Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Anyone for Comedy Writing?

The answer is YES... but too few this term alas.

Last night I went along to Stratford College to see if I could find in the classroom the ten students I needed to get the course going for this term. I confess that I wasn't optimistic, but I didn't want to give up without making the gesture of being there just in case.

Only four!... plus another one who phoned me later at home. So I was half way there. Hopefully the six of us can all get together on 9th January 2007 when the next term is due to start, and even more hopefully we will be joined by at least another five students, and we can start writing comedy together... and having a laugh.

The real dissappointing part is to compare the effort I made in publicing this course with the result of that publicity. I sent posters to thirteen libraries around Stratford (I don't know if they put them up), I left my message on any appropriate comedy or writing forum I could find on the web, I contacted the newspapers, and yesterday morning I was interviewed by BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. What was the point?

Well... The point is that I REALLY wanted to get the course on this term. I was going to do things differently, and I was even producing a SUBSTANTIAL book of guidance and exercises to give to students (see cover above). I'm proud of the work I've done on that, and I was excited to imagine how I could get a new group of comedy writers working.

So... I can stop preparing for another ten weeks of Comedy Writing at Stratford, and even stop thinking about it for a couple of months. Today I'll switch my attention to putting together a short stand-up set to take to Cradley Heath on Thursday.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Hopeful Gig In Cradley Heath

A few weeks ago I was driving home from my holiday in Cornwall. On the way, my mobile phone rang. Because I was driving I couldn't take the call. Later, when I was able to get to it there was a voice message from a chap called David Francis. He said that he runs a pub in Cradley Heath, Birmingham, and was planning to put on weekly open mic comedy shows. Scotty had given him my name as somebody who might be interested in taking part.

I was instantly dismissive. Another chap with a five minute interest in putting on live comedy. He'd probably never get as far as the second show. Let's leave it.

BUT... the next day he phoned again, and I spoke to him this time. Top marks for persistence if nothing else! AND... he started to convince me he meant business. He was going to put on an open mic show in his pub every Thursday night. I wasn't free to go along for a few weeks but I promised to help by spreading the word.

A couple of weeks later he was in touch again, asking for help in getting enough acts for his latest gig. I pointed him towards the Chortle forums, and apparently that has helped him keep the shows going, if not as successfully as he'd like. I was able to say that I'd be there to do a spot on August 24th.

I let it be known around town that I was going to be there that night, and invited my friends and fellow 'fringe' comedians to book spots on the same night. Dave Dinsdale did more than that. I soon found out that he'd been along and arranged to take control of the show for that night. He was organising who would be on, and he'd take on compering duties.

So last night I was there, doing a show with old comedy mates Dave, Ian McDiarmid, Johnny Sorrow, and Dean Garbett. I was a bit apprehensive about the mainly local audience, but it turned out to be the most fun gig I've done for years. Dave was MC as he wanted, and did a great job going through reams of his best stuff between the acts. Johnny had the job of first act, and did his usual high energy business. In the second part of the show, first me then Ian did about ten minutes each. I got a better response from my established jokes than I sometimes do. I think the audience could tell how much I was enjoying it. To complete the night, Dean did another great job as headliner.

Dave the pub manager was pleased, and thanked us all. I hope he can keep this comedy night going for his sake and for the sake of Midlands comedians needing stage time. But especially I hope that I'll be back there soon and I'll be doing some new stuff.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nice To Be Home!

Apologies to my readers, but I've been on holiday... Cornwall, North Wales, and Norwich. You know what holidays are like... Fun and stress in equal measures. So I'm happy to be home again. And on my return, there was ONE interesting email in my inbox. It was from Jeff Lieberman!!

What?? You don't know who Jeff Lieberman is? He's that American film director. He'd read my IMDb comments on his 1994 documentary movie "But... Seriously" about satirical stand-up comedy in America for the 1950's to the 1990's, and wanted to tell me that he appreciated my thoughts on his movie and gave me further information about that project.

