Friday, August 29, 2014

The Musical

I'm not normally one for topical comedy or writing. My general opinion of my own level of education is low; I never feel informed enough to weigh in with words on current affairs. However, this week seems to have been a big week for events that are shaking the foundations of humanity. And, for once, I feel like I have something informed to say.

It feels like we're living in a time where people in a position of power are stooping to new lows. Malicious actions with effects that ruin peoples' lives are one thing, but the worst element seems to be the way people are not stepping in. How can the world stand by and watch as someone takes what doesn't belong to them and destroys another person in the process? How can this be something we're OK with?

I'm talking, of course, about Diana's fatal blow to Iain the bearded wonder in this week's Great British Bake Off.

What? The Actual F.U.C.K?

As the great Irishman himself put it, "Who takes someone else's ice cream out of the freezer?"


And, yes, maybe Iain did have his own freezer and maybe that's where his ice cream should have been... but would it have killed you Diana to have asked him to move it instead of just leaving it out on the side in 25 degree heat?

Of course, you can't get too mad at Diana. She was under stress, she was pressured, she had the all seeing iris' of Hollywood boring in to the back of her head. But was there not a single camera operator or runner or producer that could have seen her activities with the stolen Alaska? Could they not have intervened? Or is this where television has got to these days? Has decades of awful Big Brother programming reduced the Great British Public to enjoying the kind of demeaning activities that we saw in the tent this week?

We'd rather have big viewing numbers and exciting TV than have a gentle Irish giant through to the next round with some sesame ice cream to be proud of. It's not even that I think the Baked Alaska would have been good - I'm confident he would have ballsed it up even without Diana's help but that is not the freaking point.

Gosh darn it that tent full of flour and Mel & Sue goodness is my sacred place where I know no harm can come to me. Some people have the arms of a loved one or a happy place in their head... but my closest friend is my Sat Nav and I can't remember the last time I ate a meal with someone else. So I need this. I need that marquee of dreams where the best rise to the challenge and the worst sink under the pressure and crumble before the might of the Berry.

I don't think I'm going too far when I say that that marquee represents a silken walled dream space where jams and flour dusting patch up the worst woes of the world and cover them in carbohydrates. If you let even the slightest element of foul play in through the glorious, flexible walls, then really, I ask you, is GBBO any better than the Kremlin? Are we taking the very thing we're using to distract ourselves from the evil cess pit sliding rapidly towards destruction we call society, and making it a microcosm of the problems we're avoiding?

Please, BBC, I'm begging you... don't take it away from me. Let's see justice. Let's see Iain resurrected. Sure, you can't go back in time and put him back in the show and neither would I want you to, because he was dreadful, but how about we give him his own show? Eh? A terrible show where he mumbles through a full bushel of oddly tinged beard and shows us exactly how not to do anything particularly adeptly? And in the corner Berry will be dressed as Princess Leia on a chaise longue while Hollywood is caged and taunted by men in Spartan costumes. Mel and Sue will be there, with their guest: ME! We'll be having a lovely encouraging time and telling Iain we largely don't even care about the baking because it's always really been about the pastel colours and the equipment envy.

And someone else will fix the rest of the world. Probably UKIP I expect.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In a Plastic Cup

Yesterday the news that Robin Williams had died was all social media was concerned about. I wrote about it, something I've never done before for the death of a celebrity, and something that I saw criticised quite a lot across various media platforms.

Some people got quite angry about people who didn't know Williams personally writing a message about what they'd thought of him. I think I saw it called "competitive grieving". I found it interesting that people would have a problem with it; preferring to believe people are crass than emotional is a nice way to feel like you are above such ridiculous reactions possibly? And in some cases, I suppose I did look at a few statuses and think - "Yikes! Bit much?" But it's not for me to criticise people disliking the grief any more than for them to criticise the grief.

