Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Return of Scotty... and His Gigs!


Earlier this month, I came home one night and played my phone messages. There were two. The first was from my comedy pal Dinzy who let me know he'd got a new day-job. The second was a voice I hadn't heard for five years or more... the legendary and notorious Scotty, aka Jason Scott.

Scotty let me know that he was planning to put on some more comedy nights in Birmingham, and he said if I was still gigging there would be room for me.

Mmmmm... How delicious. The thought of more Scotty gigs, to follow those wonderful mid-90's shows at such exotic venues as The King's Highway in Quinton, The Cottage in Langley, and the Moseley Arms in Digbeth. Gigs I have done, instantly regretted, and which have stayed in the memory to enjoy at a safe distance of time.

What else could I do but get back to him as soon as I could, and say that I'll do as many gigs as he can offer me as soon as possible. With the result that I'll be doing a spot at the Sunflower Lounge on 25th April, and another on 10th May at a venue that is too exciting to be revealed yet.

Let's hope that this is the start of another exciting and dangerous time for stand-up comedy in Birmingham, to challenge the safety, predicability - and sometimes BOREDOM - of most live comedy that's served up to audiences who don't know what they're missing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

If You Can't Do... Teach!!


Last night saw the completion of the latest of the ten-week Comedy Writing courses I present at Stratford-upon-Avon College. It has only been a few years since I did the previous one, but it has been a nostalgic experience, and I've enjoyed the challenge once more.

To round things off for this term, in last night's class we did another session of writing captions for photographs - again as a competition. We also talked about stand-up, including watching videos of Eddie Izzard and myself. I was able to offer students a gig in Birmingham next month, if they want to have a go themselves.

PLUS... very importantly... I gave out diplomas to students, which they can now frame, hang on the wall, and stare at with pride... or else screw up and throw away.

Actually the students have told me they have enjoyed the course. Over the ten weeks, we've talked about and done work on: Simple Jokes, Cartoons, Topical Jokes, TV and Radio Sketches, and Situation Comedy. Not everything I've tried this term has worked the way that I hoped it would, but comedy is ALWAYS like that!

I'm quite happy with the way the course has gone. I still haven't solved the problem of how - in one two-hour session per week - I stimulate the development of comedy writing skills in different styles for different students.

It's a difficult problem - and I'm sure there isn't a perfect solution - but I am as excited as I have ever been about having another go at it when the next course starts in September 2006.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Now Playing... Sam Kinison


What's the difference between my bedroom and the National Film Theatre?... Very little, some of the time.

But I'm sure my bedroom just has the edge. The NFT can't have such comfortable viewing conditions, and a personal kitchen next door for easy access to tea and toast.

You see... One of the advantages of a DVD collection like mine is that I can screen my own retrospectives of the great comedy artistes. One month it can be a movie director like Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks or Woody Allen. The next it can be movie stars like W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, or Cary Grant.

But most of the time it will be my stand-up comedy heroes. And right now it's the work of Sam Kinison that I am savouring. In the last couple of weeks I've been through all of his work that I have available... Five DVDs, three CDs, and the great streaming video on www.kinison.com via my pc. I have to go in the lounge for that.

I've actually put a link to the best of that streaming video on this page... His first appearance on the David Letterman show just after be broke through in 1985. Those six minutes are worth more than hours of his later stuff. If you've got broadband, what are you waiting for?

Of course you could add something of Sam Kinison to your own DVD collection. The only DVD you really need is 'Why Did We Laugh?' - which you can get delivered for under a tenner - but his first HBO Special 'Breaking the Rules' is brilliant too. The rest is for completists like myself only.

I would like to know what happened to Sam Kinison between that great HBO show in 1986 and those subsequent - BORING to be honest -performances that are available to watch on DVD, which are from about 1990 onwards.

He looks a different man. In those few years, he has put on about five stone in weight and he looks twenty years older. No more running around the stage. No danger left in his performance. Nothing new to say. Not even the strong original image of the beret and overcoat. Just an obese wreck of a man dressed as a fortune teller waddling around the stage.

