Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Occasionally, I surprise even me.

It's sad really, that at 28, I can find new ways of being a twat that even amaze myself. It's like an experienced farmer still being dazzled by the forces of mother nature I suppose, much to the surprise of his young servant boy, Timmy: 'I thought I'd seen it all my son, until... ha! The great hurricane of four harvests ago. Serving as a reminder of the earthly powers at God's disposal, I discovered a new found respect...' (do farmers really talk like this?)

Anyway. On Friday the 26th of June, at around 5.50pm, the following happened:

I spilled Ribena all over myself after trying to simultaneously drive and re-set my sat-nav, as I'd missed a turning because I was too busy eating a sandwich because I'd had no lunch, there being no food in the house as I'd been gigging all week and had got up late, and I was resetting the sat-nav because I knew the route it would take me was busy, because I have traffic alerts on my in-car CD player which although useful (especially in this case), I actually find hugely annoying but I'm unable to turn them off as I've lost the manual to my CD player. To cap this all off, in order to 'nip that stain in the bud,' I decided to 
deliberately pour a whole big bottle of Evian over myself, as I knew I couldn't put my t-shirt in the wash for at least 10 hours, and my mum says 'blackcurrant stains.' And I was late for the gig. Horrifically late.

So I'm sat there, in a *hired car, dripping wet from a whole bottle of water I'd poured over myself 
on purpose, sat on a gridlocked M5 thinking 'things have got to change. It's unacceptable. This can't go on.' And I was deadly serious this time, serious enough to text it to myself, so the message would sit in my inbox and remind me, and every time I considered something that deep down I knew was stupid I wouldn't do it, because of that little text. I don't know if you've ever worn an Evian drenched t-shirt whilst crawling along the motorway in a hired Daewoo Matiz, but it's quite a sobering experience. The type of sobering experience that can lead a man to text himself. I turned up at the gig, t-shirt still wet and a bit depressed as the sandwich wasn't even that nice (fifth day on the trot I'd eaten my tea in a services), and a bit concerned that I'd got Ribena over the Matiz upholstery, and immediately told the promoter. Now, the type of incident outlined above happens to me about once a week, and usually I brush it off, laugh stoically and carry on. But I was a bit miffed on Friday, as I'm tired of leading a tosser's life. Genuinely tired. Exhausted, in fact. People's reactions to this type of wankery are also almost always the same:

'It's all good material.' - For what? Writing a sit-com about twats?

'If you changed, maybe you wouldn't be as funny.' - Really? Sigh. That's depressing. Surely I've got enough of this shit in the bank now, so can't I just make the rest up? What about... man tries to eat Double Decker whilst driving and feeding his cat, the hot breath of the cat causes the Double Decker to melt, chocolate gets on the steering wheel and he crashes his car into one of those water things you see in American films, the cat gets frightened by the water - end of scene. There. The man (played by that guy from 
My Family and the BT adverts) has lost his car, his cat, and his dignity. Job done.

Despite the journey however the gig was good, the people of Barnstaple seem nice and it was lovely spending time with Isy Suttie and Nick Revell, who are great company. Whilst annoying the Evian trick also seemed to work, so well in fact I wore the t-shirt the next day, as mam's information is seemingly incorrect and the stain came out a treat. Oh well. All's well that end's well.

What with it being the run up to Edinburgh, I now spend a lot of my time writing my Edinburgh show, and organising gigs where I can drive long distances to try it out for no money. I'm not going to complain about this - it's the same for all comedians (unless they get famous), and is a downside to a job that is otherwise brilliant. That said, my preview in London last weekend was particularly depressing. The Canal Cafe Theatre in Little Venice is a bloody excellent setting for stand up, and I've had the pleasure of playing it twice when it's full. Having talked to the lovely venue manager I organised a preview for my solo show and was full of beans, imagining giving my debut hour a run out in front of a packed house, the inevitable plaudits afterwards, the celebratory drinks, taking fifty of my fans out for a meal in the West End, being knocked over by a car Graham Coxon style because I'm pissed, but dusting myself off and it all being hilarious, whilst hot babes and comedians I respect whisper 'Christ, I wish I could write call backs like you Elis, that was amazing. You're an inspiration.'

Unfortunately, this is about as realistic a dream as having the internet in your face to make online shopping easier. To anyone who knows the London comedy scene, it's about as tearjerkingly misguided as those Scottish heroin addicts you used to see on
 Comic Relief in the 80s, who'd say things like 'ah thought ah'd move tae London tae make money, because the streets would be paved with gold, ya know,' as Phil Collins played in the background and Lenny Henry choked back tears. The gig was due to start at 5pm, and at 5pm I had sold ZERO tickets. That's right - ZERO. At 5.15pm I had still sold ZERO tickets, but by now my friends Martin and the ever loyal Josh had turned up, and kept saying things like 'welcome to Edinburgh' as I fiddled with my dictaphone and worked out ways to kill myself using clutter from my leatherette manbag. Always eager to look at the positives, it was pointed out that there was no 6.30pm or 8pm show, and if I wanted, I had all night to try and cajole people from the street and get the requisite 10 audience members you need to make stand up feel like a proper gig, and not an intrusive mental person with a microphone talking at western tourists who've been taken hostage.

Being of pretty stern stuff, this was the option I went for, which just convinced me that my decision to pay for flyerers in Edinburgh was the right one. One middle aged woman was drinking wine with her daughter, and she reacted to the suggestion they come and watch my Edinburgh preview in a way that's usually reserved for watching a man with learning difficulties dip his penis into a steaming cafetiere. Two very nice men promised that they'd 'come up for fifteen minutes if they could bring their puddings,' while most people said quite honestly that 'they weren't really up for it, thankyou very much.' By 6.30pm I decided to start, as having put something on Facebook (I might be a twat but I do have a posh phone), Rhys, a friend of mine from school I'd not seen for five years turned up with his flatmate Danielle, Martin and the ever loyal Josh were still there (Josh the sweetheart had even called his mate Ian), India from the box office had nothing better to do and Damien the sound guy swelled my audience to a now respectable, er, seven. 

Now, gigs with seven punters in a room that holds 60 pose invariable problems, but problems that can be counteracted if you're used to it. At around the ten minute mark, following some self-deprecating gags about performing in front of an audience whose names I all knew, everything seemed to be going well and the show was in full swing, until I realised that Danielle had taken out some needles and was fucking 
knitting. Actually knitting. It was like being heckled by a grandmother. I asked her what she thought she was doing and she responded coolly by saying 'don't worry - I am listening.' I asked her what she was knitting and discovered that it was a scarf. On pointing out (fairly I thought) that it was fucking June and that finishing a scarf was hardly essential, she shrugged and said 'I'm halfway through it now.' In the same way that a skint student can get used to renting a windowless box room fairly quickly, I left it at that, and carried on with my car crash of a preview. The problem however, is that when jokes failed (as they inevitably will at previews in front of 7 people), the silence was punctuated uncomfortably by the 'click click click' of knitting needles, which served to make the whole experience feel even more catastrophic. Eventually, the ever loyal Josh (and you don't get a prefix like that unless you go to a lot of my gigs) muttered 'listen El, I've heard this bit of material loads before (he has, to be fair) - can you not just tell the story about when we went to Mike and Lucy's wedding?' And so I did. And then I realised that everybody else had heard my usual jokes, as Martin and I gig together, Ian is often dragged along to my shows by the ever loyal Josh, and both India and Damien as venue staff had seen my preview the previous week. By this point, I realised that being amongst friends (and Rhys has known me most my life), I could throw it open to the floor and play 'story karaoke,' and before long I was ignoring my prepared material and talking bollocks about anything that people wanted me to. 

