Motor neurone disease.

 In Britain we call it motor neurone disease, and umbrella term that describes a number of neurodegenerative disorders. For those with long memories it was the condition that saw off one of Britain’s most beloved screen stars David Niven. In the USA, the most commonly used term is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), though it is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the former New York Yankee whose career and then life was cut short by the disease.

 Whatever you want to call it, the disease itself is a shocker. The causes are not fully understood, treatments are certainly nowhere near being curative. Average survival time is 39 months and only 4 % survive beyond 10 years. Stephen Hawking is very much an exception, not a norm. The course of the disease tends to be one of depressingly inevitable progressive disability followed by death.

   In the US, the ALS association is the largest charity focussed on research, education and support for patients with this disease. In the UK the Motor Neurone Disease association serves  the same purpose.

http://www.alsa.org/

http://www.mndassociation.org/

 If you visit their websites you will see that making a donation is surprisingly easy. In fact as more and more charities have embraced technology, making a donation to a charity for which you may feel a personal affinity has never been easier. 

  

 

 

  

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Daily Telegraph and how not to write about comedy

 It can’t be easy being Mark Monahan and Dominic Cavendish. They write about comedy for the Daily Telegraph and do so with a degree of insight and passion. At the same time their employer engages in a constant war with modern comedy paying other journalists to spew out whatever drivel they can cobble together which must have the following agenda – alternative comedy is left wing and evil. Old fashioned comedy rocks. In order to fit this agenda, their journalists will pretty much say anything no matter how utterly stupid and bereft of even the slightest notion of understanding it is.

 William Langley is a new name in this regard. He is the author of this puff piece on Tim Vine. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/comedy/11052857/Tim-Vine-the-man-behind-the-masterful-one-liner.html It would be hard to imagine a more condescending and ugly minded piece about comedy. Or at least it would be hard if I hadn’t read other Telegraph articles. It is hard to know where to start. But lets start with the headline.

   

“offers a perfect antidote to the tyranny of alternative ‘humour’ “

 Humour is in inverted commas. Do you get it ? He doesn’t think alternative comedy is funny.Never mind the millions who willingly flock to large arenas to watch it.  He thinks it is a tyranny. Because we all have friends who have been forced at gunpoint to watch Stewart Lee DVD’s. He doesn’t get that Tim Vine didn’t arrive fully formed. He plied his trade on the same circuit as all of us. I am a leftie, gay , son of immigrants, Guardian reading bedwetter. And yet I have been on the same bill as him many times. In actual clubs. Langley writes that Tim Vine ” still packs them in two decades after we were told that sophisticated modern audiences had moved on”  The odd thing is that I don’t know anyone who received that memo. Certainly the Perrier panel didn’t in 1995 when Tim Vine won the Best Newcomer Award at Edinburgh. Interestingly a year later Milton Jones won the award. Another subversive godless leftie storyteller.  

Langley continues……

“You couldn’t go to a show without being hosed down by F-words and drenched in attitude by gloopy-voiced, predominantly Northern working-class comics who thought it more important to make political points than to send the paying punters home with aching middle-sections.”

 Well if there is one thing Edinburgh is, it is a celebration of Northern working class culture. In the same way that the film Kes is mostly about rising house prices in Berkshire. This statement is so cartoonishly incorrect and dripping with class and regional hate, that frankly Langley should frankly tender his resignation from the profession with an explanatory note saying “Sorry, I appear to be a colossal bellend”    Why include the words “predominantly Northern” other than to expose the bigotry of your viewpoints ?  There is literally not an iota of this representation of comedy that any sane human would recognise.

 

“Today, the notion that comedy must have “meaning” is so entrenched in the business that anyone who plays a routine purely for laughs is considered not merely tame but suspect.”

  And so, inevitably, Langley misses badly again. We have already established that he has no understanding of the business. It is one where great joke tellers are revered, the ability to make people laugh treasured. Many of the most commercially successful comedians in the UK have got there because of their simple ability to make large numbers of people laugh. That is how it has always been. 

