Don Moses Comedy & Magic Blog - A light hearted look at life, comedy and magic.

Archive for August, 2007

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Highs and lows

I enjoyed the festival more this year by dipping in and out of it, with my three days at a time visits.  Many acts complain, saying the festival is about one week too long; if you are losing lots of money I assume it seems about three weeks too long.  However, when you visit (as I do) it feels just about the right length of time.  Sometimes it leaves me with wanting a bit more, but that is exactly how entertainment is meant to leave you.

This year I was covering the festival for magicweek.co.uk, and some magicians have told me, I have not reviewed as many (comedy or magic) shows as they thought I would.  So for them, here are some more highs and lows of Edinburgh Festival 2007.

Well, I met up with Noel Qualter, Rob James and Alan Hudson.  So between us we managed to see all the magic acts performing this year.  Pete Firman, we have already discussed, was great.  I also heard very good things about Chris Cox’s “Everything happens for a reason” and Dougie C’s “A brief history of magic”.  However, the “All Star San Francisco comedy magic and more” show, did not live up to its grand (and promising a bit too much) title.  Maybe it is too American; Anyway, I was told by a few people not to bother going, so I didn’t (there is only so much time).

The best new talent (by miles) was Pappy’s Fun Club; so good I can’t even do one of those “like someone hilarious crossed with someone else equally hilarious” explanations.  That is how unique they were.  Ok I will give it a shot – it is like Vic and Bob reigned in beautifully so as every sketch worked; only twice as good (there is four of them).  Even if you did not get Vic and Bob you would still love PFC.

It seemed the theme this year was to do your normal show and then do a chat show.  I imagine with so many TV industry people at the festival, the entertainer was trying to say to them, “Have you thought about a chat show?  This is how it would look if I did a chat show”.  I found this a little insulting, to actually pay to see a chat show.  After all, we can all ask people questions and get the best out of our guests.  It was only Parky who pretended for years that it was an exact science and that only he had the power.  He used the “how many times people touched his leg” as his empirical evidence of his greatness.  Terry Wogan surpassed Parky’s top score in 1985 with a very impressive 6 touches in one interview.  Although Parky has never acknowledged the record, claiming Best was merely pissed.

Ok it is a very short blog today as I am rushing off and I want to catch up with some friends before I go.  I will try to interview them to see how difficult it is.

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Post office

Thursday, so before I set off for my gig I am going to do that tricky thing of fitting in errands before I go.  I say tricky because Sunderland is a strange place at 11am on a weekday (it is my home town, so don’t be making jokes about gene pools, I know what you are like).  No it is the length of queues at banks and post offices which are unpredictable and time variable. And I once stopped a shop lifter and had to give a statement to the police, which took hours.  I learnt my lesson from that day, and now I would simply work out a quick “cost versus my time” type calculation.  I am not sure how it would work, but if they were running out of a pound shop I probably wouldn’t bother.

So I am standing in the post office; there is a long queue, no worries, I will simply observe the queue and then I will have something to say in this blog.  It will be a quick queue anyway, as there are not many tartan shopping trolleys.

They say that age creeps up on you.  I can see why people feel the need to disguise their age (I am one of them I guess).  We buy clothing (after much deliberation) which takes a few years off and we don’t buy items which make us look older (tartan shopping trolleys being a good example).  Hence the expression 50 is the new 30.  I do wonder if this is true.  My wife has just bought me slippers, so maybe 50 is the new 80.

It is true; my wife has bought me slippers.  She (not having my ostrich approach to health) has actually read the detail in the letter that has come from the hospital, and it clearly stated (I missed it obviously) that I am to take my slippers (those will be the ones I don’t have then).  My wife has used her own approach to purchasing footwear and brought a few examples to try on.  I choose the first pair, no procrastination on that one.

This is a down side of age but the up side is, I qualify for cheap car insurance.  I wonder how old you have to be, before the insurers stop being “price friendly” to the older driver.  I guess it is the age when you go into a showroom and say “have you got a car with less mirrors? I don’t tend to use them these days”. 

Anyway, I am now at the front of the queue and with my Road Fund Tax paid, the lady asks me, if I shop around for my car insurance, because if I do, Peter will talk me through the Post Office’s deal.  I say, not normally to the shopping around question, and yes, as long as it doesn’t take too long and only if you are very competitive and therefore able to save me money, to the “talk through” bit. 

It takes a long time; how do people have the patience to shop around?  The questions just go on and on.  So much so, when he says, “has the car had any changes or improvements made on it, in the last year” I resist saying “well I did hoover the glove compartment”.

It turns out my present quote is actually cheaper than the Post Office deal by £230 and Peter says “shall I print out the quote or shall I send it to you by email?”, and “is there anything else I can help you with?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Charity ideas?

So, it is the Wednesday morning after the bank holiday, and back to normal; I was going to say back to the routine, but in the past, I have tended not to have a routine.  That is, until now, as I fully intend to write for the first hour in bed every morning. Yes, even when I am working away, the hotel maid will just have to work around me. 

