Tag Archives: Jason Cook

Updated Gig List 2011 (May-December)

I have just done an updated gig list with my agent to ensure I’m neither double booked nor unemployed, so I may as well share for those of you who like to plan far too far ahead to be remotely healthy.

Please note that I only link a comedy club on its first entry, and that some of the tour dates are a bit vague. I’m pleased to observe that as well as my usual roster of fine comedy haunts, I’ve added both Highlight and the Comedy Cafe as places I’ll be MCing relatively frequently.

For those new to this domain, I can be found at the award winning (nay, legendary) Manchester comedy Club XS Malarkey every Tuesday, at another award winner, The 99 Club in Leicester Square, every Wednesday, and at The Comedy Store in Manchester every other Sunday (generally – it’s worth checking as we sometimes get moved about: it’s always twice a month though) to do the fantastic New Stuff night where established comics try out brand new material. I’m also touring Now I Know My BBC and Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf intermittently.

Do come to say hello if you can.

May
12-14th – Stand, Edinburgh (set)
17th – XS Malarkey (MC) (Special Guest Headliner – name embargoed due to fame!)
18th – 99 Club, Lecester Square (MC)
21st – Now I Know My BBC, Arts Depot, Finchley
22nd – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
24th – XS Malarkey (MC), Junior Simpson Headlining
25th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
28th – Now I Know My BBC, Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire
31st – XS Malarkey, (MC)

June
1st – 99 Club, Leicester Square
5th – Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, Loughborough Town Hall
7th – XS Malarkey (MC)
8th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
12th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
14th – XS Malarkey (MC), Sean Percival Headlining
15th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
19th – New Stuff, Comedy Store (MC, tbc)
21st – XS Malarkey (MC) Carey Marx Edinburgh Preview
22nd – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
24th – Red Card Comedy, Milton Keynes, (MC, with Nick Revell from Slipback, Who fans)
28th – XS Malarkey (MC) Edinburgh Preview
29th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
30th – Comedy Central, Baby Blue, Liverpool (MC)

July
1st-2nd – Comedy Central, Baby Blue, Liverpool, MC
5th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC) Edinburgh Preview
6th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
10th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
12th – XS Malarkey (MC), Matt Kirshen Edinburgh Preview
13th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
15th – Special Doctor Who related day, tbc
19th – XS Malarkey (MC) Jason Cook Edinburgh Preview
20th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
21st – 23rd – Frog and Bucket, Manchester (MC)
26th – XS Malarkey (MC)
27th – 99 Club, Leicester Square
29th & 30th – Highlight, Camden (MC)
31st – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester

August
2nd – XS Malarkey (MC)
3rd – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
5th & 6th – Frog and Bucket, Preston (MC)
9th – XS Malarkey (MC)
10th – 99 Club, Leicester Square
12th & 13th – Frog and Bucket, Manchester (MC)
14th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester
16th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC)
17th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
19th & 20th – Highlight, Camden (MC)
21st – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester

Sept
6th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC) Loretta Maine Headlining
7th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
10th – Special Doctor Who related day tbc
11th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
13th – XS Malarkey (MC) Tom Stade Headlining
14th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
16th & 17th – Highlight, Birmingham (MC)
20th – XS Malarkey (MC) Patrick Monahan Headlining
21st – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
22nd – 24th – Comedy Cafe, Shoreditch (MC)
25th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
27th – XS Malarkey (MC) Sol Bernstein Headlining
28th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)

Oct
4th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC)
5th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
9th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
11th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC) Andy Robinson Headlining
12th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
13th – 15th – Comedy Central, Baby Blue, Liverpool (MC)
16th – Sheffield (Headlining)
18th – XS Malarkey (MC) Danny Ward Headlining
19th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
20th – 22nd – Comedy Cafe, Shoreditch (MC)
24th – potential North-West Now I Know My BBC date
25 th – XS Malarkey (MC) The Boy With Tape On His Face Headlining
26th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
28t & 29th – Highlight, Reading (MC)
30th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)

November
1st – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC) Daliso Chaponda Headlining
2nd – 99 Club, Leicester Sqaure (MC)
3rd – 5th – Comedy Central, Baby Blue, Liverpool (MC)
8th – XS Malarkey (MC)
9th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
11th-12th – Doctor Who event tbc
13th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
15th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC)
16th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
18th & 19th – Highlight, Leeds (MC)
27th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
29th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC)
30th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)

December
2nd – Nantwich
6th – XS Malarkey, Manchester (MC) Caimh McDonnell Headlining
7th – 99 Club, Leicester Square (MC)
11th – New Stuff, Comedy Store, Manchester (MC)
13th – XS Malarkey (MC)
14th – 99 Club, Leicester Square
15th -17th – Comedy Central, Baby Blue, Liverpool (MC)
20th – XS Malarkey Christmas Party (Reveller)

Brief Encounters

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER SIX

Monday 23rd August – Thursday 26th August

Need to be quick, as time runs out and I am entertaining this weekend. First things first – my friend Martin didn’t take us out of our way on the way back from Moths, so I was doubly unnecessarily grumpy on the way back.

