Paul Savage

Comedian, host, cartoonist, astronaut, occasional liar

Archive Aug 2011: Weird gig Roundup

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Warning: this Blog contains a word some people may find offensive. I have tried to only use it in context, but it’s there none the less. I do not condone the use of the word, I am just recording it as it was used. That word is “retard”. I would never, ever call anyone it, not even Mark Cram.

I do lots of weird gigs. I am a magnet for them. There is nothing in my act that inspires it (not like, say, Trevor Lock, who deliberately puts more and more out to the audience and then improvises around it. He clearly enjoys making gigs weird, and is very good at it), it’s just that I seem to attract it, in the same way that some people attract the mentally ill on public transport (I also have that). For instance, I have done gigs at Biker rallies, europe’s largest paintball game, the special olympics, in a florist’s and…


6: The stile.

The stile is my regular gig in Wolverhampton. I love it. The landlords Vil (short for Village idiot. No, really, even though he’s a smart cookie) and Jo make sure the room is set up and the tickets sold and I don’t have to do anything. We get the regulars, including resident hecklers and gobshites.

Jo sent me a text on the morning saying that for the first time they had completely sold out, even the standing room, and they were looking forward to it. Normally, that would make me happy, but I had all the acts booked for the week later. Cue hours of frantic emailling and negotiations and I was able to cobble a lineup together, including Sally Anne Hayward who was previewing over at the Lighthouse (Wolverhampton’s arthouse cinema) as headliner.

I was sat in the pool room, flipping through my pad of ideas for inspiration (wondering if there ever was a routine behind the blearily scrawled “aroused by bustles” in my pad) when Chris Norton Walker rocked up. After a brief chat, he started doing the polite thing and being all hail-fellow-well-met to the other people in the green room, asking them who they were, if they’d come far to play, how long they had been going, if they’d played here before, etc. In the end I put him out of his misery and informed him that they weren’t comics in a green room as he’d thought, but normal people playing pool.

Anonymous the Poet opened, which was a slight risk as he suffered a debilitating brain injury in a car crash (needless to say, i am not making this up) and since then has been slightly prone to being a bit spaced out. Ok, a bit more spaced out. But he did a cracking job.

After a break, i brought on Chris Norton Walker. Chris was most of the way through his set and was doing really well, had all the crowd onside, laughing at his jokes, and his audience interaction was going nice enough. Then he told a joke with the phrase Asperger’s Syndrome in it. (I hate printing other people’s jokes, but for clarification, as it all kicked off on another part of the internet about this. “I went to the doctor because I had trouble dealing with people in social situations, and I didn’t have many friends. I thought I may have Asperger’s Syndrome. It turns out, I’m just a prick”)

A woman, very vocally started to have an argument with him (her grandson has Asperger’s, and she got offended). Chris could have used either his size or his deadpan manner or comic authority to shoot her down nastily. Instead, he carefully explained where the joke came from, that he wasn’t insulting Asperger’s sufferers, that the only victim of the joke was himself. The woman wouldn’t shut up, and it all got tense.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had walked then and there. But he composed himself, and delivered his last few jokes with a composure and professionalism that had the entire room on his side. The woman then started noisily getting up and trying to get her friends to walk out. It’s quite difficult to deal with this as promoter (wanting to get the person out without causing a scene) and as an MC (wanting to reset the room and get the other middle act on). I managed to handle it ok, but it was still proper tense and the woman kept popping her head back in.

Luckily, there was a break and that allowed me the time to find out that 95% of the punters were onside. One woman was so impressed by Chris that she told him that he wasn’t allowed to skulk off back to London until she’d bought him a drink to say well done.  and Sally Anne, once I briefed her of the weirdness that happened, went up and smashed it.

It was so weird, that a month later Ric Wharton came, the mic stopped working, he did his set (mostly about fingers up arses) acapella and the girl I’d chosen to cheerlead was so impressed she tried to sexually assault him in the break and that almost counted as normal.

5: The Gryphon, Bristol

First, some background: Ages back, I did a gig in Bristol for a promoter. It was on a boat. The boat was a music venue. We were on in the bar. In the first half, the acts couldn’t be heard over the sound of the bass coming from the music gig below ( considering the opening act’s opening joke was a middle aged man spitting fruitsalad into a seethrough carrier bag as a seasickness joke, it was perhaps for the best). The band downstairs were Mumford and Sons, right before they hit it big. The show was sold out for them. We had about 8 people in. Then, when Mumford finished the first half, they all came up to the bar, and ordered drinks loudly and talked over us. Fair enough. It shouldn’t have been on there in the first place. It was then that Pete Smith was forced to take to the stage and die a horrible excruiating death by indifference. And then I had to threaten the promoter with bodily violence and frogmarch him to a cash machine in order to get paid. Me and Pete now refer to it as “the Bristol incident” and only ever then by saying “never mention the Bristol incident!”

Anyway, this promoter asked me to do a gig and against my better judgment I agreed. He offered me the chance to bring another act and so I roped in Rob Halden. That gig was cancelled, and it was with a huge sigh of relief that i crossed it from my diary.

Rob had told a bunch of Bristol people he was doing a gig in Bristol, and then not doing a gig in Bristol. One of those people was John, who runs a pub and whose girlfriend had started doing comedy. John decided to setup a gig where Rob could come down, his girlfriend could do a gig, and so on. Rob, in a nice reversal, roped me in. We headed down early, because when an old friend owns a pub in a lovely part of the world and has offered to put you up for the night and is paying you to talk about yourself, you might as well make a day of it.

The Gryphon is a freshly refurbished pub. It used to be a gay bar. It is now a metal pub. I like rock. My tolerance for metal is low. I keep waiting for someone to go “ROARAGHOARRGRGHRGR- *cough*- fly me to the moon…” but they never do.

Me and Rob spent about 4 hours in the pub sampling their range of real ales, then nipped round the corner to another pub for some food, as the Gryphon had only just got a chef, but they weren’t doing food yet. We got back a bit before showtime and the room was about 3 quarters full. The compere, who I won’t name, did one minute in front of the opening act, Taylor Glenn, an american woman who i’d not met before but who is an accomplished and very funny act who took a bullet and a half opening. Specifically there were 3 dickheads in who wouldn’t shut up, and it took all of Taylor’s skill and nous to be able to get through it. One of the hecklers (from the 3 who wouldn’t shut up) was a well dressed asian bloke who reminded me awfully of a salesman I used to work with who stole a sale off me and cost me £200 worth of commision. Except this guy was horribly drunk and kept calling everyone a racist. I was especially looking forward to getting up there and slapping him down.

The hecklers kept interrupting proceedings, including a bit where one of them went and got jagerbombs for the other two and noisily assmebled them during Jo Cooksley’s set. Me and Rob suggested to John the landlord that he kick them out. Apparently he couldn’t kick one of them out, as he was the pub’s chef, and it was his first day of work.

In what can only have been an attempt to make a weird gig weirder, John the landlord took over MC proceedings after the break and introduced his girlfriend, who had been the MC, to do her set. Highlights included her claiming not to have a Bristol accent in the most Bristol accent I’ve ever heard. John brought on Rob, who had a good gig of it. I snuck down to use the toilet midway through  Rob’s set and as I pushed open the door to the unlocked cubicle, I stumbled onto the figure of the drunk Asian bloke with his pants around his ankles, who snarled at me that I was a racist, and then fell off the toilet.

The compere had asked me if I wanted introducing in a certain way. I said. no, nothing special, she took that as do 15 minutes of material, and some cheering games, and then ask the audience to shush and brought me on to nothing.

I was quite annoyed by this, but I managed to turn it into the righteous ranty annoyed that is quite funny. Told the audience about the drunk calling me a racist. By that time they were all heckled out or they didn’t want to tangle with the shouty sweaty man who had been drinking all day and so they shut up and laughed at the appropriate points. I ended, unusually, by telling everyone to buy me a beer, and then fled downstairs. Was very suprised when someone actually did (people don’t generally do what I tell them to). Another bloke offered to get me a beer, I said I had one, and so he got me a jagerbomb. We stayed up til 4 in the morning drinking and generally being rock and roll, which was fun, as usually comedy is more about being slightly dull. I found the next morning (when the builders next door started using pneumatic drills at 8am) that i had updated my facebook from my phone at 3.30 with “lock-ins are ace” and thankfully not with any of the details of the horribly misogynistic conversation that always seems to sprout when Rob and I are in each others company.


