All 92 entries tagged Comedy

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August 05, 2013

Edinburgh Fringe 2013 picks for Londoners

Or The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 guide for people that live in London and are going to Edinburgh and want to see acts that aren’t the same people they see in London all year round

My social life, and hence the comedy I see, is split about 50/50 between the Midlands and London, and while many performers cross over between the two, there are plenty of London acts that I never see anywhere outside of London, and plenty of acts from around the rest of the country that rarely perform in London.

Edinburgh, of course, is where these two groups collide. So rather than write up regular Fringe recommendations, this is a list for Londoners traveling up to Edinburgh that want to see great acts that the rest of the country know are great, but that aren’t on in London all the time. We all know you’re going to go see Simon Munnery and James Acaster and John-Luke Roberts and Tony Law regardless, even though they did ten previews in London and will be performing the show there later in the year anyway.

A few caveats: there are some great Midlands-based acts that aren’t on this list purely because they perform in London so much that you’ve heard of them already: the likes of Gary Delaney, Joe Lycett and such. There’s also bound to be some people I’ve forgotten, sorry! It’s also entirely coincidental that most of these shows are free, and only one costs more than a tenner even on weekends. But it might mean something.

Paul Savage – Cheerful Shambles
Dragonfly, 16:20, Free

I’ve seen Paul go from completely new act to seasoned professional over many years, and this is his first solo Edinburgh hour and well worth catching. Upbeat, friendly, relatable – and very funny. It’s on at just the right time of day too for some fun light-hearted jokes and observations. He’s an act that continues to get better and better so this straight-forward, unpretentious stand-up show is a great way to fill that awkward 4pm gap in your afternoon schedule.

You can also see Paul in another show – The 3rd Annual Free Tea And Biscuits Show, The Speakeasy, 12:05, Free with the wonderful Aaron Twitchen, another of my favourite Midlands acts, and some great guest headliners along with the inevitable free tea and biscuits.

Joke Thieves
Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 22:00, Free

This is Will Mars’ new concept comedy night and is already consistently selling out. The premise is simple: the first half of the show comics perform five minute sets. In the second half, they perform the set of the act that was on before them.

The brilliance of this will lie in watching different comics subvert and mess with a wonderfully simple formula to create the sort of one-off comedy moments you just won’t get anywhere else. And for a comedy nerd it’s like a dream come true. This is the one thing I’m most gutted to be missing seeing in Edinburgh this year but fingers crossed I can bring it to Leamington at some point.

Will also has a great solo show (Will Mars: Americana, Laughing Horse @ Meadow Bar, 19:30, Free) that I very much recommend. You’ll probably be offended by it, but that’s kinda what I like about it – there’s a dark nihilism to it where Will comes across a bit like a passive-aggressive Jerry Sadowitz. It’s funny, but if you’re a comedy geek you’ll have fun after the show deconstructing why certain bits rubbed you the wrong way.

Tom Binns Does Ivan Brackenbury and Others
Heroes @ The Hive, 21:00, Free

Tom is bringing the wonderful Ian D Montfort to the Fringe elsewhere (Pleasance Courtyard, 18:40, £11.50-£14.50) and if you’ve not already seen that character or heard him on Radio 2 you really really should. But more excitingly this year there’s a free show featuring best of Ivan Brackenbury (his old Perrier-nominated hospital radio DJ character) plus a first look at some of the new stuff he’s working on.

The new stuff is more what you might consider ‘traditional’ stand-up, but Tom still brings a unique twist to it. Given that the last two things Tom did in the comedy world have been major hits, this is a great chance to see the start of something new. Plus most of the show is Ivan Brackenbury and if you weren’t around six years ago when he was a big deal then getting to see it for free this year is a no-brainer.

Sally Anne Hayward – Hey Follower!
The Stand Comedy Club II, 16:50, £7-£8

Sally is a fantastic comic who has been doing the Fringe for a long time and is, frankly, brilliant at it. There’s some wonderful material in her new show and she should be far more popular than she is. Friendly, laid-back and probably the most traditional show I’m recommending here but dammit sometimes you just need a good solid hour of funny stories and jokes.

Diane Spencer: Hurricane Diane
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 17:45, £8 – £9.50

High-energy, over-the-top, ridiculous, somewhat filthy, storytelling. At one point I wasn’t sure how much of Diane’s stories to believe, but then she posted photographic evidence on Twitter and it turns out her life is genuinely that weird.

She’s actually my new go-to response for when idiots tell me “women comedians aren’t funny” (because apparently Sarah Millican “doesn’t count” now) – and if you’re not sure all three of her previous shows are up on YouTube in their entirety (and legitimately) so why not find out how right I am.

James Cook: Adventures On Air
Laughing Horse @ Jekyll & Hyde, 21:00 (18-25 only), Free

I’m fairly sure this is James’ first full-length solo stand-up show in Edinburgh (being a follow-up to last year’s fictional outing, Beatrice’s Fortnight at The Frozen Ballroom) which is utterly ridiculous. He’s one of the best stand-ups I’ve ever seen with the pacing and timing of someone who’s been doing this twice as long as he has. The way he can control an audience is astounding. If you’re in Edinburgh the one week this is on you have to go.

James is also part of a second show – Assemble: The Lovely Men, Laughing Horse @ Jekyll & Hyde, 21:00 (5-17 only), Free – a four-man sketch show that I haven’t seen so can’t outright recommend, but I’m sure will be brilliant. And lovely. And have men in it. And sketches.