What?? You don't know what IMDb stands for? It's the Internet Movie Database, where you can find out about movies, actors, directors, writers, etc. that you're interested in from movies and TV.

PLUS... It's an opportunity to share your own comments and queries or extra information you have about those productions and people... and that's what I like to do. It's a great displacement activity for when I know I should be working on my own original creative writing projects.

By the way... "But... Seriously" is seriously good, and it features clips of comedians... like Mort Sahl (pictured), early George Carlin, Dennis Miller... that I haven't seen before, especially not on telly in this country. I recorded it when it was on Channel 4, and if you want to see it, you'll have to come along to my comedy writing classes in Stratford, coz I'll be showing bits to demonstrate effective satirical stand-up.

Hearing from Jeff is sort of what I'd been hoping for actually. I enjoy writing about comedy in all forms and mediums, and I have vague hopes of comedy related journalistic activities, or in other words... perhaps somebody in power might see my writing and give me the chance to write about comedy for money.

Do YOU have that sort of power??? Gizza job!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Best Movie I've Seen This Week!

I know that this blog can often be mistaken for "DVD News & Reviews". Well, enjoying DVDs happens to be a big part of my life. So there! I get a lot of pleasure from watching and thinking about my stand-up heroes, classic sitcoms, and old black and white comedy movies from years gone by. AND... I only tell you about the good ones! AND... this week I've seen a brilliant old movie - "The Good Fairy" from 1935.

I'm a fan of Preston Sturges, and I was brought to this DVD by his screenplay credit, not knowing if that would be enough to make this a movie I was going to enjoy. GOOD NEWS! This movie was a real joy from start to finish.

From the outset the humour was quite subtle, and the sophistocated dialogue sounded very modern. Clearly, although this Sturges script isn't served by Sturges direction, this is still a Preston Sturges movie. And the script is backed up by sypathetic direction from William Wyler and the performances of the lead players. In particular Margaret Sullavan is fresh and funny as the fish-out-of-water naive young girl leaving her orphanage to join the outside world, determined to do a good deed every day... to be a Good Fairy to somebody.

Unfortunately the lies she feels she has to tell, and the resulting problems she's willing to face, lead her into digging a deeper and deeper hole for herself, and into dragging other characters into the hole with her. Those other characters are the Sturges eccentrics we know from his acclaimed movies of later years. The scenes with Frank Morgan and Reginald Owen shouting at each other with Sullavan between them are fabulous. Herbert Marshall is also good, but he or his character can not match the same level of lunacy.

Now I've seen this, I just hope it won't be long before I can get to see "Easy Living", the next comedy that Preston Sturges was able to write and exert the same level of influence over.

AND WHEN I DO... You'll be the FIRST to know... as long as it's any good!

You know... Perhaps I should put on evening classes where I can show old comedy movies and talk about them. That would be easy money. I'll have to think about that.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Heat is On... And so is a DVD.

Oh... It's hot!

For the second day in a row the temperature is in the 30's. For ten minutes yesterday I had to go down to ground level - I needed to pop round to Tesco Express for essentials... like ice cream - and I found breathing started to involve conscious effort.

Luckily - with essentials in the fridge - I now have the option of spending today laying on the bed in my second floor flat with the windows open facilitating a pleasant through-breeze. Even more luckily, I always have my pile of un-read books and un-watched DVDs.

Proper telly is not an option today. I DO NOT want to catch the least coverage of or reference to yesterday's England defeat at the World Cup. I accept England's limitations at football, but there's no need to dwell on these things.

I'm even too lazy to be selective from my pile of new DVDs, so since Wayne Rooney was sent off yesterday it's been a case of "last in first out" - the most recent arrival gets to go in the slot of my 14 inch TV DVD combo.

What was it? "Stalag 17 - Special Collector's Edition"...