I was up at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, performing a show with Pete Smith and aron Twitchen, and sharing a flat with Pete. We had fallen into an odd couple-esque homelife entirely based on eating crunchy nut cornflakes, stealing other people’s wireless internet and telling each other to fuck off. It was really nice.

I was out with Pete smith, last year’s showmate Andrew “McSquirter” McWhirter, and  “comedy’s irritating schoolboy” Alex Bennett. We had just watched The Horne Section, then we went drinking in the Underbelly bar. Then we repaired to a dance floor, where i tried to enliven the humourless prick Bennett through the medium of interpretive dance, where what i was interpreting was “i am quite sexy, ladies”. During what can only have been the first 15 seconds, my feet hit a slick of spilt beer or something and i slipped up, landed painfully on my ankle. The humourless prick Alex Bennett decided this was absolutely hilarious. I decided i didn’t like that and threw half a pint of beer in his crotch. He decided he didn’t like that and threw a full pint of beer at my crotch. Alex told his flatmate Rob Callaghan that it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen at Edinburgh. Twice. Rob claims it was the last thing he said before bed and the first thing he said when he got up. I should stop trying to write things and just go full slapstick.

It turned out the next morning, thanks to a visit to A and E, that I had sprained my ankle and quite possibly broken it (there was a small hairlike fracture on the xray, but they couldn’t be sure) so i had to spend 3 days with my foot elevated. Considering our flat was up 3 flights of stairs, I became alarmingly housebound. Pete Smith often went out in the morning for the full day and so i had to eat crunchy nut cornflakes and steal our neighbour’s wireless internet on my own, and tell myself to fuck off. There is something depressing about being at the world’s largest arts festival and watching repeats of “would I lie to you?”

On the third day of being housebound, the swelling had gone down enough that I felt it worth risking the trip into town to perform. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, My shirt was soaked through with sweat and my leg was in agony. The only reason I carried on into town was because going back up the stairs seemed too much like hard work.

I crutched my way into Edinburgh city centre. Usually it was a peaceful 25 minute stroll. That day, as I sweated my way into town, it took an hour and a half. I stopped twice on the way and was literally soaked with sweat. Crutches work best on flat, even surfaces where they can get a good purchase to launch from. They don’t work that well on cobbles, really slick surfaces, in the pouring rain, or on hills. Edinburgh is nothing but that.

I changed my Tshirt, did about 5 mins of flyering before Pete and Aaron made me stop, and went inside. Aaron had been compereing most of the gigs, but it was decided it may be easiest for me to do that. We gathered in our audience, served them with tea and biscuits (because naming the show “the free tea and Biscuit hour” was not just false advertising), Pete did the soundcheck and welcomed me onto the stage. I crutched up from the back, to audible gasps and shock, people in the audience thinking that it might be a stupid trick. I explained that it wasn’t, and sat on a stool, and told the story of how I knackered my ankle (see above) and that when I was in the hospital, standing at the reception, the nurses diagnosed me as being “a bit peely-wally” which a) I didn’t know meant pale and sickly and b) isn’t a fucking medical diagnosis.

As I welcomed Pete to the stage I realised he’d moved my crutches, and as I was struggling for them, he pulled the backdrop around me, and I sat on stage for all the acts, and they unveiled me like a painting in an attic.

4: Great Yarmouth

I got this gig on the day from Mirth control. They had a dropout for MC and I offered my services and was accepted gratefully. Mirth Control run some lovely gigs, and they also run some, shall we say, “challenging” gigs. I drove from my home in Wolverhampton and was able to witness first hand friday rush hour traffic. Fun. I got stuck in that perennial standby of Radio 2 traffic reports, the Catthorpe Interchange. Whoever decided moving two major motorway’s traffic through two piddly little roundabouts deserves repeated swift kicks to the cock. While we’re on the subject of roads: East Anglia. Why not build a frigging motorway, eh? Come,  join us in the mid 20th century. You can put it on all that nothing you’re so proud of. In fact: build one in, and two out, so people can return to actual society quicker.

Anyway, Great Yarmouth is like every single British seaside town. It has guesthouses, arcades, a miasma of depression and an undercurrent of barely concealed violence. The pier was playing host to such comedy legends as the Chuckle Brothers, Jim Davidson and Jimmy Carr. The venue was a club right on the main drag. It was bizarre, like the drawing room of a gentleman’s club (the playing whist and discussing Kierkegaard type gentleman’s club, not the ones you mucky sort you lot were thinking of) crossed with one of those houses in council estates that get covered in christmas lights. I met Dan Thomas, who was opening, and he described it as “like an aging vegas hooker’s boudoir”.

I also met the woman who was running the night and the MC, who i was suprised to meet as I thought I was MC. The possibility that I had driven an 8 hour round trip for nothing gaped in front of me. They said that Mirth had screwed up and that I could go on in the middle and still get paid the full amount, which was a relief. I got chatting to Dan and his lovely wife Violet about stuff (specifically, they’d booked a hotel and decided to make a weekend of it, in Yarmouth, in May, and then realised they may have done everything within the first 10 mins. I recommended they get out of Yarmouth and see the Broads).

The gig still an hour away, the club had a few people doing karaoke. Dan and I discussed comedy and such whilst Violet criticised the people doing karaoke in an amusing manner. The room got about 15 people in down the front, plus another 4 middle aged people at the back. The MC did about 3 minutes, then seized up, and with no clapping or cheering, brought on Dan. This was, I discovered, because he had taken some powerful drugs before going on stage and had “come up” at the wrong time. The drugs were, before you start wondering, powerful prescription drugs as he had an old war wound from the falklands, which he told me about in extravagant detail.

“They shot a big load of shrapnel through my spine. You want to see?” he asked. I politely declined.

Meanwhile, back at the gig: Dan, going on to a cold room, was not enjoying himself. When he described the room as like the inside of a vegas brothel one of the middle-aged women turned to her group and said “He’s right. remember that vegas brothel we went to?”. The mind boggles.

With the MC out of action (he went to sleep it off in his van) I stepped in as Dan wrapped up, and called a break. The headliner was on his way from Jongleurs Norwich and was unsure if he was going to make it on schedule. The middle section was made up of Kelly Kingham, a dapper middle aged man up from London and a professional wrestler aged about 21 who was doing his second ever gig. As I was about to go on to start the middle section, the MC decided he was alright to do it and then decided he wasn’t. I can’t remember what material I did but there were some people enjoying it. I brought Kelly on, and he made a very good fist of it. The wrestler came on, bragged about his belt and made various threatening references to his wife and child. I’d have been happier if a) these had any jokes in them b) i’d not read the wikipedia page of Chris Benoit recently.

The headliner turned up, went through the motions and plucked a decent set from his autopilot. I wrapped up, bought fish and chips and started the long drive home. Which was much longer due to my satnav being a bellend and taking me home via the country roads of 6 counties. I reckon it added an extra hour and a half and cost £20 more in petrol than the journey there. I arrived home at 3.43 in the morning, almost hallucinogenic with tiredness.

3: An arts festival, Winsford, in Cheshire

As I was eating my hard-earned fish and chips in Great Yarmouth, i turned my phone back on and found a voicemail from Sean Mason, who had offered a gig the day after. I had applied on the off chance, and Sean hooked me up with it, which was great. I was given the number of the organiser and the postcode to the venue. I pootled up there saturday afternoon and was there far too early. The pub was shut, but seemed more of a nightclub anyway. Sean had been vague about the timings. I repaired to the pub next door where I sat on the verandah, overlooking the river burbling lazily away, and sipped a coke as i read my copy of Private Eye, pausing every 20 minutes to ring the promoter, who wasn’t answering. I managed an hour of this rather blissful state before the pre gig nerves kicked in. I don’t usually get nerves but then I usually know when, where and who I’m gigging for. It all seemed a bit weird.

I asked the barmaid when the nightclub opened. She said 8. 20 minutes later, I asked her if she knew the promoter (I think his name was Damien). She told me he was running many things that day at a place down the road, and suggested I go find him. As I wandered down there, I found that I was walking into an open air festival. There was a large area where a blues band were playing. But, I thought, they’ll play there until it gets dark and then it’ll be comedy in the pub, and I’ll meet the other comics. There was live music in the pub when I arrived. That’ll be it. I daren’t let myself think of the possibility of the fact that I may be doing a gig outdoors on the big stage.