Owen Niblock – Calculating Comedy
Ryan’s Bar, 1.15pm, Free

You know that feeling you get sometimes in Edinburgh? That you’re having a lot of fun but you’d also like to learn a bit about computational humour and AI while laughing at some point?

Shows combining comedy and science are all the rage these days (especially down in that London) but Owen has been doing this sort of stuff before Robin Ince made it ‘cool’. He doesn’t just talk about computational humour, he a computer science graduate with a genuine robotic double-act partner.

This is pretty much the ultimate science nerd show. At one point he even puts the source code up on the projector.

Owen also has a second show, and I’d love to tell you it’s more ‘normal’ but, well, maybe not. It’s a greatest hits/compilation show of Owen’s club material. But Owen doesn’t tend to play normal clubs. It’s somewhere at the intersection of a venn diagram of Simon Munnery, Boothby Graffoe and Luke Wright (Twisted Whimsy, Voodoo Rooms, 3.40pm, Free).

The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society Bonanza
Laughing Horse @ The White Horse, 15:30, Free

These guys won the Malcolm Hardee award a couple of years ago and despite that they’re still not hugely popular, even amongst most comedy nerds who should love their weird deconstructionist approach. In writing this I’m realising why: the show is literally impossible to explain in writing. Also Stewart Lee hasn’t seen them and put them on TV yet, but he would if he had.

Johnny Sorrow is a Midlands-circuit legend, an old school working mens’ club comic trying to make it on the alternative circuit, a character which he pulls apart wonderfully. Tim Swann is a one-liner act with about three jokes. This show adds in a bunch of weirdness and pig-masks on top of that to make something… oh I don’t know. I really suggest seeing this on the same day you go to see Tony Law, just because it makes him look mainstream.

Honorary mention

Peacock & Gamble: Heart-throbs
Pleasance Courtyard (the bit outside on the left before you go in but get tickets from the box office inside please thankyou), 21:45, £8-£11

These guys don’t really count, as they’re London-based and do a ton of gigs in London, but despite that they don’t appear to be on the radar of any London comedy fans I know, and don’t tend to perform at those sort of gigs, hence aren’t in the club and so warrant a mention here. Also they’re bloody brilliant.

See, this isn’t a sketch show. Okay, it does have things sort of identifiable as sketches in it, but primarily this is a good old-fashioned double-act. A genuine, two blokes on a stage playing off each other like double-acts used to be before they basically died out. It’s wonderful, silly, joyous stuff, and I can’t write too much because I haven’t see this year’s show but I’m sure it’ll be good.

Don’t see:

Matt Richardson: Hometown Hero
Pleasance Courtyard, 20:30, CANCELLED

So yeah, Matt first performed this show nearly two years in Leicester and it won an award. He’s been honing and improving it ever since, getting ready for his solo Edinburgh debut. Matt’s a natural performer, wonderfully likeable, engaging, full of energy. The recommendation here was going to be “go see him before he becomes the next big thing and is all over TV”.

But typical Matt – he went and became the next big thing earlier in the year and got the job replacing Olly Murs on The Xtra Factor, so now you can’t see him in Edinburgh. So you already missed your chance, bad luck!

August 06, 2012

The Offensiveness Manifesto

Or A guide to being offended for comedy audience and performers

COMICS: You have the right to tell offensive jokes

AUDIENCES: You have the right to laugh or not laugh at a joke you find offensive. You also have the right to walk out of a show, and most honest promoters will, within reason, give you your money back.

AUDIENCES: You do not have the right to not be offended (in comedy shows, or life generally).

AUDIENCES: You do not have the right to interrupt a performance to loudly to point out how offended you are by it but…

COMICS: That protection only goes so far. If you decide to take issue with someone not laughing or looking offended at a joke (or frame you offensive routine around a piece of audience interaction), you’ve then chosen to enter into a dialogue with the audience. And yes, some people will happily laugh at jokes about kiddie-fiddling, rape and abortion, then not like a joke about lung cancer. That’s not hypocrisy or double-standards, it’s just human.

COMICS: You don’t have the right to attack, belittle or mock an audience member for being offended by something. They can’t help it. And if your ‘edgy’ and offensive routine involves bullying an audience member, you don’t then get to be annoyed when someone else in the audience ‘heckles’ you in the middle of it.

BONUS HINT: there’s basically just one reason someone will be offended by a rape joke. You probably don’t want to try and turn that into a bit of jolly banter.

AUDIENCES: If you’re offended by something and feel there’s a reason it shouldn’t be a subject for comedy, you have the right to approach a comic after the show and calmly explain why. Under those circumstances, you’re far more likely to be listened to and have sensible consideration given to your viewpoint than in the middle of the performance.

COMICS: You have the right to ignore someone that wants to tell you why they were offended after the show. But if they’re being polite about it, maybe you should listen. You may just have different opinions on the matter and that’s okay. Or maybe you’ll see something from an angle you didn’t notice before and reconsider that joke.

COMICS: It’s not a betrayal of the art form to drop a gag because it’s too offensive. Similarly, managing to offend someone isn’t a comedy badge of honour. It’s one less potential fan. If you’re Frankie Boyle then no, you probably don’t need that one person. If you’re a new open spot, you probably do. So if you’re going to offend people, you best be sure it’s worthwhile.