I’ll add links later.

Monday

Lovely lunch at Mosque Kitchen, with my old friends Dave and Lucy. The “restaurant” has the aspect of a soup kitchen, with some chaps, in school dinners fashion, slapping curry and rice onto your plates. Then you sit outside on plastic chairs and long, communal tables. Despite such unpromising signs, their heroically scant attention to frills and comfort disguises one simple, important fact – boy it’s delicious. And extremely good value. This is where a bit of local knowledge can come in handy.

A day for friends actually – talented, witty Doctor Who writer Jonathan Morris and his lovely wife Debs were up, and on my recommendation had come to see Adam Riches Rides. So I hung around and waited for them after my claws had done their work. During that interregnum, I received a buoying e-mail from my good mate Peter to whom I’d sent a drunken spiral of misery the night before when at a low ebb. He’s one of those friends who allows you to do such a thing, understands why you’ve done it, and says something nice the next day. Had a cup of tea with Johnny and Debs and then took them over to the Underbelly where I was pleased that they, plus a bunch of Doctor Who fans and some Northern mates, all conspired to be a plentiful and absolutely supportive audience. A great show.

Giddy with the fallout from that, I then compered FFF, where a comedian of my acquaintance with Tourette’s, Luke Slurpe Montague, became the focal point of much of the show. He was game, but I worried whether it had been my fault that he became quite such a figure of fun throughout everyone’s routine. I mean, it was difficult to ignore and one had to say something, but actually, the less attention paid to it, the more the outbursts subsided. He assured me after that it was fine, but it left me exiting the gig with laughter ringing in my ears but a sense of personal disquiet.

Tuesday

Some students caught my eye as I walked up Broughton Street. I did that embarrassment- limitation thing of smiling and saying hello as if I knew them, despite not having a clue who they were. One of them charged after me, introduced himself and said that they’d really enjoyed FFF and assured me I hadn’t behaved unnecessarily towards the Luke. A spring was injected into my step, as I enjoyed that timely reminder about the palpable effect the kindness of strangers can have. He said really complimentary things, yet I didn’t bother to flyer him or promote my solo show in any way. I’ll lick this marketing thing one day, surely?

A nice Pizza Express lunch was spent with aspiring comic Des O’Gorman, and I offered what tips I could about the career he wishes to carve for himself. I don’t know if I was any use, but I hope so – he’d contacted me on Facebook and came to see both of my shows, so the least I could do was spare him a couple of hours and an American Hot.

My mates Dave and Luce, plus old mate Gill Isles (an illustrious BBC producer), were smiling faces in my quietest audience yet. A decent show under the circumstances, but by heck it’s so much easier to unleash a spiral of wit and passion when being buoyed long by a hefty, vocal audience. I had to grind the hell out of this one, and there were some lovely responses from the older members of the front row, but it was hard. People went out smiling, but I’m under no illusion that they felt they’d just witnessed a comedic tour de force. I was bemoaning my numbers when a friendly Scottish comic friend told me that she’s had three in that day. OK, I was in much better shape than that, so didn’t feel quite so small. Then I had a surprise and most welcome reunion with Jim Jeffries, whose smallest audience has been 450. ‘Kay, feeling small again.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

And probably marketing.

Wednesday

A bit of a lie in before Adam Riches Rides, which I then sneaked in to see the rest of (I’m dispatched fairly early on in proceedings, and he bravely does the rest of the show without me). You have to radiate likeability to get away with how much Adam involves the crowd, but he certainly puts them through their paces without ever humiliating them. The show is chock full of utter nonsense – but it’s hilarious stuff, engineered by a fine, versatile actors with a witty, fourth wall breaking cheek. He’s helped no end by the long suffering Benjamin Wilson, another versatile performer with great comic skill, who endures a pummelling throughout with good grace and much humour. Kirsten Hazel Smith too, keeps things efficiently ticking over in the background, unsnagging mic leads, ensuring that a horse’s trousers don’t fall down, or marshalling the crowd with unobtrusive professionalism early on as she arms the front row with blow darts (you have to be there). I’d got a ticket to see the show for my old mucker Peter Slater who I knew would adore it. I was right. Pete’s up ding a sketch show, The Uninvisibles, which he has typically pitched in to help with late in the day despite the status he’s undoubtedly got since his comedy lab, Slaterwood, and his high profile role in Ideal. If the latter in particular doesn’t lead on to greater things for this most energetic and talented of performers I’d be most surprised. Anyway, we spent the afternoon in reminiscence mode which was lovely, and then I did my show.

Thursday

I decide it is about time to support a few gigs – I’ve only been here three weeks. To be fair, I’d seen a number of previews, so had already checked out this year’s offerings from some of the best comics around. Paul Sinha’s forthright, honest and searingly intelligent Extreme Anti-White Vitriol is one I’ve been recommending to many, as is Alun Cochrane’s Jokes, Life, And Jokes About Life in which the admirable, languid, and erudite Mr Cochrane challenges himself and the conventions of a stand-up show to hilarious effect. He is bullet proof and utterly engaging. John Bishop has sold out anyway, but his preview was full of his dependably down-to-earth, easygoing wit. Add to that Rob Rouse’s brilliant, energetic and uplifting tales of feeding on roadkill (oh yes) and I’ve had a pretty strong run.