What it did make me think though, was that perhaps this anger stems not from people having a love for the deceased, but from this love having never really been shown up until this point. The death may have felt like a bandwagon rather than a jolt to realise you'd had affection for a face you didn't know? How many people daily had a status about Williams prior to that? Very few. So of course it might seem odd that someone suddenly couldn't live without him somewhere in the ether.

What with my Facebook and Twitter being largely comics and creatives I had a plethora of tributes to read from people who had been influenced by Williams as one of their earliest comic idols. It was really interesting to read and very moving. It got me thinking... who would mine be? Who will I one day be writing for when I am shocked and saddened they are gone?

I don't want to wait. I have decided from now on to write the occasional tribute to someone still out there that I think is brilliant. Someone famous, someone not so famous, but someone who I want to recognise now might have that capacity to give me a jolt when they are gone. The cynics among you might think of this as a crafty way to wave an "I loved them" flag now so that my future grieving is legitimised. But you can fuck off.

So. To Eddie Izzard. The man I have loved since I was about 11 and my parents had a copy of Glorious on cassette. At first I remember it being on in the car - I thought it was weird. I didn't know what stand-up comedy was and it took me a while to work out the genre... not quite story telling and not quite anything else. The genre just seemed to be "being silly".

I fell in love.

The cassette was fairly swiftly stolen from the car by my sister and me, and it came to live in our bedroom. We were never very good at falling asleep and Glorious quite quickly replaced George's Marvellous Medecine as our bed time reading. I remember the opening music really used to give me chills... it's odd, spooky music and I wasn't keen. But then Eddie's voice would kick in... "Hamm-ersmith Apollo! Apollo! The God of the sun..." and so on and so o. I remember the intonation as though it was my own material.

Having it on cassette meant I didn't know a lot of the actions. I had no idea he ran around like such a perfect giraffe, I didn't know he wore lipstick, and I didn't understand some of the laughs he was getting. But then, I didn't understand a lot of his laughs anyway because the references were too much for me. But the imagery he put into my tiny stand-up virgin brain was incredible. I had no idea what the 6 million dollar man was but I had my own Izzard version played by the Queen and it was funny enough in its own right for me not to need to know the original.

Even looking back now, I find it hard to watch Glorious and pick it apart as material like I would do to someone else. For me it is total woven magic. Blurry lines between each of his lines, seamless and carefree, chasing a picture across the stage and then smashing it with a sledgehammer.

"Rwanda doesn't work very well."

I vaguely knew what Rwanda was, but that image of him dragging Rwanda back to lie it back down was incredible. Mind fireworks exploding left right and centre for things this grown adult must be doing on the stage.

His section on losing his mother and Diana was an absolute lightning bolt. I thought for a long time he must be lying about that - how could someone quite easily talk about that and then go straight back in to being very funny? I found him very impressive for having that little cold section in the middle in between the big beards and the French dogs.

Many, many years later and Eddie Izzard had become a major feature in my relationship with my sister. We'd since gone on to discover Definite Article and Dress to Kill on VHS, and then for my 17th birthday my sister took me to Birmingham (A CITY?!) to see Sexie. Wow. Probably the best birthday present I had ever, or have ever, been given. It was amazing. I laughed and laughed and bought merchandise and didn't even care that he was so far away I watched the whole thing on the big screen. It was incredible.

I remember buying a copy of Sexie when it came out and being so bitterly disappointed that it was nowhere near as funny as that live show had been. I would defensively tell anyone who would listen that the reason it didn't seem as funny was that it had been filmed really early in the tour before it had been developed as far. I have no idea where I got that theory from but I defended him, it, and my birthday with an iron will.

