Monday, 27 August 2007

User Reviews

I'm back.

I'm also very untense about these reviews:

Friday, 24 August 2007

Home Straight

Just two more shows now, and I'm looking forward to getting back to Oxford. Edinburgh is a smashing place, but - unlike some of my friends - at no point have I thought that I would like to live here. How little did I ever imagine that I would fall in love with Oxford again, but how wonderful that I have.

I suppose one of the points about useful experiences is that you don't know exactly what you'll learn from them. I had hoped that I'd get more comfortable on stage as a result of this intensive stand-up experience, and that has happened. There have been times when - in the middle of the afternoon in a well-lit bar - the audience's muted response and blank faces have seemed like a fairly devastating rejection. But that has morphed into a greater appreciation of the fact that all sorts of things determine how loudly a person will laugh, that comedy can be enjoyed in more than one way (although laughter is still the lifeblood of a stand-up) and that yes, I need to improve a lot.

Having had a dip in confidence during the middle of our run, when I really began to wonder if I am funny, I am now more persuaded that this improvement can and will take place over the years. There's so much to learn, much of it unquantifiable and perhaps even impossible to articulate; some things will change without my conscious mind really being aware of them.

I now understand a little better that my sense of humour is not mainstream, and that this will mean some audiences don't 'get' me. Sensing that, there are two roads that can be taken. One is to try to adapt, and become a performing seal. The other option is to plough on down the road I really want to take, aware that I will fall behind others at times, but sustained by knowing where I want to be eventually. It hardly needs to be stated which road the coward and which road the brave man would take.

Sucking up audience disapproval and disinterest has been tiresome, but developing a thicker skin is priceless. That said, I never want to become indifferent to the crowd. Sometimes - indeed as often as not - a bad response will be deserved, and my fault. And when I get it right, and that coincides with an appreciative and generous audience, it's awesome.

So what didn't I expect to get out of Edinburgh? I didn't expect to start enjoying repeating myself day-to-day and fine-tuning my material. I didn't expect to conclude that there's nothing wrong with crafting something, or that I should have a go at sitting down and writing stuff. But that has all happened.

And I have been reminded that although I'm 31, I'm a toddler in comic years. I see comedians whom I don't rate who have been going for a while, and they do have a certain confidence that comes with time.

And I have seen comedians whom I do rate highly, and come to realise that they too have benefitted from stage time. Even those who are quite inspired have clearly got better over time. This applies, apparently, to one of the outstanding talents of the Fringe, a guy whom a friend saw years ago be offensive and inadequate, yet whom she now acknowledges as superb. He is Daniel Kitson.

Soon after starting stand-up, I heard about this guy. Widely held among comedians to be the master, he is little-known among the general public. He had a small part in Phoenix Nights, but now detests Peter Kay (the feeling is mutual). Kitson shuns TV, and has set about trying to find 'his' audience.

I'd heard good things. He was said to be quite brilliant at stand-up, and also able to compere rowdy nights, whilst retaining an indie sensibility and a misanthropic shyness (and having bottle glasses and a stutter). At the same time, I heard he was a fabulous storyteller - a spinner of touching and memorable yarns.

I missed him last year. The other night I had the chance to see him for a fiver at 1:30 in the morning. I took it.

He read a story, interspersed with songs from the wonderful Gav Osborn. The venue was overcrowded, and I sat contorted for over an hour. It didn't matter. Kitson was spellbinding. All the hyperbole surrounding him is justified. He is utterly brilliant.

He is also most assuredly human. I would never claim to have his talent, but I do increasingly see how talent can be developed and honed. (Even George Best trained like a demon in the early days, you know.) So while I feel a long way from where I want to be, I still believe (with intermittent doubts) that I can get there. But it will take a few years, at least.

What I have no intention of doing is giving up, or trying to modify my act to make it more mainstream. I absolutely accept that I am way off being the finished article. I absolutely do not accept that I can't find my audience (to a certain extent I have, in Oxford) or that I should pander to halfwits. F-CK that. If I don't think it's funny, it's not going in.

People have been hugely supportive up here in Edinburgh - especially my cousin Hannah, her friend Dennis, and my sister. Lots of friends have come to see me, and other friends and family have sent good wishes from afar. All are deeply appreciated.

Finally, I want to say that I retain great confidence in the comedy skills of my colleagues Rob Alderson and Nick Hodder, and in those of our friend and flatmate Paul F. Taylor. It's been a pleasure working with them all, and I am delighted that we are cohorts on this exciting journey. We must never lose sight of the fact that it's an adventure.

Monday, 20 August 2007


Memo to self:

Some people believe literally everything you say on stage.

I have never actually turned up to a gym wearing only a nappy.

Sorry not to make the above link clickable. I am not very good with laptops.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Somehow The Vital Connection Is Made

Yesterday went well.

We had a small, mainly middle-aged crowd, and the three of us agreed that gags just weren't going to fly. Rob and Nick both did smashingly well by sitting down with them and talking.

