I’m Almost Delighted

It seems to be almost random when I post a video. Sometimes they do well, and sometimes they’re ignored. This has a limited relationship with the effort I put into the video, as well as how much of my own amusement the video has caused.

I’m almost delighted that nobody has seen this:

This video was created for my amusement.

I got a light for my bin. It made me sing a little song. I posted that song online. That’s my business. I didn’t create this video, I simply allowed it to exist from something that was already a part of my daily life. Singing the Bin Light song.

In terms of actually creating this track, I put in the hard yards… ish.

I took the original Sex Bomb track, removed Tom Jones, identified the bpm, added an additional drum track in Garage Band, whacked on a squawky vocal, and then attempted to sync the whole vignette to a recording I’d made outside with the actual bin light.

I can say this… it’s crap… but it’s my crap.

I loved this one comment from TikTok:

They got me… they really got me.

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From High to Low

Last weekend was peak comedian life stuff. A trip away. A couple of packed out gigs. Video editing in a library on the Saturday afternoon. I was a little tired, but I was also giving it large.

This all came crashing down on Sunday evening as I got poorly.

Monday was a duvet day.

Tuesday felt like it was my day to get better quick so I could return to the stand-up circuit in time for the gig I run locally and then do a couple of nice gigs in Cambridge on the weekend. It wasn’t meant to be.

I’d already been sniffing around to see if I could find someone to replace me for Wednesday evening when my wife came home with her positive COVID test and encouraged me to take one of my own.

The rest of the week has mainly been made of tiredness, insomnia (a symptom of this variant, it appears) and ow.

It hurts to pull gigs, even more when one has to turn a gig that pays a small fee into one where I had to pay out for someone to cover me. That said, I was also lucky to be surrounded (albeit not in person) by lovely funny people who got on with making the funny, and did my gig proud. Similarly the promoter who ran the gigs I pulled on the weekend was lovely about it – probably especially since I gave me the most notice I could.

Appreciative though I may feel about how nice everyone’s been, it still hurts a bit.

You work hard to apply for and arrange gigs, and then it hurts when they don’t happen.

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I Always Think of Ben

I drink a lot of coffee. This means the coffee machine needs a lot of descaling.

I used to have a kettle which I’d descale around the same time as the coffee machine. Nowadays we have a magic boiling tap thingy, so I don’t have a kettle. However, I established myself as a Scale Away user ages ago, and did the Enya joke about it every time I used it. You know “Sail Away” sounding like “Scale Away”.

As my daughter said about puns recently “Daddy! It’s just a homophone.” Yep. That takes the magic away.

Anyway, a fellow comedian, a long while back, also made the Enya descaling joke, and now, unavoidably, whenever I descale my coffee machine, all I can think about is Ben. Or at least, I think about the descaling process and whatever else I’m doing, but Ben crosses my mind whether I consciously want him to or not. I’m delighted that he does. It’s a good joke.

I’ve made other jokes about descaling the coffee machine:

But it’s the Enya joke and Ben that prevail.

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A Slave to the Batteries

It’s the away day between gigs.

I kind of like these and I kind of don’t.

On the one hand, there’s something to be said for a day focusing on doing things related to my various forms of work, comedy especially. I live something of a monastic lifestyle with only my own company, the laptop, and various tasks that I need to perform in between the last gig and the next.

I spend the day in a public library, usually, and it can be very productive and very focused.

I never really get around to creating anything, which I always think should be possible when I’m away from distractions. I’ve half a mind to use the in between gigs day to record a music video… only half a mind, though.

I am in the process of putting together a 1 minute short on what doing a gig feels like. That’s surprisingly hard work, and involves transcoding the footage from my dash cam so I can get it into the video editor. The computer is presently churning away on that one as we speak.

In truth, these days are also quite lonely, and I know they’re hard on the family at home. My wife’s poorly today, my daughter’s sending me random messages from her kiddy phone-like device thing, and I’m miles away unable to do much of use for them.

The laptop started the day with zero battery, which wasn’t good. It’s plugged in in the library, but I’m using my phone as an internet access point, so I’m now watching its battery like a hawk, since if my phone dies, I’m quite royally screwed. I won’t be able to find the car easily without it.

Amazing that my entire wellbeing while away boils down to a couple of batteries.

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Punching Up or Down

I really enjoy doing my MCing joke challenge thing, and I’ll be trying to get more of them videoed and onto YouTube.

I’ve had three consecutive Prince Harry ones recently.

Wednesday was number 2, at the same venue as number 1:

Then on Friday came the third:

In both of these, I had the opportunity to do some sort of joke about Meghan Markle and chose not to. I chose not to make a Meghan joke because I felt it would be punching down.

