Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jimmy Carr... The new Bob Monkhouse??

At the British Comedy Awards last week, Jonathan Ross made a good joke about there being one day next year when Jimmy Carr isn't working. As with all good jokes, there's truth at the heart of it. Jimmy does pop up on the telly quite often - mostly short-lived quiz shows, or as a droll cynical presenter for those endless "100 Best @@@@ Moments" programmes.

For @@@@ read 'Christmas' / 'Horror' / 'Easter' / 'Game Show' / 'Reality TV' / 'Humourless' / 'Boring' / 'Repetitive' / etc. I've actually sat through one or two of those shows. When there's three hours of your life that you want to lose with no cultural or intellectual benefit to yourself, there's no better way to do it. It can't be long before we have "100 Best Jimmy Carr Moments".

How has Jimmy risen to this height of TV stardom?... Simple... Through his earlier success as a stand-up comedian. In the mid 1990's I was often at new act gigs and competitions where he was on, and I know how hard he worked. I overheard him saying how many comedy clubs he went round every night trying to get as much stage time as he could.

He was spotted by TV talent scouts, and after much more hard work on his part he must now be one of the "Top 100 TV Celebrities". I did a search on his name on blogger websites, and he is incredibly popular. He's got lots of young girlie fans. You know... The ones who hang around stage doors and book signings, hoping to have their photo taken smiling inanely next to their favourite B-list celebrity of that day.

Steve Allen makes a good point about TV success in his book where he discusses the great comedy talent Jonathan Winters... who DIDN'T have much success on TV. The point is that it isn't great talent that gets you major success on TV. The most success goes to bland performers with lesser TALENT, but great VERSATILITY.

We've seen in on British TV before, with the omnipresence of Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth, and Des O'Connor while great comedy talents like Max Wall and Chic Murray have had a very low TV profile.

Anyway... a few days ago, Channel 4 showed a Jimmy Carr stand-up concert film from 2004. I was thinking of buying that on DVD, so that's saved me £14.99. I recorded it, and have now watched it a couple of times. I don't think I'll keep it though. I'm not that sad.

As a comedian, he is actually a very effective writer of jokes based on language and other cliches of modern life. He also knows how to get extra laughs from subverting his conservative look by talking dirty. He seems quick-witted in his chatting with the audience. I appreciate the comedy he does, but I don't actually laugh at comedians who rely so heavily on joke technique any more.

These days I want a comedian to bare his soul for REAL... REAL feelings, REAL thoughts, REAL experiences, REAL problems.


Note: That is a rhetorical question. No cruel suggestions, please.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Death in Rugby

If you're going to die as a comedian, a Sunday night in Rugby in front of a small audience is probably a good place to do it.

And so it was. The boring details are these:

Date: Sunday 18th December 2005
Venue: Style (Wine Bar)
Location: North Street, Rugby
Compere: Demitris Deech
First Act: Roland Gent
Half Spot: Geoff Parfitt
Headliner: Ian Stone

The painful details are these. Last night was my worst gig experience for a long time. I can't say how it compares exactly with bad gigs I've had in years gone by, because those memories don't come back easily - Thank God - and I'm not going to try to find them.

There was a small audience in a small room. Not a bad room for comedy by any means. But... half the audience were very drunk, and not very receptive. This I had been told by Roland Gent after he went on first. Then, just before I went on a new drunk arrived, and decided it was HIS job to interrupt me every few seconds.

I don't deal with that sort of problem very well. I never have, and the reason is... I haven't ever really tried to deal with it. The token efforts I made to shut this guy up last night were too late and too feeble. I had made the mistake of trying to ignore him and get on with the material I wanted to do.

It's a bad mistake, and one that I need to try not to repeat if I want to be serious about working on stage. The lessons I need to learn in this regard however will not be learnt at home reading a book. I will have to face many of these arseholes before I become adept at dealing with them.

So how does this leave my much heralded new set?... Still untried for the most part, coz I only got through about half of it before I had to give up on it. But I sensed that there was a section of the audience that like the stuff I did get to do. There were laughs!

