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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thank you.

 This is directed at the England football squad , and it’s something that I suspect you have not heard that often recently. Thank you. Thanks for trying your best at the end of a long season. The Liverpool contingent had a catastrophic end of season , the Man Utd contingent had a catastrophic season. The rest of you had long tough seasons of varying degrees of success. You were delivered a group of death and that was before we knew that Costa Rica were actually rather good. You weren’t as good as we hoped you would be , but you weren’t as bad as a lot of people thought. You were not quite good enough. That’s not a crime , and it sure as hell wasn’t me asking you to apologise.

   Once upon a time I might have been furious at your lack of success. But I’m increasingly aware that I’m an overweight middle aged man who does no physical exercise , and to openly vent anger at dedicated hardworking professionals might be considered the height of twattishness. I’m also aware that when I have a bad day at the office, strangers have a go at me. And I know how I feel about them.

   This isn’t an alltime low. 2010 , and that pathetic rebellion against Capello was the alltime low. This seems more like a likeable bunch of guys who unfortunately lack a bit of experience and nous in crucial positions. But there is talent there. I have no idea if Hodgson is the man to bring the best out of that talent, but I for one am looking forward to watching Lallana, Barkley, Henderson, Sturridge et al over the next few years. On the international stage , you’re not A listers anymore. But you can be. Get your heads down, never believe your own hype, treat women with respect and don’t eat the opposition. You’ll be back.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

World Cup 2014. The players to watch.

It is here. World Cup 2014 is upon us, the  poor have been stowed away, Sepp Blatter’s every pronouncement cements his position as Tool of the Millennium, and there is no doubt that the next few weeks are going to be a carnival/fiesta/something to do with samba of football.

But who are the players to watch ? Who will emerge from the tournament as much part of World Cup folklore as Eusebio, Gemmill , Maradona, Upson?  Luckily I am a man with a lot of time on his hands. I have forensically examined the form and statistics in the build up to the tournament and can give you a definitive guide.

 

Image

 

 

This is of course Milan fullback Mattia De Sciglio , considered the heir to the legendary Paolo Maldini. He is meant to be pretty good I think.

 

 

 

Image

Perhaps the name on everyone’s lips this is Aussie and Borussia Dortmund goalie Mitchell Langerak. Genuinely born in the city of Emerald. If I’d ever seen Wizard of Oz I could have made a joke about that.

 

Image

Richard Littlejohn, katie Hopkins, Jon Gaunt. The problem with rightwing polemicists is that they are often really hot. Believe me I should know.  Jack “England for the English” Willshere is no exception. I am reliably informed that he plays for Arsenal.

 

 

 

Image

Not only the world footballer of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo is the ultimate paragon of unfettered masculinity that we all aspire to.

 

 

 

Image

 

Midfielder with Serie A legends Atalanta, this is Aussie James Troisi. With talent like this it’s no wonder Australia are many people’s dark horses for the tournament.

 

Image

Traditionally , USA have yet to take the sport that seriously , stereotyping the game as an inferior feminine pastime. Seattle Sounders defender Deandre Yedlin is here to put that right.

 

 

Image

A lot of people think Neymar is grossly overrated. After several years of looking at this photo, I am still not sure what to make of him. The lovechild of Splinter and a human with a very good physique.

 

There they are. The magnificent 7. The World Cup begins this Saturday when England take on Italy. I am pretty sure that one of these seven will be the one to watch.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ukip if you want to.

  I have always been openly.patriotic. A lot of people sneer at the idea of being passionate about an accident of birth. I cheerfully accept that it’s not for everyone. But I have long felt gratitude for decisions made by my parents five decades ago, which have helped me on the way to being comfortable in my own skin, and doing two professions which I love. There is so much to be cherished about the rich culture and heritage of this country. I don’t see any reason why the Right should be able to monopolise the concept. I believe that immigration overall has benefitted the country, I believe that we are better off in the EU, I believe that gay marriage is a socially enhancing concept.I also weep with joy so copiously every Olympics that the only sensible conclusion is that my patriotism is borderline feral.

   I don’t feel any less patriotic today just because a political party that I don’t especially care for has done better than I’d have liked in some elections. It’s incredible that the jibes of the twitter left (myself included, mea culpa) have left no impression.Who knew that preaching to the converted could have so little effect? The communists at the BBC cruelly limited Nigel Farage to seventeen appearance a week , and yet this has not dented his appeal.And now here they are, apparently more popular than the hugely respected Liberal Democrats. 

