Saturday, 29 January 2011

Saturday 28th January 2011: Life Back On The Road

Hello blog-people

Don't feel bad about this, but I'm using you as a procrastination opportunity now. I'm very busy at the moment. I had planned to fit my weekend around (home) work, but I just found out I had a gig in Islington, Camden Head (the Chortle Student Comedy Award-Audition) on Sunday afternoon, as well as one in Brighton, at the Quadrant on Sunday night. So that complicates the day slightly. This means I have less time to do some actual working. Or homework. Or writing what has recently become a weekly blog. But I'm going to do the last one anyway since nothing's ever so enticing as pointless activities. Or at least work that will not matter in the way that, say, coursework or paid employment does. Ah well. It also shows that if these inclinations are universal, the human race is fundamentally flawed and rightfully doomed to extinction. Yeah... Or maybe this is just me and I'm the one bound for extinction? This is getting into strange territories.

Yes, life as a stand-up is starting up again. I was in the Laughing Horse New Act compo, didn't go through but had a very nice gig with good response. Just not good enough probably. I've got no real problem with that. Story of my life. I'll probably even have a gravestone with a placard saying: 'This would have been a grave stone but the international board of grave stones has decided that this person was too shit to have a grave stone. So this isn't actually a grave stone. It's just some concrete with a placard. It's a bit shit really. Why don't you look at the grave stone to your left? That one's far more interesting! Love, International Board of Grave Stones and Mocking of the Dead Losers (IBGSMDL ®)'

Yeah, bit dark, innit? I do apologise. Not to worry. Some brilliant acts did go through, however, and I wish them all the best in the quarter finals.

Some good news came the day after, when I heard that I was selected to be in a play at Uni after all. The rehearsals so far have been been singularly brilliant. Great to be doing a play again! So come and see Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead at the the Debating Chamber in Falmer House with me in it, when I can be bothered to find out the dates.

The second gig I did this week was in Camden, where to my surprise two of my friends from Holland had decided to spend a night of their lives watching me talk. They were amused and bemused in equal measure, which I believe is what everyone should aim for when playing to the Dutch. I have several years experience in bemusing the Dutch (Hire me!). But at least it was brilliant to let them see what I was doing and where I was going with this comedy thing. Plus I got to see Camden when dark and miserable. That's usually good. And my brother, who really wants to go see Camden market, was adequately impressed. That's what I'm aiming for. Take that, IBGSMDL!

On the Northern Line that day (Wednesday) I was reminded of nearly exactly a year ago, on my first trip to London (not counting several tired hours spent waiting for coaches en route/back from Edinburgh). I was terrified about whether I could still do stand-up (turns out I did and I could) and awestruck by things I'd only seen in films, like the tube. I was one of those annoying tourists who are too slow with ticketing machines, excited by tiling on the walls and generally deserve to be kicked, swiftly and mercilessly, where it hurts. That was me. But I'm better on the tube now. I've even learnt sufficient amounts of the Underground off by heart.

Yeah, that must be enough self-obsessed blah coming from me. Procrastination completed. Oh yeah, one more thing.

Tomorrow it's on to the next Audition/Competition! Whoohoo! Victory? Necessary. Failure? Likely. Ah well. At least after that, I will be either very relaxed or very high energy at the Very First Prime Cuts at the Quadrant! Compèred by self-confessed vegetarian Eden Rivers. Come along, we'll have a banter. :-)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Friday 21st January 2011: Some Talky Bits, Some Writy Bits And Some Bits Where A Man Stands In Front Of An Audience Blabbering On About Stuff

Hello again

Since I promised myself only to occasionally update this blog, I've been both lax about writing it as well as tied down to the specific times when I have, say, experienced something so brilliant it just needs to be said. I spend most of my time studying, reading, doing relatively little in a small room in Brighton. This one's about nothing as well, so bear with me. But, since I'm becoming a stand-up again (after an over-long pause where I went to Holland and back). From Sunday onwards, I'm getting back into gigging. If you happen to be around, come and see me! It'll be fun!