My big idea had been to tell a sort of story, weaving in crowd members as characters. I bantered with a helpfully eccentric bloke at the start, and then sort of started the story, but it became apparent that chatting gently was going to work better. I tore up not only the script but the concept, and enjoyed myself. I think the audience enjoyed it too.

I feel really liberated, and am now a lot happier about things. A script doesn't work for me, nor does having too clear an idea - perhaps ANY idea - of what's going to happen. You have to live in the moment. And that's much more exciting.

'Only connect', said E.M. Forster. I reckon he must have known a thing or two about stand-up comedy.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

There's Only One Way Of Life, And That's Your Own

So we're having a time.

It's never healthy to have too big an opinion of oneself, and there's nothing like a bad stand-up gig to bring you back down to Earth.

Nothing diabolical has happened, but I've had several gigs now where I have been met with a sea of blank faces for much of my time on stage. Having got used to being treated like a rock star at some of the student gigs I do in Oxford, this has doubtless been very worthwhile.

I can already identify ways in which it has helped me. First of all I have learned that I can plough on regardless. It has encouraged me to tighten up my material, and to realise that I have a nice speaking manner that can carry me a little when the laughs are not huge.

I've felt unsatisfied reverting to material that I think the crowd might like, and when that hasn't even proven a safe bet because it hasn't worked (which it hasn't always) I have begun to wonder if I'm funny at all.

I'm enjoying it here, and my colleagues are great guys (and comics), but my comedy hasn't been happening as it should. Only at a few gigs have I found my voice, and I have only shone at points, and only once for a whole gig.

It was therefore a big help to go and see the excellent James Sherwood today. He had a smashing show, but it was clear that the audience was inhibited about laughing too loudly, and that this was probably a function of it being a) a small crowd and b) not night time. This is the kind of thing one hopes is happening when one is performing in similar circumstances. But one cannot find the confidence to assume that when one has only done about sixty gigs.

I've been trying to find the courage to do my own thing and have fun, and to improvise. This has seemed an uphill struggle given how quiet and unforthcoming the crowds are. There are therefore two options - settle on old material, or produce the new stuff yourself without relying on audience interaction.

A courageous comic who wants to become known for his improvisational skills can only take one route.

Today I had a spark of inspiration. It came as I sat at another gig in which James Sherwood was performing, kicking myself for turning down the opportunity to do seven minutes after an act had pulled out.

I had lost my confidence a bit, and my sparkle. I also couldn't think what to do with an afternoon crowd who might not be ready for something hardcore. (I don't think that that is compromising - one should take SOME interest in the sort of crowd one has, and one does not want just to be known for being edgy.

Tomorrow I'm going to try something new. I'm really excited about it. It may not work, but it will be real. I'm not a gagsmith, and I don't like repeating material over and over. But I flatter myself that I do have something, and at about 4.15pm tomorrow, I'm going to bring it.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Tim Key

See Tim Key. He is unutterably brilliant.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Still Here

Hello there.

Edinburgh remains charming, and so do my flatmates.

I had a comparatively poor gig today, and was eager to get off after about five minutes. But I ploughed on through, and hopefully will do better at another show tonight. That's the great thing about the Fringe - a bad gig can be swiftly forgotten.

We have an unscheduled day off tomorrow. Performing in the evening are the band Stiltskin, who apparently TAKE ALL DAY to soundcheck, which means we've been bumped. Oh well, I quite like the one song of theirs that I know.

I have had some very good gigs, and a couple where I've struggled to get momentum when the audience has been dull. But that's as much their fault as mine. Yeah.

Monday, 6 August 2007

First Report

So we're up and off the mark, and having a ball.

I really had been sort of dreading the first show. I do have a tendency towards feelings of inadequacy, and I didn't want to let myself or the other lads down. But the first show was a success, and we had a bigger crowd than I had expected.

Yesterday we did it all again, and once again the crowd was good. I had a bad feeling again though, and was worried about not having any material. But I did well. Nick and Rob have been excellent, and I think we have a very decent show going on. The most important thing is that we learn from and enjoy it.

(We - IF not COMedians are on at Madogs on George Street at 3.35pm every day.)

Other shows I would push are Al Pitcher's Idiot Wind and James Dowdeswell's show about wine. They have majorly contrasting styles (Al is a whirlwind, James is unprentiously cerebral) but are both outstanding.

Our living quarters are terrific, and the four of us are getting on marvellously. Paul F Taylor is living with us as he does his show, CLUB Sandwich, which is on at Meadow Bar at 11.30pm.

OK, I struggle to type on laptops, so more soon.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


Tomorrow I make my way to Scotland’s capital, in advance of performing as part of IF not COMedians.

God I’m nervous.

But it will be a time. And I’m really pleased I’m going.

3:35pm. Madogs. Every day from 4th – 25th August.
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