Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Saturdays Aloud

Dear People Popularly Known As The Saturdays and Girls Aloud,

I was reading throuh trashy 'news' on the internet when I encountered an article where you muse on the concept of teaming up to make 'music' together. My initial gut reaction to this news was fast and acidy, but after hastily swallowing and having a glass of milk to calm my lurching stomach I read on to see what the benefits of this coalition would be. Obviously, I had already noted down that you would all be in one convenient location should the ghosts of Jeff Buckley and Elvis want to get together and shout at you for collectively pissing on the memory of good music.

I didn't have to wait long before one of you, probably the pretty skinny one, had enlightened me on why this collaboration would be the best thing to happen to a treble cleff since sliced staves:

‘Imagine – there’d be loads of us,’ said The Sats’ Frankie Sandford.

Yes, you are quite right Frankie, there would be loads  of you. But, there are also loads of people in the Syrian army and we're not particularly thrilled with what they're up to either. If you look back through history, large gatherings of people with very similar appearances have not always spelled good times for everyone else. Not that I am trying to discourage you in anyway from hanging out with your good buddies and publicity stunt co stars - can I just suggest you try not to record any of it audibly?

The excitably little beans from the Saturdays are incredibly complimentary about their mentors, Girls Aloud: ‘When we were watching their shows we thought it was amazing, so it would be great if they got back together and did a tour or something. That is lovely isn't it? Absolutely no hard feelings, unless you want to read into the slightly sinister "or something" just tacked on the end there... What on earth could the or something mean? Not that I'm saying the contents of Girls Aloud are limited to a small repertoire of abilities, I hear one of the blonde ones can almost play a harmonica without choking on it, and the brown haired one who wears dresses and heels can sometimes smile and sing at the same time. I really feel the snideness of The Sats (sic) should be left behind if they're going to truly embrace this "supergroup".

As a feminist, I feel it's incredibly important for young girls to have effective female role models. Having all 21 (I am hazy on the actual numbers involved) of the two groups standing on the stage at the same time would be a fantastic reminder to our youth that if you are attractive and willing to publicise every detail of your unsatisfying love life, you can go far in this world no matter what you're birthright. It's great to know that we can use televised talent contests as our "one shot" to the life we want, and, should we fail, it wasn't really our fault anyway so there's no point in trying to get where we want using a slow grind in obscurity. Girl power.

Basically, what I'm saying here, ladies, is that I couldn't be more pleased for you in your new venture. I feel you've had a contribution to music unrivalled so far by anyone above Year 4 in an English state school. Kudos on that - I certainly have done nothing as successful as you, and am unlikely to so as long as I have a desire for originality and keeping my clothes on due to the occasional carbohydrate that sneaks onto the celery I eat morning noon and night. Not that I think there's anything wrong with displaying an unhealthy level of attention to appearance above health. Wait a minute, I was lying in that last sentence.

Have fun - we all love karaoke and it's great that you've been able to make such a successful living out of it. If I could just ask, though, perhaps when you have combined the almighty weight of all 1600 of you, perhaps we could release the music without fanfare? See how it fares when it's just the music... just, you know, so you aren't disappointed when you find out you've sold more plastic look a like dolls than singles.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Exodus - Hoopla! Stereotypes Ahoy

Things I have had to learn to stop doing since leaving London:

Rolling my eyes at people who take longer than 3 seconds to go through an electronic gate
Judging anyone voluntarily on Oxford Street
Swearing at people who don't understand "Stand on the Right"
Leaving an hour to get anywhere, including my garden
Spitting on the floor at any mention of the Olympics
Finding reasons to pop into Harrods and sketching the escalators for the day I have my own mansion
Practising my "Is she pregnant?" glances
Budgeting 50% of my wages for the cost of getting to work
Duct taping my personal possessions to my pockets
Being less than thrilled not to pass a Monopoly location during my day
Pretending to be Eliza Doolittle in Covent Garden
Navigating using only a river as a point of reference

Things I have had to start doing since arriving in Brighton:

Googling "hemp"
Switching prospective names for firstborn from Joseph to Precious Malachi
Pretending I've always lived in Brighton to avoid judgement
Dealing with hill induced calf cramp
Making eye contact
Accepting my neighbours are people too
Budgeting 50% of my wages for the cost of making my hair look like I belong in Brighton
Taking care to watch for sharks
Navigating using only a fucking massive expanse of water as a point of reference
Allocating time to spend in Homebase choosing a delinquent shade of yellow to paint my future house

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Booth About Mats and Frogs

Sometimes comedy feels very difficult, although not, as a non comedian might expect, the getting on stage and talking to the crowd of strangers part. This week, it feels hard because of the contacting people and selling yourself as the next big thing to hit the comedy world. Since those cans of springy snakes, obviously.

