Monday, September 26, 2016

The Giant Podcast Bin

A couple of years 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 while they are still beating about and being excellent.

I've previously written about Eddie Izzard here and David Jason here, as well as a piece on Robin Williams here (although sadly he had passed on already at that point).

Today, I want to do a bit of a weird one... weird because I know lots of internet fury types will be angry that someone would attempt to write a thing about someone without knowing the entire back catalogue of their work inside out, back to front and live and breathe everything they've ever done. The person I want to throw my homage pots at today is Adam Buxton, Dr Buckles. My favourite voice out of the car stereo.

I guess the reason I feel so strongly about wanting to throw a salute in this direction, is that Adam Buxton above all the comedy heroes I carry about in my head, is someone I respect and admire and ape more for who I perceive him to be, than due to his body of work. I hope that makes sense. It's the approach to humour and interviewing as well as his general presence and offered opinions that makes me aspire to him and be glad that he's operating out in the world.

I've never really watched any of his TV stuff with Joe Cornish, I know it's all there on 4OD for me to go through and I will get round to it, but to me Adam Buxton lives in a world of podcasts because that's where I found and loved him.

I love his humour; I love how puerile it can be. I love the sillyness and the voices and the absolute pursuance of nonsense (NONSENSE NONSENSE). The 6 music podcasts with Joe are some of the closest times I've come to crashing my car through laughing. There's a lot of talk in the comedy communities about not wanting to punch down in a joke (ie, don't make the victim of the joke someone who is already struggling for whatever reason) what I like about Dr Buckles is he doesn't seem to really want to punch anywhere.

It's a humour that, to me, is pretty timeless and I hope he goes on to be a classic. He has such a gentle giant approach to projects; seeming to care about creativity and originality before all else. I am so happy that there's still a space in comedy for stupid voices, silly songs, ridiculous jingles, talking dogs and odd catchphrases.

His new podcast endeavour is a marvel. Interviewing musicians, actors, comedians and all sorts of folks with a gentle delicacy and human touch that brings out a really varied and original conversation. I think the stories and feelings he gets out of people wouldn't surface in 100 other interviews with people, but his meandering approach to questions allows him to work out what they're talking about as they're going along and just ride the wave. It's nothing and a lot of somethings all the way through.

He has a humility and raw humanity to his work that is enviable. I know I seem a little sycophantic here but I truly mean it. There's no pretence that he's not overthinking things or being insecure, it's all laced into the work between the ditties and the shouting. I like seeing the working out of someone's thinking and how they've reached their point; it's a lovely change from the slick, long simmered final results of a stand up comedy routine.

At the turn of the year when he had some personal losses and was very moved by the death of his long time hero David Bowie, it resonated in his continuing on his way. It wasn't schmultzy or pepped up to keep the podcast light and breezy for the listener, it was just what it was. One minute he could be saying "hell this is hard" and the next losing his shit over something silly making him snort; I think it's magical to put that out into the world and sort of say "This is the way I'm grieving in case it helps any of you." Except that he hasn't even really said that. He's just done it.

Adam Buxton is someone who, I think, pushes... no, perhaps pushes is the wrong word... he doesn't push the boundaries, perhaps? He exists doing what he is doing and enough people like it that the boundary expands to include what he is doing? Is that fair? I think so. 

However it works, I am so utterly grateful to have an example of comedy and being regular out in the sphere that isn't polished and focus grouped down to the last second. I love that it is gentle and non incendiary, that it is sparked most often out of genuine human interaction and isn't a gun aiming anywhere. It's a heat lamp gently radiating in case you want it.

A lot of Buxton's work is focused on music; his live BUG shows are the big events you want to go and see. I'm not much of a music fanatic so I tend to stick to the interviews and the chat stuff but that is where my love exists and I'm happy with that. I'm going to buck a trend of having to call yourself a "nerd" in order to be allowed to like something. I have heard what I've heard and I love it off the strength of that alone. So there.

If you're not familiar with Adam & Joe, or Buxton's current podcast... I'd say there's a good chance if you've read this far and like what I do then you'll be besotted with his output. His is an audio world where you can be childish in a very serious way and it's pure joy. It's not cool, it's not trying to be edgy, it's not trying to sweep up any demographic. He's very seriously a huge comedy hero of mine who is a constant reminder to just keep doing things the way you like doing them and there will be enough people in the world who will love you for it.

Thanks Dr Buckles, I love you too. BYEEEEE!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Big Netball Deception

The more I think about it, the more I am sure netball is just a massive prank being played on all girls.

They get you into school, split you into two teams based on whether you have inny or outy genitals, and then tell you about the sports you’re going to learn.

