Thursday, August 11, 2011

Manchester August 9th 2011: Pure terror and havoc + cheap strawberries

Manchester: 09/08/11 17.00 hrs (Market Street) "Pure terror and havoc + Free stuff....just smash shop windows and cart out da stuff u want!"

Manchester: 09/08/11 16.50 hrs (Market Street) I was there. Here is my shocking story....

I had just got the bus back from Bury (I'll just throw in some exciting minor details to add to the realism and make everything more exciting as we wait to get to the BIG EFFIN DRAMA!!!!). I had to get the bus cos the tram was not running - apparently a tree had fallen across the line. Or had it? Was it just a way of the *Feds* keeping the crazy Bury Massive out of the city centre? It's a conspiracy theory and I'm starting it RIGHT HERE in CAPITAL Letters. So I got off and walked down Market Street, the main pedestrianised thoroughfare in our wet city. And I popped into some clothes shops and looked at checked shirts, because apparently nowadays a man can never have enough checked shirts. Or trousers that would only fit over my thighs if I shaved them with one of those butcher's meat slicing devices.

SO. After buying absolutely nothing. I popped into Aldi to buy a bag of crisps and some randomly selected items that they might have on sale. I do like the Aldi "we sell different stuff every week!" philosophy. I like someone else to make my buying decisions for me. So I bought a horse blanket and some tinned bamboo shoots and made my way out of the shop.

As my comedy friend says, "Aldi, the only place where you can buy an axe and a bottle of vodka on the same aisle... what could possibly go wrong there?" (Copyright Darren Cunningham, 2011).

And as any Aldi Market Street shopper will know, in keeping with the beautiful yellow tiled Arndale emporium itself the Aldi has this long tiled corridor to release you back into the world - and as i was walking down the stairs there was a shout outside.

It was about ten to five.

The woman ahead of me jumped and actually yelped. "Oh my God!" Then there was another shout. We couldn't make out what it was. What was being said? "Grrrhh rarr gge pound!" Behind them I chortled to myself. Ha! What is she on about? As if! On Market Street!? London is a jungle, but here we will never have such nonsense!!! These two women taking little steps, tentative. Standing right behind them, but thinking. No, surely not. I knew what they were thinking.

I'd been busy working all day, but suddenly the thought occurred. Really? I was thinking, no, it couldn't be - not here.

We emerged out of the shop into the sunlight. There was a big burly man holding a box and shouting, "Get your strawberries. Only a pound. Strawberries and grapes, only a pound a box." And yes, he should have said, 'Only a pound a punnet.' The world is going to hell in a handcart. So then I got the tram home and apparently according to the news 3 minutes later there were gangs in Piccadilly Gardens. In all honesty there might have been gangs there then but how are you gonna even know. It was packed with people. In all likelihood there were some youths with their hoods up. Weird.

Anyway, today crazy rain is forecast so that will be the end of it. And that is my riot story. Not that exciting admittedly. When they target the Pound Shops and B&M that's when we will know that our society is truly doomed. Hang on!!!!? Is that picture real?
much geniusosity and stupidility

Is this statement below real? I don't believe anything any more. I bet those strawberries were over-ripe, I was right not to buy them. And my horse blanket is lovely. Bamboo shoots for tea! Hurrah!!!

The rain'll get rid of em. Nature knows best.

From BBC Worldfeed;

1055: BBC Monitoring Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Khalid Ka'im has called on world governments to take action over the unrest in the UK. David Cameron has lost legitimacy and "must go", Libya's official news agency Jana reports. Libya "demands that the international community not stand with arms folded in the face of this gross aggression against the rights of the British people, who are demanding its right to rule its country", the report said."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Spelling: Lactate. Agonising. Bungee. Munchkin. Ahhhh. Only Google understands me. Ahh.

I've been reading Caitlin Moran's new book 'How to be a woman' and I have to say, I've been reading it voraciously. And possibly empirically and anaerobically. I don't know what those words mean but I'm inspired to use them by Caitlin's big vocabularly. It's a bit like when you read a Will Self article - you pretty much need a dictionary nearby to help you out and you need to stop yourself every time you look up the word from saying something like, "Oh. It means good? It means good! Well why didn't you say that then!!! For effs flippin sakes."

But you're learning. It's new words and you can use them to impress people when you're talking on the bus. You'll get them mangled up and use em wrong but that's what big new words are for. Misusing them. Developing and cocking up "the language". That's how it evolves. By crazy discoverers and explorers venturing out of the 1,000 word standard English into the hinterland of clever, wanky word choices and grabbing a few new ones and bringing them back to share with the rest of the population. They might laugh at you but they might give you top marks in exams when you use em. You'll be like Sir Walter Raleigh with his potatoes and tobacco. People will laugh at you, but eventually your discoveries will be the fuel that keeps the underclass going. Although the big poncey words (potatoes and tobacco) have transmogrified over time into chips n fags.