COMICS: You don’t have the right to tell someone they can’t be offended by something. Offence is a reaction, it’s taken, it’s not a considered, though-through viewpoint. You can explain why you, personally, don’t find the joke offensive, but you can’t tell someone that their being offended is wrong. The corollary to that….

AUDIENCES: Offence is a reaction. If it’s three hours after the gig and you suddenly realise that a joke you laughed at the time is ‘offensive’, it’s not. Or at least, it’s not to you. You don’t get to ‘be offended’ on behalf of other people not at the show. The easily offended don’t go to see Jerry Sadowitz or Frankie Boyle for a reason. If you then repeat the joke you think your friend might find offensive to them in conversation, on your blog, or in an e-mail to the Daily Mail, congratulations, you’re now the one offending them.

AUDIENCES: You do not, ever, have the right to request that comics be censored, banned or arrested because you were offended. You do have the right to not go and see them again.

EVERYONE: What offends differs from person to person. I’ll laugh at rape jokes but find the audition stages of X-Factor where kids are set up to fail and then relentlessly mocked hugely offensive and quite upsetting. So I just don’t watch X-Factor. We’re all adults. Just because no subject is taboo for comedy, doesn’t mean it’s necessary to test every aspect of that theory all the time. Nor is it necessary to let everyone know every time something happens that offends you.

Offence is a part of life. It’s not a great part, it’s not something we should aspire to create in others but nor is it something we should run scared of ever experiencing or inflicting. It’s just there. Maybe we shouldn’t make quite such a big deal of it?

June 12, 2012

Getting out of the comedy game

“Dean runs stand-up comedy gigs”. I hear that a lot. It’s not entirely true. I run one stand-up comedy gig, but it’s weekly so that’s quite enough. But over the last two and a half years it’s become the “one interesting thing” about me that everyone has to have. It’s my thing. I like being that person, but then, I also kinda want to be “Dean writes about TV and videogames”, “Dean plays piano in a band” or “Dean makes indie iPhone/PC games”. But finding the time to be any of those people while still being “Dean runs comedy gigs” is hard.

I bloody love running Reckless Comedy, but the sheer amount of time it takes managing the acts, venue, publicity… all before you even take into account the entirety of every Monday night that it’s on. It’s not an easy task. Plus it’s a weird gig. On the one hand, it’s the best sort of gig. The crowd don’t pay much but they love comedy. The acts don’t get paid much but they love trying out new stuff at the gig. I don’t make a profit but I put the work it because I want it to exist. Everyone’s expectations are set at a reasonable level and it all just works. It’s a genuine new act / new material night, rather than those that are sold to the public for £6 as a pro-night and to the acts as a “new material” night so they can get better people. And we always have at least one paid, pro-comic on the bill, so that we’re not just an open mic night. In reality, we often have a lot of pro-comics trying out stuff because we put on a good gig.

But I’m boxed in. I’ve ridden the gig up to the point I no longer have to worry about it breaking even in terms of money. It all just about works out. But we still have quiet nights with only 12-15 people in, and then the next week we’ll have 40. I can’t get it to the point where it’s a consistent sell-out every week. So every week is a nervous panic of “will we get many people in”. Then there’s the fact that we’re in half of the pub, which is fine literally 95% of the time. The other 5% you get loud nutters in the other half of the pub ruining it. And yet because that’s only a very rare occurrence, there’s no impetus to do anything about it: because we can’t consistently get 30 people in every week, it’s hard to sell the pub on paying for the extra staff member to run it permanently in the basement because of the 1 in 20 shows that have issues. Small audiences are uncommon. Disruptive noise is uncommon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry every week about this being the week it all goes to pot.

So then there’s the question of what I get out of it, beyond seeing awesome comedy and a sense of tremendous elation at putting on a good show. I’m learning to be a better MC, which would be great but I have no interest in being an MC. I don’t even want to be a comedian! I MC my gig as I’m fairly funny on occasion, and having a regular MC really helps with a weekly show (punter expectations are low – they know they won’t get fifteen minutes of new gold every week, but the crowd feel comfortable with me, I can reset the room between acts, I can pick them back up if someone bombs – I’ve learned a skill that’s only really any good for MCing Reckless, basically). I have a bunch of contacts now that are of little use because again, I don’t want to be a comic. And my forays into trying to spin Reckless off into a side business with a few pro-nights where I can make some money for my efforts have all failed too. Leamington seemingly can’t support another one (and there’s no decent venue I can find) and Coventry seems over-saturated as it is.

“None of this is going anywhere”, in other words. So my current plan is to get out of the comedy promotion game at the end of the year, though hopefully with finding some sort of continuity plan for Reckless as, if nothing else, it’s somewhere I like to hang out, and always has been. With the time that will free up, I can hopefully pursue things that do have the potential to go places. But it’s sad because, frankly, it won’t be as much fun.

August 03, 2011

Show Me The Funny review

I wrote about episode one over here, and now in the spirit of Edinburgh, a preview of my second piece on the show. The real article will go up on the same site I just linked to on Monday, where it will cost twice as much. If it gets enough hits, you’ll be able to see the article on tour in the Autumn, either as an extended version or with a support act.


I should admit that the reason I’m reviewing two episodes at once of ITV’s X-Factor-for-stand-up-comics show, is that I spent most of last week half delirious in bed with man-flu, barely able to string together a coherent thought, let alone a coherent sentence. Of course, that was less painful than having to sit through an episode of Show Me The Funny. Boom. Nailed it. Except… well after the atrocious first show I was all set to give the next few episodes a good slagging off, but ended up quite enjoying them.