It was quite good fun to be honest, and I think I might do something similar to this in Edinburgh, although hopefully in front of more people, and hopefully those people will listen rather than be making clothes for winter. The weirdest thing is that I've managed to become nostalgic about what was essentially quite a horrible experience, despite it being less than a fortnight ago. I have a superhuman ability you see to become nostalgic and romanticise almost anything, to a degree that is probably unhealthy. After all - did Joe Strummer sit around, reminiscing about school sports days and adverts from his childhood? No, of course he didn't. He lied about his background, changed his accent, bought a guitar and wrote a few blistering punk albums. I found myself becoming nostalgic today about a a photo that was taken of me and the ever loyal Josh sitting on a beanbag, in the GSOH office. The photo was taken
under a week ago. I sat there, staring at this photo, thinking, 'aw, what a lovely day. We had pizza at that place in Brixton, before bumping into Nighto and Jon in a cafe and going to the office for a cup of tea.' This is pathetic behaviour, and I should be ashamed of it. I'm no lost cause though. The things I can't be nostalgic about, despite my nature, are as follows:

- Glastonbury 2006. It pissed down for three days and was about as bleak as terminal illness. It was horrible, and is something I never care to repeat. End of story.

- Pretending to my first proper girlfriend that I liked jazz-funk. For 18 months. Even though I regard jazz-funk as the aural equivalent of a girl being fingered against her will on a nightclub dancefloor.  

So there you have it - the big two. Anything else - men wearing cloth caps to the football, pit disasters, shit stand up gigs, Teddy Boys slashing cinema seats with stanley knives in the 50s, the bubonic plague, the blitz, Menswear being on the cover of the NME, cavemen skinning mammoths with a sharpened bit of flint, Elizabethan ruffs, rotten boroughs, Lloyd George threatening to fill the House of Lords with Liberal peers in 1911, 30 million people watching The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special in 1977, Morrissey wearing a hearing aid on Top of the Pops...that, that I can all get nostalgic for.

But jazz-funk and a wet Glastonbury? No. Have I ever told you about the time I poured Evian on myself whilst driving to a gig in Barnstaple...?

* the reason I was driving a hired car is that I had a gig in Brecon. For those who aren't up to date with Welsh current affairs, Brecon's a town in one of those local authorities that lost all its money in Icelandic banks. Brecon now famously doesn't turn on its streetlamps because it can't afford to, which shouldn't be a problem, it's just that some fuckpouch decided to paint some of these lamposts black for 'aesthetic reasons.'  Having headlined the gig I promptly left the venue at midnight, and reversed my car into a lampost I hadn't seen. I still didn't know what I'd hit, until I got out of the car and saw (an admittedly very aesthetic looking) lampost swaying like a fairground attraction and and the back of my car looking like a prop from The Sweeney. It's dad's car and he doesn't know about this, but it's more likely I'll be using the internet on my face before my dad reads this on a computer. And I'll have it sorted by then.

NB. I think the fact that it's taken me until now to post this blog despite writing it almost a month ago, shows that the 'send yourself a text' method of self-improvement is flawed.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Eating sushi, with men

Hello there

Changing is an inevitable part of growing up, especially if your circumstances alter radically. This could be moving from a rural area to a city, quitting your A-levels to become a pagan, or becoming wildly rich in comparison with your parents. Rock biographies in particular are littered with stories about this - classics such as 'although hungry after completing a 200 date world tour, Marti Pellow brushed away angrily the tripe and dripping sandwiches his mother had lovingly prepared for him as a welcome home present.' I love that type of rags-to-riches success story, and always have done. This stuff isn't merely the preserve of rock stars though - almost all normal people occasionally have cause to think 'wow, I wouldn't have done that ten years ago,' which naturally leads to a period of reflection, unless you're quite thick, in which case you probably don't notice. On a personal level, I have changed over the past fifteen years from small town, acne ridden schoolboy, to modern, city dwelling, urbane sophisticate (hello!). This transition isn't easy of course, and last week the contradictions caused by this change were summed up perfectly to me, during a chance encounter on a train.

In a previous life, many years ago, and before stand up comedy, I spent the vast majority of my leisure time watching Swansea City FC. For any non-football fans who are reading this blog fear not. I won't wax lyrical about the sublime trigonometry of a 70 yard crossfield pass, or how Herbert Chapman revolutionised the game in the 1930s by playing four at the back, but I will say that some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent watching the Swans. In fact, the stars aligned in such a way during the 2004/05 season (no girlfriend, it was before I tried stand up, I had a small amount of disposable income and a 9-5 job), that I watched every home game at The Vetch and about 15 away, which is a personal record I fear will never be broken, unless I decide to go back into doing data entry for a living. I thus feel qualified to say that of all the away games I've attended, the ones that best sum up the mentality of the obsessive football fan, are these two:

Carlisle Utd away, 2008: There's something very special about taking the day off work to watch a game of football that's taking place a few miles from the Scottish border. Especially when it's a Tuesday night, your house is in South Wales, it's raining heavily, and the game finishes 0-0. My friend Andy prepared sausage sandwiches and two flasks of tea for that trip, which I remember just as fondly as the game itself, which to be honest, was quite uninspiring. Brilliantly, we were also given a home made parking ticket at the end of the game. It had no legal jurisdiction over us, but was merely an ornately printed post-it note that said 'Jan and Dave would appreciate it if you never parked here again.'

Torquay Utd away, first round of the LDV Vans Trophy (South), 2005: My flatmate Huw, one of my best friends and partner for every football match I've attended since the age of 11, described me as 'a sad bastard' for going to this. The first round (south) of the LDV Vans trophy is about as important to your football club as your National Record of Achievement is to your career. I have lost my National Record of Achievement - yeah, take that Mrs John! Fuck you! (Mrs John was the moronic teacher at my school who made us painstakingly fill ours in - call me arrogant, but I don't think losing my NRA will hold me back at The Comedy Store). However, I do remember the game at Torquay Utd for a several reasons:

- Torquay Utd FC had wildly over-anticipated how many Swans fans would turn up, and at full time all 89 of us in the away end were given free pies and pasties from the tuck shop 'to save them going to waste.'
- A Swansea City fan with learning difficulties was persuaded onto the pitch by his drunken carer, and was arrested and threatened with a life ban. It's only when he was questioned by police and the stewards realised his condition that he was released. There's actually footage of the whole incident on youtube, but the keywords and title are so politically incorrect I don't feel able to post a link.
- I met my friend Andy (the one responsible for the sausage sandwiches at Carlisle) in the bar before kick off. After buying a pint I settled down to read the programme, and absent mindedly put my left foot on the table. On seeing this Andy's dad whispered ominously in my ear 'take your foot down boy. You're not in Carmarthen now.'
- we won 3-1, and you could clearly see me on the news celebrating the first two goals. In a bid to make the game more exciting, Lewis (the only person I could find who'd go with me) and I tried to 'talk up' the impact of Swansea's Adebayo Akinfenwa's return to his old club. I think by the time we got to the ground we were expecting tear gas and a burning effigy, but sadly the most abuse he got was being called 'a wanker' once or twice whilst taking a corner kick. Something which happily, Bayo handled with absolute aplomb.

Anyway. The fact I enjoyed these trips so much says an awful lot about me as a character (and note how I mentioned two quite shit games, and not the two trips to the Millenium Stadium in 2006, beating Premiership Sheffield Utd in the FA Cup two years ago, winning promotion in Bury...) It's the same part of me that wasn't just willing to drive to Manchester to do stand up on a weeknight for no money and when I already had a day job, but quite enjoyed the masochistic nature of it. In fact, if I'd achieved my tiny modicum of success in this industry without those horrible drives to Tunbridge Wells, where it cost me £45 in petrol just to tell jokes for five minutes, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much. But anyway, I digress.