I am aware that being self employed you can please yourself; no one is demanding you be in a shirt and tie at 8am , however, there can be the tendency to let things slip.  For example, I have not shaved since Monday morning (and probably won’t until Thursday’s gig) but surely it is more important I get some comedy writing done rather than worry about personal grooming.  Perhaps I do need routine.

So what else could I do to start this new routine; I could go for a run and pick up some small items from Morrisons.  This is time management at its best.  I will get my notes scribbled down (I can type them up later), and then I will go for a run to (and along) the beach and call into Morrisons on the sea front.  This really is a very good routine; something creative followed by some practical exercise, oh yes this is definitely going to last. 

So as soon as these notes are done I will get changed and head off, no time to shave.  I’ll take the short cut to the beach through Sunderland Football Club’s training ground, so no one sees I am unshaven (I am sure Roy won’t mind, what with his five o’clock shadow).

Although, changing the subject, a friend of mine said recently, that I should think about getting sponsored (for a charity) to write this blog.  I suppose he has a point, I mean the blog is a bit like a marathon and I am writing this entry while dressed as Batman, so why not?  I think it is a good idea.  How would this work?  I guess, if  you like the blog, you could tell me how much you are going to pay to the charity and I could give your name (and pledge) a mention on my website (and then other readers  could see how generous/tight you are).  I don’t want to get involved with the money.   I would leave it up to you, to actually give the money you pledged to the actual charity direct, via a link from my website to the charity website.

So which charity will it be?  I will take suggestions*.  Let’s think, in Edinburgh there were a lot of homeless people and I really don’t like to see that.  So, maybe I could choose a homeless charity.  Although, I am not 100 percent convinced; on the one hand, I will buy a “Big Issue”, but there is always a part of me saying, “don’t we have the very best social and health care in the whole world, how can you be here?”  Last year, I even saw an unshaven man walking the streets in the South of France – I mean if you are gong to be homeless that is the place.  I felt he should be giving me money, I live in Sunderland .  Although on reflection he may have just run down to the beach and was looking for la supermarche Morrisons, I still haven’t mastered French.

Actually, I think I will get shaved and take the car.  One step at a time ehh?

*really, have a think about the charity idea and let me know.

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Unicycle mentality

So, Britain had really sunny weather on Bank Holiday Monday.  We go mental in this country when that happens, don’t we?.  “What should we do? it is sunny, how have we nothing planned?”  “Grab the bikes, we will cycle to the Lakes, no, we will drive to a restaurant near water, no we’ll landscape the garden while drinking wine and smoking cigars, buy a unicycle, I know LETS DO IT ALL”.  We just panic, as if we have not seen a Bank Holiday, ever.

Anyway, yesterday my wife and I work through our options and finally decided (about lunchtime) to go out for the day, to Durham.  It gave us time to catch up on the important things in life – apparently there was a very rude girl on X factor who lost it when she was told she had a bad attitude.  She went mental and swore at the judges, I assume, to prove her point, that she did not have a bad attitude.  We talked about other things too, and really enjoyed the day.

So with the festival over, it is back to preparing for this weekend’s gigs and normality.  I am definitely going to get fit for the next two weeks as I want to be in peak condition when I go in to hospital.  Yes, my sports injury “that could happen to a young person” operation is coming up quicker than I thought.  I had asked to have my “belly button hernia” operation in January 2008, so as I would not miss out on too much work.  However, the NHS has targets and quotas so it is September 10th.  In a normal job you would probably be happy for the break, but to a self employed person (that’s me) it is not good news.  I have passed work on to friends for the days I can’t make.  It is a bit annoying because I will be in and out in a day, yet, I can’t make an emergency stop for about 6 weeks; so I can’t drive and have rearranged to travel to gigs (with very light luggage) by train.  So that should be fun.

I know I am getting old, but I don’t feel old.  I watched Richard Herring’s show in Edinburgh and he was going on about being old and he is only 40.  I was thinking I didn’t start playing my best tennis until I was 45, and had a washboard stomach (well a washboard-ish stomach) at 40 – what on earth is he banging on about.

There are the tell tale signs, for example, I use the word washboard when no one under 30 has heard of one, and also the other night at the Gilded Balloon party there was a free bar all night, and I went home at 2:15 am (that is early for Edinburgh) having had only three small beers.  Also, I am finding it very difficult to decide what to wear when I go out casually.  I obviously can’t wear a T shirt with writing on – it is just wrong after the age of 37, not as wrong as overweight ladies in low slung jeans, but still wrong.
But apart from the using of out of date words, going home early sober and procrastination over my wardrobe choices I feel just as young as I ever did.  Now if you forgive me I have to pluck my ear hair.

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Bank holiday monday

Ok, this is going to be my quickest blog ever, as I want to spend time with my wife.  Today is Bank Holiday Monday, so my wife can pretend she has a job as great as mine, by spending a Monday doing nothing (it might be something, we haven’t decided yet).

