Tag Archives: Comedy

News, Reviews and Booze (but no Boos).

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER ONE

Well the madness has begun: flyers litter the streets and students dressed as pirates line the pavements thinking that the best way to get punters to come to see their thespian hi-jinks in Penzance is to yell at strangers and guffaw in a way only those with a vestige of youthful bravado left in them (soon to be dissipated by tax and broken dreams) can. And God has gleefully placed various ambling types between you and where you want to go, and they shamble along in a zig-zag as you try to get past. Even without clocking you, they manage to anticipate which direction you’re going to take to manoeuvre out of their way and block your path with deadly slowness: ambling human shields, precision-placed and impenetrable, walls of anorak-clad flesh determined to make you late for your fourth gig of the day as you realise you’ve said yes to one too many people.

Anyway: Days One and Two, Thursday 5th and Friday 6th  August

Previewers and Reviewers

A gentle start. A preview, so the pressure is off – just get the freshly honed show out there and in your head Toby. A decent fist of a crowd, enough for you to verbally map out your masterwork, consolidate it, identify the less certain and more fatty passages, and work your arse off on Friday to have it shipshape for preview two when the press are allowed in. And it works – Thursday a workmanlike and slightly (in places) tentative stab at an hour long version of the show that ties up all the loose ends. Some ends where tied more efficiently than others, though. No problem – have a look at those, reinsert forgotten jokes, reorder, and bingo! Friday flows much better and is finally the show as it needs to be, and is performed without too many fumbles. All good. Except, what’s this? Two press in on Thursday and none on Friday? That’s entirely the wrong way around! Dash and crikey. And shit. Oh well. As I wait tentatively and with irritation (it’s no-one’s fault, it was a communication breakdown inevitable in the flurry of the fringe) I have other things to do. One is to appear on Hardeep Singh Kohli’s Chat Masala, and to blog about it. Read about that adventure here.

Not the sort of showbiz circles I usually move in
Not The Sort Of Showbiz Circles I Usually Move In

Not sure I’d have personally given away the punchline in the title of the article, but never mind (Two Stars for that, title writer).

Then to the first F***ing Funny For A Fiver shows (three gigs in one evening on my first night here – perhaps a clue to why my decision to not drink was steadfastly maintained for about seven and a half minutes after show one). I’m compering these intermittently. I use my desire to unwind and my anger at the reviewer situation to fuel an inventive, if slightly long, opening, to prove to myself that I can be witty and spontaneous and delight an audience even without a refined and honed script. Banter, whimsy, comic flights of fancy – they all tumble out and I’m as surprised as anyone, revelling in the heady, freewheeling atmosphere you can only get at the craziness of the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s going well! Good work – karma restored, and the comedy Gods are smiling. They’re also, alas, refilling my wine glass far too quickly and all the heady expectation, disappointment, desire to please and sheer enormity of the situation lead to a rather more, um, wayward second section, where I all but undo the good work done in the first. Karmic balance knocked out of kilter again, resolutely fulfilling its mission to maintain that life is just, well, like that. Still, the comedians in the room enjoy watching the poison of Bacchus unravel my faculties in public, and entertainment that is had is of the kind the Romans would have thoroughly enjoyed. (So, first half, Five Stars, second half … hmm, Two). The other acts on were Mark Allen, Elis James, Sam Gore and The Boy With Tape On His Face who were all excellent. It’s a top notch late night show, albeit one with an occasional compere who promises he’ll never drink again.

Wife And (Good And Bad) Times

I’m sharing a flat with Jason and Clare Cook; this is good news as they’re splendid people who find it amusing when I get angry about things, and it’s far enough away for me to walk off any macaroni cheese pies I’m definitely not going to buy from Greggs, promise. My wife (an undisputed Five Stars, always and forever) has taken the long, six hour trek to Edinburgh to grab two all too short days with me. She arrives just in time for F***ing Funny For A Fiver, which provides perfectly timed evidence that she’d probably be better off if she hadn’t bothered. We had a couple of nice meals – one at a restaurant that shall remain nameless on The Royal Mile, that boasted a fine menu but service that was as enthusiastic but inefficient as a holiday rep attempting to disarm a nuclear missile with a pen-knife and some jam (Three Stars, being generous as it was only the second night). L’Escargot Bleu was a different affair – an authentic French vibe and casually brilliant food at respectable lunchtime prices (Four Stars).