Last Sunday I was travelling back from London, having had a weekend of gigs at The Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch. The Swans had been playing that weekend in Southampton, a trip that comedy permitting I would have looked forward to making, and a game that a few of my friends had attended. As I sat on the train, about to read The Observer and tut loudly at how various world leaders have dealt with the current banking crisis, I realised that the train was full of bleary eyed Swans fans, who had made a weekend of it and been out on the piss in Southampton. Excited at being amongst my people, I piped up. '2-2 eh?' I offered, 'did you go to the game?
'Aye,' said the lad on the table opposite. 'You didn't miss much to be honest, if you didn't go.'
'Oh' I replied, and explained that I would have gone, 'but had to work in London.' The men sympathised, at which point I hurriedly added that I'd been to Portsmouth the previous Saturday, for the cup tie at Fratton Park.
'Brilliant wasn't it?' we all agreed, and suddenly we were up and running, discussing the archaic facilities in the away end, and chatting about other games we'd been to. Within minutes we realised that we'd all been to Blackpool on Easter weekend in 2006, Cheltenham for that stupendous 4-3 win in August 2004, and the infamous Mansfield game, called off due to heavy rain two minutes after the Swans fans entered the ground. In short, I was having a great time. We talked about the club, hopes for the future, old players, and I spoke knowledgeably about the current side, as my flatmate Huw still goes on a regular basis and keeps me updated. It was only when they asked me what I did for a living that I began to feel slightly uncomfortable - I was talking to two electricians and a lad who worked for the DVLA, which in my opinion, count as real men doing real jobs.

I started to panic, and thought 'they're going to notice my leatherette fucking manbag* in a minute, in which I lovingly keep a Moleskine notebook for all my comedy ideas, a Kurt Vonnegut novel, 13 pens and some moisteriser. I've had my chips if they see that - shit, they'll think I'm a right fucking plum.' In fitting with the rules of polite conversation, I was eventually asked what I did for a living, and I blurted something about 'working at the newsdesk of a local rag, with lots of meetings...in London.' The men seemed perfectly satisfied with this, and again sympathised that I had to miss so many games. 'Played a straight bat there' I thought to myself. 'Jesus, I should consider writing spy fucking novels - Ian Fleming* never came up with anything that convincing.' I brought the conversation back round to last season's game at Leeds Utd, and our shared experiences of Elland Road, and the ball was firmly back in my court. I turned down the kind offer of a can of Stella, blaming an extreme hangover (I actually had a gig that night in North Wales with Rhod Gilbert, and never drink on the day of a gig), refuting protestations that it would make me feel better. It was only at this stage that I began to feel hungry, and realised that the treat I'd bought myself, a punnet of sushi from Paddington station, and something I'd been looking forward to for ages, would have to remain in the plastic bag under my seat. 'I can't realistically start eating a salmon nigiri with wasabi sauce and ginger' I thought to myself, 'when I've just been lying about fighting with police after Bristol City away at Ashton Gate' (don't worry mam, that was fictional macho posturing). Sigh. I had three options -

1. Buy something rank, but normal and manly from the buffet carriage, which would be an enormous waste of money (Yo! Sushi isn't cheap, and neither is the buffet carriage).
2. I could make my excuses before going to eat sushi in the toilet. This sounded like a cowardly, unpleasant idea though, and would make me appear even weirder if I got caught. Indefensibly weird, in fact. You can't come back from that, no matter how many reserve games you've been to and replica shirts you remember.
3. Bite the bullet hunger wise, maybe get a Snickers, and eat the sushi in my car on the way to the gig.

I opted for option 3, hungrily daydreaming about the nice food I had at my disposal, as we talked about horrible away kits from the early 1990s. I was initially a classic sushi cynic you see, assuming that it would be horrible, give me a stomach ache, or turn me into a wanker (I still can't claim this hasn't happened), but then I tried it and realised that it was bloody lovely, and now have it as a special treat from time to time. As we laughed about QPR being sponsored by Guinness in the late 80s, my mind wandered to the food that was rapidly going off under my seat. 1980s shirt sponsor banter? Old away trip reminiscing? New best friends? I should have been having the time of my life. Despite all this however, and, despite being a sushi advocate, I didn't feel I could eat sushi in the company of actual men. I'm a rational man, and knew I'd put in good conversational legwork early on, and was fairly sure they liked me (I really can hold my own in a football chat, especially if it turns to the period 1988-1995), but whipping out sushi on public transport was a step too far. This whole conundrum wouldn't be an issue usually, and I wouldn't go on about it. It's just that in my haste to conceal my semi-girly manbag on alighting the train, I forgot the fucking sushi under my seat and thus suffered the double whammy of going hungry and wasting seven quid all in one go. Unbelievable. Devastating.

I assume Ray Winstone has experiences like this all the time.

* as lovingly as I attempt to keep my Moleskin notebook spotless (and they are bloody expensive as well as having an intrinsic sentimental value), I am still, ultimately, a bit of an idiot. On my way to London for the weekend's gigs, I bought a big packet of Jaffa Cakes on the train. Unable to finish the Jaffa Cakes but keen to avoid waste (see above), I stored the Jaffa Cakes in my manbag. By the time I got to The Comedy Cafe in East London I'd dropped the manbag, thrown it over some railway sidings, pretended it was a shield in a terrorist siege and used it as a pillow. I then stayed at my friend Tom Craine's house, where of course, I kept it next to the radiator. The next time I looked inside the manbag, desperately searching for a pen to write a shite idea that will never see the light of day, I realised the Jaffa Cakes had come out of the packet and melted over every Moleskine notebook I've ever written in, my gig diary, pens, Kurt Vonnegut novel and Steve Martin book. It doesn't end there though, the Jaffa Cake orange jelly had congealed and sealed the books shut, forcing me to spend an hour waiting for it all to dry before picking Jaffa Cake off some of my prized possesions. It's at this stage my dad would say 'that'll teach you,' and suggest I buy cheaper notebooks from WHSmiths, but I'm not just a sucker - I'm a stubborn one.

P.S In praise of Portsmouth
I mentioned above that I went to watch The Swans play Portsmouth in the FA Cup third round a few weeks ago. It was quite good draw for us, facing a Premiership team with a dodgy manager when we were on a good run of form, and a good draw for me, as I was gigging in Bristol that night, and could make it back in time to pay my rent without having to miss a possible cup upset. Football fans will already know that we beat Pompey 2-0, and it was one of the best games of football I've witnessed for ages. It did strike me however, quite how much my enjoyment of the footballing experience is nothing to do with the game itself, but dependent on extraeanous factors which a non-football fan, or dare I say it, a top four supporting 'fan' who lives hundreds of miles away from 'his club' wouldn't understand. For a start there was a healthy number of Swans supporters, about 3,200. This included most of my football watching friends as well as Huw's girlfriend Anwen, who Huw had misguidedly assumed would enjoy 'the banter.' I had driven to the game alone so I could get to Bristol in time for my gig, whereas everyone else had caught the 8am rattler from Cardiff Central - by the time I arrived in Portsmouth all 3,200 Swans fans were hammered, which was great. A new song about our manager got its proper debut: 'Na na na na na na na na na na na! Robbie Martinez! Martinez! Robbie Martinez!' (to the tune of 1983's 'Give it up' by KC & the Sunshine Band'), and there was a bigger police presence outside the ground than at the last G8 meeting and the poll tax demonstrations combined. Added to this however, it must be said that Fratton Park is a total joy. Not in the sense of adequate legroom and a toilet seat you could eat your dinner off, quite the opposite in fact. It's like watching football in about 1983. The Swans fans stood without question throughout, the Fratton Park stewards realising that people taking their allocated seats was about as likely as inner city knife crime being passed off by Gordon Brown as 'youthful high-jinks,' or GCSE golf becoming part of the national curriculum. This Health and Safety based chaos was quite exciting to the modern football fan, as willfully standing on the yellow lines (the part of the stand serving as the fire exit) is probably the only form of civil disobedience left available to the white, middle class male in his late twenties. The celebrations when we scored the first goal were amongst the most raucous I've ever experienced, and not only did I hurt my leg, but I managed to get meat and potato pie on the inside of both of my shirt sleeves, as frankly I was hungry and Nathan Dyer's sweet finish from a beautiful Jason Scotland pass took me completely by surprise. That to me you see, is football. Goal celebrations that cause injuries and a pie stain that will never come out.

*Ian Fleming is for some reason, buried in Swindon.