 

“Beaming with middle-class wholesomeness and the benefits of a stern Christian upbringing”

    The mask is slipping. The agenda of this piece is becoming more exposed…

 

“Older audiences like him because he’s a throwback to how things used to be, younger ones because they haven’t seen anything like him. Women enjoy him because he isn’t angry, and men because he doesn’t endlessly flog the dog-eared, bloke-as-perpetual-loser routines.”

  How to patronisise four large demographic groups in one fell swoop. I particularly enjoyed the image of women as a collective well of timidity cowering in the face of comedians with opinions and attitude. Yep that is definitely one I recognise. Instead of this fanciful nonsense, just accept that people like Tim Vine because he is hilarious. He has a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous, and watching him at his best is a joy. He is not shunned or mocked by the “alternative comedy” industry, he is loved and celebrated as a hugely successful practitioner of the art of stand up comedy.He is one of us, albeit funnier than us.  Because William Langley, this industry that you berate with such misdirected spleen is a broad church where joketelling, storytelling, sketch,improv, mime, musical comedy, absurdism and occasional politicising all happily coexist cheek to jowl. If you had done even any research you would know this. Instead you saw an opportunity to write a “How can I shoehorn my rightwing politics into a piece about comedy” and ended up with a veritable car crash of a piece. 

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Just in Edinburgh

 I’m now at the airport waiting to head back south. I’ve packed a lot in during the last few days,and my liver hurts. Today I nearly spoke to Keith Lemon. One day.

  It has been quite a while now since I last hauled my ass up there to perform a 1 hour show to disappointing numbers. Every year since (apart from Olympics year) it has taken ages to decide whether to go or not. It is a huge financial, physical and psychological undertaking and you have to the appetite for it. I think I have regained that appetite. I think.

 The main reason is this. The Edinburgh Fringe contains the most spectacularly broad festival of comedy on the planet. You could see shows every day for a month and not even skim the surface of what you really want to see. And it isn’t just well off educated young twenty somethings talking about their existential angst. There is mime as well. And clever gimmicky shows like Set List and Joke Thieves. And Daniel Kitson and his talented mates being brilliant for two hours at midnight. Women. There are women. Lots of them.And so many gays thatthe Firth of Forth may have a cataclysmic flood any time now. As well as a smattering of “multi cultural” acts including Nish Kumar and Romesh Ranganathan who are arguably the funniest heterosexual Asian comedians in the UK. There are comedians hyped beyond their ability , and geniuses criminally overlooked. Nobody said it was fair. And there is also Funz and Gamez.

    For the last few weeks my timelines have been full of people praising Funz and Gamez, a spoof children’s show at 2pm in the Mash House.They were right. I won’t say anything to spoil it other than to say that the experience is unique and pant wettingly funny. By performing this show in a low key venue at an unfashionable time and without a massive PR team, and to be one of THE hits , Phil Ellis et al have  won the Fringe.

   I wanna be part of all this next year. I hope I dont change my mind. The traffic is awful, the weather erratic. The hotel prices are a disgrace (Ibis £229). And it has never been harder for mid status acts to sell tickets as the Free Fringes go from strength to strength. But as far as comedy goes it does seem to be the greatest show on earth.

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Joke of the Fringe

  I’ve done this particular post before back in 2011. Nobody paid much attention then and I’m sure nobody will pay much attention now. It concerns the small matter of Tim Vine winning the annual Dave’s Joke of the Fringe competition. For 24 hours the media will be reporting on this contrived competition with far more depth than it deserves. I love Tim Vine and I like the winning joke. I think reducing Fringe comedy do a pointless battle of jokes stripped of performance nuance and context is a wilful act of cultural vandalism.