Damien was found for me by one of the bouncers. Happily, i wasn’t playing the big stage outdoors. Unhappily, I was playing a much smaller outdoor stage. One the edge of a lake at a nature reserve, one currently covered in children. I was to be the only act. I rapidly adjusted my expectations downwards, and then downwards again.

The cause of a large chunk of new, and permanent, white hair growth

Damien then wandered off to sort other things out and I was left frantically battling the inclination to turn tail and run. It is very hard, in this day and age, as a strange man on his own, to sit in a field full of children without parents getting suspicious. Especially whilst looking nervous, sweaty, and apprehensive. Last thing I needed before this potential car crash was being beaten for being a nonce.

The little stage was currently being used for a performance of A Midsummer Nights Dream. I tried to read my magazine but couldn’t focus on the words. The play ended, the area went quieter, and the sun started to cool. Damien went around getting me an audience. There were an awful lot of children there. There were also a lot of adults who’d spent the day drinking outside, and could be trouble.

Damien brought me on, and I bailed on the Stoke joke early (it requires both deadpan and repetition, and was therefore too risky) after a few bits of material, I said to the audience I’d just be doing my clean stuff as there were too many kids there. They agreed and the gig got off to an OK start, helped by the fact that the little stage was in a clearing and it became quite intimate. I lucked into the first man I spoke to from stage being a youth worker which helped usher in some more material and it was flowing along ok. One by one, the under 10’s started to wander off and at 15 minutes in, I asked the adults if they were ok with me turning to filth as there were still kids dotted here and there. They said yes, and I warned them again. One man said they’d “hear worse at school”. I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable, especially during my sign language stuff where I inadvertently taught a 6 year old the wanker symbol (and that was my cleaner version of that routine!)  but the audience went with it, especially helped by a front row of laughers, including one 16 year old boy who was actually rolling on the floor laughing, something I had assumed only happened on the internet. Perhaps I have been too quick to write off what people say on the internet as lies. Maybe cats do speak about cheeseburgers.

In the end, it turned into a gorgeous gig. the sun was setting, the crowd enjoyed it, I did 25 minutes, got paid and was home before 9:30. There is probably a lesson about prejudging gigs in there somewhere. However, i refuse to learn it.

I spent today inking the comic book I drew on the train up to edinburgh. Sadly it’s too wordy and my phone too fiddly for me to put up a clear picture, it’ll have to wait til I’m back near a scanner. I also spent a large amount of time trying to ring the hospital and find out if I needed to go into the fracture clinic as they said they’d ring me monday. 6 phone calls later, a woman condescendingly told me that if they wanted to see me for fracture clinic, they’d have called me, but they didn’t, so they hadn’t. I tried to explain to her that they never set a time to ring me on monday and that to be honest it was slightly inconvenient to not know if my leg was broken, but she blithely carried on regardless.

The flat is strewn with rubbish and clothes (unless our lovely landlady is reading this, then it isn’t. It’s clean and tidy and we’re using scented candles and washing up as we go and everything) and all of the stuff i need is placed within arms reach from the position on the sofa should I need to grab it whilst lying down. Mind you, this was how it was before I did my foot in. It’s much better today, by the way.

So, today, in apology for his lamentable behaviour (see previous blog) misanthropic teenager Alex Bennett popped round to see me in my sick bed. Me and Alex and Pete sat and drew comics and said some truly appalling things about each other, in a way that only good friends can. Alex is doing character comedy at the festival, with 3 characters and his own stand up in his show. At one point I said to him “What’s the name of that character you do that no one likes and that doesn’t have any jokes? You know, Alex Bennett”. He had the decency to look hurt.

So, these final Weird gigs.

Weird Gig 2: Telford, for Roger swift.

Roger Swift is on a one man mission to bring comedy to the people of Telford. He has run, in the face of some overwhelming apathy from the general public and some quite ludicrously twatty management decisions from various pub owners, some very nice gigs. The first night of the Talbot, the crown and the red lion gigs he ran were all joys for me to MC. Roger decided that as I had MC’ed the first of all his other gigs, I should MC this one too, at the Bacchus in Wellington, as I am some sort of good luck charm. Telford is actually six or so seperate little towns, there being no central point, so lots of little gigs could suit the area.

The Bacchus seemed to be a nice enough pub. Two of the acts, Steven Dodd and Jack Kirwan, were there having a chat whilst Roger was soundchecking. An hour before the start there were a few scattered punters in the main room of the pub. There was no stage, but there were lights, a mic, and a backdrop and the toilets weren’t immediately behind where we were performing. Small mercies.

I kicked off and got off to an awful start when a pub regular, with clear learning difficulties, but who was also pissed, kept trying to join in. He may have had echolalia (a word I’m using to a. prove I know long words and b. trying to increase random occurrences on my search engine stats), a condition where you repeat what other people say. This was quite annoying for me. I brought on Steven Dodd who had a pretty good gig with the punters, being as he is mostly a one liner comic. Not all are gold, but the hits outnumber the misses and it’s hard to believe he’s only been going 3 months. I forget the second act’s name, but he did some nice stuff about air fresheners.

I was struggling in between. my attempts to talk to people were getting nothing. Sample exchange

me: what’s your name?

woman: I ain’t telling you that.

Just like me on the pull, then, except that it’s kind of the MC’s job to do audience banter. I decided to slip into material. The bloke on the front table (who appeared to be some sort of biker) decided to cut me off every time i finished a set up line and started a punchline.

A while back, Gary Delaney told me that he had started writing 10 heckle putdowns in order of severity from one to 10, so he was armed for every occasion where the perfect phrase wouldn’t come to him from the ether (knowing Gary, I find it hard to believe he needs to do such a thing, but that is why he is a master of his craft, a writer for the best comics on TV and one of the most respected men on the circuit, and why I am doing free entry gigs in Telford to the mentally ill). I tried to copy this, and have a 4, 8 and 10. I have not yet been brave enough to try 8 out as it’s a touch wordy for being so mean and 10 is nuclear emergencies only.

As the evening progressed, more and more people came in to use the pub. I stood at the bar to get a drink during Freddie Farrell’s set and couldn’t hear a word because of the acoustics. The table of emo looking kids behind me couldn’t hear either and so carried on with their conversations, but we could hear them on stage.

It was at this point I threw all dignity to the wind and started pulling hack compere lines out of the bag in an attempt to stamp my authority on the gig. The material wasn’t working, The mentally ill man came up on stage and asked me, repeatedly, if I knew the gasworks, and it was all falling to pieces. I no longer cared what the audience thought of me, but wanted it to be the best for the remaining acts.

Hack Compere lines, for the uninitiated, are lines that you didn’t come up with. Whilst it is bad form to ever do someone else’s material, it’s common amongst comedians that there are some public domain lines that, if you’re in a pickle, can be used. Most comedians will agree that it’s best to never do them in anything other than tight spots and not rely on them. They include:

  • “for you it’s a night out. for your family it’s a night off”
  • (after a heckler has said something stupid and the audience look baffled) “you hear that silence mate? you did that”. Sometimes it gets a big laugh and you can then say: “you hear that mate? I did that”.
  • (to a talkative audience member, in the manner of a TV hypnotist) Aaaaaaand sleep
  • I’m working, you’re interrupting. I don’t come to where you work and slap the cock from your mouth
  • The hackest compere trick in the world (TM)

I ended up using all of these. Roger Swift got a decent response with his props and stuff. During the bit before I brought on Masai Graham, a skinny guy in a tracksuit sneaked up to the front table where the hard looking biker who’d been killing my punchlines all evening was sat, and started whispering to him

“what’s going on here then?” I asked “arranging a drug deal, are we?”

Short story, they were. Awkward!

Masai Graham closed, and did so very well. The biker’s woman groaned on after each of the first few but soon got into it and by the end of his set, the table that had been most disruptive and awful were asking for an encore. I fantasised about burning the pub down.

Masai and Roger both did 5 minutes each of an encore, and Roger collected the shekels from the voluntary buckets and pressed them in my hand. I refused to take them.

