it, I do miss playing with the band and being in good shape musically. I also miss the slight detachment from reality that touring could bring. Being five years out of drama school, I was still relatively new to it, and was still getting a buzz from playing my hero. I never grew sick of the music - I was listening to it this morning - but I soon grew sick of the rest of it...except for Rob; he's a good friend to have.

Monday, 27 March 2017

University Challenged: Volume Twenty-Eight (27.03.17)

They say the show ain’t over until the fat lady sings, but in the case of this series of University Challenge, it ain’t over until another team winds up facing the wrath of Wolfson Cambridge, AKA Team Monkman.

It’s well known how much humour the man can inject into such a potentially dry and joyless show; every small utterance is delivered with comedic gusto, except you know that no writing was involved. He’s an natural in his unnaturalness and a human antidepressant; I laughed nearly every time he spoke.

See below for my mostly Monk-themed tweets; there’ll only be more to follow when he returns next week.

Emmanuel Cambridge Vs. Wolfson Cambridge (27.03.17)

8:03pm: Monkman: a God Amongst Monkmen.
8:04pm: Monkman's made special effort tonight with his hastily scissored fringe.

8:05pm: Monkman has the look of a man who's delighted to be sitting on his spike.

8:07pm: Thomas Moore Moore do you like it? How do you like it?

8:07pm: Has Monkman worn the same outfit for every show?

8:07pm: I'm gay for Monkman.

8:09pm: Hill's back with his Joe Brown hair.

8:15pm: Imagine sitting next to Monkman. Imagine being in the same room as him. Imagine his voice vibrating your eardrums.

8:17pm: I have to say @Bobby_Seagull's looking particularly dapper this evening.

8:19pm: My nan used to have a Barton-Singer in her sewing room.

8:19pm: Cosgrove can be found in the dictionary, under 'nonchalant'.

8:20pm: Monkman favours a fake collar over an actual shirt.

8:22pm: Monkman has the face of a man who regrets sucking that lemon.

8:24pm: Chaudhri has the expression of a man who's smug about the poo he secretly hid in Paxman's fridge.

8:27pm: Chaudhri reminds me of Doug.

8:28pm: Monkman is my religion.

8:30pm: Sad at the loss of Seagull. Delighted at the promise of more Monkman. Bittersweet.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

2 Become 1.

It’s worrying when someone tries to amalgamate you and your double act partner into one person.

It’s particularly concerning when the people who choose to do this are a bank that you’ve been with for years. You’d think they’d have it on record that we’re two individuals, but apparently not; this all bodes well for the safety of our online identities and our money, when a simple thing like remembering our names is overlooked.

Outside of stumbling across post addressed to a pushmi-pullyu version of my comedy partnership, I took my mum out for breakfast this morning to mark Mother’s Day and did some writing in the afternoon, returning to the material I’d aborted the say before, when it wasn’t coming together. As I suspected, it sounded better on fresh ears, but still needs a lot of work. I made a point of not doing too much today anyway, as I didn’t want to overload myself as I’m prone to do; I want to be up in the morning to chastise the postman after all.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Carry it Over

Tonight, I watched the fifth film in the Carry On series ‘Carry On Regardless’ for the first time and really quite enjoyed it.

I’m surprised that I’d never seen it before or even heard of it. It’s more of a prototype sketch show than anything, with very little in the way of a through-line plot, but the performances in it are excellent, with lots of lovely little comedy set pieces to drive things along. It’s still in the early stages of the Carry On format, so isn’t brash and gaudy like some of the later ones, but as ever the cast are great when it comes to making the most of the subject matter and wringing the comedy out of it; Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Sid James in particular stand out for their gently understated comic turns.

I’m a little bit in love with those three, all of whom are vastly underrated. Sid gets less to play with in this one, but Connor and Sims have a bit more meat. Connor is at the top of his game, managing to get a laugh out of every line; he doesn’t miss a trick. Sims is similarly on form, particularly in a drunk scene towards the beginning in which she isn’t afraid to make herself look ungainly in aid of a laugh; that’s what’s so great about her: she can be both sexy and funny. You don’t get those sort of character actors any more, which is a real shame, as they're a cut above.

Now Who's Selling Tickets?

I managed to do a tiny bit of writing today, but I wasn’t really in the mood.

I hate it when I have a day to myself when I could be working on material, but don’t get much done. I’m the sort of person who’s never happy with my productivity, and very quickly dismiss what I’ve achieved as not enough. It’s an irritating aspect of my personality that I’d love to eradicate or soften, so I don’t run myself into the ground when I never meet my expectations.

