Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Were You Thinking?

It's safe to say I'm not having the best month of my career. Spoiler alert for those not involved in the comedy industry: it's not in the best shape it's ever been in from what I can work out. Work is scarce for excellent acts, let alone ones like me who are still carving out their reputation. I am signed up to about 5 or 6 different forums for comedians and promoters to advertise and apply for work from. I rarely get involved but I interestedly watch the comings, goings and moanings of people with things to say. There are far more moanings than comings or goings.

If the average interested but distanced comedy fan spent some time browsing these forums I think they'd get a horrendously inaccurate impression that we're all lying bastards when we're on stage.

"My mate said to me the other day..."


"I was gigging overseas last week..."


"This next act is a great friend of mine..."


I've tried to make a point of only commenting on these places when I have work to offer, and even that is quite a minefield. I once posted the following:

"Comedian needed for fundraiser gig in Brighton. No money so please only apply if you're in town anyway and can double up doing new material or something here. No progression to better gigs; not worth it unless you just want some small gig stage time for whatever reason."

Someone asked what the cause was, I told them it was a theatre group raising funds to go to Edinburgh. I got called manipulative for making out like it was a charity or a good cause in some way by a comic who didn't think my reasons for putting on a fund raiser were good enough. Fair enough; I won't book him and somehow the gig was still a success.

The truth of it is that for every gig that gets posted somewhere, or emailed out to a list of comedians, at least 100 people that apply for it won't get it. I post gigs for the small shows I run in Shoreham and Taunton and I am absolutely overwhelmed with responses and spoilt for choice. I generally only book people I've worked with before and I suspect most bookers are the same.

I have a fairly good reputation I would say; there's only one promoter who won't book me because I'm unreliable. He decided this after he sent out confirmation of my open spot for him about 24 hours before the gig and I'd rather stupidly double booked myself with paid work. I had to tell him I couldn't make it and I received a furious email back telling me that was the last time he would book me. Personally, I know it was my fault but I think it was unfair for two reasons:

1) If you need more notice than that, send your confirmations earlier than that. A confirmation request is an indication that you're expecting one of two answers; be prepared for the one you don't want.
2) The promoter in question was someone I'd done about 6 open spots for. At least 2 of these gigs had been cancelled after I'd turned up to the gig because 0 audience members turned up. In many ways, I should have been the one to break up with him.

So, back to the beginning; why does this month suck? Well, last night I was on my way to Derby for a gig - that's not the reason it sucks, I'm sure Derby is lovely before you all start revolting over an assumed slight - I wouldn't know if Derby is nice... I never made it there. I was a generous 30-40 seconds away from being involved in a fatal car crash about 6 cars ahead of me on the M1. I'm not trying to be over dramatic (although I may well be achieving it anyway), but I had 3 hours to sit in my car at the crash site and think about things like that.

I pulled to an emergency stop just in front of a Carlsberg lorry that was now stretched across 3 lanes with kegs rolling out into the road. I sat still in my car. Other people got out and ran towards the scene. I didn't; I didn't think I could help. After only a couple of minutes emergency vehicles arrived - amazing. I stayed in my car. Lots of men from the cars around me were up at the scene watching. I didn't want to watch.

After about 20 minutes a man came back to the car in front of me. I got out and asked him if he had any information.

"Get comfortable in your car, love, we'll be here a few hours."

"Is anyone hurt?"

"Someone's dead. Not sure about the others."

I got back in my car; I didn't think I could help. I didn't want to watch.

I'm extremely sensitive. My fiance, let's call him Alan, told me on Monday that he thinks I might have the emotions of some other creature. He said, "You don't get human sad; you get some kind of goblin super sad. Like you have human sad and then you have a whole extra sadness. I've never seen a real person have a bottom lip stick out like yours does when you get teary."

