Tuesday, 28 November 2006

OCD And Me

Here’s an example of how my brain works.

On Sunday, I attended the Ministry of Mirth. I didn’t do a set, but I did introduce the compere.

Here’s my problem.

I make a note of what I say at every gig. Every performance is recorded in a Word document and stored on my computer. This is perfectly sensible – it helps me to avoid repeating myself at the same venue, and it’s a way of getting familiar with my material (I also have an Ideas file).

It is, additionally, helpful to know how many gigs I’ve done. But a problem arises when I can’t decide whether something is a gig.

I decided that the podcast I did at the start of the year was one, and that the announcements I made at a bench press competition were not. OK, phew. But I’m not sure how to classify the introduction I did on Sunday. Was it a short set? Or not a set at all? I need to know, if I am to know exactly how many gigs I have done.

If it is a set, however short, I also need to record what I said about Al, that night’s compere. And maybe I should record it even if it wasn’t a set. If so, how do I categorise the Word document?

Such are the apparently trivial concerns that can dominate the mind of a person with OCD. And believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. It can get MUCH worse than this, in terms of both content, and how it dominates. At its most rampaging, OCD is a form of brutal torture. Appalling thoughts; irrational, repetitive actions made in a desperate attempt to offset the thoughts; ruminating ALL DAY LONG – these add up to substantial misery.

But the good news is that it hasn’t been anything like as bad as it was three years ago and beforehand, and I don’t believe it ever will be again. A good psychologist, a commitment to avoiding – forever – the most destructive behaviour, and keeping busy has made an Olympian difference.

I actually regretted introducing Al for a bit, purely because it engendered the doubts I have just described. But that’s not a good way to go through life, and it was in fact a privilege to welcome him to the stage.

And it looks as though writing things down can help too. It wasn’t a set, and I don’t need to make a note of it. So there.

F-k you, OCD.

tommywgreeves@yahoo.co.uk

Sherwood

I have received news from James Sherwood, whom I met at my first ever gig, and who has coped with me hanging on his every word and turning up at his shows with remarkable calm.

His ‘I know what you did last Sunday’ is terrific. I saw it twice in Edinburgh, and may even see it again in London. And not just to ensure that James becomes truly terrified that he’ll never escape my clutches.

It’s a tour-de-force on Christianity. You might say that Sherwood guides you through the forest of religion. If you were inclined to pun desperately.

If you don’t trust me (and why on Earth would you?), then trust the many reviewers who have praised him to the skies. You can see him at the following places at the following times.

Thursday 7th December and Friday 8th December – 7.30pm, Hen and Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road (Highbury & Islington tube). Tuesday 9th January and Wednesday 10th January – 7.30pm, Etcetera Theatre, Oxford Arms, 265 Camden High Street (Camden Town tube).

I’m told that:

‘You can book December tickets from the Hen and Chickens on 020 7704 2001. You can book January tickets from the Etcetera on 020 7482 4857.

‘Or you can buy on the night. All tickets are £6.’


I had a gig of my own last night. It went well, and I enjoyed seeing rising stars Paul Sinha and Andrew O’Neill - the latter of whom has performed with James Sherwood. What an incestuous, luvvie world I live in now.

I raced through my set a little, and it looks like my new technique of writing on my hand doesn’t work – I really do perform better with no notes at all. And I’m not even sure that being very prepared in terms of structure is a good idea.

I’ve become pretty adept at ad libbing, but that can only happen if I make the whole set looser. You can’t just recite your material - a set has to be a living, breathing thing. So you have to live with the fear that you’ll forget your planned stuff.

The only time that has happened to me for a significant period – two minutes! – I actually ad libbed rather well, so fingers crossed it needn’t be a big deal.

Overall I was pleased, and I got an excellent response from the crowd and from other comics. We’re getting there.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Bradford Jordan

One of my newer great mates is Brad Jordan.

He is a superbly talented man. This is his blog, and this is the website for his forthcoming show.

What I Believe

If you have not already done so, please read my last post before reading this one.

