How To Spend a Saturday on The Road

I woke up this morning.

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In a Premier Inn in Stoke

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Actually it was Newcastle under Lyme

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But I changed the location to make this joke…

If there’s any illusion that touring as a comedian is glamorous, let me dispel the myth. It’s been a very mundane last few hours.

I watched Taskmaster in bed last night. Went to sleep. Woke up too early, so had a wee and got a little more sleep. Then it was up, shower and out of the hotel before kicking out time. The inexpensive booking price of the hotel was far exceeded by the actual comfort of the place and I was happy to leave, but not eager. That’s a new feeling in terms of gig accommodation, and is entirely a consequence of prebooking a better hotel at the same price as a terrible one!

That would be a minor matter of admin.

Breakfast was with the iPad at a nearby Costa. The Costa was near a shop where I planned to go for Christmas shopping purposes. Then I went and did the Christmas shopping. That was quite an expensive experience and I don’t want to talk about it.

Then I got it into my head to get a new guitar bag, since my gig back is falling apart and hasn’t been the most reliable of bags since I got it. So I headed to a music shop in a nearby retail village. This was, essentially, very disappointing, but it led to a recommendation of a better music shop on a high street in Hanley – The Rhythm House.

They furnished me with a new gig bag for a sensible price and I left, having had a bit of a chat with a drummer who was also shopping there for bits and bobs.

It was a proper proper guitar shop. The sort of place I can’t be allowed to spend time in, lest I buy something.

Next stop was Caffe Nero in Newcastle under Lyme for a coffee which I took to Newcastle under Lyme public library, where I worked on the abysmal TikTok mentioned earlier. I also did some admin, and started to review footage from last night’s Derby gig, where some interesting stuff happened. Interesting in this case meaning I’ll be releasing more clips at some point later.

Having reached closing time in the library, I came to the venue where I’ll be gigging tonight. I’m sitting here in a pretty chilly green room having shuffled my guitar gear between bags and then having spent some more time video editing.

Next step is to do some content editing for a publication I freelance for… The show doesn’t start for 2h 40m. That’s a fair amount of time I need to kill.

And so that’s the mundanity of life on the road. It’s mainly time to kill. Perhaps it should be time spent writing new material… and maybe I’ll look at that… but right now, there’s admin to do.

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Content Idiot Abroad

Even I think this one’s crap

As I mentioned in my post about being a Roving Content Creator, the aim is to produce more content while out and about. However, the assumption you make when you see something in the world is that you’re supposed to turn it into content and that content will be good. The above is an example of something that didn’t work.

I recorded a 7 second clip of me horsing around near “Astley Walk” and thought I’d do a Rick Roll style gag. I even managed to create a serviceable loop of Never Gonna Give You Up in GarageBand and produce a video that should loop cleanly around that loop, even though framerates and audio don’t always agree on timing…

And then…

TikTok has some weird timing issues around the audio, so it didn’t work as a loop, which makes all its other faults seem worse…

That said, the content hopper still has a couple of bits and bobs in it from last night, so that’s a good thing. And it seems like the cliche YouTube thumbnail has caused one of my videos to pick up views organically, which is also nice. So, I’m going to keep doing what the algorithm tells me to.

Here is what the views count looks like on the top of the YouTube channel as we speak:

What’s slightly odd to me is that the Musk, Crazy and Disco videos have all dropped to 3 digit views when they were showing as 1.4k or thereabouts.

Clearly YouTube has some recalculation of views thing going on… or maybe there have been some bot accounts involved in scanning my videos that have been cancelled. It all seems like a black art.

The goal here is to create good content and to try to build the channel to have an audience for it. This takes a few things, which include content creation, but also involve content marketing and looking for what that says.

However, let this be said. I want to make stuff I want to make, and I want to feed what I learn from this channel back into the comedy I do on stage. Watching the stuff that I think makes good video can impact what I think makes good live comedy. I’ve used random clips of banter with the audience to remind me of things I can do better on stage, and it really helps.

Similarly, there are things I write that may never work live, but will be good on video, and that’s the beauty of having this outlet too.

Let’s hope I don’t get obsessed by it…

…too much.