I made a start on an idea that’s been on the back-burner for a while, but haven't yet seen through. I got a little caught up in the mechanics of the slideshow that will accompany it and, as a result, lost the joy in it a bit. I did manage to make a recording of a rough outline though, so I’ll come back to it tomorrow on fresh ears. Sometimes, you need distance to see the worth in what you’re doing, particularly when you’re not in the right mindset.

On the plus side, my Edinburgh show went on sale today; ‘Now Who’s a Comedian?’ is suddenly a thing. It’s exciting, particularly when - despite today’s slow start - I'm beginning to get a feel on what it will be. There’s a long way to go, but I’m gradually cranking the handle, which came out more euphemistic than I intended; as long as I keep plugging away without punishing myself on my less productive days, I should keep things on course.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Hal-lo, Goodbye.

The reaction to Hal Cruttenden at this evening’s Hitchin Mostly Comedy was one of the most vocal I remember.

Doggett, Cruttenden and Ephgrave after March's Hitchin Mostly Comedy (23.03.17)

He was great. Prior to tonight, I was more familiar with his appearances on panel shows and on 'The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice' than of his stand-up, but it was his warmth that drew my interest and made me think he’d be great for Mostly, but even I wasn’t prepared for how good he would be; his crowd work was super-sharp and - as cliché as the this may sound - the laughs came thick and fast.

Joey Page at tonight's show.
The night was a very strong one anyway. Joey Page took the first half after us and did a great job. He’s a lovely guy and one of our most regular go-to acts, having played every venue we’ve run in Hitchin, London and Edinburgh, bar the Summer Specials at the Queen Mother Theatre (though he did do the Summer Special at The Sun, which was our first gig at the venue). He’s always had a great way with intricate surreal stories that build, then break for a bit, then build again, and as a result is quite different to a lot of acts that play the club as there’s another level to what he does; he’s also great with visual comedy; the set piece he closed with was a perfect example and was very funny.

Me, powering a small marionette.
Glyn and I played safe in the first half with the Beard Board, which we haven’t done for quite a while, but it still got a good reaction. I also did ten minutes of predominately new material at the beginning of the second half that went well, which bodes well what with it being the starting blocks for this year’s show. Now I just need to knuckle down to get more stuff finished for my extended work-in-progress set at next month’s Mostly; this takes place the week after my dates in Bath, so whatever happens, it will have at least been vaguely tried out already; Bath’s loss is Hitchin’s gain.

Last night's agenda.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Can't Picture It.

Today I had a reasonably productive day, which included finishing off and ordering artwork for my Bath ‘All Work, No Progress’ dates (which are practically three weeks away; shit-sticks), rehearsing some new material for tomorrow’s Mostly and having a quick look at some of the other blogs I’m likely to work into stand-up.

I’ve got quite a few spots over April to try stuff out (including my Bath shows and an extended work-in-progress set at Mostly the week afterwards) but the only sticking point is the material I think shows my strongest suit involves projection, which I’m less likely to be able to use at these gigs. The dates will still be useful, as there’s always stuff I can work up, but I don’t like not performing at my best - and while I’ve definitely got better at telling straight stand-up stories, my experience with slideshows from Glyn’s and my live act inevitably makes for punchier content; I instantly feel more comfortable and in control with my remote in one hand and an amusing or relevant picture projected behind me (who doesn't?).

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, as I’ll obviously be able to use a projector for my Bath and Brighton warm-up dates and for my Edinburgh run - but the point of doing all of these shorter spots is to get my new material tight, so it’s frustrating that I won’t be able to use them for the better, more visual stuff.

Something in the Way.

Today’s been another day of admin, followed by admin, followed by admin, followed by a tiny bit of writing.

Amongst other things, I booked a few gigs in April and two previews at the Etcetera Theatre in July. I could still do with more of the latter in the diary, and would particularly like some at shows I don’t organise myself. For someone who offers other acts work all the time - he says like a comedic martyr - I don’t get many back myself, which is frustrating, as it would be nice to have a little of what I constantly give everyone else: the chance to try new material out to a sizeable guaranteed audience; if you enter people’s lives as a promoter, they’ll never see you differently.

I’ve also spent today tinkering with artwork for my Bath dates next month, which are getting close enough for me to have to get a wiggle on with ordering the print for. I won’t need too many posters and flyers as hopefully the location of the venue and the nature of it being a festival should help drum up an audience, but it’s frustrating that yet again, the promo work for my stuff suffers in the wake of all the other organization I do.

