If tomorrow never comes…

“What are you thinking about?”

The West Wing

And here we are once more. It is almost precisely 1 whole week since I was here. Not “here” as such. It’s been 23 days since I’ve been “here.” Here, today, is back among the beanies, beards, bugaboos and birkenstocks of Surbiton at the oh-so chi chi “SURBITON GRIND.”

It’s 12:38pm on Sunday 10th Oct. Which means the following:

  1. I haven’t typed up anything in a week. And given the last thing I wrote (in the pub opposite) was essentially a fearful take-down of the whole comedy thing – rather than a handy typed up guide to “finding stand-up gigs in the SE England region,” I haven’t moved on much.
  2. I’m out of the house again. Claire has a Psychosynthesis Weekend course going on (as she does every few weeks or so) and therefore needs the dining table, room to talk, room to express and room to learn without the thought of a gangly Richard snoring in the room next door/listening in/making her all self-conscious/banging and clattering and making a disturbing racket.
  3. I am now, technically – as Ross repeatedly told Rachel – on a break. My 2 weeks of time off/annual leave has begun. I am free, to a greater or lesser extent, as a Big Bird after Sesame Street got cancelled due to a disappointing sweeps week. (I know its on PBS, shut up). 2 weeks off. Not back to the office until Monday 25th. 15 Looonnng days away. Whatever will I do with myself.

Well here I sit, lovely viewer. Remnants of a bacon and tomato toastie at one elbow, dregs of my first latte at the other. Laptop out, I tippy tappy and jab and prod, much like I imagine Tyson “Furious” Fury did last night in Vegas. There was a fight. The firm I work for offered over-night ITV subscribers tech support. I dodged having to go into the office. I will now check the result, about which frankly I couldn’t give less of a minge: Well lahdidah! Apparently it was quite the bout. Fury knocked down twice, but stood back up again (like he was a ChumbaWumba frontman) and stopped Deontay Wilder in the eleventh to keep hold of his title. Gene does name his kids weirdly.

So it’s Sunday lunchtime and I am back in the café (same spot). Big day today, as I have to prep my final 5mins ready for tomorrow night’s Showcase appearance. Plus I would like to get to the gym for a second day running (well, running and rowing-machine-ing). Plus Claire and I have plans tonight for burgers and tickets for the new Bond. How’s that for a Saturday.

Have all the time in the world so let’s talk about the gym.

I am sat in trainers (proper Nike sport ones, not “fashion pumps”); a standard Stallone-inspired “grey marl track pant”; plus a running shirt (slimy fabric, meant to help) I was “awarded” after a distant half-marathon about 5 years ago; navy “hoodie” (I know…) and denim jacket. On top of this, almost literally, is a burgundy coloured beanie hat with a Converse All Stars logo on the front. So I look like a basketball cyclops. The satchel next to me hold 2litres of water in a used Sainsbury’s bottle and a hand towel. This is unnecessary guffola that signals a trip to some kind of gymnasium.

Oh and a smartphone currently loaded with the boomingly stern 4min warning tones of Allen Carr’s “The Easy Way The Stop Smoking” audio book. (currently 40hrs since my last Camel).

Paging a therapist? Mid life crises expert to table 5? It’s that guy. In the beanie and the Nikes next to half the bacon sandwich. Him? He’s nearly fifty. Quite…

I sort of feel like writing about this today. Rather, perhaps, than typing up my stand-up notes. Although, given that’s the project that will be coming to fruition in 31hrs time, perhaps I should keep that for another time? Hmn. Yes. Let’s.

Let’s go back to 2 weeks ago, when I was in the Prince Of Wales and having a minor panic about the idea of “trying to get comedy gigs.” I was sharing what I had learned from Jenan, who one assumes (have yet to check) is a successful jobbing stand-up who knows the open-mic scene.

She was talking about Gaelle Constant and her FB page. Remember? This blog is weird. One has to start at the bottom and keep scrolling up a bit to find the next chapter. It’s a bit Japanese.

I haven’t been near this since we were last chatting. But as I say, it appears to be a very helpful guide to new clubs, new nights, new promoters etc, designed for the new open-micer or budding 10-minuter to use as a “planner” to give them the contacts and details to start building a career.

In the old days of course, before the Web spun and choked everything around it like a big e-spider, these details were purchased from a weekly edition of Time Out. The London “listings” magazine where Mark Kermode first blagged his way into a “listings job” before becoming….well, Mark Kermode. One purchased this fat papery mag once a week and it simply was THE guide to every gig, show, concert, performance, dance, poetry, exhibition etc in the London Area. Lovingly put together and almost faultless in its accuracy. If you wanted to know what was playing at the Prince Charles Cinema at midnight next Wednesday, or which amateur poets would be shouting into a microphone upstairs at The Redan pub on a Tuesday lunchtime…Time Out told you.

Of course the best thing about the magazine was the contact details. Occasionally after a comedy club listing, it would have printed “new acts call Geoff on 0181 555 7676.” This was the holy grail, as it meant you might – if courage up-plucking was a thing – get through to a bloke who’d “stick you on to do an unpaid five” in 6 weeks time, somewhere in Balham. Getchaself two dozen of these spots in your year planner – I believed – and you could say you were “on the circuit.”

Time Out has gone the way of the Tyrannosaurus (by which I mean it’s been replaced by a much more efficient digital version) so it’s all online booking now.

There are also, it appears, facebook collectives and groups for new comics. Comedy Forum (as apposed to “against ‘em”, I assume) and such. These I need to investigate. If I’m going to do this.

The idea of not doing it. I mean, even not even turning up to tomorrow’s show, still flitters mothlike about my shoulders.

Open mic nights naturally still exist in London and the surrounding world. Apparently – and this I can only see as a plus…or MASSIVE MINUS…clubs now require you to “enquire for a spot” via email. And include a YouTube link. So the promoter can “check you out” presumably and see if you’re gonna bring the mood up or crashing down.

Blimey. I mean…blimey.

It makes sense of course and was naturally de rigour in the music biz, when one would hastily jiffy-bag up a “demo tape” with accompanying letter and glossy 4×6 b/w off to clubs and such to get gigs. And sending a “link” to your show is certainly less humiliating than having some twerp on the phone grumpily asking you “are you funny? Make me laugh…” when you bothered him over his afternoon Frosties.

So the show reel, as it’s called in the acting biz. This, I assume, is what I’m hoping to get from tomorrow night. Erich will be taping the show infront of, I hope, a welcoming crowd. Monday night, rather than Friday night, so less boozy blokey bellowers. Also clearly a “new act showcase” so one would imagine a “forgiving” and “generous” crowd. But that’s a lot of pressure for your FIRST five minutes to become your calling card for all your other gigs for the next year. Unless you fuckin’ SMASH it of course. Hope hope hope.

It’s 1:18pm as I type. And God I write weird. Just occurring to me now. If one was to try and fake my prose “style”, it would be a matter of just typing: I expect, frankly, I suppose, essentially as you’d imagaine, to a certain extent – or rather not – I guess, presumably, one, dear reader, I assume agrees.

Christ it’s tedious. You can see why I never really appear as “assertive” in business environments.

So. More advice on gig-getting: Try everywhere once. Look for “helper gigs” who will essentially (see! I can’t help it) give you stage time in exchange for manning the door, staying late to clear up, set out chairs, flyering the street etc.

Once – again, according to the very very knowledgeable Ginan –  one has a few of these open mic 5-minute slots under the belt, time to step up. Infact, it seems, your tight open-mic 5 mins should only really be the greatest hits of your equally excellent 10mins that you already have written. Worst case (as I discovered back in 1992 when I did my second ever gig), the promoter immediately likes you (This was the Craic Comedy Club hosted by the legendary Dolly Dupree in Wealdstone) and asks you back NEXT week to do 10mins.

Fuck. I only had my 5 (mostly puns and jokes about dinosaur penises) Which I could sort of stretch to 6 if I gurned and twitched a bit. What I didn’t realise (and why doing a course like this 30 years ago would have been amazing) was Dolly expected me to get up and do my strong 5, adding bits along the way to get it to 10m.

Now I was terrified that the same people came along to the Wealdstone Craic every week, and so a repetition of ANY of my act would get grumpy booing and “heard-its!” So I, like an idiot, went home and wrote a brand new untested full 10mins. Which went…okayyyy. But when Dolly gave me my £80 afterwards (I know…) she said “it was a shame I didn’t do all that good dinosoaur penis material…”

One lives and learns. Or dies and learns in my case. Ooooh, Live and Learn, sounds like a Bond movie. Except it needs to have Die in it. So “You Die and Learn?” Naaaah. Perhaps a memoir titles.

Infact, perhaps the title of Tuesday’s upcoming blog, depending on Monday night goes.

Meanwhile, the idea. Yes. Have a really solid 10 minute act. Brilliantly tight and great. Bulletproof.
Hone this down to an AMAZING five and get out there and do it everywhere that’ll let you. Film solid 5 mins and YouTube it as your calling card. Send it out to 5 promoters a DAY. Get on the “Mirth Control” mailing list. (not sure what this is, will have to check).

Other tips: There are still “gong shows” where one is essentially in a bear-pit and the audience votes for their favourite, who wins a 10 minute spot. Up The Creek is one of the most renound of these, created as it was a million years ago by the guv’nor “Malcolm Hardee.” Who – despite me never having met him or even seen his act – terrified me and I imagined was a bit like Brick Top from Snatch. But drunk. The Bearcat apparenty also has one of these. Am not touching them.

Then we moved onto Festivals, at which point it all got cold and muddy and drizzly and smelt of wet denim and dogs and joss sticks and I sort of lost interest. Because I am old stick in the mud. Or would be, if I didn’t hate mud. An old stick in the hotel-reception-area. The idea is get a few comics to pull together a full hour’s show and then present it as a single event. Give it a name, pretend you’re Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson and go take Edinburgh by storm.

This was all great stuff, that I wish I had been encouraged to do 30 years ago perhaps. Hmn. No. No, let’s face it Rich, you must be honest. You were a lousy hack comic. With lousy hack material. The 1990s were full of them. They are no-where now. Hello Charlie Chuck? Hello Dorian Crook?

Oh apologies. Just googled Dorian Crook. I was on the bill with him twice in my life, back in the day. Val Doonican Clinic (VD Clinic, see what they did there?) in Hampstead. He is still a comic. And apparently an air-traffic controller. Hmn. Okay.

We finished up, almost, on BBC Radio comedy, talking open submissions to NewsJack and such. My good pal Neal did this once and give him a pint of Guinness will tell you all about it. This was when he was mingling in the same Twitter circles as John O’Farrell and that other bloke. Y’know. Him. Posh-ish. Glasses. Dammit. Very Radio 4. Mate of Dan Maer. Fuck, gone blank. Him. Anyhoo Neal tells a great anecdote about the writers room on The Now Show and a very scruffy Punt n Dennis and lots of tabloid papers and biros.

A tip, it would seem, if one wishes to go down that “route” and I think it would make an amusing blog thing to give it a try, creeping up as I am on the age where one is supposed to have already done these things (more later on this, you’ll be nauseated to know) is to follow the BBC Writers Room and just pitch and pitch and pitch. Often one will be rewarded for sheer persistence. Not a problem Gerald Wiley had, one imagines.

Anyhoo, much more to say on all this! But time creeps towards “going to the gym.” It’s an hours round trip to walk there and back. And I want to do at least an hours-worth of low-impact, remember I’m 48 years old, sweaty nonsense. So That’ll get me home for 4pm or so. Unless I stop off and do more of this on my way home. Stinking the fucking place out, naturally, as I HATE to shower in public. Hmm. Okay, well this has got me back into the swing o’things.

