All entries for March 2008

March 25, 2008

Funny Sarah Silverman thing

Apologies for a second video post in a row but I found these hilarious. I have mixed opinions on Sarah Silverman but these are very good. You’ll get the most out of them if you watch them here without going to YouTube as the title gives away the punchline.

March 20, 2008

Happy Birthday War

5 years on. 4 years 10 months since ‘Mission Accomplished’. Our soldiers still dying. Iraqi civillians still dying. No good ‘end’ in sight beyond just packing up and running if the next President has the balls to do it. And all predicated on a provenly false premise. To quote every character on HBO’s The Wire: Shiiiiit.

Mitch Benn – Happy Birthday War, out as a single on iTunes sometime in the next few days.

Chris T-T – A Plague On Both You Houses from 9 Red Songs The new album, Capital set against the backdrop of the war in London was released on Monday.

James – Hey Ma, from the forthcoming album, Hey Ma

March 17, 2008

Censorship Watch

So two pieces of somewhat amusing censorship for you. Firstly the new James album cover, thier first release 7 years. I’m very excited, but some ad executives aren’t:

Ooh: baby, gun. Controversial. According to The Sun it’s be banned from appearing on billboards, effectively, due to the billboard people panicing… ahh those wacky ClearChannel guys. You can’t buy this publicity, a more cynical person might think they did it on purpose for that very reason, but it’s not that offensive that’ll it’d obviously be banned, it’s somewhat on the borderline. Had they wanted to ensure a blanket ban they could always have replaced the gun with an aroused naked man. “James are paedophiles” probably isn’t the image they want to send out but god knows it’d make a refreshing change for conversations to go: “What bands do you like?” “I really like James” “Oh the kiddie-fiddlers?” instead of “Oh, the ones that did Sit Down?”. Yes they did. 16 years ago. We’ve moved on.

And in other news Ben Folds has been banned from playing his cover of Bitches Ain’t Shit at Berry College

Hahahahahaha… etc.

Do they have any clue what they’re getting themselves into. This is Ben Folds. This is the guy that, when promoting Rockin’ The Suburbs on various TV shows was told he couldn’t sing the word ‘shit’ and gave us the immortal line “And my producer with computers mixes all my potty-poo-poo-wee-wee tracks”.
And when told he couldn’t use the word ‘fuck’ (which is an issue as the refrain of the song goes “You better watch out ‘cause I’m gonna say f-” about 6 times before he yells it really loudly) instead opted for “You better watch out as I’m going to say: Girl We Couldn’t Get Much Higher” the infamous ‘banned’ Doors lyric.

Now since there’s a lot of swearing in Ben’s songs they can’t stop him swearing entirely so it’s just this song that’s banned. Someone had the great suggestion of having him play the tune and the audience sing the song, but lets face it, Folds is a well known improviser, I fully expect to be watching a YouTube video of “Berry College Administration are a bunch of mini-Hitler-fucktards” in a few weeks time.

March 16, 2008

Shows You Should Be Watching Number 3: Oz

This is sort of an odd show to be doing a “Shows you should be watching” on since it’s not on TV at the moment, it finished it’s 6 year run on HBO back in 2003, and even when it was shown on UK TV it was hidden away at 2am in the morning on Channel 4.

But there’s a reason I write about it now: I just went to see Juno. It’s a wonderful film and the cast are almost all from TV shows I love: The West Wing, Arrested Development, Alias (okay maybe not ‘love’ for that one) and of course Juno’s father is Oz’s J K Simmons (all this was nearly as exciting as seeing the actor Kevin Eldon show up in a non-speaking 3-second cameo in last week’s Ashes to Ashes).

Now if you ever read the internets, you might find a debate that often rages is that of evilest TV villian. Often such debates will garner hundreds of comments and much argueing, all of it from people who have never watched Oz. Because those who have know that Simmons’ Vern Schillinger is TV’s evilest, and quite possibly greatest, villian.
If you’ve never heard of Oz the premise is fairly straightforward: prison drama. The premise is it’s a low-security wing of a high security prison, a social experiment that is meant to emphasize rehabilitation and as such is carefully controlled so each racial group is balenced in numbers so non has the upper hand. The prisoners get more freedom than they would normally get, and hence comes drama.

