Wednesday, 24 March 2010

It can't be this hard.

Hey hey, I know what you're thinking. You dirty minded little sod. No this isn't about penises. It's about comedy shows. Specifically, writing comedy shows.

If you've read my previous post you'll know I'm trying to script a 30 minute comedy podcast in a month. I had a chat last night with Matt and loads of ideas came out. I felt good.

Tonight is a different story. Stuff that had me falling about laughing last night just isn't funny today. Even then, everything seems completely separate and the conjoiners just aren't conjoining. I'm quickly falling into the "this-just-ain't-funny" phase of any comedy writing I do.

Yet the worst bit is endings. How do you end a comedy sketch?

I can't believe how hard this challenge is.

Monday, 22 March 2010

What the hell have I let myself in for?

In December a friend of mine told me she was in the short list for funding of a play. She had written a basic synopsis and on 25th January 2010 she had her "pitch". She asked me if I would write the first scene of the play for her. We discussed the idea and I said, "I'll do better than that. I'll write the whole thing." So, during the end of December through to the 23rd January I wrote the play and I thought it was pretty good. It didn't get the funding but that had nothing to do with the completed script. However, I proved to myself. I could do it.

In 2005 I took part in Nanowrimo. Or National Novel Writing Month. I wrote a 50,000 word novel in a month. It's not brilliant but it's a first draft. I just need to do the second draft.

It dawned on me last week that I can write but I need that deadline. I need something to aim for. So, I sat down in the pub last night with Matt and said I need a deadline, I need a target and what came up was a challenge.

What the hell have I let myself in for?

On the 18th April 2010 (that's 30 days away from the start of the idea) Matt and I will record a 30 minute comedy podcast. It will be 30 scripted minutes. 30 minutes of scripted comedy by me in one month. I've written comedy before but never 30 minutes of it. Then it's not just writing it, it's performing it. It's releasing it. It's being told by a keyboard warrior on iTunes that it's not funny.

What the hell have I let myself in for?

As it stands at the moment we will record the first show and I want to release it to a select few people. If you want to be one of those people who reviews it then let me know through this blog or my Twitter page or whatever. The deal will be that on Sunday 18th April we will record the show. Then on Wednesday 21st April I will email you all with a link where you can download the file. You then listen to it and get back to me before Monday 26th April. I don't just want to hear, "It's good," or "it's crap". Justify your opinions. Be harsh and be honest. If the feedback we get is useful and the writing process hasn't resulted in my divorce then we'll look at doing monthly shows from then on and releasing them as a podcast.

In the meantime if you saw anything funny, heard anything funny, did anything funny or smelt something funny please let me know. No matter how trivial.

What the hell have I let myself in for?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Hecklers

Last night the wife and I went to see Richard Herring at The Wulfrun Hall. For those that don't know Herring is a stand up comic who has been on the circuit for years.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is that Herring got some heckles. Being a comic of many years standing he was able to put these hecklers in their place but it still ruined the flow of the show a bit. Now I've never really understood hecklers. I am writing and practising some routines to attempt to do stand up comedy myself. It's an absolutely terrifying prospect. I've performed on stage before, I've done spoken word gigs, I've bared the deepest parts of my soul on stage but nothing, absolutely nothing comes close to the abject fear of attempting stand up comedy. It is easily the scariest job in entertainment. You are only as good as your last joke. You can't rely on having a well known Beatles' song to play if the crowd get restless like a singer can. It's why stand up comics very rarely win "talent" shows. If you've got a half decent voice it's much easier to sing a show tune than write a three minute routine with probably 10 jokes in it which the whole audience find funny.

Then, you have hecklers. That group of, usually, pissed men who think they are as funny as you because they can shout out one phrase. If it gets a laugh, the comic on stage looks like an idiot, if they don't get a laugh (and they usually don't) they can hide behind the dimmed lights of the audience. Now don't get me wrong, seeing a heckler destroyed by a comic (as they usually are) is funny but this is about why do they feel the need to heckle in the first place.