I am still catching up on my sleep from Edinburgh yet I have got up far too early this morning – how does that work?  Anyway, my wife is still in bed so I am going to write this blog without planning.  Yes, I do plan the other ones – well I make quick long hand notes and I try to round it up with an ending.  Yes, sometimes it is a contrived ending – listen, you try writing a blog everyday.  Anyway, this hand writing is all done on the date mentioned on the entry blog, however, sometimes I have to wait a few days to get to the computer to enter them as typed out blogs, I think what I am trying to say is, when I can be arsed I put them on the website.  I can type very fast and the whole process is really quite slick unless I can’t read my long hand notes (this happens quite a bit).  It is worst when I lose the notes, as I really do find it difficult to remember what I was doing.  I am not sure how I can’t remember because I have a great memory for other things;   test me on any FA cup final from 1959 to present day.

So I am just going to say what comes into my head.  Right emm emm.  Think man think people aren’t going to read this rubbish.
Oh, I know, let me check who has won the if.comedy award* for comedy at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.  I love it, that the people at the Festival, talk about this, as if it is important, whereas people outside of Edinburgh, who have real jobs don’t give a stuff.  To the outside world, the Edinburgh Festival is like a party you are not invited to, but if you were invited, you wouldn’t go anyway.

Anyway I have checked and the winner is……………………………Brendan Burns.  Well, that did surprise me, it is all about change, last year the winner was Phil Nichol, he was a short, funny, shouty comedian from overseas, this year, the winner is Brendan Burns, a short, funny, shouty comedian from overseas.

So here are my highlights of the festival for the people genuinely interested.

1.  Going to Scotland to meet up with all my friends from London.
2.  Seeing my good friend Patrick Monahan work his audiences and receive really good reviews.
3.  Seeing Pete Firman’s comedy and magic show
4.  Seeing Daniel Kitson at Late and Live
5.  Meeting everyone at the “So you think you are funny” party.
6.  Seeing my mates at “Long live comedy” receive a 4 star review on their first ever Edinburgh
7.  Seeing the new generation of talent in Pappy’s Fun Club.
8.  Chatting with Felicity, the blonde from the sketch group “Greedy”, who was very nice but not as nice as my wife who is out of bed and has sat down next to me.  Ok that’s all.

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

Editing

Looking at yesterday’s blog made me think about how comedy clubs these days, are now catering for, and actively encouraging, the group bookings of Stag and Hen parties.  It certainly fits the criteria for the “business part” of Show business, as in, it will get bums on seats and also increase the sales of overpriced drinks.  However, on the down side, the “show part” of show business suffers.

For example, my late gig, last night, was very well received only because I made ongoing changes to hold the room.  You may have seen the variety act where by the entertainer spins many plates on upright sticks and his job is to keep them all spinning, well I can’t do that act, but I have taught a class of mixed ability children, which is very similar and is excellent training if you are ever faced with audiences who have got a bit of lash on board. The idea is to make it look effortless as you work out how to keep the plates spinning (it is an analogy right, I am not actually spinning plates). 

Anyway, last night I left out anything from my set which required even a little bit of thought and/or attention span on the audience’s part.  I also worked more with the audience; this inclusion can lead to a great gig with lots of ad lib stuff* working in your favour but be warned it can also be very dangerous.  On such occasions the comedian is using great skill to adjust to the (mainly hammered) audience; it will get him paid but he won’t be using all of his artistic talent (kick me in now).

So what am I getting at?  Well, if you are brave enough to stage your very own month long Edinburgh show (I am not) you have the luxury of one hour to express yourself.  You can use this hour anyway you want, with no restrictions at all (well apart from no smoking on stage).  I say luxury, but luxury does come at a cost of about £2,000 (that being, the average loss from your ambitious vanity project of self indulgence).  Anyway forgetting about your crushing debt, the beauty is, there is no comedy club owner, saying, you can’t say this or that (apparently this and that are very offensive).  There is no mentally editing out anything which requires a bit of thought and then replacing it by mindlessly editing in a nob joke.  You simply don’t have to do what you don’t want to do.  And that is why Edinburgh is the number one arts/comedy festival in the world.  Now can someone pass me some step-ladders so as I can climb down from my own arse**.

*Most times the performer just comes up with stuff on the spot and has very little idea where the comedy bits come from – other times, the performer can use a previous piece of writing, which has “rolodexed” its’ way to the top of his brain at exactly the right moment.

** I would love to say that I came up with that phrase but I didn’t; it came from Frank Skinner’s wonderful book which I urge you to buy.

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

fear of the unknown

Why do we all fear change and sometimes get violent when confronted with it?  I have just heard a story on the radio about a group of men (their age ranges were from 50’s to 70’s) from Gateshead.  They have been going to Blackpool, staying in the same hotel, every year for nearly thirty years.  The story turns out to be, that they had been refused entry to their hotel because the new management had a very firm rule on no large parties of men.  In many ways it is a story about camaraderie but also COME ON FELLAS THE SAME HOTEL EVERY YEAR?  Isn’t the new owner doing you a favour and, here is a thought, how about choosing another resort.