   I live in a slightly pokey two bed flat in southeast London. The boiler breaks down every year, I have a dishwasher that doesn’t work and I have only recently bought a garlic crusher. Despite all of this, the flat is in multiethnic London, a demographic which has largely ignored UKIP, and therefore I am now officially part of the “Metropolitan Elite”. The theory is that I have no idea why “ordinary people” vote UKIP. Ant yet I do. Because I am a professional comedian. Which means that I bare my soul in front of “ordinary people” all the bloody time. I have even done a gig with prospective UKIP MP Roger Helmer.And I have enough time on my hands to obsessively scour social media sites reading people’s opinions.So here goes…..

1. Some people are racist. No getting round it , this is true for all countries. Before their only option was the BNP. But the BNP have always a had a whiff of thuggery about it, and Nick Griffin will always be the buffoon who once mocked the idea that the Holocaust happened. Now they have an outlet who actually  looks comfortable in a suit.

2. Euroscepticism deserves a voice. A lot of people want out. UKIP is pretty much their only voice.When the opportunity arose to send someone out there to defend the pro Europe position with Farage, Nick Clegg was chosen.Nick Clegg. Nick fucking Clegg,

3. Immigration. If 0 is “let them all in” and 10 is “send them all back”, there are a lot of people occupying the 7-10 zone.People who dont feel they have a voice.

4. Islamic extremism. This is a big one. The left have got themslves into a muddle about balancing cultural tolerance , and tolerating illiberal views. There is no muddle on the right. In the fight against Islamic extremism, if a lot of perfectly innocent Muslims are scapegoated, for many people that is preferable to the current perception that we are soft on extremism.

5. The other three leaders. Complicated issues are complicated. That is why for many it is about personality. Cameron,Clegg, Milliband. The Old Etonian Oxbridge guy who packed his cabinet with his longstanding chums and once lied about a pasty. The man who betrayed all aspiring students and will never be forgiven. And a man who makes eating a sandwich look like a round on the Krypton Factor. Only compared to three leaders so otherworldly could Farage come across as “man of the people”. Farage is a Dulwich College educated former city trader. I went to Dulwich College. Boys in stripey blazers and straw hats played croquet on the lawn. We had a halfday for the Varsity rugby match. And yet Nigel Farage only has to sit in a pub holding a pint, and compared to the other three he looks like Mickey Flanagan.

      As a gay,lefty, London dwelling,Asian son of immigrants,atheist, environmentally aware, Guardian reading (website only), Radio 4 contributing, Europhile I should be terrified by the rising popularity of UKIP. I’m not. Across the EU are countries who have coped perfectly well with having political parties on the firm right. Ironically by having one of our own, we have become a little bit more European. It is surely part of a healthy democracy that enough people have a view,then that view is represented. It is to  the shame of the three main parties that UKIP have seemed like such an attractive option to so many. Here’s hoping that the job of actually debating with them falls to people more able than Nick Clegg.

   

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Football. Bloody hell.

As has been well documented, it has been a roller coaster season for a Liverpool fan. Starting the Premier League season as 33-1 outsiders, a series of amazing performances meant that the frankly impossible became possible. And then reality, and Liverpool’s godawful defence combined to extinguish the dream. What complicated matters for me is living with the other half, a guy who utterly loathes everything about Liverpool FC.

There is nothing wrong with differences of opinion of course. But Sundays were complicated. I’d go out and watch the game elsewhere , and when I returned various toys had been mysteriously thrown out of the pram. Of course when Liverpool lost the title (or more correctly Man City deservedly won it) , the toys returned to the pram. And that would have been that. But his team were Hull City. And as a result he had two tickets to Saturday’s FA Cup Final against Arsenal.

When I was eight , my Dad managed to get tickets for Ipswich v Arsenal. Whenever I ask him now how he got the tickets he just mysteriously says “Black market” and leaves it at that. In 1986 my schoolmate and fellow Liverpool fan Mark Little somehow got two tickets for Liverpool’s double winning performance against Everton. Add to that three cricket world cup finals, and once meeting Wendy James from Transvision Vamp , and it’s clear that Ive been a lucky guy over the years.

The train up was uneventful , with rival fans friendly. Though with most of the Arsenal chants I was tempted to say “This is your day.Could you not obsess about Spurs for just one day?”   And Wembley really works. It is a magnificent stadium. Quick queueing , easy to find seats , and only a fiver for a small can of beer. What’s not to love? Despite the fact that we were as far away from the pitch as it’s possible to be, the view was magnificent and the fans in fine form. Then something totally unexpected happened. Hull City went 2-0 up after ten minutes.