The writing’s the most important bit. I’ve still got plenty of time to pull things together for the summer, but I’d like to get the admin for my work-in-progress dates and Mostly Comedy done as soon as possible, so I can turn my attention to what should be my priority. I did quickly run through my proposed set for Thursday’s Mostly, but didn’t spend as much time on it as I’d like. If I knuckle down tomorrow morning, I can hopefully spend most of tthe day rehearsing for Thursday and sketching out more new stuff to work up over the next few weeks so I can make the most of my Bath and Brighton dates; the more I work up the better, as it will give me time to fathom out what's funny and what isn't.

Monday, 20 March 2017

'University Challenged: Episode Twenty-Seven (20.03.17)

Unfortunately, I’ve missed the last few episodes of University Challenge due to a hectic schedule (correction: I just happened to have a string of gigs on Mondays), so in many ways, I feel like I’ve fallen out of the loop.

The biggest disaster of all thanks to this was missing an extra performance from this year’s internet sensation, the truly wonderful Monkman. The chap is as puzzlement even to himself, though he should at least rest assured that he’s the epitome of the sort of person you expect to see on television’s most socially awkward quiz show; the man expels so much nervous energy for me to worry he will burst.

Still, what we lost from no Monkman was counteracted nicely by the presence of Goldman, who’s like a robot when it comes to answering questions, while seemingly deriving no pleasure from it. His joyless tone was my main focus on Twitter tonight, though my comments weren’t appreciated by everyone; it’s not like I sought him out personally and emailed him what I felt; some people take things to seriously.

There's nothing quite like a jerk period.

See below for tonight’s as-it-happens Twitter rundown of the show.

8:03pm: No Monkman. Pointless.

8:04pm: Freddie Potts and his Lego hair.

8:04pm: Pope thinks he's ruddy Lovejoy.

8:05pm: Goldman answers each question without an ounce of warmth or enjoyment.

8:06pm: The pattern on Goldman's shirt came about thanks to an unfortunate incident with a biro.

8:09pm: Imagine Goldman imparting bad news: "Your wife has died". Barren.

8:10pm: A hug from Goldman would be functional yet emotionless.

8:11pm: Goldman pulls off the legs of insects.

8:14pm: I'm taking on "Corpus Christi Venkatesh" as a celebratory exclamation.

8:15pm: Fleet looks like Angelos Epithemiou post-shave.

8:16pm: Pope would straddle a chair whilst leading a meeting.

8:17pm: Johnson wouldn't look out of place playing bass in Kenickie.

8:17pm: Did Paxman just say "Farrrk"?

8:18pm: Baliol's Potts' hair doubles as a cycle helmet.

8:19pm: I subscribe to a magazine called Repeated Cleavage.

8:20pm: Venkatesh is as likeable as Goldman isn't.

8:22pm: Goldman traps animals, slaughters and then performs taxidermy on them.

8:24pm: Pope listens to Robert Palmer at full pelt.

8:26pm: Johnson seems angered by his own knowledge.

8:28pm: Potts looks like a pre-grey Father Ted.

8:29pm: Vienna means nothing to me.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Good to Get Back.

I did a short spot at an open mic gig in Finsbury Park tonight, which is becoming a habit; primarily as it's so near to home. 

There was a real sense of luxury when I came out of the gig and it was only half eight. This makes me wonder why on earth I put myself through something if I'm that pleased by the realisation that I'll get home early; is this normal? Does everyone get that excited at the thought of finishing whatever they've set out to do? I know many people see work as a means-to-an-end and aren't defined by their job, but isn't performing meant to be different? You certainly don't do it for the money (unless you were one of the central cast of Friends or Frasier, when I imagine the massive episodic fee was a pleasant by-product). 

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy tonight; it's a nice little gig, and was useful as a chance to try out a couple of stories I haven't told in public before - but I'm still delighted to already be on a train speeding homeward so early, I'll almost be back pre-watershed. I just like being at home and don't feel I'm there enough; I don't want to spend all my time rushing from one thing to the next that I somehow miss the most important things in life. Comedy, acting and music are fine, but they're transient; this is too philosophical a way to end a blogpost, but I'm still going to do it. 

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Go, go...

My plans for what I was going to write tonight were scuppered when I caught the breaking news that Chuck Berry died today.

The man was a legend - a word that’s often overused but never more justified - and one of the biggest driving forces in rock music, who was still out gigging to the end. His riffs, sound and lyrics were the root of rock & roll, inspiring Buddy, Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who and pretty much anyone who's picked up an electric guitar. Not only didn’t he almost single-handedly invent the genre he worked in, he was the first to write for it with real wit. He wove intricate stories into his songs like no-one else; least of all anyone writing around the twelve-bar blues.