In order to give you an idea of where I’m starting from, allow me to outline, as best I can, what I believe.

I currently define myself as an agnostic, as opposed to an atheist or a theist. Even this is somewhat fraught. There are some thinkers who define an atheist as a person who dogmatically asserts that there are no gods. Others insist that anyone who does not actively believe in gods is an atheist. The thinking is that the word ‘atheist’ is like the word ‘amoral’. ‘Amoral’ implies an absence of morality, whereas ‘immoral’ implies that morals have been violated. (One can see how the two have a close relationship – isn’t it immoral to be amoral?!) People have attempted to clear the waters by distinguishing between positive and negative, or strong and weak, atheists.

Agnosticism and weak atheism are sometimes considered to be the same thing. But an agnostic may differ from the weak atheist in that the agnostic may positively, even dogmatically, assert that neither the existence nor the absence of gods can be known. This has been my own view for as long as I can remember.

Moreover, I do not know whether there is an afterlife, whether I have a soul, if the theory of evolution is wholly accurate or whether Jesus rose, bodily, from the dead.

But I do believe in certain things, some of them most assuredly and unequivocally.

I love my family and best friends, very much. They are of vital importance to me. They are also more important to me than other people. I reject, completely, the view that we each owe every other human being the same degree of love or care or interest. We have certain responsibilities to certain people, duties of care that are defined by our relationships to them. I consider this a moral imperative. It has various practical implications.

First of all, it means that I devote my major energies to these familial and friendly bonds. I am more likely to see a friend in the evening than switch on the news. I hope one day to have a family of my own. They will enjoy the vast bulk of my money, emotion and time. I will not work in a job that prevents me from seeing them. And any monies or time I devote to charitable causes will have to come from any surplus left after I have provided, as handsomely as I can, for my family.

This does not mean that I want to raise children who are spoilt or indifferent to others. I will read them the riot act if I learn that they are bullying someone. I want them to take a keen interest in the world. But they will have an absolute right to feel special, and specifically that their mother and I love them unconditionally. Our home will not be a doss house for all manner of strays. I will not spend hours down the pub tipping beer down my throat instead of playing football with my kids.

This notion of a specific duty of care applies elsewhere. Harry S Truman is often condemned for dropping nuclear bombs on Japan. But if those bombs ended the Second World War, and they did, then you can make a pretty convincing case that they saved the lives of huge numbers of Americans AND Japanese. So it can be defended from a purely utilitarian perspective.

But it would be quite wrong for an American President to look only at probable casualty rates. American people have put their trust in him. He has a duty to prioritise American lives. That may mean refusing to risk American troops in a war that has no direct impact on America. Or it may mean giving the go ahead to X - a course of action that will result in more casualties overall, but less for American troops, than course of action Y.

I do believe that there are degrees to this. It is not always right to do literally anything to minimise the risk to your troops. It may be that dropping a nuclear bomb on Afghanistan would have resulted in less Allied deaths. But it would have been utterly disproportionate and deeply immoral (we will ignore, for now, the fact that it would additionally have massively angered other nations and the implications of that). So brave young men and women had to go and fight on the ground.

Similarly, I will occasionally disappoint my family because I have to tend to someone else (a distressed colleague, for example). And I hope that they will understand that this is right. Yet just because this is a matter of shades of grey, my resolve is not weakened. We have special responsibilities, and I do not admire - at all - people who neglect their families to do charity work.

I find the distinction between positive and negative rights (or entitlements) useful. It is unquestionably correct that humans are indivisible beings, each of whom matters, and not merely means to an end. I am implacably opposed to violence without self defence (war is only just if it is a form of self defence, even if pre-emptive). I also loathe abortion. A foetus is human, and it is a distinct being. Therefore it is a human being. The notion that it only becomes one as it passes through the birth canal is preposterous, and clearly self serving.