There is also the story of the lady who always cut the ends off both ends of her joint of beef (every week wasting a lot of perfectly good meat) before cooking it.  When she was asked why she did it – she had no idea, apart from, she had seen her mum do it.  So they asked her mum who also could not explain it either, but said her mother had done it.  So they asked the grandmother, and she said she did it because during the war she had a very small oven.

Both stories tell us that everyday we slavishly repeat activities with very little thought (sometimes, as in the oven story, it is activities from past generations).  Don’t even get me started on the perpetuation of religious nonsense by this method.

Stag parties are an example of tradition repetition.  Coming back on the train from Edinburgh on Friday afternoon I was sitting close to a Scottish Stag party travelling from Edinburgh to have a night out in Newcastle (that is what I thought).  Luckily, I am fluent in Scottish and quickly worked out that the lads would be quite noisy but absolutely harmless.  I was sitting across from an Italian couple (who obviously weren’t as good with languages as me) and they had not worked this out yet, as they looked worried.  If they had been reading the news this summer, they would have noticed the UK is becoming uncharacteristically violent*, and they would be right to be on their guard.

I wanted to tell them to put their fears at rest, but I wanted to see how long it would take for them to realise that the lads were harmless, and that nobbish behaviour is de rigueur for Stag parties.  Also, that sitting across the table, seat, is an awkward position, isn’t it?  Sure, it is an excellent seat for spreading out on the table, and you can stretch out, if you can find out where the other person’s feet are positioned (I do this by using the tip of my shoe in a kind of gentle Braille method).  But there is something uncomfortable about the confrontational seating plan and you don’t want to start a conversation too early into the trip, otherwise it seems rude not to talk the entire journey.

Anyway the Stags pull out a lot of pink cowboy hats (I know, that is what I thought; maybe it was a civil partnership stag).  I think this did relax the Italians who must have thought – surely there will be no violence now.  However, I am not sure about their chances later in the Bigg market – as in –“Nee man wears a pink cowboy hat – am ganna twat him one”.

*Every year, Big Brother the TV programme, stops at the very start of the summer holidays and the murder rate is very low – this year I believe Big Brother is going on during the kid’s holidays and the murder rate is sky high – you can’t tell me there is no correlation.

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Great summer

Well, this is the last week of the festival and also my last day here.  Yes, they are short visits, not just because I have to constantly return to England for gigs, but also because, Edinburgh is very crowded and extremely hot.  It is 27 degrees today (and they say we have had a bad summer, no pleasing some folk).  If you are not very good with the Celsius scale yet, let me tell you, water freezes at 0, room temperature is 22 and a Geordie will take his T shirt off at 7.

I am squeezing myself through the tourists at the end of Princes Street.  They have slowed down to photograph the “Native American Indian” band (I better not call them Red Indians, as it is not politically correct and besides, they probably have the internet by now*, surely they are not still using smoke signals, I mean, how would they do “laugh out loud”).  Ironically, they seem to have stolen the land from the Peruvian pipe band that was performing there last year.

I am wearing my last clean T shirt; black T shirt not a good idea.  I think I must have thought I would have to absorb every bit of radiant heat from the usually overcast Edinburgh. 

Anyway, I am on my way to see Jason Cook’s afternoon show, but first a late breakfast at Valvona and Crolla.  It is a bit of walk into the new town but worth it to avoid the crowds.  It is a great place to sit in the sun and see well dressed people going to work (real jobs).  Much better than overhearing American tourists saying things like, “the castle was obviously built to be close to the railway station”.

I order an omelette sandwich (it has an exotic Southern European menu name, but I know what I got).  The food and coffee are very good; it is like being abroad as the staff are Italian and quite chatty.  I am meeting up with friends shortly so I am using this time to catch up on this blog, strangely enough.  I still haven’t got around to answering those emails yet, but really should.

Jason’s show is great; I sit in the audience with my friend Bruce (who writes for the Evening Standard; he is also a very well respected Festival critic) and new friend Zeb a festival photographer.  We all enjoyed it and meet up with Jason after the show.  The show is very moving and hilarious (I know, that is what I thought, a very difficult combination to pull off).

Edinburgh is all about seeing such shows and not just about doing the touristy thing.  Now if you forgive me I have to go to catch my train – I just have time to buy a CD of that Native America Band.  Is it me, or are these endings becoming predictable?

* I love the fact I am so paranoid I think a Native American could be reading this blog, I am still not sure, if my wife reads it.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

How do people live like that? part 2

Yesterday, I painted a very untidy picture of the flat (not literally, obviously).  Well now that it is tidy, I should say, it is great.  Firstly, it is a cool, fully equipped flat, which is centrally based for the venues in the “old town”, and secondly, we have Chris.  Chris stays every year to review the Film Festival *– you name any Hollywood star and Chris has interviewed and photographed them.  That isn’t even the best bit – the best bit is Chris is a great chef and cooks massive pans of wholesome food for us all.  It is so easy to eat badly when you are travelling, so this is a real bonus.  Chris works on a different time scale to a stand up comedian.  For example: Chris is up for 7:30am and gets back at 8:30pm; whereas Patrick Monahan, who is performing a stand up comedy show (for the full month) gets up at midday and goes to bed at 4am.

