Measuring out afternoons with TS Eliott and Coffeespoons

“Sleep away the afternoon…”

Barenaked Ladies

Afternoon. Okay. Well a fine day so far. It’s Thurday afternoon. Have just said a huggy cheerio to the tremendous Claire who was my boss way back when. We bumped into each other t’other day and arranged a lunch (which, you will recall, was postponed after my “staying over in Bath” at the weekend). So we had toastie sandwiches and a gossipy catch up at “The Grind.” She has returned home for conference calls (she is the biggest of wigs at Sony) and I – as I am still carefree – have come for a lovely afternoon pint in The Prince Of Wales opposite. I have an ale in the warm sunlight cosiness of their lounge and tippy tap away at a copper-topped table. Honestly, it’s like writing memoirs downstairs at Downtown Abbey.

Morning has been, I hope, productive. I’ll explain.

I finally braved the Stand-Up Comedy circuit planner and downloaded the “guide to getting gigs.” An AMAZINGLY comprehensive spreadsheet in Excel of seemingly ALL the comedy gigs in the UK. Contact details, email addresses, details on who they want, open spots or pros etc, links to Facebook pages and such.

So, with a sense of order and organisation, I downloaded the planner, filtered by “London” and “Open Spots” and began methodically contacting each promoter/club.

Now some were email addresses, so I slung them something keen and polite with a link to my YouTube clip. Others were FB pages so I did the same in their message boards. I started with the first 14 in no particular order. These range from the Angel Comedy in Camden to Full Frontal Comedy in Twickenham and all the stuff inbetween.

Will do the same again tomorrow until I have contacted all Eighty Nine clubs in London. (89? Fuck). Then sit back. I don’t know how long one has to wait. If one has to chase? If one gets a “are you free tonight?” or a “can you make Novemeber 2025?” But that’s the “fun” of it I suppose.

The pub is playing “True Blue” by Madonna. Oddly, a song not featured on her masterpiece “The Immaculate Collection” greatest hits. One of the few “all killer no filler” best-ofs ever compiled. I wonder why.

Claire is “in the office” today so not at home. This meant I had to see to the “gutter cleaning men” who rolled up at 12.45pm with hoses and extensions and ladders to “do their thing” on our communal bits this afternoon. I left them to it. I assume they will be all cleaned up and packed up and gone by the time I return. Depending if this turns into 1 pint or 8.

So. Stand-up video done, edited, uploaded to YouTube and now “out there in the world.” Halfway, once again, through Allen Carr’s “Easy Way (HA!) to Stop Smoking” audio book for the 2nd time. I suppose now is the time to ACTUALLY start updating my CV and seeing if the world has more to offer a man like me than my current cosy work position.

Obviously no small amount of dread here. I mean, technically nothing to lose. And if current climate is as reported, it’s unlikely I will get ANY response (positive or otherwise) from these applications. Itr seems that is how the world is, if any of Alex’s friends are anything to go by. One slings one’s CV into the ether and sits back to deafening silence. No “thanks for applying” or even “we are keeping you on file,” these days. Just binned if they don’t like you. So one sits back and waits, never knowing if the role has been filled. Until 6 months pass and you assume you didn’t get on the long list.

Anyhoo, just checked my laptop and I don’t have my CV saved on it here. It’s on a drive or a USB or something. So that’s delayed that. Secretly thrilled about this, obv. I can do it tomorrow.

Okay, so that leaves me time to talk jokes.

Jokes. Oh how silly they are.

Wanted to take some time to discuss Grainne’s (oh the wrong spelling) guide to writing jokes. This was week 4 of the course, which was back on Sept 27th. A pro comic, she did a GREAT session on how to – for want of a better phrase – find the funny.

Now “finding the funny” up until now has been pretty much sitting back, talking a lot, listening a lot, and waiting for that slilghtly autistic bit of my head to “click” and create some entertaining wordplay pun (splashing out = dogging / chased = chaste / Paw Patrol = Poor Patrol / Aryan = Airing) or skewed observation (competing inferiority complexes etc). There was no “process” to this. Certainly not a “system” to this. And I have always been quaveringly fearful of applying a “process” to this. It’s said that art is always 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Which I agree with. But up until now, when it’s been for my own amusement only, I have been happy with awaiting the “insp’.”