When I went away to University and I moved from Somerset to Kent and missed my family something chronic, my sister filled my first birthday card after the move with little cut out paper bees so that when I opened it I would be "covered in beeeeees!" and I stuck each tiny bee onto the wall of my halls around my giant "Labyrinth" poster. Yes, I was extremely cool in my first year. No wonder I didn't have a single boy back to my room for the entire year. I was chronically lonely in my first year... I hated going clubbing, I just wanted to do acting and I couldn't seem to get a part for love nor money. But then in the first reading week my mum brought my little TV VCR combo over to Kent and suddenly I had company in my little room. Eddie was back and with his videos came the idea to go into town and buy more videos from the million charity shops in Canterbury. I had Alexei Sale, Tim Vine I think, and various other contributions. Eddie was still my favourite and it was an extremely pleasing thing to know that he was to my taste - he wasn't just the only flavour I'd ever had. Billy Connolly was up there in Eddie's league but Izzard still had the top spot in my heart.

I studied him for my dissertation at the end of my masters... I used an excellent clip of Phil Jupitus doing an impression of Eddie at We Know Where You Live, Live to write an essay on the levels of comedy in the clip. You're laughing at Star Wars, you're laughing at Phil, you're laughing at Eddie, you're laughing at the cleverness of Phil's writing in the style of Eddie, you're laughing at the actual jokes Phil has, and you're laughing at the relationship between the two (Izzard was compering the gig). I love this clip and, having just watched it back there, I still find it just as funny now even after having studied it. The same cannot be said of Waiting for Godot.

I've never gigged with Eddie Izzard and I've not seen him live since that birthday 11 years ago in Birmingham. But I did have the pleasure of meeting him very briefly last year when I was performing in a play in Brighton and he happened to be staying in the hotel we were performing at. It is the only time in my life I have ever just had to go and say hello to a celebrity and tell them how much I admired them. Yes, bit pathetic looking back, but he shook my hand and asked my name and told me to carry on with stand up as he thought there really should be more females doing it. I was shaking like a leaf. One day I'd really hope to catch him on a bill in a tiny club and see him where I love comedy being the most. To gig on the same bill as him would be a dream and terrifying all at the same time. He's the direction I hope my material moves in - towards the caricature and the mini-play and the downright silly logic. He's also the first glue that started to hold my relationship with my sister together and that's a weird thing to attribute to a man who had no intention of doing that. Possibly a bit creepy. I don't know.

But, Eddie Izzard, I salute you. Thank you for introducing me to stand up comedy and for remaining my favourite long after I'd discovered Mitch Hedberg and Simon Munnery and Tim Minchin and Billy Connolly and Richard Pryor. Hero #1.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I've never been very concerned when I've woken up to a celebrity death before; I'm not heartless, I just didn't know them. It was sad that they'd died but I wake up to the news that at least 30 people have died in some kind of atrocity somewhere every morning and I didn't know them either.

I didn't know Robin Williams. But I think, along with a lot of other people of my generation, it had never occurred to me I didn't know him. He invited me in to so many of my favourite films. Twinkly eyes, a voice made of plasticine and the hairiest arms that childhood me had ever seen; the man was a god.

I got mad at him for ruining his own marriage in Mrs Doubtfire - who invites a goat to a child's birthday party? I'm with you Miranda.

I swore at Aladdin for breaking his heart when he was a genie.

I was petrified of Jumanji.

I was so proud of him in Hook (after I'd squinted through the Boo Box bit and stopped wondering why he wanted to get such snobby children back anyway).

People will be baffled if it's suicide, the way they were when Hoffman died, because they won't understand.

"How can someone who made so many people smile have been so sad?"
"Didn't he know he could have turned to someone?"
"How can someone so talented have wasted it all?"

Depression might manifest itself in the mind but it isn't controlled by being strong willed; you cannot will yourself to get up anymore than a paraplegic can will back their limbs. The credit for the smiles you might cause doesn't get back to you; it's filtered out by the fog of guilt and shame and isolation that a bad spell can cause. You can have all the money in the world and still get hungry; you can have the biggest support network on earth and still get low.

