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).





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').


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. '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. '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:


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. '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./ 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,

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

'Well I got mainly 'B's...'

Hello there

About 4 years after everyone else did it, I've decided to enter the world of 'blogging.' Not being at the forefront of modern developments isn't strange for me - here's a list of other things I was a late developer at:

- being naughty at school (didn't become cheeky to the teachers until about 17 years of age, classic dweeb behaviour)
- being sacked (surely everyone should get sacked from a Saturday job as a teenager, either for wearing a T-shirt with a swearword on it or telling a valuable customer to 'fucking fuck off, you oldie.' I didn't get sacked from a job until I was in my early twenties, and then it started happening all the time.)
- condiments. I don't think I included any salt or black pepper in my cooking until I was 22.

Anyway. It crossed my mind that some people may read this after seeing me do stand up, and these people may not necessarily be friends of mine. Thus, in the interests of maintaining a certain air of 'mystique' about myself as a performer, I thought it best to let you come to your own conclusions about what I'm really like. I've even provided you with a handy questionnaire to fill in:

'Elis James 101'

It's more than likely I'm doing this after a gig:

a) Banging a hot chick in a disabled toilet, urging the hot chick to scream catchphrases of mine as she reaches climax
b) Eating a Ginsters in a service station on the M6, whilst discussing the fuel economy of a Ford KA with the lad behind the counter
c) In silent prayer, thanking God for my talent

It's more than likely I'm doing this before a gig:

a) Banging a hot chick in a disabled toilet, urging the hot chick to scream catchphrases of mine as she reaches climax
b) Offering advice to a less experienced comedian, and using phrases such as 'hey - I don't know what 'it' is you need to succeed in this game my friend, but you've got 'it.' Now just go out there soldier, and show the good people of Torquay'
c) Writing 'GET A SAT NAV YOU FUCKING WANKER' on my hand and losing my temper at a pelican crossing

My childhood was:

a) Painful, and is the driving force behind my cutting edge, confessional comedy
b) Idyllic. Mainly just Enid Blyton, 'three and in' and shared birthday parties with my friend Rebecca
c) I remember absolutely nothing 1980-1994, due to an industrial accident that led to heads rolling at the top and changes in EU employment law

My teenage years were:

a) Mainly me banging hot chicks in a disabled toilet, as I got them to scream helpful phrases from
the GCSE Bitesize revision programmes at me
b) Consumed in the ennui of being a small town creative, trapped in an oppresive school system and surrounded by authority figures who were just TOO SMALL MINDED to nurture my delicate talents
c) Carmarthen Town Under 14s training, the odd bit of homework and waiting patiently until I was old enough to get served in pubs.

My Student years consisted of:

a) Hard drugs, throwing rocks at the police during protest marches I'd organised with my Spanish Socialist friend Raul, and discussing Marxist paradigms in a post industrial age until 5 in the morning
b) A departmental record breaking First Class Honours Degree, following 14 hours a day of revision for three years. Fuelled of course by 60 fags a day, 30 espressos and a pathological desire to learn
c) 17 hours sleep a night and a frightening amount of daytime television. This was punctuated by the odd piss up and walking aimlessly round Cardiff City Centre

The years I spent working at real jobs, before going full time as a comedian were:

a) Spent constructively. I approached the role of proletarian superman with nobility and enthusiasm, yet worked diligently at my sit-com during the night
b) largely spent emailing friends and taking too long for lunch
c) at Whitchurch Mental Hospital, having been sectioned after an 'incident' in the St Mary's Street branch of Office Angels

If I wasn't a comedian, I'd be a:

a) Right winger for Swansea City and Wales, powering almost single handed their twin ascent to
the top of the Premier League and the 2012 World Cup
b) In sales, hitting targets, hitting women, YEAH!
c) Living with mam and dad. Discussing the culture of public sector deadline setting in the 1980s with dad, and chatting to mam about how expensive vending machines are in leisure centres. Especially the healthier soft drinks, such as Oasis and Mr Juicy

Anyway - if you answered these correctly you'll have all you need to know about me at your fingertips, so please get in touch if any questions are posing a particular problem. I shall also try to post a new entry in the next couple of days. Like most things I do however, there'll be an initial flurry of enthusiasm before the inevitable tailing off, which'll result in half-arsed attempts at writing something interesting as I watch Sky Sports News on mute. Hopefully of course it won't descend into this sort of thing:

'did gig at worcester uni - 6/10. new material = shit. cant find severn bridge receipt even tho i looked and looked abd looked and lost my temper with open spot for being a cock'

I'm better than that...

But you never know