But… given that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are still part of the super wealthy monarchy and Hollywood celebrity demographic, how can joking at their expense be punching down? They’re fundamentally not below me, wherever I may think of myself.

This is an important question, and complex one to consider, especially if I’m going to set out to write jokes about celebrities. Where do I draw the line?

For what it’s worth, I feel that the media has a narrative about certain individuals that’s intended to bully them, and while I might joke about that narrative’s existence, I generally won’t rely on the audience agreeing with that narrative to get a laugh. That, I think, is one of the angles to take on the direction of a punch. Are we siding with the bullies?

However, let’s go back a few steps.

Every joke has a subject and an object. The subject of the joke is the apparent topic – Prince Harry and an Umbrella, for example. The object of the joke is what’s being subverted, or ridiculed, or otherwise used to trigger the laugh.

So, when I do a joke about Prince Harry and an Umbrella – “neither of them will reign” – the subject is obviously Prince Harry, but what’s really being attacked in the punchline. In this instance, it’s the word “reign”. It’s just a pun. It’s not a hurtful thing that Harry will never be king. It’s just wordplay.

While, I’m not innocent of certain below-the-belt jabs in the above video clips – don’t @ me, they’re throwaway jokes and not intended to mean anything – my general aim is to be cutting when it’s fair comment (did Harry really kill the Taliban he claimed?). I can use the “it’s just a joke” defense for anything I joke about, but I still get to choose the victim or the angle of attack with some care.

Do I mind that someone using the tabloids for a kiss and tell story about a Prince might be the butt of a throwaway sex joke? No. They’ve chosen a sex path for their narrative. Yes, slut shaming is a thing, and I’d rather not do it… similarly, finding a sexually active character is a useful shorthand for a bit of filth.

Would I do the same sex joke about Meghan Markle? No, that’s just joining in with the bullying narrative unfairly pitched against her. Would I do that sex joke about another celebrity who isn’t especially picked on – Cherie Blair, or Tess Daly? Probably. Context is everything.

It’s a fine line.

I’m not claiming to get it right, only to try to think before I choose the victim of a joke.

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These Things are Sent to Try Us

Bristol, Bristol, Bristol.

I spent a lot of last week bouncing to it or past it. My day job client is based there, and all conversations during the working week are about what happens in Bristol (which doesn’t stay in Bristol, apparently).

When at the client’s office, I can’t help but notice that a comedy club I used to frequent is only a few moments’ walk away. I also couldn’t help but remark on the frustration at not being able to manage to return to that club.

Until last Saturday.

Be careful what you wish for.

There I am. Performing in Bristol last Saturday night doing a try-out spot in a lovely room for comedy. What a shame that it felt as soul-destroying as it felt delightful.

Let’s unpack that for a moment.

On Thursday I dropped into the office. A long drive to Bristol, a long day in the client’s office. A long drive back.

On Friday I drove to Swansea, guess where I drove past. Yup, Bristol.

On Saturday I awoke to an invite to a try out spot at Bristol, which I’d asked for. I can’t complain. I really wanted to return. However, an unpaid try out spot comes with some frugal budgeting. I didn’t want to have to pay for the clean air charge, so I started to work out how I would get to Bristol bypassing it.

A fellow act, spotting me complaining about this on Facebook, gave me a call and some advice which I broadly followed. (If only I’d been more daring and parked lower down the street, I’d have saved £4.20 parking… my bad).

I arrived at a venue I’ve not been at in 3 years. To do so, I had to walk past the office I visited on Thursday. Predictable, but still felt weird.

Everything has changed in the venue. The familiar is now unfamiliar.

In addition, I’m there under a different deal. Gone is the status and trust of being a paid act. In its place is the 20 year experienced open spot. Like the 40 year old virgin, I suppose. It’s genuinely weird being at a comedy club as a try out when you’re as experienced as I am.

I’m not too big to be doing an audition spot. You’re always going to have to try out for something, no matter your level of experience… but similarly, when you’re in that situation in that role, there are unwritten rules. There are boundaries. There’s an extra expectation of humility, and a rather embarrassing neediness you have to both avoid AND indulge. You need it to go well, otherwise it’s just an expensive and depressing night out. You need it to be acknowledged and converted into future gigs (or try outs).

Where the previous night I was the closing act, I was now the young hopeful.

It went well. I just smashed through some stuff and the audience were genuinely lovely.

It was still a little bit of a kick to the ego.

And now we wait for the feedback to reach where it needs to reach that I can maybe ask for more work in the future.

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How Do You Sing Those Big Long Notes?

I did a lovely gig on the weekend in Mumbles.