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Roving Content Creator

It’s a busy weekend ahead. We’ve got my daughter’s birthday party on Sunday, additionally conflated with an outing for brunch. I’ve got gigs tonight and Saturday. As is often the case, the choice of hotel doesn’t quite make life easy for the precise road schedule. However it’s all possible and that’s good.

I’m staying in Newcastle under Lyme tonight. I’m opening a gig in Newcastle under Lyme tonight. I’m nipping off to Derby to close a gig tonight… so there’s a Derby round trip of 77.5 miles to get between the Newcastle venue and the Newcastle hotel…

However, I’m opening in Newcastle tomorrow night, so it kind of works anyway.

As I’ve recently been taking my attempts to be a “content creator” more seriously, I’ve just released a video with a full blown cliche YouTube thumbnail. I’m rather pleased with it:

Oh, how original

I like the way my glasses are transparent so the background comes with them, and how the text interacts with my face…

With a content-creator mindset, I want my gigs to be more varied so that when I film them, there are some interesting tidbits to pull out and throw onto the socials.

What a pathetic life.

Or maybe it’s an amazing one!

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OnlySubs

I’m now definitely attempting to be a content creator. This is usually a euphemism for someone who gets their kit off for a web cam, but I’m more of a YouTube publisher.

Tonight’s effort:

This was in the category of an editing job. I mainly talk into my selfie camera for a few takes of the links and then edit in the punchlines from music videos. I’ve done a few like it.

Notably, the Freddie Mercury washing instructions joke was the same gag, using one of the same songs:

This takes a certain amount of effort, but less than the time when I tried to make Abba sing about Nandos.

This was a bit more involved, since I had to get the words “at” and the letter “s” into the song without it sounding forced. In the end the result’s so subtle, it’s almost hard to notice a joke has happened.

Such is life.

However, last night’s video has done poorly on the socials, which is a shame, since I put a bit of time into it:

Watch the video… it’s quite a cute tune for what is a straightforward enough gag. The picture’s not great because the selfie camera doesn’t like the low-light conditions I was working in… but I made a virtue of that by using a filter to make it more dusky – the vignette filter…

The idea of a track like this is that I can write a song in 10 minutes, practice it a few times, all while my wife’s in the bath, and then record it quickly, publish it… bosh…

Sadly, in practice it doesn’t work like that.

I ended up fluffing the track through far too many takes. I couldn’t comp in the bits of the best takes, since it’s a one shot song. It’s frustrating not to be able to sing and play for a minute without making a mistake… but similarly one gets more perfectionist about these things when there’s a camera watching.

In the end, the sound mix from the live performance was a bit crap.

The idea of just singing into a camera is to make it easy to create the music without having to do any music production. So… what to do.

Well, there’s vocalremover.org, which can split the piano and vocals apart in this situation and give me two tracks to play with and “enhance” in GarageBand:

This means I can record on my iPhone and then get a different sound mix as an end result, including some nuance (though not much) in the reverb, levels, eq and so on.

This was way more complex than I set out for it to be, and consequently it took longer…

…and boosting signals from this source isn’t going to sound as good as if I’d recorded it properly in the first place.

That said, my Wordle track had the right equipment and I made that sound pretty crap:

So who knows!?

However, regular posting, and attempting to be more creative is generally a good thing and I’ll be doing more of it… if there’s time.

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No Worse Than a Plymouth

It’s a bit of a long driving week this one.

I’m presently at my folks’ place in Leeds. I have a gig tonight in Bishop Auckland tonight and there’s no easy way to get to Bishop Auckland early on a Friday AND do a whole day’s day job work on a Friday without finding a place to spend ALL of Friday.

I could have driven here at early-o’clock, but it was easier for me to stay over. I also managed to bag a gig on the way here, so I at least can notionally “pay towards” the cost of the long-distance gig with the fees from both.

It’s not just distance that’s the challenge here. It’s arrival time. Were I closing at 10pm, I’d probably leave home at 4pm and just go for it. However, as I’m on earlier in the show and there’s an early start, I need to avoid the Friday night traffic stress in a more proactive way.

That said, imagine I did do 4 hours each way in the same night for one gig. What would that make it?

Plymouth.

It would be Plymouth.