I've seen several stand up comics over my life and as someone who has always looked at them and thought, "I wish I had the nerve to do that" I've always admired them. If you think I'm being easy on them think about it for a second. You walk on stage to be met by a single microphone and spotlight. It's a comedy night in a pub and this is the open mic section. You walk up to the microphone and see the shadows of 150 people looking at you. Your stomach tightens, your adrenalin is racing, your mouth dries up. You now have 5 minutes to entertain this crowd. They are expecting to laugh. You have to make them laugh. But you see a pensioner. Hang on, maybe they'll get offended at my little routine on minute three that has some swearing in it. Then you see a student. Hang on, maybe they're too young to get the Two Ronnies reference. It's bloody hard.

Now let's look at the heckler. They don't have a 5 minute routine to fill. They have a three second silence left for comic effect by the star of the show and let's be honest, the vast majority of times you hear hecklers they don't even get a laugh for those three seconds. They are, on the whole, drunken wankers who think they are funny and try to prove it by shouting out, "TITS!" during a three second break.

Am I being cruel to say that if these hecklers think they are funny in front of a crowd they should write a routine, find a stand up night and do some stand up?

I don't think I am.

Plus, why does this happen with comedy but not other things? You don't see wannabe guitarists jump on stage and wrestle a guitar from Pete Townshend's hands because he messed up Pinball Wizard. "I can play that better than you Pete. Fuck off." And anyone who did that would be, quite rightly, considered a wanker.

Then, on what seems to be an unrelated note, I went to the cinema on Friday to watch Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire. This movie is an emotional smack around the head with a cricket bat with nails in it. A very serious film which has the potential to leave a great deal of the audience weeping. It's just a great film. Yet during this showing someone decided that they would eat crisps and drink pop. However, these food items were stored in a carrier bag so a few minutes into the film you heard lots of rustling of the carrier bag and then someone eating crisps. A bit later, lots of rustling then slurping of pop from a can and then lots of rustling and more crisp eating.

Firstly, I'm really really fat and even I can sit through a film without the need to eat two bags of crisps. Secondly, what's the difference between Mr Crisp twat and Mr Heckler twat? They are both showing a disrespect of the audience around them and the work that's gone into the entertainment they are watching. Even with films I hate I sit quietly and wait for it to end. I don't walk out, I don't eat, I don't drink, I watch the film. I don't heckle, I watch the comic. If I don't find it funny I sit there and wait until it's over and I leave.

Now this sounds like I'm giving other comics the right to heckle. Afterall, they will get on stage so surely they have the right to heckle. In fact, I've heard that one wanna be comic was once heckled by Jack Dee. I actually find this worse. They know hecklers are a pain in the arse. They know that hecklers ruin the flow of your performance. Hecklers are just wankers who don't know better. Other comics who heckle are wankers who do know better.

In fact, because I've been looking at doing stand up I've been thinking about ways to deal with hecklers. I read something from a comic once that said, "Hecklers are usually pissed blokes who think they are funny. You are the comic, you are sober. If you can't think of a put down for their comments then you shouldn't be doing it." In a way I can agree with that but I feel it's like saying, "If you're a mountain climber I can pull your safety ropes out and throw rocks at you while you're on the mountain. A good mountaineer will deal with that." Yes, they would... but why do it? Why? There's no reason. You either think you're funny in which case grab a microphone and make us laugh with a well thought out routine or you don't in which case, sit down, shut up and listen to someone willing to put the effort in.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Public Transport

I had to catch a bus yesterday.

Within five minutes I saw a man dressed up as The Green Hornet and another man taking a cat for a walk on a lead.

I have to go into town again next week... I'm driving.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Spotify Playlists

I've just realised that I didn't put a link up for my March playlist and then it became apparent that I didn't put a link up for the February one either. While I go and stand in the corner to think about my lazy attitude please enjoy these:

Dave's 20 Track Mixtape for February 2010
Tommy Sparks followed by Iron Maiden. That's like putting a tarantula on a baby's bottle.