Afterwards, I was asked by an act how I manage to sing the long notes in my last song.

I said… well, there’s a special trick to it.

  • First, I have to really sing long notes – it’s really quite a long note and I have the breath control to do it
  • Secondly, I can use the microphone to support the sound so I don’t need to blast it out as hard as you’d think – bizarrely, it’s easier to sing a long note louder than it is softer, though
  • Thirdly, I lost some weight recently and it increases my lung capacity, meaning I have more air than I expect
  • Finally, I am modifying the tempo of the song so while the pulse is telling the audience that I just sang a 12 bar note, the amount of time it takes to do so is reducing from your initial expectations

Anyway, here’s what happens when I’m stripped of the microphone and still have to do it:

The bottom line is that you just have to breathe deeply in the right places.

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This is the Greatest Show

There’s a lot to be said of this week. Two gigs, one of which I’ve already written about. The second was our local village gig, which can best be described as a sell out where everyone did really well.

I wish I’d videoed my joke challenge bit in the middle, since it was a fun one, but it was just too busy in there to reliably set up the camera, and my trick of controlling the iPhone camera from my watch seemed not to be guaranteed to work… so I just left it as another variable not to worry about.

I also managed to get out to London last night, primarily to deliver a chair for my wife’s business, but more importantly to catch up with an old friend whom I’ve not really seen in a ridiculous amount of time. It’s important to stay in touch with good people in your life, and last night proved that enormously.

These are good things.

I’ve also returned my perspective on food back to functional, rather than some sort of sport/challenge/bad habit. This may even have been affected by my viewing of the BeardMeatsFood YouTube channel, e.g.:

These videos set off my gluttony instincts and then immediately trigger my feeling too full reactions. It’s like I can finally delegate over-eating to an expert.

On the whole, though, despite the definite ups, including working my way through Tom Scott’s new Podcast, and going out for a couple of nice walks through the fields (both combined, in fact), this has been a hard week.

I’m stressed and of a low mood. There are hills to climb. There are hills that are already climbed (the tax return being one of them). There are things to arrange, and while some of them are things to look forward to, the overarching feeling is one of being maxed out.

Professionally, I think I’m getting support that’s helpful, though the reality is that I’m the one that needs to stand up and give support, and I need to accept that the journey out of the pit of despair, aided by colleagues and a nice solid walk, is to the quicksand of hope, where we’ll need to flail around a bit until things improve.

I’m determined, in much the same way as I was determined to clean the cat litter earlier.

Oh, and the washing machine is broken, which makes the whole house seem like it’s at constant battle stations on the brink of imminent disaster.

This, too, shall pass.

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Foreboding and Bad Tidings

I hadn’t slept well on Sunday night. I was bodily tense all over and I just didn’t feel great.

It’s possible, maybe even quite likely, that this was a pre-gig nerves, given that I was returning to the stage last night for the first time in a couple of weeks.

I don’t usually get nervous about performing stand-up. However, one has to be match fit and have one’s head in the game in order to do it. You can worry that you’ll be too rusty to do a good job. To be honest, the biggest anxiety I face at the moment is the fear of an empty diary. This is more the fear of not adding enough bookings to it per day, despite the fact that some of my frustration with not being able to do that comes from not being able to apply to gigs because I’m busy that day…

Anyway… I was a bit on edge. Maybe excited. Maybe nervous. Maybe just dehydrated. I don’t know.

Then some rather upsetting news from the comedy industry dropped in the middle of the day. It’s upsetting because it feels like our industry has either been harbouring a wrongun, or is somehow forced to be a part of someone’s horrific descent down a nasty rabbithole. In later news, the individual in question is attempting to reply to all criticism of their actions to explain that they didn’t really do anything wrong.

If we get comments on this post, then we’ll know that the comedian in question is being very thorough.

The point is that I generally had a bad feeling about the day in general and the gig wasn’t feeling like a beacon of joy to head for.

However, I set off to the gig in reasonable time. I was sort of excited to be gigging in Reading, since I used to live there and thought I might see some of the old familiar places. Didn’t.

Arriving at the venue, it seemed that perhaps I had been right to have the sense of foreboding after all.

The room in which were were gigging wasn’t set up for comedy. It had some people eating at tables, no PA system, and no sense of any audience waiting to come into it.

Imagine being so experienced that you recognise this sort of situation, know all the ways it might play out, and are almost reassured by the familiarity of it. Yep. It’s almost relaxing to arrive to a broadly unplayable gig.

To be fair, I somewhat overreacted to it, going into disaster recovery mode. Albeit calmly. We talked about what we’d do if there wasn’t enough PA system to use. I’d only brought my spare guitar amp as a backup. As it happens, someone rocked up with a mic stand a little guitar amp (like mine) and what looked like a toy karaoke microphone… which sort of worked.