This week, the decision to continue comedy as a viable means of supporting myself feels like someone a few years back said, "Hey, that's a great cross stitch you've done there... You should go pro..." So I did, I quit my job and spent all my money on aida (technical term - more than a one trick pony me) and thread and spent my days quietly being good at something that was totally useless.

Obviously, all is nowhere near as bleak as I would make out. In fact, it's a pretty exciting time... it's just the continual worry of the self employed person that nags away saying... well, yes you've got gigs this week but what about next week? Hmmmm?

Of course, I have made matters entirely harder for myself by moving to Brighton. Not exactly my choice - thanks to the good old London Olympics my rent was increased by 30% - yep, so, apologies if I'm not waving any flags come August but I was practically evicted from my house by people profiteering from people who are very good at running in circles very fast. Hurrah. Excuse me while I still think athletes are just the people who were better than me at school, only now they're being shoe horned into tampon adverts for no apparent reason that makes any sense to an avid tampon fan.

Stupid Olympics.

However, I must say Brighton has been fairly welcoming - they got the sun out and have given me full use of the beach with some excellent gigs and some pleasant theatre reviews too. Isn't that dandy. I shall blog more when I'm less of a grumpus.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Naked Deaf

This morning, whilst perusing the internet for things to distract me from admin work, I came across yet another article about whether or not women are funny. If you want to read it, it's in the Telegraph and can be found here.

Now, the article is similar to all the other ones I've read on that subject: "I didn't find any female comedians funny, I went and spoke to some and watched some live comedy from women who are not on the telly. I now know they are funny." Nothing particularly ground breaking here. So why print the article? Why out yourself as being that narrow minded? I'm confident not many people would write a piece saying, "I never thought black people could work as waiters because they would eat all the chicken, but now that I've been to a restaurant I believe it can work." So why print an article that insults women using similarly small minded and frankly ludicrous stereotypes?

It baffles me slightly that people want so desperately for there to be a difference between men and women when it comes to humour. Barely a gig goes by where, if I'm getting praise from someone who happened to like me, they don't drag my gender into it.

"I don't usually like female comedians, but you were funny."

Don't think for a minute that if you've ever said that to a woman who does comedy, that she's thought "Wow, I must have been really good then." She has undoubtedly thought, "Ah, you don't go to comedy a lot." or "Oh crap, I don't really want a demographic of people who think it's appropriate to say that. What with Jim Davidson winding up the tour dates, I don't need my gigs full of people who think the 1950s were a good place to stop social and spiritual development."

The truth is, it's idiocy to suggest that women are not as funny as men. Look around! Have you ever been to a public place and noticed that groups of females are just sitting around staring at the walls, or having heated debates about the economy without cracking a smile? No. They are making each other laugh. They're not heaving a sigh of relief if a man comes over so they know there's going to be some brief respite to the drabness of not being able to construct a punch line.

The writer of the article I read this morning was a woman. She wrote that it felt 'disloyal' to women to say she preferred male comedians. It doesn't sound disloyal, it is fine to say that, of the comedians you've seen, your favourites have been men. You've seen more men, it makes sense. But, to use that as a premise for asking if women can be funny at all, and if so, where are they... that just comes across as ridiculous. Not disloyal.

I've been thinking about it in a different way, to try and make it seem clearer. TV chefs. I've made a list of the ones I can think of off the top of my head:

James Martin
Nigella Lawson
Delia Smith
Heston Blumental
Marco Pierre White
Two Fat Ladies
The Hairy Bikers
Jamie Oliver
Michel Roux
Gordon Ramsey

So, out of those: My favourite is probably The Hairy Bikers. I like them. I dislike Heston Blumental's approach to food because it's inaccessible, I dislike Nigella Lawson because her style annoys me and she has focused more on puddings in the stuff I've seen, I like Gordon Ramsey because he annoys other people, I like Delia Smith because she keeps it simple and I like Jamie Oliver because he seems normal.