I’ll shove all this away and pop my Stop-Smoking earbuds in and take my walk to The Gym in Kingston where, in the words of Woody Allen, I’ll “bend and lift and squat, really dismally. Nothing grew or anything and I’ll end up giving Vic Tanny my money and ask him to walk me home nights…”

Love to much xxx

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

Sunday afternoons with Grantham

“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely,
you can always go…”

DOWNTOWN – Petula Clark

And here we are one sunny Sunday later.

A beautiful sunny afternoon and it’s all very British right here. The back door is open and a summery breeze wafts through the flat, fluttering the papers on the table. I am 3 cups of coffee in, after a blow-out of sausage, egg and cheese muffins. A sort of “McMuffiny” attempt to recreate that perfect salty takeaway breakfast.

I think the mc breakfast is an absurd greasy treat. Double sausage n egg, with coffee, juice and a piping hash brown really does something to the tum on a cold winter morning, especially if one has gone to bed without supper.

So I sort of make my own version, although it was a struggle to finish. I made 2 y’see. I made a couple for Claire also. And this has resulted in us lying prostate, bloated and groany, infront of episodes of Downton Abbey on Netflix. Man I can see the easy, chocolate box Sunday tea-time appeal of this fluffy Jeeves n Woostery upstairs downstairs Victoriana. Jim Carter is a fucking treat. His VOICE! Jesus.

I am something of a parrot when it comes to accents and idioms. Unable not to repeat them back to the TV when I hear a good one. But fuckideedoo I would have to go and bury my testicles in a sewer before I managed the bass baritone thunder of Carter’s grovelling gravel. Could listen to it all day.

Met him once. He was playing “Sire Chiffley Lockhart” in a production of Ben Elton’s GASPING, which I went to see 3 times. Twice with Hugh Laurie in the lead, and once with the gangly and charming John Gordon Sinclair. This would have been 1990. At the height of my fanboy fandom of all things Alternative Comedy.

1991 was the hieghts of this when my sister and I got tickets for the AIDS benefit charity comedy night “Hysteria 3.” A glittering showbiz night when the legendary Eddie Izzard launched himself on the London stage and stand-up changed forever.

He’s here at 41 min 50 secs

Anyhoo, it’s 4pm-ish. I was meant to be jumping into this much earlier but tea and breezes and Downton and a comfy sofa has kept me from the desk.

I have 2 things to do today:

  1. Take the “best bits” of last week’s stuff from the Stand-Up Course and create a tight 5mins.

 2. Create a 2.5hr pub quiz.

The quiz won’t take long, I have the questions written, I just need to choose and format and stuff.

The creation of my “act” however…well.

Hmm. Let’s think about that.

So last week. Usual Monday night but a poorly one if you recall from my entry (GAGGING ON EMPTY) which I was tootling around with from my sick bed last week.

Am looking back on the notes I made from the session last week. They’re a little sparse to be honest. Mainly because the nights have got more about “performance” and “polish” than about theory.

We discussed what we had all thought of our videos: how we have felt; what went well; how we appeared; what we learned.

Then it was up on our feet for a warm up. An improv’ game, much in the manner of Who’s Line Is It Anyway? A conversation that is ONLY questions. Professional comics and improvisors can do this with it:

These guys nail it every time. It’s a skill I don’t have.

Much like a lot of my delusions as a teenager, I would watch shows like this, (the UK one and later the US version) for hours and hours and hours watching these speed-of-light synapses firing with wit, shock and wow. And it spoke to me. I was – like most backseat drivers or Monday morning quarterbacks – convinced that, with a bit of practise, it would be something I could do.

Well I tried it properly on Monday. And y’know what. Blimey it’s tough. It really is. Sarah has a knack for it, as she’s done what used to be called “theatre games” before. So she has that 90 degree angle, spin-off, take it somewhere new, instinct. I’m quite ploddy with mine. Something I enjoyed but boy oh boy leave it to the pros. Stuttering and stumbling…

Next up we had to tell a story, just to warm us up and get our mic technique ready. Simple one. An embarrassing story. I didn’t really know what to tell so I over-did a tale of an embarassing fart/follow-through/turtles-head/runny poo incident that happened…not as long ago as I hoped. Pub. Friday night. Dicky tum. One too many real ales… Anyway. Told the story. Added as much anxiety and pathos by putting myself in a “hitting on a girl” scenario, which ramped up up the humiliation.

At which point it was material time. Again, we gather as an eager front row around the raised stage. Erich bounds on and whips us up and announces us one at a time. Up we jump, striding up to the microphone, elbow-bumping Erich, taking the mic stand and launching in.

So. What I’d done to prepare for this (it’s coming up below, hold your horses) I had waded through my black file of every one-liner and idea I’d ever had. Any joke that could be buckled,, bent, bruised and bundled into a “life story” topic I plucked with a Ctrl C Ctrl V and put in a new file. I then went through and scrawled out any that I felt I just couldn’t pull off. Perhaps old, perhaps tired, perhaps corny, perhaps too much of a stretch.

But I got about seventeen one liners. Ranging from the old:

We had a lot in commons as a family. For example, my brother and I both grew up with terrible inferiority complexes. His was great obviously, mine was shit.

To the new:

I have a niece now. She’s into PAW PATROL that’s her thing. Which for years, I thought was the follow up to BENEFIT STREET.

You get the idea. So I wrote them all down, recorded them into an MP3 recorder on my phone and played them over and over…

Here’ me bashing them out to…shall we say…mixed response…

So. What can we learn here.

Well in watching it back (which isn’t exactly a fun thing to do, as one is very aware of silly expressions and errors and stumbles), I can say this.

2 or 3 gags got nothing. I mean, not silence. But not that CRACK of laughter when the punchline hits. Of the remaining 14 gags, only about 9-10 got the response I was hoping for.

So that’s about a 70% hit rate. Not too shabby.

As I write this now, I’m uploading the videos and dividing the script into “yes/no/maybe.” Hoping there’s a good 5mins in if I ditch the weaker stuff.

Am I putting too much emphasis on the responses I’m getting from 5 strangers in an empty club? And 5 strangers who are, to all intents and purposes, “comedy writers.”?

Well maybe. But perhaps if I raise the bar only to the material that lands solidly, I can see what I have.

So everyone else did their “life stories” too. But it’s fair to say they did it “properly” and actually talked about their lives. Finding jokes and ideas in their life, rather than twisting the joke to fit the life.

We got some feedback which was good. Mine appeared to be, by and large, “good.”

But it was great to be able to discuss what worked and what didn’t. And more importantly, why.

Example: The dogging joke.

It got barely a laugh. Until I repeated the “splashed out” bit which triggered the memory and got a bigger response. The feeling was that ending the punchline on “second hand Vauxhaul” is confusing. Ending the feedl-ine on “car he’d splashed out on…” Works better. Which I then tried again to greater success.

I don’t like it as much that way round. I think it’s a bit “spoon feedy.” But I need the laugh.

Anyhoo, that sort of thing. Great to hear.

Then it was a fag and a break and some more Lemsip.

And back in to deliver our “actual 5mins.”

Our actual 5 mins.

Now with this, I had just pulled together my favourite lines from the “my life story” bit, and then added some “50 Shades Of Grey” stuff slightly extended. (Thank the lord for the double entendres of “paddle” and “shit creek.”). And I closed with a more extended bit about laundry racism. Again, thank the lord that Jews sounds like Hues and Airing sounds like Aryan.

I climbed up and. With the help of my notes, I banged these out. Which would work, which would not…

Here we go

First thing, naturally, is that I’ve trimmed down all the errs and uhmmms and the scrabbling around with bits of paper as I forgot most of the order of the routine. Not the jokes, but just which ones followed which. I’d focussed too much on learning the “My Life Story.”

Second thing to notice is that, even with the uhhmms cut out, the fucker runs 8mins 58 seconds. Which is about double the length of the 5mins I;ve got.

This is good I think in most ways. It means I can pull together ONLY the jokes that land. And probably still have 5 mins.

Christ 5 mins is no time at all.

Other notes:

Apparently a “racist” observation – even when jokingly attribute it to an aging snooker commentator for comic affect – is still a racist comment. Calling a Chinese player “the tricky yellow” as an example of old fashioned 1970s prejudice crashing into the 21st century is STILL a troublesome observation. So that comes out.

Also, “hues” sounds enough like “Jews” that it doesn’t need the addition of “6 million” or “Solution” to hammer the point home.

So now – at 5.42pm on this Sunday evening – I have the “pleasure” of going through both of these videos and seeing if – with only HITS – I have 5mins worth.

I tell you, it beats the hell out of a blank sheet of paper with “Stand up routine?” written at the top.

Tomorrow night I have the pleasure of getting up and delivering a solid 5mins. So that’s my evening now.

Its exactly how I thought I would enjoy my life, to be fair. I mean, as Sunday night’s “evening’s work” goes, beats the living crap out of Excel or Powerpoint.

Oh, and a call to my mother which is overdue.

And a pub quiz.

Perhaps a shower next, a call to mum, and then the quiz. That’ll give me a couple of hours to pull an audio track of the “set” together for me to learn for tomorrow.

Thanks for watching. In 25hrs I’m gonna get up and smash out the act-proper and see what the hell happens. I think there might be a special guest joining us. About “getting gigs” and such.

Anyway. Until then, not too shabby for a Sunday

Back soon x

Gagging on empty

“If you wanna run cool, you got to run

on heavy heavy fuel…”


Well this is shit.

I am sick. (hello btw). I am sick as the proverbial dog throwing up on the proverbial parrot.

Well I’m exaggerating, clearly. I wouldn’t be here typing this if I was completely arsed. But I have felt better. Much better.

Came on around Saturday night. A night I was alone and hoping to be either working hard on stand-up material or writing pub quizzes. Sadly I was overcome with a feverish shivering sweaty achey nastiness which sent me scuttling, hotty botty clutched to the chest, to a horrid night’s restless sleep.

This screwed up my Sunday completely, so I had to cancel lunch with lovely Alex who I haven’t seen since Covid19 reared its nasty little head. She has moved to Bath and I have, as is traditional, been a crappy friend. Tried to catch her a few weeks ago, sadly on the ill-fated day my beloved Clark the Ginger Cat was murdered by a passing car. So that was a right off.

Then we rescheduled for Sunday last at which point God struck me down with the flu stick.

So apologetic texts and then back to bed to worry.

What, me worry? As Alfred E Neumann used to say. Yes. Because sitting on my plate on Sunday was:

Write 3 mins of material under the title of “My Life Story.” And learn it by heart. Then pull together the best part of a solid “5 minutes” of my stand-up act. And learn that by heart. Oh and write 2.5hrs worth of pub quiz.

All by bedtime. With a horrid cold that made me want to stay in bed and weep.

Not a good day.

You’ll notice I’ve been very slack on the updates of this l’il writing project too, as I am now very behind on what’s been going on.


Okay. Hello again. Am feeling better now. It’s Saturday afternoon. It’s just creeping up on 4pm. I am sat on a high stool in the lounge at our standing-desk. I have a cup of steaming PG Tips at the elbow. Claire is in the spare-room having a session with her supervisor from college, offering support and whatnot about the world of seeing psychosynthesis patients.

She has a new therapist now, who seems tremendous. So that’s a joy.

I haven’t seen my therapist (Steve) for years now.  Perhaps I’ll talk about him one day.

But I’m off the point. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve got lots to catch up on. I need to do a quick shop at some point as we’re out of sugar and we’ve virtually no milk for tea and no nibbly snacks for nibbley snacking. Which must be rectified.

Have just spend the best part of an hour undergoing home audio hypnotherapy, with which I am experimenting half-heartedly. I love the IDEA of hypnotherapy. And I have firm understanding, based on little I have read of Derren Brown and the like, that it is possible to implant change in attitude, belief and behaviour through expert hypnosis.

Now I expect to do this properly, its hours at Harley St clinics and ticking clocks and beardy tweed or clattery jewellery from whispery well-meaners and thousands of pounds. Whereas a cheap (not free) online download of s selection of audio files and reading material might only be as good as the Mp3 it’s digitally scanned on.