I don't think it's too far to go to say Robin Williams was a genius; up there for me with Alan Alda, Ronnie Barker and David Jason for the ability to weave a character so warm, loving, hilarious, genuine and solid that you can't help but believe it must be what the real man is like.

If only there was a bit of hope that something like this would break the myth that someone famous is indestructible and fair game for endless criticism. Can we stop breaking skinny little girls with our circles of shame? If someone so universally loved can have been so desolate, can we understand that someone dodging media bile daily is not immune? Shout what you want at a stand-up or a beautiful woman; they're paid enough to take it. It's their job.

My favourite comedy moment in cinematic history is the point where the lime hits the back of Pierce Brosnan's head. I have rewound that moment on scores of videos and DVDs over the years. Endlessly watching it bounce off his shiny head.

"It was a run by fruiting."

You can't miss someone you didn't know; his films will always be here, and his stand up, and the memories that he must be competing with Roald Dahl for having planted in children's lives.

Thank you for being honest about the way you felt behind it all. You're a terrifying legend and an inspiration to me; you've shown me how much it's possible to achieve, but you've burst the bubble that one day any of it will be enough to take away the crumbling.

From the bottom of my heart Mr Robin Williams; thank you so much for doing what you did. Thank you for weaving yourself through a dozen characters that punctuated the tedium of most adults; thank you for playing for us and with us.

Friday, August 8, 2014

When Your Head's In a Mess

My seat is so uncomfortable I think it could possibly be used as an effective deterrent against crime. Fill all the prisons with ex-National Express coaches and make serious offenders sit in them for hours on end while scenery worthy of a cheap hotel painting goes rushing by in a world that is cooler where the "air conditioning" cannot reach you. This is not air conditioning, it's a series of hair dryers glued in to the ceiling and set to medium. We will be sweating but styled by the time we reach London.

The chair seems to be made of some kind of sticky substance, spread across some wooden beams and what feels like a very upset animal. Something leggy and spiky. It's been forged in the 80 degree angle so that my face is pointed ever so slightly towards my thighs. The seat belt that I'm legally required to wear is chewing away nicely into my neck causing lesions that I'm sure will fester nicely in the sauna style atmosphere of the coach.

I've decided to kill the man next to me, because he is reading this blog as I type it and even though he seems to have just this second decided to dig his book out of his bag, I am still going to kill him because he spent the first 30 minutes of the journey telling me I should tell him a joke. Of course that's largely my fault for telling him I'm a comedian - rookie error. But he really should have taken no for an answer.

Him: Tell me a joke.
Me: No.
Him: Go on, you've got to.
Me: No, I haven't. It's not really what I do.
Him: You don't do one liners?
Me: Rarely on stage, never on coaches.
Him: What kind of thing do you do?
Me: I tell rambling anecdotes about bird documentaries I've watched recently.
Him: Do you talk about periods?
Me: Oh for fuck's sake.
Him: I really like that Scottish guy off Mock The Week.
Me: Of course you do.
Him: What's his name?
Me: Frankie Boyle.
Him: That's it! What do you think of him?
Me: *radio silence*
Him: Not a fan?
Me: Not really - not my kind of comedy.
Him: What is your kind of comedy? Tell me a joke...
Me: Ah shit, my laptop slipped and now it's in your head. Oh god you're bleeding all over the seat and the heat from the "air conditioning" is baking it on to the pleather. Oh dear, well, you might not think it's particularly funny now but then it took years for people to get Stewart Lee. Frankie Boyle would never do something like this I suppose but he would joke about it happening to someone less fortunate than him so I suppose that's the same thing?
Him: *Dead from blood loss*

I hate this coach. I hate everything about it from the woman who keeps slamming back into the seat in front of me, to the happy Welsh people who are enjoying their lives. Since my great toboggan accident of 2010 there are very few positions I can stay in for more than 2 minutes without crippling pain through my back. Thankfully doggy style is one of them. AM I RIGHT? LADS? There's a fucking one liner for you, you miserable cretin. Does that please you? Stop pretending to read your book and laugh at my you-induced hilarity. Look what I've done... I've told a joke! A sexy, sexy joke. I'm sweating at the same time, I'm practically Lee Evans and Lee Mack rolled into one. Call me Lee MacEvans because I am brilliant and just like all the comics you see on the television.