What's also starting again is writing the book I started in 2009, having it lie fallow since the Fringe last August. The idea originally came from a short story I wrote in mid-2008, evolving into something more complicated and switching languages a year later, in 2009. I will definitely finish it one day, since it's full of ideas I love to delve into further. My problem with writing this thing is that its a big, self-contained monster that needs grounding in facts for the weird stuff to work. Logically, I don't know as much as I'd like to, so over the last six months I usually took a look at it once every six weeks, changed some of the wording, look at the rhythm and pacing of it, and got stuck at where I need to explore the plot further. Yesterday, I worked on it for 3 hours straight. They flew by. Good sign. I just need to find the time and self-confidence to actually write this thing. I remember having taken July 2009 off to write it, 100.000 words in 31 days. Easy, I thought. I think I never wrote anything more than about 1000 words for the entire month. Every day I sat down at my computer to write it, becoming distracted and ending up doing nothing. I even went so far as buying the new Zelda for the Nintendo DS, as a procrastination opportunity and spending days playing the game. And during it, I wasn't even defeating enemies or solving puzzles, no siree. I was cutting grass. All the time. I was procrastinating so much, I procrastinated in a video game, used as a procrastination opportunity. They say that if anything ever kills a fledgling writing career, it's lack of self-discipline. That's not true. What you need is someone to shout at you, and a deadline. That deadline is now 2015. 75.000 words in 4 years? No problem. Even I can do that. Probably not though. Ok, before I die, I'm going to finish that book. Happy now?

It wasn't a wasted month, though. I did write a stage version of the idea/concept to later try out (to muted response) in Amsterdam's Engelenbak. I translated about 50% of Jerry Springer the Opera ® (still available for interested Dutch Musical Theatre producers. Ik weet dat je leest, Joop!). I also wrote some stand-up that only recently found its way into my regular set. Yes, that's the reason I'm writing this. As you can see here to the right, the stand-up's kicking off again. Finally. First gig this Sunday. Britain, beware for some slight featherruffling and negligible amounts of ribs being tickled. To war!

I was watching The Review Show this morning (but it's yesterday's episode, so it still works with this title), when they were talking about Self-Help Books. I like the Review Show, but it's very dependent on the guests. Although the hosts can ruin it as well, by going on and on and telling crap jokes (Martha Kearney, this week, should not have let the intern write her script). Last week's discussion on Russia and the Russian in art was uneventful, but this week's wasn't. Especially the discrepancy between the eloquent Professor John Carey and the informed comedians Rhona Cameron and David Quantick, a man with fewer facial expressions than a playing card; and the non-informed artist Martin Creed. Or if he was informed, he just blocked any form of discussion by reducing all aesthetic to immediate personal opinion, things a philistine friend might say in a museum, just to get to the pub. He was brilliant, croaky-voiced and often sounding like a dog who'd been transformed into a man for the weekend, being quizzed on the artifice of civilisation. It made for some pretty compelling viewing though; a panel discussion between 4 intellectuals and a Labrador. Watch it, it's ace. I'm going to write articles in the confused Labrador-voice, genuine invective from the point of view of something that has no real grasp on any form of culture. But does support fox hunting. I'm not saying Martin Creed supports fox hunting. But Labradors do. So there. That's canine criticism in your face!

The man brandishing the sword of Canine Criticism finally did supply the viewer with the lovely anti-self-help point I'd been waiting for. Why do people want to be happy? That actually pushed the argument further into some lovely misanthropic invective. Hooray for Martin Creed.

In short: Dogs, Stand-Up, and a Book. More self-important rubbish later.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Saturday 8th January 2010: A List of Apologies - But None For Meryl Streep

Hello again. This time I promise to keep to my title; this is a list of apologies that I believe I owe some people and things for the last couple of days, especially during the coach trip back to Britain.

The first apology is directed at you, the readership of this stupid blog, because of the crap spelling and lame sentence-structures in my last entry. My only defence is that I wrote most of it half-asleep, half-listening and still traumatised by Meryl Streep's screechy voice. It does make one less of a grammar-nazi then originally intended. So: sorry about that.