Comedy writing as a business however cannot simply be trundling about, head in the clouds, awaiting genius lightening strikes. It has to be worked at.

Here’s what Grainne had to say about that:

Firstly, structure your writing time. You can’t control the luck of hitting on a zinger. You can ONLY control the time you give it. So come up with a writing schedule and stick to it.

It won’t always be fun. Or even pleasant. It’s an uncomfortable process. Know this and LEAN into it, like a workout. Push and push.

Write every day. No matter what. Even if it’s just 15mins.

Okay, so some thoughts o the above: I don’t write everyday. I do at the moment (you’re reading it) but this is something of an annual leave, long-afternoon luxury. Coming home after work (especially, ffs, factoring in a hopeful gym visit) is going to mean having time and a workspace and some commitment. It can’t just be noting puns on my phone.

It did occur to me I could possibly get something from the Netflix “Romantic/Quirky/British” descriptions of movies they put on trailer screens. I have a “bit” I sent to Kermode and Mayo about how certain phrases fit certain movies. Eg, Not Without Floors (Die Hard). I have some reservations (Dances With Wolves). Surprisingly Touched (Spotlight). Maybe there is something in here. But again, this was a “just occurred to me” moment, not bled out over a yellow legal pad in a frenzy of writing exercises. I like this idea of “leaning in to it. “ Pushing and pushing to find the joke. Is there more? Is there even more? How far can one take it? It seems like something I could do, synapses firing and links sparking. I could do this. This is, after all, how my laundry “bit” managed to get to “coloureds needing hanging/airing and Aryan cupboards/hues and jews.” This was all achieved by lying in bed and just pushing the idea and imagery and phrases/terms as far as they could go. Erich forced me to do this. “See what MORE” there could be in an idea. Have you taken it as FAR as it can go?

Anyway. All good advice. But now we get to the meat. This was the bit that got me excited.

Spidergrams. Those circles and lines as ideas jump off each other. Give yourself a deadline to get ALL the ideas out of a notion you can. If we stay with laundry, for example, a simple spidergram gives me:

Washing (clothes and personal)/socks (sex?)/ tumble dryer (Mr Tumble? Kids TV?) / Hotpoint (key topic)/Zanussi/Bosch (bish bash bosch?)/ comfort (comforting) / White Goods (klan hood/crucifix) /John Lewis / Ironing board (bored?) / hangars (hangers-on? / airplane hangers?) Folding clothes (folding businesses?) Laudromat (doormat?) / soap (soap opera?) / bubbles (Aero?) Starch (potatoes?) and so on…

All this in 3 mins. I’m not saying there’s gold there. But I could get ANOTHER line out of it. And that’s from doggedly hanging onto an idea and saying “what else? What ELSE?”

And then the magic 4 words. Weird / Hard / Scary / Stupid.

These are Grainne’s kick off steps to finding the funny. Think about your topic. And then dig in to these ideas. Let’s have a go, again, on laundry day:

WEIRD: What’s weird about laundry. The prioritisation that sounds like culture wars (black vs whites). The escaped sock (always). Hangar status (wood vs wire). Decorating the radiators with clothes. Hiding the drying laundry so no-one can see it (shame?) Smell of conditioner (outdoor smells for indoor clothes? Why do my pants smell of pine?) Items climbing into duvet covers? Clothing label instructions.

HARD: Well. Planning ahead is tough, knowing what you might need to wear 3 days in advance. Judging the size of the load so it doesn’t break the machine. Finding enough place to hang a big wash (sheets, duvet covers over doors etc). Doing different temperatures.

SCARY: The dreaded “dry clean only” label (a bit Seinfeld). The odd beeping of the machine. The dreaded leak or spill or flood. Does it smell? Does it not? How often to clean? The scary stain (wine) that won’t come out? Shrinkage?

STUPID: Hmm. Not sure. The care one takes on things no-one sees? Ironing bed sheets? Pairing socks? Pairing items of equal “worn-out-ness.”

So you see the idea. I mean this is GREAT stuff. Even now, typing this, I can get another 3 mins of decent laundry material here. Even if it isn’t all solid “closers” there are ideas here than can transition from one idea to the next.

We then moved on to more terrific tips. The premise is the headline. “Laundry is like racist segregation.” Then ask what is the article? Ask the W’s. (who. Where, when, what, why, which, how?)