I had a similar philosophy to word userage when I was doing my English O level at age 15 (having a late July birthday makes me seem like I was a slight prodigy, I wasn't). Big words were where it was at. Examiners and teachers loved a big word.

I was Mr Rubbs at spelling though. I had a comfort zone when it came to spelling and it's the same one I have today when it comes to Scrabble - nothing bigger than 6 letters; nothing more than 2 syllables - or things are going to get messy. The sort of bad spelling that causes you to be so far off the mark that when you use spellcheck the helpful PaperClip Man just throws up his hands and goes, "Ooof. Phhht. Gadzooks! Fuck it mate, I fuckin give up." If you've got that many letters wrong there's too much of a distance. It offers you cue when you're writing a story about standing in the post office. It offers you envelop when you're writing about sending a letter. It says, yeah, loose is a good spelling, it's fine don't worry. You can have a loose parcel - if for instance it's held to the back of your bike with slack bungee ropes.

Nowadays Google will help you more than spellcheck ever has. It politely says things like, did you mean, 'post office queue'? We have searched for that. That's what you probably meant. It's a bit like a patronising older brother or a wife that has grown to hate your habits over time. It means well but there's an agonising, tired sense of menace to it. It might pick up a knife and kill you if you spell 'lactate' wrong one more time. But I enjoy that. At least Google understands me, usually. I do tend to use it now just to spell things - hence my Google search history makes for interesting reading: lactate, agonising, bungee, munchkin. It sounds like a Fall song in fact:

Lactate. Agonising. Bungee. Munchkin. Ahhhh. Only Google understands me. Ahh.

As a result of my spelling disease and also my lazyitis I memorised 20 words which were both clever and useful and also would get me Top Marks! In every poem or essay or plotless story I did wrote. Everything I wrote was posited on the idea that I would skip from one of the 20 words to the next, just to make sure I used all of the best words I knew. I would choose the 'write a descriptive scene about somewhere exciting like a fairground or a post office' option. Partly cos I was scared of writing something nice like a poem (I didn't know the rules - I still don't); or something imaginative like a story-plot thing - cos I didn't know if I was allowed to say daft things (I'm pretty sure I wasn't allowed.) So I kept it simple and just described places and things and nothing ever happened but I did get to use all my clever words.  It was a very clever strategy and I can still remember these words even now, several lifetimes later because they all began with the letter E:
  • exascerbate - John said that being late at the post office exascerbated his angerness.
  • etoilated - Jane had not eated for 6 weeks. She was etoilated in aperence.
  • exfoliate - Jane had nice skin tho. She exfoliated her earlobes regularly.
  • earlobes - John said to the man, "You have big earlobes. Wear is my parsel?"
  • excellent - "Excellent!" exclaimed the Post Office man looking at the big cue in the shop.
  • exclaimed - "Why is my parsel loose?" exclaimed John.
  • eminent - "I am a eminent man in this environment! People no my name."
  • eery - The silense in the shop was eery like a gost had eppeered.
  • ebullient - Jane was ebullient and smily faceed. "I am ebullient," she exclaimed. My earlobes are excellent today!"
Needless to say, I failed my English O level. A shame that I carry with me to this day. So I say to you kids of today think of Hemingway and Bukowski. KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. And I give you this quote from Charles B:

""An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way."
Charles Bukowski

On the other hand. Forget all that. Recognise the truth of another from a man who changed his name from the hard to spell Stuart Leslie Goddard to the idiotically simple Adam Ant:

"Ridicule is nothing to be scared of."

No 1 nos how to to spel nowadays and it dosnt matter reely. So use all the words you like. Use em rongly n call it post-modern. Call it art. We hav entered a knew fase in our evolushon. Tis like the fal of the Romen Emphigher, the Chinese will take over as we fall like badly magnetised fridge words from the cold wall of our unplugged civilisation. Or y'know. Something, somthink, sumfink ...   :-)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Gig 3; adhoc Gong Show hand up when the MC says, "Anyone else fancy a go..."

Yes, the Gong Show. What so-called comedians are supposed to fear. 3 people in the audience with red cards when all three hold em up - you get gonged off. A situation where slightly drunken idiots think - y'know what, I'll have a go......... And I couldn't resist.

Tonight I was that drunken idiot. 

So it counts as Gig 3. Technically. Just biked it back home (oh my Hollywood life!). I wrote some new material yesterday afternoon. Thought I would try it out. TNo more Buddhism, no more Muslimism - after the stunned silent reception in Rochdale. I thought I'll do some quick fire gags. Not quick fire enough though. They gonged me off after about 3 minutes, maybe 3 and a half if I'm generous to myself. It's all a learning curve, ay? And given that there was a rubbish bit in the middle I can't really complain. The next bit was good though......... oh you never heard it.......