I’ve played Plymouth a few times in the last 12 months, and it’s been lovely each time. Each time has also resulted in a late night drive of at least 4 hours (road closures will close roads), and I’ve sucked it up and done it.

So, tonight’s really just a Plymouth and a bit, since I’ve already got a head start.

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A Hot Take Too Hot

This morning, I had about 6 minutes to record a song I’d written in about a further six. I accidentally misspoke one of the lyrics. I’d said millionaire, rather than billionaire. I did that in the take that was otherwise good…

Thankfully there’s a thing called the McGurk effect:

This meant I only had to pull the “b” from a take where I’d got it right, and my mouth would look like it matched what the sound said.

This did mean I had to take my single combined track of piano/vocal and split it into vocal separated from piano in order to make the cut more natural. That did, however, allow me to add some extra processing to the sound, so that’s not a bad thing overall.

The result is that I fixed in the edit something that I didn’t have the time to do a retake on.

All is good.

Now I have to sit back and wait for a million Elon Musk fanboys to tell me I’m a prick.

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I’ve Just Cogitated

Here’s a video from Monday night’s gig in Kettering.

I’ve somewhat poorly edited it so that it cuts between the audience and the stage. It was a single camera, and while I think the cut sort of works, I made the mistake of making the audience shot move to where there was interesting reaction, rather than moving back to the same place each time – so it’s a bit disconcerting.

Similarly, you can’t see the thing I’m most interested in talking about in this post… but you can hear it.

I went on stage knowing that I wanted to accuse the chap in the front row of looking like Bob Geldof. It’s a comedy basic. I had decided that he looked like him to me. I noticed he was sitting sideways on, so his face was visible enough to the room. I knew it was a fact of the room I could keep in my back pocket for when it was needed. I didn’t have any further plan.

Similarly, I’d noticed something funny on a blackboard relating to “No pate or mushrooms”, which I also pulled out at a suitable moment in the gig. Why’s it funny? Well… if you pretend that it’s a sign like “no muddy boots” rather than a note of what they’ve run out of in the kitchen… look it was funny on the night, ok?

Anyway, one of the things we comedians talk about, in relation to appearing to be spontaneous on stage, is the amount of time you have to think vs the amount of time it looks like you have. Clearly, my hilarious “oooh, don’t you look like Bob Geldof” moment had happened off stage and wasn’t as spontaneous as it appeared, even though when I brought it up was not planned specifically.

What happened to me next, though, was the instinct to make a topper joke. I had the audience laughing at Bob Geldof, and my brain said “Do another joke”, and I went “like what?” and the answer was “Think of a Bob Geldof song and do a pun” and I was like “What’s a Bob Geldof song?” and then answer was “I don’t like Mondays” (it’s the only one I can think of, other than Do They Know It’s Christmas) and then my brain went “Hey, it’s Monday” and then I made the Monday joke.

When I was chatting with the acts afterwards about how much time you have on stage to come up with ad libs, and pointing out the distinction between the prepared ad-lib and the real one I’d just done, we all agreed how much time there was to think through the topper. The audience were laughing, which gave me time to come up with another line.

Except… it’s 4 seconds. During which time I appear to tap the mic stand on the stage 3 times and then say er.

It would be too self-interested if I were to produce just a video of my face during those 4 seconds so you can see whether the cogs are visibly turning. I’m curious to know whether I visibly went through a range of emotions.

So, there’s another dimension to the amount of time you have on stage to think through an ad lib before it happens. One of them is that you can start a sentence without knowing exactly how it ends because you can think faster than you can talk, and can multi-task your way through a sentence. The other is that the mind goes into a “flow state” when on stage, where you’re concentrating way more than normal and thinking way faster than normal.

So… I had time for a simple Boom Town Rats wordplay thing.

Big deal.

I’m not expecting this throwaway line in a random pub gig to be anything grander than that. I did (slightly) impress myself in that moment… but it’s also the basic minimum requirement of a comedian, especially and MC, to be able to do that, and there were countless other examples of that thought process happening at comedy clubs around the country that very night, including the one I was at, where the MC was channeling much of that very technique.

It’s still interesting.

I hope.

