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

Archive for July, 2008

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Beijing got talent

Beijing got talent

For the last two years I have been trying out new material for my act.  I had the decency to do this professional evolving on new material evenings.  You may remember, a new material evening is where the audience is informed by the compere, that the comedians they are about to see, are experimenting  (i.e. Trying out new bits – yes, of course, sometimes comedians do panic and revert to the strongest parts of their set, but that is another issue).  See my media page video clip for an example of a new material evening .

I say decency, because it is rare for me to actually try out new stuff while performing my after dinner entertainment set.  Having said that, “riffing” with the audience at a corporate gig can lead to some great moments (I always intend to write these bits into my act, however, on the drive home I promptly forget them – damn that Barbara Streisand CD).

New material evenings are a great laugh; sometimes, as I am sure you can imagine, they are a laugh for the wrong reasons, as in, it can all go “tits up”.  Anyway,  on such evenings, you may occasionally see a comedian who takes a subject which is so obvious, and yet, he is able to make it work so well.  One such comedian Carl Hutchinson (he is up and coming, so watch out for him) does a bit about the TV programme X Factor and it’s associated sob stories which shamelessly tear jerk the TV audience into the shows week after week.  Carl’s “act outs” (set to music) are hilarious and priceless.

This made me think, as we approach the Olympics, I am certain the BBC will be working on their athlete back stories, to emotionally pull us in.  All the sentimental clips will come out;  the hardships, the battles against illness, the taking two jobs just to afford the steroids, that kind of thing.  But, I know what you are thinking, do we have to know?  Surely, a gold medal in the hop, skip and jump is proof we are the best country in the world.  Isn’t it enough, our guy can throw the long stick further than the German?  And surely, it is a group thing anyway; the Olympics is all about the coming together of all the countries in the world .  We are united for a month;  no space aliens would dare to take on earth this August. 

Years ago, Roger Bannister’s parents could actually have been bannisters, we would never have known.  Nowadays, we have to know everything, and we will not be cheering you on, unless you have a heart breaking story to tell.  So if you are an athlete and all you have is a troublesome Verruca story, now, would be a good time organise a spin doctor or PR guru (although I think Max Clifford maybe busy with Duane Chambers at the moment).

I mean, does the Olympics have to be this “dumbed down”, greeting card fest, can’t we just watch the Olympics for what it is – one long sports day.  Although to be fair, the last time I tried to watch a sports day I ended up behind the gym block with a 13 year old girl (oh, relax, I was a 13 year old boy at the time).

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Just say No

Recently, I saw that a theatre show, called “The show must go on” had been cancelled; now, that is irony.

It made me think about a story I had heard about Larry David.  Larry David is, of course, the co-writer of the hugely successful Seinfeld series and also a comedy actor in his own right (and in his own show “Curb Your Enthusiasm”).  Long before his successes he was like many other stand-up comedians, travelling the country playing to comedy club audiences, who were either drunk or very drunk. 

Apparently, one night he was booked to perform at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles.  The compere announced his name and Larry walked on stage, stood for a short time without saying anything and looked at the audience.  After this uncomfortable silence Larry simply said,“No, I don’t think so” and walked off the stage without delivering his set.

I don’t think I can admire that kind of behaviour, but, the thought of a comedian refusing to entertain an audience did make me laugh.  The only explanation could have been that he did not like the look of the audience, because, as a rule, all comedians want to do their set, if only to get paid.

I suppose, the best thing about the job of a comedian is travelling around making a room full of total strangers laugh.  Yet, if you told this fact to most people, they would say, that must be the worst thing about the job, surely?  But, audiences are not just strangers to the performer, they are also strangers to each other and very rarely do the “lunatics unite” to sabotage a gig.  Audiences contain mostly good people and a few bad, just like a cross section of life (unless you read the Daily Mail).

So, I worry less about audiences and more about the layout of the room.  Comedy club promoters, as a rule, have given a lot of thought to the conditions required; spotlights, good sight lines, excellent sound systems all enhance the gig greatly.   However, operatives at conferences in hotels are generally inexperienced at what works well for comedy.  Some rooms are so wrong you instinctively know you will have to be working like crazy to pull off the gig.

The other night the conditions were so bad, it was like a checklist of all the warning signals:-
-200 guests on a wooden floor with metal based chairs (think school class room with 200 children shuffling about).
-Massive table decorations causing bad sight lines, bad stage lighting.
-A microphone so bad that the audience just guessed when the comedian / compere was delivering his punch-lines (they gave him this respect because he had been on TV).

So, is it ever right to refuse a show because of the room?  The answer is obviously, no.  I am not travelling hundreds of miles not to get paid. 

They say that performing is like a drug, in that you have to keep going.  No wonder the “Just Say No” campaign didn’t work.

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Subtitles to life

In the movie “Annie Hall”, Woody Allen has a flirtatious conversation with Diane Keaton.  While this is happening in the film, the real meaning of their conversation is played out in subtitles across the bottom of the screen.  The scene works because there is always this subtext to life, nothing is as it seems; we all have hidden thoughts and agendas. 

Annie Hall was made in 1977 and the subtitles are still funny, but, in a way they seem very tame by today’s standards.  It is frightening to think of how time has moved on, and how thoughts of, what is considered acceptable, have changed.  Now people can actually verbalise their real thoughts, just for the hell of it; bad language the lot – no one seems to be offended.  Maybe it started later that decade with Basil Fawlty and has now finally peaked with Jonathon Ross saying to Gwyneth Paltrow, on his TV programme, that “He would definitely shag her”.

The reason I mention this is that, one of the things I like about my job is the opportunity to meet with very nice people. These people, as a rule, have the decency to behave tactfully and not to say the first thing that comes into their heads.  I reciprocate these social rules. So, if I am performing close up magic at a function, I will not barge in with my own self important intro.  Instead I respect the group dynamics (listen to me, group dynamics, please! kick me in now). 

Anyway, instead of introducing myself by my job title, sometimes, I will start up a conversation (like a real human) in a “non-magicy” way.  I am never patronising, and may start with a genuine compliment.  For example, I may say “that is a great dress”.  I say this because: a) I like the dress and b) it is specific, and, I like to think it is non-threatening (I always wear my wedding ring when performing).

Now the usual reply to this is, “Thank you” or sometimes a thank you followed by a self deprecating “Primark’s best” or some other kind of “oh, this old thing” banter.

So, I was quite surprised when I said to a very attractive lady that I loved her dress.  She was a stunning lady who was using all of her “stunningess”.  I think what I am trying to say is, you don’t see many old non-wealthy men with such women.  Without missing a beat, she looked down to her chest area and said “I have had them done, you know”.  Only in the North of England could my subliminal subtitles be dragged out in public.  I must have noticed the gravity defying properties of her lady bumps and quickly filtered out a socially acceptable compliment to endorse my approval.  People in the North are so open; there is the North South divide right there.

But really, it is frightening to think where this will go in the future. Allowing for current trends, will I be allowed to “ice break” my way into a group of people with the opening line:-

“Wow, lady, have you had them done? Because I am sure you will agree with me gentlemen, they are spectacular!”

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.