But the failure as it was makes me think that this material and style is too gentle, particularly for demanding audiences. I need to keep working on new stuff in a variety of styles... and I WILL! Roll on 2006 and more gigs!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Woody Allen... Respect!!

There was a new interview with Woody Allen on BBC1 this morning.

He obviously felt obliged to do it, as he's making movies in the UK now, and he has a lot of fans over here... still. But when he's pushed onto Parkinson or the like of today's programme, his heart is never in it. He grits his teeth, plugs his latest film as much as possible, and gets through it without revealing any more about himself than he can avoid.

But it doesn't matter. All you need to know about Woody Allen is his talent as a creator of good comedy. He has made some of the best comedy movies of all time, and he was an interesting stand-up performer too. He knows how to construct effective jokes as well as anyone ever has. Oh... and his books of prose from the 1970's are wonderfully funny too.

I don't make a big effort to watch his movies of the last twenty years, but I don't avoid them if they come on TV. But when I feel low and want to indulge myself for 90 minutes, I put "Stardust Memories" or "Manhattan" into the DVD. All the movies before those are good too... Of course I don't include "Interiors" in that statement.

On the same show this morning, Rory Bremner did another of his live political monologues.... Embarrassing! I think I could hear two people in the studio laughing - clearly forced.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Spike Milligan... Respect!!

A few minutes ago I was watching a new programme on BBC2 - "I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan"... made by Australian TV.

As ever, when I am watching or even just thinking about Spike, there is a feeling of AWE. I have looked up that word, and that is what I mean. What he did is so important to me. I like DANGEROUS comedy and DANGEROUS comedians, and he was the first and perhaps the best.

One momentary clip of him tonight made me laugh more than the one-hour show from a currently succesful comedian I watched this afternoon. Who that currently successful comedian is I won't reveal, but stand by... There'll be a blog about that show coming soon.

Learning from George: 2) On Location with George Carlin (1977)

Tomorrow sees my historic gig in Rugby, where I will try to re-invent myself - at last - in terms of being a stand-up comedian, working with a new selection of material in a different style. OK... I know I'm the only one who thinks this is worth writing about... but this is my blog, and I'll write what I want to.

That's a good idea for a song: "It's my blog site, and I'll write what I want to, write what I want to, write what I want to. You'd write this too... if it mattered... to... you."

Anyway... As I've said in earlier blogs, my current plan is to work in a similar style to George Carlin in the 1970's. To guide me, I've started listening to the audio albums from that period, and that helps with voice work and delivery, but I thought it should be helpful to also SEE George working that way.

So yesterday and this morning I've been watching my DVD of George's first HBO Special from 1977 - "On Location with George Carlin". This is his earliest concert performance available on video.

He is playful from the very start. Even before he has spoken, he tries to get laughs from the mic lead. He doesn't seem completely comfortable, and talks about being nervous - which seem quite genuine. A new phase of his career is starting... after the age of 40!

He begins as gently as he can, with observations of shared modern life. The comedy of common experience. Stuff he's done on his albums, which he knows is reliable, and very audience-friendly. He clearly feels the need to get off to a solid start.

He tries so hard to be visually funny that his mimes are probably too exagerated, and to me sometimes distract from the material. Not everything he does works, but the encouraging audience lets him miss a few times as long as keeps trying to come back with another hit.

Unfortunately, some of the observations seem inane to me in 2005. Dogs and cats! I ask you. I suppose it's not his fault that subject has been done to death since then... to such a degree to make that a comedy cliche in itself.

In the middle of the show, George takes time out to do his contrived news items - showing his mastery of set-up punchline jokes. This is encouraging for me, coz I've got material like that which I would like to use again if I can find an effective context within my set.

What George Carlin also does that no other comedian has done to such a degree is to analyse language. Not just phrases, but individual words. And things like oxymorons (look it up if you don't know what it means!). The stuff that flies by in our daily lives, that we all accept without thinking about it.

There in practice we have a principle that George talks about when describing how to create comedy - "Anything we ALL know about, nut NEVER talk about... is FUNNY."