Weird gig number 1: Horseshoe Comedy, Wellinborough

I had done Will Morris’s excellent gong show at the Horshoe earlier this year. When I first started doing comedy, many of the first gigs I did were gong shows. Some are notorious for the tough MCing and bearbaity attitude, inciting the audiences to be bastards to the acts. I resolved never to do that and got the acts through it with as much dignity as the format could muster and had a ball. Will invited me back to compere the regular night.

It was all going OK. the audience were a touch light on the ground but it was a lovely summer’s day. The audience were pretty up for it. Tony Tinman had done a decent first section with all the required spadework of an opener. I had accidentally mistaken a woman for a man but it had been dark and she’d been wearing a hoodie. I spoke to a bloke in the front row about how he was getting married soon to a woman he was with who he was clearly punching above his weight with.

I welcomed on the middle act, Chris Norton Walker. He did a few jokes, settled in, and asked the audience “What’s the stupidest thing anyone’s ever done?”.

One girl stuck her hand up

“Well, I was trying to unscrew a bulb behind the bar with my hand and it was hot so I used a wet cloth”

“yes…?” said chris

“and all the other staff saw me nearly get electrocuted”


“and that was when my nickname became retard” she said


“and that’s why I have it tattooed on my belly”

Chris got her up on stage to prove this.

Chris’s alloted 20 minutes essentially involved giving the poor girl enough verbal rope to hang herself. She was a barmaid at the pub on her night off. I’m not sure we ever learnt her name. The regulars and staff all called her retard throughout. Those red bits, on the tattoo, in case the pictures not clear enough, they are roses. When asked why, it’s because she wanted it to be pretty. Oh, and she had to check how to spell Retard before getting it done.

She’d only been working there 7 months too. I can imagine a soldier on his 20th tour getting his nickname tattooed on him. A part time barmaid, less so. I was called Finch (after the american pie character who I apparently resemble) at school, uni and 3 seperate jobs. I was reticent to put it as my profile picture when people did dopplegangers on facebook, nevermind permanently scarring myself with it.

Chris asked a barman what the most retarded thing he had ever done was. Meaning to call out to the landlady to get a suggestion, he simply said “Denise”. Everyone took this as meaning that doing Denise the landlady was the most retarded thing he’d ever done. She looked a bit pissed off and his face was red. Chris finished up to rapturous applause without actually doing any jokes.

During the break, the audience and comedians all decamped to the beer garden where the mentalness continued. The woman who I had called a man earlier I apologised to. The bloke sat next to her, who was the one getting married, went “Don’t worry mate, she’s my boss and she’s a dyke, so it’s an easy mistake to make”. The woman in the hoodie promptly fired the bloke. The woman who was engaged to him looked significantly unimpressed.

I explain the whole prank call to Kate middleton’s nurse suicide thing

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In case you’re unaware of this story I shall elucidate you

Basically, a woman you’ve never met is one of millions worldwide who is currently pregnant. But she is important, because she has “the correct vagina”. The correct vagina means that it is the one that the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest daughter of the guy who Colin Firth played in that movie one time, has ejaculated into. It’s important ejaculate, because centuries ago, someone in that family was good at winning battles and got lots of land.

Despite having the correct vagina and the important ejaculate, mixing the two created morning sickness. Because of this, the owner of the correct vagina had to stay in a hospital. There, some Australians rang a tired, stressed nurse, and pretended to be a wealthy female landowner, who because she came from a previous “correct vagina” is deemed important, and also she was the grandmother of the “important ejaculator”. This was supposed to be “funny”. The tired, stressed nurse, answered a family member checking up on their family, as you would, forgetting that one was the owner of a correct vagina, and therefore was important and that this was somehow wrong.

Then, the British tabloid press jumped on this, spreading out this story, which was vitally important to all of us because the woman was a wealthy landowner and can’t be mocked by australians, and also it was rude to the correct vagina, who we have never met.

Then, probably, the tired, stressed nurse was told off by her tired, stressed bosses, because they had the correct vagina in their hospital and they wanted the correct vagina to feel they were doing a good job.

Then the tired, stressed nurse found it too much, and killed herself.

But hey, enjoy that #royalbaby that you will never meet, because one day it’ll be on a stamp, and it’ll be important because it will be the great grandchild of the wealthy landowner and have come out of the correct vagina.


(thanks to James Cook, whose terminology “correct vagina” I have stolen here)

Archive Oct 2011: This actually happened

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I am not making up any of these details, or exaggerating one bit. I was doing some work, and my mum was hovering around on the phone. She was catching up with whoever was on the other end of the line with what my siblings and cousins were up to.

“Our David’s just started a job teaching at the British school in Manila. He gets his own house, a live in maid, and a driver!

Becky’s just started being a tutor out in Dubai.

Nick’s just been promoted at his job as an actuary in London.

Vicki’s just come back from delivering a speech at the UN in Brussels. She’s been rebooked to do one in Norway with Kofi Annan.

Chris is going round the world soon.

Mark’s still working as a consultant in Amsterdam

And Paul…. Paul was doing a gig in Portsmouth last night (long pause) I think he got paid for it”

I did as well. I got paid for a gig that didn’t even happen. That’s how succesful I am .

Archive Feb 2012: Being Rolo Tomassi

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About a month back, I read the book of one of my all time favourite films, L.A Confidential. It’s rather different from the film, in that it packs in a lot more conspiracies (For instance, Ed Exley in the film is an orphan. In the book, his Dad is a property developer and machiavellian politician. If there’s one thing I’ve learn from crime books and Scooby Doo, property development is inherently evil). It is also different in that none of the book’s characters are likeable or good. It is old-timey racist as all get out (be careful, it seeps in. Rob Halden, who lent me the book, said he found himself for a week after thinking thoughts like “they’ve jewed me on the price” and had to be careful not to say it out loud. Especially in Kiketown). And, it doesn’t have Rolo Tomassi.

In the film, Rolo Tomassi was the person who murdered Exley’s father. Except he wasn’t, he was just a name that he picked out to give some focus to his feelings as he didn’t know who shot his dad. (It is also the name of a Sheffield based “mathcore” band who I found whilst checking the spelling and who, having checked them out on Spotify, I can comfortably report are awful).

I have my own Rolo Tomassi thing for comedy. Stand up comedy is a strange world to take a fragile ego. Most comedians think that all their stuff is gold and at the same time know all their stuff is the inane ramblings of a useless hack. My Rolo Tomassi thing is that there is an act, we shall call him… lets say Adolf Spetznaz. Rudiger Von Chase. Chip Baggins. Oswald Fenchman. Mithril Impetigo. Marc Kram. Whatever his name, he’s an act who should just give up. You see him, doing his stuff to muted responses or downright apathy when he’s always on Facebook talking about how he stormed it. Casually dropping the names of the big act he was on with last week into conversation “as I said to E4 McHaircut last week…”. If you run a gig, you’ll get emails from him when you’ve been really specific about what you want: “I can do that closing 45 minute corporate for you”. No, no you can’t. You might be willing but you’re unable. Turning up to new material nights and plodding through the same tedious things he’s said a hundred times before. Bigging himself up and then dying a death.

At various points in my career, I have probably been guilty of all of these. It gets to a certain point where you wonder if you’re in the right hobby, whether it wouldn’t be much better for everyone if someone came across, and like a grizzled old coach in a boxing movie, put their arm across your shoulders and told you to give up. Sometimes you need Danny Glover to tell you you’re too old for this shit.

Certain acts have bogey comedians, acts that are always the harbinger of doom. Kev  Sheperd is mine, a lovely man who has done sterling work both times I have worked with him. Once he was MC and I was opener, and I cocked that up completely (see for details) and once when I was MC and he was opener, and I didn’t shush the people quietly ordering drinks at the bar, who turned out not to be quietly ordering drinks but having full blown rows and ruining the audience’s entire night. Kev probably thinks I’m well shit, out of my depth, asking for gigs I shouldn’t be getting. He doesn’t know that the twice he’s seen me have been two of my top 20 bad gigs.

It’d be narrratively satisfying if I had seen an act who I’d thought was Rolo Tomassi but turned out I’d seen them on a bad day, or if an act or promoter who thought I was Rolo Tomassi had seen me and been all “You’re awesome. do all my gigs, sign to my agency, here’s a panel show themed around you starting on BBC 2 next week”. But it didn’t.