So, overall I like some of the male chefs more. BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN I DON'T LIKE FEMALE CHEFS. Even if I disliked all the female chefs I'd put in that list, it wouldn't mean I don't think women are capable of cooking. It would mean, TV chooses people because they are an extremity of some kind and are therefore likely to stir a strong emotion in you. If there are fewer of one kind on the TV, it means you are less likely to find one in that category that is your favourite overall. Knowing that I prefer a famous male chef more than his female colleagues doesn't mean I breathe a sigh of relief if my Dad does the cooking or if I see a man in a white apron at a restaurant. Life has taught me that women can cook, just like it taught me women are funny. I have used this "life logic" to supersede what TV has appeared to show me.

In a similar way, knowing that Tim Minchin, Stewart Lee and Eddie Izzard are my favourite all time comedians so far doesn't make me furious if my sister tells me a joke, it doesn't make my bum cheeks clench nervously if Angela Barnes steps on the stage. Life has taught me the women around me are just as funny as the men, why should that change on a stage?

Stop looking for some kind of magical reason for your own prejudice and just listen to the jokes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Best Lily Allen Impression

Sometimes you just have to do things that you don't want to do. Sometimes you have to do things that you really don't think you're capable of doing. Today I did something that encompassed both of these things.

Today I had a singing lesson. I mean, I say I had a singing lesson, what I actually did was go round to the house of a very lovely young lady with a piano and make her dog bark for 4 hours. It was exhausting for all of us and, although she said the dog normally pees on the floor and it wasn't my fault, I don't think we'll be looking into repeat performances.

Don't get me wrong, I love singing, I just know my limitations. My vocal chords have the commitment levels of Kate Winslet after she utters the immortal line "I'll never let go, Jack." and then pushes the poor sod off into the sea to become tasty fish bait. At the first sign of danger my throat gets tighter than a virgin sparrow's fouffe and I can barely make a sound that isn't Tara Reid-esque at best in both pitch and intelligence.

Of course, like every other person on the planet I am an excellent singer... when alone in a car that's going 90 mph down the motorway at night with the best of Carly Simon on the CD player. In those circumstances I'm frigging Bette Midler at her peak, I'm how Celine Dion sounds when she's in the shower... I'm Britney if she was Christina.

In front of people I'm a bit more Cameron Diaz circa My Best Friend's Wedding. Singing in public seems to be all about confidence. Your voice is the Guide Dog and you're the blind person kind of hoping you didn't get a spiteful one that's going to lead you out into traffic in broad daylight. It's all about confidence in your voice; you have to let it do what it does and follow on behind nodding and looking surprised and breathing from your stomach. If I was meant to breath from my stomach, surely my lungs would be in my stomach? It just doesn't make any sense to me.

My voice today did exactly what I expected it to: nothing spectacular and everything to make the singing teacher's eyebrows dance the Hermione jig. I just don't have what it takes. The X Factor is sadly lacking from my genetic make up.

The thought of having to sing in front of an audience of people every day for the month of the Edinburgh Fringe (and a week at the Brighton Fringe) is currently reducing me to tears every time "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" gets back round to Pumba and Timon's bit at the end and I realise that's the only bit I can sing in tune. I am utterly petrified. Doing stand up sometimes makes me forget that there are still things like this that turn me into a jelly. As a comedian you're constantly told you are "brave". Every time I hear this a voice in my head says, "That's ridiculous, there's no real issue if it goes wrong - I'll know why it was and I'll work on it for next time." But this thought line comes from knowing what I'm doing... because I'll know how to fix it and I'll know I am capable of better even if that particular night doesn't go according to plan. However, with singing I'm getting an insight into how people must feel about comedy. If it goes wrong people are going to judge and I won't know how to rescue it by pointing to someone in the audience with a bad hair cut and making everyone else mock them.

I'm not allowed to give up on this though so it's essential I just swallow the tears and face the music. Having already gone running to my Mum and eaten a basket of Mini Eggs, I've exhausted my usual coping mechanisms and should probably get on with something pro active like practising. The next few months are going to be painful for most people in the vicinity with ears. I've already put a note through the neighbours' letter boxes to explain I'm moving out in 3 weeks anyway but I apologise for the inconvenience coming through the wall. No one should be overly surprised if the rate of machete attacks in Bermondsey increases over the next 3 weeks and then sharply transfers to Brighton.

Make humour out of the things that terrify you. Well, I've tried. I hope you it made you laugh in places. I'm off to find the nearest open window and some razor blades to gargle.