I know you probably think a stand up comedian spends all day drinking cups of tea, eating biscuits and watching series 1 and 2 of “Family Guy”.  You would be wrong – well 98% of the time they are doing that, but the rest of the time they are working hard to promote their shows.

A typical day for a stand up comedian in Edinburgh starts at about midday with any or all of the following: a lunchtime “showcase type” show (with other comedians), a radio show, a TV interview, and then reading reviews and fretting. 

The intention of the lunchtime show is to do just enough in your guest spot (usually 10 to 15 minutes) to tease the audience into paying to see your full show.  This is achieved by handing flyers to the lunchtime audiences as they leave the venue.  My advice if you are doing these shows is; “less is more”.  I am not saying this advice from my experience as a performer I am saying it as an audience member.  My criteria on this one is, if they perform too long, I feel, even if they are good, I have seen enough and therefore I would not pay to see their full show.

Usually, the top stand up comedians (well, people you have seen on TV) are performing their full one hour show sometime between 7pm and midnight.  So if your show is 7:20pm until 8:20pm it means you have the rest of the night and early morning to run (literally, run) between venues guesting, compereing, anything; what ever it takes to get bums on seats for your next couple of days.  Ok, now all you have to do is, repeat this process for 24 days until you break even in Edinburgh.  I know, how do people live like that?

*Yes the Filluum (I am a Geordie) Festival is on at the same time (that is what Edinburgh needs more festivals).  Apparently next year it is on in June.  By the way Chris recommends “Hallam Foe” starring Jamie Bell (the lad who played Billy Elliot) and if you like silly and violent you could watch Tarantino’s “Death Proof”.

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

How do people live like that?

So, I am travelling back to Edinburgh today for the third time this festival (one year I will stay up all the time).  I got a great deal on my train ticket and I am not sure how.  I usually pay the full price for my travel, as I receive bookings for gigs at the last minute and I always delay my decision as to when to go to the festival.  However, last night I booked on the internet and got two singles (which were cheaper than the return, how does that work?) at a reasonable price.  The tickets were for standard class obviously; my travel costs (and accommodation costs) tend to vary greatly, depending whether my wife is travelling with me.  I am not sure of the price differential between chalk and cheese, let’s just say – me travelling by myself, pound shop, me travelling with my wife, Harrods.

I have an incident free trip on the still very clean Metro.  It is obviously too early in the morning for the youngsters on drugs I encountered on my last trip back from Edinburgh.

I pick up my bargain tickets from one of the many fast ticket machines and start planning replies to my booking enquiry emails (on paper first).  This is 2007 and I am going to use my modern gadgets to save time and maximise my business – I laugh at you with your office bound jobs.  I get on the train and my MDA won’t send or receive so I read the papers instead.

England is exceptionally green this year (maybe somebody reading this can tell me why).  I say England we are now at Berwick, it has lovely bridges.  Let me get this straight, Berwick is in the Scottish Football league, yet it is an English town (most northern English town probably, unless you know different).  Oh, it has switched in the past from English to Scottish and back, and you would think their lovely bridges would be worth fighting over – where is Mel Gibson when you need him ehh?  “You’ll never take our freedom – what? Yeah, you can keep Berwick” – not a snappy end to a movie.

I arrive at the flat and find everyone still in bed.  I decide to tidy the flat as Jane the lady who lets the flat has arrived to wait for a workman who has given the vague 9am until lunchtime (anytime between) promise.  I always feel a bit like the Jack Lemmon character in the film “The odd couple” when I am in Edinburgh.  I tidy as I go.  I don’t insist on coasters for the tea mugs but this is mainly because after two days it is difficult to find the coffee table.

This always reminds me of a story Jerry Seinfeld tells about the Glenn Miller Band.  The story goes: the Glenn Miller Band are on tour and their aeroplane is forced to land in a field in heavy snow.  The band has to carry all their instruments through the deep snow and walk miles to their destination.  As they are walking they see ahead of them a beautiful detached house with the smoke coming out of the chimney.  They approach, soaked to the skin and freezing; they look through the window and see a perfect family scene.  There is the Christmas tree with presents around, there is the mother, father, and two well behaved children sitting around a full table with a lovely fire roaring away.  And one of the band members says to the other ones “How do people live like that?”

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

5 star shows

Thank you to the many people who are enjoying my blog.  It seems that fellow stand up comedians and magicians are my target audience, I would have preferred it to be company directors, who are wanting to book me for shows, but I am pleased anyway.  I don’t know who else reads my blog.  I am not even sure if my wife reads it; we do talk, but it is very rarely work related.  We have always been like that, in that, work is separate from our home life.  I remember years ago, seeing a very successful stand up comedian whose girlfriend went to all of his gigs.  He had a great set, but after you had heard it a few times, that would be enough, surely?  I met him two years later and they weren’t together.  From that day I have never wanted my wife to be in the audience of my gigs.  As most of my performances are at company dinners etc this hasn’t caused a problem.