George ends this show with his stuff on language concerning "the words that can't be used on TV." Here we have another principle in practice. Leave your most controversial or edgy material till last, because you won't be able to follow it.

I haven't played this DVD for a while, and I'm very glad I did. Watching this performance has been helpful in showing how I might work in performing my new set tomorrow. Simply put, I think the essence is to try for a relaxed conversational style, talking TO the audience rather than AT them.

Easier said than done. Let's see how it goes tomorrow.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Little Britain... Little Comedy

I watched Little Britain today, for the first time.

I recorded it last night, coz I thought I should see a show all the way through, after their second successful year at the British Comedy Awards. Of course, like everyone else who watches TV at all, we can't avoid watching bits of Little Britain. Well... It is the latest fad, so it's hard to get away from it.

And I DID force myself to watch it all the way through... but although I could hear laughs coming from the telly, I couldn't find any of my own.

So... What is it like? It's a sketch show recorded on film, with high production values. The characters are a group of grotesques who do and say the same things whenever they appear - a sort of cross between 'Fast Show' and 'League of Gentlemen'. The humour comes from insult humour, and shock - mainly references to gay sex.

It all has the whiff of drama students about it. Lots of energy and flashy visuals, with something gross or semi-shocking before quickly starting a new bit.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams are clearly good performers and particularly good at these types of characters. I saw Matt work at the start of his comedy career. We did try-out gigs together about 1993. He was doing his Sir Bernard Chumley character.

I won't be making the effort to watch Little Britain again, but rest assured I'll still get to see the best bits over and over again... like it or not.

Until a new fad comes along.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

British Comedy Awards 2005

Tonight the British Comedy Awards were on telly. I watched (or listened to) it while I was writing my Christmas cards.

Most of the awards were predictable - Little Britain, The Simpsons, and Little Britain again, etc... but there were some guests to laugh at - Jade Goodie, Chico (who??), and Carol Thatcher.

Jonathan Ross was good as usual. I enjoyed the Gary Glitter joke... "being shot in January". I just hope it's a better show in two years time, when I'm there to collect my Best Newcomer award.

What's the difference between Malcolm Hardee and Jesus?

A day and a bit ago, my previous post was a short tribute to one of my stand-up heroes, Richard Pryor, whose death I had just heard about.

While checking out Chortle for further news of Richard's death, another name was sharing the headlines, albeit lower on the page. In a few weeks time, a benefit show is to take place At Hackney Empire on behalf of the family and creditors of Malcolm Hardee. And it seemed rather fitting that they were on that page together.

Richard Pryor and Malcolm Hardee... What's the connection? IS THERE a connection? YES! For me, both men were bastions of truth and honesty in comedy, in the midst of the insincerity, dishonesty and blandness of most of their peers.

Next month marks the first anniversary of Malcolm drowning in the Thames... on the way home to his boat... allegedly still clutching a bottle of beer. I only worked with Malcolm three times, but I saw more of him than that, and I was always impressed.

Finding out about Malcolm's early life reveals that he was clearly a man with anti-social tendencies in terms of his criminal activities. But in terms of his work in comedy, I see him as a far more honest and truthful man than is the norm for people on the comedy club circuit.

Not for him the mutual backslapping, and the giving of praise that isn't due, to ensure return of the same. There seemed to be an honesty of "I'm just a bloke with a comic sensibility being MYSELF... NOT an actor or drama student doing an ACT."

I first met him in Norwich in December 1992. I was in the audience at Norwich Arts Centre. Malcolm was compere that night, and John Thomson had not arrived, leaving the show without sufficient comedy entertainment. We were told that he was the victim of a car breakdown or something. I now suspect that John was in a pub somewhere.

So up I stepped! I went to speak to Malcolm offstage and offered to do ten minutes. I'm loathe to call this a mistake, but it didn't go brilliantly, and it is a decision that I did regret a few months later when I went to Greenwich for my first Up The Creek Open Spot.

The key moment of my Up The Creek debut was my introduction from Malcolm. He'd bought me a drink beforehand, and I got the feeling that he was feeling thankful towards me for steeping into the breech in Norwich.