I texted my friend afterwards and she said I am becoming a comedyaholic. Addicted. I don't think that's true, I could easily stay at home and watch Heartbeat. But while I was there I don't like not trying. So why not. The winner on the night had a lot of charisma to be sure. More than me. Manic energy. Not someone you would want to move in next door for sure. But you had to watch him just cos he was a bit *mental*. If you can't compete with someone's crazy charisma, what can you do.

So I didn't feel any nerves and I wasn't funny enough. Fair enough. I was gonna get into a funny bit when they binned me off. Darwinism in action. Very weird. This is obviously the way to find out if you can do it. Tonight I did it, but didn't cut the gongy mustard.

One point though, if you talk about sensitive subjects: religion, gender issues - just mentioning these things isn't technically racist, prejudiced, or sexist. It's just mentioning different subject areas. I think some people don't have the capacity to tell the difference. So if you talk about anything sensitive some people are just immediately annoyed. Do you just stick to Lady Gaga and biscuits? Hmmm. Just something for me to bear in mind. All a bit odd anyway. Too many amateur comedians talk about wanking anyway. Embarrassing. Keep it to yourself, sir.

If you don't try you'll never know. Etc.......... Until next time then.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Gig 2: Where 'that bigoted woman' came from. Marks out of ten? 4 for effort

My games teacher (hard to call him a teacher as all he ever did was sit in his little room and occasionally shout at us after football for not having a shower) used to give me a C+ for sport on my report. 

'Good effort' he would write. He had no idea who I was. He had 3 different phrases he used in rotation and they were so dull I can't even remember them. But I'm expecting if he had been in the audience at my 2nd gig (the first one with an actual audience) he may well have written something similar. Although, as he would actually now know who I was he'd probably downgrade the performance letter to a D+.

I assume - when people go on about how shite schools are nowadays they forget there were so many chancers like that guy in schools. How slobby and lazy he was. He gave up sports when he became a teacher and took up sitting in a room on his own for 7 hours a day. Perhaps he was writing a novel or composing a symphony. Or... perhaps he was doing nowt.

Anyway, all my marks for 'games' were for effort.

And it would be the same at gig no.2. In a working men's style club in a suburb of that town where Gordon's bigoted woman lives. She may well have been there. There were quite a number of matronly ladies and older gents enjoying the cheap beer prices for members. As well as quite a lot of younger people actually. It was actually really nice. If I lived local I would bet there. Cheap and they have live entertainment of all sorts. What's not to like? Better than Britain's Got Talent, I'd imagine. And let's be honest, if not much happens in your town it's quite a nice night out to have a bunch of comedians (and another bloke with a bag of potatoes waffling for a bit - that's me I'm referring to of course! Lol indeed.)

My 'set' such as it is had been memorised. But when I got there I thought... oh, gosh, suicide bombers. They don't want to listen to that do they? It was a sort of complex story and I thought, I'll lose them at the first bit. So I cut it. And as a result of cutting it I completely forgot the next bit in my 'set'. And floundered and waffled for a bit. Blah blah blah.

Long story short - there was that sort of applause afterwards that signals, "Well done for giving it a go!!! Keep it up. Or don't. At least you had a go..." It's quite a little shock to the system. Suddenly being shit at something. It's like all your life you speak and communicate perfectly and then you move to China and suddenly you're a doofus who has no idea what's going on. It makes you wonder if you should just go home and curl up in a ball. But whatevs. You do things cos you know they're difficult to do. That's what mountains are for. Okay, mountains are for looking at, but climbing them is also fun.

As for comedians, I haven't met that many but I feel that when I say to them at the end, "Well done!" And then tell them about the things I liked in their set, it is their duty to turn to me and say, "Yeah, thanks. I really enjoyed your joke about ... Well done for giving it a go etc." It doesn't have to be true of course. They can think I'm shit, it's just polite to say something nice. If they said, "Y'know, that joke about Deathwatch beetles in Henry 8th's beard didn't really work, maybe lacks topicality," that would be fine too. Cos it would show that they were actually listening. And obviously any feedback is useful etc.

Whereas what happens is I respectfully tell them something nice and they say, "Thanks." Full stop.

I guess people who like standing on stages can be self-obsessed fuckers. Sometimes in life less successful people are often actually nicer than the more driven and successful fuckers. And we less successful people are probably quite fine about that really.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Slow down we're gonna crash: economics and the power of R Kelly

Google Images for 'Plane Panic'  you get this

Economics seems to be a bit like that that theory where if everyone in the plane doesn't believe that it can fly that it won't. It only takes one person to say, 'OH my gosh! Man wasn't made to fly! We're all doomed!' They stand up and go doo lally and everyone else panics, and the plane does as a result crash into a burning ball of ugly flames. If we had all sat quiet and not said anything I'm sure the charade could have gone on for much longer. A plane full of R Kellys would have no problems.