Anyway, I am back up at Edinburgh tomorrow.  Did you know there are nearly 700 shows eligible for the Perrier awards this year (I know the awards are now called the if.comedy awards, but I am not sure Perrier got their full benefit from their lengthy sponsorship deal; I am sure we were all drinking Evian at the judging meetings a few years ago)?

So how do you know which shows are good and which shows are just drama students who think comedy is easy?
Well, I have warned you about the misrepresentation of flyers, and I discovered another one the other day.  It is the phrase “World Premier”, which could mean, either, it is going to be very good or it could mean “we didn’t dare try this stuff out on a paying audience (anywhere)”.  In fact, some “one star” shows are so bad, they should tell the audience at the start, that they are being ironic (at least they may get two stars).

I suppose a visitor to Edinburgh might want to play it safe, with so many flyers to wade through, and you can’t blame them for sticking with the following equations:

Comedian who is on TV = good and so worth seeing,

Comedian who is not on TV = bad and not worth seeing.

This is obviously not true, as the whole of the TV industry lives in Edinburgh for the whole month (which is not cheap) in the hope of spotting new talent for their 2008/09 season.
So if you must see famous TV faces, then walk around the Pleasance Courtyard or the Assembly Rooms and see them for nothing; you will see them all, Frank Skinner, Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr and this weekend coming Ricky Gervais (not to mention the Hollywood stars who are attending the film festival).

However, if it is shows you are after, I recommend you read the independent reviews and choose something which is a 5 star show (but not something you would normally go and see).  I am not a big fan of sketch groups, but I have seen two this year – Pappy’s Fun Club; they were fantastic (more about them in another blog) and Greedy which was also a very good show.  The blonde girl in Greedy was very attractive and I chatted to her after the show for ages.  Right, that should find out if my wife reads the blog.

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Joie de vivre

There is a very funny comedian called Tim Clark who plays the Comedy Store in London and Manchester, he is the bald one on TV (oh good Don, that narrows it down).  Tim has locked into, what it is like to be a forty-something bloke, living in Britain in 2007.  He does this “bit” about the kind of cynicism that only comes with age.  He starts by saying, when children are invited to a party, they get all excited – that doesn’t happen when you are an adult.  As in, first adult says:
“Shall we go to the party?”
Second adult says,
“No, it will be shit and we’ll never get a taxi”
Or
“Have you seen the new guy at work?”
“Yea he’s a twat”.
Tim’s delivery is great and the mainly British audience always laugh.

So is cynicism uniquely British?  Well, I can tell you that I have performed comedy and magic at International Conventions and I can always spot a Brit, even from a distance.  Anyone, who has a smile and an inquisitive look on their face, will be from a different country.  The Brit will (almost always) look wary.  It maybe, because, we have been brought up with a very British (pessimistic) outlook on life and this makes us very reluctant to let ourselves go immediately.  Or, maybe it is our fear of not appearing cool – damn Elvis and his example of being cool all the time (well apart from the overweight toilet dying, obviously).

I hate to tell Tim, but it is not just our world weary adults who are pessimistic, it is also our young.  Having taught in schools and colleges I have noticed that the age of cynicism is very low.  This lack of “joie de vivre”**, in Britain, is always highlighted when you watch a TV programme of a school in Africa, where the smiling happy, very poor, children, are embracing education, and then you compare them with our “am I bothered” pupils.

Why am I telling you this? – Well, I have noticed (as have other magicians) that the very best part of my job is the removing of cynicism and pessimism for the duration of my act.  Yes, the continental Europeans, the Italians, the French, the Spanish and even the Germans will relax and enjoy the act immediately.  I think this may be due to the Continentals being more family orientated; they are quick to drop their guard and revert to a child-like innocence.  The Brits will also enjoy the show but only after an initial first minute when they “suss out” that you aren’t going to take the piss (or if you do, it will be good natured and won’t be personal).
And that is why I got into comedy and magic, and anyone who says, it is just for the money, is quite obviously wrong.

*comedians call a topic, about a particular subject, a “bit”, it is usually more than one joke, and sometimes depending on the comedian could last a long time, for example: Peter Kay’s “things that happen at a wedding” is a “bit”.

** It is ironic, that we have to use the French saying, and that we don’t have our own snappy phrase for enjoying life, isn’t it?

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

“Specialising down”

My wife has made me swear not to confront youths on trains (or anywhere else).  I used to teach in schools and colleges and feel I know how to talk to youngsters.  I should actually say, I used to know, how to talk to youngsters.  The reason I say this, when I was teaching I would always talk to them in a friendly fashion (as if I were talking to an adult), but I am not sure that works today.  These youths were definitely on drugs, and rationality tends to go out of the window when the brain is unbalanced.  That word unbalanced is the clue actually.  The modern world to a child can be very unbalanced if there is no parental discipline (showing the other sides to life).