Yes, episodes two and three of Show Me The Funny were interesting and entertaining. You’ll note I picked two very specific adjectives there. Interesting and entertaining. I didn’t, for example, use the word ‘funny’. Because they’re really, really not.

But we’ll get to that – like the show itself, I’m contractually obliged to spend the first half of this review on the tasks that the teams have to perform. While in the first episode they were doing completely random stuff around Liverpool, these two are more focused. Their audiences are an armed forces regiment, and 12-14 year-old school kids. The tasks are doing a bunch of ‘army stuff’ and creating and teaching a school lesson. The army stuff is basically making them suffer through physical exhaustion for our amusement. Which is fun enough, and it’s nice that the most unfit team eventually win, with everyone else having given up. The school lessons are less entertaining but interesting in a ‘fish-out-of-water’ sort of way.

And then to the stand-up. I criticised the show hugely in the first episode for not showing more of the actual routines. In that episode they were performing to a bunch of Liverpool women, who may be a bit scary, but are essentially regular people, just like the rest of us. We, the viewing public, should have found those routines funny.

But when you’re performing to a bunch of soldiers that have been drinking since 6pm… well you need a different approach. Because what is funny to a bunch of aggressive people on their eighth pint isn’t going to be funny to your average sober guy watching it on TV on a Monday night. That goes even more-so for the school-kids. The point of the show is for the comics to read the room and the crowd and write material that will suit that gig. And that generally won’t line up with the desires of the audience at home. So I get why we’re not being shown more of the sets. Because even in short clips, nine comics performing filthy jokes to a room of pissed-up people isn’t funny. You have to be there. And drunk.

So ironically we have a show called Show Me The Funny that isn’t funny. Not because the comics are rubbish, but because the format is genuinely not designed to be. But it’s interesting in that it demonstrates the process, it shows how material is developed, how different sort of rooms react to different things and so on. Seeing the army gig get increasingly raucous and scary as the night went on was genuinely interesting. As a documentary on the process of comedy, it’s quite good. It’d probably be even better if ITV acknowledged that’s what it is and edited it around that concept.

So what happens? Some people do well, others do badly, Rudi is more scared of school-kids than the army, and Prince Abdi and Cole Parker get sent home for not being very funny. And I get quite annoyed because a second person gets sent home for “not showing us who you are” when the entire concept of the show is to adapt and write new material to cater to a specific environment. I’m fairly sure all the comics have a good solid opening routine that sets up who they are and where they’re coming from, but they’re not allowed to use it.

Kate Copstick is also happy to describe Cole Parker as “shit” based on only having seen him do three five-minute bits of new material. Which gets me thinking that the whole concept of the show is backwards: they should have given the acts a normal gig, doing their best five minute routine at a comedy club, in week 1, then progressed to the more out-there gigs where they do new stuff. It’s a hugely unbalanced contest, because some comics can just write more quickly than others. Some are really good at riffing with a room and some aren’t. But equally, the slower writers often produce better material, and the ones that can’t riff can craft and refine exquisitely scripted routines over time. Which is fine, because it’s just a reality show and it’s never going to be balanced. But to describe someone as a “shit” comic in front of a huge TV audience when you haven’t even see their actual act is grossly unfair. I’d say it’s a horrible reputation for him to be straddled with, but frankly I think I’m the only person still watching this and I’d probably still book him.

Meanwhile, Rudi Lickwood is still somehow in the competition, despite being told-off in week 2 for doing old material when he’s meant to be doing new stuff, and then bottling it in week 3 and leaving the stage after only doing three of his five minutes. He’s another great comic that’s just entirely unsuited to this competition, but at least the others are trying.

Next week they’re doing a medical conference. This makes me happy, as it’s the first time they’re playing to a, shall we say, ‘sophisticated’ audience. Hopefully it’ll finally be a chance for the talented gag-writers to shine. Maybe there will even be some actual jokes.

April 19, 2011

Funny Women

Dean has been waiting to get home all day to play Portal 2, but it’s decrypting right now, which gives him a chance to rant briefly about something fucking awful

The Funny Woman comedy competition started taking entries today. And is charging £15 for the privilege.

Now. Pay-to-play is bad. It happens a lot in the US, but over here any attempts to bring it in have been swiftly rebuffed. I’m not going to go in to details, as I’d recommend Pear Shaped’s wonderful illustrated guide as background reading that explains exactly why it’s bad for the comic, the punter, and the industry as a whole. But when I first read about the entry charge for Funny Women I wasn’t too bothered. £15 wasn’t a huge amount, it’d maybe filter out the people that aren’t really serious about a comedy career and just want five minutes on stage to try it, it’ll help pay for a decent prize fund, and it’ll let them keep ticket prices low. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it, I could just see the argument in favour. I appreciate the competition does a lot to showcase quality female stand-ups in a world where they’re very much discriminated against, so if it’s necessary to charge a small fee to entrants to keep the competition going, I wasn’t going to get all that mad about it.

Some more details emerged today, that, frankly, threw a whole new light on the situation.

Detail number one: there is no prize fund. The winning prize is a management deal and tour, a DVD of your gig and a website. Taken one by one: if you win you’re supposedly the best new female comic in the country, so the management deal and tour should actually be profitable for the people providing it; making a DVD is a piece of piss and anyone with a digital camera and Windows Movie Maker can do it; and for the website, they don’t say which website you win, but it’s probably not a good one like or even a decent has-been like MySpace (more seriously, even getting a website done professionally shouldn’t cost more than a hundred quid or so). Basically, the whole thing can be done in-house so there’s no real expense on the prize fund. So where is the money going?