But nothing to lose really. I’ll talk more about it later. As I keep saying.

But to business!

I have now completed three of the six Stand-Up evening classes and three quiz nights over the last 3 weeks. And blimey what a three weeks it’s been.

Let’s dig in.

Week 2 was another grand one. I mentioned before we’d been given homework. “What we love to hate?” (see BLOG Sunday Bloody Sunday above). In the end I’m ashamed (?) to say I reached back into the archives and plucked my “ordering tea in restaurants” bit out of the old black folder.

This “bit” has stood me in good stead frankly. I also used it as the introduction to the lead character in chapter one of my second novel GAGGED: A Thriller With Jokes.

It’s never KILLED, to be fair. And it relies very much on the word “chicken” getting as big of a laugh as Neil Simon says it should…

Vaudeville words can be found in Neil Simon’s 1972 play The Sunshine Boys, in which an aging comedian gives a lesson to his nephew on comedy, saying that words with k sounds are funny:

“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say ‘Alka Seltzer’ you get a laugh … Words with ‘k’ in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland … Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny – not if you get ’em, only if you say ’em”

Anyway. Week 2.

I got there on time of course, having cock all else to do on a Monday after work. Actually, now if I recall, Erich had asked us to come slightly later as one of the acts (Sarah, I think?) couldn’t make the 7pm start.

So it’ was about 7.35 on a warm Monday 13th Sept 2021 that we all came in and took our seats, sweaty hands gripping greasy one-pagers of material about “what we love to hate.”

Erich and I chatted a bit about how the quiz had gone. We talked lighting. He pointed out the ceiling had “swivelly spots” that I could manhandle to light the stage area better.

I have since done this and it means I can actually read the fucking questions. This is a help.

We jumped in talking about the human factor. About how the material is important, but you could get a robot (Siri/Alexa) to recite jokes. There MUST be more to the act. It’s about giving LIFE, PERSONALITY and CHARACTER to those jokes. Bringing who YOU are to the joke. The addition of the HUMAN factor is what makes it stand-up, and not just a recitation.

This is of course true. But as I am learning, all the personality and excitement and jazz hands and pizazz ain’t gonna make something funny if it ain’t already a bit funny.

I’ve seen – recently – comics banging out “observations” and “do you remembers…?!” with huge enthusiasm. But there’s no actual joke. As if remembering something or noticing something itself is inherently funny without the added “here’s what I have noticed beyond that, which is off beat or unexpected.”

In other words, you can’t just say “Betamax” and hope to get a laugh.

Erich talked interestingly about joke writing. Specifically about one Gary Delaney.

Now I’m a Gary Delaney fan. To be fair, had I stuck to my act as a teenager, his act is probably closest to what I would have ended up doing. I mean there’s not a huge amount of space between:

“My grief counsellor died. But he was so good at his job, I didn’t give a shit.” And

“I ordered a pizza to be delivered, but accidentally got the number wrong and phoned a gay make escort service. To be fair to them, they did send round a spicy Mexican and a large vegetarian. (beat) It was his 12 inch cheesy rim that put me off.”

Here’s some classics:

Story goes Delaney worked in bar in a comedy club. He wasn’t the lively “funny” performer type, but clearly had an ear for a pun and therefore was able to write material/jokes for other comics. However the jokes would often die and he would be blamed. Whereas he felt it was the comedian’s DELIVERY that was ruining the joke and took to delivering them himself. Basically, he wanted HIS ideas OUT THERE and realised only HE could do it the way it should be done.

I love the idea of being a joke writer. Having been a novelist for a few years, the life of the cuppa and the laptop and the “busy morning” at the desk resulting in long sleepy afternoons and wine at 6pm in front of the telly is a very appealing one.

In fact, now I’m doing this course, I have become – to no extent at all – a bit of a comedy writer because I now have to think of jokes and write them down. Every time a gag or pun or idea comes to mind, as I have mentioned below, I now thumb it into my phone. This has helped me get a sense of my productivity with this stuff. I’m probably doing one full joke or idea a day. Which is hardly Monkhousian. Or even Allenesque. But I am surprised how often I’m scrolling through the phone while on the loo thinking “blimey, that was a good batch.” What a horrible image. Especially if I’m facing the wrong way on the toilet…

I have essentially become this:

Hey. Had forgotten all about that Pizza delivery one.

For a few weeks I would post these gags online in the spirit of Gary Delaney. Was I hoping he would spot them and give me a writing job? Yes, of course I was. I am an idiot. But he’s remarkably affable and available online and interacts with his fans so I guess I was praying for a LOL or thumbs up. Jokes like this one:

“There was a Greek food salesman practising his sales pitch next to my chimney last night. I could hear the pitta patter on the roof.”

I could hear him delivering something like that.


Next we all spoke about what stand up “means” to us. Went around the room. Many thoughts. I said it was a form of therapy, a way of getting attention, a way of proving myself against the high-bar set by my heroes. A desire to share that moment. Talked about how I would obsessively learn bits of stand-up the way others learned songs. That way I could recite them at school for laffs. Or just keep myself amusing muttering them to myself on walks and shopping trips.

2 routines I learned word for word, beat for beat and pause for pause by simply repeating and repeating and talking along with my brother’s cassettes were Ben Elton’s “double seat” bit and Michael Palin’s “Biggles Goes To See Bruce Springsteen.”

Both of these I could do – in full, at the drop of a hat. And pretty much did, much to the irritation of passing school friends and family.

Its worth stopping off here I think for a moment. As it was Ben Elton’s comedy final rant at the end of every episode of Saturday (later Friday) Live that I think cemented the idea of comic-as-hero. I would only have been (checks Wikipedia…) twelve years old when the much trailered Pilot episode came on.

Fronted, I think that first time, by Lenny Henry. It was very – as my friend Paul would say – Channel 4. But the speed, ferocity, accuracy and energy in which Ben Elton took over Saturday nights for 30 nights between ’86 and ’88 was – Ronnie Barker monologues aside – the first inkling that this was something actual people could actually do.

Anyway, need to pop out and do that shop…

Back again. Mmm, ribs and corn and broccoli for supper. Muffins and sausages for breakfast.

We then talked about stand up as a CONVERSATION. Invite a dialogue, a chat, a discussion, tell your story just as you would if you were telling friends. But to remember, it is not a discussion. OUR ideas are RIGHT.

Heckles apparently, are just interruptions, part of any conversation. Nothing to be scared of.

We are all interrupted when we are telling our stories. No need to handle a heckle any differently.

Which brought us to heckles.

Heckles, as I said earlier, were my downfall when I first tried stand-up. That last night of stand-up at Downstairs At The Kings Head, when I strode unprepared onto the small stage area in front of a packed house, all eager to enjoy Edinburgh Award winner Rich Hall.

If memory serves, and I click things into place, tis was around the summer time I was mooning about after Rachel Bean (my big art college crush). Which meant (get my deerstalker on…)

It would have been around the time I skipped my friend Paul’s party to see The Cure at Wembley with Rachel. So that would mean his 18th or 21st. His 21st would have been Jan 1994.

I was definitely on the comedy scene” in 1994 as my appearance in the short lived COMEDY magazine listings tells me:

Hall would have been up and coming in the UK. It was the year he published “Self Help For The Bleak” but 6 years before he triumphed at Edinburgh with Otis Lee Crenshaw.

So I’m going to put it at late 1994.I would have been 22 years old. And I got heckled by a chap with long hair, sitting to my right, one row back. Examples of heckles that still haunt me:

ME: I’m actually from the planet Krypton…

HECKLER: Planet Crapton…

ME: Superman and I were the only two lonely survivors after our world exploded and was destroyed. (beat). A bit like Bros when Craig left.

HECKLER: That’s topical…

So he continued to dig away, I could pick up his muttered mockings, it threw me off, I tried to deal with him, was unrehearsed, audience didn’t go with it…and I left the stage to muted polite “county cricket club” clapping.

According to Erich, the heckle “put down” is the one “shared pot” of material it seems okay to borrow from. Genuinely, unless it’s particularly famous, any comic can use any of the standard lines to get themselves out of trouble.

EG. I’m trying to work here. I don’t come to where you work and knock the bin off your shoulder…

“Is that your real face or are you still celebrating Halloween?”

“Look, it’s all right to donate your brain to science but shouldn’t you have waited till you died?

“If you are going to heckle, try to wait for a gap when I’m not talking so people can hear what you are saying.”

“Your mum fell into some cheese sandwiches, and she got covered in cheese. Absolutely covered in it. She stank of cheese. And hundreds and hundreds of mice came from miles around, drawn to her by the smell of cheese. She was covered in mice. Overcome by them. But she was glad of the company, because YOU NEVER CALL”


My problem with heckle put downs is how often they change the comic’s character. If the comic is a persona, the heckle put down has to sustain and match that persona. You can’t suddenly come “out of character” and get all bitchy and snappy and aggressive.

I still don’t know what my character is, so I don’t really have an idea of what I will do should that arise. But not be afraid of it and wade in with discourse, hoping my “status” and “speed” gets me out of there as the winner. I do it enough day to day, I guess.

The only heckle put down I like works for a shouty female.

“You’re a treat aren’t you. One day you’ll make some man a lovely ex-wife.”

I suppose it works with ex-husband too. Just doesn’t sound as good.

Anyhoo, next up was an exercise.

We all had to stand up, introduce ourselves, tell something about a time at school, end show, thank and leave.

Everyone did their bit. And there were some good stories. I blanked on “hilarious mishaps” so went full sentimental and told the story about how Mr Gormally let me off doing French for a year so I could concentrate on art. Nice story.

Erich gave me some good feedback about my structure, how I had set up my “artsy” character at the top of the tale so the payoff worked.


But then it came to our first real “bit.”

We all had to stand up and do our “love to hate.”

So we took turns. Sarah talked about her hatred of flies. I forget what the rest of them did.

I did notice however that, while they were doing their bits, they by and large weren’t doing “jokes.”

And I mean feedline/punchline jokes. The set-up, pause, pay-off jokes that I rely on. Their stories are more “story-y.” Whereas mine definitely have that rhythm. That dumpty-dumpty dum….dumpity dumpty dummmmm.” The one Stewart Lee says all Radio 4 comedians have.

Mentioned Stewart Lee to Erich at one point. He professed a liking for him, aside from his need to spend as much of his act as he does knocking other comics. Like it isn’t difficult enough of a job without the infighting. Where is the support? There are better and more deserving targets.

Not sure how I feel about this. I mean ISIS are one thing. But Mitch Benn’s comedy songs on The Now Show are another.

(I am now reminding myself of Morrissey talking waspishly about Band Aid in 1985)

In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England.”

Bless him.

So. I got up and did it.

Opened with a bit of Jeff Goldblum, referencing Sarah’s hatred of “flies,” in a “did you mean the movie? That was my best work…” sort of way. Small chuckles.

Then boom, straight into the “I don’t go to restaurants myself. Because I’m a tea drinker.”

And it went…okay. I mean okay. Not great.

It is an old bit. The novelty of “types of coffee” was hackneyed in 2000. Even now, “comedy about Starbucks” gets over 11m hits on Google. Like this:

But the routine is meant to build and build as I get more and more into the list of ingredients…

Napkins, silverware, teabag, pot, string, milk, spoon. Laughs are meant to build here.

Then I end it with, “here’s some instructions in Swedish and a fuckin’ Allen key.”

That’s where the laugh is. And it NEVER gets as big a laugh as I want.

In fact, thinking back, I’ve always thought it was a better “bit” than it was.

But heigh-ho. I pounded it out with confidence as best I could.

Not a keeper.

Right, cup of tea. Evening’s getting in. Bit chilly out now. Claire is watching The Making Of The Holiday on her phone. It’s her favourite movie of the moment at the moment. It’s on hard rotation, probably for another day or two.