Years ago we watched TV which catered for everyone.  This meant you had to sit through Panorama and Bruce Forsyth (imagine that Bruce Forsyth on a Saturday night) on the London Palladium before your Cowboys and Indian film (yes, kids do like to play with guns, in moderation).  There was a balance, all be it a tedious one, which taught us tolerance for others and delayed gratification.  Ok there was a rumour that if you played your Black Sabboth records backwards a voice said “kill your parents” but nobody ever found out (although many a “state of the art” HiFi was broken trying).

Nowadays you can “home in on” any topic, either legal or illegal – you only have to look at the very narrow range of questions contestants on Mastermind chose as their specialist topics to appreciate this fact.  The internet has given us the ability to focus in on the things that interest us, to the exclusion of others.  Ok it is quite harmless in Mastermind, but not so harmless in the outside world.

If you can learn a foreign language using headphones when you are awake (and according to many accounts, subconsciously, when you are asleep) how much damage is being done by listening to 400 hours of gangster rap (glamorizing “killing a person, to see how it feels”) on your ipod, day after day.  It is rhetorical.

Ok this is getting a bit heavy and maybe if you are reading this and you are a Company Director wanting to book me for a corporate event – you probably don’t want to think about what your 15 year old son and his Goth friends are getting up to.  So let’s get some BALANCE here, by me telling you a joke.  Better still, I have a joke book on the shelf here – why don’t I stick my finger in the book and read the first joke it lands on  – that seems a much better idea than me pacing up and down shouting “come on you’re a comedian, think man think”.

Ok this is for real – even if it is rubbish I will still tell you it – first attempt only – here goes- right, And my finger has landed on this one – Page 151,  – Enjoy!
The title of the lists of jokes on this page is “Education: Dumb Exam Answers”

So here goes:

Use the word “diploma” in a sentence: “our pipes were leaking so my dad called diploma”

Yes we were lucky, that was a good one, and has certainly lifted the mood.  I am also thinking that Anglo Italians find the joke even funnier.  Although on a pedantic level, I have never seen that question on an actual exam paper – in fact I am beginning to think it is just a contrived joke, which sounds funnier because it could actually be true to life.  A bit like the classic joke concerning the word “contagious” – the punchline of which is about the painting of a house and a not very nice person taking a long time to do it.  I am not spelling it out for you.
Anyway I can’t hang around I have to learn my “haircuts of Jennifer Aniston 1994 to present day”.

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Living on the edge

The gig on Friday night was one of my best yet, with my two kicker endings going down very well.  I love to watch the reaction of people at the end of my set when I offer to give a prize to the audience member who helped me on stage.  I pull a watch out of my pocket and show it, just far enough away for them to think they are getting a great watch.  They look so pleased that they have won a watch for simply helping the magician with his act.  It is the dawning process I like to see in their faces – when their expression changes from “oh that is nice and it looks a really good watch, maybe something I could wear” to “HOLD ON A MINUTE THAT IS MY F**K**G WATCH, YOU B**T**D”.  Well, that is, if it is a man, if it is a woman I usually just get a scream and a playful hit.

Sometimes a gig can just get better and better depending on what the audience is like or what they say.  Audiences love to get involved, that is why live performances are worth seeing.  TV is great, but you can’t interact with it (that is not interaction, you are sitting in your house pressing buttons to see a football match from a slightly different angle, so don’t give me that).  Anyway, last night in the audience, there was an Alan Shearer look-a like and a couple on their very first date, so we were off and running.

It is good to be home.  Yes, I did survive the Metro journey – thanks for asking.  When I got back I enjoyed a long bath before heading off to my first gig of the weekend (the one I mentioned above).
By the way I am in big trouble with my wife.  I should never have told her that I confronted the youths on the Metro.  I say youths as I don’t like to label people and don’t want to call them charvas although I am pretty sure they were not trainee doctors. 

So to get in to my wife’s good books, on my way back I stopped at Asda at about 11:30pm – which leads me on to my top (time management and environmentally friendly) tip for when you are driving home from a gig and it is very late.  The tip is, do a full (big) shop even if it is 2am, there are always people to find stuff for you and a normal 1hour shop takes about 20 minutes at 2am.  It makes sense as you are passing the shop anyway.  Also if you have been driving you won’t be able to sleep – this is usually because you are still buzzing (naturally, from adrenaline) from the gig or the nervous energy of trying to get back on an empty tank of petrol.  So you might as well be putting groceries away at 2:30am – Hey, does this dude know how to party or what? Oh yes, rock and roll!

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Cultcha, oh yes!

This morning, I woke up, thinking, Newcastle should run an Art’s festival – why not?  We have culture.  I do get very optimist in the mornings and it is very early, it is 9:50 am (yes I know, almost like having a proper job, getting up at that time).  Anyway, I am gigging in the North of England, over the weekend, and I have to catch the Virgin cross country at 12:05 from Waverley station, which stops at Newcastle.  I hope I don’t fall asleep on the train, as I am not sure how many stops there are between Newcastle and Bristol.