Detail number two: tickets for the shows cost around £10-£12. Now let’s all stop and have a chuckle at the fact that this means going to see a Funny Women heat costs £12, and for an extra £3 you can get up and do five minutes. Done? Okay, so that’s £12 then. For that you, as a punter, get to see a whole bunch of unpaid acts, with the whole thing held together by a paid professional MC. Some quick maths: assuming a conservative 50 tickets sold at £12, that’s £600 on the door. Now these MCs are pros, they’re good, but from what I’ve seen of the names so far, they’re not exactly £600 good.

A punter can, of course, for £12 can go see a full line up of three or four professional acts at the weekend. Said punter can get the same line-up mid-week for half of that. Our mythical punter, for a sixth of that price, can come to Reckless Comedy in Leamington Spa on a Monday night and also see a bunch of unpaid acts with a paid, professional headliner. Basically, if you’re charging £12 for a gig full of unpaid open spots and one professional, you’re already running something of a racket. I can only assume the logic goes that if you’re going to rip-off the punters, you should probably rip-off the acts by charging them to play too.

I’d say that if this really is all above board, just let us know exactly where the money is all going. Show your working. I’d love to know.

So that’s me wearing my promoter hat and explaining why that bit pisses me off, but from the perspective of just a regular comedy fan it’s really, really frustrating me.

“Women aren’t generally that funny” – I hear that a lot from friends that consider themselves comedy fans, from friends I know don’t have a sexist bone in their body, from female and male friends. It annoys me but I understand where it comes from: they went to a comedy night, there was one women on, she wasn’t as good as the men, and so a prejudice is formed. Why that happens is an entire other blog entry, but the only way to convince them otherwise is to take them to see some really funny female comics.

Cut to the Funny Women competition. They charge you £15, and guarantee you the chance to perform in a heat. Stop and think about that: anyone willing to pay can get stage time. There’s no filtering based on experience, or requests for references. So sure, you’ll get a lot of good female open spots that hate the idea of paying but see it as a necessary evil to enter such a high profile competition. But then you also get people that have never done comedy before, perhaps don’t even know that there are plenty of gigs out there that will give a new act a shot and not charge them for the privilege. Maybe they’ve always secretly wanted to be a comic, or maybe they just see £15 as a reasonable figure for a fun new experience and night out. Either way, as with so many things in life, you’re rarely that good your first time.

So here we have a promoter charging an audience £12 to come and see one professional act, and a bunch of people whose only guaranteed comedy credentials are that they had £15 in their wallet. Some of them will be good. Some of them will be shit. The majority of them will be so-so. At £12, a punter expects more than 3 or 4 good acts out of 12. They’ll feel ripped off. And they’ll leave the gig, perhaps a bit annoyed. But they won’t be thinking “wow, that promoter is rubbish, remind me never to go see shows that they put on again”. They’ll be thinking “wow, women comics are shit, remind me not to go see female comics again.”

Which is undermining the whole supposed point of Funny Women as an organisation.

Postscript: If you are about to turn your comedy competition in to a pay-to-play setup, and you want a sympathetic reaction, it’s probably best not to write an article called Turn Your Passion in to Profit a few months before. Just saying.

If anyone is reading this and thinking “yes, but it’s so hard to get stage time any other way” then e-mail me and I might be able to help you out.

March 29, 2011

How to ruin a brilliant idea

Or: Why you should think it through

The Camden Crawl is an ace idea. Yes, it’s one of those two-day arts and music festivals lots of places have, where lots of different venues put on lots of different shows. But what it does differently is get one of the core components of a festival right: you pay once, £40 for a day ticket, and you see as much as you want. It takes all the pressure off, you feel like you’re part of a proper festival and not an unconnected series of events. Bloody brilliant.

Now one thing about it is, it runs a whole bunch of varied arty fringe stuff during the day. Theatre, comedy, dance, quizzes, all that stuff. But come 7pm this ends and the focus shifts over to music, and it’s also when the big-names acts are on. That’s fine, it’s a system that works, and in isolation it’s brilliant.

But someone spotted a gap in the market, and so this year The Comedy Crawl launches. It offers a whole bunch of brilliant comedy in the same area over seven venues from 7pm until midnight for a one-off fee. £20 gets you 5 hours of comedy, rather than the 2 hours you’d get for the same money from Jongleurs. And you can pick and choose your gigs. Again, in isolation, this is bloody brilliant.

The problem is, they’re two different events. Now were they competing events, that would make sense. But they’re quite hapilly cross-promoting each other and seem pretty friendly. Still, no problem, one can choose from an evening of great comedy, or a more expensive full day of great comedy and music.

Well maybe I just want the moon on a stick.

But I don’t live in London, and while it’s not far away, the money and time cost of the journey mean I want to get the most of out any trip. And as you probably know, I like me some comedy. I’d love to spend all day hanging around Camden watching live comedy in loads of different places. That’d be brilliant. It’d be like Edinburgh except a bit more conceited and a lot less expensive.

The problem is, to do that, it looks like I have to buy myself a Camden Crawl ticket, spend the day watching their comedy, then buy myself a Comedy Crawl ticket, and spend the evening watching their comedy, while basically throwing away the whole latter half of the Camden Crawl ticket. And that’s being optimistic, as with all the ‘big names’ of music on later in the evening, I’m sure a lot more than half the ticket price goes towards paying acts on during the night rather than their less famous friends on during the day.

