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