Being in that proximity to someone dead and someone having physically died seconds away was quite overwhelming in a cold car on my own in the dark for 3 hours. I am a sheltered, pampered, 1st world idiot and things like that make me maudlin. I don't have much survival instinct; if you lined up 8 people and said "someone has to die" my hand would be first in the air. Not because I am heroic or brave, but because I would find that easier to deal with than the brain aftermath of someone dying for me. (There's nothing special about 8 people, by the way; I'm not saying if it was 9 I'd be like, "Nah, not today; get that fucker on the end. He looks like a prick.")

I sat and worried about the nightmares that the sheer volume of blue flashing lights were going to induce. The sound of the saw on the central reservation as they tried to cut through it was chilling through the foggy gloom and I was nervous that this was going to bother me unduly in my sleep. Then it occurred to me that at least I would be going to sleep; someone wasn't going home that night. Someone was never going to dream again and their newly bereaved families would be having far worse nightmares than mine.

Having previously been on my way to a gig, I had people to call and cancellations to make when it transpired we were going to be stuck there far longer than predicted initially. I was in an odd situation because one of the other comedians was perhaps 500 yards behind me in their own car so we were in communication; stuck together but apart. Th gig got cancelled and I sat there in the dark.

"Your life cost me £127.50." thought the voice that no one wants to admit to having in their brain. No matter how liberal/I don't see colour/I'd die for anyone/I recycle/who doesn't love the sea you think your brain might be, you're still capable of thoughts like that.

Because sitting there in my car I realised that I wasn't going to get paid for tonight's gig now, and that was really bad. And the longer I had to get used to the fact that if I got out of my car and walked forward a few yards I could see a corpse, the more I was worried about my £127.50. I'd already spent the fuel to get within 30 minutes of the gig in Derby, you see.

Money worries and the worsening need to urinate seem to really numb you to a situation. They say life goes on; it's not life. It's nervousness about bankruptcy and or soiling yourself.

As I said, this month hasn't been the best of my career. Because of various last minute cancellations due to low ticket sales at gigs, I have had close to £1,000 removed from diary this month with only a few days notice on most and no compensation at all.


I do not make even nearly enough money to not worry about £1,000.

The conversation or email from the promoter is always the same;

"Unfortunately I'm calling/writing to say that this Friday's/next Tuesday's/Saturday's gig is now no longer going ahead due to a dispute with the venue/low ticket sales that would leave us deeply out of pocket were we to proceed. Please could you confirm you've received this email and we'll try and get you booked back in as soon as possible."

It is considered extremely rude if you write back and tell them how far out of your own pocket you are rapidly becoming.

I'd hope that this is why my brain reminded me of my £127.50; because it was the latest in a long string of cheques I won't be receiving. Maybe I'd have thought it anyway.

Something about sitting there being so grateful to be alive made me feel vulnerable in every sense of the word. There is no protection financially and there is no protection on the roads either. I phoned Alan and told him neither of us can be comedians any more; I need us both to be in the house constantly where I can't lose him one night on the M1. I couldn't cope with that phone call. He told me I'd be cross with him within a few hours of our confinement and I'd be begging to get on the A303 and see my family. He was probably right; don't tell him.

Today I feel deflated and sad and like I want to quit comedy (I won't - sorry) and go and live in some cotton wool somewhere hot with donkeys instead of cars. The M1 is still closed while I'm writing this; I feel like if 6 donkeys and a big donkey had a row then the path would be back open in minutes. Has anyone properly researched donkeys to see if they are a viable option?

I'll punish myself quite a lot for having sat there at the scene of someone's death and thought of my own financial situation. I know I wasn't the worst, I watched a man shout at a Highways Agency Officer beside my car when she asked him not to film the emergency services attempting to reach people in the vehicles.

"Why?" he said.
"Do I really have to answer that?" she said.

He carried on filming.