Friday, 19 December 2008

'You'll laugh about it in years to come. Well, a day actually'

Hello there

It occurred to me that I've been writing this blog for three months or so, but I still haven't described what happens at my gigs in any great detail. This week seems as good a place to start as any then, as I travelled to Weston Super-Mare, Hull, and Cardiff.

The A-Team were famously soldiers of fortune, and comedians have more in common with The A-Team than you'd think (aside from the obvious Murdoch/mental health issue parallels). In much the same way Hannibal and the lads would drop everything to help a cowboy's daughter who was the innocent victim of some racketeering, stand up comedians are often called upon at short notice to fill in if another comic's dropped out due to illness, or car trouble, etc. I was Christmas shopping for my dad when the call came (in the unlikely event he's reading this, dad - you're getting another Welsh rugby DVD).

Promoter: Hey El, are you working tonight?

Me: No

Promoter: Do you fancy doing twenty minutes at Jokers in Weston Super-Mare? The gig starts in two hours, and it's cash on the night

Me: Fuck it - go on then. I mean 'of course I would'

You might be surprised at my reticence, as work is work, but for those of you not au fait with the comedy club scene in the South West of England (and I can't think who that could be), Jokers in Weston Super-Mare is a notorious, scandalous shithole. Mainly because the club's accomplished the incredible feat of only attracting two, very specific types of people, i.e:

a) the frighteningly, disturbingly moronic


b) individuals who seem to genuinely hate comedy, and are having their quick tempers studied by boffins at the University of the West of England in Bristol.

'Well that's a pleasant mix of punter' you might think, and one perfect for a great night all round. The line up filled me with a sense of festive cheer of course, as alongside myself it consisted of a comic who somehow mixes breathtaking arrogance with being a talentless fuckpost, and a man who's a byword on the comedy circuit for unoriginal hackery, in the same way Microchips is a byword for 'culinary philistine' and Karen Matthews is a byword for the decline of British society. 'Magic' I thought. 'Weston isn't far, I can be home by midnight.'

There was no lightbulb in the dressing room, so I sat in the dark reading the paper via the light of my mobile phone, in a comedy club that smelled overpoweringly of Christmas dinner. I was then offered one of the spare Christmas dinners (no man who lives off service station Ginsters 'Scotch Egg Bars' could refuse that), so I took the stage more physically prepared for the Queen's speech than bringing mirth to 70 people on a works do from the nearby village of Wick St Lawrence. Before you ask by the way, the night was set up beautifully by the compere - plenty of pejorative remarks about Polish work ethic, creating a nice hotbed of racism in preparation for twenty minutes of my whimsy. I also benefited from this incredible introduction: 'He's brilliant. He's amazing. He's the fifth Beatle - it's Elis James.'

Now for those of you reading this who don't know me, I was born about 170 miles too far south and about 35 years too late to really stand a chance of being the fifth Beatle.* In fairness to the compere however, I do have relatively long hair, so the comment was clearly justified. Sadly I have no Beatles material whatsoever, and was shaken by the palpable wave of disappointment that came when the audience realised my opening anecdote wasn't about the minor chord sequence in 'From me to you.' That said, 'sheepshagger' comment aside... (Sheepshagger! Sheepshagger! It's not 1982 and I was in Somerset for fuck's sake) the gig was pleasant enough.

The saddest part of the evening was during the interval though, when the headliner asked why I wasn't heading home. I replied that I always stayed to watch the headliner, as it seemed polite. He actually said 'I'd go if I was you El, because I've looked at them and they look like total retards. I'm going to go proper lowest common denominator - you're not really missing out on much. Go on mate, get going, and miss the traffic.' Wowsers. That is depressing. It's like something I imagine 1980s England footballer Kenny Sansom used to say to his wife. 'I wouldn't watch today's game if I was you love. To be honest I regard finesse as a dirty word in competitive football, but I'm undeniably effective. And that's what pays our mortgage and keeps you in legwarmers.'

All in all, a fairly unremarkable start to the weekend then. The next gig however, Hull University on the Sunday night, was a total joy.

Being based in Cardiff, I tend to either drive or catch the train to gigs alone. This causes my mother endless worry - she seems to hold the opinion that I'm likely to steer the car off a cliff simply to assuage the monotony of motorway driving, or that every British train after 9pm is frequented only by myself and hundreds of brainsick, knife wielding crackpots. We all know that's true of course, but my mum doesn't read this blog, so I can be honest. Anyway, for once I was in London on the morning of the gig and could get a lift with the other comedians - not only would I have company, but they'd be friends of mine. Actual real friends!

Mike Wozniak is a gifted stand up, and one of my favourite people. He was a doctor before going fulltime as a comedian, and still retains the comforting bedside manner of a rural GP, even when he's offering to buy me a drink or showing me something on youtube. I'd actually developed an amazing patch of excema on my right arm on the morning of the gig, and Wozniak prescribed a topical emmollient which of course, he had plenty of in his bathroom. Luke Toulson was doing the driving, and not only is Luke another good comic but also a lovely bloke, so I failed to see how I couldn't enjoy the 8hr round trip to Hull. I was right.

Whether it's through the pub and club scene, dating agencies or sheer luck, Mike Wozniak seems to have aquired an angelic, celestial being for a girlfriend. As I arrived at Mike's house the lovely Lucy was preparing the three of us a packed lunch for the journey up and the journey back, despite not having seen me since the summer and having never met Luke in her life. 'It's so you don't have to buy anything tasteless and criminally expensive from a services' she explained, as Mike looked on lovingly. The packed lunch consisted of ham, mustard, cheese and rocket salad sandwiches (on organic wholegrain bread of course), fruit, and sliced homemade chocolate cake with napkins provided. As I left the house which made busy central London seem like a scene from a James Herriot novel, clutching a packed lunch that Enid Blyton would describe as 'wholesome,' I've got to be honest I was near tears.** Oh by the way, the lovely Lucy had even bought us an Observer for the journey, 'in case any of us fancied doing something topical.'

The journey up was great - we had banter, listened to Nick Drake, I did my impression of the Irish bareknuckle boxer I saw on youtube ('Oi'll foight any man, of any breed, oi'm not scared, me number's six foive noine, tree, tree, tree, and oi'm called Mick'), and the lovely Lucy's packed lunch was so vitamin packed I could actually feel myself strengthen between junctions of the motoway. As we arrived at the gig I was about as excited as most people are on their honeymoon, and the poster of Mike's face in the lobby (which being about as big as a tall man made the ever humble Mike feel excruciatingly embarrassed) almost caused me to have a manic episode - Luke thought it best at this point not to tell me we were entitled to free Pepsi/coffee/hot chocolate/tea, etc, which was probably wise. Anyway, the gig was brilliant, everybody did well, the students of Hull had a great time and as we drove along the M18 back to London all seemed well with the world. The Haribo Tangfastics I bought in a services on the way home were not a reflection on Lucy's packed lunch by the way, it was merely a celebratory gesture. As if Lucy could do anything wrong, she'd also prepared the sofa bed in the living room with about as much care as Florence Nightingale would reserve for if she fancied getting off with one of her patients, or if the Healthcare Commission were inspecting her ward in Crimea for MRSA. As the Wozniaks have no telly, I read The Complete Works of Phillip Larkin before going to sleep, as it had been left on the coffee table for me. Yes. People like that do exist.

Anyway, by Wednesday it was 1-1 in terms of good gigs and bad gigs, so for my final gig of the year I was feeling surprisingly chipper. The last gig of 2008 was a favour for a mate, and I was compering the Christmas do for a company that runs private hospices for the mentally ill in the South Wales area. 'Not quite The Comedy Store' you might think, and you'd be right, but it was in the music venue I used to work at before going full time as a comic, it's walking distance from my house and I was elligible for the free buffet, so I didn't think anything could go wrong.

