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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The LadBaby Grift

I don’t need to explain how LadBaby is a grifter, let’s let this video explain that:

As with a lot of lies, the trick is to spot the point when the message pivots, ever so slightly, on a certain idea. In this case, it’s the idea that you HAVE to help the charity and the MOST EFFECTIVE way is to buy a single (which is really not the most effective) so that the PROFITS can go to the charity.

I think the alternative is pretty straightforward:

And it was because of a chat on Facebook that I set out to make the above:

Of course… once the idea’s out there, it’s only a matter of time before you knock something up.

The outcome was that I spent way too long sifting through the vocals of a couple of LadBaby tracks for some annoying “Sausage Rolls” vocals and the signature “Yes Maaaate”.

This resulted in a rather weird looking GarageBand project:

Luckily, the backing track – as extracted from the LadBaby BandAid cover, is in exactly the 120bpm default tempo of GarageBand… so that helped.

However, although you can see the (count ’em) 10 vocal tracks I recorded with my new words, there’s a bit of weirdness in tracks 3, 4 and 5. Indeed, track 5 seems to be blank.

What we have in track 3 is some “Sausage Roll” vocals, taken from “We Built This City”. I then messed with them in melodyne to make them decorate the track, aligning with the new words, and also going off on a sausage roll frenzy in the second 4 bars:

And then tracks 4 and 5 are me turning the words “Yes mate” into a two part harmony of the tune for “Feed the world” – “Ye-es ma-ate”:

Essentially, I butchered the vocals even more than they’d already been butchered in the original track.

As a result, there’s a lot of stuff going on in my little YouTube short… a lot of effort to make a small point. A point that will probably not reach very many people.

Still, it’s a hobby.

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The Lost AI Album Art

As I mentioned in my last post, I used an AI to write a song and then tried to make a better version myself.

What I forgot to do in the edit of the video was show the album art for said song. I think instinctively I skipped over it because it didn’t quite have a place in the story. Indeed, the narrative doesn’t quite set up the challenge before I do it, though I think the title plays a part in explaining that to the visiting viewer.

Had I taken time to put album art on the final piece, then here’s what I got from craiyon.ai:

It’s a family having a Christmas fight.

Merry Christmas.

Now here’s a video which took me all of 2 minutes to write, edit and publish, and which has already seen 2300 more views that the one that took me two evenings to make:

That’s showbiz kid!

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It’s a Human vs Machine Songwriting Challenge

I’ve tried something different on YouTube:

I’ve made something unlike my other vids, which are usually either clips from the stage, quick “recorded as live” songs or jokes, sketches where I’ve edited snippets of me in with other stuff, or fully produced music videos.

I decided to try a more long-form style video. It tells a story from start to finish, and somewhere in the narrative I write and record a couple of versions of a Christmas song.

It’s showed me how tricky that is to do, and how I’d probably need to do way more preparation and rehearsal to do this sort of thing in future videos. However, I think it came out ok all in.

It was filmed over two evenings, but I have two of the same T-Shirt, which is helpful from the point of view of continuity!

Anyway, the story behind the video is that I registered for OpenAI’s ChatGPT service and genuinely asked the AI for a lyric for a Christmas song idea that I had toyed with on a couple of notepads but never really gotten much traction on.

The lyric it produced wasn’t without merit, though some bits were a little meh. I cherry picked the best bits and shared them with some technical buddies on a separate chat. Then the idea came to me that it might be interesting to compete with the AI in order to produce an alternative song… see whether a listener could spot the AI vs the human, and see whether the AI’s song was in some ways preferable to whatever it is that I came up with.

It’s an interesting experiment and a musical comedy version of the Turing Test, I suppose.

Process wise, I had to have some fixed points. So, I took the verse, chorus, chorus format suggested by the ChatGPT snippets I’d liked, and set them to music. That took me down a rabbit hole, since the verse suggested a 6/8 time signature to me, and the choruses suggested a 3/4… but I wangled something that I thought would make these lyrics singable.

Then, with the audio of the piano instrumental I’d sketched for the ChatGPT song, I tried to contrive a lyric of my own to fit it. I don’t usually write songs tune first. I usually write a comedy song lyrics first, with some idea of how it might rhythmically form a tune, and with some vague idea of what the tune might sound like. Sometimes the tune I eventually construct when at an instrument matches the lyric. Sometimes I come back to the lyric and construct a tune for it entirely from scratch. It varies. I generally can’t find a lyric from a tune so easily… which is a nuisance at the times when I construct a nice tune and then can’t make a comedy song up.

Anyway, on this occasion I had to work with the structure “suggested” by the original ChatGPT number. It was a bit like I was writing verse 2 and two extra choruses as toppers for the original… which seems like an easier ask.

But.

I also set myself the challenge of not duplicating any of the major words or ideas in the ChatGPT lyric, which was a shame, since they had some merit and left me reduced wiggle room.

And I tried to avoid too much human showboating to signal which lyric was which… though I also allowed myself to write a song which I felt expressed the concept fairly.

The concept was families arguing at Christmas.

So in the YouTube clip, I share the process and the two songs and invite the viewer to vote which seems most human and which they like the most. Have a look and drop a comment in.

Overall, I think that the format of the YouTube vid is fine. My daughter didn’t find it engaging. I think it’s got some fat. I can see why people put time into scripting and editing these.

I’m also disappointed to discover that the recording quality on my webcam’s microphone is atrocious – tons of static comes through it and I had to do quite a bit of hacking on the audio channel in the video to control the noise and the shape of the sound. I’d need to do more engineering of the “studio” if I were to consider more of these “pieces to camera” styles of video. Similarly, I should tidy the room up a bit too.

Still, I hope it’s of merit and would appreciate your views, comments, subscriptions and all the YouTube shizzle.

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Bollocks Money Saving Tips

Here’s one from the BBC about saving money on cooking:

Who the hell’s using fresh herbs when they’re on a budget? The default is dried herbs.

Then, let’s unpack the question about whether buying blended herbs and spices is actually cheaper than buying herbs individually and blending them yourself.

In essence, if you use 15g of herbs, whether it’s from 3 pots or from 1, you’re using 15g of herbs. Herbs and spices largely cost about the same as each other, and if there’s a price differential, then that will also be factored into the mixed herb/spice pot. Indeed, if you buy the mixed one, then you can only use it in its mixed form, so may also have to buy the unmixed one if you’re trying to use an individual herb or spice.

The initial outlay of a mixed herb is lower than buying the constituent herbs, so from a cash flow point of view, it may be lower initial cost… but is this about cash flow, or money saving?

What about waste? Well, if you’re only using a sprinkling of herbs ever in a year, then sure… don’t buy loads of herbs.

Overall, who gives a toss about herbs if you’re trying to save money.

Dammit. Go and give money to a food bank and stop wanging on about dried herbs.

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Faking It

My son uses grown up sounding language he’s heard, but doesn’t entirely understand. It makes him sound like a mini bank manager. He’s sort of faking it, he’s sort of playing with different ways to communicate.

However, here’s the thing.

If you look close enough, most adults are faking it. Nearly everyone you meet is essentially two kids, one on the other’s shoulders, hiding in a grown up overcoat, pretending to be an adult.

You’ll spot little tells here and there. A little glance, a strange turn of phrase, a bit of unexpected bravado.

Once you realise that you can choose to find people’s behaviour disarming and cute…

…or annoying and pretentious.

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