Weird, hard, scary & stupid

Travel broadens the behind…”

Stephen Fry

Well it’s been too long, Johnny. Johnny is been too long. Or however Hugh Laurie’s song went. Something like that.

I always think (well not ALWAYS, but you know what I mean) that Hugh Lauries’ bluesy singer/songwriter career vanity whatever you call it singing thing (Millionaire Cambridge white male rowing blue in his 60s sings Delta Blues) was utterly derailed by him doing it at a joke on A Bit Of Fry & Laurie in 199-whatever it was. Plus, for your F&L nerds, all that while wearing what is clearly the Red Hat of Patferrick. (Look it up).

Anyhoo, welcome back blogites. It’s – can’t be bothered to check – about a week since we were together. And much has moved on.

Oddly for this, unlike writing teenage moony letters, a previous long lost blog (afewwordsonthesubject – a few words about that later) in the early 2010s, or a novel…I have no audience in mind. Firstly coz there is no audience. I have told about 2 people I’m writing again. And Also because I can’t imagine anyone really being interested.

Aging man does a pub quiz and writes puns. It’s not exactly Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster.

But I continue anyway because everyone needs a third thing.

A third thing. Not home domesticity, and not office wage-earning drudgery. A third thing. Some men have golf. Some have World Of Warcraft. Some have mistresses. Some have a pub darts team. Some have a pub World of Golfcraft mistress. I have this.

So where are we. Surprise sur-freakin-prise, it’s Sunday afternoon and I am back in a nice boozer with an ale and laptop. Not sure what the ale is. Its dark, which means chewy and gravyish and warm and British and will give me the major shits in about 4 hours.

I remember discovering the amazingly sloshy drinkability of a casky warm ale (as opposed to the freezing bubbles of a footie Carling) when I was on a holiday during my marriage. It would have been between 2010 and 2016 or so I think. Two Couples. Country pubs. Roaring fire. Long walks. Hiking boots. Card games. Roasts and Yorkshires. You get the idea.

Anyhoo, instead of the teenage lager, I opted for some award winning Stout or Casky guest ale. And so incredibly nourishing and drinkable and warming and velvety it was, at one point, I’d finished the pint by the time I brought the round to the table. Just supping and sloshing while the barkeep poured the others. Christ I was like a young Ulrikakakakaka Johnson.

Anyhow. We’re back in the Prince Of Wales (as someone might say. I don’t know. Camilla? Tampons? There’s something there). It’s the first Sunday in October, it’s my weekend before I have 2 weeks off, it’s the day before I have to travel to Plymouth, it’s the afternoon prior to hopefully going to see a Chinese Marvel Movie about Rings. (I keep wanting to say “Kobo and the 2 Strings.” What is that? A manga? No, a thingy. Whassit. Fuck, theres a word for it. Studio Gibli? Something like that). Anyhoo its not called that. It’s called something like “Charlie Chan and the Ten Rings of Notishika” or something. Claire has already seen is and says it’s a treat. And we ALWAYS try and see our superhero franchise movies at the cinema together. So we are hoping to put aside an evening of Brooklyn 99 (new fave sitcom) and Bolognese (the perfect evening) for an ACTUAL NIGHT OUT. Fuckadoo, how long has it been since we went to the movies together? Shit, it has to be years?

So depending on how Claire’s work goes this afternoon – I have left her to the quiet of the flat while I slipped out – clichéd old married couple style – to The PoW for a pint or two and some Cheddars (mini) and to write up my life.

So where are we?

Well records show last chat was…(he scrolls back for a moment). Okay it was the session I did on the 20th I think. Which means we are on the 27th, which was last Monday.

Again, I had practised and practised and practised my 5mins.

These were the “best” (or at least, the gags that got a response from the class) jokes, minus anything that got silence or a warm chuckle. Christ, I don’t need a warm chuckle.

In a creepy way, when I watch back the videos, I am listening most for a laugh from the “teacher.” Young Erich. Oddly – or perhaps not – I consider his laugh to be more of a sign of a good joke than I do the encouraging ripples from the class. I suppose that’s normal. Don’t try and impress the students, impress the teacher.

So last Sunday I went through all the videos so far (see earlier blogs) and just plucked the lines which I thought I could hear Erich laugh the most.

It ran just over 5 mins.

Gone was the Rolf Harris ROFL anagram paedo pun. (Apparently true, but not funny. This annoys me hugely. Infact, let’s dwell on the Rolf gag for a while.)