That said, I utterly reject the view that all that matters in life is how we treat others. We have responsibilities to ourselves. It is right and proper that we pursue our own happiness, and do all that we can to be well rounded individuals. We are not obliged to engage in vast sacrifices. Simply put, I didn’t ask for anyone else to be born (other than my little sister), and I don’t believe that someone else’s mere existence gives them a claim on me.

I could sell most of my possessions, and give the proceeds to a number of worthwhile charities. I’m not going to, because I don’t care enough. And, chances are, neither do you. You need to face up to that.

Just think for a moment. Do you ever seriously inconvenience yourself to help strangers? I’m afraid that doing a sponsored bench press competition (as I did) doesn’t count if you enjoy lifting weights (as I do). Nor does taking a gap year to build a hospital in Africa, if you think it’s going to expand your horizons and make you feel good about yourself.

I actually think that agonising about motivation and altruism is fairly pointless. Of course the activities I describe above are worthwhile. And all the socialist collectives in the world are as nothing to the massive good done by capitalist organisations driven primarily by a desire to maximise profit. But it does allow me to outline a key part of my personal belief system – that context matters, and that we owe certain things to certain people.

And indeed to certain animals. I have loved all our family pets. They have been far, far more important to me than someone I’ve never met. I would shoot a man dead before I would allow him to torture someone’s pet. But I will not stop eating meat. Nor do I approve of violent efforts to stop animal testing. Once again, context matters.

So what of God? Well, as I say, I don’t know if He exists. But I do have some sense of what He must be like if He does.

Firstly, I simply cannot accept that He would punish us for having doubts about Him. I sometimes fear that He would. I think that is a residual symptom of OCD (obsessive prayer is a common symptom of that condition). Rationally – and I think we must be rational – it makes no sense at all that He would smite a kind man who denies His existence and exalt a cruel man who asserts it. If God is kind, He must accept that imperfect beings will have doubts.

It is also spectacularly difficult to accept that He is at once both omnipotent and good. I suppose this issue is rather like the assertion that capital punishment is indefensible because it is likely that someone innocent will be executed – i.e. one that the other side sneers at because it is such a well worn argument. But the point about that argument is that it is a bloody good one. And I’m afraid that I have to say the same about the goodness and power of God.

I do think free will is a good thing, and I accept that it is meaningless if it doesn’t allow us to be unkind or even cruel. But it is harder to accept that there is a place for cancer and earthquakes. And the most egregious acts of human depravity – rape, murder, genocide – would it really have been so restricting for God to prevent us wanting to engage in those? That still leaves us fairly extensive scope for folly and goodness doesn’t it?

None of us is perfect. But I find it very hard to accept that a baby is anything other than innocent.

However, the very fact that this is challenging means that we should engage with it. And I think it would be sophistry to dismiss something as falsehood just because it is unpalatable. I must keep this in mind as I go out on my journey.

It is easier to believe that the world was created by God, and that He is kind, but that He is not omnipotent. I’ve never understood why God must be omnipotent. It’s not like anything He may have created is perfect. Other, perhaps, than love and happiness.

As I say, I do not know whether there is an afterlife or not. I suspect I will not waiver from my current position that this is inherently unknowable. But I do believe that this world exists. It is fantastic, but not a fantasy.

And it matters, profoundly. I reject the idea that all that matters is what goes on in a future life, or that happiness should be deferred until then. It is an irrational position, given that we do not know that there is an afterlife. It is also ridiculous when one considers the myriad wonders of where we are now.

This life is sacred. It is right that we should treat it with some reverence. I don’t know if we have souls, but I think that we should consider ourselves more than bestial (albeit that we are animals). Relationships matter. Sex is not a sport. A funeral should always be a sober event – even if the wake is not. Literature, education, sport, architecture, music and art offer us a chance to raise ourselves up, and can provide immense pleasure. Pure, genuine happiness – as opposed to the mere satiating of desire - is never sinful. I believe that it is the primary purpose of our existence, and that it best served as a shared dish.

These, then, are some of my thoughts. They betray the prejudices of the author, and his priorities (someone else might have written much more about whether Jesus literally rose from the dead). I am interested to see how they change and what is added and subtracted as I continue this journey.