I’d already seen Jason Cook in preview, but seeing him on his natural stamping ground (he just fits Edinburgh like a glove) was terrific – an honest, heart warming show in which he charms the audience. Indeed, his opening ten minutes consisted entirely of likeable audience banter. How much have I had in either of my shows? None. I have such a story to tell there’s no time for segues and banter. And yet I spend most of my professional life as a compere, riffing off and controlling audiences. I may have missed a trick here. Or maybe I want to do something in Edinburgh I don’t get the opportunity to do for the rest of the year. Must think on this.

Jase and I had a lovely sandwich from a place around the corner from The Stand, and then went to the place itself. The best comedy club there is, anywhere, by the way: brilliant staff, a great layout, proper rules that are conducive to respect for the acts without making the audience feel like they can’t belch for fear of ejection. If XS Malarkey can aspire to be even close to The Stand in terms of what if (ahem) delivers, then I’m a happy man. That it’s a great space run properly and independently is probably why the incomparable Stewart Lee chose The Stand as the venue for his new Edinburgh hour, and boy what a show it is. To start off – it’s consistently funny, opening with a topical gag on BP, which is hilarious of itself, but delivered with a knowing disdain for the sweeping generalisations often adopted by comics when doing a righteous piece of up-to-date satire. All through Lee’s routine there is an arch self awareness of the conventions adopted by comedians, and just has he delivers another  gentle killer blow, he boomerangs one straight back at himself or the mores of your typical working comic. Aloof, faux-smug, surreal flights of fancy, and acid barbs aimed at the conventional, the successful and the powerful are all deadpanned with heavy irony, or perhaps with a subtle twitch of the mouth, playfully augmenting his softly spoken deconstructions. He’d probably read all this and declare it bollocks (as he does in a neat observation about when he was a librarian telling his colleagues he was leaving to become a comedian) but according to his book he doesn’t blog so is unlikely to read one either. To be honest, I wouldn’t blog if I had a book in me that people would buy, but I don’t. So here I am. If Lee tours, go and see him, it’s a masterclass in genuinely funny, witty, comedy, but laced with such clever metatextual moments that it’s as admirable as it is amusing. Just allowing oneself to get sucked in by a seemingly effortless performance is a joy, but his gentle enunciation is the only low key thing about him (oh, he smiles, and murders as he smiles). Inspiring.

An so I was nearly late for Now I Know My BBC, but just made it – and what a beautiful show it was. Another audience who buoyed me along and gave a pretty hefty round of applause at the end. They really seemed to buy the message of the piece and I left very happy. Part of the fun was that I knew someone from BBC world service was in. Except only when I came off was I told he hadn’t been able to make it. Indeed, despite many overtures, the BBC themselves have not exactly descended in a battalion of support. The message seems to be that – as they run ever more scared of The Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch and his philistine phalanx of bastards – even covering a show which is about them would generate more stick than they could, er, shake a stick back at. Or something. So they retreat as they have been since that business with the trailer involving the grumpy Queen. Because the tabloids never use selective editing to put something in a different light. Oh, I’ll stop now, I’m turning into my show.

Anyway, post-performance bliss did not last when having decided to see either the excellent Carl Donnelly, or a personal favourite, Gordon Southern, I missed both. I wasn’t allowed in to Carl’s by dint of being one minute late (I’d been chinwagging with top Manchester actor Chris Hannon , who, I was delighted to discover, is dabbling in character comedy and appearing at XS soon). So off to Gordon’s I went but mistimed it and was too shy to ask for admission after the show’s start time. Afterwards, Gordon said they’d have happily let me in. Bah – a waste of an hour and a half in which I twiddled my thumbs (over an iPhone keypad admittedly, but at least when I normally do that it’s in the warm and I’m not missing comedy).

Then to Andrew O’Neill’s show at The Tron. What a brilliant comic he is – oddness and principle in perfect symbiosis: heartfelt, righteous comedy combined with lunatic asides of playful surrealism (he opens by humming the theme to Poirot, and ends by having a punch up with a bigot on a bus). He’s grown in stature from an engaging, offbeat support act who could bring a genuine alternative flavour to a comedy line up, to a fully fledged comic in his own right, creating a night in his image and sweeping everyone along comfortably and with confidence.

What a good day’s entertainment I had.

And I managed to resist the fish and chip shop on the way home.

If there has been any fighting in the dance floor, I haven't seen it.