Not sure what we’re watching tonight. I’m up for some Marvel or DC action.

We are missing some canon:

I have yet to see that new 10 Rings one (although that’s theatrical release only until Nov).

And we haven’t seen Venom yet. But that’s technically not MCU.

DC wise, we are very behind. Neither of us have seen Shazam or The Suicide Squad or Birds Of Prey. Maybe one of them tonight.

But then…and this is what I was hinting at before, we had to get up and do our “act.”


I didn’t have an act. I had nothing. I had my file full of jokes and ideas. But no act, as such.

All the other comics got up and did their bits.

Sarah talked about being a mother and an elderly millennial. Mike did nice bits about an old hippy life and living in Brighton. Jack talked about his weight and his shape. Iman did some stuff about being a “people pleaser.”

Sadly, as I say, I had prepared nothing. It had taken me all week just to relearn the list of ingredients for a cup of tea.

So I got up and winged it.

Wung it?

Wunged it?

With no planning, I went straight into my “welcome compare” bit.

I scrabbled around for some jokes. And from my notes grabbed a line about 50 Shades Of Grey. And how dividing up laundry can make you seem racist.

It was taped for analysis.

Here it is.

It took me about 2 days to get up the courage to watch this. I have seen something of myself “live” so to speak. There is a about an hour of me on YouTube doing a book tour. So I am familiar enough with my stupid face and my ticks and grimaces and my sarky London accent. But this is the – as far as I know – only footage of me doing “funny.”

What to say about it.

Well first observations are:

I’m taller than I thought

My double chin isn’t as balloon or voluminous as it appears in the shaving mirror every morning.

A teddy-boy velvet-trimmed jacket and a nice pair of Levis and boots isn’t a bad look.

I have very very grey hair – almost white – and it is difficult not to stare.

The material? Well the “intro” stuff I sell with plenty of gusto.

It then goes quiet as I try and think of a joke. The 50 Shades Of Grey gag works MUCH better than I ever thought. And there is clearly some mileage in “racist laundry,” but it’ll need digging out.

Score: 5/10. Plus five for energy, minus five for lack of prep.

Erich was kind enough (well, I say kind enough, we are paying him…) to send feedback along with the clip. His thoughts:

“From the first moment, you grab the mic you can start talking. I know this time you didn’t feel like you had a plan but there is no reason to delay. We are ready to hear from you from the moment you get up there.”

“If you’ve got such a wide range of ideas and material to talk about I think starting with how you look is good.” 

“At the beginning you’re getting drinks and settling down, but that’s not what happening in the room. Always be honest and reflect what’s happening.” 

“Just plant it, “Hello, Kingston nice to be here – I know you’re wondering why….” You know your list of how you ‘look’ is going to get a laugh of recognition so just go for it.” 

“The more things you can get off of your presentation of yourself the better, the Proclaimers, the estate agent, Michael Gove night out in Aberdeen, time traveller from 1955 (whatever, I’m sure you can think of a few – the more the merrier)”

“The second cheer and mcing, is great to be able do and will serve you well when you MC, but don’t need to do in a set.”

“After that – you can go straight to the first 50 Shades joke, and there is more to get out of that perhaps? Is she looking to get disciplined for stealing the book (like Mr Gray does or discipline you) or what else can you get out of the ideas of the themes of the book / stealing / spicing up sex life / not spicing up sex life, etc.”

“The racist laundry bit is great concept and the ideas are there – just take some time to map them out. Can play with saying the word ‘coloured’. Why you are worried about getting cancelled, so that means all your pants are now pink…” 

“Overall – if you want to build this first five on how you appear on stage and wife and laundry that would get you to a good five.” 

So some solid stuff there. Good to work on.

After our “bits” and some feedback we talked joke writing. That is, how to “find the funny.”

The best thing I ever saw about how comedy works was a TV Series I VHS-ed wayyy back when called, I think, Funny Business.

Yes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funny_Business_(TV_series)

It covered all aspects of the world of “funny,” in 1 hour episodes. The ones I remember were:

Rowan Atkinson doing his lecture on “physical comedy.”

Feeding The Monster: a doc about sitcoms revolving around the creation of 1 episode of Roseanne

A doc about stand-up (which I re-watched over and over)

And something on  film comedy, presented if I recall, by the Zucker Abrahams gang (Airplane! Etc)

They’re here if you fancy them

Erich went through all the techniques we can use to try and “find the funny” in a subject. These includes

Exaggeration: You can’t go too far. If you go big, go bigger. Do detailed, go MORE detailed.

Don’t assume: What might be an obvious observation for you may NOT have occurred to the audience

Be Definitive: ALWAYS/NEVER is a funnier approach to an attitude or situation than “once” or “one time…”

Incongruity: Two subjects that don’t match. Mesh them together. A table? A chair. But a table…a flamingo. Is incongruous and surprising.

Compare and Contrast: This is different to that / that is the opposite to this…

Wrong solution: Overreaction/under reaction to a situation.

Action /reaction: This happens. This occurs. This is a thing. And here’s how I feel about it.

Repetition/call-back: Referring to an earlier situation, character or line.

Demonstration: You can say what something is like. Then SHOW what it’s like.

None of this is breakthrough stuff of course. And it’s the bread & butter of finding the funny. I mean if we look at one of the greats (this’ll be fun) then we can see when Woody Allen used each of these techniques:

Say what you like about the Woodman (which seems these days to be an increasingly short list of things) back when he was playing The Bitter End it was a joy.

Here we go:

Exaggeration: I dangled my watch in front of him. He ate it.

Be Definitive: My parents didn’t love me…

Incongruity: I wanted a dog. We couldn’t afford a dog. So my parents bought me an ant.

Compare and Contrast: She’s one of the few white Muslims in New York…

Wrong solution: May parents snapped into action immediately…and rented out my room.

Action /reaction: My body cannot tolerate alcohol…

Repetition/call-back: And there’s a law in NY State. Tuesday Thursdays and… especially Saturdays.

Demonstration: I did a vodka ad once… “I’ll put Mr Allen on the phone…”

From then, we wrapped up talking about the transition. Not always necessary. Okay to pause and jump in. Izzard did this a lot. Just trail off from one thing and then “bees and wasps!”

Seinfeld likes a smoother story. Even if it’s just a one line.

“But I like being at home coz it makes me feel like a little kid again. And when you;’re a kid, you can eat and enormous amount of food…” and he’s off with his Hallowe’en bit.

Can get clunky. And needs to be unobtrusive.

But the point is, it doesn’t HAVE to do this.

For example, just pausing and saying “does anyone else feel racist when they are doing the laundry?” apparently is better than a wind up approach of “we’re trying to stay woke…say the right thing…but it’s tricky…”

Similarly we don’t have to weaken our status by asking for permission.

Lines like: “bear with me…” or “stick with this…” or “I promise this is going somewhere…” are not necessary. YOU are in charge.

Oh and finally, before our homework was assigned, Erich said this. “Take advantage of your appearance. If you have a “look”, use it. Refer to it. Don’t ignore it. It’s part of your presentation and if it’s odd or jarring, mention it. The audience will be thinking it.”

By which of course, he meant me. And my “style.” Apparently there is no one on the circuit like me at the moment. I don’t know if he meant the quiff or the vintage ties or the suits or whatever. But it would appear if I stand up in front of a crowd as I am, I’d better reference it if I don’t want it to take over the show. I mean, I don’t ever remember Lamarr making reference to his look back when he was big (mid 1990s) but Vic & Bob certainly did the audience’s work for them (“He’s a 1950s bin man!” etc)

Oh, last bit before I headed out, head spinning with ideas. I think I’m coming across a bit intense. I don’t mean to, obviously. But I get over excited about things. And I have a lousy poker face.

The one and only Stephen Fry once referred to me chaperoning him at a book event with the line “I remember a rather intense young man who had everything for me to sign…”


But I get so gee-ed up and keen on subjects that fascinate me, I do over-do it. Get all bouncy and quotey, trying to impress the teacher, trying to show I’m worthy. Not exactly name-dropping, but certainly not backwards in piping up about what something reminds me of, where I might have heard it, who said it first etc…

Erich advised I try and “let go” of it all. Not that I “forget it.” But p’raps that I don’t have to lug it around with me and present it all front and centre.

Food for thought. So I need to calm down.

For the next week anyway, I need to write another 3 minute bit. “The Story Of My Life.”

I had an idea for that.

Am enjoying the hell out of this all.

More soon. X

Quiztions Questions Quastions

Coffee? Fine. Go nuts. 10 different varieties all lovingly prepared. Froth, flavours, syrups, shots, sprinkles, shot of whisky, dash of chocolate. Finished, ready to go.

RICHARD ASPLIN – LIVE Grey Horse 13.9.21

Well good morning. This is new!

Begone pub garden, cheerio pint of Amstel, piss of crisps.

You find me, dear Blog Absorber, up and about in what can only be described – with everything cosy and loathesome the phrase conjours up – in an “artisan” coffee shop on Ewell Road near my home.

I’ve trundled  past this place a few hundred times on my way to the bus stop. It’s newish. Certainly no more than 18 months old.

Lots of wood, lots of brass. A “community spirit” board for local people to advertise…things. Home made jams and nanny facilities I imagine. It’s hipster men with buggies and groups of middle aged types. Artisan crafted breads and such. If AIR were still a thing, they’d be playing Moon Safari over the speakers.

Tea is £2. A can of Coke is £1.50. A chirizo and olive toastie is £5.

Anyhoo it’s 8.36am on a Friday and I’m laptopping away at their “bar” by the window while a fancy latte with a feather design in the milk sits at my elbow.

Today is an odd one. My lovely Claire has the day off to work on her essay, and some kind of Psychosynthesis tutorial at 9.30am.

I am working from my friend Marie’s house today, which is something I do from time to time. A lot during lockdown, just to be out of the office. She has a little one bed conversion flat halfway between my house and the office.

But Marie is not home ‘til 9.30am this morning as she’s taken her scrappy little pug for a long walk around Hampton Court.

So I have left the house, but am stranded like Tom Hanks until 9.30. So I’m here.

I’ll have to clock into the office via my phone at 9am in case of emergencies, but aside from a couple of calls, my day is quite slow.

Plus being at Marie’s means we can head off promptly after work into the West End to see a new revival of David Mamet’s uber #metoo epic “Oleanna.”

I might talk about that another time.

But in the meanestwhile, let’s see where we are.

You left me last, tired and emotional, outside the Grey Horse on Tuesday eve waiting to start the pub quiz. Which ended up being a blast.

I’m enjoying being back quizzing as, to a greater or lesser extent, it’s a lot of “stand-up comedy stage time” with massively low expectations. If I;m confident and loud and funny, and there are genuine jokes, one-liners and heckle –put-downs, the audience are terribly impressed. They’ve only come out for a couple of hours fun quizzing so anything that makes that more of a “night out” is very welcome.

So it gives me much opportunity to try gags, manage crowds, get comfortable with the mic (only three thunderous BANGS on Tuesday when it fell out of the stand. It’s a crappy “slip in” mic holder, not a clip. Ideal for a droogs bit of the old in-and-out on stage, but poo when you need stability for 2.5hours + drinks.

Oooh, this latte is nice. The place is getting rammed. It clearly is the yummy-mummy spot in South Surbiton, North Tolworth to meet and chat and talk about how much your husband doesn’t earn.

Its all big sunglasses and active-wear. Sweaty Betty could open up a concession next to the sourdough counter and fuckin clean up.

I’ve been quizzing since 2015. Started out at a local dive on the corner of the street between work and the station. It was my go-to “drop in” pub of choice (and to a certain extent still sort of is) since I started working in Kingston in 2009. All the staff went there on a Friday night. ALL of them. It would be sharpened elbows and three deep and Jaegerbombs from 8pm every Friday. The legendary Lindy Layton (her of the vocals to Dub Be Good To Me by Beats International in 1990)  was resident Friday night DJ.