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Sometimes You Need to Smash Your Desk

Middle aged aches and pains are not aided by short bursts of violence toward inanimate objects. However, smashing up an inanimate object is probably preferable to harming something with actual feelings.

So this morning I murdered the mouse to my computer. It was either that or express my view that what was being suggested was so preposterous that it indicated a complete lack of self-awareness, and indeed any kind of awareness from the other person in the conversation.

I’d like to think that they would have been safe from physical violence even if they had been in the same room as me. The mouse was always going to be the worst casualty of any outburst of utter rage and frustration on my part.

I also took the precaution of muting my sound and turning off my video in order to ensure a completely private murder of computer peripherals. Some things don’t need witnessing.

Some stupidity can only be solved by smashing stuff up.

The last time I vented this amount of frustration, I punched a hole in the desk. The replacement to that desk – a door – was much harder to punch a hole in. The replacement to that desk, a solid wooden desk, made of scaffolding boards, is even harder to puncture. The mouse isn’t completely dead… just fatally wounded.

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How to Use a Phone

Forgive the rant. It’s base material.

I can’t help but notice that young people are using their mobile phones wrong. They seem to be holding it flat in front of them, as though presenting a stack of Ferrero Rocher at the ambassador’s reception, rather than holding it to their ear. No. They’re not face timing.

Then, then stick its end into their ear as an attempt to hear the speaker phone, and then try to talk up its bottom as though it’s some sort of twisted walkie talkie from yesteryear.

You’re supposed to hold the phone to your ear. You know. Like a phone. You talk into the mouth half, and listen through the handily positioned sound hole in the top. You know, where the sound of the person talking comes out.

But no, they walk around the street gesturing with the thing and struggling to hear, because they’re using it wrong.

Have they not seen the phone mime? You know, the one where you hold your hand up to your ear, with the fingers pointing out at each end, like a phone.

Did we lose the art of handling a two way communicator? Does endless scrolling leave you with no concept of how the magic device in your hand works as a phone?

Do you need to see the screen at all times in case a better message comes up from someone you’d rather be talking to?

In short, I’ve got a catch phrase when I’m out on the street.

“That’s not how you use your phone.”

Except it is how THEY use THEIRs.

I bet Alexander Graham Bell is spinning in his grave… if he can get any signal down there.

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Triple Johnny

I’ve been trying to catch up on a lot of rest recently. Therefore, the other night, I decided to have a movie night. I did that awful thing of scrolling around Netflix until I found something I thought I might watch and ended up with The Brothers Grimsby.

On the whole, this is a very confusing film. It’s not surprising that it has a relatively low score on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s a gross-out film/spy movie, with some rather odd decisions in it… but it was entertaining enough. As always with a Sacha Baron Cohen character, there was some sense of heart to it, but it was kind of pointless.

It definitely contained a roll call of fat northern comic actors, including Johnny Vegas.

It ended after 90 minutes and I decided to randomly browse for something else. I found the Harry Hill Movie.

I didn’t even know this existed.

It stars Julie Walters as Harry Hill’s nan, along with Matt Lucas. There’s also a pet hamster – Abu (Abu Hamster, geddit?) played by Johnny Vegas.

Without realizing it, I’d embarked on a Johnny Vegas watch along.

The Harry Hill movie was distracting enough. Daft, childish; it was a silly romp.

I decided to crown the watch along with a Johnny Vegas video.

This is something I saw being filmed. Or at least I saw 10 seconds of it being filmed. I bought the DVD ages ago. I hadn’t watch it. I’ve seen it now

In the above link to my Fringe diary from the day in question (turns out diary writing is useful over a 20 year period), I mentioned something of a lack of interest in Johnny Vegas as a comic.

I can say, with the benefit of hindsight that I’ve now learned to appreciate Johnny Vegas in a way that I hadn’t before. I think I probably understood him better as a comic somewhere in 2004, where he hosted the Beat The Frog World Series show and talked utter shite from the stage… such remarkable and creative shite, that I understood the comic ingenuity behind him.

But to get to a realisation like that, you sometimes have to start somewhere stupid.

Younger Ashley – the 29 year old me who wrote the Fringe diary above – was various forms of dick which I either still am, currently manage to suppress, or have grown out of.

I fear the first.

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