4 EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FOUR

Saturday 14th –  Tuesday 17th

Saturday

Saturday, Saturday. Tiswas day, Doctor Who day. Or in the case of Edinburgh, just another performance/walking up hills/promising to see too many other shows day. The Now I Know My BBCs are all blurring but I think I’m settling into a rhythm. I have to be very careful with the ending – there is a reveal that people don’t guess unless I really heavily lay the groundwork and thread the theme blatantly throughout the show. It obviously wasn’t clear enough in the first week but seems to be hitting home more now. This is what happens when you do a show every day – you really trim it, make it clearer and ad lib better jokes whilst in the moment. It’ll be about 25% better as a show when I finish on August 29th. Because of the overruns I actually sat down with the script and trimmed and rejigged – there’s no point just resting on one’s laurels, and I may do a further rewrite next week. We’ll see. I note the irony that in a show that maintains that the audience aren’t as stupid as television people assume them to be, I’ve had to spell something out to make it clearer to the audience, which might actually mean that … (ahem)

I went to see my first show (I vowed this year to not even pretend I was going to anything in the first week). Jeremy Lion Goes Green had me doubled up with laughter – what a virtuoso performance from the enormously talented Justin Edwards (ably assisted by a beguilingly deadpan Gus Brown). For those who haven’t caught up with this phenomenon, Lion is an alcohol sodden children’s entertainer whose awful shows are replete with sequestered cans of Special Brew, hopeless props and staggering theatrical ineptitude. And are hilarious. Doing something badly well is an art, and Edwards has his shtick so well honed he’s at Turner Prize level. There’s pathos too, a show-stopping ending, some terrific songs and an absolutely splendid comedy of errors involving ventriloquist’s dummies. I will also be flabbergasted if anyone watching doesn’t have the song lyrics “Rim-nim-a-nim” dancing merrily through their head for days on end afterwards. Even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. A genuine treat of a show. And I’m not being biased because I was I was at university with Justin. I had never seen his creation live before, but the critical acclaim he has received is well deserved. I hooked up with his former collaborator and old pal of mine George Cockerill. We had a good old natter and catch up and it is insane we reacquaint ourselves in a city hundreds of miles away from the one we both actually live in. Justin is married to the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter. I know Lucy from my early days as a stand-up, but she didn’t know Justin then, though I did. Confusing, these intertwined lives. As the evening went on to prove …

In the Brookes Bar at The Pleasance Dome, George and I caught up with Justin and Lucy. Gus was also there, with the actor Rufus Jones, who was in a play with a great friend of mine at The Royal Exchange some years ago. Rufus and I met there and I’ve been pleased to see him pop up on telly being good in stuff ever since. His show, No Son Of Mine, is being produced by James Seabright, who is in charge of me. When talking to Gus and Rufus, I noticed an advertising hoarding (for Spotlight) up at the bar which featured a big picture of a friend of mine, Madeleine Worrall, a terrific actress and a pal I’ve kept in touch with since A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Exchange some years ago. I texted Madge as it tickled me to see her writ large (especially as it wasn’t a custom made picture for the advert – it was a randomly chosen theatre shot that she would have had no idea had been co-opted for this purpose). About a minute after that, Gus, to whom I’d not mentioned this, got a text. From Madeleine. She was on her way to that very bar. She knows both Gus and Rufus of old but not through each other or me. What a delight, and I proceeded to reel with all the mad strange coincidence of this. And then with consumption of white wine. Then Emma Atkins magically appeared in the corner – I’ve known her since pre-Emmerdale days when we acted together in a number of plays written by … Adam Riches, who I haven’t worked with since then till – this very Fringe.

Spooky, spooky spook.

Madeleine Worrall threatens to short out the time differential by meeting her photographic self

It was a convivial evening and I seem to recall bumping into Paul Sinha and telling him how brilliant he is (and he is, his show Extreme Anti White Vitriol which he previewed at XS Malarkey, is passionate, searingly intelligent, brutally funny, but shot through with decency and no little fire).

Sunday

George very kindly came to see Now I Know My BBC from which I’d managed to shave off 12 mintes from the previous overrun. That’s seven minutes short. My A For Androemda joke can’t have been that long surely? Weird. We caught up afterwards and the time simply flew by so we had to hightail it to the Dome to catch up with Justin, Madeleine, Gus and Rufus. The Roaring Boys were also there playing pool – they’re on before me and never fail to dispense a cheery greeting when I arrive after they’ve come off. They got a five star review the other day which is great and couldn’t have been given to two nicer fellows (and since I first wrote this, have earned another – good for them!).

A five minute phone call to my lovely wife turned into a half an hour one so I had to wave to Justin and George as they left for a show, all the while blowing kisses down the phone to Italy. Then to the Gilded Balloon where Jason was having birthday drinks. Wine and Hadoke combined to hopefully not disastrous effect, though I think I keep showing people pictures of my wife because I think she’s very beautiful and miss her. I suspect she’s not doing the same in Italy – “Look sophisticated Mediterranean types, this is the portly, pasty English thing that’s waiting for me when I get home, aren’t I lucky?”.  Agent and confidant and all round level headed ego wrangler Lee Martin’s wonderful Mum was up, enjoying herself and clearly proud of her son, and loads of the Manchester crew were about. Drink, familiar friendly faces, fun conversation, illustrious comics milling about – some corner of a foreign field that is forever XS Malarkey…. It was good to see everyone, and to enjoy chatting to, and celebrating the success of, fellow Gag Reflex acts (and married couple) Lilli La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face. They have both earned a number of hugely complimentary reviews (for totally different shows, independent of each other) and couldn’t be nicer people (and have now probably seen quite enough pictures of my wife).