   I’m midway through a Fringe binge of comedy shows. The standard is remarkably high with acts showing great skill and imagination. I have listened to numerous exquisite “jokes”. None of these would pass that much muster when removed from the warmth of the show and placed naked onto print. Nor should they. That is not what they were written for. That is not what good Fringe comedy is about. There are very fine comics represented on the top 10 list. There is not a chance in hell, however, that these 10 jokes  represent the best that the Fringe has to offer. http://www.beyondthejoke.co.uk/content/1016/news-tim-vine-bags-another-dave-funniest-joke-award

    What the best reviewed comedy shows on this year’s Fringe have in common is that they are all challenging, intelligent multilayered passion pieces. What purpose does this list serve ? For some people it cements the idea that the Fringe is a bit shit. For some others it tells them “Come to the Fringe. It really is just joke,joke, joke.” Neither is remotely true, and this year in particular I have been struck by sheer depth of the talent out there, and the degree to which for the funniest jokes i have heard, you just had to be there.

      This is something that I am quite convinced the most senior critics fully understand. Which is why it is mildly depressing how many of them collaborated with this sorry exercise. The names on the panel read like a Who’s Who of British comedy reviewing. I am not sure how they justify on the one hand writing about the Fringe with intelligence and understanding, and on the other helping provide Dave’s competition with a credibility is barely merits. 

   

  

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Failing the Test.

  Watching India at the Oval on Saturday was certainly enjoyable, meeting up with old friends, boozing in the sun. My mind wandered to the 1979 Test where I saw Botham take his 100th Test wicket in a match legendary for Gavaskar’s 4th innings double century. Back then, and also in the Oval tests saw in 1990 and 2002 there was a large Asian contingent cheering on the tourists. On Saturday that contingent was anything but large. Expensive tickets may have played a part. But why would the fans commit to supporting a team who can’t even do an adequate impression of people who care ?

   I have long been interested in the degree to which it is ok for lazy, unfit spectators to be angry with professional sports stars. I think in this case it is ok. The strange blip of the Lords Test aside, India have been ridiculous. Hoist by their own stubborn petard by their lone illogically stupid stance against DRS. Pursuing a petty vendetta against James Anderson for a shoving incident which could easily have been settled at the time. Batsmen who collectively showed no appetite for any kind of examination of application and technique. The same batsmen had been spirited and defiant against Steyn and co in the winter. The same batsmen are superstars in domestic formats of the game. I am not sure that the BCCI  , the swaggering bullying stars of global cricket administration have any idea how pathetic both they and the players chosen to represent them have looked.

I will get over it. There is sadness in the eyes of my Dad, who has proudly supported less talented but far harder working Indian touring teams since 1971. A sadness that an Indian cricket tour,usually competitive and entertaining, has barely mustered a whimper. In 2011 they occasionally showed some semblance of fight. Here they were a complacent,lazy disgrace. Congratulations to a resurgent England team for showing India that it is ok to play Test cricket as though you care.

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A blog. For the sake of blogging.

So my new year’s resolution to blog more often has failed miserably. I just don’t have enough confidence in my ability to make my opinions interesting. Not a great trait for a stand up comedian to have. This is really just a collection of scattered thoughts to try and get me back on the blogging road.

1. I am reluctant to join the chorus of praise for Kellie (formerly Frank) Maloney. I accept that it cannot have been easy to deal with her gender issues.I imagine this is not just true in boxing but in all spheres of life. But surely some responsibility has to be taken for her decision to run as UKIP’s candidate for London Mayor on a relentlessly homophobic agenda. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3666155.stm

People change, of course. I had naively imagined that somewhere in the lengthy Daily Mirror interviews might have been the slightest hint of contrition at the “homophobic arsehole” period of her life.

2. I try not to get angry about sport. But India’s most recent Test performance was pathetic beyond my darkest fears. It was a performance of abject surrender from a team whose petty pursuit of a ban for James Anderson has seemingly robbed them of focus and spine and made them look ridiculous. I’m going to the Oval on Saturday, hoping that they show some semblance of fight.

3. The Edinburgh Festival is on at the moment, and it seems that the quality of shows is very high. As always I read a lot of reviews, and the major irritant for me has been the number of great reviews which have only garnered 3 stars. If you are a relative unknown without a major PR, good reviews and word of mouth are the oxygen on which your show thrives. A 3 star review has no practical use whatsoever. I wish more reviewers understood this and showed a bit more generosity of spirit.

4. I’ve been eating well. Thoroughly recommend Hawksmoor Knightsbridge, Yang Sing in Manchester, and Mughli on the “curry mile” in Rusholme. My meal at Brasserie Blanc, South Bank was the worst restaurant meal I have had in years.

5. I’m gigging on the French riviera this week http://monaco.angloinfo.com/whatson/featured/29722/august-stand-up-comedy-show-at-the-hop-store/ I’m also at Banana Cabaret, Balham this Friday and Saturday.

6. I have eight tour dates in the Autumn spread far and wide. More details at http://www.paulsinha.com

7. Five and a half years after my first quiz grand prix, I am up to 8th in the national quiz rankings. More meaningfully I have officially become a grandmaster, something I could never have dreamed of. The standard in quizzing is so relentlessly high that maintaining that status will be quite a challenge.

8. And finally a photo of Commonwealth Games gymnastics hero Max Whitlock.

         

  

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A quick Fringe guide……….

I’m not doing Edinburgh this year. That is three years in a row. I have my reasons, and I am confident that I will be up in 2015. In the meantime the following people are risking everything in the hope of public acclaim and artistic progress.They have my utmost admiration, and if you are up in Edinburgh do go and see them.

Alexis Dubus – Cars and Girls. Stand 5 1500

Alexis is best known for his comic creation, arrogant French raconteur Marcel Lucont. It seems that the talented bugger has moved into more conventional storytelling and this show comes garlanded with cracking reviews from Melbourne.Great to see a hardworking niceguy doing so well.

Bobby Mair – Off Meds. Laughing Horse @citycafe 1745 (FREE)

Yet another product of the magnificent comedy nation of Canada, underneath his slightly scruffy exterior lies a great and intelligent comic mind.

Caimh Mcdonnell – Southbound and Down Cabaret Voltaire 1320 (FREE)

Caimh (pronounced caimh), has been a hugely respected and distinctive club comic and writer for ages now , and this show is simply guaranteed to be good.

Ola the Comedian – The Comedian and his Future wife Espionage (FREE)

I’ve been intrigued by the self confidence and intelligent comedy of Ola ever since he came up to me at a gig and plonked a DVD in my hand. He is a rising star for sure, and I’m sure this debut hour will be great.

Hannah Gadsby – The Exhibitionist Assembly George Square 2000

Brilliant Aussie Hannah has been chalking up superb reviews at Edinburgh for years and just goes from strength to strength. This show, one of many about her love of art, is a must see on my list.

Eddie Hoo – Angry in the Afternoon City Cafe 1500 FREE

This could easily be either the worst hour or the best hour of your Fringe. It’s free. Take a chance on this awkward looking British-Chinese gagsmith many of whose jokes are simply breathtakingly outrageously good.But not all of them. And that’s where the fun begins.

Liam Williams – Laughing Horse @ The Cellar Monkey 1315 FREE

One of the most talked about acts last year and deservedly so. His debut hour was packed with fine jokes and mordant observations. It is a bold move to follow it up with a move to the Free Fringe. Good luck to him.

Vikki Stone – Instrumental Underbelly Cowgate 1920

Musically she is obscenely talented. But crucially she knows how to harness that into laughs and the last time I saw her she was just superb

Mick Ferry – What’s Going On Just the Tonic at the Community Project 2015

Watching Mick Ferry hold court in a comedy club is watching a master at work. Naturally funny bones, sharp wit, great material.Here’s hoping that this is the year that one of the country’s best comics gets the Edinburgh love he deserves.

Tom Allen – Life/Style Stand 5 1615

Tom is brilliant. His debonair, louche camp persona is allied to an exquisite delivery. And his material just gets better and better. Incidentally Stand 5 has a quite brilliant programme of comedy this year it seems.

There are of course loads of others. Alun Cochrane, Zoe Lyons, Dane Baptiste, Markus Birdman, Katherine Ryan, Kerry Godliman, Romesh Ranganathan, Phil Wang, Nish Kumar, John Robins, Larry Dean and the effervescent Justin Moorhouse. I’ll just say what I say every year. It’s a brilliant comedy festival, and a lot of the best comedy is outside of the “BIG 4″ venues.

 

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