What do you believe? What do you think? Email me, on tommywgreeves@yahoo.co.uk.

The Search

When I started this blog back in March last year, my intention was that it would primarily be a vehicle for expressing my political views. As my interests have changed, and now that I work closely with the public sector, I have been writing less about politics. But I hope that I am becoming more, as opposed to less, quizzical about life. Recently I have thought that it would be stimulating to consider the biggest questions of all.

It comes at a time when I feel happier and more confident than perhaps ever before, and certainly since I was a child. So I am not looking to fill a void in my life or seeking salvation. Rather, as I am becoming – I hope – less self absorbed and self obsessed, I’m more able and inclined to engage in healthy thought.

You will notice that I start from the premise that being thoughtful and curious is indeed healthy. As such I am dismissing from the outset the notion that one should accept a religious or philosophical position uncritically. This process will not be a Cartesian experiment. I will not try to shed all my current beliefs, start again and see which I can reclaim. Even if this adventure leads me to hold certain views that I have never held before, some things simply will not change.

My family and friends will still be the most important people in my life (that includes future members of each of those overlapping groups!). I will retain my belief in kindness, in laughter and in love. The crucial importance of the free market and of freedom generally has been proven beyond all sensible debate. And I am, as the song goes, ‘Oxford [United] till I die’.

However, I will take an ecumenical approach to my inquiry. And I don’t mean ‘ecumenical’ in a purely Christian sense of the word. I will be reading widely. I will take a look at all the major religions and as many minor ones as I can stomach. I will read atheist and agnostic tracts. The Internet, the library, conversation with friends – each will be an important medium. There may be others.

That said, I will not be devoting equal time to each school of thought. I can tell you right now that Scientology and Astrology are, substantially, bollocks. And if I do find a strong faith, I will be staggered if it is not a Christian one.

I set out on my travels conscious of the fact that my prejudices and biases will affect the outcome of the journey, and aware that I may not fully appreciate the extent of that prejudice. I am also aware that most viewpoints are defended by someone of superior intellect, and that these questions have flummoxed many a great man and woman. Indeed, I’m still to be convinced that they are not inherently and hopelessly flummoxing.

But we are intelligent beings (especially me), and it is important for us to consider what we believe. I will share my progress with you. I am sceptical that this journey can end before I die, but maybe in time it will see me strolling around a fairly neat paddock, rather than wandering aimlessly.

And hey - at least I should get some cracking material for my stand-up.

My next post will outline my current beliefs in greater detail.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

The Ashes

With apologies to several of my friends (and especially to Ben Gannon), and to paraphrase Viz magazine:

I really hope we manage to win an obscure game against a nation with a much smaller population. That would be a source of immense pride.

Electric Mouse


I have a gig at the Electric Mouse, near London's Trafalgar Square, on Monday.

Here's a poster (right).

We're upstairs at The Clarence, 53 Whitehall, London.

The show starts at 7:30pm. Tickets are £3. The headline act is Paul Sinha, who went down a storm at Edinburgh this year.

I’ll be there from 7 pm, so we can have a chinwag beforehand if you're there!

Canvas Bags

This is a joyous thang.

I’d heard of, but never seen, Tim Minchin. He’s an Australian stand-up, who evidently does a nice line in comic songs.

Andy forwarded me the attached link. Check it out, then come back for my thoughts.

Great stuff ay?

What I love about this – apart from the magnificent way he engages the crowd – is the proportionate nature of his plea. There are no portentous claims that the world’s going to end; nor calls for each of us to radically alter our lifestyle. Taking a canvas bag to the supermarket would indeed help tackle one of the most egregious of environmentally damaging activities – unnecessary waste.

And Tim isn’t articulating some anti-capitalist idiocy. No, he is advocating that we continue to use supermarkets – those purveyors of good food at low, low prices – rather than calling on us only to eat organic, local produced mush.