Monday

Fringe showcase at the Pleasance Courtyard was done in the fug and wooziness of my previous night’s over indulgence. I got away with it and what a great, packed out and good value afternoon show it was. All the acts – John Robins (who gets Brownie points for doing the offstage mic announcement to get me on and pronouncing my name correctly), Danny Ward, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards – were spot on. Much fun was had by me being awkward about the fact that there were twelve year olds in the front row. I managed to make a virtue of not swearing, but Danny dropped the C-bomb to hilarious effect.

Desperate for a curry, I actually resorted to making my own, but it was worth is. Yum yum. The National Student allayed my fears by giving me Four Stars. I’d thought they may be a bit young, would reject my nostalgia and not forgive the uncertainty of an early gig. The List joined in with Three – a fair review of a choppy and under-energised show, from a few days ago, in which I stumbled a bit. They got the ending, which I’d worked hard to get right, and praised it, which is an important breakthrough. No complaints, though it seems that reviewers of my age like to apologise on the show’s behalf for “80’s nostalgia” when actually all the references to old telly highlight thematic elements of the show rather than being “do you remember so-and-so” nonsense. Interesting that the student paper had no problem with it, and didn’t add the “you probably have to be of his age” caveat. It was the same with Moths, where all the  newspaper reviewers who were self confessed Whovians dropped a star, with a self flagellating “Well, I like Doctor Who, but you might not so…”. The best reviews came from people who had no vested interest in, or had never seen, Doctor Who, so they could see beyond the umbrella theme to what the show was really all about (you know, the important stuff : imagination, love, family, goodness, and remembering cast lists). Interesting. Still, I knew I’d risk misunderstanding when I latched upon the ideas for the show, and I can’t spell it out any more. Again, it is so much better now anyway, but the critics can only review what they see, and as The List has crucified the odd person this year, I’m happy to have emerged unscathed.

Then a great show, with a pretty good house, with my Mum, brother and niece and nephew on the front two. A few comedians had a day off today and I noticed Dan McKee and Wil Hodgson there, lending much-appreciated support (unless it was the Tony Kinsella situation again and they have some doppelgangers augmenting audiences just to mess with our minds). I didn’t notice another gentleman till the end, who stayed behind to congratulate me and say it was good someone was supporting the BBC. Nicholas Parsons! Nicholas bloody Parsons! A legend and an honour and how thrilling that he should come along. Glad he and Mum and my mate Steve Berry all saw a good show. Tripped home with a spring in my step, and stayed up late but without drinking. Jason has bought an X-Box or somesuch, and so I vent my spleen on Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. If this comedy lark fails, I’m pretty certain that there’s a future for me in special ops, saving the world from tyranny and insurgency with clinical, military precision. Oh yes.

Tuesday

This town, is ‘coming like a ghost town. Lots of comics have a day off at around this time, and the venues look a bit more sparse than usual. So I was expecting no-one in. And so it was a pleasant surprise that we had quite a nifty house, with some good mates up from London, off the train and straight in to see me. Another enjoyable hour (well, OK, hour and three minutes), free from too much uncertainty and stumbling. Two in a row that have come together nicely. So a break tomorrow to ruin any momentum I may have built up, of course.

Reports from XS Malarkey were that it was a bit quiet – do you hear me Manchester (shakes fist)? Support your local comedy club, especially in August. Hooray for Spider and Fishcake (codenames, no-one must uncover their true identities) for keeping their expert eyes on the place while the rest of us gallivant about here, lying about our intentions of going to see other shows and wondering just how much the human statues earn a day (and suspecting that they’re probably onto something – you don’t see them fretting about stars and reviews and audiences).

Missing home and family a bit more than I’m letting on to people, to be honest, and it isn’t easy. Everyone has their own frustrations and difficulties though, so you just plaster on a smile and get on with it. You don’t want to impose your hardships on others. Much better to hide such feelings and only note them down here, on the World Wide Web.

Jason Cook’s lovely wife Clare, who brings our flat a certain respectability and calm, returned to Manchester for one night only, so he and I saw out the day protecting the free world from computer generated hostility whenever Call Of Duty chose not to freeze on us. We’ll probably, therefore, spend tomorrow wondering around the flat in our pants. Because we can. There’s a thought for you all to take home with you.

Tickets for the big, spanking Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf are still available. Tell the universe!

If there has been any fighting in the dance floor, I haven’t seen it.