On a not particularly amusing note, when Alistair Darling was chancellor he did an interview in the guardian and said, y'know what, the economy is a bit shit. Everyone went doolally at him. It was as if no one wanted to know and he would cause the plane to crash. Now he seems hopelessly optimistic. But then he was a dour Scot and would have been stereotypically tight with his money, but a question in my mind is - what if George Oz had been in charge then, when Northern Rock was going under. Cos obviously he's got loads of mates in the city but he claimed the bail-out was a waste of money. what would have happened if we had let the banks go to the wall? better or worse or just a bit different? I have no idea.

note the france and germany who never really got into the credit card living thing seem to be much less affected by this whole shindig.

oh my, it's one of those things where the more you think about it more more depressed you get. hopefully as a result we will get some great music out of this of the late 70s depression variety:
angry, choleric, spittle flecked nastiness and shouting (punky style)
or head in the sands, drugs up the nose, hedonistic adventure (do the disco duck)

hard times = good art. so long as we don't get a new Ben Elton I'll have something to be glad about....

Friday, August 05, 2011

My comedy ethos (whatever ethos means)

Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. So, yeah, what I think is good. Or what I think is good for me.

What do I want from my comedy stand-up thing? What do I want from other people's?

From other people it's simple: surprise me. Take me in a new direction. Give me something that I'm not expecting and no doubt I will laugh. It's easier to explain with comedy characters - in sitcoms or fiction - they do things that you can't believe (but can believe from them). You couuld say the same about Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle. The jokes fit with the character but surprise you. Eddie Izzard is the same. Weird but in keeping with his personality and character on stage. Sarah Silverman or Dennis Leary or Woody Allen or Steven Wright.

  • If you're odd it's good.
  • If you're mad like Emo Phillips it's great.
  • If you're clever or very clever and stupid at the same time, that's even better.
  • If you can carry a theme or continue a joke and come back to it 15 minutes later - I love that.

So I guess that's what I'm hoping to do. There are a lot of random blokeish jokesmiths; gagsters
who don't express a personality and don't surprise that much.

For me it's like writing a play - if you have one witty line - the laugh lasts for 5 seconds. If you have a farcical plot you can keep the tension and the laughter going for half an hour.


I've no real desire to talk about the events of my life. I always think of Samuel Beckett's "Not I." No, not me, sir, definitely not me. Too dull. Going to the supermarket. Eating crisps and working.

Maybe working. People learning English and getting it wrong is funny.

Writing "I like cock" instead of "I like to cook."

Always amusing. But I've not managed to integrate any of that yet. I'm kinda kind really. I don't want to take the piss. I don't like all this modern day piss takery: talking about gingers, about recently dead people or people being 'Special.' It's all just a bit too easy. Or else you can google and come up with a million jokes on these subjects. These things don't fit with my character.

I think I want to look at things logically and explore that area - the gap between logic and stupidity and where they interlock. Yeah, and that doesn't sound in the least bit amusing - but when was theory every amusing, huh?

"Write hard and clear about what hurts. "
Ernest Hemingway

I think comedy should be a place to explore your fears. The things you wouldn't normally say. So it can be on the edge of political correctness. It might be people talking about cheating or immigration or disabilities or the fear of life after having a stroke. The death of your father, your current bad relationship. The 1970s tropes of fear of immigration and the otherness of people of different gender, race or sexuality are clearly still relevant today. We just don't want comedians saying, 'People from Xxxx are stupid. Gay people are scary and stupid. Women are stupid, and overweight women and blonde haired women are especially amusingly stupid. But is it possible that there is comedy in the perceptions of one race by another, or the interactions between people from different cultures - of course there is. There is a possibility to understand through humour or at least to own up to our own lack of understanding. Our own intolerance, our naivity and cupidity.

We can explore our fears in jokes. Create connections that people had never previously thought about. Why is X like Y? What do you get if you cross Z with K?

I like that. Communication and disorientation. Shaking up thoughts and mixing up people's established ideas. Not confirming prejudices but challenging them.

All that sounds poncey and like I have an agenda. I don't. I'm thinking aloud. I really have no idea what I want or what I'm doing. I don't really care if people are challenged or not. More that I don't want to do the opposite. Conform to a boring stereotype and feed out more of the same. Jokes about Amy Winehouse. Jokes about being a sad man or wanking or problems with girlfriends or ugly stupid people. Of course any of these rules are exploded by someone just being really really good and really confident in what they do. If you're a brilliant artist you can paint the same brilliant picture again and again with a few variations and people will love you. Mark Rothko did that, Samuel Beckett did something similar; and Samuel Beckett would make a magnificent stand-up comedian.

So there might not be a place for obscure comedy topics like bullfighting in Birmingham any more, but who knows...