I’d happily pay the full Camden Crawl ticket price, not see any bands, and just watch comedy all day. But I resent the idea that I’d have to pay £20 more than everyone else just to do that.

And it’s basically put me off going to either. By trying to do something extra for comedy fans, they’ve basically ruined it for comedy fans.

My solution? I’d have stuck a fiver on the Comedy Crawl ticket price and given that to the Camden Crawl folk in exchange for a Comedy Crawl wristband granting access to any Camden Crawl venue prior to 7pm. Then maybe have the Camden Crawl folk offer a combined ticket at a £5 premium over their price that gives access to the Comedy Crawl venues too.

Basically, I’d have thought it through from the perspective of someone who likes live comedy more than live music. But then I suppose there aren’t that many of them in and around Camden with it’s six million comedy clubs are there?

March 27, 2011

30–day Song Challenge – Day 1: Your Favourite Song

So this meme has been doing the rounds on Facebook, and while I don’t normally do this sort of thing, I figure I should as a) I’ve been slacking off on writing far too much of late, and b) I still need to better at writing about music.

Still, it’s taken about a month to finally get started, am slightly confused at who thought having “your favourite song” as the first one would be an easy one to start with. It’s like asking you to pick your favourite child. Or most hot woman. It varies based on mood, and I’d always feel guilty picking one song over all the rest.

So I cheated and looked at the most played song on my iPod, and it’s this:

Frank Turner – Love Ire & Song

It’s actually sort of appropriate as that one song, while I wouldn’t say it’s my ‘favourite’ per se, sums up a lot of what I love about music. Musically, it starts with a solo singer-songwriter on guitar playing a nice little folky melody, before bringing in the piano, then the drums, and the bass, and the electric guitar, until it’s a full on sing-along rock track. My musical tastes do generally swing between those two extremes: solo singer-songwriters to full on guitar-based rock. To get them both in one song is handy.

I also love the sheer usefulness of that when the song is performed live. When Frank Turner plays with a band, he’ll always do a solo section in the middle, where the band leave, and then you have the awkward pause as they come back on for the rest of the set. Not with this song! Now they slowly sneak back on throughout the track and it all flows together seamlessly. For some reason, I really like that.

Finally, the lyrics. It’s an angry song, but one about hope. It’s about trying to make a difference in the face of adversity, as what’s the worst that can happen if you try? It mixes a certain cynicism that I can certainly relate to with an optimism that I aspire to. It says that you can still be a cantankerous old bastard and try and make a difference without being a hypocrite. It appeals to two different sides of my personality, and offers a way to unify them. Which is handy.

February 09, 2011

Frankie Boyle, Doug Stanhope, Down's Syndrome, and the story that won't die.

First blog in ages, and rather than warm up with something easy, I am jumping right in the deep end to finally tackle offensiveness in comedy, Frankie Boyle, Doug Stanhope and will try and use a specific thing to make a general point. I hope it works.

Let’s start with putting the cards on the table. I think Frankie Boyle is alright. He’s funny and writes good jokes, though the quality of those jokes has been dropping the past few years and I’d argue he’s somewhat like the Coldplay of comedy: pretty good, but nowhere near as good as his popularity would suggest. Doug Stanhope is brilliant, a bonafide comedy legend, but live he can be awfully hit and miss. But on form you’ll rarely see anyone better.

So at some point last year, Frankie Boyle had an altercation with an audience member whose son had Down’s Syndrome. The whole thing is reported here and is well worth a read to get the background on this. The story ran and ran, Mark Watson offered a remarkably even handed look at it and eventually Doug Stanhope picked it up last week. I broadly agree with everything Stanhope says in that piece, with the exception of his ire being directed towards the woman in the audience.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have a right not to be offended. That applies to life in general, but for comedy shows in particular it has an interesting corollary. An audience member does not have the right to not be offended by a comedian. So it follows that a comedian does not have the right to expect audience members not to be offended. It’s important to point out that in this case, the woman didn’t heckle and didn’t complain about the joke at all initially. She got a bit uncomfortable but just sat there. Her husband asked if she was okay. Talking during a comedy show is bad, but a few words are not going to ruin it for everyone else. Nevertheless, Boyle descended on them to ask what was going on.

The situation: you’re doing jokes about Down’s Syndrome, a woman at the front is not laughing and looking increasingly upset. Her husband asks if she’s okay. If you take a second to consider that, you’ll figure out pretty quickly what is going on and leave it the fuck alone. Carry on with the set, get on with the show, you’ll be off that topic in a minute and she’ll be back to laughing like a drain. Frankie’s reaction was interesting. He seemed to realise it was an error of judgement to engage the woman, and he tries at first to get her back on side: “Ahh, but its all true isn’t it?” When that doesn’t work, he realises it’s better to lose one woman than the whole room and resorts back to “It’s my last tour, I don’t give a fuck.”