4 EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FOUR

Saturday 14th –  Tuesday 17th

Saturday

Saturday, Saturday. Tiswas day, Doctor Who day. Or in the case of Edinburgh, just another performance/walking up hills/promising to see too many other shows day. The Now I Know My BBCs are all blurring but I think I’m settling into a rhythm. I have to be very careful with the ending – there is a reveal that people don’t guess unless I really heavily lay the groundwork and thread the theme blatantly throughout the show. It obviously wasn’t clear enough in the first week but seems to be hitting home more now. This is what happens when you do a show every day – you really trim it, make it clearer and ad lib better jokes whilst in the moment. It’ll be about 25% better as a show when I finish on August 29th. Because of the overruns I actually sat down with the script and trimmed and rejigged – there’s no point just resting on one’s laurels, and I may do a further rewrite next week. We’ll see. I note the irony that in a show that maintains that the audience aren’t as stupid as television people assume them to be, I’ve had to spell something out to make it clearer to the audience, which might actually mean that … (ahem)

I went to see my first show (I vowed this year to not even pretend I was going to anything in the first week). Jeremy Lion Goes Green had me doubled up with laughter – what a virtuoso performance from the enormously talented Justin Edwards (ably assisted by a beguilingly deadpan Gus Brown). For those who haven’t caught up with this phenomenon, Lion is an alcohol sodden children’s entertainer whose awful shows are replete with sequestered cans of Special Brew, hopeless props and staggering theatrical ineptitude. And are hilarious. Doing something badly well is an art, and Edwards has his shtick so well honed he’s at Turner Prize level. There’s pathos too, a show-stopping ending, some terrific songs and an absolutely splendid comedy of errors involving ventriloquist’s dummies. I will also be flabbergasted if anyone watching doesn’t have the song lyrics “Rim-nim-a-nim” dancing merrily through their head for days on end afterwards. Even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. A genuine treat of a show. And I’m not being biased because I was I was at university with Justin. I had never seen his creation live before, but the critical acclaim he has received is well deserved. I hooked up with his former collaborator and old pal of mine George Cockerill. We had a good old natter and catch up and it is insane we reacquaint ourselves in a city hundreds of miles away from the one we both actually live in. Justin is married to the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter. I know Lucy from my early days as a stand-up, but she didn’t know Justin then, though I did. Confusing, these intertwined lives. As the evening went on to prove …

In the Brookes Bar at The Pleasance Dome, George and I caught up with Justin and Lucy. Gus was also there, with the actor Rufus Jones, who was in a play with a great friend of mine at The Royal Exchange some years ago. Rufus and I met there and I’ve been pleased to see him pop up on telly being good in stuff ever since. His show, No Son Of Mine, is being produced by James Seabright, who is in charge of me. When talking to Gus and Rufus, I noticed an advertising hoarding (for Spotlight) up at the bar which featured a big picture of a friend of mine, Madeleine Worrall, a terrific actress and a pal I’ve kept in touch with since A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Exchange some years ago. I texted Madge as it tickled me to see her writ large (especially as it wasn’t a custom made picture for the advert – it was a randomly chosen theatre shot that she would have had no idea had been co-opted for this purpose). About a minute after that, Gus, to whom I’d not mentioned this, got a text. From Madeleine. She was on her way to that very bar. She knows both Gus and Rufus of old but not through each other or me. What a delight, and I proceeded to reel with all the mad strange coincidence of this. And then with consumption of white wine. Then Emma Atkins magically appeared in the corner – I’ve known her since pre-Emmerdale days when we acted together in a number of plays written by … Adam Riches, who I haven’t worked with since then till – this very Fringe.

Spooky, spooky spook.

Madeleine Worrall threatens to short out the time differential by meeting her photographic self

It was a convivial evening and I seem to recall bumping into Paul Sinha and telling him how brilliant he is (and he is, his show Extreme Anti White Vitriol which he previewed at XS Malarkey, is passionate, searingly intelligent, brutally funny, but shot through with decency and no little fire).

Sunday

George very kindly came to see Now I Know My BBC from which I’d managed to shave off 12 mintes from the previous overrun. That’s seven minutes short. My A For Androemda joke can’t have been that long surely? Weird. We caught up afterwards and the time simply flew by so we had to hightail it to the Dome to catch up with Justin, Madeleine, Gus and Rufus. The Roaring Boys were also there playing pool – they’re on before me and never fail to dispense a cheery greeting when I arrive after they’ve come off. They got a five star review the other day which is great and couldn’t have been given to two nicer fellows (and since I first wrote this, have earned another – good for them!).

A five minute phone call to my lovely wife turned into a half an hour one so I had to wave to Justin and George as they left for a show, all the while blowing kisses down the phone to Italy. Then to the Gilded Balloon where Jason was having birthday drinks. Wine and Hadoke combined to hopefully not disastrous effect, though I think I keep showing people pictures of my wife because I think she’s very beautiful and miss her. I suspect she’s not doing the same in Italy – “Look sophisticated Mediterranean types, this is the portly, pasty English thing that’s waiting for me when I get home, aren’t I lucky?”.  Agent and confidant and all round level headed ego wrangler Lee Martin’s wonderful Mum was up, enjoying herself and clearly proud of her son, and loads of the Manchester crew were about. Drink, familiar friendly faces, fun conversation, illustrious comics milling about – some corner of a foreign field that is forever XS Malarkey…. It was good to see everyone, and to enjoy chatting to, and celebrating the success of, fellow Gag Reflex acts (and married couple) Lilli La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face. They have both earned a number of hugely complimentary reviews (for totally different shows, independent of each other) and couldn’t be nicer people (and have now probably seen quite enough pictures of my wife).