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Comedy routine version 1.0 - a big list

In brief, here is what the massive audience at comedy gig number one got to listen to. In no particular order, and off the top of my head, there was stuff about the following:
  • Turbans
  • Breakfast cereals in my youth - their importance and relevance to religion
  • Drunks manufacturing cheap cereal
  • Russian wives dot com
  • How people in Thailand breed
  • The Edge from U2
  • The Buddhist theory of eternal recurrence
  • Mary mother of Jesus
  • Geordie God on tv
  • Frogs
  • Getting a wife
  • DFS and World of Leather
Really, it wasn't "about" any of those things. No okay, it was about some of them. But all these things were mentioned. And I don't think I'm spoiling anything by providing this list. Should there be some weird concurrance whereby someone actually reads this and actually comes to my 2nd gig. Should there be a 2nd gig (and there should be). As there may not actually have been any actual jokes, these are just topic areas. So it's a moot point. Besides, I've written up a load more stuff now. I feel I should be a bit more accessible. More jokes about vomit, bum sex and political correctness. But y'know, in a good way?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My comedy retirement, my comedy rebirth - pomposity is my rai·son d'ê·tre/rāˈzôN ˈdetr(ə)/

Why did I give up stand-up comedy after 2 gigs almost 20 years ago?

I didn't like some of the people I dealt with. Particularly the 2nd promotor and I just thought, nah, I can't be bothered with this. I had already been writing for about 4 or 5 years and thought I was going to be recognised as a writing genius any day. I figured I could be a quite-good comedian, but never as good as I could be as a writer. The other comedians clearly cared about success and hard work more than I did. It was their thing - it was my 'thing-on-the-side'. The first gig went well - at a place I can't even remember the name off. I remember doing a 'joke' about the Bullring in Birmingham and putting a large pair of red underpants on my head. Something to do with attracting bulls. I don't remember the joke. I also had a toy furry dog on a lead. I don't remember why. Anyway, the second gig was at the Buzz in Chorlton and as no one was listening to me and no one was at all bothered that I was standing behind a microphone the compere came and dragged me off.

I was very miffed. My young testosterone fuelled ego was not happy. Actually in retrospect the compere, Mr Agraman, was quite polite and told me afterwards that other people trying to do 'weird' stuff had struggled at first. He mentioned Eddie Izzard. He wasn't comparing me to Eddie Izzard, probably just being nice. And of course I wasn't hearing any of that. Just the rejection and the people sitting at the front chatting to their mates. I could see no way how I could get their attention. I didn't have the confidence to actually talk to the audience. Then the next comedian came on and just started saying the Prime Minister's name and swearing. "He's an effin  twat." etc. People were laughing their socks off, so I retired. Stand-up comedy seemed stupid and boring. Angry, cocky men talking about their day or the government or why women were stupid. Pah. Forget it. I retired to my room to work on a series of unpublished novels and unperformed plays. And eventually a published one and a few performed plays.

Why do I want to do it again?

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.

"People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned."
Saul Bellow

"I've discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, "To hell with you."
Saul Bellow

 "All human accomplishment has this same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is this not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!"
Saul Bellow

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.

Why do it? Why not? Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking stupid, fear of realising that you can't sit there any longer saying and thinking - I COULD DO BETTER THAN THAT IDIOT.

 It is entering into the world of life, out of the cocoon of ideas and books. The gladitorial arena of macho men who aren't actually that good at fighting. It sounds horrible, but that is the reason I am interested.

Why might I give up again?

Well, boredom and a combination of my general shitness and the audience really not 'getting me'. That's my big worry. I can work on my shitness (if we can define quality in any formal way). But I suppose what I would need would be the ability to appeal to a wide variety of people. That's not something I'm sure I can do. But it's certainly something I can do more these days than I could in those days. I can make small talk with people quite successfully these days. In those days, I thought I was above all that and merely scowled at people for being idiots.

Obviously, they're still idiots but now I don't mind so much. And angry young 21 year olds probably think I'm an idiot. We definitely do change in so many ways as we get older, not just hormones, looks but inside our brains. I don't have the words to explain but we all know this, "we're none of us getting any younger, eh?"

Why won't that happen in 2011?

a) The smoking ban. Gosh. Really, I can't believe how happy I was about that. I remember going to a play in Salford. Or some kind of theatrey thing and leaving at half time just cos I couldn't breathe. Everyone was smoking or else creating roll-ups and preparing to smoke some more. I think it really affected my throat. A few years after that, I did end up having some nodules removed from my vocal chords and had to have speech therapy to make sure I used my voice correctly. I don't think it was passive smoking related but I was pretty sensitive to it physically. And my parents both smoking and then dying never really endeared me to indoor smoking.

b) Silence. More silence than before anyway. Apparently nowadays people are (forcibly) encouraged to listen to the acts these days. Of course they can boo em off or shout at em. I'd quite like that. It would appeal to my sense of life's essential misery. It would feel like I was a hopeless character in a Greek tragedy with the chorus telling me how shit I was and how some essential tragic flaw was coursing my inevitable downfall. "You're shit!" Yes, I remember Aeschylus writing a drama about a hero whose tragedy was that he was a bit shit and unfunny.