But... the key words of his key introduction that night are these... "I've worked with this chap before..." and this is where I expected the thankful words to come... "..and he was shit then, and he'll probably be shit tonight." With those words still hanging in the air, I approached the stage. I need say no more about that gig, but I forgive him.

I had actually prepared a special introductory joke for this Up The Creek gig... "What's the difference between Malcolm Hardee and Jesus?... Jesus is dead."

When I wrote that joke, I saw it as a comment on the unforgiving nature of Malcolm, calling a shit comedian a shit comedian... but now that joke has found a better meaning. Like Jesus, Malcolm had that quality of dealing with people with respect, i.e. with truth and honesty... even if that did make him tell the audience I was shit before they had the chance to find out for themselves.

Malcolm would never know the comedic influence he has had on me, but if he had seen me as compere at the Black Horse in Aston, Birmingham in 1995, introduce an act then go off to heckle him myself from the side, I'm sure he would have given me respect for that.

Even if Malcolm did think I was shit.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Richard Pryor is Dead

I heard this morning that Richard Pryor is dead.

As with all the best comedians, his legacy is not only his own work in comedy, but also of the ones who came after him whose work he influenced - by showing just what is possible. I'm thinking particularly of Bill Hicks and Eddie Izzard.

His use of multiple voices and the way he populated the stage with other characters while standing alone was ground-breaking, and it's hard to name any comedian who has done better.

So Farewell Richard Pryor. Later today I shall have a beer in hand and will be drinking to you.

Any excuse.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Two Nights at the Theatre - The Canterbury Tales

This week I've been back at the theatre - twice. Both times it was the Swan Theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. The first time it was "The Canterbury Tales - Part 1". I didn't realize it was only "Part 1" when I booked it... but anyway... we enjoyed the show... so the next morning we booked tickets to see "Part 2" three days later.

The Canterbury Tales in dramatic form is an abridged adaptation of the original verse by Geoffrey Chaucer. This production has been a major project by the RSC - the work of the writer Mike Poulton, three directors, and two assistant directors - resulting in over five hours of theatre. After seeing the first half, I already knew that the project was a great success. The second half confirmed it.

This is a work comprising a series of many tales told by pilgrims, within the framing story of their journey to Canterbury together. Having different characters telling the stories results in a wide variety of tales - some melodramatic, some comic, some bawdy, some very dark. Consequently the show itself is not purely a comedy, but there is comedy in large doses, and these were the best parts for me.

The writing, direction, and performances employ elements that we would accept and expect from a thoroughly modern comedy-drama. We have understatement and exaggeration in the language, coincidence and misunderstanding in the plot, and stereotypes for characters, all topped by the use of props, mime, and the most expert slapstick.

The language can be difficult, especially at first before you get used to it. The translation has retained a strong flavour of the original verse, but for the most part the story and dialogue can be easily followed.

Some of the strongest comic moments come from the engineered incongruity between the ancient origin of the verses, and the modern dramatic adaptation. The character of Chaucer regularly comes on stage to introduce, comment on, combine with, or even interrupt the tales being told. It is the Chaucer character who most brings the modern world into the drama, as when he transforms himself into a rap artist or Marlon Brando.

But the biggest laughs of the show are faithful to the original text, and demonstrate how little comedy has changed in six hundred years. Then as now, sex is the best basis for a comic story, the human condition is the best subject for a joke, and a dirty joke is always more effective than a clean one.

And the most effective jokes of all don't even need words. All we need for a guaranteed laugh is a randy old man chasing an innocent young girl, a bare bottom or three, or the noise of a loud fart.

Damn! I've just given away the three best bits of the show.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Learning from George: 1) FM & AM (1972)

In eight days time, I shall have another gig, and I am determined to write a new set, using material of a different style to the contrived gags that have been 90% of my act in recent times.

The stuff I'm looking to do this time will be playful but based on real life - the modern world that I share with the audience. I have my journals of notes for all types of stand-up material, and I've started to pick out the bits to develop and put together.