My alarm signals went off immediately as I arrived at the gig, and I saw about 20 people in paper hats, draped in tinsel and eating nuts off paper plates, sitting at the back of a venue that was big enough to hold a Franz Ferdinand gig in June. 'Ok' I thought, 'it's not the most intimate gig ever. I'd also question whether playing Santa Clause Is Coming To Town by The Jackson Five at unfathomably high volume is the best preparation for comedy,' but I ate a mince pie and tried not to think about it. The alarm bells started ringing for a second time however, when my mate Jon the photographer asked 'for some doormen,' as the group photo everyone was elligible for became such a rowdy affair Jon confided to me that he was 'scared shitless.' Being the type of person I am, at this stage I saw fit to commission Mori to hold an opinion poll asking whether the Christmas revellers were ready for my inimitable brand of Welsh whimsy. The results were as follows:

98%: No
1%: destroyed ballot paper
1%: What's a rambling erudite shambolic storyteller doing at a gig like this?

Fair enough then. By 10pm the manager asked me not to go on just yet, pleading that 'there was still a bus to come from Aberdare, but they'd been caught up in a services on the A470.' However, I thought 150 hammered people dancing to Slade was enough strangers to spoil a disco for, so I finished another mince pie (Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference') and decided to take the stage and commit professional suicide. It's quite an interesting feeling that, deliberately walking into something you know you can't do very well at. I imagine it's how Frank Bruno felt before fighting Mike Tyson in 1989,*** although in fairness to Frank, I would have had to really fuck up comedically before splashing the front row with my own blood. For a start, the front row was about sixty feet away.

It wasn't pleasant, it was horrible in fact, but my friend Sian made a tremendous point about what followed - if you look at it from the revellers point of view, what happened was very, very strange. There'd been about three hours of uber loud Christmas disco (and I mean horribly loud), and it was getting to the stage where men were topless and Moira in accounts was being fingered by the work experience boy. At this point though the music unceremoniously stopped, and a strange man no-one had ever seen before (me) started talking into a mic that was feeding back like a poorly organised Stooges concert in 1968. Unperturbed, some people continued dancing whilst the strange man pointlessly asked a woman where she was from, as he couldn't hear the reply anyway because the mic was still doing its best Jesus and Mary Chain impression and 150 people were chatting about why the toilets had flooded. The strange man decided to call it a day at this stage, because Moira in accounts readjusted her skirt, asked him for Mustang Sally and if he knew when the comedian was going to start. Sigh. Seeing his Christmas do fall apart the venue manager acted quickly, shouted to the strange man (above the feeding back mic) 'I THINK WE NEED TO GO DISCO, GO DISCO, RESTART THE DISCO.' In an amazing, supplementary kick in the teeth, the Now That's What I Call Christmas! CD resumed in the same place as before the 'comedy' had started, such was the DJ's apparent faith in the strange man's comedic abilities. I really have to say this however - keeping the Christmas CD on pause throughout my set wasn't the best bit. The best bit for me was when a drunk Irish man came up to the stage and screamed (above the disco) 'CAN I HAVE MY PHOTO TAKEN WITH A LONG HAIRED FELLA, I'VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT,' which after the 'fifth Beatle' experience in Weston made me think it's about time I get my fucking hair cut, and after my impression in the car on the way up to Hull, made me think it was a peculiar case of Irish schadenfreude. I let him take the photo, but in retrospect letting him comb and fondle my hair was probably a bit much.

The slightly surreal turn of events didn't end there however. As Wham's Last Christmas kicked in and I was put on precautionary suicide watch, the next part of the evening's entertainment began. A burlesque dancer emerged from behind the PA system and started to strip, and a few people dropped their paper plates, causing a nut based health and safety hazard. Fifi is a total trooper and did a sterling job, taking her clothes off to the amazement of the assembled crowd (no-one seemed to know about me or her, but the coachload from Aberdare were thrilled not to miss it), and Tony the bouncer came up with the classic 'maybe you should have got your cock out Elis.' Quite. After her performance Fifi consoled me in the dressing room (not like that), and we chatted about our various experiences of Christmas gigs. Without wanting to be nasty she had clearly been on the burlesque circuit for a while, so I was intrigued to hear her nuggets of showbiz advice - you can accuse me of plenty of things, and I have plenty of faults, but I'm certainly eager to learn. However, she came out with this rather disappointing pearl of wisdom:

(strap yourself in)

"I think the reason all those people paid attention to me and not you Elis, is that the type of burlesque dancing I do is slightly quirkier than the sort of 'classic burlesque' dancing people are used to and expecting."

I'm a fairly laid back sort of person. I also really liked Fifi, so I restrained myself from screaming the following, fairly obvious point: 'NO! I REALLY, REALLY BEG TO DIFFER! I think the reason they paid attention to you rather than me Fifi WAS BECAUSE YOU WERE SHOWING THEM YOUR FUCKING TITS'

Which is a slight lie. Fifi had festive snowflakes covering her areola.

So great. Unbelievably, in order to get paid I had to draw the fucking raffle, which must rank highly amongst the top ten bleakest moments of my life. That said, Fifi and I performed well as an impromptu double act, where I read out the numbers in a heartbroken whisper and she pouted, looked impressed 'at the size of my sack' and handed out the prizes. Compounding the misery even further, I was getting my stuff from the cloakroom when the cloakroom attendant asked if she could nip out for a quick cigarette. As cloakroom attendant happened to be my old job at the venue I said 'of course you can,' at which point the Pontypridd contingent decided to leave and I was stuck on cloakroom duty for about twenty minutes. This must have looked amazing - it can only have seemed that the cloakroom boy had begged the manager for ten minutes stagetime 'just to give comedy a go,' but it had gone horribly wrong, at which point he had to return to the cloakroom to make sure everyone got their coats back at the end of the night. I think the reason I didn't get any stick from the punters was it's that type of attitude that gave Britain an empire.

Ok. So even though the whole night was horrible, and encouraged the following exchange:

Bouncer: Alright El! Spike tells me you're doing the comedy - when are you doing it mate, I'd like to watch!

Me: I've done it Bob, just now actually

Bouncer: But I only saw you five minutes ago, and you were still preparing your jokes?

Me: Yeah. Short set.

I don't regret it, because I love stand up comedy, I really genuinely love it. I don't know why (well I do know why, but I've been typing for ages and my fingers are tired), and Lord knows I wish I didn't so much sometimes, but the above story is retrospectively hilarious, and once I'd had a Guinness and another mince pie (I really fleeced those cunts for all I could get) I felt fine.

Elis James: Nerves of steel.

(Merry Christmas.)

*I'm actually a bit of a Beatles fan (ok, fanatic), and the contenders for title of 'fifth Beatle' more qualified than myself are as follows: Brian Epstein (the Fab Four often referred to him as this in interviews), Pete Best, who got chucked out in favour of Ringo before the band became famous, Stuart Sutcliffe, the original bassist and John's best friend who died of a brain haemorrhage, Jimmy Nicol, who took over on drums because Ringo had his tonsils removed when The Beatles toured Australasia in 1964, George Best who was christened 'El Beatle' by the Portugese press after Utd played Benfica in the 1966 European Cup quarter final, George Martin who produced all the records, and Jeff Lynne who worked with the three surviving Beatles on the 1995 Anthology series. At best, (after taking this list into account) I could be known as the '13th Beatle' which doesn't have quite the same ring to it, and I've not even included the band's trusted roadies Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, who both have more of a claim than me. I know I've sort of proved the comperes point by bothering to write this, but even so, 'he's brilliant, he's amazing, he's the fifth Beatle - it's Elis James' is still an excruciatingly fucking shit introduction.