In 'my day' at The Buzz people were just having a conversation with friends they hadn't seen for ages. These days people have mobile phones so they would have talked earlier while they were driving to the gig. Some of them may have died as a result but that's their own fault. Also, hopefully, I am more able to engage with real live breathing people these days. It's a teacherly thing and a being more confident thing. Shouting at them without shouting. I really should be a Buddhist monk rather than an apprentice stand-up comedian.

c) Heckling is fun. I am really looking forward to being heckled. It's a bit like S&M. If someone is hitting you at least it proves that they care. Care enough to be disgusted by you or to hate your guts, but that's better than them ignoring you. Yawning is the ultimate heckle; and as a regular yawner myself, I know that sometimes you just can't help that. It's the not sleeping thing that causes that. I can yawn when having sex. But then I am very boring at doing sex. 

Has teaching helped?
Yes, it has. And why am I asking myself questions? I teach ESOL (English to foreign people) so I spend all day doing the pantomime of making myself heard. I'm used to having to be simple and direct. And teaching 16 and 17 year olds and other idiots has at least given me some experience of crowd control. Telling people off and negotiating with bored and angry people can get wearing though. But this comedy thing will be different. It may be short lived. But it will be a life lived for however long it lasts.

Next time I will try and think about my comedy skills and my comedy ethos. And I will look up the word 'ethos' to discover what it actually means.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

In my absence, the continued existence of my blog

What people have read and looked at while I've not been here:
  1.  Photos of Amy Winehouse looking tattooed and sad have proved 'popular'. Which is obvious enough. The point of that post was to point out that tattoos have become so mainstream and unremarkable. I wasn't having a go at tattooed people, just saying, wow, 10 or 15 years ago this person would look like a crazy biker/outcast with this number of tatts. Now they're a primary school teacher and no one is that bothered. Perceptions change, ay? Do people body modify out of self-love or self-disgust? Probably the same as everything else we do: eating, shagging, writing, cleaning - the shadow of one hovers over the other.
  2.  Photos and debate about the merits of 'the young people' having big earhole spacers in their lugholes. Here the background point was that this was my moment of becoming middle-aged. If you've grown up listening techno, thrash, jungle, gangsta rap and arty vomit music like The Swans (often through a thin bedsit wall, and not out of choice) - then there's not much in the world of music that can shock you. Computer music or angry music; yeah, whatever. Clothes wise too, we've sort of seen it all before and we're still waiting for the silver jumpsuits of the future. Instead people have got more into writing and drawing patterns on their skin and piercing, branding and stretching their bits and bobs. Like pushing up two fingers at a God that created them. Recreating themselves, like Winehouse & Robbie Williams and even the lead singer of Maroon 5 have done. My point with the big ear holes was that I was suddenly shocked by them. It was my "I don't understand this new generation. Young people today!" moment. I would genuinely stare. Although if people have words written on their back, I am going to stare cos I want to read what it says. And check the grammar.
  3. The Next Blog link. Weirdly lots of people have clicked on that in the last month and ended up here. Hmm.
  4. Spanking. Or rather corporal punishment. I'm linked to by a website called World Corporal Punishment Research. Which is nice. They are a non-judgemental organisation that just talk about corporal punishment around the world. They link to a post I wrote about getting the strap at school for going to the chippy without a pass. It was written in my usual nonsensical, rambling style. I'm a bit ashamed of most of these posts now to be honest, but here's what they had to say: "Why somehow wanting to write about students sitting in a circle ended up being more about getting a good thrashing
    One Mark Sullivan recalls receiving, at age 15, six of the best with a strap on his bottom in the headmaster's study at a northern grammar school, for leaving the school without permission at lunchtime. There was also a physics teacher who had a collection of plimsolls behind his desk."
Of course the big irony is that I have had more visitors when not writing anything than when I did bother to write 'anything'. Tally ho. I feel a sense of closure here. So many thanks to any sites that have linked or any people who have visited this horrid collection of random words by mistake.  Time to move on... comedy, yes, comedy..... 

Although, my friend has a photo of Amy Winehouse on a magazine cover from at least 10 years ago that I could put up here purely to gain massive empty popularity. But let's leave her be, ay.

Monday, August 01, 2011

More or less a first gig. Maybe more less than more.

Curiously, I'm reading Robbie Williams's authorised biography, 'Feel', at the moment. I don't know why I'm reading it but even more curiously I'm hooked. And it's not a biography it's more like a documentary, with the author following him around for a year. It's very well written and Mr Williams is an odd but engaging character with bon mots galore. I wasn't really expecting that when I picked it up in the library.

Any road. He has a good couple quotable sayings on pages 299/300 of the hardback:

"You're not brave unless you're shitting yourself." 
"The colour of adrenaline is brown."

Robbie Williams: Let Me Entertain You

His dad was a stand-up comedian. Hang on, was? Okay, yes, he's retired. I'm sure Williams like Noel Gallagher could probably do a better job than many many of other people who do comedy for a living. Talent is transferable. Or that is what I hope.