The second apology is to myself. I had promised myself, after losing 2 days of sleep to and from EdFringe 2009, never to travel on an overnight coach again. This I didn't keep, and I regret it. I again lost quite a significant amount of sleep, although around December 20th, it was arguably the only way to get from London to Eindhoven. Other than an icebreaker, perhaps. The trip from Victoria Station to Eindhoven was delayed by about 4 hours, leaving at 2 AM, leaving 85 people waiting in the cold for 4 hrs, me reading Kurt Vonnegut, turning the pages with gloves on, shivering. No sleep. I thought: it can only get better on the way back. As the bus arrived, with my mum and dad seeing me off (really sweet of them btw!), I got on, but the only seat left was one where the guy in front of me had seen it fit to crush the knees of anyone behind him by bending the seat back to where it couldn't go any further. The girl next to me shot me a look saying: 'good luck, mate!' as I sat down. My knees protested. I waved at my parents in a way that said: I'm ok! But I'm not ok as well!' The guy in front of me had big curly hair that smelt like it had been washed with Stilton, four months ago and not since. If he turned, some of it wafted through the bus like the plague. He didn't have the plague; but I wouldn't have been surprised, though. I actually did sleep for a bit, during the first part of the journey. As we arrived near the French coast, I saw that the Eurotunnel-train was just leaving, the next one would leave in 2½ hours. On top of that, we had to have a complete check by French customs.

Another apology is in place for the poor French customs officer. He asked, after having had my luggage scanned: 'Avez-vous un vélo le-dans-lá?' I didn't understand what he was going on about, at that time and I responded with something like: no, I haven't, what do you mean? But I did have a bicycle-component in there. My mum and dad had given me a bicycle saddle, that was in a plastic bag, together with my old trainers. The original seat was slightly too destructive for its own good. To me, that was. I'll tell that story some other time (again, too painful. This one physically). Where was I? Oh, yeah. Calais. The customs guy was looking quite tired and incredulous; he didn't quite believe I had an entire bike in there either. I was seriously tired too, I'd failed to get hold of my own passport after it had been given back to me, and had a moment of connection with an equally exhausted customs guy, whose job it was to just look at people's passports all night.

We finally took our place, waiting for 1½ hours to get onto the Eurotunnel trains. Then, the chauffeur did something unforgivable: he switched on the dvd-player and played the dvd on Mamma Mia. On a loop. For the rest of the night. So I had to listen to that shit 3 times. It was horrible. Trying to sleep while Meryl Streep yanks at the notion of music like a monkey picking a fight with a brick wall is not good for your mental health. It's not even funny or ironic, I genuinely hate Mamma Mia. Here's a list:
- Benny Anderson's smug face behind the piano during a song-sequence.
- The incredibly stupid dancing.
- The thick head of the main girl singing, looking sad and acting repulsively on all occasions like a diseased, unwanted family pet even though youre supposed to identify with her.
- Colin Firth actively embarrassing himself, with barely concealed self-loathing. And the bit where his character discovers he's gay, all of a sudden; after about 50 years.
- The annoyingly happy peasant locals, looking like they're from a Greek version of the Bertolli ads, like these bumbling fools wouldn't be hit by economic hardship, because they don't need that much money, do they(?!)
- Thingy ® from The History Boys, whose nipples get more screen time than his face.
- The inherent ageist agenda.
- The weird woman who uses a cacti as a comedy cock during the Dancing Queen-sequence and is generally dangerous to the human eye.
- (again) confusing dickishness and banality with female empowerment (I know where you live Sex and the City 2 (oh God that film was crap!))
- The Winner Takes It All. You can't polish a turd, we know that. But you can stamp on it, spread it over a baby panda's face, and cover it with anthrax so all the world's children die. I know awkwardness, but this is another step.
- Even Julie Walters angered me. And that's an achievement.
But the worst thing in that film, apart from Meryl Streep kicking all her credibility in a bucket and shoving it into the flaming pits of hell; is Pierce Brosnan. There's never been a man who looked more uncomfortable doing anything at all, ever. And I'm including people dying of dyphteria. He sang S.O.S., whilst looking like a man slowly turning into a whale. His eyes went weird, his forehead scrunched itself into a bendy envelope-holder, his shoulders went to the wrong side of his back, so he was breathing towards a blowhole that wasn't there, yet, while sounding like a porpoise with a cold.
And that 3 times. I can dream that film now, but I don't like it. Ah well, you get what you pay for. Luckily I was on time for the coach to Brighton at 7, so I was home early.

I apologise to you, again, for that particular stream of bile. I bet you liked it, didn't you?

Later, I put an anti-Mamma Mia-status on facebook. My friend Joyce replied by writing the chorus from the song. Guess I deserved it. Sorry to people who like musicals.