Friday and Saturday saw her help me go through the gig, firm it up in my brain and really work it through, and emerge much better for it. All we could then do was wait for the reviews from Thursday. Out they came and they were fair enough for that first night, although I wish Chortle could extrapolate that a first preview gig from an experienced comic will inevitably tighten up by the time any potential punters arrive. I have to say they have form for not allowing for the symptoms of a preview, and the only criticisms in the review referred to obvious first night flaws rather than problems with the show (so I’ll only give them Two Stars, despite some decent insight and neat phraseology). Nonetheless, it reads like a coveted four star review – though that’s not matched by the rating, so ultimately it’s a missed opportunity for some poster adornment. Slightly disappointing, and a tad churlish, but hey ho, that’s what can happen when you let people in on a preview. A similar story with Three Weeks too, and that’s a publication where the reviewer you’re allocated is a real lottery. You’re often at the mercy of someone who has only got the job because they own a pen. I’ve seen some right howlers in there in the past, so to get one that uses its word count to accurately describe the show and make reasonable criticisms must be chalked up as a win (Three Stars to me, Four Stars to the reviewer).

Anyway, decide for yourselves;

Chortle

Three Weeks

So so far, solid if not sexy. Maybe I flirted with sexiness at my rock ‘n’ roll antics on F***ing Funny For A Fiver (I wished they’d called it Quite Amusing For The Price Of A Lady (Godiva), it’d trip off my tongue with far more élan, frankly), which just goes to show that sometimes, being sexy is no replacement for a mug of Horlicks and a good read.

In A Nutshell

So far (Three Stars).

Previews, Moths, And A Forthcoming Book!

A brief insight into how my mind works. I have done five previews on the trot for my new show, Now I Know My BBC. They’ve generally gone well, but there’s still a long way to go. Plenty of funnies, and the beginnings of a decent story, but it really needs hacking about and bashing into shape. Which is what I should be doing now. So I’m writing this instead. Part of my brain is kidding me that this will “get me in the mood” for writing and I will thus be industrious later and really lick the new hour into shape. The other part of my brain will convince me that in doing this, I have done some work, so can have a cup of tea instead of doing anything else for now. Quite why my personality forces me into putting everything off until the last minute is anyone’s guess. It’s hardly a great advert for evolution. Anyway, Hartlepool was the first of the previews – hot, sweaty, and an hour and a half, but a great audience who allowed me to veer from subject to subject. Constructive advice and support from my friends at Tachyon TV was much appreciated. Harlow the next day, a lovely, proper comedy club run by the estimable John Mann, which ran to time and helped shape the story. The beginning needed excessive pruning, so that I did for the next day’s gig at XS Malarkey. It ran to an hour and forty minutes! I’d expected a handful of faithful supporters at this gig, but no more (after all, they can see me every week). And over one hundred and fifty came – so thank you so much Malarkey massive. Even if the show was a bit wayward. Chris Brooker’s Keighley gig was packed to the rafters, and they were a terrific bunch who helped me and Matt Green deliver our previews and really test the material. Chris is obviously a well loved and expert host. Holmfirth was a sell out, and a beautiful town with a fantastic audience. A proper arts festival well run and well attended. Then Anthony Brown’s wonderful Chesterfield gig brought me down to Earth – a great, supportive and joyous audience, who listened well and smiled, but were a clear sign that I need to get more laugh-out-loud moments and to sell certain bits better.

As mentioned in my previous blog, Moths came to beautiful Pitlochry, where the audience eased me through effortlessly, and boasted a pleasingly eclectic age range. Kudos to the group of Canadian ladies who had never seen Doctor Who in their lives but went with it, and to the two lads (Darren and Kieron) whose lovely Mum had driven them for two hours to make the gig. I also returned to Bath with the show, to the fantastic Ustinov theatre, where I once again sold out (it’s my third visit to that venue – and last time they added a matinee too, and I’ve also done it at the Rondo up the road: so thank you Bath!). Witty sci-fi writer and loveable reprobate Steve O’Brien was my host – it’s always a joy to see him and his lovely fiancée Britt.

The audience are asked to leave feedback at the Ustinov Theatre. A scary policy!

It’s been pretty busy – I’m midway through two DVD documentaries, which I have alluded to before. I will of course, publish accounts of those once the titles are in the shops. I hope people enjoy them. I’ve also done a couple more commentaries, which are always a pleasure if not a little nerve racking.

A few more previews have been announced for Now I Know My BBC, as has some very exciting news. Doctor Who writer Robert Shearman (the brains behind the classic Christopher Eccleston episode Dalek) and I have written a three volume tome entitled Running Through Corridors. We spent last year watching Doctor Who in chronological order, two episodes a day, and sent each other mini essays of our thoughts. The intention being to rediscover our love for the show during Doctor Who’s gap year: and our principle remit being to accentuate the positive as much as possible. Published by Mad Nowegian Press, Volume One will cover the 1960s. It’s only available to order on Amazon US at the moment, but I’m sure that will change soon. It is published in December, although advance copies will be available at Chicago TARDIS this Thanksgiving.