Dave's 20 Track Mixtape for March 2010
Rock Steady Crew, Perfecto Allstarz.... Fat Larry's Band. Let's get old school.

Next month's mix tape will consist purely of cover versions. But don't get too excited because I'll probably forget to post a link to that as well.

Fiddle Pip

Monday, 1 March 2010

My "Heart Attack"

It's been an "emotional" week I suppose you'd call it. Between my peer group and my family it seems I am surrounded by death, serious illness or depression. It's not the fault of anyone. These things happen but it still leaves you feeling like a black cloud is hovering over you.

Then on Sunday I thought I was having a heart attack.

Rest assured dear reader that your narrator is perfectly okay. This is not a tale where we take knowledge from the destination but rather knowledge from the journey.

The Carling Cup final had just finished on Sunday afternoon and I didn't really care who won but Man U did and that really was okay for me. I was also playing Fifa on the PS3 and just generally enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

Then, I felt a "discomfort" in my chest, on the left hand side, near the top.

I immediately thought, "heartburn" as I'm a fat bastard who wolfs food down his throat in much the same way as you see a pelican force feeding itself fish. Trapped wind, heartburn and indigestion are my friends.

You see, in the back of my mind I have this statement which I'm not even sure is true but has served me okay. "If you have a pain the chest it's probably nothing to worry about unless your left arm starts playing silly buggers." It was then that I realised my left arm was playing silly buggers. I can only describe it as the onset of pins of needles.

Now my mind starts racing. I have discomfort in my chest and my left arm is playing silly buggers. But... was the arm playing silly buggers before I thought about it?

You see, I know about the brain and what it does to you. Of course it's possible that after experiencing a pain in my chest I worry about my left arm and so my brain ensures my left arm plays silly buggers. Our brains do this to us all the time and I am certain it's all connected with how placebos seem to work for us.

Now I start feeling a little anxious. But again, is that a heart problem or me just getting anxious? I can now feel that the left side of my body feels "different" to the right side. I start feeling a shortness of breath, mild nausea and dizziness. I want to mention something to my wife but don't want to worry her. Then I figure that if anything happens she at least needs to know how I'm feeling.

I walk into the room and inform her while also stating that I'm sure I'm doing this to myself and probably got indigestion or something equally trivial but deep down is a worry like I've never felt before. A primal fear.

I phone NHS Direct. Their automated system tells me I can fill out an online assessment so I hang up and give it a go. It asked me if I had pain across my chest. I didn't as it was pain in one part of my chest but I ticked it anyway as it was the closest one.

"DIAL 999 AND ASK FOR AN AMBULANCE IMMEDIATELY" said the webpage in bright white writing on a red background.

"Well that's fucking calming me down!" I said to the wife half joking and half pooing myself.

I phone NHS direct and speak to a lovely woman who decides I need to speak to a nurse. I speak to a nurse, she goes through some lifestyle questions (non smoker, social drinker, obese, trying to lose weight but like KFC too much). I'd also been to the gym this week (news that will give anyone a heart attack) and the suggestion was made that I'd possibly pulled a muscle in my chest. However, she didn't want to take any chances and said I would have to go to A & E, that I couldn't drive myself and if I couldn't get anyone to take me to call 999.

Outwardly I complain that I know I'm doing this to myself, that pulling a muscle is the perfect explaination for the initial pain and that everything but the chest pain is psychosomatic. Inwardly, I'm scared. Terrified.

I phone up my best mate Matt and ask him to take me to A & E which he does almost immediately. My wife wants to go with me but with no one else to look after our daughter it would mean her coming too and I saw nothing to be gained in her hanging around A & E with our daughter for four hours. Matt even said he'd wait with me but I rejected the offer. I'm not sure why. Maybe deep down I knew it was nothing. Maybe I just didn't want them to see me scared.