A sticky and dark and splashy sort of bar full of bare shoulders and Marlboro Lights and sweaty dancing. I probably spent the best part of 8 years and about £3million there while it was open.

Anyhoo, they wanted to try and bring in the week-day crowd and asked me (based on my loud voice and stupid face) if I would try running a pub quiz on a Wednesday night.

I of course knew NOTHING about these things. I have never had a regular quiz, have never been one of those “form a team and go every week” types. But had been to enough good ones and enough shit ones to have an idea of what made a fun night.

So within about 6 months, The Acorn Kingston (as it was then) became THE pub quiz in Kingston. Selling out most Wednesdays so we were turning people away  Every booth a table packed with youngsters (mostly staff from my office) screaming and yelling and cheering over answers to questions I’d culled from my head and online.

I say “my head” as for a long while I simply wrote questions based on what I know. Let’s face it, it meant that if you answered “Steven Speilberg, Woody Allen, Star Wars, Batman, Tarantino or Elvis” to every question, chances are you’d come at least third.

But you can’t do that every week so I began to dig into reference books and online quizzes to steal teasers and multiple choicers and true-or-falsers to keep the baying crowds happy.

I can’t remember why we stopped after 3 years.

Perhaps lack of interest. Perhaps the pub changed management. I don’t know.

But ether way I hung up my bow-tie and called it quiztzs. (Let spellcheck have fun with that one).

Anyhoo, 2 years or so, pre lockdown, I got chatting to Leigh, who runs The Grey Horse (a much more pleasant environment) up the road from The Acorn and he’d heard I knew how to handle a lightening buzzer round and he asked me to step in.

I of course already had 3 years worth of material (that’s about 150 questions for each category) saved on the old Lenovo, so I said yes.

Same kind of deal –  once a week, back room, mic stand and hand-outs, music-round on the iPod) and all was well.

Then lockdown happened and it all stopped.

Until a month ago when, as the world changed and turned, he got back in contact. So this is now my Tuesday night for the rest of my life.

So a word on pub quizzes:

This is many people’s “night out.” What they look forward to and get excited about and make plans around. To this extent, one has to realise you are competing against EVERYTHING ELSE they could be doing instead. And if your quiz isn’t as engaging, lively, funny, challenging or rewarding as an evening with Pizza and Netflix, people are going to drop out.

You never want the evening to drag, so it’s better to be zipping through and hurrying people back from the toilets, than taking endless fag breaks and saying “give it 10mins for people to come back from the garden…” while punters sit and hmmm and sigh. There will always be stragglers. Better they miss the first question and learn to be prompt.

Remove the 4th wall. We were talking about this earlier, when we were discussing stand-up. Same rules apply. You could get Alexa to read out questions. Or hand them all out on a sheet and ask them to just hand it in an hour later. For it to be engaging you have to come out of the format for chit-chat adlibs, comments, jokes and remarks. Talk to the room, talk to individuals, point out people, talk 1-2-1 with them. Identify “characters.” Encourage yelling, singing along and joining in.

It’s not stand-up though. So 90% focus must be on accurate and clear readings of questions, nice and loud. Recap on the question number. Recap on the last question before moving on…

“So that was question four about American Presidents. All set, question five…”

Make the rules clear: Is it 1 point per question? What if it’s “name three…” Is that 3 points? Are their half-marks? This is the bickering that can get out of control if it’s not made clear.

Start on time. End on time.

Dress smart and walk around the room. Pretend you’re Rocky Balboa greeting people at his restaurant. “How ya doin? Nice to see ya. Lookin good. Feeling lucky? Got a beer?” before it starts and between rounds.

Thank them for coming and encourage them to come back. Recognise the regulars.

Oops. Got carried away. It’s 9.15. Work calls. Gotta fly. Back soon.

Mmmm, that really was a nice coffee…

Both ends of four candles

“I’m tired…and dying…
I want to go to bed…”

ASLEEP (Morrissey/Marr)

Short one today. I am frankly exhausted.

Last night was session 2 of the stand-up comedy course and I have arse loads to say about that.

Main point learned: Don’t wing it. If the mentor suggests you bring some material, he means BRING SOME MATERIAL.

And if you don’t have anything knocked together into a tight 3-4mins…you gotta get up there anyway and try and fumble your way through one-liners and call-responses to the crowd you haven’t even thought about for over a decade.

Not a fun 3 mins.

How this came about, how I handled it and what they made of my “hilarious” cup-of-tea in a restaurant “bit” I prepped for the weekly exercise.

Lots to say about that.

But, dear blog-absorber, that will have to wait.

It’s exactly 7pm on Tuesday night and I am back again at the damp and greasy back table. I am slapping this out on the old Prius as I wait squirtily for the quiz to start.

Feel anxious today. Not sure why. I’m putting it down to tiredness.

The next few weeks of Stand-Up Course 7-10pm Mondays, Quiz night 7-11pm Tuesdays is proving to be weary upon your author’s shoulders.


Chins up. The quiz is written, laser printed, stapled and distributed. I have set all the tables with picture rounds and quiz sheets and pens. The lighting is right, the mic has been tested.

My Spotify playlist for the music round waits patiently on the Bar PA system, ready for the barman to press play in a few hours time.

I have my spin, spin, spin the wheel of justice to whirl about when the mood takes me.

And shock upon shock, we have a full house who have booked. So I’ll be hosting about 6-7 teams.

It’s gonna be a rowdy one. But I need to keep control, steer the audience, control the heckles, speak clearly, not pop out for fags and pints when I should be totting up answer scores, and making sure everyone has a great time.

Me? I guess I enjoy it. Would I rather have gone home for tea and a nap?

Possibly. A shower and a shave would have done me good.

Tea, though? Apparently – as I discovered to pin-drop echoey silence last night – is not something in which many people are interested.


And so…to a pint and an audio book and 30mins of deep breathing before show time.

More soon

Wish you were here x  

Sunday Bloody Sunday

“What a great song. It really encapsulates the frustration of a Sunday, doesn’t it? You wake up in the morning, you’ve got to read all the Sunday papers, the kids are running round, you’ve got to mow the lawn, wash the car…”


So here we are again. Hello, whoever you are.

Another pint, another laptop, another crumpled pack of Camels.

It’s Sunday lunchtime. Just after noon. Which I assume is how the afternoon got its name.

I swear to God that’s never occurred to me before. What Neal “Johnny Marr” Doran would call a Karrimor moment.

KARRIMOR MOMENTS: The split second of joyful realisation of a pun or wordplay or portmanteau that you’d been happily saying or reading for years without getting the joke, Named, of course, after the moment Neal stood on a London Underground escalator behind a tourist with a big backpack. The backpack was made by the company “Karrimor.” Which just looks like the name of a quaint village. Until you say it aloud and realise it means “Carry More.”

In the Understudies days (early 1990s) when we were young and “clever” anything a bit wordy and smug and, let’s face it, Stephen Fry-y or Wodehousian, would make us wriggle and giggle self-consciously into our mugs of PG, this stuff was golden. You could dine out on a good one for a couple of weeks. Can’t remember ANY of them now.

Anyhoo, its Sunday. A nice one though.

My lovely Claire is sat at the big table in our home, headphones on, studying hard for her qualification to become a counsellor in the “Psychosythesis” discipline. Which means the flat is virtually out of bounds. I don’t mind this because I am

  1. A huge fan of all self-improvement
  2. It’s an amazing skill and talent and future career to have and she’s great at it and it makes her happy so who am I to insist she does it in the spare room so I can eat toast and watch Demolition Man on Netflix
  3. An emotionally troubled and terribly high-maintenance boyfriend, but one who knows what nice gesture is.

So I have awaited noon and packed the ole’ Dell into my Dr Martens leather satchel and thrown myself up Ewell Road to the nearest nice pub garden to get some work done.

This, dear reader, is the work.

So we’re in The Prince Of Wales pub in Surbiton this afternoon. Nice enough little Fullers boozer. Outside its sun-baked, splintery benches and crusty table umbrellas. A tiny stereo is sort of dryly chopping out some kind of James Taylor acousticky Americana vibes.

All is fine with the world.

I’m a bit tired as we both sat up ‘til midnight screaming and punching the air at the Women’s US Open Tennis final. But I got the luxury of a lie-in as I only have this to do today. Claire has 8hrs of concentration and study.

As I say, I’ve left her to it.

I’m enjoying a lunchtime pint of fresh summery bitter. The fags are out again (will quit soon).

And I have 2 things to talk about. Well, three if we’re being accurate.

The Stand Up Course. Which might be why you’re here. It’s certainly why I’m here.

It was 6 days ago now, so I can – with the help of my now freshly-typed-up notes – means I can reflect.

Firstly, the host. Erich. Thoroughly nice chap. Wiry and beardy. Desert boots and plaid, Nice US twang. Clearly knows his stuff. I won’t do his biog. But he’s a pro comic. Which these days I think means he gets enough gigs to pay half his mortgage and runs enough Clubs in pubs as a compare/MC/host to boost up his paycheque. Seems to be the way to do it.

When I was a comic back in the 90s I remember reading with teeth-gritted envy, of comics who ran their own comedy nights. Seemed to be cheating a bit, I thought back then. I mean, a guaranteed weekly gig? Your own stage. No worries about booking agents or open-mic spots or anxious phone calls to bookers to try and plead your case. Eddie Izzard – who was a HUGE influence back when Comedy Was The New Rock N Roll (copy write The Guardian) – ran his own club in Soho called Raging Bull, so he got about 3 years of weekly gigs to learn his craft without having to impress a new club owner every set. THAT’S how you get stage time, I thought. Dammit.

Comics now, looking back on those heady days, talk with wincey fondness on his impact on the stand-up scene. How EVERY open-mic 5-miniter got up and Izzarded his way through his sets thinking all you had to do was “uhhmmm” and “errrr” through your set and you were an improv genius. It makes me blush now how much I just ripped this technique off. A compare at Downstairs At The Kings Head called me out on it once after my open spot. Cringe.

Anyhoo, Erich is a lovely chap. He has a keen eye for the market and seems very keen on us earning how to become ACTUAL jobbing stand-ups, not just art-centre have-a-goes. He talks about expectations and business and audiences and techniques and the hard-graft sheer practicality of it all. And this I like. I don’t need help knowing what a joke is. I need help knowing the difference between being the quippy bloke in the pub and in front of the telly…and being someone people enjoy watching on stage. That’s what I’m here for and he’s up for it.

The other 5 at the course…too early to say. But from 2.5 hours in their company, here’s some thumbnails I confidently expect to be disproven in later blog updates:

MIKE: Charming chap. As I mentioned, something of the aging roadie about him. Has done loads and loads of community work gathering errant youths into ragtag groups and getting them interested in performing, taking teenagers up to Edinburgh and putting on shows. Seems earthy and honest and a man with a million stories. Many of which might be about care homes and Prog Rock.

JACK: The youngest. Blokey boysy type. A plumber. Mid-twenties. Clearly the funny one in his group of friends, of which – by his amiable manner – I imagine he has dozens. He likes his oldies, his vintage Tommy Cooper/Laurel & Hardy clips and has grown up watching YouTube and Live At The Apollo and just genuinely wants to have a go. Will be amazing to watch him grow.

SARAH: A black woman from California, a smile the size of Southampton. Bright, smart, granny, energetic and a gifted ad-libber and improviser. Lights up the stage and seems born to it in a way the rest of us shuffling amateurs can only marvel at. Big, broad on-stage presence and going to charm the fuck out of any crowd before she opens her mouth. Would love to try some improve with her just to feed of her boundless energy.