There's one other apology I'd like to make that I forgot yesterday:

I was walking past Boots, the chemist's, as a girl with an American accent asked me whether I liked Greenpeace. Now I had no money at all, so I just said:' erm..' for a long time, following it up with the unconvincing: 'sorry? Where are you from?' "Greenpeace! Do you like us?" I then proceeded to do the unforgivable: I'd funny my way out of this. I said: 'well, erm, there was this one time when...' (her face went to astonishment) 'oh, no! That was Oxfam!' (she now switched to amused) "What do you mean?" 'Well, I was about eight, and this lady from Oxfam came and took away my drawing away' (True, that. In a zoo, sometime around '96, '97. I vowed to always hate Oxfam after that. I didn't keep my promise, though. I'm far too Middle-class to hate Oxfam). She then went: "Oh no!" 'Yeah. So, can I please go on my way? I'm sorry but it's just getting awkwarder and awkwarder' (shut up, Jorik, that's not even a word!). "Yeah, it's fine, no problem," she still looked happy. I then continued: 'sorry I couldn't...' "No, we're cool. You did entertain me!" I shouted back: 'That's the least I can do. Literally.'

I hope I'm proud of myself. I've just killed a polar bear with mildly diverting a Greenpeace-girl. The world will be going to shit, and it's gonna be my fault. Ah well, live and learn. Me that is, not polar bears. So I apologise to them, with their translucent fur. At a Christmas party, this girl told me that I've got the same name as a Polar Bear in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Ah well, pip pip. Love you all, bye!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Friday 7th January 2011: Why I Like Dave Eggers, Bicycle Locks and Anger ('t was ever thus!)

Hello. I'm back in Brighton. And Blogging again. Hope you like this one. The first half is a kind of analysis of a Dave Eggers book, while the second half is some stuff that happened to me today. If you're more into that kind of thing, do read that. But if you want to read what I think is, like, clever and sh*t, yeah? Read on!

I'm currently reading a short story collection by Dave Eggers. It's called How We Are Hungry. I really like Dave Eggers as a writer. I like the way he can be defiant without being downbeat. He's a one-man reaction to the 20th century, in a way. If we as writers, lets say, accept that we as a species are flawed and our lives are ultimately meaningless, we can do several things: we can either shut up, which would be the kindest thing to do, if we're honest. We could wallow in self-pity. We could take a flashlight and examine the vacuum, like many of the last half-century's greatest writers (Vonnegut, Beckett, Conrad too, as a forerunner) have done to great effect. OR: we can accept the notion as a fact and see where we go from there. Give it a bloody good go. And then we end up with people like Daniel Kitson. Like Arcade Fire. And Dave Eggers.

There's something oddly physical about his writing. You can usually feel the sweat on the characters' backs, their heartbeats. The California sun is usually there, giving the scene a strong like an overexposed picture from the nineteen seventies, There's a feverish life force, though. A determined joy to, against beter judgement, mold and sculpt life into a form. Capture it. In a manic joy. The tenderness apparent in, especially, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius surprised me. Mainly because of the (cliché-alert!) post-modern tricks that are pulled throughout the book. Fourth walls are broken, darkness and death evoked and authors argue amongst himselves (it's complicate, this one). This is exactly why the schmaltzy aspects work, by the way.

This, in turn, reminds me of a film I saw during my time in Holland. I only really watch films at my mum and dad's and, being there over Christmas, I saw a lot of them. Inception is the most ingenious piece of crap I've seen in years (and I've seen The Matrix 3. Now that was poo). It was the equivalent of watching the school nerd belly dance to Stravinsky whilst reading T.S. Eliot holding a sign that says: 'Look at me! Aren't I clever? Please sleep with me!' I've done that. And it's embarrassing. But very very funny too, for all the wrong reasons. I also hate Glee, but that's for another day.