Matt dropped me off and I jokingly complained that he was about 15 yards from the entrance. "Couldn't you get me closer? I might have a heart condition." I thought it was a funny line.

Now A & E in NHS hospitals isn't the best place to be. It's worked out on a priority basis and obviously everyone thinks they should be top priority but in reality your sprained ankle isn't as important as a dying baby. So you walk in, you give your name, address, date of birth and reason for visit and you sit down to prepare for a long wait.

I walked to the reception and explained how NHS Direct had told me to come because of a discomfort in my chest. The woman never asked my name, address or date of birth she just said, "Go and stand by those doors there, someone will come to get you."

I did as I was told.

By this time, I'm feeling quite ill. The discomfort in my chest is there, my left arm feels weird, I'm short of breath and I start feeling really faint. And then, it hit me. No word of a lie, it hit me. I thought...

"I'm going to die. I'm having a heart attack and I'm going to die."

Looking back now it feels foolish but with everything that had happened and what seems to be a black cloud over those close to me I suppose it was natural. Maybe it would have been weirder if I hadn't thought that way.

What shocked me was my next thought processes. I didn't think to pray, to cry or to scream. I thought about my wife and kids, I thought about Matt, I thought about my friends who would probably feel pain that I had gone. Then I realised that I had joked a few weeks ago with my wife about where the life insurance policy was kept so I hoped that she would remember where it was. And there I stood in the middle of A & E accepting of the fact that I was going to die.

The door opened and a nurse called me in. I sat down and went through the same questions I had gone through with NHS Direct while she took my blood pressure. I remember the old days of a doctor manually inflating the machine but this was an electronic gizmo that did it all while she made notes on my job, fitness levels and social life. The machine beeped and displayed two numbers which I tried to formulate into my mind. How do you read blood pressure numbers again? I gave up and just asked, half jokingly, "So am I going to die?"

She looked up, "Eventually, but not on my shift." And she smiled this sweet smile which warmed me. "It looks fine but I want you to have an ECG." I was led into another room and told to strip to the waist and put a gown on. After a while a young guy came in wheeling an expensive looking piece of kit. He asked me some questions which included what I did for a living. "I'm an IT technician."

"Oh really," he said, "what's the best anti-virus to use?"

I found this amusing for rather complicated reasons and advised him while he set the machine up. He then looked at my torso and explained that he needed to put these small stickers on me to attach to the ECG machine. Unfortunately I am quite hirsute so he needed to shave small squares of hair from around my chest and my legs which he did. I then lay there for a while while a series of peaks and troughs danced across the screen. Once it was finished he disappeared for a while before returning to say, "Do you want the good news, or the bad news?"

"Good news."

"It's not your heart."

It was a relief. But what was the bad news?

"You need to wait in reception to see another doctor. I want you checked out by someone else."

That's fine. I was happy. I phoned my wife and sent some funny texts to Matt including one where I explained that his mother and I were getting married, having sex change operations so she would become his father and I would become his mother. I ended the text by explaining that he was a terrible disappointment to his poor mother. (Yes, it was a long text)

After a few minutes a doctor called me in and this time listened to my chest, gave me some strength tests and declared that it's not my heart, my lungs or indigestion. So it's probably a pulled muscle, it's not serious, despite my weight I'm a very very low risk of having heart problems and to go home.

I apologised for wasting his time and felt guilty now that it had obviously been psychosomatic. He said not to worry. They prefer that than for people to stay at home, thinking it's nothing only to then keel over and die. I'd done the right thing.

I left the hospital and walked home because it felt like I needed to walk. I got home and hugged my kids and when my wife returned from visiting her Nan in hospital, I hugged her.

I woke up today and it was a good day. For a while the metaphorical glass has been half empty. Today it was half full. I'm okay because today I will see my kids and my wife.

Today, I still have discomfort in my chest and left arm but I know it's a minor problem. I'm still here.

You fuckers.

:-)