Instead, left over from a weird gig I never got round to writing up, here is a picture of Chris Purchase onstage, down a well, with a hand-puppet fox.

You’re welcome.

Archive: Mid 2008, I think. Losing at Pop Culture

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I’m starting to worry. My pop culture senses have started to lose their razor sharp accuracy. I used to be on the cusp of stuff. Not in any useful way, but if someone made a reference to a TV show or celebrity, I could follow the conversation.

Then it started to go wrong.  I got a reference to “Peters and Lee” that my dad’s mate made. Why on earth would a man of 24 know about a 70’s folk band from Opportunity Knocks? And then I didn’t get a reference to some major news story, which was so major, I have since forgotten it. A disquieting feeling. Would my whole cultural psyche be forever skewed, like those Japanese troops coming out of the jungle to find modern civilisation, would I be stuck?

I want to blame other people. The other day I met a girl who knew the moves to Soulja Boy (which I didn’t), but then she hadn’t heard “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. Who is in the wrong here?

This is beginning to nag at me. There were some very fresh faced teens at a student gig who didn’t laugh at my Adam Ant bit, and someone actually scoffed and repeated it incredulously when I called him a pop legend.  If people are going to stop knowing who Adam Ant is, then I might have to drop that bit, and I love it. It’s usually a banker. I have a whole bit about Funkadelic, but do enough people know it?

The really worrying thing is that approximately 18% of my conversation is made up of pop culture references. When I get blank eyed stares from a perfectly well known and properly used Life of Brian quote, this is bad. It’s like when I watch Family Guy, and he says “This is worse than that time… (x) came round to (y)” where x is an American celebrity I haven’t heard of. Now some of you won’t have watched Family Guy and are staring blankly, as that description isn’t broad enough. It’s a never ending circle of infinite obscurity.

Where it starts to get weird is that exactly 12% of my self esteem comes from being good at Simpsons references. (Other parts include 11% that I am alright at pool, 5% that I can make a curry from scratch and 8% that I shower every day). I thought everyone watched The Simpsons, and that it was a cultural signifier. During a scale and polish the other day, when my dental hygenist asked how many times I brushed and I said “3 times a day”. Now if she was a fan, she would respond with “Why must you turn my office into a house of lies?”, and get out “the big book of British smiles”. She didn’t though, as she is about 65. The thought that she would made me laugh out loud, which is not good when someone is jabbing sharp metal around your soft gums.

But I haven’t seen many episodes from the newer serieses. Someday soon, someone will make a reference to one of these, and I will be floating cold and alone in a sea of non-quote-getting, like a exiled king looking at some stamps from his country, that now has a pudgy General’s face where his used to be.

Archive: Feb 2011: Winners Don’t Do Drug(trial)s

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I did a drug trial.  The suprise, that I put my body on the line for filthy lucre at the hands of Big Pharma, is of course ruined by the title of this blog. Other rejected titles include “The Drug (Trial)s don’t work, they just make you worse” and “Drug (trial)s: Just say no”.

I rejected these two as they were completely negative. This title is still pretty negative, but hey, I wasn’t getting jabbed with needles and having people analyse my pee because I want to further the cause of science. Not exclusively, anyway. If any science got advanced and I got paid, so much the better, but if I was going to advance any area of science it would be hoverboards. All of our problems can be solved by hoverboards. I heard a rumour that they have all the technology and are just waiting for the components to miniaturise for them to become mass manufacturable. It is my sincerest wish that this is true.

I was doing it because I had taken such an unholy beating financially in December (see for details). Left without a huge wage for December, a few gigs that still hadn’t paid me and with a lot of outgoings coming up, I needed cash and quickly.

My old youth worker and mentor Tom had mentioned he had done them when he was between jobs, and after promising to never tell my parents he told me, he gave me the details. I signed up to do a drug trial, 3 nights in a unit and couple of follow up visits.

After a pre trial health check (very gratifying to know that I am in perfect health. I always assumed I would have high blood pressure considering how little of modern life I can deal with adequately) where I briefly had a neurotic moment that the quite pretty nurse taking my samples would be put off me as my urine sample was quite a vivid yellow. then I realised if she was at all interested in me after i made a little whimper when I got stuck with the needle, handing her a steaming hot flask of my liquid waste probably hadn’t helped, no matter what the colour.

Anyway, I was getting the train down from Wolverhampton to that there London. I set my alarm and booked a taxi and arrived in plenty of time at 8:06 for my 8:30 train. Which didn’t appear on the board. The 8:03 train still did. Look how similar those two numbers are. 8:03, 8:30. Ooooh, I’m clearly a huge cretin. So i read my book for an hour in the waiting room and then spent an uncomfortable 2 hours on the train preparing a Deano story for the ticket inspector. Deano was a guy who I used to work with who felt it was his job in life to blag onto public transport for free. The amout of times he would launch in with a “you see, what it is mate is…” and tell a selection of halftruths and lies til they felt sorry for him or got bored. His finest moment was succesfully blagging his way onto a bus with a nonchalant “you’re going there anyway”, which is one of the most titanic display of balls I have ever seen.

So, whilst mentally preparing myself for the verbal battle of wills, (my closing argument “the bus did not arrive for 30 mins. If you want to fine someone, fine West Midlands travel” sounded nice and plausible and like far too much work for a ticket inspector to bother with) I wrapped myself up nice and tense and got myself worked up into such a awkward frenzy that I was left with nowhere to release it when the ticket inspector didn’t come round. Then the metropoplitan line was closed, which they helpfully hadn’t told me when I boarded it, so I was 2 hours late and genuinely fearful they wouldn’t let me on the program.

Happily, they weren’t that bothered, and I got shown my bed and my little cupboard in the ward with 8 other guys and told that if I needed to pee I was to do it in a brown 1 litre jar. After using it I had to give it back and it was locked in a fridge, where I had to go and ask a nurse to unlock it so I could have a leak. There is something strange about topping up your own chilled piss with fresh hot piss, which is why we generally don’t do it.

I had my bloods taken (they left my crips though. weak LA gang wordplay!) and had some sticky pads attached to my chest. It was very strange that first day, sat on a bed with 8 strangers all sat on beds, all covered in sticky pads around our nipples for ECGs and wired up like something out of the matrix. Stranger still was wandering around shirtless the whole time in february. Some of the guys who had done it before wore flip flops and long shorts or pyjama bottoms, so it made it look like they were experimenting on beach bums. Something, if I ever become a mad scientist, I probably would approve of.

The actual taking of the drug was on the second morning. Our schedules were staggered, and I looked at my guide “wake up: 7:45”. Hmm, I thought, not too bad. A lot earlier than I usually would get up, but I was pretty tired from a lot of travelling the week before. I dropped off a little after midnight, and covered myself in the duvet, which then became apparent was actually made of rubber (presumably to be wipeclean. how efficiently, disgustingly, clean) and strangely clingy.

So, it was with some suprise I was woken at 5:50 as they started waking everyone else up. It’s quite dificult to sleep through 20 medical staff swarming around, harrasing people awake, being aggravated by recalcitrant computers and gently bickering about who’s turn it is to do this or that. I got a canula in my arm, which is a small, semi permanent tap for your blood. Looks like this:

I idly wondered whether they could be given to heroin addicts to prevent infections, but then I put the thought from my mind as it began to itch. I started to wonder about whether it really was itching or if it was psychosomatic. It did itch. Not on the outside. On the inside, in my veins. It tickled. Nice to know it was only on for another 2 days.

One quick pee to empty the tanks before we were confined to bed for 4 hours. Any peeing subsequently would have to be done with the curtains round, in bed, from a prone position. Classy. (Right, that’s the last time I mention pee before I get lots of watersports fetishists stumbling on to this blog). Now came the time to take the actual drug. Because we were the 10th group to do this drug, we were given a monumental dose. Rather than pills or soluble liquid, we were taking it in the form of grains. The texture of which is really hard to desribe, unless you have eaten raw crumble mix straight from the bowl until it forms a dry, solid chunk that sticks to the roof of your mouth and makes you gag a bit. It was exactly like that. (if you have never eaten raw crumble mix from the bowl, I do suggest you do it. It is an awesome way to get a weeks sugar in a mushy paste, and great for making other people’s comfort foods look refined in contrast. Fish Finger sandwich? Pah. try clumps of flour and butter and sugar). The first group had had to do a tiny cap full, we had to do three shot glasses full (or the equivalent, not many hospitals serve drugs in shot glasses).