This changed everything. Most of the Hull City fans would have come thinking – “if Arsenal can miss all their chances , if we sneak a lucky goal , and if they can sprinkle “Magic of the Cup” dust all over us , we might just do this.”   It was Arsenal who came into the match in form, it was Hull who had two strikers missing through being cuptied. Now the task was different. “If we only concede one goal in the next 80 minutes , we’ve bloody done it”

This season as a Liverpool fan, I had to watch my team battle heroically but then succumb inevitably at the last to a club with a better squad and deeper pockets. Now as a Hull City fan for the day, I had to do it all over again. There was a horrible sense of inevitability about how Arsenal, nowhere near their best, still had enough about them to patiently claw back the deficit and take the lead in extra time. Ramsay’s superb goal knocked the stuffing out of me and the thousands around me. No way back. Except that there was. Arsenal’s poor defending allowed Sone Aluko to round the goalie and attempt a shot from a frankly impossible angle. For a glorious moment it looke like Sone Aluko, one cap for Nigeria after representing England at u-19, was going to score the single most memorable goal in the history of the FA Cup Final. It went agonizingly wide. Magic of the cup my arse. Hull City joined Brighton (83) , Crystal Palace (90) and West Ham (06) as underdogs who had raised their game magnificently but still come away with nothing. I was more openly devastated than my other half. He is the lifelong devoted fan, but doesnt get as tragically overemotional as I do.

I did point out the Liverpool analogy, and that perhaps he can now see how I felt. He pointed out that Liverpool will get other chances. In all likelihood, this is it for Hull. Ten minutes into extra time a guy , seemed like mid 50’s, came to say hello to me. I asked him what he thought the score would be. He said “Whatever happens , this has been the greatest day of my life”

 

As we got off the train at Stockwell station to get a bus home, three drunk Arsenal fans spotted us. Or rather spotted the other half. All day he had worn a Hull City top with “FRYATT” written on the back. Why Matty Fryatt ? “He’s not the most talented footballer , but I really admire his workrate”  This was an opinion that would have been lost on the three drunks who decided to follow us shouting at the top of their voices “HULL CITY SHIT. MATTY FRYATT SHIT. FRYATT SHIT. SHIT. SHIT FRYATT SHIT.HULL CITY SHIT.SHIT” accompanied by cacophonous laughter at their combined wit. The walk to  the ticket barrier felt like an eternity as these hilarious people became slightly perplexed that their efforts elicited no change of pace or turning round on our parts. Then at the bus stop were more Arsenal fans. Who were doubled up in hysterics that anyone could possibly be wearing a Hull City top.

My other half never reacted at all to any of this. And for that I’m proud of him. And I understand his resentment of fans like me , who by good fortune happened to have picked a strong team in childhood , regardless of lack of links to city or club. I hate his total lack of perspective and objectivity when it comes to discussing that club. But having spent a day in his shoes, I understand it a little bit more. Fans of the “bigger club”, be grateful that there will always be another chance. As for Hull City – you were great company. Now go and win the Europa League.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Club Comedy – a defence

A few weeks ago I won my first ever comedy award, after several surprise nominations. I am Club Comedian of the Year, according to respected industry website Chortle. Although I am perfectly aware that I am not the best out there, I was flattered to be recognised and saw the award as a compliment.

Was I wrong? Is the term “club comedian” a subtle insult? Scott Weddell in his fabulously asinine opinion piece on Chortle certainly thinks so. http://www.chortle.co.uk/correspondents/2014/05/09/20149/club_comic_is_a_putdown_for_a_reason…

I feel that I am in a good position to pass judgement. I have been a paid club comedian for 15 years , and have pretty much played every well known comedy club in Britain. I have tasted triumph and disaster, and sorry Kipling it is very difficult to treat those two impostors just the same. It’s a fine ideal , but once you have looked into the eyes of  a woman contorted with rage who just stares at you and says “These aren’t jokes, these are just stories about your life”, it is hard to recover.

I have also done several well received solo shows at Edinburgh, and have just completed my second national tour.I don’t feel that I am “naturally funny” , I can’t do impressions or accents , I can’t play guitar ,I don’t do physical comedy, I sweat when I am genuinely improvising. All I have really is material. And you know what? I bloody love being a club comedian.