Oz was significant as it was one of HBO’s first forays into independant drama, and it led the way for the likes of The Sopranos and Deadwood, and had much in common with it’s successors, notably that the episodes followed on from each other in a serial fashion, though what Oz did differently was aim for a thematic throughline to each episode, often made clear to the viewer through the use of 4th-wall breaking narration from one of the characters. Each episode would advance a number of sub-plots, all tied together in a particular way. Oftentimes this would even lead the viewer to predict what was coming in certain plot threads, and of course, it was always something horrible.

See, unlike other shows I talk about, this one I really don’t reccommend unreservedly. Oz is a hard show. It’s bleak, it’s nasty and it’s not for everyone. This is a show that will have such awful things happen to it’s characters you’ll feel bad for them even though they’re serial rapists or murderers. There’s no moral get out clause for the viewer of “well they’re criminals, they deserve it” – yes, in Oz bad things happen to bad people. But bad things happen to good people like the nurse or the warden too. And to Tobias Beecher. Lee Tergeson’s Beecher is very much our point-of-view character. He enters Oz as the series starts and learns about it as we do. He’s the most sympathetic of the inmates, being guilty ‘only’ of drink-driving and killing a young girl. He ends up inmates with Simmons’ Aryan Brotherhood leader Schillinger and faces continual rape, degradation and abuse, until he snaps. In many ways the entire show is driven by the confrontations between these two that result in both of them losing everything they hold dear. Beecher is in many ways the cautionary tale: a man who just wanted to serve out his sentance and beat his alcholism being turned into a murderous beast by the system, and by Schillinger.

There’s a good chance that Oz is the single most disturbing TV show ever made, it’s not a pleasant watch by any means, but it’s a truly brilliant piece of a drama, along with being an interesting study on race relations, and a critique of the prison and justice system. It’s certainly one of my top 5 TV shows ever. If you reckon you have the stomach for it do check it out, the first season is only ten english pounds at Amazon and it really is a genuine lost gem of television, even though without it the likes of Six Feet Under and The Sopranos wouldn’t exist.

Also if you’re a parent and are genuinely concerned about your children’s behaviour and worry they might end up criminals, make them watch the entire series back to back. They’ll be scared shitless of prison for the rest of thier lives!

Addendum: Oz is not a “Sci-fi prison drama” as it was listed in the Radio Times one week, but that is actually why I started watching it somewhat unknowingly. While I was waiting for the spaceships to appear, it sucked me in. I can only assume it’s a reference to Oz’s one mis-step in terms of story, and that being the introduction of a plot line about aging pills, which would age prisoners the length of thier sentance, allowing early release. That was weird. But if I could make any TV show in the world, it would be Oz: But on a Prison Spaceship in the Future.

March 12, 2008

Visiting The Frog and Bucket – Comedy Club Review thingy

So on Saturday I went up to Manchester to visit a friend and finally visit The Frog and Bucket , one of the country’s most renowned comedy clubs. It’s easy to see why, it really is a lovely room – somewhat narrow but deep, with a bar at the back, and a balcony section above. It’s one of those places where there’s literally not a bad seat in the house, and it seems a bit less crowded and crammed than simmilar large clubs like the Glee . It’s also nicely decorated, everything is black and white which makes it all quite striking. Even the drinks are reasonably priced (ie. not exactly cheap, but not wallet-gougingly awful like you get at some dedicated comedy rooms). I didn’t see a frog though.

Like most big clubs it attracts its fair share of stag and hen nights and such of weekends and to an extent the comedy caters to this. It’s hard to slate Karen Bayley as MC for doing some fairly obvious crude stuff when that’s exact what the crowd wanted, and she certainly knew how to work them to her (and the other acts) advantage. Opening act Helmut was pretty funny, though between him and Henning Wehn we definately have enough “I’m German and I don’t get humour” comics on the circuit now, even if this one isn’t actually German. The crowd reaction is somewhat muted, mostly due to the simple stuff not being funny enough and the clever stuff being too clever for this crowd.

The second act is the always brilliant Dan Atkinson who really brings a touch of brilliance to the night. He segues brilliantly between banter and material and really tears up the room. After than, headliner John Scott is something of a damp squib – I can understand that what you see in a big club on a Saturday night isn’t going to be the newest and freshest of material but doing “Why do men die before thier wives? Because they want to” is pushing it frankly. And the inevitable “Why can’t I just get a normal coffee at Starbucks?” routine. Can we stop doing this one now because you can. Just order a regular filter coffee.
That all said, the audience laps it up and Scott clearly knows what he’s doing, though he never quite gets the crowd going as well as Atkinson did. A lot of larger clubs sometimes have something called a ‘fake headliner’, where you put your best comic on in the middle, on the basis that by the time the last one is on everyone will be drunk enough to laugh at anything mildly competent. I don’t know if that was intention here, but the MC mentioned Dan Atkinson had to run off to a gig at The Comedy Store so he may well have been the ‘real’ headliner by necessity or design.