All in all, a wonderful song, splendidly rendered.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Finding Nirvana

I am unable to articulate adequately the contempt I have for much contemporary music, and the overwrought reaction of fans to their absurd heroes.

So it is with great pleasure that I can endorse Nevermind by Nirvana as a truly excellent record. I bought it a few months ago, having seen a documentary about the album (specifically the album, rather than Kurt or the band or Courtney Love). It is musically ingenious and sophisticated (as well as tuneful) and lyrically stunning.

James Taylor liked Nirvana too, equally surprisingly.

Obviously you may have come across them already …

Monday, 20 November 2006

Bond Update

Further to my last post, this comes from Wikipedia:

‘George Lazenby was born in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Australia, and served in the Australian Army Special forces and as a military unarmed combat instructor.’

Apologies, George. Looks like you’d be pretty useful in a scrap!

No Mr Bond, I Expect You To Be Brilliant

I’ve never been much of a fan of James Bond. The man’s a misogynist and a ruthless killer. And yet I’ve never really warmed to him and his franchise.

Correction: until yesterday.

I took myself off to the cinema to see Casino Royale, encouraged by James’s endorsement, and the presence of Caterina Murino in the cast (she’s Yumsville, Tennessee). I liked the cut of Daniel Craig’s jib from the trailers, and he didn’t disappoint.

This is a modern Bond film, and no mistake. But it’s also a proper one. The action scenes are spectacular, but don’t rely excessively on CGI (the contemporary curse of cinema). The villains are memorable, and their ambitions huge, but they are not cartoon-like. All in all, this is by far the most realistic Bond film I’ve ever seen. As terrific and fantastic as the plot is, everything in it could happen. It’s also pretty much possible to understand what’s happening. That’s crucial.

The women are excellent. A Bond girl simply MUST be a genuine beauty. Today she must also be a developed, sophisticated character. I suppose my one gripe is that I’d liked to have seen more of Caterina Murino (stop it) on screen, but Eva Green’s is the main role, and that’s fair enough.

So what of the main man? Derided in advance by the press, Craig has stuck it to them. Full marks to the producers for having the wit to cast him. Vanessa Feltz may write him off as a nice bit of rough, but that doesn’t wash. He may not be a pretty boy, but a man like Bond would not be.

Brutally handsome is much more appropriate. And the most memorable body shot in the movie is when he emerges from the sea in a pair of trunks. Bearing in mind that this film features Eva Green and my future wife Caterina Murino, that’s a Hell of an achievement. Daniel’s gym work has paid off.

Craig is the first Bond since Connery who could conceivably trouble one in a fist fight. He’s well suited to the action scenes, but intelligent too, and complex. It is a masterstroke to make him vulnerable and less than omnipotent. This stops the film becoming too fantastical and jokey. It is right that Q should not appear this time round. Too many gadgets might have prevented Craig establishing himself (although I hope to see Q in future films).

So all in all, the Bond film not to end all Bond films, but to breathe new life into them. Well done Daniel, you did good.

I should declare an interest here. I'd love to play a Bond villain one day ...

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Handing A Dickhead His Arse

I had a great verbal fight yesterday morning, one that left me feeling most invigorated and pleased with myself.

It was one of those rare occasions where one thinks of exactly the right thing to say at the time.

I had just boarded the train at Oxford, and was about to sit down when my phone rang. It was a colleague.

I explained that I was in a quiet carriage, and she said ‘Just talk quietly’. That seemed reasonable, as we hadn’t left the station.

At that point, a pompous ass - the kind of speccy middle-aged twat bully one runs into all over the country - said, aggressively, ‘It IS a quiet carriage’. Well, actually it wasn’t quiet, as people were still boarding, but it was a no phone zone.

So I said to my colleague ‘I’ll have to go into one of the corridors, as people are making a fuss’. We soon established, however, that the issue could wait until I got into work.

As I returned to my seat, the pompous dickhead said: ‘It’s not making a fuss, it’s a quiet carriage’.

The conversation ended when I snapped: ‘Well you’d better hush up then hadn’t you?’