Only the great voice remains, and such is the greatness of his voice that it could still sustain his work on stage in some limited form even when everything else had gone. That's why the final CD 'Louder than Hell' from after his death in 1993 is still well worth getting.

I kind of know what happened to Sam Kinison really. Drugs, drink, and probably FOOD are all to blame, which goes to show the dangers of success and the resulting excess.

And THAT'S why I've delayed MY success as a comedian as long as possible. UNFORTUNATELY I don't think I can put it off much longer.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Comedy Cafe Memories


Another gig awaits! I decided that my list of comedic engagements for 2006 should stay empty no longer, so on Monday I phoned the Comedy Cafe in London and I have a spot on Try-Out Night of Wednesday 16th August. It's a way off I know - in time and place - but I'm smiling when I look forward to it.

As it turned out, when I phoned for the gig I spoke to Julia Chamberlain, who seems to be working there now... but I think she might only be there on Mondays. Anyway... it was she who gave me a Saturday night gig at the Red Rose Club in 2004 after I did a good open spot in Brixton, plus booked me for two paid gigs at Hampstead.

To my great disappointment, those paid Hampstead gigs never actually happened. It's a boring story, partly down to bad luck on my part but partly unexplained on her part... with the result that she is not in my best books. I didn't mention it this time because I wasn't expecting her... but NEXT time she'll have some questions to answer!

Comedy Cafe Try-Out Night!! Free to get in. Comedians on the fringe of the circuit showing what they can - and can't - do. Familiar and famous comedians popping in for a drink and to see who and what is coming through before and after performing elsewhere in London.

This has been a regular weekly event for as long as I've been around the stand-up scene. And a measure of how the scene has changed in that time is that you used to go along to the Comedy Cafe on the night to try and get on, but now you phone and have to wait six months.

My first gig there - 12th December 1990 - was my second ever... and my notes of those early gigs are so good that I can even present for you the bit that I started with on that night.

"Good evening. I'd like to start tonight with a riddle... A riddle for feminists with a sense of humour... which I hope is all of them.

When is a woman like a bicycle?... Answer... When she's too tired."

BOOM BOOM!!... Well.. In those days, I clearly thought that kind of tired (tyred?) wordplay was acceptable as stand-up material. Oh God! I do hope I've learned my lesson. I think I have... AT LAST! We'll see.

My stand-up records for recent years are not that complete, so I don't know how many times I've done that gig, but it must be in the top five of frequent appearances out of my 200 plus gigs to date.

I was last there in 2004. After a performance I didn't want to discuss, I went outside during the interval to avoid conversation, but a young lady - who'd CLEARLY been drinking - came to talk to me and tell me a joke... Which was nice.

Previous visits can't be identified so precisely, but there are more memories that stay with me. I remember when Noel Faulkner - the current owner - was MC one night, and I went on stage and accused him of "trying to bring boredom back into fashion". Not a route to instant popularity... In fact I instantly realized it was the reverse.

I also remember colleagues from British Gas coming along to watch me, before I knew that too was a mistake. I remember another night so warm that I stood outside and watched through the window. I remember Rainer Hersch complementing me on my material. I remember chatting with Simon Pegg. I remember on my first visit to watch the show that the competition was won by Rhona Cameron... or Rhona Campbell as I think she was then.

But NOW I'm looking FORWARD to when I'm there in August, and seeing who wins the competition fifteen years after that. I know who I'd like it to be.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A boozy Saturday afternoon


Saturday!!

I've done three hours work today - maths teaching - but now I'm home and relaxing.

In fact I'm so relaxed because I've had four STRONG beers, and I've got to the stage where I need to lean against the wall to piss!... You KNOW how I feel!

But I'm still in alert mode and searching the internet for good web stuff. AND I have found something good - www.comedyspeak.com - where you can hear long interviews with good comedians.

I'm listening right now. If you're interested in what good (AMERICAN) comedians are doing and thinking, you should listen too!