I hate this coach. I hate the way the wheels are made of granite and have an inbuilt pot hole seeking system that is churning my mediocre hotel breakfast into a paste of potential salmonella and motion sickness. Bouncing along the M4 in a misery seeking missile bound for a city that's pouring with rain and full of people who have that Friday feeling. I don't have that Friday feeling, that Friday feeling is just a feeling that tells you you actually hate 5/7ths of your life. You are so miserable for most of your days that you've invented a term for the tiny bubble of joy you feel when you realise today is the day you can get drunk and waste your 2 days of freedom in a haze of regret and panic about Monday.

I hate this coach. I hate the way it's sucking all the natural optimism out of my mind and replacing it with thoughts of doom and of repeatedly flicking the corpse next to me until it comes back to life so I can kill it again.

Far from divine.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Left or Right

I just spent over a month's rent on half a dress - anyone that tries to tell you weddings aren't insanity incarnate is lying and probably about to sell you something wedding related. To console myself for my temporary (year long) lapse in sanity concerning money I'm allowing myself two caffeinated teas today. Break them rules bitch.

I might have spent a small fortune on half my dress (lord I hope it's the bottom) but it's still only the equivalent of about 5% of what the Edinburgh Fringe would have cost me had I been there this month. I'm not there, but do you know who is? EVERYBODY ELSE ON THE PLANET (or so it feels). All splashing about in the quagmire of soiled leaflets and trodden egos. God I miss it.

My fiancée is there (let's call him Alan), and for the first time I understand what people mean when they call their partner their other half. I feel like someone's turned the volume down on the world now he's gone; I'm doing stuff... Gigging, seeing friends, writing, exercising, exercising our joint account's generosity on satin and shoes that make me feel like a Tim Burton character... But it feels a bit numb.

I'm not crying or wrenching my clothes, but I just can't be bothered with much. It just simply isn't as much fun to be me without him. That's weird isn't it? Is this going to be life from now on? Is he my emotional hearing aid?

Or will this fade, will he become as background as the carpet while I wonder what I was ever so desperately attached to?

I hope it's the former. I don't believe in the one or soul mates, but I've come to believe that a best friend that you like banging is the most sensational thing you can achieve. Worth spending the equivalent of 6 nights at Portsmouth Jongleurs on a dress to marry him in.

I miss the Fringe too. If Alan is my rock, the Fringe is my abusive spouse that I just can't leave because he needs me despite his occasional full frontal violence. I've been to the Fringe In different guises for the last 5years and this year I gave it a break as I'm doing my first solo hour at the Camden Fringe next week (ticket link just to the right should you not have got round to buying yours yet...!). My show is quite based on Alan and our life so not having him here while I'm tweaking and writing, amidst fervent wedding planning, is a little odd... I feel slightly like I'm pretending it's real when actually I'm just a crazy cat lady who doesn't have any cats because she doesn't like them and her fictional Alan is really allergic.

Edinburgh Fringe is intoxicating - a real drippy soup of ego, elation, grinding effort and repetition. Set against a backdrop of twinkles and grey stone architecture. Edinburgh in itself is spellbinding - with the additional furore of the Fringe added it becomes sensational. Like every last day of term rolled into one at a theatre school full of terminally ill models who've taken a very positive outlook on the situation.

I look forward to being back next year - a married woman, with a well rehearsed, planned and presented solo show and a husband back to turn up the volume with me. Here's to various fringes, to finding someone brilliant and to passion. And to our joint account, because that poor bastard needs it more than anyone. Alan, if you're reading this... Please don't check the balance.