He did.

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

So What Would You Do, Funny Man?

We continue with today’s theme of comedy and politics.

Stephen Pollard links to a terrific article by David Aaronovitch in today’s Times. Do read that first.

Interesting ay? Aaronovitch has covered an issue that I have been thinking about a great deal recently, the relationship between comedy and politics, and specifically the fact that comedians are feted as the sages of our time, whilst politicians are often held in utter contempt.

I’ve been thinking about it for the most immediate of reasons. I am a stand-up comic, and I have a background in professional politics. I made a deliberate decision not to focus primarily on politics when I started out. There were a few reasons for this: I didn’t want to hector or lecture people, I think it’s a particularly demanding form of comedy and so frankly I wanted to get a bit more experience first (particularly as I am right wing), and I didn’t want to get pigeonholed. So far, so straightforward.

But there is another reason. Having worked for politicians, having got to know several, and considering a handful of them friends, I have a rather different view of their ilk. Far from thinking them to be the scum of the Earth, I consider them amongst the best people I know.

Of course it’s good that we live in a country where we can mock our leaders without being arrested or murdered. Of course much political debate is fatuous and should be derided. Yes there has been corruption, greed and incompetence in the last few decades (although precious little compared to other countries). But the stereotype of the modern day politician as a self-serving bigot on the make is wildly inaccurate.

(Most of the MPs I know are Tories, because I worked for the Conservative Party. But I’ve met a handful of MPs and candidates from other parties, and however much I disagree with them, they have my admiration too.)

Here’s why I admire them. They work VERY hard in a job that pays them less than they could usually expect to earn elsewhere. They are sufficiently committed to their principles to seek to pursue them in public service. Far from being detached from normal (sic) people’s concerns, they are faced with them on a daily basis through their mailbags, meetings and constituency surgeries.

Many MPs have an inflated sense of their own importance, and undoubtedly they are often personally ambitious. But heartless, disinterested and idle they are emphatically not.

I realise that I am coming across as a bit precious here. Yet maybe that’s appropriate. Our political system IS precious – it was hard won, and requires ferocious effort to maintain. As Aaronovitch points out in his article, most of a politician’s work receives little if anything in the way of media coverage. But it is real, and it matters.

It is also sophisticated and complex. Pensions policy, for example, is far from a walk in the park. It’s not even enough to have broad brush principles (such as 'I want to redistribute wealth more evenly'). They can only take you so far – to implement an effective policy, you need to consider a huge number of factors. And you need to sell your plan to the electorate.

You also need to sell it to the nation’s commentators, for they will dissect and analyse it for the public (who are far too busy with other things to wade through Treasury reports). Increasingly, Mr and Mrs Smith turn not to David Aaronovitch for guidance, but to celebrities.

The debate on global poverty (or rather poverty in Africa - no-one seems to give a damn about Asia or South America) is led by Bob Geldof and Bono. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts, I suspect that Chris Martin of Coldplay or maybe Brad Pitt will soon take possession of the topic of global warming. And providing a running commentary will be comedians on programmes like Have I Got News For You?

We can predict two things with confidence. First of all, they’ll take a clumsy liberal left position, and secondly, they will mock almost every politician mercilessly. And hey – it’s great that they have the freedom to do so. It’s just a shame that they will pretty much invariably be wrong, that they won’t offer a viable alternative prescription themselves, and that they will help convince the public that all politicians are malevolent.

Look, I love comedy. I admire Armando Iannucci very much, and his political satire is hilarious. I also admire Stephen Fry, and Ian Hislop, and Ricky Gervais, and even Bill Hicks. They’re all very funny, and they’ve all made amusing observations about politics, and helped to prick the egos of the pompous. But let me end this by telling you something shocking:

No comedian has ever advanced my understanding of a political issue one inch.

Sorry guys and gals, I just don’t rate you. Not when it comes to politics, and not when I compare you to the experts.