IMAN: (Possibly IMAM? Don’t know and can’t possibly find a way of asking). Prob thirty-ish, Asian (as in Indian, not as in Japanese – still don’t know what the woke way of distinguishing these are. Is that just me?). Very modern, has lived in multicultural Britain long enough to know there is a huge amount of angry comedy to be had about the world and how it treats immigrants and women. Not quite Shappi Korshandi, but there’s a whiff of that shtick.

Anyhoo, so we spent 2.5 hours together last Monday. As we will again tomorrow night.

And it was terrific. Real nuts and bolts stuff.

There was the usual “getting to know you” intros but we didn’t spend too much time on that, which was good. I didn’t need to spend £75 hearing about where everyone was from for an hour.

We jumped in then with the state of the union. About working as a new comic. About clubs and opportunities. About the rise of something called “Bringer gigs”

BRINGER GIGS: A new type of open-mic night where comics can perform based on an agreement of how many guests they bring with them. Blimey. Don’t bring guests? NO SOUP FOR YOU! A way, I assume, of meaning a booker can run a night guaranteed that

  1. There will be an audience
  2. That audience won’t all be water-sipping open-spotters waiting to go on.
  3. Someone will buy a fuckin’ drink.

Caused me to muse on the way home how often my dear, dear friends would be dragged across London to hear me do the same tiring, ill-rehearsed 5 minutes at amateur hours throughout the Britpop years.

These still go on. There is an article about them here. I don’t expect you’ll read it:


We then dug into, well, the biggest problem I ever had with stand-up comedy. Or at least, my clumsy attempts at it.

The Fourth Wall.

THE FOURTH WALL: The fourth wall is a performance convention in which an invisible, imagined wall separates actors from the audience. While the audience can see through this “wall”, the convention assumes the actors act as if they cannot.

Erich’s point – one I could have done with someone screaming at me when I was 19 years old – is that stand-up removes the 4th wall. It HAS TO. If there’s a wall between what you’re doing and the crowd, then what you’re doing is fucking THEATRE. Or POETRY.

Stand up HAS to have the audience as part of the act. You’re talking WITH them. Not AT them.

Now this was my biggest fear and issue when I first started.

I wrote my jokes on a battered Underwood typewriter/cheap Olivetti, alone in my room. On green paper my mum got free (stole) from her work. I knew a good pun when I heard one. Here’s one from way back then:

“I used to work as a vivisectionist. But I got fired when they caught me one night in the basement trying to fit a V8 rocket engine onto the back of a baby deer. (Beat) They told me I was clearly here just trying to make a fast buck.”

Okay. Not exactly Woody Allen’s moose. But a solid enough pun and when delivered with a gesture and an awkward “Julian Clary” mouth wince, pretty much a crowd pleaser.

And I would write a dozen of these, and then put them into some kind of order that made a “story.” (Work/dating/school/hobbies/parents) grouping the similarly themed ones into clumps.

And then I would pick up an old microphone (my dad’s) and pace the bedroom reciting these lines. Over and over. And over and over and over. Just learning the words. Like it was a play.

Me. Live. Cardiff. 2007. The only evidence that I ever did this.

No thought to the audience, no consideration of effect or response. Just learn the fucking jokes.

Pacing, turning, pacing turning, pacing turning, up and down and up and down the room. Past my bed, past the desk, past the old Star Wars figures in a shoe box, past my Fender Telecaster leaned against the woodchip wallpaper. Over and over.

Which meant I had an act.

Not a show. Christ, it wasn’t a show. There was no SHOW. Just 25 one liners, loosely linked with painfully crow-barred segue ways.

Which mean when my name was called out at the comedy night, I stomped up to the stage, moved the mic stand and proceeded to stomp up and down the small raised area repeating the routine. No eye contact, no acknowledgment, no reactions, no interaction. Just BANG BANG BANG.

And if the crowd liked a tortured pun…(My brother and I both had terrible inferiority complexes. (beat) His was obviously MILES BETTER than MINE) I would get laughs and call it a success.

The fourth wall was made of Kevlar.

All fine of course for a sweaty 19 year old for which all expectations were low. But when the audience wanted to “join in” or “talk back” or – God forbid – “heckle”, the show was over.


I had a lot to learn. I present this Roger Waters style Wall Building as one of the biggest reasons I was a lousy comic. Oh I got gigs. I got rebooks. I got quite far. But it wasn’t stand-up. It was theatre. It was a comedy monologue. It was – shudder – poetry.

Being in a room last Monday with 5 people learning this was a huge moment.

We then dealt with (and I couldn’t have planned this better if I’d designed the course myself) the idea of status.

STATUS: The establishment of power. Who is in charge? Who has high status, who has low?

The comic’s job is to have the highest status in the room. They are the boss. No matter what.

And if the “character” you play is a humble, bumbling, awkward, traditionally low-status person (Emo Philips, Woody Allen, Jon Richardson, Simon Amstell) they CANNOT give the status to the audience. Somehow – and here is what I needed back then – they have to be clumsy and awkward and STILL the most powerful person in the room.

There is an art to this.

Erich suggested I watch a comic called Peter Brush, who he says has this down pat.

In fact. In the spirit of taking this seriously and being teacher’s pet, I’m going to take a breather now, get another pint and find him on you tube…

Oh he’s very good. VERY GOOD. Here you go.

Right. So Peter Brush has that thing. His on-stage persona is an awkward, shuffly, second-guessing twitchy outsider. Very much the kind of gags and observations I was striving for. First thoughts is that when I tried this act 30 years ago, I was more manic and hyper. Shouty, jerky and oddball.

But what Brush (I’m sure he won’t mind me referring to him this way) is NOT someone you would heckle. And I’m sat here in The Prince Of Wales in Surbiton, watching his act on my little phone, trying to analyse why.

It’s a subtle thing. He seems shy but somehow incredibly sure of his shyness. Like, “I’m shyer than you and I will stab you if you argue. With my smarts and my mind and my wit. So back off, I’m in charge.”

I can imagine this “character” (which, for all its construction, it clearly is) has taken years of skin-thickening. But I get it. He’s bumbling. But he’s in charge.

That’s what I need to learn, if I’m going to do a “what the hell is the world about” act.


Anyhoo, to check we got the concept, Erich got us to pair up on stage and act out a twisted “high/low status” double act bit of improve.

I was paired with the lovely Jack. He played the high status driver, I was the low-status policeman.

We bumbled through 2 mins of improve in front of the group, on stage, under the lights. No microphones. Just us.

Some thoughts on this.

  1. Fuck it’s hard. On stage, in front of your tutor and 3 other people you don’t know. Aside from “they know you think you’re funny.”
  2. Playing low-status comedically is difficult, because every instinct is telling you to take charge. Be louder, more confident, smarter, funnier, more bossy.
  3. My “timid traffic cop” stumbled and fumbled and I had to fight every instinct to go full Blackadder “sarky official,” Jack gave it full balls-out wanker driver. I and stood apologising and fluffing and trying to be empathetic to his speeding.
  4. When someone says “don’t try and make it funny, just establish the status,” it fights every instinct you get when standing on stage.

But we got the point. Despite Jack being the driver, and me being the cop, it was his show.

I’ve just been for a much needed wee. Have come back with a pint, some twiglets and some mini cheddars. Coz it’s Sunday afternoon and …well, that.

I’m going to munch these while I watch a comedian called Lewis Schaffer.

I can’t remember why Erich said he was worth watching. Maybe status? I figure I’ll get it once I watch him. Here it is:

Ahhhh, now I get it. Now THAT is status.

I’ve never seen this bellowing New York maniac before. Furious, resentful, bitter, snarky…

But in all that, tragic. Unloved, unwanted.

This isn’t Eddie Murphy RAW, this isn’t Bill Hicks screaming about Kennedy. This is exhausted pleading. You KNOW he’s in charge. But somehow, somehow, the character is desperate. The jokes are dark (9/11, Maddie McCann, child porn) but all screamed in rage against an empty universe.


(Oh, but my favourite bit is the first 10 seconds when he thanks Stewart Lee and refers to him as “Bridget Christie’s husband.”)


Havin’ another fag now. (I’ll quit soon)

Oh, as I was working here (working? Ha!) Claire popped down to the pub garden on her lunchbreak. We hung out a bit and she talked about her course. Sadly, I’m so “stand-uppy” in my head right now, barrelled along by the mood and the attitude, I could offer little but snappy puns. Christ I’m exhausting.

Ohhh and now the internet has suggested I watch the take down of Ellen DeGeneres. Which, obviously, I’m going to do. So pint and fag, here we go…

ASIDE: There’s probably a heckle put down here. “Yes, I seem nice. But I’m an evil vindictive cunt deep down. It’s not easy to do. Ask Ellen DeGeneres.” Does that work? I guess if a heckle put-down gets aggressive I could have it as an “apology” in the back pocket.”

Right. I’m back. Its 14.39 now. I have a couple more hours here.

Some top advice came next, ripped from sports psychology. But valid. Not sure how I’m going to use this practically, but it’s more of creating a mind-set about what we try and do:

VISUALISE SUCCESS – Know what great looks like. Picture it.

CONSEQUENCES – Remove the element of surprise by anticipation of most likely outcomes

RELAX – Be open to what can happen in the room. Don’t fight it. Let it be.

FOCUS ON OBSTACLES – What is stopping you relaxing and enjoying yourself? Forgetting lines? Running over? Heckles?

 RECOGNISE & CELEBRATE VICTORIES – no matter how small. What went well?

PAUSE…BUT NOT FOR TOO LONG – take a breath, but not so long as to over analyse

Some obvious but good stuff there. I think the idea of “obstacles” is a good one. What MIGHT happen? What MIGHT the audience say? How MIGHT they react. Best to plan these n advance, rather than trust the stand-up comedy Gods to give you a killer come-back on the night.

Read more here:


A break when I had a fag and a shandy, and then we were back. And this was great because Erich talked about the practical side of things.

Having only done one “how to do stand-up” course before (Jackson Lane, Archway, 1994) it was amazing to have actual practical advice about performing open spots. Such as:

NEVER sit in the front row. You will pop up suddenly when your name is called and throw the tempo off. Often also startle the compare.

NEVER HECKLE – no matter how tempting. Support support support

ACT LIKE A STAR – from the moment you arrive, in the bathroom, at the bar, in the crowd – act like you belong there. You are a PERFORMER, not a punter.

STAND AT THE BACK IN YOUR SECTION – if you know you are on after the break, leave the audience and stand at the back at the interval and wait to walk on.

TIMING – It is everything in comedy. Not just in delivery. Arrive punctually. Take your spot as given. Get a watch/phone that buzzes quietly. Set it to let you know you’ve got 1m left, or 2m left, whatever your last bit is. Do not over-run. Do NOT assume there will be a red light bulb to warn you when time is up.

Then we got to something I never dreamed we’d discuss. Which is the minutiae of stage craft.

The microphone and stand are all you have. Well, that and your act.

Fuck up the practical (mic/cable /stand) management and you are just MR NEWBIE.

Some great tips here I share.

Oh, BTW, this is not my way of getting you to skip the course. DO THE COURSE. Am just sharing my feelings and takeaways. For whatever they are worth. This blogging process helps me focus on these things.

And Erich is right. Fumble and bumble the microphone/stand/cable bit ad it screams amateur. Like a musician tuning up on stage or forgetting a guitar strap. It just takes away the show.

