I’ve been looking for this for a while now, and I would usually file it under e.phemera (which is where I put things that I like and want to be able to find again easily), but it’s inspired enough memories to write a short blog.
It’s called Stand Up With Alan Davis, and it follows him on his 1999 UK tour as he interviews a number of comedians about their craft. This is the first part of part one:
If my memory is not deceiving me, this was broadcast some time in late 2000, and it is the thing that gave me the final kick up the arse to become a stand up comedian.
Having watched it, I bought a few books, including Zen and the Art of Stand Up Comedy, Successful Stand Up Comedy, and How To Be A Working Comic. In fact, I recently realised that these were the first books I ever bought from Amazon, way back when it looked like this:
Having read them, and bookmarked loads of pages (I found them the other day and was amazed that I hadn’t picked them up since), I got on the Web and tried to find somewhere local to do my first gig.
Luckily, Virginmirth were Bristol based – back then it was organisation that was there to help new and newer acts hone their act and do some gigs. So I emailed them asking for more details about how to book my first gig. I got a single sentence reply saying “You’ve been booked for a spot on March 17th …” with the rest giving the venue name and time.
Blimey. I didn’t know what to say or do, so I spent the next few weeks putting my set together and rehearsing it in my bedroom. Never do this, unless you root yourself to the spot and stare at yourself in the mirror, or you’ll do what I did and pace from side to side out of habit (and nerves).
I didn’t tell anyone I had my first gig booked. Not even my driving instructor, which is why he booked me in for my driving test on the morning of the gig. Well, if I was going to be nervous all day, I might as well be nervous for that too.
I got to the gig and watched the small room above the pub fill up with people and acts. I decided, foolishly, to open with a brand new joke about failing my driving test. I fluffed it. Badly. I started pacing from side to side, not looking at the audience, swallowing back the hoarse dryness in my throat. But I pushed on, and started with the set I had practised. The first joke got a big laugh (it may have only been a titter, but to my rookie ears it was a big laugh, and a huge relief after the silence of the fluffed line). I don’t remember much after that, but I came off feeling exhilarated and desperate to do more.
I got chatting to a man who soon became the most influential and supportive comedian I’d meet – Mark Olver – who immediately offered me a second gig at his new night the following week. He gave me the opportunities over the next few years to try out new material on a regular basis, which did me no end of good.
Anyway, that’s how it was at the beginning, there’s more to tell, but for now, this is the documentary that finally moved me from thinking about doing stand up to actually getting up and doing it.
I went shopping for socks. It’s not the most romantic use of my time I know, but I needed some socks, so I thought the best way to procure some socks would be to go to an establishment that traded socks in exchange for monetary recompense. The way I saw it, my feet were cold, and the best way to combat this decline in pedal temperature, would be to own some kind of tight fitting cotton sheath, shaped like my foot. After some research, I discovered that such things did exist. These things are called socks.
Now, this posed me a dilemma that I could not readily rectify. My feet were cold, it was cold outside, going outside would make my feet more cold, but to stop my feet being cold I had to go out into the cold with my cold feet. If only I had some socks.
In desperation, I turned out my drawers in search of socks, and to my chagrin, all I could find was a matching pair of tubular shaped blue cotton material with a kind of dog leg in them. At one end of these odd floppy devices was an elasticated band, at the other end, they were sealed into what can only be described as a toe-like finale.
This being the best I could do, I began wrapping these things around and round my cold feet, and to my surprise, their coiled cotton contours did provide me with some kind of warm respite. The only trouble now was, I couldn’t actually get my feet into my shoes.
Thus I faced a second dilemma that I could not readily rectify. My feet were warm, but the ground outside would hurt my warm feet without some kind of rubber soled protection. If only I had bigger shoes.
But in order to get bigger shoes, I would have to go outside. And in order to go outside, I would need to remove the warm material protecting my cold feet from the cold outside. It seemed to me that what I needed was a more snug fitting cotton coating, contoured to the shape of my feet. If only I had some socks.
I made a rash decision. I tore the blue coiled material from my now warm feet, and pushed my naked podiatry into the confines of my normal sized shoes. That’s when I realised the foolhardiness of this action. The edge of my normal sized shoes was chaffing my ankle. What I needed was some kind of soft cushioned protection tightly bound to the shape of my ankle to prevent said ankle from being rubbed raw. If only I had some socks.
A moment of inspiration hit me hard in the teeth. I took the strange blue material I had rescued from my drawers, and jammed them down the side of my shoes, thus providing some padding against the skin incendiary chaffing. This did have the effect of rendering the shoes a little too tight to make walking comfortable. If only I had bigger shoes.
I stepped out into the cold and could feel the chill freezing my under-protected toes. An extra layer around my feet at this moment would have been enough to thwart this frosting. If only I had some socks.
I found myself wandering aimlessly through the commercial district of my town, thinking forlornly if I would ever find what I needed. And suddenly, there it was.