We talked about how to run the show with a small audience – smaller sections, shorter sets, fewer breaks.

In short we planned effectively for every eventuality and the gig stumbled ahead with a room containing about 9 genuine audience members, one dog, and a table of staff.

I played a shorter version of my set, some of which worked, some of which felt like it wasn’t landing (in my head, or in the room), and had one or two moments of genuine spontaneous comedy.

I know when I’m being a proper comedian. It’s when the spirit of the monkey takes over. I genuinely toyed with the idea of throwing my guitar into the open fire that was burning behind me. Yeah. The stage was a fire… brilliant idea! And making this into a genuine moment where I was considering burning the guitar (I mean I was floating the idea, but I wasn’t actually going to do it… but I was believing in the idea as I floated it) is a genuine moment of comedy. I was a bit giddy with the question, the audience were involved. Yes. You had to be there.

You don’t have to have everything working fully to have a gig. My previous gig in Axminster had a total PA system failure, part way through, leaving me to do the set entirely acoustically:

However, in general, we want to perform comedy in a sealed space where sound is easily conveyed to an audience who can focus, and where we can focus from the stage.

We want a room which has a focal point.

My vote of no-confidence in that gig was made when I decided not to bother filming it, because I didn’t really want to experience the gig any more than being at it.

While it’s good practice to film every gig, and while there are little nuggets of unique comedy in every performance (or at least should be). Sometimes, it’s better to do some gigs without a long-term record.

Unlike the middle act, I stayed to the end of the gig to see how it played out.

My set was probably the least consistently well-received of the night. However, it blew some cobwebs out, I had a nice time seeing the other acts, and I’ve no regrets about what I did on the stage. Running short was a good idea and worked for the night in general. However, there are a few things I might have additionally done, which I had room to ponder, which is always useful in terms of being prepared for the next one.

And there will be a next one.

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Does Having No Microphone Make You Funnier?

The above is the last song from my set. You can see that in the bit before I get into the song I get a bit giggly. Part of this is the fact that I’ve just added some random additional “myuh myuh myuh”s to a preamble for a song that I’ve been doing for 17 years… and it’s a consequence of the devil-may-care attitude I entered that part of my 30 minute set with.

Let’s rewind to before the gig.

I was gigging in Axminster at a venue I’d never performed at. As is customary when I load up the car, I had to decide what to take and whether to bring a contingency plan to handle a lack of appropriate PA system. Spoiler alert: I’m totally unplugged in the clip, so whatever I did back at home was clearly not helping me above.

Anyway, I decided to drop my practice amp into the car. That’s saved my ass on some occasions, and I don’t think I’ve been in an occasion where it might have saved my ass that I didn’t instinctively have it with me.

So, with guitar and amp in tow I headed for the postcode. I hadn’t checked the name of the venue. It was the Guild Hall. Realising that it was probably a well equipped space, I left the amp in the car and headed there before the gig. I was in plenty of the time.

The room was set up with a perfectly decent lighting and PA set up, and I did two things before the show.

  1. I turned the microphone up – we want a mic which isn’t blaring or feeding back, but which easily does the work of filling the room – this gives us comedians a range of dynamics we can bring to bear easily, and it’s especially supportive for musical comedians
  2. I wired in the guitar, saw it worked, and then took it off stage for tuning and practice etc.

A quick sidebar here. Not all of the songs I sing are in the most powerful part of my vocal range. Sometimes I adjust keys to get them there, sometimes the song requires a lot of octaves, or starts low. I like the mic to help with this… and of course my last song has a lot of long sustained notes in it, which can be aided by the mic.

I had no reason to think that the show would not go ahead with a full PA.

However, the first act did sound like he was off mic for much of his set. I couldn’t work it out. It turns out that the PA was going into some sort of idle mode where it wasn’t really amplifying. Some PA systems are dodgy.

The sound guy nobly did his best to turn it off and on again to reset the problem, and he sat there during my set to do this. After a few times of the sound muting itself during my performance and then coming on at appropriate/inappropriate moments, I decided it was too distracting and went unplugged. I think this was the right thing to do, but it also required me to perform my set in a new way.

I threw myself into the performance and enjoyed my material having to be delivered to a room using more force than normal.

I was particularly surprised by how I behaved in terms of trying to make the performance bigger. I did some odd things. As a stand-up performer during the show, there’s always a part of my brain reviewing what I’m doing to redirect it to be better. My inner director was very amused to discover that during my “Ed Sheeran bit”, I was instinctively trying to make my face wider.

It worked.

Fun gig.

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