The crucial takeaway here: this was a situation that Boyle created. He could have just got on with it, he was the one that opted to make it an issue by drawing attention to it. And if the woman, after the show and having been mocked by Frankie, wanted to make her point more calmly and eloquently in a blog post, and at the same time comment on what she thought of the jokes then she is perfectly entitled to do so. That sort of debate is okay. It’s fine. It should be encouraged. If the papers pick it up, that’s also fine (necessity of accurate reporting notwithstanding). This is how it should work. She doesn’t have the right not to be offended. She doesn’t want that right. But Frankie Boyle doesn’t have the right to not have people point out why they don’t find some stuff funny. Someone heckling, someone actively disturbing the show because they are offended, that’s different. They’re trying to censor the comic, to say he’s not allowed to say what he’s saying, and to literally get him to stop. Someone taking quiet offense and explaining why they don’t find a joke funny when asked – perfectly fine.

The people that complained about Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights TV show are different. The purpose of complaining about a TV show is to say “I don’t think this should be on TV”. Again, if you just want to post on your blog that it’s unfunny and offensive and say why, that’s fine. The minute you write to Channel 4 or OFCOM and say “you shouldn’t commission stuff like this” or “this sort of thing should be banned” you’re promoting censorship based on your personal take on what is and isn’t offensive. That’s not okay.

Having the debate is fine, trying to quash the debate is not.

And so to the wider point. Stanhope points out that most comedy is going to be offensive to someone, so you can’t plan your material around not offending people. I used to agree with this, but am not so sure now. I’d say instead that most comedy will upset someone. To a greater or lesser level, but I think a lot of what is labelled offense is actually upset.

There’s an argument often made in this debate that context matters. I’ve made it myself. It generally goes that it’s okay to joke about rape, as long as either the rapist or the comic on stage are the ‘victim’ of the joke. What isn’t okay is a joke where the rape victim is also the victim of the joke. It’s a fair moral argument when you’re discussing general values and being a good person and all that. I’m not sure it has any place in the reality of a comedy club.

I’ve never been raped. I was never sexually abused as a child. If I had been, I don’t think I’d find any joke about those topic funny, no matter who the victim was. Not because I’d be offended, but because the minute you mentioned that topic I’d be taken from enjoying a fun night out at a comedy club to recalling the worst and most harrowing moment of my life. That can’t be fun.

That’s not taking offense. It’s just a function of human psychology. Even if it’s the best written gag in the world, a rape victim isn’t going to laugh at a rape gag. They’re not prudes, they’re not offended, they just don’t want to fucking think about it. That, to me, seems perfectly reasonable.

It also raises the interesting question of what comics should do. It’s a scary, somewhat crippling idea to consider that doing that hilarious joke you wrote about rape might ruin someone’s night. And maybe context does come in to it. Not in terms of who the victim is or isn’t, but in terms of pure length. A one-liner about rape can be forgotten about as soon as the next gag starts. A one-minute long story is trickier, although if rape is only used in the punchline, and you move right on to something else then maybe it works. An extended five-minute routine about rape… well you’re definitely going to lose them. All speculation of course, and I realise I’m already on dodgy ground trying to speak for rape victims, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.

So to the final part of this thesis. Some things do actually offend, rather than upset people. But the opposite of funny is unfunny. The opposite of offensive is inoffensive. The opposite of funny is not offensive. Jokes can be offensive and funny at the same time. If you laugh at something you consider offensive then that’s okay. It’s because it was a well-written joke, not because you’re secretly a bigot.

There is of course, also an interesting flip-side to this for comics too. Just because people are laughing doesn’t mean what you said isn’t offensive. If Stanhope is right an there will always be someone that is offended, regardless of how funny a joke is, I’d counter that there will always be someone that will laugh, regardless of how offensive a joke is. “The rest of the audience laughed so it can’t be offensive” does not constitute a full defence. “It’s just a joke” is not a sufficient defence.

Comedy will upset people. Comedy will offend people. And comics need to own that idea. The one thing that drives me mad is comics that bill themselves as offensive, challenging and edgy, but then get all upset when someone actually gets offended, and say that they shouldn’t because they’re all just jokes. You can’t have it both ways.

For this debate to go anywhere we need to accept that some people get offended, and that this can’t be prevented, and instead of focusing on the odd individual case of a single person taking offense, actually consider the wider affects of the material. There will always be people that get upset or offended, let them have their say. But I think what is far more damaging is the more inoffensive stuff that casually re-enforces damaging and untrue stereotypes.

And so we come back to the original case of Frankie Boyle and Down’s Syndrome. See, what the mother in question was angry and upset about wasn’t that Frankie was poking fun at the sort of things her child did. It was that he was poking fun at the sort of things she didn’t do.

“Ahh, but its all true isn’t it?”

“No, it isn’t.”

And so on that one night of the tour, the audience heard that in fact the basis of Boyle’s Down’s Syndrome jokes were faulty, that Down’s kids didn’t act like that, and in fact many led relatively normal lives in mainstream schools. But were you at any other show on that tour, you’d have no idea. The man on the stage tells you that’s how things are and you believe it.

That, to me, is where the danger is. Not in stuff made deliberately to offend, but that made to deliberately (or even accidentally out of ignorance) mislead. To quote and re-enforce untrue and damaging stereotypes just because they serve a gag.

But you’ll never read about that, of course, because Frankie Boyle just mocked the kid of a TV star.

November 22, 2010

Pissed off with Tim Minchin

I’m pretty shocked and upset to see that Tim Minchin’s song, White Wine in the Sun is to be featured on the Spirit of Christmas CD, with the proceeds going to The Salvation Army, a group with a strong Christian ethos.