Monday

Fringe showcase at the Pleasance Courtyard was done in the fug and wooziness of my previous night’s over indulgence. I got away with it and what a great, packed out and good value afternoon show it was. All the acts – John Robins (who gets Brownie points for doing the offstage mic announcement to get me on and pronouncing my name correctly), Danny Ward, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards – were spot on. Much fun was had by me being awkward about the fact that there were twelve year olds in the front row. I managed to make a virtue of not swearing, but Danny dropped the C-bomb to hilarious effect.

Desperate for a curry, I actually resorted to making my own, but it was worth is. Yum yum. The National Student allayed my fears by giving me Four Stars. I’d thought they may be a bit young, would reject my nostalgia and not forgive the uncertainty of an early gig. The List joined in with Three – a fair review of a choppy and under-energised show, from a few days ago, in which I stumbled a bit. They got the ending, which I’d worked hard to get right, and praised it, which is an important breakthrough. No complaints, though it seems that reviewers of my age like to apologise on the show’s behalf for “80’s nostalgia” when actually all the references to old telly highlight thematic elements of the show rather than being “do you remember so-and-so” nonsense. Interesting that the student paper had no problem with it, and didn’t add the “you probably have to be of his age” caveat. It was the same with Moths, where all the  newspaper reviewers who were self confessed Whovians dropped a star, with a self flagellating “Well, I like Doctor Who, but you might not so…”. The best reviews came from people who had no vested interest in, or had never seen, Doctor Who, so they could see beyond the umbrella theme to what the show was really all about (you know, the important stuff : imagination, love, family, goodness, and remembering cast lists). Interesting. Still, I knew I’d risk misunderstanding when I latched upon the ideas for the show, and I can’t spell it out any more. Again, it is so much better now anyway, but the critics can only review what they see, and as The List has crucified the odd person this year, I’m happy to have emerged unscathed.

Then a great show, with a pretty good house, with my Mum, brother and niece and nephew on the front two. A few comedians had a day off today and I noticed Dan McKee and Wil Hodgson there, lending much-appreciated support (unless it was the Tony Kinsella situation again and they have some doppelgangers augmenting audiences just to mess with our minds). I didn’t notice another gentleman till the end, who stayed behind to congratulate me and say it was good someone was supporting the BBC. Nicholas Parsons! Nicholas bloody Parsons! A legend and an honour and how thrilling that he should come along. Glad he and Mum and my mate Steve Berry all saw a good show. Tripped home with a spring in my step, and stayed up late but without drinking. Jason has bought an X-Box or somesuch, and so I vent my spleen on Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. If this comedy lark fails, I’m pretty certain that there’s a future for me in special ops, saving the world from tyranny and insurgency with clinical, military precision. Oh yes.

Tuesday

This town, is ‘coming like a ghost town. Lots of comics have a day off at around this time, and the venues look a bit more sparse than usual. So I was expecting no-one in. And so it was a pleasant surprise that we had quite a nifty house, with some good mates up from London, off the train and straight in to see me. Another enjoyable hour (well, OK, hour and three minutes), free from too much uncertainty and stumbling. Two in a row that have come together nicely. So a break tomorrow to ruin any momentum I may have built up, of course.

Reports from XS Malarkey were that it was a bit quiet – do you hear me Manchester (shakes fist)? Support your local comedy club, especially in August. Hooray for Spider and Fishcake (codenames, no-one must uncover their true identities) for keeping their expert eyes on the place while the rest of us gallivant about here, lying about our intentions of going to see other shows and wondering just how much the human statues earn a day (and suspecting that they’re probably onto something – you don’t see them fretting about stars and reviews and audiences).

Missing home and family a bit more than I’m letting on to people, to be honest, and it isn’t easy. Everyone has their own frustrations and difficulties though, so you just plaster on a smile and get on with it. You don’t want to impose your hardships on others. Much better to hide such feelings and only note them down here, on the World Wide Web.

Jason Cook’s lovely wife Clare, who brings our flat a certain respectability and calm, returned to Manchester for one night only, so he and I saw out the day protecting the free world from computer generated hostility whenever Call Of Duty chose not to freeze on us. We’ll probably, therefore, spend tomorrow wondering around the flat in our pants. Because we can. There’s a thought for you all to take home with you.

Tickets for the big, spanking Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf are still available. Tell the universe!

Will There Be Any Stars, Any Stars …?