The … Sock … Shop.
Elated and breathless I staggered awkwardly across the threshold of the boutique, my senses bombarded with hundreds upon hundred of what can only be described … as socks.
Aimlessly grabbing armfuls of the bounteous booty, I lunged at the counter and tendered my purchase. It seemed an eternity as the bored cashier rang them through the scanner, each beep a mocking reminder of my sock free feet. Finally, she looked up and informed me of the cost. If only I had some money.
I’d left all my cash back home, tucked inside a sock.
* * *
What you’ve just wasted your time reading is a good example of how NOT to write stand up material. It’s overly verbose, not worth the journey, lacking in the funnies and almost impossible to memorise.
What’s ridiculous is that I did write it as a piece of stand up, and even attempted to perform it once. But in the telling of it, almost all of it got cut out live on stage, which left the bare bones and a sort of essence of it. I wrote it as a dare, after Iszi challenged me to write a bit about “Blue Socks”; an aribtrary phrase she pulled out of her bottom. When she read it, she correctly stated it was a plethoric mound of dirge, which is why I went on stage and did it. I’m an idiot.
The final joke got a big laugh though, so I somehow win.
It’s a perennial bug bear of writers and comedians I’m sure, being asked “where do get your ideas?” It’s tempting to curl up your lip and snarl something sarcastic about not being the receptacle for some divine muse, but I most commonly just shrug and try and change the subject.
For once, however, I can point to the exact moment when I had an idea for a joke. It happened this morning, and whilst staring into the heat haze emerging from the first cup of coffee of the day, my friend logged in to MSN. It was his birthday yesterday, and so I welcomed him with the message, “Happy Birthday again for yesterday”. He promptly lost connection and did not reply.
A few minutes later, in he logged once more, and uncertain whether he’d seen my first message, I began typing a similar sentiment. This time it came out “Happy Day After Your Birthday Day”. The mountain of my wit is unassailable before the first jolt of caffeine has kicked in, so I dare you to climb my face. He promptly lost connection and did not reply.
By this time I was Facebook bound, and seeing the dreadfully maudlin status I’d posted in a fit of self-pity before bed last night, I decided to replace it with, “I think the day after your birthday should be called Placenta Day, and you should be given another, not so good gift.”
It’s nearly funny, and it doesn’t quite work. Here I think is why: good gift is far to soft a sound to be ending on, so I immediately regretted not typing “another, less good present.” But seeing that now, I think you lose the idea of a baby being a gift when you use the word present.
As is often the case, an audience response will determine whether a joke works, and often what’s wrong with it. Someone commented on my status with “I don’t get it.” For the past few days my chops have been groggy because I have pulled a muscle which is causing me the most painful headache I have ever had, but when I read that, I had a moment of clarity, and replied, “Afterbirthday”.
This then becomes a nice button. But it raises some questions about the use of preceding words. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to use the words After or Birthday so close together in the set up, and so I wound up trying to find a tortuous way around this. Fail.
Here though is an improved version of the joke:
The day after your birthday should be called Placenta Day, and you should be given another unwanted manky gift. An Afterbirthday.
This still has loads of problems, not least the fact it has four uses of the word Day in it, it doesn’t get around the After and Birthday problem, and it seems like such an obvious pun, I began to wonder if it’s been done before.
So I gave up and decided to vomit a thought about it instead. Forgive me for an even more self-indulgent blog than normal, but this is literally the only thing that’s happened to me today.
The swearing came to a head yesterday. That sentence sounds much more interesting than it really is, but it was a weird coincidence if nothing else.
Graham Linehan on his blog, often laments that swearing is used as a substitute for jokes, which I tend to agree with. And Richard Herring wrote a blog the other day about an experiment he did for ITV, in which he added swearing to one set, and removed it from another. His conclusion is obvious, but much more intelligent than what will ultimately make it on to the air. Go over to Warming Up to read it.
Then after I had uploaded this week’s podcast, iszi sent me a message asking why I hadn’t bleeped the shits. I never bleep the shits, I only bleep the sexual swear words, because that’s the way I understand the iTunes policy works if you want to be listed as a Cleaned show. There really is no reason we couldn’t be listed as explicit, but I think we both agree that restricting what we can say makes us a bit more creative with our language – and, to back up Mr Herring’s point, when we do decide to use the stronger words, it gives them more impact, and often times makes them funnier. It’s very satisfying calling Piers Morgan a c*nt.
Sometimes I wonder if I swear too much on stage, but no-one has ever mentioned it to me, so it must go unnoticed, or uncared about. I did an interesting experiment this evening as part of the Calvin & Hobbes challenge: I did automatic typing. I’m not sure what else to call it, but I definitely don’t mean I channelled spirits. Basically I sat and typed without thinking, literally typing the first thing that came into my head, without punctuation and without going back to correct mistakes. The weird thing is, there weren’t any swear words – a lot of Man Alives and Gods, but no cussing. That’s fucking weird.