“Outy genitals, follow me! We’re going to be learning football… you get this ball, you pass it between yourselves, tackle each other and try and get it into this wide metal frame at either end here. Now, here are the complicated bit, you must not touch it with your hands… ok? Also, you can only pass to a player who has at least one player of the opposing team in front of him, ok? One of you will be goal keeper - they can touch it with their hands, got it?”

“Brilliant, yeah. That seems simple enough.”

“The simplicity is the key… once you’ve learned this game, you can play it anywhere with anyone and anything. Kick a stone, score between two jumpers, play with only five of you, play with people who don’t speak the same language… It’s the beautiful game!”

“Sounds magical.”

“It is Outys, it is. Now, off you go.”

The Inny genitals start rustling with excitement; this sports malarkey sounds good.

“Right, Innys, over here! We’re going to be learning netball… you get this ball, you throw it between yourselves, try to intercept, and get it into these tiny baskets way above your heads on either side of the court. Now, here’s the complicated bit, you can’t touch each other, you can’t run while you’re holding the ball (well, you can land with one foot and then place the other foot down and move it from a pivoted position on the first foot), you can throw it or bounce it to each other but it can only bounce once if you bounce it, you each get a different name too: Centre, you can go anywhere except in the D at either end, Goal Keep you can go in one third of the court, same for Goal Shoot, except you’re in the opposite third, Wing Attack you can go up to the one third line and over there but not in the D, Goal Attack you can go in two thirds of the court. You’re each paired up with your opposite and have to do your best to stop them being able to throw the ball but you have to be a metre away and not touch the ball while they’re holding it. Ok, that’s the basics, are you ready?”

“Er, yeah, I guess so… And, um, we can play this at break times or, with a stone and some jumpers like you said?”

“Absolutely not, no, you will need the baskets and we won’t allow those out during breaks.”

“Right, got you. Ok, but it can break down language barriers and stuff like with…?”

“Oh absolutely not, no, pretty much no one else in the world will have any idea what you are talking about when you explain it to them. The best you will be able to do is say “It’s sort of like frigid basketball” and apologise.”

“Cool. Right. Well, never mind, we’ll know about it! Can’t wait until we’re 45 and sitting around in the pub having a drink together and watching netball on the TV in there. Who are some of the bigger teams we could support?”

“Ooh, yeah, no… you see… actually, there’s no money whatsoever in it so it is completely ignored by everyone except teachers and girls between the age of 5 and 15. No, what will happen is we’ll drill you on this from now until you leave school and then we’re just going to stop mentioning it altogether, ok? Beyond that, if you really want to continue you will be able to seek out small local leagues or follow the pro teams if you really make the effort.”

“Right, is there any chance you could teach us football then actually, because it just seems like a more inclusive game that will give us a bit more of an equal footing in the future?”

“No, we’ve already bought the bibs now.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Circuit - An Introduction

The points have been tallied, the stars packed back into boxes, and the posters burned into retinas; the Edinburgh Festival is well and truly over for another year. The comedians have fled back down south to attend meetings, lick some wounds and repair their livers for next year.

After the festival, comedians migrate to Africa for half the year in order to keep warm, reproduce and get some writing done. Well, actually, we don’t… we go back to work.

Work for a jobbing comedian is called “The Circuit”. We call it that to convince ourselves we are involved in something resembling exercise… for it’s not a circuit; it’s not a smooth loop of linked up gigs and convenient hotels. A week of “The Circuit” for most comedians would look like a child has eaten a pack of Smarties and then scribbled randomly on a map.

I live in Brighton… my travelling for the next fortnight looks like this:

Edinburgh and the circuit can sometimes be interpreted as being at odds with each other… “club comedy” might be used as criticism by an arts festival reviewer, or an Edinburgh hour might be looked down on for being made up of routines used by that comedian at rowdy clubs outside of the festival.

I loathe that view. I take it to mean the reviewer/critic/loudmouth has little to no experience or understanding of what it takes to be a live comedian the year round.

So, what is it like?

For me, it’s unbeatable in satisfaction, variety and responsibility.

It’s being invited into little pockets of communities, for just an evening, and being part of them before vanishing back into the night. You are invited into birthday parties, hen parties, stag dos, work drinks and friends reuniting, and you are entrusted with the success of their excursion.

You see arts centres, community halls, pubs, back rooms, theatres of all different sizes… you meet volunteers, dedicated fans, disinterested collateral bystanders, and then you see motorway and home.

I love the variety. My diary will say “Bicester, £150, MC for Kevin Comedypromoter” and I’ll know nothing more than that until I get there. Sometimes that description means a 250 seater theatre with impeccable technical spec and a full house booked in. Sometimes that exact same descriptions mean 12 people watching football with the sound down in their local pub until an odd woman with a microphone in the corner has finished telling no one about her marriage.