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER TWO

Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th

“Hey Tobes, are you up in Edinburgh for the month? If so, do you fancy helping out a little with my show? I need someone dressed as a tiger to get hurled onto a grenade where he explodes in a sea of orange polystyrene. Have you ever played that before??!” That text could only have come from Adam Riches. I worked with him a lot doing daft but brilliant plays in Manchester. He packed his bags for London where I was sure he’d become an overnight success. It’s taken a bit longer than that, but he’s had deserved hits at the Fringe in the past few years, mustering a raft of  superb (Four And Five Star) reviews that justly herald his gift for batty, charmingly silly comedy and performances of winningly idiotic chutzpah. Not even the most cynical can fail to smile at his stuff, so who am I to refuse to play a tiger for the man who has cast me in the past as a superhero’s cocky agent, a Diabolo-wrangling gypsy, and a half man/half Dalek? Be good to catch up too. He has a rare gift for not allowinging the inherent annoyances of this business effect him – he just knuckles down, grafts away, and produces reams and reams of comedy gold without fail. But I suspect he’s a terrible, selfish lover.

Next day – “Toby, I’ve cut the skit, so you can hang up your paws”. Damn, sacked before I’ve even begun. Story of my career! I’d spent the whole night channelling my inner Tony (it’s Grrrrrrreat!) and watching old ESSO adverts. Then, on Sunday “Toby – great news, Tiger is back!”. So I’m not the only one making last minutes changes to my show!

Anyway, I won’t spoil the gag by revealing any more than I have above, but suffice to say Adam Riches Rides is terrific – and he’s selling out already (not by accepting an OBE or doing adverts for McDonald’s or genocide, I mean all his tickets are being bought). It’s a joy to participate in the most infinitesimal way to something so inventive and funny. It opens with a song in which Pierce Brosnan outs himself as a Centaur. That’s all you need to know. (Five stars)

The Original Plan Had Been To One Day Play Hamlet

As I won’t be seeing my wife until the 1st of September, Saturday and Sunday were precious times with her, mostly used for swatting up on the show. She made me revise and remember the rigorous order and not forget to get all the loose ends tied up. She really helped (All The Stars In The Sky).

Performances were nicely attended and jolly. Still missing bits out: nothing major, but I’m still not making the ending as neat a series of payoffs as I should be. The shows have been running to time, which is a major consideration, though Saturday was the first night they made me work, where the satirical second half went down better than the nostalgic first. This is a good thing, but it meant I had to be on my toes, and I responded by pacing about a little too much. Agent, promoter and friend Lee Martin was in, who told me to put a table on stage for my drink so I didn’t pace about so much, like Simon Cowell on the prowl, dancing about in anticipation of feasting upon the soft, pliable carcass of a newborn baby.

Having missed one interview because (thinks of any number of excuses …) I forgot (No Stars Hadoke), I then mistook the Pleasance Courtyard for The Pleasance Dome and went to the wrong place for another. Still, everyone seems pretty calm at the moment, apart from a testy antipodean homuculous techie-type I encountered throwing out far too much machismo for a Lilipution wrangling a prop of an afternoon. I rose above it (which was quite easy considering).

Flatmate and superb comic Jason Cook (Five Stars, every time) is doing predictably well, and together we’re creating our own modern day Never The Twain as he plays upon the supposed charm of his salt-of-the-earth ignorance and I introduce him to eclectic foodstuffs (“This is an anchovy”) and the concept of literature. As usual, he takes much of what I say that is funny and Tweets it or quotes it in his set and gets the laughs for himself. The cuckoo. Or leach. Or twat.

With my lovely wife gone (The Stars Have All Gone Out), I forced myself to honour a commitment to perform at Free And Freakin’ Awesome Comedy Showcase at Bannerman’s for Ro Campbell – simple premise, Ro goes on and gets some comics to be funny. I didn’t really want to do it and thought it’d be either ill-attended by the dead, or well attended by the riotous. It was actually packed with lovely people, Ro did a great job, and I had a lot of fun unleashing all the swearwords and bile I have elected not to use in my BBC show. On that issue, I have got myself another review in which I’m described as “charming and likeable” but safe (Three Stars – I lost marks for pacing about too much: guess which show they were in). Safe, me safe??! Have they never seen me caterwaul with rage about trivia at XS Malarkey or The Comedy Store? Oh, maybe they haven’t. That said, I do also think that there’s a lot of noise and swearing that gets mistaken for profundity around these parts … I’m sure Jonathan Swift didn’t yell at eveyone. That said, maybe I’ve been so conscious of being reasonable with the message and intent of the show, that I’ve left a bit of my passion in the fridge to cool. Maybe I need to get it out and add some spice to give it some much needed heat. Then people will enjoy eating it. Or something.

Oh, never mind the metaphors – it seems that so far the reviewers love the show, but don’t want to sleep with it yet. I texted that fine Manchester based Irish comic, Caimh McDonnell, who knows a thing or two about doing well in Edinburgh, to that effect. “Don’t worry,” he texted back, “People kept giving my last show fake mobile numbers to get rid of it.”

And I walked up Broughton Street with a big smile on my face, placed there by someone miles away in a different city, but in the right place just when I needed him. (SuperStar)

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).