** I don't think I've eaten like that since I left home in 1999, so forgive me for getting a little emotional.

*** One of my favourite pieces of sports writing ever, is the great Hugh McIlvanney's description of Bruno entering the ring at the MGM Grand, before his second bout with Tyson in 1996: 'Walking taut-faced and dry mouthed from the dressing room to that illuminated square of canvas amid a bedlam of exhortations, crossing himself repeatedly, like a cardinal on speed.' I know that to compare ill-advised stand up at a Christmas do with fighting Mike Tyson is wildly over the top, but what a truly great description that is.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

'Get that casting agent off the phone - we've found him'

Hello there

The human mind can work in mysterious ways. One of my favourite examples is when my friend Sian, physically shattered after 12 months of working night shifts, turned our house upside down to look for her keys because she'd inadvertently been keeping them in the fridge. I'm often guilty of this type of faux pas (more than most actually, and despite not working night shifts), which is why I'm so annoying to be around. Every now and then however, I do something a bit strange which I quite enjoy. For example:

I was talking to my friend Ben a few days ago. Now, I love my friend Ben, and we have Champions League level chats - if you're imagining that game when Liverpool came from behind to beat St Etienne at Anfield in 1977, you've got the level of chat quality about right (if you're imagining Utd scoring in injury time to beat Bayern Munich in the '99 final then for God's sake calm down - he's not Peter Ustinov). Anyway. As soon as we started chatting, I could tell from Ben's quivering lip that he wanted to discuss Alistair Darling's plans for a VAT cut, record borrowing, and the new top income tax rate of 45%. Before he could get going though, I said:

'If I was an actor, and had to be dumped by a woman in a gritty northern drama set in Thatcher's Britain, this is what I'd weep to, as she's walking away to start a new life with her estate agent Cockney boyfriend.'

before playing him 'The Killing Moon' by Echo and The Bunnymen.

A few things. I'll never be an actor, and almost certainly never play a man in a gritty northern drama set in Thatcher's Britain, as much as I'd like to. I think I'd be quite good at it though:

SCENE 1: Terry (played by me) is walking past a bookies on a council estate in Middlesbrough, and nods at an old man smoking rollies in a flat cap.

Terry: How are you, Frank?

Old man: Grand! I've just won a pound - Plato's basket came in at 4-1 in the 3.30 at Uttoxeter. I can heat the house now, and maybe buy a penny chew for my grandson


Later of course, Terry, a dreamer with an art degree and no job, argues with his childhood sweetheart Susan, who's having an affair with an estate agent from the east end of London (how Susan meets this man is never established, even though Middlesbrough is a seven hour drive from the capital).





http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=aX1PwkgwsG0 - 'The Killing Moon' - Echo and the Bunnymen

So there. Like the majority of my ideas though, this will never get finished. For a start it's not a very good idea, but even if it was, I'm a lazy, disorganised twat. I'm full of shit ideas though, check these out:

It's 1972 and two factory workers from Derbyshire are about to go out on the razz. There's no dialogue as such, just a lot of:

'Old Spice? Poof juice!'
'That Pauline Sproston, I wouldn't mind!!!!'
'She's a wizard piece of crumpet is that Pauline Sproston, phwooooar, I wouldn't mind having Yorkshire pudding at her mams!!! I'll tell thee!! (this makes sense in Derbyshire, but will be subtitled for American audiences. There'll be a glossary of terms in the DVD case, explaining things such as 'three day week,' and 'British Scotched Egg').


http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ei-L_AuuaxI 'Stay with me' - The Faces

Just to prove how versatile I am as an actor, my next film involves me playing a Spanish photographer named Raul who's just moved to London. It's 1983, and he's the hip young mover and shaker on the New Romantic scene. Bearing in mind I'm fair haired and blue eyed, the wizards in make up will have to 'black me up' a little, so I can portray a Spaniard convincingly. The accent will involve me watching Scarface several times and making do.

Model 1: Hey, Raul, where shall I put my now needless skimpy top?


Model 2: Your accent is so sexy Raul

Raul: I've run out of film. Two secs whilst I nip out to Jessops

On Raul's return there's a montage of him taking photos of the models in his studio (gratuitous pouting, Raul kneeling and crouching in a variety of impossible positions), all done to Duran Duran's 'Girls on Film.' Eventually they break to make love, and the next scene involves him taking a call from Marc Almond.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=gudEttJlw3s 'Girls on film' - Duran Duran

My next project is set in 1996, and a PhD student, newly qualified solicitor (played by me), wannabe actor from a rich background and homelessness worker are sharing a flat in Clapham.


PhD Student: This is such an exciting time to be alive! Major will have to call an election soon, and Tony Blair offers us realistic hope for the first time since Clement Attlee!

Solicitor: Whatever Jennifer, I don't trust the guy, Have you not heard of the Kremlin? Oh for God's sake. There's no Fairy Liquid, which means I have to eat my tuna steak with a fucking spoon. I hate living like a student Jennifer - I'm a solicitor specialising in criminal law for God's sake - I've got an aggravated assault in the morning and there's no bloody milk either

Actor: Bye! I'm off for a fruitless audition!

Solictor: He is such a wanker

PhD student: Kiss me


The PhD student and solicitor are lying next to each other in the PhD students bed. The solicitor looks like he's fresh from a tour of duty in Vietnam, and the repulsive PhD student is naked and looking for a CD. She eventually gives up and turns on the news, to see Tony Blair handing the lifetime achievement prize to Genesis at the 1996 Q Awards. She squeals and turns it up, as the solicitor turns to face the wall. 'Glory Box' by Portishead plays as the solicitor cries and the actor walks home from another audition he's failed. This is followed by a scene where the homelessness worker shouts 'GET SOME FUCKING PERSPECTIVE' at the actor, who on realising there's no Nutella left bothers to phone his flatmate's workplace to complain.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=bnAfJjUorvU&feature=related 'Glory Box' - Portishead

The next one is a more sombre affair, set in a Borstal in 1958. Billy was imprisoned for robbing two pounds of sausages and some trotters from his local butcher's shop, as a treat for his penniless mother. He's just been released but his father's a drunk and his mother's busy cleaning pots at a local boarding house - on realising no-one's there to pick him up, Billy walks through a meadow, and stops to skim stones. Next scene is in a cafe:

Friend: How do Billy! Are thee fresh from Borstal?

Billy: Aye, and I'm gasping for a brew

Friend: You should try this coffee Billy

Billy: Coffee? Coffee? What do you think you are, a Londoner? Don't talk daft to me about coffee!

Friend: (GETS UP IMPLORINGLY): I'm moving there Billy, London, I'm tekin plunge!

Billy: Why?

Friend: JOBS! I want to mek something of me life and work in an office!


Next scene:


http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=27M6zBC55Os 'Money honey' - Eddie Cochran

If there are any film directors out there, I have very few gigs lined for after Christmas, so have loads of time on my hands. Also, (despite it not being my favourite), my parents are willing to re-mortgage their house to fund one of my films - the one where two southern students move to Manchester in 1989, and pontificate loudly about the revolutionary aspects of ecstasy (for two hours). After a typically hedonistic night out in the era-defining Hacienda club, they become total converts to the drug, and total twats. Convinced it will cure all of society's ills, student 2 (played by me), phones up Conservative Party central office to suggest public sector nightclubs are built, using money the British Treasury will save as the welfare state becomes defunct when we all start being nice to each other. Mam particularly liked this piece of dialogue:

Student 1: I'm going to put e in my nan's mince pies at Christmas!

Student 2 (played by me): Top!

Dad's suggestion of 'Regret' by New Order for this scene is excellent I feel.
The climax of course, comes when student 1, (who's reading politics) tries to write his dissertation on the dancefloor of a nightclub and a drug dealing gangster shoots his notes.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=nc6xCpcawEM 'Regret' - New Order


Saturday, 1 November 2008

'Yeah I did time for it and I lost my job but I don't regret it'

I chatted last week with a slightly depressed friend of mine, who listed regrets of his at length. After a period of nodding, making sympathetic noises and turning my head to one side (this looked more coquettish than sympathetic I feel, and was too reminiscent of Princess Diana giving that interview to Martin Bashir in 1995), I told my friend that 'I was lucky, as I had no regrets, whatsoever.' It was definitely tactless (considering his depressed state of mind), but when quizzed I genuinely couldn't come up with any. He then came up with a few on my behalf and we had a slight argument about it.