Of course, the real vexing thing is that the Frog and Bucket list there line-up here and as you can still see as of time of writing, the line up for the 8th was meant to be MC Toby Hadoke, Mitch Benn, John Gordillo and John Scott. And that was the reason I went to Manchester that weekend out of any other. I adored Hadoke’s 2006 Edinburgh show on Doctor Who and was looking forward to seeing him MC, Mitch Benn has always been a favourite of mine despite what all my comedy-loving friends tell me and John Gordillo I saw at The Reckless Moment some months back and thought was fucking incredible.

My suspicions were first aroused the saturday morning when Mitch Benn’s Website had him listed as playing somewhere else. I can’t even begin to speculate what happened – I think everyone who’s ever run a gig has had cancellations at the last minute, but losing 3 out of 4 of your scheduled acts is somewhat impressive. On furthur investigation Mitch Benn’s website listed him as doing a one-man show elsewhere from the 20th February, so there was plenty of time for The Frog and Bucket to fix the line-up listing on thier website, this really couldn’t have been a last minute thing unless something went very wrong in the chain of communication. The fact it’s still not fixed 4 days on suggests otherwise too.

I can’t imagine I was the only one somewhat peturbed by this as Benn is one of few circuit comics with a genuine fanbase that will make a point of seeing him when he’s on locally, so I doubt I’m the only one that booked under ‘false pretenses’ as it were. If anyone happens to know what the helll happened do let me know.

So The Frog and Bucket then: lovely room, good show, really need to work on thier communication skills!

March 07, 2008

The most incongrous thing of the year: Kate Nash and Billy Bragg at the NME Awards

Anna covered the NME awards in some detail but I want to discuss just a specific 3 minutes and 41 seconds of them.

Start by watching this so you know what the hell I’m talking about

What the hell?!

And before all the millitant Kate Nash fans start hitting me (incidently, why did no-one tell me she was pretty and played piano?) , I actually sort of like it, but it’s weird. Here’s a list of what’s odd about that video:

First the entire concept of Billy Bragg at the NME awards is just funny. I wish I was a fly on the wall for the meeting when someone asked Billy if he wanted to do the NME awards.

The start of the video, you hear Nash make some strange noise before making a comment about “Cribs” (it’s actually “The Cribs” Kate, but you’re only dating the drummer and I have Wikipedia and Google) then Bragg makes a comment and she does that laugh you do when your parent says something embarassing that’s meant to be funny.

It’s clear what they wanted to do was a cover of Bragg’s A New England, but realised that would confuse the hell out of the kiddies so decided to do a “mash up” (eugh) of that song and Foundations. Except it’s not, because they don’t fit together at all. So what you get is a verse and chorus of Foundations with Bragg playing a couple of notes before an awkward transition into the A New England duet, in which if you listen carefully, you can sort of hear cheers as Bragg starts singing, like you get when Lulu starts singing on Take That’s Relight My Fire. Except 90% of the audience hasn’t heard of Bragg, so it’s clearly set up. And then it seems like they’ve changed thier mind and put it as low in the mix as possible.

So we get to A New England and by accident or design Nash doesn’t have the words exactly right, and they stick to the original lyric rather than the slightly tweaked ones for a female voice from the Kirsty MacColl version. And the MacColl extra verse is missing entirely (despite Bragg performing it whenever he does the song live), although that’s probably the best for taste reasons. Or that would have made the thing too long for the NME generation.

Then the chorus… and even though I really like Billy Bragg, harmonies (or indeed, singing in tune) were never his strong point! It’s a little painful, but you eventually get used to it.

Then in the second verse Nash seems to be unable to stop herself laughing at singing “It’s wrong to wish on space hardware” and I don’t think she’s laughing at how funny singing it as “space ‘ardware” sounds.

The way it’s filmed is funny too, Bragg is filmed like he’s Liam Gallagher, all arty and cool camera angles to make it seem like he’s ‘hip’. The lighting and backdrop add to this, it’s presented like he’s one of those deathly serious indie band front men when he’s mostly just laughing and joking about.

And at the end Bragg doesn’t point out that he’s from Barking, Essex.

As I say, I do sort of like it, but it just feels like it really shouldn’t exist…

March 2008

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