Anyway, lying in bed for four hours without moving is suprisingly easy for someone such as myself. I read a book about football tactics (the genuinely fascinating Inverting the Pyramid), wrote this months pub quiz, and listened to the nurses discuss their recent drunken night out and watch a posh lad across from me unsuccessfully flirt with them. The one bit of intrigue was when Dale, the lad in the bed next to me (seperate beds. It wasn’t that sort of drug trial. I’m not sure there are drug trials where everyone is in one big bed) had a coughing fit and they dragged him off for observation in case he was reacting badly, despite his repeated insistence that some water had gone down the wrong way.

To be honest, the only real difference between that day and any other is I did slightly less dicking around on facebook, and actually earnt money in bed.

For those of you interested, drug trials are really easy. They are not scary at all (I did mine at the same hospital and for the same company that did the infamous “elephant man” drugtrial where 6 people had bad reactions and killed all their t-cells, but Ihad no side effects at all). At worst they are a little bit dull. I spent most of the days wandering around, halfheartedly reading, watching TV and playing board games (me and 2 other people played a 6 hour game of risk, for instance). So it’s a lot like a caravan holiday when it’s raining, but you have to give samples of your bodily fluids every half hour. So exactly like caravan holidays with my Uncle Terry (whilst not true, I am proud of the classical structure of this joke).

Honestly, the worst part is that for my last blood sample (this coming monday) requires me to be off alcohol and caffeine for 48 hours, meaning that I have to go on a mate’s stag do completely sober. A large orange juice for me then.

Archive. April 2011: Brain Stormed.

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Me and my brain kind of get on. I feed it plenty of facts from books and the internet, and it gives me these back during pub quizzes, and occasionally when I don’t need them. In it I store things like the house phone numbers for people who no longer live there, the names of the house band from Mel and Sue’s light lunch (steve, matt, dylan and dan) and it does a good job of repressing all the memories of when I was a fool. Speaking of which, I was talking at a gig to Sam Gore about birthday parties and said I couldn’t imagine anything worse than a massive party for me with all my various groups of friends because they would have the chance to gang up and share stories of how i was a dickhead. He said “well, the solution to that is to just stop being a dickhead”. So true.

Where my brain and me don’t get on is my Dyspraxia (poor hand to eye coordination, which means i will occasionally knock a whole table of stuff over and then just stare at my hands, like a character in a bad movie who has just killed someone). I never mention my dyspraxia on stage, mostly because it isn’t very funny. Watching someone fall over is hilarious. (Some anthropolgists believe it was the first joke. Mind you, some anthropologists also believe that women grew breasts because they look like buttocks and that women like lipstick because it reminds men of vaginas. we can all agree anthropologists are, at best, chancers). But describing somone fall over isn’t hilarious. Weirdly, I’ve noticed a lot of women, when asked their most embarassing moment, will cite the time they fell over and loads of people saw them. I’ve held my tongue because there’s nothing more likely to annoy a woman than going “wasn’t it the time that were so drunk you forgot about your tampon and left it in, got toxic shock, went to hospital for it, and they decided to show students as it was a paticularly interesting case, and one of those students was a friend of yours from childhood who you hadn’t seen for 10 years and they tried to make small talk?”

This is where my brain and me don’t get on. because my brain will be sitting there going. “you should point that out. you should definitely correct her on that” most of the time in those situations, I ignore my brain.  a few times this last month, I didn’t, and ended up making a dick out of myself.

I was offered a late gig (I’ll not say when or where in case it costs me work),  for a decent sum of money and relatively close to my house. I’d done the gig before and it was joyful, and I was really confident leading up to it. Perhaps too confident. The compere did a cracking job and the room was lovely, set up perfectly for me to open. I started my bit about Stoke. This bit is pretty deadpan, then I get more energetic as I go on. One table had a bit of pointing at a woman who was from stoke and a bit of “ahh, that’s you that is” which winds me up. I talked to the woman. I asked her what she did for a living (teacher) and what she did for a hobby (drinking). My brain went “Aha. You have a drinking story. tell that. tell that now”. I told it. The audience, listened through it and went “ooh”. not in a good way, where you cross a line but you do it with skill and challenge a stereotype or even the word play is really good so they ignore the content and go “oooh…” and then burst into rounds of applause, like they do for Gary Delaney. They just went. “oooh. I don’t like that”

The story, which is true, is based on me being drunk and accidentally punching a woman. it is a funny story. but, in the baldest terms, it is still me punching a woman. It was accidental, it wasn’t hard, and it was all forgotten quickly. but I still punched a woman.

In her ovaries.

I’ve told this story a few times, and it’s always got a decent response. but then I have always told it later in a set, when they have seen my cheeky chappy persona and I have prodded around the boundaries of acceptability a few times. So they hear that story and go “Paul, you lovable scamp. what an inherently ridiculous thing to have done. but we liked your bit about the 3 musketeers and so we will go with this”

This audience didn’t know me. They didn’t yet like me. I had come on, deadpan, not reached the punchline of a joke and then bragged about assaulting a female stranger. This is not funny. For years, comedians have had the in-joke when someone tests a dark bit of material someone will go “i wouldn’t open on it”. I had done just that. I spent the next 19 minutes tensely trying to bring the gig back. I didn’t die, but I came close. The compere said he wouldn’t have blamed me if I came off at 15. Every time they laughed, they felt guilty “imagine us, laughing at that wife beater. we would be awful people. let’s stop laughing” they seemed to say.

Happily, it doesn’t seem to just be me inflicted by this. I was MCing a burlesque gig the other day. It was a newbie show, where girls who are just starting out try out in front of an audience. I had a blast, really enjoying the MCing and letting myself off the leash a few times, though holding back that bit of my brain that goes “say this, it’ll be hilarious”. I managed to watch a woman in her 40’s do a striptease and came back on without saying “That’s the last time I bring my mum”. Which I thought would be well funny but would be very cruel. The best bit was a girl doing a dance to the Fleetwood Mac song “The Chain”, otherwise known as the Formula 1 theme. I said that beer, breasts and sports were pretty much every man’s favourite combo. I then told them they should go one step further and do a striptease to the match of the day theme, then acted dancing seductively to a slowed down version. Sometimes I genuinely love my job.

Anyway, one of the acts had already done one dance and came back on with her female assistant. She seemed to be telling some sort of story with the backing track Atomic, by blondie. She was wearing an orange wig and a sparkly dress. Her assistant was wearing jeans and a white shirt. I used to work with adults with special needs, especially people with Down’s Syndrome, so believe me that I do not say this lightly when I say that the assistant appeared to be doing a “spastic” face. As the song progressed, the dancer lost her dress, the assitant got covered in fake blood, and she combed her orange wig with a plastic comb. Then for the big finish, she pulled off the orange wig to reveal a bald cap and poured more fake blood on her scalp, whilst her friend stood there, almost catatonic.

I have no idea what that was supposed to be. The audience seemingly didn’t either. I wonder if she did? I wonder if she went “I’ve had an idea. I’ll be a sexy cancer victim and you be a stroke addled simpleton and we’ll cover it in fake blood. that’s sexy isn’t it?” and she probably had a moment of self doubt before her brain went

“yeah. Definitely do that. Do it. That will definitely be amazing”

Archive: Mar 2011: The need for Speed Awareness

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I once did an assessment and got 20 out of a possible 20 for Activator (person who just says “screw it, let’s do it”) and 0 out of a possible 20 for Reflector (“person who thinks back a lot”, rather than “person who repels light”). So, don’t expect any deep insights into me.

Don’t think having all activator and no reflection makes me fun and spontaneous. I still know what consequences are. Which was why it was so galling to be caught speeding, doing 37 in a 30 zone coming back from Stafford. Especially as that road is in places 40. I have no idea where they caught me along that road but I bet I thought I was doing under the speed limit. I don’t speed anywhere at the moment. I completely changed my driving habits when petrol first topped £1 a litre (£1 a litre! I’d kill for £1 a litre) around when I first started gigging. I have often annoyed my brother on long drives by driving at 70 in the slow lane and then overtaking people as and when, and gearing down rather than braking to conserve fuel and not cause a braking wave. You know, the actual way you’re supposed to drive.