I was initially quite proud of my apparent contentedness, but my friend insisted it showed a 'lack of emotional depth and complexity' on my part. Like any real man of course, this made me think 'right! Fuck you! I'll show you regret! In blog form!'

So here they are. Bearing in mind I'll never have my time on earth again, I regret the following:

1. Not smoking heavily aged 16-25. It would have done me no harm in the long run, yet would have looked cool as fuck. I could have been the cool Gitanes smoking enigma at student parties, rather than the person asking quietly 'if it was alright to sit on that bit of bed, or has someone else already taken that space? Oh right, the cool Gitanes smoking enigmatic one has. And now he's drinking my Carling.'

2. Not being there on June 5th 1991, to watch Wales beat then world champions Germany 1-0 at the old Cardiff Arms Park. Dad, if you're reading this, YOU FUCKED UP, BIG TIME. Didn't you know anyone at work who could get a ticket? And before you blame me, I was ten. I didn't even have a Solo Card and Ticketmaster don't accept shrapnel, or WHSmiths vouchers

3. Not doing 'my bit' during Britain's finest hour (WW2).

4. Having my 'arson phase' during the summer of 1999. Although in fairness to me, I'd just finished my A-levels, and since when has drunken horseplay not ended with the manager of a local golfclub calling the police?

5. I got sacked from my Saturday job in a youth drop in centre when I was 16, for serving a truant an undercooked beefburger. The lad was a sorry case - burgeoning criminal record, despicable lack of respect and uncouth manners. That said, I wasn't trying to administer short sharp shock treatment to this ne'er-do-well by giving him e-coli and a lecture on Christian values - I was just 'thinking about other things' and didn't give cooking his lunch my full attention. There endeth my brief flirtation with the service industry, until student poverty caused me to sharpen up my ideas.

6. A quite major comedy agent once turned me down for not being ambitious enough, 'or sounding like I wanted it' during the interview. In retrospect, they're a very, very influential company, and have some really big acts, so maybe this was the wrong way to play it:

Agent: Thanks for coming in, and sit down. I really liked your stuff last night Elis, do you have a manager?

Me: No, no. I'm not really good enough.

Agent: Well I think you are. Listen, I'm 'X,' and I have real connections in the industry. Do you work for these promoters?

Me: No, no. Like I said, I'm not really good enough. I'm wasting your time.

Agent: errrr...well like I said, I liked your stuff. So what are your ambitions?

Me: (after about ten minutes of 'umm-ing' and 'aah-ing') To own as in mortgage on a nice semi-detached house in Carmarthen - maybe the nice houses at the top of Lime Grove avenue? By the Fire station? Easy access to the local primary, well it's my old primary school and a really massive Tesco has opened near the Athletic club, so I'd have everything I need

Agent: I think you should get out of my office

Me: Thankyou!

7. Trying 'the chicken kiev material' at a gig in Northampton back in March. That was an important gig for me (first for a big promoter), and 'the chicken kiev material' was something I'd written in the car, on the A420 going past Faringdon. I'd heard on the radio that back in 1976, chicken kievs were the first ready meal introduced to Britain by Marks & Spencer. Suffice to say, the people of Northampton simply weren't ready for a string of puns about this fact, ending in a weak impression of a quizzical 1970s shopper deciding on whether to take the plunge and buy one. I was first on that night - the look on the middle act's face as I essentially destroyed the atmosphere with a quip about garlic sauce will live with me forever.

8. Taking the early stance that the 'internet wouldn't catch on' and maintaining this position until 2001. Admittedly, this was based on my early, 'pre-google' experiences of the internet, which involved lots of whirring and beeping, search engines being shit and a single typo in a web address (which were always given as http://:www.btusernet./bbc.gov.how-do-they-do-that.co.uk and had to be typed out in full) being fatal. I think in retrospect this stance was fair enough. Technology moving on just took me by surprise, that's all, which implies that naturally I'm quite the luddite. I used the word 'devilry' the first time I saw a Sat-Nav, much to the taxi driver's surprise.

9. Not having a proper fight at school. If I was ever going to prove my masculinity in a safe(ish) environment then that was the place to do it. Under developed muscles on my opponent, teachers and fair minded older kids roaming the playground, I was never going to get really hurt. However, my opportunities to fight in a playground are now limited (and at 28 would land me in a whole heap of trouble), and the ramifications of the other option available (drinking Stella and throwing a swing at someone in a pub), are too scary to think about. Knowing my luck someone will spill a drink on my friend's shoe in a nightclub, and I'll do the honourable thing and kick up a fuss. I just won't realise I'm picking a fight with someone who eats broken glass 'to make a point about food in prison,' and sparred with Chris Eubank 'back in the day.' I can't afford to turn up at gigs and be forced to write my jokes on a spotlit flipchart, because I've just had my jaw wired to my cheekbone.

10. Taking the piss out of my friend's wheat allergy. He's dead.

11. Not playing bass on an era defining hit single. A royalty cheque landing on the doormat every month, because I stepped in when Peter Hook popped out to buy his road tax during the recording of 'Blue Monday' would be something to tell the grandkids, wouldn't it?

'Wow grampa, what did you do in the 60s?
'Well, I recorded the solo on 'All day and all of the night' by The Kinks, because Dave Davies had tonsilitis'
'Woooow! What did you do after?'
'I had lunch'

12. Trying to sell those 'Nelson Mandela is a cunt' t-shirts back in 1985. Oh man oh man, did I misjudge the mood of the nation.

Anyway, I hope this implies how truly well-adjusted I am, and puts those fears to rest that I'm a contented, uncomplicated dunce. My friend's ones by the way (the regrets he kindly came up with, on my behalf) were:

1. Wearing a gold catsuit to go drinking in on the night of my 18th birthday
2. 'Just being a wanker, loads'

I rest my case. If that's the best a bitter man with a questionable agenda could come up with after knowing me for 16 years, then it's a wonder I managed 12 of my own. And I've known me for ages.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

'Peter Sissons? But I assumed he was happily married?'


I have given about four interviews in my life. They were: a festival radio show everyone does in Edinburgh, the Bath University student newspaper after I MCd there about three years ago, something for The South Wales Echo and this, which is easily my finest moment:

'Let's meet the unders 12s!!' (page 15 of the Haverfordwest County v Pembroke Dock match programme, Abacus League first division, September 16th 1991)

Elis James, winger, Prendergast Junior School

Favourite food: Lasagne (cosmopolitan, this is a lad who was clearly destined for big things)

Ambition for when I grow up: Play football for Wales or work in dad's office (clever - simultaneously setting the bar very high and very low there)

Favourite TV programme: Grange Hill and Football Focus (skilfully letting the manager Mr Fehan know I'm a student of the game, and keeping it real for the fans on the terraces with the Grange Hill reference. This was years before footballers were given media training as well)

I should add at this point, that the comments in parentheses were written for the blog - I wasn't offering a running commentary on my own interview aged 11.

Anyway, other than this, before the 'South by South Wales' Edinburgh show, Henry, Matt, Josh and I gave a short interview to the South Wales Echo. Alongside the usual 'let's wish our lads the best of luck at the festival,' the journalist described my working history as 'chequered,' which made my friends piss themselves and my mother worry. I won't go into the ins and outs, but like most people after university I had jobs to which 'I wasn't best suited.' Needs must and all that, but obviously, like everyone else there are some things I'm good at, and some things I have no flair for. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I am very good at the following:

- chatting
- easing moments of high tension with an unrelated anecdote
- parallel parking

Conversely, I'm bad at millions of things, to name but a few:
- personal admin
- being punctual
- knowing what to say in art galleries

'No big deal' you might think. 'Chill out. You don't want to marry Brian Sewell's daughter, do you?' Well no - so that's the third one sorted. However, one thing friends find very funny about me being a stand-up is that I'm now self-employed, which of course means being in charge of my own admin, and more importantly, tax returns. Admin's historically a task I've approached with as much gusto as Peter Sissons would reserve for fucking a dying fox in a lift, yet being a quite laid back sort of chap, having filing as my achilles heel wasn't something I was overly concerned with. Think how bothered a drunk 14 year old would be if you told him his local authority had invested money in an Icelandic bank, or that his cousin's boyfriend had suspected German Measles. That's as bothered as I was. Not even on the radar. I am beginning to care though. It's coming up to the end of my first tax year as a self-employed person, but these three things:

- inability to afford an accountant
- tendency to leave things to the last minute
- capacity to make things 'go away' by watching old footage of The Who on youtube

mean that I'm in a bit of a pickle. Oh my giddy aunt. I'm going to prison.