He’d become infamous in recent years for some questionable sexual habits and for regularly touring without a permanent band (he’d often just opt for local musicians without any rehearsal), but before all this, he lay the groundwork for a style of music that will live long after he and his contemporaries have passed. The man wrote Johnny B. Goode, for Christ's sake; don’t let Marty McFly tell you any different.

In the mid-1970s, John Lennon was forced into releasing a few Berry numbers as part of a lawsuit brought about by his re-appropriating of the lyrics to You Can’t Catch Me in the Beatles’ Come Together. I believe this indirectly led to the appearance below. Despite being rough around the edges, it’s still great; Chuck's one brown-eyed handsome man who will be sorely missed.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Write it Down.

I had another good day of writing today, which makes me feel like I’m starting to move up a gear with my preparations for this year’s Edinburgh.

That’s not to say I’m not still at the early stages (there’s a lot of nots in that sentence), but there’s a sense that things are picking up. I haven’t learnt much of it yet - it’s just a series of slideshow & Evernote recordings at the moment - but I can slowly see things starting to take shape. If I can keep momentum up for the next week or so, I can hopefully get a few more slideshows recorded, so I can begin to get it in my head in time for my first work-in-progress dates in Bath next month.

I won’t say much more tonight as I’m struggling to stay awake; this could be the influence of the cat that’s nearly always asleep on my lap. I leave with a final thought: on popping to the shop this evening for some emergency chopped tomatoes, I saw a number of CDs on sale at the counter with the title ‘Now That’s What I Call Mum’. I can’t for the life of me fathom out that title as a concept. Still…at least it’s a marginal step up from this. That said, the people at Now seem to be stretching the idea of their albums; whatever the case, I bet Neil Diamond’s on it.

Getting On.

I had a moment of reassurance tonight when I listened back to a few little recordings of bits of material I’ve been working on with a view to going in my show and they actually made me laugh.

I’ve been doing everything in fits and starts of late, that I haven’t been able to get a handle on what’s been done and whether it’s any good. I’d hoped to use this week to really get down to it, but inevitably, things kept getting in the way. I didn't have time to do anything today until late, so I decided to take stock of what I’d been tinkering with recently, rather than start anything knew - and the benefit of having had a little space from it all helped to put things back into perspective. I’m actually enjoying the slightly more robust style of what's coming out, partly as a result of being more faithful to the blogs I’ve written, while using projection to punctuate them. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I feel heartened by what’s coming together, of which there’s more than I’d first thought.

In other news (literally) I was pleased to see a piece in today’s Comet about next week’s Mostly, having moaned about the lack of coverage yesterday. It was exactly what I wanted, as it’s just as valid to cover an event when it’s sold out. It helps to remind people locally who aren’t on our mailing list that we are regularly getting big names and pulling a crowd. The fact the last six gigs all sold out in advance is quite something. Let’s hope we can keep it up; either way, I’m going to make the most of the next few shows to try out the stuff I’m working on and to give it a good airing; it’s time to keep this new feeling of positivity up.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Climb Ev'ry Mountain.

One thing I never cease to be surprised by, despite the fact I should know better by now, is how much my job requires requires a thick skin.

I regularly feel like I’m swimming against the tide at the moment, particularly in the lead up to Edinburgh. Yesterday, I raced to put together a clip of live material to send to a publicity person who requested to see more of my work (forewarning it was a little rough around the edges) to receive a polite reply today, praising my confident performance, but being less enthused about the content.

While this sort of thing is par-for-the-course, it can still be a gentle slap to the face when you put so much time into self-generation of work with little perceived outside encouragement. I know I’m capable and better at what I do than I’m occasionally given credit, due to little outside accreditation for my comedy - no-one has yet taken the bite and helped me out - but there are times when it’s hard to keep positive and striving ahead when you keep pushing at metaphorical pull-doors.

Mostly Comedy’s another case in point, when you put a lot of time into something that keeps growing, yet it still gets ignored by the local press. I’m proud of how in eight and half years we’ve gone from a tiny room about a pub to selling out a 150-seater venue nearly every month, yet no-one outside of our regulars seems to grasp this, or want to praise or promote it. Then, just when you think you’ve got all the admin sorted, a setback comes up (like having to change the date of our Angelos & Barry gig in May yesterday) that sends you back to the drawing board to keep faffing away.

The key is to keep doing it, and not be swayed by the challenges. I’ve been very lucky with work since leaving drama school fifteen years ago, and have done many things I would never have expected. Things just feel harder when you have to keep stoking the boiler of your own perseverance; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or so the clichéd maxim says.