Ask yourself how OTHER comics would tackle the subject. Is going the Seinfeld route going to lead you somewhere? The Izzard route? The McIntyre route?

Then finally, as we said back in week one, pick an ATTUTUDE to the premise. There are dozens of attitudes (or “approaches”) to the premise. Apply each one. Let’s have a go at that now! (Gosh this is exciting isn’t it! I wonder if this counts for my 15mins writing today?

ACT OUT: Physical mime of loading washing, hanging washing, struggling with piles of clothes, sheets.

COMPARE: Extremes in status. What is this process LIKE? Compare high and low.Laundry is like ethnic cleansing? Personal hygiene? Washing money? Cleaning house?

CHILDISH: Have a tantrum. How would children see this silly adult behaviour? Why not wear clothes in the bath? Why not throw them away? Why not buy new like Barbie or Action Man outfits in plastic sets? Why not have a bib? Why not a romper suit?

SUPERIOR: Am I above all this? Why me? Seems awfully upstairs downstairs? Good use of my time?

BLUNT TRUTH: I HATE/LOVE laundry day. Why?

WORDPLAY: (Now we’re talking) Starch/potatoes – bubbles/social-circles – soap/drama / board/bored – whites/coloureds/blacks – hamper/hinder – hangar/hanger  and so on.

PULLBACK and REVEAL: Well, this has to be more than Stewart Lee’s “and then I got off the bus/and that was just the teachers/he’s 28 years old…” Or does it? Pretend you’re at home…but you’re at a laundromat. Or vice versa. Pretend your at your kitchen cupboard…but you’re in a supermarket. And so on…

RULE OF THREE: Well this speaks for itself. Idea. Repeat idea. Twist idea.

FUNNY DEFINITION: Or what I prefer to call…

WILFULL MISUNDERSTANDING: “Dry flat.” “Do not mix.” “Delicate” and the hilarious possibilities therein.

SELF-DEPRICATION: I am bad at washing. I don’t know what I’m doing. My mistakes.

ANGRY RANTS: Go big about something small. Go SMALL about something big. Off-hand attitude to the environment. Huge fury at lost sock.

LITERAL PHRASE: Again, a bit like the misunderstanding. “Do not tumble.” How to acrobats clean their leotards? Oh for heaven’s sake. Etc.

OPPOSITE OF RECEIVED OPINION: Clean clothes are bad / ironed clothes are bad / wet clothes are bad / mixing fabrics is bad / clean sheets are bad etc

SWITCH ATTITIDE: Liking something/hating something for the wrong reason.

INCLUDE EVERYONE: That may be what you think. But what do older people? Younger people? Foreign people? Think…

And finally, there should be no such thing as writer’s block. Just keep playing with it.

So. What to make of all that? Well I love it. Obviously. I could talk about it all day. But won’t. It’s 3.45pm now and I still don’t know what the afternoon/evening will hold. The only OTHER book I’ve ever seen this stuff in was a yellowing paperback on “How TO Write Comedy” I probably got at a jumble sale.

It was by an old timey comedy TV writer. Of the 70s sitcom era I think. And the advice was…similar…ish…to the above. But seemed so much more strained. Perhaps it was due to my lefty-alternative attitude. When I wanted tips on how to be Ben Elton and Eddie Izzard, rather thgan Croft/Perry. I recall it was things like “try and compare things! If a car is slow, how slow is it? “My car’s so slow…bada bing!” and such. “I wouldn’t say it was a small town…” and so on. Didn’t really help me at the time.

But typing all this up has helped. There is SO much here to help one (me) get the MOST out of a “premise.” The thing to do next I suppose would be to think of a funny premise and apply the rules over a few 15min writing drags and see what happens.

Shall I do that now? Not sure. Second pint is doing its work. Perhaps an audio book in the garden in the dying sunshine would be a nicer couple of hours now. I might meet Marie at 6pm for a pint. I have to travel to Scotland on Monday so need to figure all that shit out.

In the meantime, well. It’s 4pm. Nowt to do til…well. Til whenever. Claire will be home soon I expect if not home already.

Oh! Here’s something exciting. Have just checked my phone. I have been “accepted for a spot” through the “giggag” app to appear at The Groovy Grove in Hammersmith on 4th November. That’s 2 weeks time. Well lahdidah! So it begins! Hooray! Hopefully more to come… Ooh, quite excited now…

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