I'm not obviously, and should really, really stop being so melodramatic (and even if I was banged up for tax evasion, it would only be an open prison - like any real man I could do that in my sleep). Put simply, by January 31st 2009* I'll have to TTFU (Toughen The Fuck Up), be an adult, put the kettle on and do boring stuff, just like everyone else in the world has to once in a while. Deal with it, loser. I just... occasionally (and what's wrong with this?) wish I wasn't such a massive fucktwat jizzbuffoon. For example, here's a transcription of a conversation I had with a fellow comedian over breakfast, the morning after a gig in Aberystwyth together a few weeks ago. The conversation offers two differing approaches to life, but only one of us comes out of this looking good:

Comedian: Aaaah, first time coming up? I remember doing my first tax return. Hey get this!! My accountant couldn't believe I was savvy enough to staple receipts to a speadsheet of outgoings I'd prepared for each individual gig! Ha!

Me: (laughs weakly) Some people are such wankers, eh?

Comedian: (incredulous) He said that some people just throw their receipts in a box!! Good luck to them!!

Me: (thinking 'I wish I had a box, hang on...some people have a box?') Gosh... it really makes you think. Who er, are these people? Eh...?

Comedian: My accountant told me that comedians are often worse than musicians, it's embarrassing, bloody embarrassing

Me: Idiots, idiots

Comedian: These people must live in a fancy world!

Me: (busy wondering if I'd still get my excema in this fancy world) Exactly. Idiots

So as you can see, I'm conforming to type, which is nice.

With this in mind, here are some blogs I have planned for the forthcoming month:

'One grandfather a miner, the other a farmer - close harmony singing and the reality of being a modern Welshman'
'Yes actually, I do still regard Ipswich Town as a big club' - a Swansea City fan reports
'When abroad I enjoy drinking, unprotected sex and scuffling with the locals' - Tenerife 1999: My Story

I'll start working on them immediately. Tax stuff doesn't have to be worried about until January.

*Before anyone panic emails me, the online deadline is January, not Friday.

**Having just read this blog back, I feel I should add that this is merely catharsis, not a cry for
help. Please don't worry mam, I'll be fine.

***Having just read this blog back a second time, in my defence I should point out that Ipswich Town won the FA Cup in 1978, the UEFA Cup in 1981, and were twice league runners up in the early 80s under Bobby Robson. They also won the league under Alf Ramsay in 1961-62, before he went on to manage England. I'm not an Ipswich Town fan of course, I just hate it when people get football history wrong.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

How to be a comedian

Now, there's a few obvious answers to this it would be impossible to ignore, I like to call them 'the big two,' i.e

- be really funny
- get gigs.

However, it would be churlish and annoying of me to post that as a blog. Insulting almost. In much the same way a great haircut and inability to put on weight is a pre-requisite to being a rock star, here's a few things I've noticed from gigging over the previous four years, which I wish I'd been told back in January 2005. They're a few pointers on how to look the part, at least.

- You'll need a man bag. It must be a classy leather one however, the type of hand luggage you imagine Jeremy Irons would have on a short trip to Provence. The Puma King holdall you used to keep your football boots in back in 1994 simply won't do I'm afraid. In your bag of course you keep various essential items - receipts from a gig in Derby you haven't put in your receipts box yet, a three day old newspaper, your notebook and forty pens.

- A copy of The Complete Prose of Woody Allen. On bringing this out of your manbag an hour before showtime, people who work at the venue will go 'aaah,' comics over the age of 38 will say 'good... but have you read the new stuff?' and the open spot will take you to one side and whisper 'I'm trying to read that...but I'm not sure I like it?' Whenever this happens just try to look confident, no matter how you choose to respond.

- Have an expensive notebook. The old 'Black and Reds' were big on the scene a few years ago, but it's now de rigueur to have a moleskine. For the non-notebook buyers amongst you, a moleskine was apparently the type of notebook used by Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse and Picasso (you're even provided with a little pamphlet when you buy one, that discusses the history of the company). I was given mine as a leaving present when I left my old job, and whilst it is bloody lovely (and full of great ideas, obviously) I did find myself wondering if Picasso also bought his in WHSmiths.

- A mental health problem of some sort. I'm currently working on this. If I keep practising I reckon I can nail the pretence of bi-polar disorder by Christmas, even if I remain mentally stable. Failing this (for the non performer, more gag-orientated amongst you) just drink a lot and be morose.

- Being able to criticise a promoter (who the open spot will never have heard of) for being a 'slow payer.' Something along the lines of 'don't mention the name Eugene Landerhawk in front of me - three and a half years I've been waiting for a cheque after MCing his now defunct gig in Tavistock.'

- Criticising a modern comedic phenomeon, but having the good grace to accept that they were 'good in 1998.' The Mighty Boosh for instance, is a great way to start doing this. On hearing mention of the Boosh, look wistfully into the middle distance. Then say you saw them do a preview of 'Arctic Boosh' (their Perrier nominated 1999 Edinburgh show) at the Hen and Chickens in North London, and reminisce that it was 'raw, but good - they definitely had something.' It's then important to describe the first series as 'the culmination of years of hard work,' the second series as 'rushed,' and the third series 'insulting,' but mention that you still catch up with Fielding for a drink 'from time to time.' Peter Kay is another cracker, although you need to be in your early thirties at least to do this convincingly. Remark on him doing an embryonic version of 'the wedding routine' when he compered for you at The Frog and Bucket in Manchester eleven years ago, before chuckling 'at what he's become.'

- Claim that the Avalon Comedy Zone (a new act showcase at the Edinburgh Festival) 'isn't what it used to be' and that the 'brand has lost its way in recent years.'

- Complete the Guardian cryptic crossword seconds before going on stage - words are of course, your tool. NOT the quick crossword in the G2 however. Any old twat can do that.

- Be jaded, even after a good gig. This is something I'm really struggling with to be honest. I had a cracker in Barnstaple a few weeks ago and even phoned my mum, waking her up in the process to tell her.

- Sit around a table with other comics, laughing at awful gigs you have done. You'd think that this sort of bonding was only possible after years in the business, but this method of anecdote swapping is open to even the most inexperienced of comics - chances are the gigs you do in your first year are more exercises in despair than platform for your talents. Being able to hold court about Mirth Control Andover is a must, although my friend Martin recently drove three hours to do a gig on a stairwell, which I must admit - in anecdotes of this genre, takes some beating.

- The step up from the conversations described above however, is slightly more difficult to achieve - you could liken it to the gulf between the Coca Cola Championship and The Premier League, or a small town solicitor who specialises in conveyancing, meeting a criminal lawyer from Los Angeles and 'feeling a bit out of his depth.' These conversations revolve around people nodding sagely, as someone mutters 'that Avalon gig in Northampton? I wouldn't do that for £500. In fact, I was offered £500, and I turned it down.' If you're an open spot hearing this do try to take it in your stride, and for God's sake don't let on that you're thinking 'five hundred quid! Five hundred quid?! I'd happily push my nan into a bath of fucking acid for five hundred quid.'

Right. As long as you have a 'bullet proof twenty' (material that's consistently good) you're ready to be a comedian. I will admit, I doubt any of this advice is relevant to say, the black circuit in North America (would Chris Rock have a moleskine? Surely he'd have an Apple Mac, permanently running dictaphone and a PA?) but I've done what I can. Don't be too good though. I'm struggling for work as it is, and the MOT's up on my Ford KA in November.

All the best,