So, yeah. Films! I was reminded of this film called The Bucket List, that I saw over Christmas. I really enjoyed it, even though it's seriously schmaltzy. A reworking of the too-familiar 100 things to do before you die-type narrative; it starts with too men in a room, locked together, being treated for cancer. One is annoying (Morgan Freeman, playing along with Jeopardy, loudly), the other's cynical (Nicholson; whose face is a commedia-mask). The darkness in that first thirty minutes approaches 'Getting On'-style depths. Now, I wasn't drunk, I'm not easily impressed by pathos. But I cried like a child in a fondue-pan. It was incredibly moving. Even though there were violins and the entire thing was, like 'Love, Actually', designed to push emotional buttons. I've only just started hating it, now. And that's an achievement.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Eggers. No. Yes I was. I like Dave Eggers for the same reasons. It pushes your buttons; but never without compromise or resolve. You have to endure the dark bits to get to the sweet bits. First the bad, then the good. It's very Dutch that way. It's the same as artichokes; first the pain, then the pleasure. That sounds both rapey and very Middle-Class. That's also why marzipan covered in chocolate doesn't work. It's too much sugar. Your teeth explode. So, yeah.

My experience of reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was very special. I first read it during the Edinburgh Fringe 2009, a long story I'll tell another time. Or if anyone pays me to do it. But it genuinely lifted my spirits on a depressing full day coach trip to Edinburgh. I was alone, travelling by myself for the first time, never having been to the UK, knowing literally no-one and to top it all off, I'd grazed my knee quite charmlessly in the first ten minutes after arriving at the station. I was not in a good mood. I was annoyed with myself for even having thought of the plan. I spent the first hours on the coach wondering what the other people on there might think of me, a 21 year old boy, alone on the coach to Edinburgh; like an Elephant quietly shuffling off to die.

By the way: the Elephant-death is something comedians usually don't do. The dying bit occurs just before the silence. But I wasn't a comedian at that time, so I wasn't to know. Am I now? Not sure. Something for another blog. I'm not though. Or am I? Sorry to interrupt.

At that point, just after that very dark thought, I opened the book. It started with a hugely funny, self-referential introduction. I then thought: shall I crack on with this and see whether I'll finish it before I get back? I did eventually, and I loved it. Not just that, it got under my skin, lifted me, boosted my confidence; a bit too much even, at times. It got me out of a dark place. Anyone who says fiction doesn't mean anything or do anything for anyone in the real world is wrong. It did more for me at that time, than any self-help book would ever do. As well as the fact that it was nice and sunny at the fringe, which does tend to lift moods, generally. As well seven hundred other things. I do still love the book, though!

So that's the reason I love Dave Eggers. If he googles himself and happens to read this: You're weird. Stop googling yourself. Get a life.

So there.

I was walking on London Rd today, as my bike lock had given up on me and I was on my way to the pound shop. I had bought one of those shortly after the purchase of my bicycle, at the very same boutique (I've been taken over by John Cleese. Help!). My mp3-player had run out of juice and I was just shambling about. Annoyingly, the lock had worked yesterday, but this morning, I had wanted to lock my bike against a fence but found I couldn't. After a mere 4 minutes. Annoyingly, that's how much I was late for my appointment, later on. But I went inside the premises and asked a man owning a warehouse with restaurant-stuff in there if I could park my bike there, preventing it from being stolen. He graciously let me. If you read this (unlikely, but hey) thanks again! But I now had nothing left to lock my bike with.

I bought the new lock from the pound shop, and continued on my way to Aldi. Cause I'm classy. I was waiting at the till, where I saw a strange sight. There was a lady who was packing her shopping into bags, with an employee watching over her every move. What the heck was going on. For me, this was a warning not to trust anyone anymore; for the Aldi-employees would want to hold us hostage and use our lives and the principle of organ-donation for their own nefarious deeds. I held on to my wallet and the new 2 pound gloves I bought after losing one yesterday (again). I was paying for my shopping as the girl approached. 'Would you allow me to have a look at your receipt?' She was already doing it. What would happen to me? 'It's all right, sir, you're the last one.' I then said, with feigned levity: Oh sorry, have I got my paranoia-face on? She laughed, saying: 'no, no, you're not (and quickly switching to) well, it looks like it's all right, sir!' I thanked her and got on my way. Why was I so weirded out by the Aldi-employee looking at the receipt? Possibly just the coach-trip back to Britain.

So I bought the new lock-thing. Although, after writing half this blog, and with Leonard Cohen giving way to Herman van Veen imitating Aznavour in Liefde van Later (I didn't know I had him on here), I thought: Why didn't I just oil the old lock? I just did, and the result: nothing. So there we go.

I'll tell you about how I got back to Britain tomorrow. It's still too traumatic. See you tomorrow. Good to be back.

P.S. I've added a gig list here to the right. Pretty funky, huh?