 I have a leisurely breakfast at a really good café, just off St. Andrew’s Square, then, I get on the train.  My ticket allows me the privilege of finding a seat of my liking.  That sounds a lot better than, “I purchased a really cheap Pover ticket, which doesn’t allocate me a seat number”, didn’t it?  Anyway, it was good, as I sit down next to Russell Howard’s mother (Nanette, a very nice lady) and we chat until Newcastle.  Russell is the young blonde comedian on “Mock the week”).
 
So that was the very pleasant part of the journey: now I had to make a short journey on the “Metro” (The North East’s own “Tube” type rail service).  If you haven’t been on the Newcastle Metro, let me tell you, it is a very clean and comfortable means of transport and most people treat it with respect.  Having said that, it does run an almost honesty box method of travel, as in, you buy your ticket, but the ticket doesn’t do the opening of turnstile gates, as it does on the London Underground.  So unless you are asked for your ticket by an inspector, some people are getting their own free taxi.  So you can imagine the type of clientele that latch on to this little freebee.

Anyway, I buy my ticket and get on the Metro at Central Station to be greeted by a stare.  It is a lad (I will let you label him) about the age of 17 and he is staring at me in a threatening way. He wants me to react, so I do – I give him a “pleased to see you” smile and say a “Cameron style” hello, stopping short of hugging him, obviously.  He doesn’t smile back and doesn’t look away but I can see by his dilated pupils that he is on drugs.  I give up my seat for an old lady*.  As soon as the train starts moving, one of the starer’s mates starts playing music far too loud.  I walk up to the lad and say hello and ask if he could turn the music down.  This is something my wife insists I should never do, as she thinks, I will be added to the seasonally high murder figures (around at the moment caused by people talking to adolescents).  He turns the music down but I can see the starer is not pleased and is trying to egg on his mate to turn it up, while still staring me out.  Oh yes, City of Culture runners up to Liverpool – bring on a festival.
*I am guessing that there will be a time in the next twenty years or so, when somebody will think I am at the age where I deserve their seat – I am sure I will be confused with emotions, being both pleased with the seat, yet annoyed that I look old enough to be considered for such good will.

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Luvie stropp

It was very cold on Tuesday, which made me wonder, why do people come to “this near Arctic city” Edinburgh.  Well, it is all about EXPOSURE; the acts are dying for it, while the audiences are dying from it.  Not a great joke, only I wanted to start a blog entry as if I was Sarah Jessica Parker (No, not because I have a long face and sit around in my underwear).

I really do wonder why visitors bother with Edinburgh in August and then you see Tom Hanks buying kites from a street seller.  I, by the way, would never ask for a photo or an autograph, as I am never sure what I want them for, and more to the point, what does this actually says about me as a person.
So, anyway, I am back for my second visit to the Festival – I can’t stay up too long as I have a very busy weekend of gigs coming up.

Today, I will be writing this blog in stages.  This first bit I am writing in the VIP room in the Assembly Rooms.  This year I assume this lounge is sponsored by channel 4, as all the TVs are playing “the IT crowd”.  The TVs are all on mute, as well they should be, as this comfortable room is meant to be the quiet escape from the Edinburgh madness.  It is an ideal room for writing, catching up with friends or in today’s case watching a very famous elderly actor losing his cool and having a right luvie stropp.   I am not going to tell you who he was, but this kind of thing is very LIKELY to happen when you get a lot of theatrical types in one room.  I felt like going up and saying hey LADS lets just calm down.

Ok later in day now, I am sitting in the audience for Pete Firman’s show.  I am in the 4th row back and the show is sold out.  I look around at Pete’s audience: he has ages from 8 years old to the silver tops.  There are also a lot of (and I mean a lot of) very attractive ladies.  They look about 18 to 25 years old (better be careful here, in these “Post Langham” days).  Yes there are plenty of “genetic lottery” winners in Pete’s audience – must be the allure of being on TV so much (don’t let Pete tell you it is his rugged good looks).

Pete walks on stage: cheeky smile, debatable 3 piece suit – straight away, we are in safe hands.  He is a very likeable stage performer (essential if you are a magic act).  In my opinion comedy is a great way to sell the entertainment value in magic.  The audience laugh all the way through this great show without having to trouble their feeble laymen brains.
Let me tell you now, Pete’s show is a 5 star show (it has received 4 star reviews all the way through the festival only because the reviewers won’t give the extra star to a comedy and magic show).
It is such a fantastic show that I have to wait to talk to Pete for ten minutes as he signs autographs and has photos taken. 
So if you want to buy autographs and photos of either Pete Firman or Tom Hanks go to ebay where you will see the ones I got – only kidding.  It was Rodney Bewes by the way.


Don performs as a wedding magician, corporate entertainer, and after dinner speaker at events throughout the country. London Magician, Manchester Magician, Liverpool Magician, Birmingham Magician, Newcastle Upon Tyne Magician, Magician Surrey, Edinburgh Magician, Oxford Magician, Bristol Magician, Magician Milton Keynes, Leicester Magician, Leeds Magician, Magician Kent.