With an Edinburgh show, your audience comes to you. They buy a ticket, sit down and allow you a little trust that you are what they want. It’s invigorating, testing and creatively expansive.

On the circuit you go to an audience… and they are anybody and everybody. They are someone on the one night they managed to get a babysitter and get out of the house with their partner, they are someone a bit tired from work and not sure why they committed to tickets 4 weeks ago, they are someone so up for it they are ready to laugh at the offstage announcer, they are someone at their first gig and thinking heckling is 90% of the show… and you are the catalyst for their homogeny.

It is the most exhilarating thing to walk on to that stage and into the light, into their night, and be sure that what you have in your mind and mouth will be enough to construct their evening.

99% of them won’t remember your name beyond the compere’s introduction, but they will remember how you made them feel. By the time you are in the car, eating junk food in the dark and wishing the sat nav was promising something earlier, they can’t remember a single joke; just a vague outline of your subject and a physical memory of their body laughing.

The next day they could decide they hadn’t liked you at all, or that they loved you so much they’re retelling your jokes badly to family and friends… but you are so unlikely to ever find out. You are already on the road somewhere else to do it again for another community. You’re planning the nuance alterations required to make tonight’s Cornish Arts Centre audience react just as much as the Birmingham football crowd did last night.

The Circuit is where we learn how to be comedians and there’s space on it for such infinite variety. It would be overwhelming if it wasn’t so beautiful. If you’ve ever laughed at a festival show, or a television programme, then you’re laughing at a product of the circuit. Dig out your local comedy club, try a few to find one you like; do it, and I guarantee you’ll find something you like on it somewhere.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Treacherous 207

So, despite having paid an unholy fee to have my car serviced 6 days ago and be told it was fine and dandy, it decided 10 minutes into my journey today that power steering was an unnecessary luxury that this comedian should do without.

I'm driving through Brighton heading for that gorgeous little car park on the M25 between Junctions 11 and 16 when there's a bowel evacuation inducing BEEEEEEEP and the little orange steering wheel light comes on. "Oh crap" I think.

Maybe, if I pull over and switch off the engine before re-starting it, the light and the beep will go away and I can continue my journey? I indicate right and turn the wheel towards the kerb. Well, I think I turn the wheel, only I cancelled my gym membership in July so I am physically unable to turn more than a sickly moth.

The car and I lock eyes and I decide I am making it to that kerb come hell or high water. Sweat springs from my lower back, armpits, hair line and ear lobes and I wrench the wheel towards a house that costs more than my entire weight of dreams. The car creaks to the kerb.

I switch off the engine and call my husband, the gig promoter and the garage. I call the husband to check if there's another physical way I can get to this gig... the gig is 133 miles away with only rush hour traffic and Southern Rail acting as barriers, it turns out my husband hasn't got Iron Man's number so I quite quickly have to accept I'm not getting to Towcester. I'm so sorry Towcester.

I call the promoter and let him down gently. When he's done weeping and gnashing his teeth and complaining that there's no comedian in the UK who could replace me (for the low, low fees I'm willing to accept) he says he hopes I'm ok and that I get home safely.

I call the garage and ask them if they can see the car tomorrow as a matter of urgently to diagnose what on earth has gone so horribly wrong in the 6 days since my car was the picture of health. I love my local garage - they are excellent. "No problem," says the helpful man, "Just park it in your permit zone, drop the keys off and I'll go and get it in the morning and work on it."

"Ok." I say, and resolve to do just that.

Now, I got the car going again, somehow turned it around in the street and got it back to where I live. It was like wrestling a teenage hippo away from dinner and towards and Iron Maiden built for a significantly smaller hippo. I did it... I drove it all the way down to the three streets in Brighton that I've paid hundreds of pounds to have the privilege of not being able to find somewhere to park on.

I found a space... I began a parallel park.

I cannot parallel park at the best of times. I don't mean "I find it difficult" or "it takes me longer than most people"... I mean I cannot do it. I have been known to sit outside friends' houses in the car until they can come and park my car for me. I've been known to pay up to £28 a day for street parking I can drive straight into rather than parallel park somewhere free. I've been known to just sell my car and its contents to a passer by and get the bus home rather than have to parallel park.

Have you ever pictured your own death and suddenly, with startling clarity, remembered being born both at the same time? Have you ever realised just what an achievement the Pyramids were whilst sitting in a residential street in a seaside town on the other side of the world? Have you ever realised just how hard it was for your mother to raise you through puberty?

Try parallel parking a car without power steering. It'll help you do all three.