The Rolf gag. Perhaps it’s not funny. Perhaps it’s cleverer than it is witty. Perhaps it’s just a warming smug bit of wordplay that I more “proud of” than anything else.

Oh, just realised dear reader, you may not remember the joke. It’s this:

“I like to do quizzes online, text your answers. I won a Text chat game: Unscramble the BBC Paedophile Anagram. Couldn’t believe it! I typed ROFL as a response. Got the bonus round as well.”

Okay. So you see the gag. I hope. I am inordinately proud of this joke. But it got nothing. IN my early years (1992-94) I would have continually hammered this one out to silence, open mic after open mic. Convinced I was right. But doing it live in a “classroom” environment showed me it might be clever, but it’s not funny. Maybe written down? I don’t know. Anyhoo, no response. So out it came.

So I was left, after a chop and a cull and an edit, as I say, with a routine that ran just over 5mins.

Now that’s 5mins if you read each joke aloud. I feel weird about timing a routine based on “add space for laughs.” Despite the practicality of it, it seems painfully presumptuous.

“It’s 4 mins 20, but with laughs its about 5 mins.”

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being very British.

I’m reminded also, as we discuss this (discuss? Ha!) about a rule of editing.

It was mentioned in that documentary I posted a link to a couple of blogs back. The one about Movie Comedy. The rule, according to those who know (and one HAS to believe that the Zukers and Abrahams know, given they created Airplane and Police Squad/Naked Gun) is that – when editing a comedy movie, you NEVER NEVER EVER leave a space for a laugh. Just cut it together as if its drama. The oh so talented and even more so Jewish writing double act of Loel Gantz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers/League of their Own/Parenthood) agree, so I’m happy to share this.

Does this mean that if a joke is a big one, there’s a danger the audience might still be laughing over the next bit of dialogue? YES. Fuck em. Let them see the movie twice. Let them be hushing each other. Let them be rewinding if they have to (home viewing being the biggest audience). NEVER leave a “beat” where the laugh is. If people are watching at home, alone, they will enjoy the joke in silence. The 2 secs of “nothing” after each gag will just make the movie slow and draggy.

Best example I ever had of this rule being broken and it ruining an otherwise snappy night out, was when I was invited to a preview screening of Ben Elton’s first directorial effort – the mind-bendingly tedious “Maybe Baby,” based on his novel Inconcievable and starring the unmistakeable comic instincts of Hugh Laurie and thingy. Y’know. British. Posh. Weird knees. A Richardson? A Redgrave? Whats her name? Fuck it. Google time…

Found the trailer on YouTube. Be back in 3mins…

Fuck it was a Richardson. Joely Richardson. (Spelling?) Gosh she’s SOOOOO posh. Her nose, her skin, her hair… I mean sexy-ish. In a boarding school head-girly sort of way.

Anyway. They had cut the movie together roughly for the screening. But, just as if they were doing a sitcom exterior shot and knew they had to time it for laughs, there was a good 3 seconds of silence after every joke. So the movie juts draaaaaaaaged on and on painfully. Like a bad best man’s speech. There’s probably a snappy 89min comedy in there. But fucking hell. NEVER LEAVE SILENCE FOR LAUGHS.

So I timed my “bit” and it ran I think 5min8 secs. Just feed punch feed punch feed punch. Which I thought would be a good 5 min set as I was likely to say it quickly because of nerves.

And I cut together an audio version on my phone’s MP3 recorder thing. And sat and played to over and over and over, trying to remember how the end of one joke lead into the beginning of the next…

And Monday came. I sat in the Grey Horse and sipped a Lemsip (still feeling sickly) until 7pm when I gathered my table crap and trundled into the dark room of The Ram Jam Club.

Fuck it. Just remembered. I had every intention of going to the Ram Jam (Grey Horse) open mic night tonight. Told Erich I would. Went utterly out of my head til now. Arse buckets. Missed it. He’s right, y’see. You can’t get good unless you watch a lot. And I’m missing an opportunity to see others do it well and learn something. Poo. Marvel night is already agreed. Dammit. Ah well. Next Sunday.

So the class had 2 special “guest speakers.” One to talk about the “amateur circuit” and the other to talk about “writing jokes.”

That’s what I’ve come out this afternoon to write about. But as you will have seen, 2hrs in and I haven’t got round to it yet. And the table I;m sat at doesn’t give me enough room to get my note book AND laptop out. Fuck. I’ll prop it on a chair and do my best.

My notes tell me the two female guests were called Ginan and Gronya. I can’t imagine for a second I;ve got the names or the spelling right for either.