So... What else can I do to prepare for putting this new set together? Well... I have a great collection of recordings of my stand-up heroes, performing in all styles. They have done so well in the past the type of comedy I want to do now. I need to learn from them.

Who will be the best teacher for the stand-up style I want to use right now? No question... George Carlin. But NOT the ultra-angry George Carlin of today or plain angry George Carlin of the last twenty years. I need to go back to the gentler George Carlin of the 1970's and early 1980's.

In my Carlin collection is the CD boxset "The Little David Years" which covers his multi-album output for that period, and the best place to start is certainly "AM & FM", for which George won his first Grammy award. So this week, I've been playing it again.

For me, this was the first time I had heard a comedian work with such a natural and relaxed playfulness, in contrast to the slick precision that most comedians used - and still use. I see George as the pioneer of playful stand-up in a variety of styles that remain the choice of the best comedians since then.

1) Firstly - and most importantly to me right now - there is the playful use and analysis of everyday language. George takes the speech and other language we use and experience, and looks at it and plays with it without the shackles of accepted meaning and use. We see words and phrases we know very well in a new light.

Within this material is the first stirrings of the style later majored by Steven Wright, where cliches of speech are cleverly adapted, combined and put in a context that defies accepted logic. As Steven will do later, Georges does here, enhancing the comic effect by using a particular voice. And this is continued by newer acts today. See Anthony J. Brown on the current UK comedy club circuit.

2) Next, there is the playful observational humour of everyday modern life. This has clearly been an influence on subsequent modern stand-ups - a style made very familiar by Jerry Seinfeld, in his stage work AND even within his hit sitcom.

Unfortunately, this style is the one that has been abused so much by less imaginative comedians, so the now-cliched stand-up phrase "Have you noticed..." now triggers the "Oh No!" response from me, as it must do with others who love good comedy and hate the bad. But when it's done well, this is the comedy that really unites comedian and audience.

3) George shows how to playful with your own life. In this album he uses genuine anecdotes about how he moved away from his earlier incarnation as a safe mainstream comedian, towards becoming the hippy-fied "Real George" as he was then referred to. An interesting example is how he used rhyming material with some audiences to deal with his new look of beard and long hair.

By the way, there's a good account of this stage of Carlin's career in Phil Berger's book "The Last Laugh" about post-war stand-up comedy in America. I looked through it while writing this, and I'm looking forward to re-reading the whole book.

4) Sneaked into this album is also some more socially-aware stuff on alcohol and drugs, but this is not pushed as far as will do in the rest of his career. A low-key preview of things to come.

5) To fill out this album, there are also the remnants of the more acceptable stand-up George had been doing for many years in Vegas casinos and the like. So we have stereotypical comedy characters like his radio DJ character, mocking the same cliched DJ-language that Smashie & Nicie will later be doing in the UK.

And there are spoofs of TV game shows, so expertly written and presented that it sounds like somebody acting out a Monty Python sketch on their own. Monty Python is my comedy first love, so I mean that comparison as a real compliment to George.

There endeth my long-bearded analysis of this album. For my current lesson from George - to help with building my new set - I shall focus on the first two of these styles - "language" and "observational" - but I shall certainly be back to learn more from George - not only this 1970's George Carlin, but the 1980's, 1990's... and even 21st Century George.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ryan & Ronnie??

Last weekend I was in North Wales. On the Friday evening I went to see a play - "The Life of Ryan... and Ronnie"... at the Galeri in Caernarfon. It was an enjoyable show.

Ryan Davies and Ronnie Williams were that famous comedy double act from the 1970's, who had great success on stage and TV.

Wait a minute! Famous? Successful?... I'd NEVER heard of "Ryan & Ronnie" but... apparently... they were very big for about seven years - working initially and mainly in their native Welsh, but also doing three TV seies in English for the BBC between 1971 and 1973. I can't remember seeing them. There must have been something better on ITV.

The play is about the creative activity and creative tension that takes place within the life of a busy comedy double act. I particularly enjoyed hearing the pair talking in their off-stage scenes. Comedians talking always engages me, especially if I'm one of the comedians talking.