I’m not going to avoid politics altogether in my routines. It’s been a big part of my life, and apart from anything else I want to offer the punters a conservative perspective. And I’ll continue to be amused (as well as annoyed) when other comics talk about current affairs in their routines.

But if I want to educate myself on an issue, I’ll turn to Pollard, Aaronovitch or Matthew Parris. Or Adam Smith or Keith Joseph. Or I'll read a Select Committee report. Or I’ll pick up the phone to one of my MP buddies.

It won’t even occur to me to find out what they’re saying on the stand-up circuit.

Lookalikes



Tory MP James Gray and Irish stand up comic Dylan Moran have, one might imagine, little in common.

And yet, I rather suspect that they are one and the same.

Monday, 13 November 2006

MC Tom In Da House

So I've broken another comedy duck.

Last night I acted as a compere for the first time ever. It was at the Ministry of Mirth in Oxford, and although I didn't really feel I knew what the Hell I was doing, it all went pretty well. One thing to work on is getting the crowd into a noisy lather, but we kept things moving swiftly, and I was pleased at my ad libbing.

I've already been asked to compere at another comedy night in London on the back of last night's show, so we must have done OK.

I'm not quite sure why I'm saying 'we' instead of 'I' here.

I think the main lesson is that a stand up peformance is a living breathing thing, and you just can't be too scripted. That's why MCing is so good, as it forces you to think on your feet. When in the second half I was determined to cram in a very funny anecdote that I'd planned to use, it fell totally flat as it was out of context. But I surprised myself with what I was able to dredge up from nowhere.

Over the weekend I saw my very dear friends James, Will, Tim and Sarah, and had the pleasure of meeting Jasmine, whom I will now presume to call a friend too. They came along to the comedy, and didn't seem to be too appalled.

Finally, check out The Gentleman Rogue, the new blog from a friend of mine. It will be well worth a regular look.

Friday, 3 November 2006

Spiked

Oh dear.

One of the worst things that can happen to a comedian has happened to me.

I have been telling a joke that turns out to be someone else’s, without realising.

Here’s ‘my’ joke:

‘You’re probably looking at me and thinking “This guy must be an underwear model. He’s got the body of an athlete”. And indeed I do. She’s back at home in the fridge.’

So I was horrified to read in The Sun the other day that Spike Milligan quipped:

‘I have the body of an 18-year-old. I keep it in the fridge.’

Sometimes one comes up with the same idea quite independently. I always wanted to use the line ‘If it helps just one person … it will have been a disproportionate effort’. Then I heard Richard Wilson (not THE Richard Wilson, but the bloke from One Foot in the Grave) say something similar on TV.

I may yet use my version of that joke, as I thought of it before I heard Mr Wilson utter his. But I have to conclude that whilst it is conceivable that I hadn’t heard Spike Milligan’s joke, I probably had done so, and forgotten. And although I’ve never been caught out, and lots of comics wouldn’t care, I do mind - so my version of the joke has to be laid to rest.

I used the dead athlete thing after being reminded by James that I’d said it some years before. I THINK I can be certain that anything I’ve written from scratch since taking up comedy is mine. It’s the ideas or half-formed ideas from years ago that may have subliminal outside influences.

I’ve had a few offers from friends to write material for me. It’s tempting, and I’ve considered it (it is common practice), but I shall have to decline. The stand-up is meant to be a vehicle for me to express myself. How can I do that if I’m expressing something someone else has crafted? Some would argue that you can make a gag ( or a concept) your own the way a good singer does with a song – but that doesn’t wash with me.

I did crack once, and sang a song with lyrics that a friend was more responsible for than I was, and another time when a situation lent itself perfectly to a gag I’d heard before (at least I did acknowledge the line wasn’t mine immediately). And sometimes ideas come from conversations with friends. But really I want my material to be truly mine, for better or even better.

Happily, I’m becoming less and less wedded to scripted stuff anyway. Adlibbing makes me feel alive, and gets a good response from the crowd. Moreover, it makes every gig unique.

So sorry Spike old boy, but I really didn’t mean to plagiarise you.
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