Thursday, 30 July 2015

Ha-Ha-Hadrian's Wall

Over the past year myself and my mate Gareth Swann have been working on a project that is finally going to start coming to fruition at the start of September.  Whilst many comics will be marking the unofficial start on the new comedy year with either a holiday, a post-Edinburgh breakdown or a garlanded tour of their awards-nominated show, we'll be heading to a gig almost 2,000 years in the making. This is because on September 5th I'll be hosting a gig on Hadrian's Wall.

There's a been quite a fashion over the past few years for comedy shows in unusual places and myself and Gareth have felt that our country's historical heritage sites have been an untapped resource.  There are so many brilliant stories, nuggets of trivia and examples of stupendous human folly and stupidity that really ought to be taken advantage of and those wonderful goons at English Heritage are letting us loose on Chester's Roman Fort near Hexham to launch our show.

I'll be hosting a bill made up of three tremendous comics - Tony Law, Gordon Southern and The Storybeast - and the temptation to begin the evening with the following words might be almost too large:

"My name is Benjaminus Minimus Vanderveldus. Commander of the jesters of the North. General of the Humerous Legions.  Loyal servant to the true Emperor, Eddius Izzardium. Father to some murdered jokes, husband to a patient wife - and I will have my laughter, at this gig or the next."


I'm so excited about the possibilities of these gigs - with as much material as possible inspired by the venues we perform at and the history surrounding them. If you live nearby or know anyone up in the north-east who fancies a bit of classical jesting that's better than anything Terence and Plautus (the Roman 'Morecambe & Wise' in case you're wondering) could come up with, then please take a punt on a fun new show with some top notch, award-winning comics and join us.

Tickets are £15 and available right here, right now from those excellent purveyors at English Heritage: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/whats-on/magna_laughter2/

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Take 2

I think that it's depressingly symptomatic of where I am as a creator of new jokes at the moment that after writing a blog declaring from the rooftops my desire to blog daily about my progress with writing new material it has taken me a further 13 days to write the next one.  Never before has a person so thoroughly damned themselves with their own actions (nor written about it in such a pompous, sub-Russell Crowe voiceover way.  "Never before" you fucking pillock.)

Still, it's not like I've been an inert heap for the past fortnight, instead I just haven't pumped out the regular sit down writing sessions for stand-up that I'd wanted.  What have I done instead?  Well, two very rough cuts at the Buxton Fringe.  They didn't reveal much in the way of new stuff, other than a couple of choice new lines and then Storyteller's Club at Latitude.  This involved sitting in the corner of a slightly mildewed shed and mining my memory for any jokes that could be recast as stories.  It also meant dredging up a story I've been telling for years but have never quite been able to sell convincingly.  It's the mostly true (like most stand-up stories) tale of the time I committed a hate crime.  Against Jesus.  With a Zippo.  It's always been told with varying degrees of plausibility and varying degrees of outrage/ disgust/ hilarity from the audience.  But, the two re-telling at Buxton and Latitude have convinced me that I need to keep working on it.  The basic premise just sounds like a tale that needs to be told in a stand-up show, I just need to find a way of keeping on the very delicate tightrope I'm walking as I tell it.  I really hope it's part of next years show and I've nailed it by then, as a routine that's been worked on for 4-5 years only to be finally properly honed would be a cracking thing to have done.

Elsewhere in the world of writing I've started mining old notebooks that I've found to see if there's any diamonds in the vast swathe of naive rough and gone on stage at the Good Ship and talked shit at people for about 20-30 minutes 4 times.  It's been fun and interactive and I've got a fair bunch of laughs, but nothing really that could be turned into routines, I don't think, just a few more neat turns of phrase to add to the compering rolodex.

So... some progress, but not quite in the direction I wanted.  Still, some is better than none and I'm still feeling the right side of positive for the Camden Fringe shows in a few weeks.  All new, all with potential and maybe something a little special somewhere.

I'm off to write some more jokes and will definitely post about my progress in no more than 12 days time...

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Control Alt Delete

So I'm scuttling back to blog for the first time in months as I try to press the reset button on my creativity. I feel like I must have written 4 or 5 blogs in the past few years that read as some sort of creative statement of intent, a line drawn in the sand for myself to stand behind that says: THIS TIME! THIS TIME I SHALL WRITE ALL OF THE JOKES AND DO IT ON A REGULAR, CONSISTENT BASIS.

As anyone who does anything evenly remotely creative will know, the hardest part of creativity is starting and then sticking with the often painful, frustrating and labyrinth of making the art/entertainment/thing they are aiming for.  It's like traipsing around a labyrinth full of dead ends, convinced that somewhere in this vast myriad of lanes there is one path that will take you straight to the middle of the maze.  Where you then get gored by the Minotaur.

I've been trying to get on the regular writing horse for months now.  Anyone who knows me and has seen my act will know that I love improvising and doing crowd work.  They'll also know that that can't be the basis of what I do forever and that I'm desperately trying to find a way to mix that with the articulate passion for various topics that I feel and occasionally drops out of my mouth.  Even more occasionally it's funny.  Whilst many of my contemporaries are preparing themselves for the Edinburgh Fringe, I'm not going this year.  Instead I'm aiming at the Camden Fringe in 5 weeks time.  I just want to put on a show of all new material: 55 minutes of words, thoughts and hopefully jokes that have never had an airing in front of living creatures before.  Whether it ends up being funny or a huge, messy brain dump, it's exactly what I need to do right now to progress.  It is daunting, but it's also do-able.

Inspired by something the comedian Martin Mor wrote on Facebook I've been trying to break it down.  I have 37 days until my opening night at Camden.  That means I have to write about 80 seconds of material a day in order to be ready.  A reasonable comics should be aiming for one joke every 20 seconds. 6 jokes a day.  They don't have to be good at this stage, just exist and provoke and connect.  I have been so poor at the discipline of writing over the past few years - either because notebooks and spider diagrams and mind maps and morning pages just aren't for the jester inside me, or because I'm a lazy, scared bum who generally freaks out after 20 minutes of nothing but a bunch of disconnected words on a page or a screen. But I am determined to drag myself through the mire of thunking out new stuff and one of the ways to do it is to blog every bloody day about it.  Even if that means embarrassing myself in front of my  readers, whoever you may be, and writing - today I did nothing but stare at a notebook for 2 hours hating myself and then headbutted a doorpost for five minutes.  Hopefully, that'll be balanced by the odd day off "stand aside CK and Burr, there's a new kid on the block".  Maybe.

So many people I've talked to about really making it as a comic - being bankably funny and in demand with both the public and bookers - have talked about Bill Burr's quote: "be undeniable." Whether you like an act or not - personally or professionally - there are some people who through skill, talent and/or graft have become undeniably funny. That's where I have to set my sights.  Do the hard Hamburg Reeperbahn hours, squeeze my brain into new and different ideas and hopefully come out the other end better and funnier and more original and not saying any of the same shit I was three years ago.

So let's hope this mixture of creativity-shaming and inspiration does what it needs to.  So far today I've written 9 spider diagrams of various complexities and depth.  I'm not sure if there's a single good idea, never mind joke in them.  But there they are.  I'm gonna stick on my comedy snorkel and go for another snorkel around the bog of my imagination and see if I can't come up for air with at least one of those 6 daily jokes I need.

I'm going to keep to this, if only because I've never really tried to dedicate myself to graft writing like this before, just flying by the seat of my pants with varying degrees of success.  Let's see what tomorrow brings.  A laugh would be nice.