Some great tips – and ones I hope will become my “pre show” checklist =

  1. Check the height of the compare compared to you. Be prepared to adjust the mic stand
  2. If you have a tendency to pace too much or wander about too much, leave the mic in the stand.
  3. If the gig has been set up by musicians, the mic cable may be wrapped around the stand. Be prepared for this. Don’t spend your first 30secs unwinding it.
  4. How you move the mic stand away will say a lot about your status. Polite? Slam! Aggressive, Slowly, quickly?
  5. All microphones distort. SLOW DOWN your speech. Relax. Take your time.
  6. Don’t bring a drink on stage. Putting it on the floor is clumsy. Ask for a stool if you need one.
  7. Acknowledge the compare – handshake/elbows/fist bump? Covid aware!
  8. The audience will judge if they like you from the moment you begin your walk to the stage. So plan your walk. Look for a route/obstacles. See how other comics have done it.
  9. Your clothes will suggest your attitude character and status.
  10. Say your name at the end of the set and wait for the compare to return. This is your applause time.
  11. Put the mic BACK IN THE STAND before your last line if you can. Don’t hand it back to the compare.

I mean…it’s all obvious. We’ve all seen people do this and do it well. But SO well, we don’t consider it. These are the basics we have to learn to give our show a fighting chance

The audience can’t call you “Mr Mic Stand.” It’s the ACT. Don’t let the tech get in the way.

We ended on our exercise, as promised. The 2 Truths and a LIE

I was the first up I think. And I climbed up and took the stand. Did my intro. Moved the mic stand to one side, but a bit clumsy and didn’t know what to do with it as it got tangled in the cable.

NEVER have I been more conscious of a PA system.

Then I prowled the stage and did my facts.

Fuck, the lights.

I mean, Erich talked about many clubs having “showbiz lighting” which meant you could not see ANYTHING beyond your nose. Just screaming floodlights and silhouettes. And to be honest, in all my limited experience, I have never walked a stage with such audience invisibility. Seriously, I could see NOTHING. Only the white hot glare. The group could have all quietly got up and left during my bit and I swear I wouldn’t have been able to see it.

SO I had to guess where they were and attempt eye contact and engagement with darkness. HOPING I was looking at where they were. But I could have been 10 feet off and chatting to empty chairs for all I could see.

My 2 truths and a lie went okay. I avoided trying to be funny, as suggested. And just banged out the facts. To a small round of applause.

ASIDE: Nobody guessed right. Everyone thought I was lying about being a writer or a Jeff Goldblum impersonator. Take that either way. I either went into too much detail about The Tribe Of Toffs, or I keep my Goldblum close to my chest.

Felt unnecessarily proud for no reason.

Then we wrapped up talking a little about cancel-culture, and how NOTHING (in principle) was off limits at the course. People get cancelled because their material if not interesting or inventive. Not the subject matter.

I agree.

We were urged to watch Jon Oliver’s piece about the treatment of Monica Lewinsky by the media, so…

Wait. Fuck it. I’m going to see if that’s available now. Hang fire.

MONTAGE: Richard flicks through YouTube for 10 mins while sipping beer…


Okay. Have found this. I think this is what Erich meant:

But now we get to the crux of the matter. Because I have homework.

Fuck. It’s Sunday night and I’m worrying about homework, it’s like the last 35 years never happened.

Tomorrow night we all have to get up, using good mic technique, under glaring lights, and do a “bit.” A “bit.”

Now for those not in the know, a “bit” is essentially a 1 topic three or four line piece. One subject. Some observations, a gag or two, a feedline and a big finish punchline. A bit.

Erich has told us “it doesn’t have to be funny.”

But we will be at a stand-up comedy course in front of a comedian and 4 other would-be comics. And we will be on stage in front of the lights. So I’m guessing, for better or worse, there’s gonna be some judgement. As this will be the FIRST time we will be delivering material pre-prepared. So, with respect lovely Erich, c’mon. You’re looking for funny.

The homework is to do 2mins or so on:

“Something I love to hate.”

Which of course is classic stand-up fodder. A rant, a shout, a complaint, a…thing. Well, a “bit.”

The guidelines are:

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. State what you hate
  3. Explain WHY you hate it
  4. Show “how” you hate it, with a bit of theatrics or acting out or role play or something.

So. That’s what, in 28hrs, I will need to stand up and do.

No pressure.

So instinct here is pulling me 2 ways. Do I:

  1. Trawl through some existing material, rework it a bit for modern audiences (replace references to Teletext and VHS with Netflix and YouTube)
  2. Think of something new

What would YOU do?

I have PAGES of “bits” about things that annoy me. That I have delivered to or greater or lesser extent “successfully” in the past. But is that the spirit of the course? The idea, surely, is to work the comedy muscles and try and write something new?

I have, since last Monday, been religiously making a note of all gags and observations that have occurred to me, on my phone in a little “send text to myself” manner. These have (which will make no sense to you) included:

In a pub quiz, I got this geography question “what is the name of the huge fault that runs for 600 miles through California. I didn’t get any points for Obesity.”

“Went to a corporate do with work. Epsom horses. I tell you, for something called s corporate race day, it was mostly all fat white men.”

We learn from nature. Green, maybe healthy. Plants, fruits. Red, dangerous. Fire, blood. Bright blue, not healthy. Mould, rot, Greggs.”

Can’t drive. My entire experience of cars and streets is Grand Theft Auto for the PlayStation. That little controller is not quite gear sticks and pedals. So the one time I was allowed behind a wheel, which was about 10 years ago on a farm, just me and a friend in a huge field. My GTA practise I think put me in good stead. I did alright. Not Great. Only ran over three pimps and a hooker (etc.)”

“Do an office job. No good at it. Hate it. But too late now. Many of you may feel this way. But I am struck on occasion how not at all seriously I take things that other people seem to be very very invested in. Stats. Performance. Results. Quality. I’m just sat watching, faking it. Kidding around. Mucking about and pretending I’m one of the team. I’m Scrappy Doo essentially.”

“Mawkish = Morkish. Robin Williams reference. Mawkish can be used to describe someone or something that is overly emotional or sensitive. “

“DVD covers that spoil the movie. Planet Of The Apes = Charlton Heston bellowing at the Statue OF Liberty. Gone Girl – we are selfish cunts. Psycho / Empire Strikes Back / Sixth Sense / Usual Suspects / Se7en”

“What is a wank if not “Marie Kondo-ing your testicles.” Give em a good clear out. Nobody likes a hoarder.”

Being the difficult generation – caught between Dad’s Benny Hill and Brother’s Ben Elton. Between the Black n White Minstrel Show and The Young Ones. Being there when it changes. Not having the luxury of laziness, of saying we’re too old to change, or saying we never knew the old days. The age where you have to scroll down twice when finding your year of birth on an online registration form. I’m 3 clicks now. And I’ve lost interest in a product in those 3 clicks.”

“Parent’s confused generation of just adding the letter “y” to words (Indiany, Colouredy, Asiany, Chinesey, foreigney)”

Everyone has a number they’ve moved from phone to phone of an ex you still hope for. The one you want to contact out of the blue the weekend your partner leaves you.”

“Tab Newcastle clickbait is the worst. DO this and we’ll tell you this. E.g. Place an order in Greggs and we’ll tell you which Depserate Housewives star you’d marry.”

Right. What the hell to make of that shit. None of it jumps out as gold, At least not at this stage. It all is wet clay needing pummelling and fixing.

I am tempted to lean back on a 20 year old bit I wrote about tea. About the faff of ordering tea in a restaurant and just being brought the INGREDIENTS of the cuppa to make myself.

Does this genuinely annoy me? Still? 20 years later? Yes it does.

Am I likely to just rework this bit with some more updated references?

Truth? Yes. Coz it’s Sunday night and I’m tired.

Plus, it’s a good bit.

For your fascination, here’s how I delivered it 25 years ago.

“I don’t go to restaurants myself. Because I’m a tea drinker. I’m British. I’m a tea drinker. There’s a lot of us about. And be aware people – they don’t want you. Coffee after a meal? Fine. Go nuts. 10 different varieties all lovingly prepared. Froth, flavours, syrups, shots, whisky, chocolate. Sprinkles, finished, ready to go.

You order tea? You might as well have ordered the fucker flat packed from IKEA. “Tea is it? Here’s a saucer. Here’s a cup, that’s upside down, sort that out yourself. Here’s some hot water, careful, that’s hot, here’s a teabag, that’s in a paper sachet, sort that out. Here’s a spoon, here’s a jug of milk, a slice of lemon, here’s some strong hanging down, and that’s soggy. I’m surprised it doesn’t come with Swedish instructions and an Allen key. Why are we held in such distain? There are 100milions cups of tea made in the UK alone per day! But here you go, that’s all the crap you need, make it yourself, I’m not getting involved.” I always want to say the same thing. “Why am I MAKING THIS?” Burnt fingers soggy paper. And they say the same thing. “Well…we don’t know how you like it.” FUCK OFF!  You’re trained. You’re a Barista! An Expert in your field. I mean the waiters don’t know EXACTLY how I like my soup either do they. But when I ordered it they didn’t bring me a pot of hot water and a chicken.” B-KAARKKK!!”

So Gimme 24hrs and I’ll share

How I reworked it

What feedback I got.

Until then, blimey it’s nice to be writing again. x

Questionable Behaviour

“Well…we’re back…in the car again…”
“At least we’re out of the tree”


So we’re here once more. It’s 22.5hrs later, almost to the minute.

My life now, it appears, has now become a series of long waits in pub gardens. At least for the summer.

We’re back in The Grey Horse. Next day. It’s much warmer. I’m at a table for two now. The booths are all reserved or packed with groups and families. My rickety table tonight is near the back, by the toilets, next to the rusticky barn/shed area, thick with black-tar paint and planks, where baps and burgers are sliced and diced. There’s an Eastern European chap in the catering standard navy pinstriped cloth apron.

I love a standard. I do. I have odd rules about standards. Certain things always being certain ways. Claire thinks this is ridiculous as she lives much more for the moment and in the moment. If you like it…why not?

Which is nonsense in my head. Because wet weather wear should always be that fisherman yellow shiny canvas; fender Stratocasters must be red, as too must Harrington Jackets; leather must be black; jeans must have turn-ups; lighters must be Zippos; wood furniture should be dark; bathroom suites must be white (as should toilet paper); washing up liquid must be Fairy; E-Type Jags must be green; chinos must be fawn/beige; plan t-shirts must be white black or grey. As must underpants; jewellery must be silver; crockery must be white. And on and on.

So the point I’m labouring here, is I like the chef’s apron. It’s like one from a children’s book.

Blimey it’s much warmer tonight.

It’s not the candle, one of which dances in its oil in a little cropped red jam-jar on my earthy table. It’s September and it would appear that July has arrived late due to traffic congestion.

I’m smoking again. (Will make another Alan Carr attenpt to quit soon). Camel Blue, in that shit green-brown packet. I have a third of a warming pint of Estrella in a branded glass. There are 2 butts in the tray.

I’ve been here 45 mins.

The laptop has taken a jabbing as I’ve spent the time so far typing up my notes, the ones scribbled in an ugly rushed scrawl in a Rymans A4 lined hardback pad (not a moleskine, but try telling her that). The notes I made in the stand-up class we talked about last night.

I’m back here to do it, rather than at home because

  1. I don’t need an excuse to sit in a pub garden with a pint and a laptop. (Will quit drinking soon too)
  2. I’m hosting the Grey Horse weekly pub quiz in about an hour. So here is where I have to be.

The quiz is in the same darkened venue we were in last night. The Ram Jam Club. A room I first went to back in 1990-something (Phil would know) to play in the short-lived Witpop acousticy cardigan-bedecked twee-fest that was my first band. The Understudies, we were punchably called. Talk about a name that suggests second rate. We thought it was apt. It was.

We, were me (guitar and vocals and show off); Neal (guitar and very much deliberately no vocals, like he was Johnny Marr or something); Arnold (bass and vocals) and Phil (drums and vocals). We were kicking around as summer teenage boys do when girls haven’t been invented yet. Silly schoolboy songs and mugs of tea in various sitting rooms and bedrooms in North London.

An ACTUALY musically gifted school pal Jimmy (splendid guitarist and the first person I ever knew who OWNED a red Fender) had his band playing in this far off Surrey pub that summer, and somehow one of us convinced the other that The ‘Studs (as exactly only Neal ever called us) could support.