XS Malarkey has had some terrific Edinburgh previews – Paul Sinha exuding his sharp intellect and deep humanity in a brilliantly wrought hour that is certain to garner plaudits. The following week we had a secret special guest, and hopefully the audience were delighted when the majestic John Bishop took to the stage from a brilliant set that displayed his usual apparently effortless hold over an audience. Not bad for £3! Our next one is on a Monday to avoid the date that was England’s potential semi-final at the World Cup (don’t laugh, that seemed like a distinct possibility three weeks ago). Rob Rouse is at that one, with the likes of Brendon Burns, Jason Cook, Seymour Mace, Gary Delaney and Alun Cochrane to follow. Flattering to get such extraordinary talents at our little club.

And I note that English tennis hope Andy Murray is now Scottish tennis also-ran Andy Murray. What a fickle world we live in.

Tickets available

OK, it’s official, tickets are available for my two fringe shows.

Now I Know My BBC is a brand new hour which will be performed between 5th-29th August, at 6.55pm at Belly Laugh at The Underbelly. It should contain the same mix of personal, satirical and heartfelt humour as my last show, and it’s been shaping up quite nicely in the previews (of which there are many more to come). It has a much broader scope than Moths, but I’m sure the Doctor will get a mention. Quatermass certainly does, and I can confidently claim I’m the only comic who’ll be doing that this year! Tickets are available from the venue or from the Edinburgh Fringe site.

Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf is definitely winding down, so we’re doing one final Edinburgh performance at the massive Edinburgh International Conference Centre. It should be a huge event, and a final opportunity for many of you to see it live. Tickets are available for the August 20th show from the Edinburgh Fringe site or from the venue.

I haven’t been blogging because, frankly, my writing time has been spent on the forthcoming show, but I have been keeping a diary of the various things I’ve been up to for the Doctor Who DVDs I’ve been working on this month. I will upload the memories from those experiences when the specific releases are announced, but there are some fun tales to tell and I’m really looking forward to them hitting the shops. I’ve been working with two wonderful programme makers, Ed Stradling and Steve Broster, on a documentary feature which is right up my street, and the work progresses well. We have one more shooting day in a week or so, and the boys have been good company as we’ve schlepped up and down the country interviewing people. I have done a commentary for another story (with producer John Kelly, who always gets a good line up) in the past week or so, and am doing another (for one of my favourite stories) with Steve in a week or so.

Also, exciting news about a book I have co-written with Doctor Who writer Rob Shearman will be announced shortly.

I promise to blog with more than pluggage soon, but frankly, I’m knackered.

So I’ll leave you with a fascinating fact – like Leo McKern and Elton John, Mervyn Pinfield, Doctor Who’s mysterious original Associate Producer, was actually called Reginald.

Moths went to Pitlochry last month - a long way, but beautiful.

Onwards and Upwards

OK, I’ve bitten the bullet and accepted that having a blog (which also enables me to update the website myself rather than rely on the marvellous Steve Wild to find time in his busy schedule to amend the original work he put so much effort into). It’s a reluctant acceptance as I fear such things can be terribly self involved and narcissistic, and wouldn’t presume that my opinions on a new crisp flavour, or what I got up to last Thursday, or if I had an amusing encounter with a chav-lady on a bus were of interest to anybody, let alone worth writing up. Especially when I’m supposed to be refining my new Edinburgh show, and already have enough self-inflicted distractions preventing from working on that as it is. I travel on the train a lot, and make sure I get there early to ensure access to a plug socket so I can fire up the laptop (when I am king, sitting on such a seat when you don’t have an electrical appliance will be punishable by death, as will talking in the theatre and being Jeremy Kyle). I kid myself that this means I can write, write, write and be productive when travelling, except that I usually end up watching telly programmes. Like the remake of V that’s currently on. It’s a curious beast. If the US government imposes a tax on Over Reliance On Green Screen, or Actress Playing The Baddie Affecting An Evil Smile As Soon As She Turns Away From The Goodies And Towards The Camera, then that series alone will buoy the economy for the rest of the decade. I’m enjoying it though, even if it’s uncomfortable in places and the title is no longer an evocative echo of Second World War resistance. Some of the latest scripts have upped the ante, but I’m not champing at the bit to see the next episode (hence me playing catch up on the train).

So, anyway, I’m not going to be blogging every day. I will do so if something interesting happens that is related to comedy or Doctor Who and may be of interest to fans of both things. I will also use this, quite brazenly, as a professional resource – advertising forthcoming gigs, plugging my first book (oh yes, you read it here first – not the book, but mention of it) which is due to be announced soon, and mentioning if I sat next to Peter Laird (Chang from The Wheel In Space) on a bus, which I did a couple of weeks ago.

I’m going to put up a gig list now, so people can see when and where I’m playing and turn up to pelt me with whatever takes their fancy – tomatoes, rotten eggs, napalm.

One thing to note with the new site, is that I have a page of “Other Works” (writing, radio appearances and DVD commentaries) which is currently not on the menu because I haven’t worked out how to do that. For now, have a look here.

And maybe I’ll drop in the odd fascinating Doctor Who fact. Like this one – Michael Hart, who directed The Space Pirates, was the brother of Tony Hart, who taught my generation how to draw.