So there I was on Thursday. Thursday was my birthday. Hurrah. Happy Burpday to me. What should I do? I'll send off some emails to venues and see if I can get a gig before September or October, I'll do that for a few minutes and then probably go out.

I applied to a venue and an hour later they wrote back and said, hoopla, come tonight, you're on the bill. Ermmm............ Seriously?

First gig. On my birthday. With 4 hours notice. I will admit I was nervous for half an hour or so. Then I did some exercise and went for a run and was very calm. I am annoyingly calm about these stage things. It will come back to haunt me. I'm only nervous if I'm trying to remember something (well, thus far). If I don't have anything I quite like that as it means my brain has to provide. And it should. I give it food and books so it should do some work occasionally.

So I cycled into town - like you do when you're a showbusiness person. And went to the venue exactly on time. Cos I'm like that. I'm on time. I don't know why. And I got a free drink. So I had the most expensive thing on the menu. A cold Guinness it was very nice. And I started chatting to another guy on the bill. An Irish comedian called AJ Johnson (I don't think he has a website). He's done 50 odd gigs and had done 13 in the past 11 days in London and Birmingham and y'know, all over. It was a tour. I changed the subject when asked about my gig totals. "Not that many!" was my response. That sounds better than, "none". Or, "Two. About 18 years ago, but so long ago I'm not even sure." Yeah, not very many. Like there weren't very many people at the venue. When I say, not very many, I mean, none. That's the thing. None. Then my friend turned up - MANY THANKS, MUCH APPRECIATED. And then AJ Johnson's friend turned up - an alarmingly beautiful singer in a band who I may have fawned over too much. And the compere turned up and wasn't happy.

The compere wanted there to be an audience and if there wasn't he was going to cancel the gig. But AJ Johnson had come all the way from Belfast and it was (secretly) my first gig. We didn't want a cancellation. We persuaded him that the show must go on. My friend expertly corralled 6 French students to come down into the cellar for the show. It was like the start of one of those British films where the situation is absolutely shit but eventually they will make it to fame and stardomhood. It was like that. The microphone didn't work. The compere tried to make ironically insulting remarks to the French people. Politely they didn't leave immediately.

However, the French people - basically the entire audience did leave at the interval. As did the beautiful singer/friend of AJ Johnson and the compere. And in the 20 minutes wait for my go I was thinking up all sorts of mimes and jokes about Dominic Strauss Kahn, Sarkosy, Marcel Marceau. I was practicising my French. I was really up for the challenge. I was listening to the jokes, yeah, I was, but my brain can do two things at once. Sometimes. Weirdly, I thought the combination of stupidity and intellectualism which comprises my 'act' might actually appeal to some French students more than it would some regular Englishers. But no, they had seen enough and not understood enough, and so they left too. I tried to persuade em to come back but nah, they weren't havin it.

And AJ Johnson had to go too but politely stayed for my set, standing by the door waiting for me to finish. Waiting for me to finish? Really, I just recited my memorised act at 110 mph and looked out at the 5 remaining people. It was all a bit odd.

I didn't feel any nerves but then why would you? I was too too fast. And I didn't adlib but why would you? It was more important just to remember my stuff. I did remember my stuff. Some people were occasionally amused. No bad things for me and actually amusing and memorable as an evening. After I finished there were only 4 of us left and another guy had a go with 3 of us in the audience. Steve Price, very surreal, he reminded me of Frank Sidebottom just without the papiermache head. He blogged about the night here: Pour Some Gravy On Me

The compere was very angry on the Manchester Comedy Forum about the issues with the venue and the lack of a crowd, which is fair enough, but to me it was amusing, but then I'm easily pleased some times. Less so at others, as I found out the next night..... I am not the best at watching comedy... I need to think about why that is...

Doing a comedy course at The Comedy Store in Manchester with John Cooper

 Well, it's been something I've been thinking about for quite a while. If I had one of those bucket list things then the resurrection of my stand-up 'comedy career' would have been on it.
N.B. Before I go any further - why the constant need to use 'little speech marks', Mark? I think it must be to signal 'irony'. Chortle. Ho and ho.

So there's doing some stand-up. Running a marathon and errmmm. I don't want to bungie jump. I could be like Gareth from the office when asked if he has any ambitions he'd like to achieve: "twins". Successful writing endeavours might once have been on my list but having almost given up writing that would be a bit stupid. And the marathon running isn't getting any closer at the moment. Perhaps I have to book in a half-marathon and that will give me a deadline so I won't embarrass myself with my pathetic performance.