So we clambered into Phil’s dad’s car and drove the 30 miles south, to set up in a dark, black-bricked back room of a pub called The Grey Horse.

We were shit. Under rehearsed – as our moniker hinted – and played everything too fast and a bit wrong, teetering on the front 6 inches of stage, in front of Jimmy’s band’s pre-sound checked monstrous kit. They had spare guitars on stands. And keyboards. For fuck sake

Anyway we hurried through the silly set to no applause, I said something spiteful into the mic about Phil missing a cue (which drove him red with rage as he was using the gig as something of a sexual lubricant for a nice girl [a girl?!]) And I’d embarrassed him at a song end deliberately to get over the fluffed ending.

I don’t think the evening closed with him getting a fluffed ending, a state of affairs I am certain he still hates me for.

Why am I telling me this? Oh yes. The Grey Horse.

Now home of the Crack Comedy Course of last night. And home now to the Ram Jam Club Weekly Pub Quiz. Which, as I say, I am hosting in about an hour. A gig I’ve had for about6 weeks seperated by 2 COvid-filled years.

I’ve done all the quiz prep: written the questions, created the picture sheets, drawn up the answer pages, printed and stapled and such. I have a 10 track “music round” on a Spotify Playlist that I’m hoping the host/barman in the venue will be able to plug in and play when we get to it.

It’s a radio mic gig, a dozen or so dark tables. They serve beers and wines and whatnot and the aforementioned greasy rustic pub fayre. Lots of BBQ sauce and napkins.

Don’t know if there’ll be much of a crowd. They’ve done little to no advertising. Not even a poster on the wall. A small icon on the website, I checked this afternoon flags up the “RAM JAM RECORDS SUPER QUIZ!” 8pm Every Tuesday.

I’ve wangled a deal with the owner that, if I do 5 weeks of quizzes for free, he’ll cover the fee of the stand-up course. So it’s win win really. No money changes hands, I get 2.5 hrs of learning to be funny on a Monday (more about that later) and 2.5 hours of practising the funny in front of an audience on a Tuesday. Then just 5 days to roll around to wrack myself with self-doubt about the whole thing.

I haven’t really talked about what all this is. I was thinking about it as I walked home last night after the first lesson.

Why now? Mid-life crisis? Boredom? Impending death? Lost dreams? Final hurrah? A new “thing.” It’s a bit of all of it.

Fuck this table is low. Yesterday’s was too high, but this is basically at knee level and I’m having to sort of bend over the low table to type. Fine when one is on a roll, but once in a while – like now – my spine coughs and ahems and asks if I wouldn’t mind budging up a bit to make room.

Arse. Should probably take a break. Don’t want to spend the Quiz doubled over.

Although, what with my clumsy schtick, it’ll be the only doubling over that happens.

Ooooh. Stand up. I must stand up. There’s a pun in there I can’t be bothered to make.

Is there a book title about a greying comic called “remember to stand-up” or “it hurts to Stand-Up”. No, it would appear there isn’t.

7.02pm. Another fag (I’ll quit soon) and I’ll go next door where it’s cooler, I can set up the tables a bit and hopeful find a table not designed by the Lilliputian branch of Heals.

Here we go. Round one. Entertainment.


Standing back up

Funny? Funny how?


Okay so I don’t know what this is. Not yet. It could be the start of something. It’s certainly the middle of something. Hoping it doesn’t mark he end of anything.

So: To business. Or not. Which only time will tell.

Perhaps: So, to idle hobby, might be a better start.

It’s Monday evening. It’s warm. Too warm. I am clammy in a black suit jacket. Am going to take it off. Now this sadly will reveal I’m wearing the cheapest of my cheap white “business shirts” (3 for £40, M&S, back in 2009). When I grab one of these from the rail in the dark each morning, hoping the wind chime of cheap hangars doesn’t wake Claire, I have to run my fingers down the front to check if it’s the one with no buttons missing.

It is.

Thought about wearing my nicer one. The one I wore on my wedding day. Thicker cotton. Ben Sherman. Double cuffs. But that one you have to iron.

I mean, YOU don’t have to iron. I do. And despite not being able to sleep this morning at 6.30am, I still managed to convince myself I didn’t have time to get up and iron it. I did of course. But ironing boards make more noise than cheap coat hangers. So the flimsy yellowing M&S shirt it is.

It’s a school shirt, basically. Yellowing. Almost transparent now, like a KFC napkin after a box of fingery wipey chicken wings.

It should stay hidden under the jacket, but as I say it’s warm now so I’m going to take the jacket off. Gimme a sec…

Ahhh. Better. Much better.

Although it hasn’t helped me much overall. Typing isn’t fun here. I’m in a pub booth and the sticky table is too high so I’m reaching up to the keyboard like a meercat. Well, a meercat with a blog to type. Or a letter of complaint to Compare The Market .com about prejudice.

The jacket laying at my side on the bench now is a Reiss, black, single breasted 2 button number. Its part of a suit I got when I turned 40. The trousers currently hang awkwardly on a hangar in the wardrobe, three or more soft creases in them when I’ve ironed them wrong rather than dry cleaning them. I hardly wear them now. The world – or at least, my world – is suit jackets and jeans now. “Smart jeans.” Black or deep blue denim. Boots. The full suit now is just for weddings, interviews and public appearances.

Is this a public appearance? I don’t know. I suppose in a way. I am meeting strangers. Perhaps friends I haven’t made yet. Perhaps enemies I’m about to try and avoid forever?

There are no such things as enemies. Just strangers who haven’t pissed you off yet. Or something. Joke there somewhere. I hope.

But I am about to meet 6 strangers and spend 2 hrs with them and I would be a big old pants on fire if I said I hadn’t given some cursory thought to the wardrobe. I’ve come out tonight in most senses, dressed like Tim Roth (Mr Orange) in Reservoir Dogs.

Yep. Complete with Ray Bans in the top pocket. I like it as a look. I mean it’s a bit Tarantino, a bit Blues Brothers, a bit funereal. But I figure it’s JUST the right side of smart/casual to be stylish, eye catching, unusual, without being an orange tartan Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush era Chris Evans tweed car crash.

The pub is a local to my work. The Grey Horse. It’s a bit earthy (bare gluey wood, black fingernail grime in the crevices). It does burgers and ribs and cheese fries and such. A huge array of whiskies. It has a muggy outdoor bit where I am now. A booth. One of 4 that run at right angles against the pub outside wall. (I’m in the one nearest the back, with a pint of lemonade and a fresh pack o’ Camels, a chipped Samsung Smart phone and a white Bic lighter stolen from anther smoker either 2 days ago or on the day I last wore this jacket).

Next to my silvery Toyota Prius of a Dell laptop, is a black WH Smith display book. You know the type. Plastic slippery sleeves to slide A4 sheets into. No clunky dandruff of hole-punches needed.

And inside this aging file, tugged last night from the bottom shelf of my fitted spare-bedroom MDF wardrobe (where my never to be dry cleaned suit trousers dangle at 45 degrees) and laid reverently on the couch, are pages and pages and pages of jokes.


One liners, ideas, routines, intros, clumsily annotated ad libs and intros. Plus some sketches. An appalling play I wrote when I thought all you needed to be a playwright was an encouraging friend and a battered Underwood typewriter and a load of knock-off Ben Eltony Blackaddery jokes. Add a dame and a hero and you’re away. In my case, away with the fairies, as I am certain I daydreamed this first-draft piece of sketch comedy nonsense with a boy meets girl plot, hammered into typing paper in the summer of 1992, would be a launching pad to something. It wasn’t.

(NOTE: If the phrase “battered Underwood typewriter rings both familiar and false, it’s because it’s how Andrew McCarthy describes his typewriter in the 1985 Brat Pack ensemble movie “St Elmo’s Fire.” And because obviously I had a nice beige Olivetti, like most teens of my era).

The jokes lovingly typed or warmly laser-printed (the newer bits) span about 30 years. I am almost embarrassed to peel the tacky pages open and look at the work.

Not the newer bits, which I’ve been busy culling from old Facebook posts, tweets, work documents and scrap books in the last 5 days. That stuff’s…well, in slightly better shape. But the rest of it is a selection of groany Tim Viney puns, Izzardy flights of fancy – oft leaning on the northern shaggy Ross Noble side of – shudder – “surrealism” – and mock-angry Ben Eltony “what is it with…?” observations.

This are my early comedy days laid bare. I kept it all. Because…well…

Just because.

Perhaps because one day the South Bank Show might want to get Ken Morse to rostrum the hell out of a montage of papers? Nope. That dream died a long time ago.

Perhaps because I half wondered if, 30 years later, aged 48, I might be sat in a pub garden sipping a nervous lemonade, chain smoking, typing-for-distraction, before I stepped into The Grey Horse Crack Comedy Stand-Up Course, lesson one. In Kingston Upon Thames, a heckles throw from my workplace, on a warm Monday night, wondering what the hell I think I’m about to do?

Funny how things how turn out. But how funny? I guess I’m going to find out.

It’s 6.05pm. Starts at 7pm. Another fag.

I can see 2 other men on their own here. One black, one white. Both middle-ish aged. Sitting by themselves, playing with phones and soggy mop-up copies of Metro. I wonder if we’re going to all sit here together in glancy silence for 55mins and then do awkward covidy handshakes pretending we haven’t seen each other. Like blind dates under a railway clock.

I expect so. I mean, I;m not going to bound over now and chance it. Who has the confidence to introduce themselves to strangers?

Trust me, that’s a very different form of confidence to the one we’ll be trying to harness and monetise tonight.

Oh, I think another chap has turned up. Hope the course isn’t going to be too blokey. Although, cringe cringe cringe, hope awkwardly we don’t get a lone female who wants to shout about her fanny for 5 mins.

I mean, I get enough of that at home.

THAT was a joke.

God I’m going to have to do better than that.

Anyhoo, I’ve said enough so far. I’m going to get a pint and lose myself in an audio book and think about first impressions.

Prior to turning up to this class, we’ve been asked to bring with us, as prep, something to contribute to the ice-breaker. “2 Truths And A Lie.” I assume Erich (the host/mentor/comedian/teacher) will use this to warm us up.

I’m going with:

  1. I wrote a bestselling novel
  2. I provide a voiceover for a YouTube cartoon show about Jeff Goldblum
  3. I was in the band “The Tribe Of Toffs” who got to number 26 in 1988 with “John Kettley Is A Weatherman.”

We’ll see.

Hmmm. Unexpectedly anxious now. Hands are slipping on the sweaty keys. Grey Horse crackly outdoor speakers are playing that 1960s “stumbly drum kit” sloppy R&B, complete with Hammonds and vibraphones. It’s not helping.

I don’t know what to make of tonight. What I want. What I don’t want. Who I’m expecting to meet. How I’m expecting it to go.

I guess I just figured it would be fun to dust it all off again, see if the faded magic has any glitter still left, if my 15 years of delivering training to mixed groups of people has given me confidence, ad-lib ability or any kind of presence. A unique voice? An attitude? Too early to tell.

Or hell, maybe it’s just that I like talking comedy with people and this at least will be place where I won’t expect a sigh and a request to change the subject.

God imagine if that’s what happens here. Jesus. Then I’m done.

Anyhoo, gonna risk a sharpener of a shandy, just to put the edge on.

Still just 4 of us here. I know from the web that Erich (the host) is an amiable Seattle-man, so pretty certain he isn’t one of us.

Plus, why would HE turn up an hour early and read Metro on his own?

Hmm. Okay, well that’s that. Not much more now. Just gonna jump onto The Tribe Of Toffs wiki page to make sure they didn’t release an album I’m going to be expected to recite track listings of.

I don’t think Andy Crane is the only one here who’s got no brain.

See you on the other side xxx