The scenes of them on-stage clearly couldn't have the resonance for me that they would for anyone who remembers the real Ryan & Ronnie. But in those parts, I was enjoying the play in a different way, learning about comedians I didn't know though a re-enactment of their work.

This play is the latest in a series of plays in recent years that explore the life and work of real-life comedians. I'm thinking of the Lenny Bruce play "Lenny" by Julian Barry, "Hancock's Last Half-Hour" by Heathcote Williams, and David Benson's play and performance about Kenneth Williams.

There have also been the two tribute or celebration type shows in the last few years, about Morecambe & Wise - "The Play What I Wrote", and Tommy Cooper - "Jus' Like That".

I have an ambition to write for the stage at some point, and this play had made me think about what comedian or comedians I might write about in dramatic form. Lenny Bruce has been done. Others of my heroes are still alive. The show "Bill Hicks - Slight Return" was at Edinburgh in 2004 and 2005... which I haven't had the chance to see yet.

That doesn't leave me much choice right now. Oh well... Max Wall it will have to be, but who the hell could play the main part??

Two Momentous Gigs: 2) Lenny Bruce in San Francisco - August 1965

The DVD played on. While I was considering my own momentous gig of the night before, another momentous gig was proceeding before my eyes.

I'm a Lenny Bruce fan. I know about Lenny Bruce, and I know about 'The Lenny Bruce Performance Film'. I know the circumstances under which the film was made, and the circumstances of Lenny's life and career at that time. Consequently, my expectations for this performance were low.

But from the very start... he's good. Not brilliant... but good. Unfortunately, good is such a come-down for Lenny Bruce. And the performance is not helped by the way it is filmed. Lenny is never seen in full figure, which tends to be the best way to show stand-up. The dim lighting was also as strong as Lenny's eyes could stand.

He looks rather chubbier than in his prime, and the trademark sharp suit has been replaced with looser clothes to hide his bulkier body. But THIS IS Lenny Bruce performing on film, and it is because so little of this exists, this this film has the fascination it does.

Lenny is working with a document in hand - a transcript of one of his prosecutions - and the bulk of his performance revolves around what this contains... How what he has said and done in nightclubs has been misrepresented by the legal system of America.

And this main section of his performance works remarkably well. He knows the points he wants to make, he easily find the sections of the transcript he needs, his vocal technique is still very much in evidence, and he is FUNNY.

But very soon, we see what is lacking in this Lenny Bruce. The incisive mind may still be there, but the playfulness is gone. While discussing the law, he talks about mime artists losing their "freedom of speech". What an opportunity! He misses what could have been one of the best laughs of the night.

But even this adequate performance can't be sustained. The end is heart breaking. An obligation of this performance was that Lenny reproduce some of the classic routines of just a few years earlier... and suddenly he tries.

Very sad. He can't do it. He can't reproduce his original passion or delivery of those bits. Maybe he can't remember. One routine lasts a few seconds, before he tries another. Important lines we know should be there are missing. Lenny is clearly in trouble.

It is like watching one of those "peace officers" he earlier criticizes for hopelessly trying to portray Lenny Bruce the performer in court. Without the real Lenny Bruce speaking, these famous routines quietly die a death.

Eventually the performance dwindles to a close. Lenny goes to a side door, and improvises some lines to passers-by. We can't really hear what he is saying, and it seems embarrassing to try. After a minute or so, the door allows his escape.

This was Lenny's next to last nightclub performance. Within a year he will be dead.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Two Momentous Gigs: 1) Geoff Parfitt in Lichfield - December 2005

Yesterday morning. 9am. I take a cup of tea and a banana back to bed, to begin easing myself into the day.

There is much to think about. The night before had been my gig in Lichfield. While I start to chew over that - and my banana - I decide to watch one of the new DVDs that has arrived from the USA this week. My choice is 'The Lenny Bruce Performance Film'. The machine accepts the disc, and we are away. Back to my bed and my banana.... and my thoughts.