So it was paticularly galling to do a speed awareness course. I had to: the two options were spend £60 and get 3 points on my license on a fine, or have the fine and the points wiped out. Wow, you’ll wipe out the fine and let me off the points, you are so kind! and what do I have to do? do a course with some other speeders, and all it’ll cost me is… £60. you’ve not wiped out the fine, you’ve moved it. Dicks.

Because a while ago, everyone decided they needed conference space for things, and that essentially all a conference space is a selection of uncomfortable chairs near a projector with space for a tea urn, conference spaces spring up in the unlikeliest of places. This was at a wildlife centre in Staffordshire. No really, it was. I was early and spent 25 minutes listening to fake piped in noises of animals, like lions and monkeys that I am sure are too big, too exotic, and too used to a warm climate to be pissing around in scrubby bit of greenbelt outside Tamworth.

I’d got in the previous night at 3 in the morning after a marathon Wolverhampton- Shrewsbury- Aberyswth-Shrewsbury- Sutton Coldfield- Wolverhampton trip. I’d been gigging in Aberyswth and driving the very talented young comedians Phil Pagett and Alexander Bennett there and then to their respective homes. If that car had gone off the road the west midlands comedy scene might have suffered a bit. Alexander had said that he didn’t like to be called “Alex”, and he can’t be called “Xander” because I would have to beat him to death on principle. Me and Phil decided he was now called “Lexi Bent”, as that seemed to annoy him.

So, I had had about 4 hours sleep before I went to this speed awareness course. One of the problems with being self employed is you know exactly what you did to earn that money, and what you’ll have to do to earn it again. It had been quite a fallow week and so I was watching the profits from a week’s worth of gigging be burnt in front of my eyes. I was not in a good mood.

So, when the woman running the course bustled in (actually, not bustled. Bustled implies a warmth and certain weight and jollity. this woman was a praying mantis whose lips had those cracks from smoking too much) and said in a strident Greater Manchester accent “are we all happy people, I only want to deal with happy people” in a bloody patronising voice, I nearly lost it. When I do youth work, I treat young children as close to adults. It hurts to be an adult treated as a child, especially when you combine it with it costing you money and a lie in.

Ever watch a TV show or a character act or a sketch and there’s a couple of bits that seem alright but you go “This hasn’t been written enough. it doesn’t seem real”? And so you end up hating it? Well this woman was a poorly drawn character. It was almost as if she was a terrible Catherine Tate character, but for 4 hours, and costing me £60.

She said at the start “If I could have £60 and a promise to never speed again who would take it?” My hand shot up. Sadly, that was a rhetorical question to prove a point and I had to sit for another 4 hours whilst being told that a thing I don’t do is bad and I shouldn’t do the thing I don’t do, because otherwise if i did do the thing I don’t do bad things could happen.

I did learn a couple of things. Because apparently everyone other than me is an idiot, you aren’t allowed (by law) to put up 30 signs in a 30 zone. your clue to the speed limit being 30 is that you can’t see a 30 sign, because if it were 20 or 40 there would be a sign. also, the 70 sign (white with a black stripe) can also mean 60 or 50. Why? Really, why? life is confusing enough. If you are in charge of a ton and a half of solid metal, it’s probably best to concentrate on steering that rather than working out if the road has street lights, a central reservation and lots of other factors to tell you what speed to drive at, when you could just make the number on the sign match the number on your speedometer.

Best bit, was they asked us in turn why we were speeding. Some people used my excuse, that they thought they were doing the right speed. It got round the group to this tiny, frail old lady.

Speed awareness lady: “why were you speeding?”

Frail old lady “You know how you know the roads near your house really well…”

S.A.L: “yes..”

F.O.L: “and you know how there’s one long straight road near your house you know really well indeed..”

S.A.L: “…yes…”

F.O.L: Well, I fucking ragged it down there didn’t i?

It was worth £60 for that bit.


Archive Jan 2011: Let’s get Quizzical

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We did a different quiz this week. My compatriots of Team Quiz Akabusi, though fine people to a man, are fey intellectuals, (teachers, opticians, university professors, some sort of admin thing that appears to involve mocking a selection of sri lankan students) too precious for this rough and tumble world. Not me. I am, as previously discussed, some sort of renegade, a man unbound by societal rules, who sees social convention and laughs heartily, or at least has a wry smile to himself.

Our pub quiz moved pubs from the excellent Shoulder of Mutton to the slightly rougher Bird in Hand. And why? Capitalism. Capitalism is supposed to provide cool stuff, not knock down excellent boozers so twats can buy poncy flats. Suck a selection of veiny diseased genitals, capitalism.

Anyway, the presence of men with poorly drawn, poorly spelt tattoos shouting out answers from adjoining rooms has rendered the old quiz less fun for my effete band of knowledge-knowers. They asked me if I wanted to go and do the quiz at the Dog and Gun. I told them the quiz there was rubbish. They said it offered cash prizes. I reinformed them that both the quiz and the pub were rubbish. They insisted. I went.

The quiz was not along the lines of normal quizzes; ie When was the battle of Bannockburn, which book of the Bible does the story of Samson appear, what’s the largest town in England without a football team, what crimes do the Flying Squad investigate, what river flows through Derby? etc. These questions were not asked, nor answered. (For those playing along at home with pen and paper, what are you doing? there was no indication this would be an interactive blog, I didn’t ask you to get a pen and paper. still, the answers are 1314, Judges, Wakefield, armed robberies, the Derwent)

The questons were based on the style of family fortunes: a generic question was asked, and the top 5 answers the general public gave were listed. you had to match your answer to the general publics. Problem is, me and the general public don’t get on. I am, clearly, a man of exceptional taste and knowledge. The general public made Simon Cowell 43 million pounds last year, elected David Cameron, and perhaps most damningly, have given Bradley Walsh a career for some parts of the last 15 years. Clearly our answers won’t entirely match. We got a point for each answer we got right, and two points if out top answer matched theirs.

So, long story short, we came second. we lost by one point. We would have drawn for top spot and then faced off in a tiebreak, which we would have won because it would have been about actual facts rather than opinions.

We fell down on this question:

What makes you feel warm inside?

Top 5 answers got a point. The top answer got 2 points. the correct top answer, even from a blackhearted cynic such as myself, is love. That is the correct answer. It is indisputiably the correct answer. It is. It is.

The British Public’s top answer was “a hot drink”

“is it a hot drink, Paul?”

“No. It is love. Simple, pure, love”

“is it when you’re watching You’ve Been Framed, and a fat woman is dancing at a wedding and she falls over, or someone runs into a plate glass window?”

“no. Whilst that may be amusing, and joyous in it’s way, it is love. the answer is indisputiably love”

“is it when you run for public transport and it doesn’t drive off without you? Is it that, Paul”

“No. that’s nice, and a lovely little thrill at getting one over on the universe somehow, but itisn’t the correct answer. The correct answer is love. write that down”

“Is it doing lavish, raised legged farts whilst doing the hoovering?”

“No. it’s love. Try as they might, the world’s greatest novelists, playwrights, poets, singer/songwriters and minstrels cannot find so many glourious, multifaceted sides to doing lavish raised legged farts whilst hoovering. It’s love. LOVE. There wasn’t a popular cartoon about two naked children that you probably can’t get away with now called “lavish raised legged farts is”, partly because it’s grammatically incorrect and partly because the bloody answer to the bloody question “what bloody makes you bloody warm inside?” is bloody love. It just is.

The Derwent definitely flows through Derby. Maps, wikipedia and the ordance survey all agree. The coastguard probably agrees. We’ve not put this out to the British public, asked 100, and seen what they answered, and then took that as the right answer

Q:”What’s the name of the river in Derby?”

The British Public: “Is it Shaniqua? Is it Alan? Is it Wellard, like the dog that used to be in Eastenders?”

No, it isn’t, and those are all stupid opinions you slackjawed cretins.

So anyway, the answer was’t love, and we lost by one point. there was no 2nd prize.

Archive:Jan 2010. Something a bit weird

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I wasn’t supposed to be doing this gig. a few weeks ago, a new act I have been working with a bit called Jack Kirwan emailled me and asked if I was free to do a charity gig raising money for Compton Hospice, a very worthwhile cause, in memory of his late uncle. I of course said I’d look, hoping I’d already be booked in so getting the instant karma of being able to make encouraging sounds of wanting to do it without having to actually do it.