Oh... I've enjoyed it! I'm a real fan of Billy Wilder, especially his comedies. William Holden is also an actor I like. There are also some great comic sequences with Harvey Lembeck and Richard Strauss. PLUS a really satisfying ending. That's what I call an enjoyable movie!

But don't forget!... THIS is a SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION!... I've been able to lie back and also enjoy two documentaries about the movie, and then watch the movie again with commentary by three old guys who were involved in the movie - two actors and the author of the original play.

I love DVD commentaries!!! This time it was a chance to hear two hours of anecdotes about Billy Wilder and how he made this movie. PLUS lots of discussion of when every else involved in the movie passed away. Old guys seem to be interested in stuff like that.

As I write this, that DVD is now back in its box and I've got another DVD in the slot. This time its "Sabrina" - UNFORTUNATELY NOT A SPECIAL COLLECTOR'S EDITION - which is actually the next movie that Billy Wilder made. I'm into continuity!

What comes after "Sabrina"?... "The Seven Year Itch". I haven't bought the DVD of that... BUT... it WAS on BBC2 last week and I recorded it onto DVD myself.

So... Until the temperature drops, my Billy Wilder season looks set to continue.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Fun Night in Moseley.

Last night I started to take advantage of my evenings now being free of teaching, and went along to the Comedy Kav in Moseley for the "Tea Tray and Spoon" new act competition.

Earlier in the day, I'd phoned my friend the Tony Blair impersonator, Tom Skehan, and he said he would come along. And come along he did. And who else came in to join us at the back to watch at a safe distance? Andy White! I think we enjoyed the show. We certainly enjoyed discussing the show... as much as was possible without talking loudly and disturbing other nearby punters.

I actually thought that I'd make notes on the acts for a full review of the show in this blog. I gave up that idea quite soon. I didn't have enough elbow room for making notes in my little notebook... PLUS the acts didn't really deserve that level of attention.

I enjoy watching new acts - in general, I mean - I DON'T enjoy watching ALL new acts. It's not that new acts are poor. I don't mind that. That's to be expected. What turns me off is when new acts are BORING... Tired wordplay and cliched observations on subjects you've heard comedians talk about too many times already.

The winner last night was Jo Coffey. Second was Sean Moran. Third was Johnny Sorrow. I can't say that I agreed with the result. I think that Sean should have got it. But Tom talk me earlier that a woman would stand a good chance of winning, as other women would vote for her.

As usual, James Cook did a great job as MC. I hadn't seen him work for a while and it was pleasing to see him in such good form. He kept the enjoyment going though the evening with bits and pieces of good new material and quiz questions to the audience.

Eleven o'clock came and we wound our way home. I need more nights like that - out seeing what other comedians are doing - and shall try to show my face at more local-ish comedy clubs over the next few months.

p.s. I took the above photo with my new mobile phone. It was the best of the twelve I snapped during the show. It actually shows Johnny Sorrow, but you can't tell that from the picture.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Roll On Tuesday 19th September! (7pm - 9pm)

This morning the postman brought news from Stratford-upon-Avon College. You can see the COMPLETE contents of that mail above. It is the timetable of classes for my next ten week Comedy Writing course. (By the way... If you left-click on the picture, you can see an enlargement that you can read.)

Exciting News! The previous term that ended in March was the first for a few years, and was in many ways the best I have presented to date, and makes me realise that there is better yet to come.

I now have a better view of what can and should be done in ten weeks, and particularly in ten two-hour sessions. Students in September can expect a course for which there has been much fresh preparation, and the best elements of previous courses will be combined with a new emphasis, particularly for the first few classes.

So much of courses to date has concentrated on the TECHNIQUE of comedy writing. In September I will be working harder on helping students with the MENTALITY of comedy writing.

What do I mean by that? Come along on Tuesday 19th September and find out. It's going to be good. I promise!

And as usual, we'll be going for a beer afterwards.