So... What happened last night? The boring details are these:

Date: Wednesday 1st December 2005
Venue: The Stroke Comedy Club
Location: George Hotel, Bird Street, Lichfield
Compere: Tom Binns
Opening Act: Rob & Scatz
First Half Spot: Geoff Parfitt
Second Half Spot: Rick Giddings
Headliner: Jack Cowley

Rob & Scatz went on first and did their songs. Then we had a break. I came next. We all had to come on the stage from double doors at the back of the small stage, that led from the kitchen. That's show business. After me came Rick Giddings. Then we had another break. Then Tom read out entries for the joke competition. Then Jack came on, did his 45 minutes, and we were done for the night.

Was I any good? Not muchly. Not good. Not terrible. I got the laughs my old bag of tricks usually gets. I fucked up here and there. I disappointed myself. I lost confidence a bit. Skipped some gags. Wrapped up early. The same sort of performance I can usually rely on doing. Not good enough to get me anywhere. Not bad enough to stop me getting more unpaid gigs.

BUT NOW for the bit that makes this gig so important. This will have been the last gig before I finally reinvent myself as a comedian. I've decided. If Madonna can reinvent herself, so can I.

Fifteen years of work and research has given me great knowledge about how good and bad stand-up comedy can be. I've learnt a lot from watching and listening to the great and the not-so-great practitioners of the craft. At the same time, fifteen years has seen so little improvement in my work on stage, when I know so much that could have made me such a better comedian.

So let's go for it.

From now on - Real material about Real life. Real thoughts. Real Feelings. Real Experiences. No more crappy, shallow, superficial, contrived jokes, with no meaning... I think. I might mix it up a bit, I suppose, like George Carlin used to do in the 70's. But that's not Plan A.

It's so exciting to feel that I'm moving forward. I don't want to go back.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Steven Wright has a Pony... I had a Bath, and have a Gig

Tonight - an hour or so ago - I was having a long relaxing bath, listening to the Steven Wright album 'I Have A Pony'. I didn't laugh once... or more.

That's actually surprising for me. I am long-standing admirer of Steven Wright's work as a comedian, and I DO physically laugh at comedy that appeals to me even if I've heard it many times before. I play the same Bill Hicks tapes in my car day after day to great satisfaction.

I hadn't listened to 'I Have A Pony' for years and as I suspected, my taste in comedy has changed... or developed. My admiration for Steven Wright remains, but my appreciation of his work from the position of a listener has markedly declined.

So why DID I dig this album out while my bath water was running tonight?

Well... By this time tomorrow I will have done my gig in Lichfield and should be back home. For this gig - as with NEARLY all the gigs I've done in the last few years - I'm once again (through laziness) compromising my desire to do truthful intelligent material, and will be churning out my repertoire of contrived jokes.

To be fair, these jokes aren't bad. I have developed my skills in constructing set-up punchline gags... most of which are in a similar style to Mr Wright's work. So... on the thought that it might be helpful to my technique when telling my own jokes tomorrow, I thought I'd listen to him telling his jokes tonight.

I used to be such a fan of Steven Wright. When I was studying his style and technique years ago and creating jokes in his mould, I would play around with possible titles for my first one-man show at Edinburgh. 'Steven Wright Couldn't Make It' was my favourite. For a couple of gigs, I even tried to talk like him.

But as a comedian and lover of comedy, I've moved on. To me now, the best comedy has a strong grounding in real life - real thoughts, real feelings, real experiences. Strong comedy technique in contrived superficial jokes has it's place, but it's no longer first place with me.

But (through laziness) I shall be on that stage in Lichfield tomorrow - or rather, later today - reciting my contrived superficial jokes. But whatever the success - or lack of it - of that performance, my hope is that soon I can finally let go of my comedy ties to Steven Wright and his style.

Before future gigs let's hope I have a different comedy guru to listen to in the bathroom, to guide my style and technique.

Yes... Bill Hicks.... or George Carlin... or Sam Kinison... or Billy Connolly... or Eddie Izzard... or Richard Pryor... or Lenny Bruce... or...?