I stayed in my car; I didn't think I could help.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chicken Nugget

From my cosy overpriced flat in Brighton I can see a main road. My living room overlooks the road and so when I say I'm writing, what I frequently mean is I'm sat staring out of the window at passers by on the main road. My dreams vary from simple ones where my boyfriend, let's call him Alan, comes home with a winning lottery ticket or a commissioned TV series to far more complicated ones where a helicopter lands and out jumps a publishing company and the owners of a curiously well funded Indie film company. They've found my blog online and like my excerpts for As We Know It and they just have to be able to make it - especially if I agree to maintain complete creative control and star in it too.

"Quick!" They say, "You must finish it... NOW!" And, spurred on by their enthusiasm I finish the book there and then while they feed me mackerel pate on excellent little biscuits. Alan comes home to find me already on the phone to Graham Norton - I'm going on the show this weekend! We do some furious cuddling while the publishing company proof read my flawless grammar in the next room.

Ah, what a dream. If only I were actually writing instead of gazing out of the window there's no reason that dream couldn't morph into a vaguely similar reality.

My little hobbit hole of a residence is in a lovely area where we have many local shops and community centres. It's the sort of place you move to when you've got the time and energy to believe in society again. Or, at least one of you has; one of you probably works in London to afford the time and energy the other one is spending.

Around the corner, just down the hill and slightly to the right there is a community centre that does sport classes and children's dance lessons. I've never been in there but I like the eclectic mix of offers on the hand written posters in the window. If I had children it would be exactly the sort of place I could take them. As children they would hate it: "Why can't we just watch TV instead? I hate ballet." but as young adults they will feel differently, instead of despising the fact that they have to go they will realise they have a choice and feel guilty instead that they choose not to keep it up. But at least it won't be my fault.

One of my favourite things to witness from my porthole into Brighton's events, is the 30-40 minutes before the Samurai class begins. Yes, you heard me right. If you have enough money in the residential parts of Brighton you can pay for your child to become a Samurai... and it only seems to take about 60 minutes a week of their time. I sit in my chair by the window and I watch all the little would-be Ninjas traipsing down the hill in their black pyjamas with a red belt. At first I thought they were having some sort of regular karate or judo lesson (excuse my ignorance in this subject - I do not know the difference) but then I walked past the little building and noticed that it has a new poster up in the window.


Curse my barren loins that there is no child in my life I can enrol to become a Samurai. I will have to satisfy myself with watching other parents taking their little darlings past my house and down to the classes. I like the mix of children that attend... they are mainly boys but there are a few girls. There are the tall, wiry girls with already terrible hair that you know will struggle for another few years and really only come into their own when they discover hockey and the fact they can drink as much as a man. There is one particular sweet looking little girl whose mother dresses like a barbie herself, and I like to imagine that this Samurai class is the little girls very first act of rebellion against following in her 6 inch heeled footsteps.

There are a few boys that head down the hill together, already practising last week's moves on each other and imaginary foes. They are excited - proud of their pyjamas and pretty sure every week that this will be the week they finally kill someone.

Then there is my favourite little boy. He is a fat little boy who trudges behind his mum and dad, already crying and trying to move his feet slowly enough that he will miss the lesson. Sometimes Mum is carrying him to scupper his plan, sometimes Dad is. Sometimes he's not crying... sometimes he's playing an excellent little game in his mind to distract himself, it seems, from the horrors that lie ahead. I guess that Mum and Dad both take him to the lesson so that he feels better about it, but maybe they drop him off there and go and have time to themselves? I don't know.

He really is a fat little boy. His Mum and Dad are not fat. He is only fat in the way that a young child is... He doesn't look ill and it doesn't look like the fat will last. But he is fat.

I am impressed with his parents for making him go to Samurai classes; for not just plonking him in front of a TV and assuming their job is done because he's eating and the electricity is paid for to power the learning box. It is good that they get him exercise, it makes me not judge them that their boy is tubby. Maybe he's just tubby.

On the other hand... I hate them for making him go.