That Minchin, one of our top skeptics and rationalists, would align himself with such an organisation is frankly sickening. People fought and died to protect his right to free speech, and he wastes it with this awful, soppy, conciliatory ballad. Minchin could have written a biting piano-rock satire on the modern-day commercialisation of Christmas, an RnB track that attacked those that only attended Church at Christmas (the twist is they’re still better than those that do it every week), or a beat-poem picking apart the entire story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

Instead Minchin tells us he’s looking forward to Christmas, despite it being all about God and stuff. He even uses the name Christmas instead of acting like a true skeptic and calling it Winterville. It’s here Minchin’s true hidden religious beliefs are outed, as far more words rhyme with Winterville than do with Christmas – this wasn’t a choice made out of rhymical necessity, but a sinister decision to embrace the birth of Christ.

Later in the song, Minchin talks about churches, claiming the hymns that they sing have nice chords. Perhaps they do, but only because those chords are used to brainwash the innocent and the ambivalent in to becoming full on God-squadders. In much the same way as the chords to Killing In The Name were exploited last Christmas to brainwash the people of the UK in to voting Tory (the original release of Killing In The Name was in 1992, the same year the Tories won a shocking and surprising victory in the polls. Proof).

Only a for a single three lines does Minchin bother to show his claimed skepticism, and they’re brushed under the carpet as he tells us instead how much he likes Christmas songs. Like this one. A cynical and subliminal attempt to get listeners of this album to buy more copies of its Christian-filled nonsense for their friends and family.

And to top it all off, the name of the song itself, and the main line of the chorus, Drinking White Wine in the Sun – Minchin may try and hide his theism under a veneer of white wine, but we all know he’s talking about Holy Communion and the consumption of wine that has been transubstantiated in to Jesus’ blood. He thinks we’re too dumb to notice, a clear sign of man who holds his fans in contempt.

This is frankly the biggest blow to the skepticism movement since Ben Goldacre announced he liked to eat christmas cake, and Minchin should be ashamed of himself. By associating himself with this CD he’s making a mockery of all of us proud, God-baiting fundamentalist atheists across the world.

I for one will be selling my tickets for his winter arena tour on Ebay, as now it looks like it’ll basically be him, an organ and hymns all night. No thanks grandad!

(Context )

November 21, 2010

On comedy reviews

I was going to send this in to Chortle, but wasn’t happy with it and never got around to fixing it up. Too many ideas clashing together and I couldn’t find a solid argument to frame them around. Anyway, since the moment has past, I figured I’d stick it up here for the curious

Ed O’Meara wrote a fantastic and thought provoking article on critics in comedy, but I can’t help but think his ire was somewhat misdirected. The problems he highlights are genuine, but they’re not caused by the fact that we have comedy reviewers. They’re caused by the fact that we don’t have enough of them.

I was going to start this piece with something trite like: “If you think it’s tough making a living as a professional comic, spare a thought for the professional comedy critics”, but then I realised: there are none. Granted, there is work available in that field, especially in August, but I’d wager there’s not a single person making a living in this country from comedy reviewing alone. Sure, you can be an ‘arts’ writer for a national paper and cover comedy as part of that. You can do a bit of freelance for the local papers and the few websites that will actually pay for content. You can run your own comedy blog and try and make a few pennies off the ads. You could even set up and run your own comedy news, reviews and listings website, though someone else may have beaten you to it. But no-one is making a living purely from writing about comedy.

That alone cuts the quality of your average critic. Why spend years honing your knowledge and critical appreciation of comedy when the rewards are so tiny?

And a lack of reviewers inevitably leads to a lack of reviews. There are so few places that actually review comics at the club level that a single bad review, written on an off-night, can have dire consequences. It can be on the front page of Google results for the next five years. But that’s why we need more critics, so that review has another review right next to it, and hopefully another one too. The more reviews, the less chance of them all covering a brilliant comic on a bad night. Or a bad comic having a momentary flash of brilliance. The world without critics isn’t any better, incidentally. With the reliable sources gone, all the punter has to rely on is a badly worded rant someone posted on a comedy forum after they saw a 30-second YouTube video of the act.

Ed makes the great point that some of the best analysis of an act can come from more experienced comics. I’d agree entirely, it’s probably the best way for new comics to get constructive feedback. Unfortunately what works one-on-one won’t work for the punter. I wish there was a way to harness the immense critical faculties of our top comics. Alas this is still a fairly tight-knit industry, and for a comic to start posting his own reviews of other comics is pretty much tantamount to career suicide. That’s also, incidentally, why you won’t see many critics ‘showing the comedians how it’s done’.

A professional comedy review isn’t just an opinion, it’s an informed opinion. This means that sometimes the audience reaction is not the be-all and end-all for judging a performance. Most comics would agree that part of a critic’s job is to look past the conditions on the night. If the audience are being unduly disruptive, if not many people turned up, if there are tech problems, and so on. It’s perfectly possible to get a good review while having a bad gig, if the critic can see that the material and performance has merit. It’s a fairly common occurrence. The flip-side, of course, is that just because you ‘stormed it’ by doing 20 minutes of cock gags to an audience of stag and hen parties does not guarantee you a good write-up. In both cases it is a factor: how you succeed or fail in working a room and reacting to the unexpected matters, but it’s far from the only criteria on which a critic will judge.

Still, it would be nice to see punters place a bit less emphasis on reviews and star-ratings. Turn them in to a guiding hand rather than the make-or-break of a show. One way to do that is to offer more and varied reviews, but another might be for shows to stop shouting quite so loudly on their publicity the second they get a four or five star review.

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