 But for now: comedy. I don't even like the word. So much pressure. I'd said I needed a kick or a helping hand to do it - and a friend not only found out about a course with John Cooper aka Danny Pensive at the Comedy Store in Manchester. So I did a 6 week course. And it was very good. And there were lots of things that were similar to the writing advice I gave myself in the past where I was the expert, or an old hand. It was a nice supportive atmosphere and without wishing to use the nice again, the other people on the course were ... splendid. A mixed bag of abilities, styles and funnyness. But then who gets to decide who is funny and who isn't? You can't. You can only try - like when you are teaching writing in general - to teach ideas creation, craft - and provide a workshop that promotes people who want to have a forum to come up with new ideas and rewrite and hone those ideas.

I really do come from the writing end of the table. If there is a table. Stand-up comedians say things like - writing is really difficult. I think things like, ummm, but you're only writing a few thousand words. How hard can it be? I can write lots of words. Obviously, the key thing is making the words actually funny. And throwing away all the verbiage I normally write. That is the hard bit.

The next hard bit - once the course was over - late July 2011 - was finding places where they'll let you do gigs. Apparently there's a waiting list of 3 months to do (embarrass yourself) a gig as an unpaid opening act. Three months? To not get paid? To stand there and watch people not be very amused? Are all these beginner comedians ridiculously over-confident or mascochistic?

Why do I want to do it?
I don't really know. I did two gigs - literally a lifetime ago. Almost 20 years ago. In smokey clubs, when I was a wee boy. And some of the people I was on the bill with are still knocking around in Manchester. So I feel I have unfinished business. I just want to give it another go. If I fail I'm not going to suffer much. It's not like I don't care, it's not like I'm not ridiculously ambitious, quite the opposite, I feel too strong, too grown-up - in the words of Adam Ant, 'ridicule is nothing to be afraid of.'

For now, here's Danny Pensive, my 'mentor' and 'inspiration', he's doing a show in Edinburgh y'know. I went to his preview show and it was very silly, very naively charming and you will definitely come out smiling. He could even bring duffel coats back into fashion.

Resurrection and comedy

Hullo. Hullo invisible people that probably don't exist. After a mammoth 19 month break I have decided to write a new message here. Many times over the previous months (years) I have thought what I assumed might be interesting thoughts but I've shelved them, sucked them down and drowned them in my own bitter tears. The meaning of everything is always confusing for me. The why and the need to do almost anything that doesn't involve food. Even sleep is optional I tend to think. But yes, I think I'm going to write some more things here, for my own personal amusement (that's all it ever was).

In my absence I have recovered from my long-standing injury (8 operations/procedures - I'm not sure operation is the word - it wasn't that dramatic. I am tempted to reveal all now that I am fixed. But no it wasn't piles, and no it wasn't brain cancer. Something quite mundane in retrospect though thoroughly painful.) Bla bla. For another day.

I moved house. Bought a part of a house. Moved into a state of constant financial panic. Had a job for 15 months then the contract ended. Had another part-time job - both teaching ESOL. Then got made redundant from that one. And it felt like I was living and sleeping and eating lesson plan ideas. Money and teaching seemed like the only things that mattered. Sleeping as well. Sleeping was popular. The theory of sleeping anyway as I often - due in part to my own stupidity - I didn't have time to sleep. Who wants to go to bed as soon as they come home? Working evenings then the next morning and commuting 50 miles every day can get to be a bore.

Did I do anything else? I did some internet dating, but I've retired from that now. I didn't do any writing worth speaking of. I finished my last novel. I had an agent who really REALLY wanted to read it. I sent it to him and then like a total twat he never ever replied to me ever again. As he had been waiting 2 years for it he might at least have said, look, Mark, I'm really bloomin disappointed with how shit this is. Instead he just ignored me. It was very odd. I've started a bunch of plays and had ideas for all sorts of novels but not got much further than that. I have loads of notes.

I started a play called 'Loving the Immigrant'. It was about kinky sex, Polish people, deception and probably didn't have a very good plot. I did like bits of it though. I started another play called, 'Because they had no choice' or perhaps 'Self professed profound/. It was about conceptial artists and deception and love and sadness. This has a plot but is confusing me at the moment. Also, I'm not entirely convinced that my ideas really 'fit in'. I see a lot of plays that, well, to be polite, aren't my scene, man.
I started writing a teenage novel about a bunch of intellectual youths that create a monster out of one of their classmates. They're a bunch of geniuses and want to see if they can radically change the look, behaviour and character of one of the failures in their class. It's like a Frankenstein/george bernard shaw pygmalion thing. but more scientifically based.

It actually sounds quite interesting now I write it down. I'd read it. It's a question of whether I can write it. I lack focus and the whole working thing means I end up doing a tiny bit of this and that and never finish anything. Really I should re-write my previous novel cos I liked it quite a bit and it is too long. Bla bla. Talking to yourself is quite useful it seems.

One thing I need to learn is how to write shorter posts. One topic at a time.

I have done a comedy gig. That will be my next post. The reasons why, the reasons why not. What happened. Just for the record, y'see. Comedy and jollity. Ha ha ha ha etc.