Here are some things that would be easier than parallel parking that car again without power steering:

1. Switching off the life support machine on a loved one.
2. Having dinner with Kanye West without rolling your eyes at all.
3. Switching off the life support machine on a loved one because you can't afford private healthcare and the hospital is closing due to lack of funds.
4. Clicking on a Facebook ad for a miracle flat stomach solution and having rock hard abs in 45 minutes.
5. Switching off the life support machine on a loved one because you can't afford private healthcare and the hospital is closing due to lack of funds because of austerity measures brought in by a government.
6. Passing a kidney stone.
7. Switching off the life support machine on a loved one because you can't afford private healthcare and the hospital is closing due to lack of funds because of austerity measures brought in by a government you voted for.
8. Persuading the NRA that guns might not belong in homes.
9. Switching off the life support machine on a loved one because you can't afford private healthcare and the hospital is closing due to lack of funds because of austerity measures brought in by a government you voted for because you were worried foreigners were making your life worse but you were pretty sure the public services being cut would never affect you because you're normal.
10. Liking reggae music.

I'm so sorry I'm not in you right now, Towcester. I know you'll never know or care that I was supposed to be there. But I'm here in Brighton with a torn bicep and several very smashed up cars either side of my 207.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September You Beauty

I have always loved September... I used to love it for school, new folders, new shoes and a promise of my birthday party being just round the corner. When I decide to have children I will attempt conceive them all some time around New Year... it aids the child immensely in a number of different ways:

1. They are the oldest in their academic year and so benefit from a headstart on looking intelligent until it levels out somewhere around lunchtime.

2. There is boundless enthusiasm for their birthday parties because nobody is bored of loop bags in September. Fuck you May kids. We're tired of your bouncy castles and Burger King crowns.

3. When you are screaming at them in a mother/daughter/son rampage 18 years later you can smugly know in the back of your mind that they only exist because you don't know all the words to Auld Lang Syne like you bragged you did so you banged their Dad to cover the embarrassment.

Now, I love it for the weight of Edinburgh being off for a few months and a faint whiff of some birthday gin being practically poured into a shoe. Edinburgh prep for a comic starts roughly around January/February and runs until the end of August... Most of the year is consumed by the show and the admin and the endless green room conversations. September is free... no thoughts about a new show, no more worrying about numbers or stars. September is mine.

September has always been a month of inevitable change for me. Small inevitable is the kind of change I like. Change that isn't my fault. September heralds changes that will just come no matter how much stomach based anxiety one musters. I like that. It's less pressure.

I was in Year 2 last year? Year 3 now. Can't do anything about that.
It was hot a few weeks ago but now I need a coat? Cool. Putting it on. That's nature.
Poldark is starting? Oh, well, blow me down... can't possibly do anything but watch that, can I?

This year September has a special specialness because for 3 oh so short weeks I get to lord it over the husbandit that, what with his birthday being yesterday, he is in his 30s, while I, whose birthday is not for 22 more days, am still merrily springing about in my 20s. He is a thirty-something while I perch on the precipice of my halcyon deco days. He is wartime while I am... not.*

I turn 30 at the end of this month, which I feel like I ought to have more of an opinion on. Surely, if I was a real comedian, I should be having some kind of breakdown about it? I should be panicking about my achievements, reassessing my life goals and manufacturing a semi-breakdown for next year's Edinburgh show? That, at least, would satisfy the reviewer who saw my current work and wrote "one can only hope that that there’s some life-altering catastrophe waiting just around the corner for Lexx" so that I will have something to talk about in future. Charming.

But I feel fine about it. Obviously, I wish I owned a dog and could still eat haribo morning, noon and night without turning the backs of my legs into malleable organic rain butts, but really... aren't we a bit lying when we say youth is the best part of life?

Upside of being a kid: my mum might take me to WHSmith and get me an awesome new pencil case to start school with.
Upside of being an adult: Amazon Prime Now can deliver as much staionary as I want, to my door, in the next hour and there's nothing saying I have to be very dressed to greet the delivery man.

Upside of being a kid: I can have sleepovers with my friends and eat sweets until midnight.
Upside of being an adult: I have a sleepover every night with my best friend and I only have to stop eating sweets when I get that weird gum ache that makes me feel sad about myself.

Upside of being an kid: the only things I have to worry about are whether my lunch box is cool and the rest of my life.
Upside of being an adult: I don't have a lunchbox and there's considerably less of my life left!

I love September. I love all its creeping differences. May it always stay the same.

*edit this with something that happened in the 1920s once you've got over the fact you have absolutely no knowledge of the 20s. Jarrow march? Wall Street Crash? Shit, maybe the 20s were crap.