I was supposed to be doing a gig in mid-Wales for proper money. Hooray, no charity gig for me. Sadly this got then pulled the week before as no tickets were sold. Does my name on the poster mean nothing? Do the people of Mid-Wales have any idea who I am? Surely they would get in their cars and travel from miles around to see “the juice comedy club stafford performer of the year 2009”, wouldn’t they? The answers are as follows: no, no, and of course not. but promoters reading this should still book me.

So when I saw Jack still looking for an MC on the west Midlands Comedy forum, and me without a gig saturday night, I did the nice thing and said I’d do it. This may or may not have had something to do with the fact he runs a gig where I have a recurring role as resident MC, where my job is to turn up, drink as much beer as possible, get paid and walk home. Best keep him sweet.

I was gratified to learn 2 very solid acts were on with me, Tom Roche and Dave Powner. Both have had little resurgences in form recently and are performing the best stuff they’ve ever done. Jack Kirwan was also on the bill, and had rightly taken Tom’s suggestion that the comedy be on first, before the disco and certainly before the *shudder* cabaret.

So, comedy whilst they are still soberish and not used to talking over music, then cabaret, then the disco. There would, no doubt be a raffle at some point, where we observe Brooker’s Law Second Law of Comedy (c) “Do not fuck about with the raffle”.We were going to go on early, do the gig and get out. With it being local, I could go and get drunk afterwards, a rarity on a saturday in recent weeks as not only is saturday a busy day in the comedy calender, people keep having the temerity to get married on saturdays.

Then fate stood in the way. Fate was being played in this production by a bossy old cow. I’ve no idea of her name, but she seemed to be the matriarch of the club and shot down Jack’s suggestion. Suddenly, we were on an hour and a half later, my post gig plans lay shredded like so many shredded post gig plans (too tired to do similes). That and the fact that my friend I was supposed to be meeting had cancelled as she had a Nan sitting issue to deal with. What happened, Nans of the world? I though we had an accord; I’d let you spout racism whilst I tutted halfheartedly, you’d occasionally gift me small sums of money and sweets. Now your blocking my drunkening? Fine, bring it on. I can survive without free Werther’s longer than you can without complaining about how it was better without “them” coming over.

Anyway, I rocked up at the venue at 9:30. I peered through the windows (slatted blinds, the voyeurs friend) to see something scary. Only one thing worse than no punters is a gig full of the wrong punters. I could see the types there. The middle aged blokes who want you to “tell a proper joke”. The alpha lads who will heckle to amuse their mates but won’t talk to you if you ask them a question. The middle aged women who tut at the slightest use of bad language, sex, meanness. All these paled into insignificance to the worst thing of all. Kids. Loads of them. Hyped up on sugar and fireworks (watching, not ingesting), running around the dancefloor doing skids whilst their parents could supervise them from the bar. I have a fully clean set, suitable for kids. I have a drunken weekend club MC set, for dealing with whatever I can get thrown at. they do not share many thing in the Venn Diagram of my comedy

(i don’t have an actual venn diagram. Yet. I am exactly the kind of person who would have one, though. I love Venn diagrams*. I intend to one day chronicle the whole comedy circuit. you could say “Nice bloke, does material about drinking, drives, spent time in prison, your friend on facebook” and I would be able to pluck out 3 names instantly. I can do that now, I don’t need a Venn diagram yet).

Anyway, this gig. I went in, and the child bouncer (he can’t have been more than 15) said “are you one of the comedians?” finally, the prophet is recognised in his own land. Probably recognised for the fact I had an unhealthy sweat on at the thought of dying in front of a hostil, rammed room. And the fact I had my man bag. I found Jack and Tom at the bar, and we were shown to the green room, which was actually white and full of 8 year old playing with cardboard instruments. I had my post gig beer beforehand, as we sorted a running order. Tom first, jack in the middle, Dave closing. Hopefully mine and tom’s upbeat silliness would break them down before Dave’s brand of clever filth. Hopefully they’d also be kind to Jack, as you can never tell what a crowd of family and friends will do. They could absolutely love him, or they could be proper dicks.

Matriarch came and gave us a running order. ie about 7 other acts were on before the comedy. They were running behind and hadn’t done cabaret yet. cabaret performers wandered in and out of the green room, including 2 ladies in sparkly dresses, and one man who came in, grabbed a brillo pad sponge (you know the ones I mean?) from his bag and went back out. The DJs in their booth were ribbing each other to complete indifference from the audience. Matriarch was yelling at kids from the stage. The dancefloor was clear, meaning a huge, joke swallowing gap between acts and the audience. no chance with the gig midway through of closing it with more tables, nor moving people down. Me and Tom sat and worked out how we would get out of this best. We also agreed Chris Brooker would get a great gig diary out of it.

Tom had a quiet word with Matriarch. and got us pushed up the bill, we were after the raffle and the two ladies in sparkly dresses singing two songs, but before the rest of the cabaret. The man who had left with a brillo sponge re-entered, and all the comics’ jaws dropped. because helooked like this.

For those of you who can’t see properly, that is a white man in 2010, blacked up, with a trumpet. He’s wearing black woolen gloves because he didn’t want to get his hands dirty.There’s a joke in there somewhere.

After that, I lost all fear. I’m not being the worst act on a bill with a black and white minstrel. Matriarch did a bit more shouting and being unpleasant to the kids, and introduced me. I’d said to Tom that he could judge how much I was struggling by how many old school compere tricks i resorted to. I needed a few, (hell, I came out and said “don’t worry, you’re not what I was expecting either”) but I didn’t resort to the hackest compere’s trick in the world (c). Did some stuff about Wolverhampton, and was gifted a man who booed when I mentioned Stoke. He then became my go to point when I needed to slag somewhere off. (I even did “gimme six” which I’m sure Tom ticked off his list). Did the rules, modified the Gok Wan joke as there were kids in the audience, and got Tom on.

When reviewing comedy, Dave Dinsdale always used the phrase “laffers”, as in “a nice crowd, but not many laffers”. I finally got what he meant. There were 3 people, scattered randomly (actually randomly, students, not just slightly weirdly or unexpectedly. Like what the word actually means) through the room, with big, infectious, knee slapping laughs who made it feel welcoming. I walked to the bar at bar at the back (having nervously sank my pint just before I went on), and there were people watching and laughing quietly. If I’d have not walked to the back, I might have thought there were only 3 nice audience members.

Tom did a very short set, sensibly deciding to only do the cleanish gold stuff whilst he had their attention. Then I did more material and brought on Jack, who had a decent gig, and brought on Dave, who coped manfully with the fact a lot of his material was pitched just a bit too much for them, as it’s filled with slow pauses and clever wordplay that may not be best suited for drunks.

I had wanted to go straight away, but the punters were happy and I had nothing special to get back to, so I stuck around. The cabaret consisted of people doing kareoke whilst pretending to play instruments. ‘The Searchers’ were ok, the ‘Johnny Cash’ was really good (he even stopped between songs to tune up his guitar, even though he was pretending to play it. WTF?), doing an accurate version of “Boy named sue”. The ‘Andy Williams’ was pretty good too. Then ‘Louis Armstrong’ got up and did his song. And he did it really well. As I was watching it, a bloke next to me commented on the fact he was blacked up by saying he’d recently seen a black bloke white up to do a version of Vanilla ice. Imagine that, a black bloke pretending to be a white bloke pretending to be a black bloke. None of the audience objected, and he got a nice reception. I made my move, went home, and watched Modern Family episodes til 3 in the morning, because I can.

I mentioned up the top Chris Brooker’s 2nd Law of Comedy. I’ll have to check with him, but I think his first one is “don’t prejudge gigs”. I had a good time, got laughs, got beer bought for me, raised money for charity. I’m currently, as a bit of self improvement, trying to not to judge people so quickly or harshly. I have no idea if the fact ‘Louis Armstrong’ raised money for charity makes up for the queasiness of him blacking up, or the fact he clearly had love for the work of the actual Louis Armstrong,  or whether the fact a black bloke whiting up can be used as an excuse. I didn’t go out to gig and expect to have my morals challenged. but sometimes it’s nice to

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