"Let him be fat and happy!" I sometimes think, when my brain is feeling sorry for me and projecting onto people walking past, "Dear god it is never going to come in handy for this child to be a Samurai. If there was ever a time in history when it was ok for this little boy to wallow in his flesh and be jubilantly ignorant to the ways of the Samurai then it is now! He will get a marvellous job doing computer coding because he never wanted to leave his computer and he will earn more than all the joggers currently lapping Hove Park put together. He doesn't want to be a Samurai... he wants to be a happy lazy fat boy. Let him be!"

Sometimes I day dream well for him. Sometimes I imagine that his walk there is actually awful because he hates cars and he is delighted when he steps inside the sanctuary of the Samurai centre. Sometimes I think he is probably a master of Kung Fu (is that what Samurais do?) and only wears a tiny fat suit to help him train harder and so that he doesn't embarrass the other children at his class. He's really down to earth like that. Sometimes I think he is probably crying because he doesn't like being saddled with all the wisdom of a Samurai at the tender age of... what is he? Maybe 6? What 6 year old is comfortable knowing they have the knowledge and the physical capacity to kill both their parents if the need arises?

Sometimes I daydream badly for him and I'm plummeted into despair. I daydream of the day he finally stands up to the bullies who tease him for his size. He remembers that he is, after all, a Samurai and therefore doesn't need to take this mockery. So he begins to fight. They laugh at him and punch him. He is no match. He falls over. He is not a Samurai.

I daydream that one day I will rescue him. As his daps carry him past my house, beyond the window's gaze in Brighton that day, I will dash out onto the steps.

"Wait!" I'll call after his parents, "Stop that Samurai!"

They turn, confused, wondering if I mean them.

"I mean you!" I call, dashing down my front steps and after them. "Wait!"

They look me up and down, slowly recognising me from my head shots and from the front page of last week's Brighton Argus.

"You're Laura Lexx," they say in disbelief, "That local author who has just signed a multi billion pound deal to have her book published and put in every hotel room instead of the bible. The one who has the film deal too where Sandra Bullock and Dawn French have agreed to work for free because the script is so good? My goodness. What do you want with us?"

"I need your little boy." I say, a little out of breath because I haven't got the most out of the free gym membership I received when they made me honorary Mayoress of every town I wanted to be Mayoress of.

"You can have him..." they say quickly, "Anything you need. We'll pack him a suitcase tonight. Obviously we'll miss him because we love him dearly but we're sure you can give him a better life than we can."

"No, no, no!" I say, laughing and shaking my head. "I need him to be in the film."

"But there isn't a little boy in As We Know It?" the parents say, confused. "We have already read it four times."

"It was only published this morning?" I say.

"We know." They reply, "But we burned all our existing books and cancelled our broadband connection because it's really all we need. There is definitely no little boy in it."

"Ah," I say, kneeling down so my face is the same height as the fat little Samurai's. "But you haven't read the film script. And in the film script there is a little boy. A little boy who looks just like this. Because I wrote in a little boy, just so you could have a part. Because I think you are so special."

The little boy looks at me, hope and a desperate fear of believing too hard in his eyes.

"Is the little boy a Samurai?" he asks nervously, wide eyed.

"Absolutely fucking not." I say.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

You Plonker

A few months ago I decided I wanted to start writing about my heroes. It was an idea borne from seeing the way tributes pour out when a celebrity dies, and I wanted to write some things about the people I love before they are lost. Long before hopefully. My previous post was about Eddie Izzard and can be found here.

Today, I bring you David Jason.

I think my love for David Jason is increased dramatically by the fact that he shares a large physical resemblance with my own Dad. They both sort of look like loveable garden gnomes turned into the best kind of people. I think it's quite hard not to have some kind of increased affection for a stranger if they look (even just to you) like someone you really love.

I suppose Only Fools And Horses is my earliest contact with David Jason. It was the first TV show I ever cried at. The first in a line that was to grow overwhelmingly until it took in adverts, most films whatever the genre, and moving scenes I imagined while driving. Before that, I had never understood how people could cry at things on a screen... I was pretty young and I didn't understand the empathetic connection. Then I watched the episode where Granddad dies and Rodney is devastated and doesn't understand how Del Boy doesn't appear to care. I remember sitting down in between the gap in our two sofas (where I sat so I could suck my thumb without my parents seeing and asking me to stop) bawling silently at how awful it was for them.

I think the writing of Only Fools was exceptional, oh to have a script like that appear in my lap for me to attempt, and all credit there goes to John Sullivan. What a phenomenal talent for reality and people. However, that show could have easily been nothing in the hands of the wrong actors (exception being Cassandra who I never took to).

I hear a lot of people who describe The Royle Family as having been ground breaking for them because it was such an accurate portrayal of the life they knew. I never got the Royle Family, but in Only Fools I think I saw what they meant. Not that my family, in a sprawling house in rural Somerset, resembled the Trotters at all... but the way we interacted did. The constant banter, the insults and the complete inability to maintain a line of emotion for longer than strictly necessary.

The BFG was also a big hit with me... how clever, I thought, that the funny little man from Only Fools has got into a film?! Until recently (when I read his autobiography) I didn't really have any concept of the chronological order of his work, I can only write from the perspective of how and when I experienced them. I was amazed that someone from, what I thought was, a small English show could be in a film (I think I thought all films were probably American at that point).

Whizz Pop Whizz Bang was the most brilliant thing I'd ever seen and the disgusting nature of snozzcumbers cemented my long held belief that courgettes were ungodly and I was right to refuse to eat them however Mum served them to me.

In my teens I found Frost quite difficult because, it felt to me, David Jason had aged far too quickly. Why was his hair white? Why was he grumpy and old? I suppose I must have wanted him to have been playing Del Boy in a different show and I had to grow up a lot before I could appreciate Frost for what it was and what he was doing.

Wherever David Jason turns up I am delighted - I adore him in the Colour of Magic. He is a comfort - something from the deepest depths of my childhood that will never fail to make me feel at home. His face is the face of Saturday nights at home on the sofa.

I can't remember where in my David Jason timeline I discovered Open All Hours. I presume it was around the time my older sister was at college because I know she got quite heavily into Porridge at that time and so we side stepped (via a long obsession with M*A*S*H) into Open All Hours as we discovered the behemoth of comedy talent that is Ronnie Barker. However he is a subject for another blog post.

Open All Hours was so adult and charming that I didn't understand it properly for a few years. How could you fancy Nurse Emmanuel? She didn't look like the people in television that were hankered after. Why didn't Granville just get a better job and therefore a better life? These were all questions that I was too naive to answer, but I loved the slapstick that surrounded Granville and I liked that my friend of Only Fools seemed to have gone back in time and I thought it must mean I had longer with him.

I read his autobiography this year and it was a good read... I suppose it's easy to write your own life how you like but I was pleased that he wrote to me as I expected him to be. The book has a sense of earnestness... it seemed to take him such a long time to get anywhere as an actor, and seemed to be an surprising path to him as well, my impression through the book was that he was continually delighted to be working and equal parts baffled at his success and delighted that his hard work was paying off.

I had no idea about the huge back catalogue of theatre work he had done, it being totally before my time, and I think his story is a brilliant endorsement of the non X-Factor approach. Nothing drives me more nuts than people on these God awful talent shows talking about "their one chance" I think it's a poisonous concept to plant in the minds of the viewers that there could be one chance and no option of just 10, 20, 30, 40 years of hard work to get you somewhere. I want to shake those people and say, "You know David Jason? Didn't really get anywhere until his 40s. One chance my foot."

Thanks David Jason... I get the feeling from reading your book that you did it all because you liked doing it, but just so you know I enjoyed it too as you went along. If you wouldn't mind carrying on, that'd be cushty.