I’m looking at the notes I made for Ginan’s little lecture. (She’d made a Powerpoint! Bless).


So us hungry wane-be standup sat around the table in the club and she popped out her little laptop and began her short lecture/guide to “getting gigs.”

Wasn’t sure how I felt about this. I mean…great advice of course. But perhaps for the future. My head was still fizzing and snapping with my 5mins 8 secs of routine I had to learn.

Plus of course – and more importantly – this section of the course really does rely on one have big intentions of “doing more gigs.”

It’s not like doing a cookery / baking course and suddenly being interrupted by a 2hr lecture on how to build a business model and hire staff. Or maybe it is?

Depends why you’re there I suppose.

Still don’t know why I,m there. But I’ll tell you one thing, dear reader.

As the talk moved on to “making calls” and “finding clubs” and “meeting promoters” and “travelling the UK” and “playing The Store” (Piccadilly’s Comedy Store), a Lily Allen sized bucket of “the fear” began to slosh about in my tum.

Anyhoo. I squirmed and jotted. Jenan started her “how to guide.”

So a big name she mentioned was someone called Gaelle Constant. Who appears to run some kind of “Open Mic” review website/Facebook page. Thing. Am going to take a look now…

It appears there’s a website, or at least a Stand Up Comedy FB page thing. Where there are lists and maps of ALL the gigs currently running in London and beyond.

Have just thumbed “join group” so am waiting now to be “admitted.”

Okay, so cards on the table: this is terrifying.

Because the comfy cosy blanket of “I’d do it if I knew how?” or “I’d be a success if I knew what to do/who to speak to/what the process is…” is in danger of being tugged away.

If I’m about to be faced with a long list of promoters, gigs, times, locations and telephone numbers…then I have no excuse. The idea is, of course, to methodically go through EVERY gig and speak to EVERY club and try and get a half dozen or dozen open spots booked for the next 6 months.

Why is this terrifying?

Not sure. Let’s think.

  1. I did this already. 1992-94 I spent the whole time on the phone. In the family home, standing anxiously twisting the cable, waiting to get through, mid-morning, to grumpy men with business diaries. Always feeling like an imposition, an irritation, a git. Not realising, presumably, that these people NEEDED acts like me to make a living. And I DID that. And nothing ever happened. (Well, apart from 2-3 gigs a week for 2 years. Which, for some reason, I am dismissing as “nothing.”)
  2. Uhmmm. It means I’m doing it properly. I mean REALLY. And I don’t know if I am. Honestly, even at this stage – although it may be the Twiglets and IPA talking – what is this all about? Didn’t I do this once? What am I trying to achieve? What am I trying to prove? Who am I trying to please?

Worth saying, when I told Claire I was embarking on this whole thing, she was anxious. I read it, typically me, as “unsupportive.” But of course what she quickly explained was how I had told story after story after story about the humiliation, the battering, the crying, the beatings, the boo-ing, the self-worth pummelling I had taken in my 20s. And obviously she was not keen on

  1. Seeing me put myself through that again
  2. Having to act as psychological nurse-maid to a sobbing 50 year old three nights a week who got booed off by a load of drunk millennials who didn’t get a “Knight Rider” reference.

I do love her very much.

So here we are. In an odd mood now. Got PAGES of notes to type up. But am having a small crisis. Stupid I know. But am I embarking on something or not?

Feel a bit like that guy. Was obsessed with him for a few weeks. The sailor who faked his round the world solo sailing trip, got lost, faked his coordinates and went mad. Suicide? Accident? We can’t be sure. Great doc about him. Poor dramatization of it (The Mercy, starring Colin Firth). Donald Crowhurst. Typical me to get all over dramatic. But do I want to set sail onto another sinking ship with visions of glory? Is it all just un-prepared pipe dreams?

Am I a coward? Am I a realist?

Don’t know right now.

But I do know right now I don’t want to think about it.

Will sit quietly now with an audio book. Not a decision I want to face.

Silly, I know. But the more I write this, the more I think I am somehow “committing” to a path. Can you type up 4 pages of A4 notes on stand-up and NOT want to do stand-up?

Not sure. Everything’s a bit scary now.

Tomorrow night’s course I can only do “remotely” as I will be in Plymouth for work. Will just join in via a laptop and Zoom or something. No pressure.

Which makes me sad. And safe. At the same time.

Hmn. Odd mood today.

Beer probably hasn’t helped.

Much to think about.

Love to most xxx

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