What Scott doesn’t seem to realise is that the term “club comedy” covers a huge variety of venues. Jongleurs is not the same as Comedy Store. Comedy Store Manchester is not the same as Comedy Store London. Late Show is not the same as Early Show. (Two of my worst deaths ever have been at late shows where the early shows had been a joy). Tonight I will be on stage at Birmingham Jongleurs. At the same time the Glee Birmingham will be running , and Jason Manford’s new Birmingham venue will be running. All three gigs will be very different from each other. To dismiss it all as “crowd control” is ignorant in the extreme.If that’s all it was , believe me I wouldn’t be making a living at it.

And those are just the big venues. All around the country tonight rooms of every shape and size will be packing them in. And a large number of comedians on show will be good. Really good. Creatively ambitious, and successful in their own right. Tonight legendary Canadian comic Mike Wilmot headlines the Glee Cardiff. Jason Cook the creator of Hebburn is one fifth of the bill at The Store Manchester. Despite being northern he has some non-cake material.Celia Pacquola (comedy box Bristol) will be as far removed from whatever stereotype one might have of club comedy as possible. I’m not sure that she has any material on who she looks like. TV’s brilliant and upwardly mobile Romesh Ranganathan is on at the London Store. If you want politics try Steve Gribbin (Stand Newcastle) or Alistair Barrie ( Komedia Bath). This paragraph took me three minutes of research. I am also aware that you can see Tom Stade , Alun Cochrane and Paul Tonkinson on the same bill tonight. If you want to sneer at “club comedy” go ahead. But the UK club comedy scene really is an embarrassment of riches. It is full of people who can bang out 20 minutes AND do well received Edinburgh shows. It also full of people who may not have been to Edinburgh but who have worked bloody hard at crafting jokes that will work in as many environments as possible. That IS an art. Unlike in solo shows , when you walk on stage in a club nobody has a clue who you are. You have to work that bit harder to get their faith. The product has to be good.

It has been that way for years. The very first club gig I ever went to , Peter Baynham did quite brilliant character comedy. The second club gig I went to Mark Lamarr took the roof off. I have seen Bill Bailey , Harry Hill , Phil Jupitus , Alan Davies , Jenny Eclair, etc etc etc. Where do you think Daniel Kitson was before he became the most revered home comic of his generation ? Fine tuning his craft in clubs is where.

It has been well documented that a lot of clubs are struggling financially. The constant creation of TV “faces” , the increasing expense , and for me most of all the onward march in the sophistication of home entertainment have all played their part. But club comedy is a fantastic product and i feel humbled to have worked with some of the most dazzlingly funny people it is possible to meet. Scott Weddell’s piece was bafflingly ignorant.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The problem with panel shows.

 Last year I was chatting to an effervescent bright young comic at a party when he mentioned that he was doing Mock the Week later in the week. As he said the words , I didn’t feel envy as I once might have done. The days when I thought that I might be a boon to the show , or the show a boon to me have long gone. I was just curious – “What does that pay these days ?”   His answer surprised and mildly depressed me – “Oh I dunno. I end up spending nearly all of it on writers anyway”  

  That answer encapsulated for me why I find some TV comedy panel shows a difficult watch. The end product is often very entertaining. And there is no doubt about the amount of talent on display. But I would prefer to see a show that rewarded those acts who have taken it upon themselves to be topical comedians , rather than to be a showcase for those comedians who happen to have the right combination of agent , and perceived marketability , for whom writers can shore up that they don’t really follow the news.

     This is not a bitter position. I had a shot , the pilot episode of League of Their Own , and I was frankly misbooked and hopeless. It is quite clear that when it comes to this sort of thing I do radio better than TV. It is more a lament that the stand ups that you see on television don’t even come close to representing the breadth of talent that there is out there. When people discuss , as they have been , that women are underrepresented on TV panel shows , they are missing a bigger point. Huge swathes of British comedy is underrepresented on TV panel shows. It has long been an agent’s game , leading to the establishment of a coterie of comedians who faces just fit , and a larger group of comedians with their noses pressed against the window , wondering when Lady Luck will finally be smiling on them. 

        I’d like to see more women on the shows. But more than that I’d like to see more comedians booked for their content alone rather than their position in comedy’s complex infrastructure. I believe that British comedy is far richer and more diverse than is reflected in the booking policy for these shows , however entertaining the end product may be.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments