Creatives in profile: interview with Katie Arnstein

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Katie Arnstein is an actor, writer and musician from the Midlands. Her two solo shows have both won Show of the Week at VAULT Festival, with her most recent show, Sexy Lamp winning The Pick of Pleasance Award.

Sexy Lamp is a show inspired by Kelly Sue DeConnick’s ‘Sexy Lamp Test’, which determines if a female character is relevant to the plot of an artistic work or merely decoration. If a female role could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test. In the era of the #MeToo movement, it is in many way a defining show of our times (and, as such, we – along with many others – have been raving about it in our reviews).

Ahead of a summer touring Sexy Lamp, which includes a run through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it was a genuine pleasure to catch-up with Arnstein and talk about her show and everything else besides (including her constant fear of frogs).

 INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

ARNSTEIN

My name is Katie Arnstein, I am a 28 year old actor, writer and musician originally from the Midlands. I am the daughter of  two now-retired teachers, Jane and Tim, and I have two sisters, Grace and Lil. I’m a vegan but am fun in other ways.

INTERVIEWER

In your latest play, Sexy Lamp, you speak about how your love of acting can be traced back to watching Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Has acting always been your first love, and what have been some of the defining moments that have brought you on your journey so far?

ARNSTEIN

I am told that when I was very young I wanted to be a face painter but after seeing the Wizard of Oz I wanted to be Dorothy. I loved acting but didn’t know how to do it as a job until I met the careers advisor at school who said “You can train to be an actor, you know?” and I was like “AWESOME. How?”. I got in to a regional drama school and moved to London in 2012 to begin my glittering career*

*career decidedly not glittery.

INTERVIEWER

Apart from acting, what else are you particularly passionate about?

ARNSTEIN

Equal rights, large cups of tea and Bruce Springsteen.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

ARNSTEIN

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jess Phillips, Morgan Lloyd-Malcolm, my sisters and my oldest friend Laura Higgs.

 INTERVIEWER

What are some of the key challenges facing aspiring artists and actors today?

ARNSTEIN

How hard it is financially. How hard it is getting your foot in the door. The lack of diversity within the arts.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about your journey in putting together your show, Sexy Lamp? Why do you feel it’s been important to put this show on now, and could you have put it on to the same effect when you first arrived in London, in 2012?

ARNSTEIN

Sexy Lamp is the second solo show I have written. It follows Bicycles and Fish, which I have been touring on and off since 2017. I wrote Sexy Lamp in December, 2018 up until the day of the first show on the 6th of February 2019. I had surgery at the start of December so spent the month sitting down and trying to write. I wrote the opening song and a number of real life accounts of my experiences and then tried to piece them together. It was like a nightmare jigsaw puzzle.

There is absolutely no way I could have put the show on in 2012, I didn’t believe I could write until 2016. In 2012 I was waiting for the call from the National Theatre or Spielberg. Reader, that call never came.

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The ‘Sexy Lamp Test’: if a female character could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test. Photography by Simon Jefferis.

INTERVIEWER

In the 1980s, there seemed to be a move within the acting industry towards putting strong, female characters front and centre of stories – think Thelma and Louise, or Alien, for instance. So it’s not unsurprising when many people voice incredulity, really, that we still haven’t moved on much from then, in many ways – and there are still far too many films and theatre productions that don’t pass either the Bechtel Test or the Sexy Lamp test. Why is that, do you think? And what can be done about it?

ARNSTEIN

We need more female voices in every area of the industry; but particularly when it comes to making the decisions of what gets made. We also need to vote with our time and money. We need to seek out and support female and non-binary work. It has been a boys club for the whole time. Thelma and Louise and Alien are exceptions, not the rule, when it comes to films. I hope to see a change and have every film or show pass these incredibly simple tests addressing gender balance.

INTERVIEWER

Writers often speak of having certain habits or processes they follow strictly when writing their first, second and subsequent drafts. Are there any strict rules or rituals you stick to when crafting your shows?

ARNSTEIN

I try and do youtube Yoga with Adriene in the morning. I always start the day with a big cup of tea and breakfast. When the show is coming up I sleep with the script under my pillow and I always have a notebook and pen with me. My friend Dan Goldman will hear the script throughout its many drafts and note it for me. Also, for Sexy Lamp, the wonderful Ellen Havard directed and was key in creating the show as it is now. I always buy a Big Issue on the day of the show. My process also includes huge panic and crying. I am trying to work on this…

INTERVIEWER

Your shows blend performance and almost memoir-like driven narrative with music and song. How do you see the relationship between the various different artistic aspects of your show? Do you prefer writing song lyrics to a script, or vice versa?

ARNSTEIN

I began writing songs when I was 21 and only thought about writing dialog when I entered a scratch night at Redbridge drama centre at the end of 2016. It takes me a while to get a song I like the sound of; but once I get there I can write a song in about an hour, it is just a bit hit and miss until then. The script took longer but I am trying to keep practicing.

INTERVIEWER

Why the ukulele, and what are your biggest musical influences?

ARNSTEIN

My Dad bought me my use for my 21st birthday. I was leaving drama school and wanted to start writing songs and can’t play the piano well enough so the ukulele was a brilliant gift. It’s portable and easy to get started on.

Influences wise, I have my dad’s taste in music. I am particularly interested in great lyricists, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, etc. The Kinks are a very important band to me as they make the everyday appear magic.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific audience in mind when you write or act?

ARNSTEIN

I imagine I’m talking to friends which might sound cringe but I hope not. I try to write in a conversational, accessible and gentle way. I want it to feel like you have sat down with a pal you haven’t seen in a while and you’re just catching up. I also try a write a couple of jokes that my parents will like and a couple that my friends will like, then build it up from there.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as an actor and writer?

ARNSTEIN

I feel I have a responsibility to be truthful and raise awareness of issues surrounding sexism and the everyday struggles that women are faced with. I hope I contribute to the conversation.

INTERVIEWER

What, in your opinion, is the sexiest type of lamp or lighting?

ARNSTEIN

Since showing Sexy Lamp at VAULT festival I have had many images of sexy lamps and lighting sent to me. It is an unexpected perk and it has OPENED MY EYES I can tell you.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you and your creative projects?

ARNSTEIN

I have a few more shows of Sexy Lamp and my first show Bicycles and Fish before taking Sexy Lamp to the Pleasance this summer for the Edinburgh Festival. I will start writing a third show I think, although every time I begin it is such a scary feeling I am putting it off. I am also looking to collaborate with other people and theatre companies to keep learning and developing.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for aspiring writers and actors?

ARNSTEIN

  1. Write a to do list everyday with clear achievable goals.
  2. Be brave.
  3. Believe you can do it.
  4. Get a small and brilliant team around you to help you.
  5. Keep a notebook with you at all times.
  6. Find your individuality and that will be your strength.
  7. See as much as you can.
  8. Be kind. (It is not necessary but it helps)

Quick fire round!

 INTERVIEWER

Favourite book/author?

ARNSTEIN

I have just had my mind blown by Normal People and Conversations With Friends, both by Sally Rooney.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

ARNSTEIN

I suppose critically acclaimed? But then I’ve seen The Room about 20 times.. so I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated artist?

ARNSTEIN

I have followed a woman called Karima Francis for over 13 years and I think she is wonderful.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated artist?

ARNSTEIN

 I think R Kelly is still being played and we need to shut that right down.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

ARNSTEIN

Anna Seward, she was a writer, poet, botanist and feminist from my home town of Lichfield and even though we have many statues of men there is nothing that celebrates her.

INTERVIEWER

If the acting industry didn’t exist – what would you do?

ARNSTEIN

I would like to enter pub quizzes for money and see if it could sustain me.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

ARNSTEIN

Me and my brilliant pal Simon just did American Boy at karaoke and it was wicked. I don’t know if that counts.

INTERVIEWER

Most embarrassing moment?

ARNSTEIN

When I was at primary school I had my dress tucked into my pants when I was taking the register out to the office and my teacher got the whole class to tell me in unison. It was a harsh move from them.

INTERVIEWER

What’s something you’re particularly proud of?

ARNSTEIN

Sexy Lamp won the Pleasance Pick of Vault Festival and that is remarkable. I am proud of my sisters, Grace and Lil everyday.

INTERVIEWER

One piece of advice for your younger self?

ARNSTEIN

Don’t worry so much, please. AND DON’T WEAR STILETTOS FOR SCHOOL WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

ARNSTEIN

She dreamt it then did it.

Check out Sexy Lamp for yourselves

Follow Katie Arnstein on Twitter @KatieArnstein and on Instagram (also @KatieArnstein). Ahead of her run at the Pleasance Baby Grand Theatre in Edinburgh for the whole of the Fringe Festival, you can catch her at one of her upcoming shows (information on which is available through Arnstein’s website).

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Creatives in profile: interview with Sean Leahy

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Named as one of the ’50 Funniest People on Twitter’, Sean Leahy has built quite the following on the Twittershphere as @thepunningman. Appearing on Buzzfeed, Comedy Central, The Poke, Huffington Post, Funny or Die and TimeOut (among others), he has recently published his debut children’s book, The Monster Cafe via award-winning publishers Unbound. 

Illustrated by Hungarian artist Mihály Orodán, The Monster Café is a humourous tale that deals with pre-conceptions, pre-school excitement and pre-tty big monsters.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

LEAHY

I’m 36, and I live just outside the gates of Hampton Court Palace with my wife and two children. I earn a crust as a Graphic Designer, and have done for the past 15 years.

INTERVIEWER

Beyond writing and comedy, what are you passionate about?

LEAHY

Football, punk rock and Guinness. The order is dictated by Tottenham Hotspur.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you, and why?

LEAHY

Shepard Fairey (the mind behind Obey Giant), for taking something as raw as street art (despite my disliking that term) and punk and making a phenomenon out of it. And Jerry Seinfeld for doing the same with comedy.

INTERVIEWER

Was it always your intention to wind up writing jokes for a living?

LEAHY

Well, it’s not a living yet. I had a real interest in jokes, wordplay and the structure of comedy from a young age, and I had a real interest in ‘making’, be it art, design, writing, film, whatever, in order to get through the working day, rather than doing something I had no interest in.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve published The Monster Café, through Unbound books. Can you tell us a little about where the idea for the book first sprang, and how it evolved?

LEAHY

Having two children means I’ve sat through several kids books, and while there are loads of utterly brilliant and beautiful ones, there are SO MANY that are just complete and utter dog eggs.

It’s trite to say “Christ, I could do better than that”, but I think I have, and hopefully the kids agree.

INTERVIEWER

What’s your experience of publishing with Unbound been like?

LEAHY

The’ve been amazing. The book simply wouldn’t exist had they not afforded me the opportunity. They’re really interesting, in that they crowdfund all of their books, which allows the authors total creative freedom.

As designers, both Mihaly (the illustrator) and I wanted to be able to lay the book out ourselves, and we were able to do that and make all the decisions about how it should look. Once the money was raised we delivered the finished book to them and they made sure it was just as we envisioned it.

It’s taken a while, but we’re really pleased with it.

INTERVIEWER

It seems old hat to say it in some ways, but generally speaking the ‘mainstream’ publishing industry has been somewhat risk averse when it comes to championing and publishing new books that aren’t in someway “copies of novels that are themselves copies of previously successful novels”, as Julian Barnes once noted. What opportunities do you think Crowdfunding offers to aspiring writers with new, unique or otherwise quirky ideas?

LEAHY

It’s meant a lot. You just need to take a glance at a some of the books Unbound have published to see there’s a wealth of topics you don’t see on the shelves in Waterstones. Obviously they’re not only way to go about crowdfunding your book, but the fact they’re a publisher (and a respected one at that), means the buyers take them seriously too. They’re not just putting out any old rubbish, they consider each and every project that is submitted to them, but really champion those who don’t usually get given a voice in this industry.

INTERVIEWER

What makes a good crowdfunding project, in your opinion? And what should authors considering following this route themselves consider before starting their own campaign?

LEAHY

Make it stand out. You only need to scroll the length of one screen these days before you’re bashed over the head by someone asking for your money. Give them a valid reason to part with theirs, and make it colourful.

INTERVIEWER

Your creative partner in The Monster Café is Mihaly Orodan – could you tell us about your artistic partnership; how did you know Mihaly’s illustration style would complement your writing?

LEAHY

Mike (to his pals, and some enemies) and I worked together at a tiny creative agency just outside London. His main task was creating infographics and icons for super dry financial companies. But he also drew caricatures for all the birthdays and leaving cards. Once I saw what he was really capable of, I basically twisted his arm until he agreed to illustrate the book. He’s now has an agent and is working on his fourth book since mine.

His work is really incredible. To be able to put your full faith in someone to just ‘get’ what you want is quite rare, but that’s what I was able to do. I basically laid out the entire book with blank pages and small notes on what should be on each spread. I think I had three amends from the first draft he sent me. It was astonishing.

INTERVIEWER

You’re extremely active on Twitter – what role does social media have to play in the professional lives of artistic and established creatives? Is it an inevitable part of our world with which we must participate?

LEAHY

Twitter is the reason the book is here, make no mistake about it. I’ve been lucky enough to gain a decent following on there from writing jokes and little “micro-sketches”, and that audience has meant I had someone to sell the book to. Obviously friends and family make up a big part of who fund a project, but the fact there was an active group of people who enjoy my writing enough to subscribe to it meant I had more eyes to put the project in front of.

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

How do you tell a good joke?

LEAHY

Start with the punchline and work backwards

INTERVIEWER

Curl up with a book or head to the movies?

LEAHY

I never get to go to the cinema any more, so definitely that.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

LEAHY

Both have value, but I’ll go cult.

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated book/film?

LEAHY

The Red Dwarf novels

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated book/film?

LEAHY

On The Road – It’s SO short and I still couldn’t finish it.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think people should know more about?

LEAHY

Jon Klassen. His children’s books, particularly I Want My Hat Back, are brilliantly dark and hilarious.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

LEAHY

I can clap one handed.

INTERVIEWER

A bad film review can sink a new director, whereas a good one can catapult someone from obscurity into stardom. Do you personally feel any ethical responsibility as a reviewer?

LEAHY

I am a very enthusiastic recommender. I will bore the ears off anyone that will listen about anything I love. There is value in criticism though, as long as it’s valid.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

LEAHY

She opened the door.
SURPRISE!
Goose.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 10 tips for writers?

LEAHY

Write all the time.
Write again.
Read it back, twice.
You’re never finished.
Write again.
Tea and biscuits.
Consume everything, even the bad stuff.
Invite criticism.
Listen to criticism.
Write again.

Eat My Debt

Cash receipts and till slips

Receipts are very obviously very wrong. Anyone – man or woman – after a day’s Christmas shopping can see this. The hardware shop you go into to buy your dad that new pair of gardening gloves has a stupid bit of token paper about one inch square, whereas when you go to the stereo shop to get the electrical wire for your nephew’s speakers they give you two sheets of A4. Supermarkets tend to give you an acceptably-sized ticket, though that’s only because all you’ve bought is two bottles of Cava and a box of Matchstick chocolates, and then going into the clothes shop to get your sister that jumper, and they give you another bloody receipt of another bloody size. And do not get me started on Apple now doing “electronic receipts” by email oh dear gods they need to burn, burn, burn.

A man’s wallet is the same size – whomever the man, whatever his wallet. It’s battered, and contains his cards, his work ID, a couple of pictures of his kids, a used train ticket and a fiver. It’s 7 inches long by 3 1/2 high (yes yes – calm down), and can a twenty, a ten and a fiver (a £50 note is actually slightly too big for it – the Royal Mint know this, and that’s why they’re that size – to repress the peasants and make sure that should we ever get hold of one we ruin it’s loveliness immediately if we try to store it away, thus perpetuating the mental subjugation of the working classes).

So the solution is this: make all receipts the same size. 2½ inches wide by as many as necessary long. This will offer enough room for a company logo, time and date, transactions, and a corporate pleasantry at the bottom. They will then be big enough to be stored together in an easily filed, accessible manner; smaller than the notes but big enough to read, and will have the added advantage that also women’s handbags and purses can then be adapted to have a dedicated receipt section (and every handbag is only ever on the brink of being replaced for a newer, nicer one, as eny fule no), thus boosting the economy.

It’s an obvious problem, and this is the obvious solution.

About the author of this post

goatmanThe Goatman – due to the usual experiments going wrong etc etc, The Goatman is  an internationally-available gentleman of letters, raconteur and wit. His amorous conquests are myriad, his taste in whisky of renown, and his ability to look comfortable in extreme situations is of significant scientific study. He has been known to conspire with Vagabond Images.

12 of the worst book titles

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We are told not to judge books by their cover. But should we judge them by their titles? Arguably, when the cover of a book has a title like “Images you should not masturbate to”, it is a tough task not to begin to form assumptions and opinions. From “Reusing old graves” to “Games you can play with your pussy”, here are some of our favourite terrible (intentionally or otherwise) book titles that we have come across.

  1. The manly art of knitting, by Dave Fougner

51pOBUSENnL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

Joanofarcanada says, “Much manly. Very knitting. Wow.”

Chickadee says, “not much that I can add to the manly art of knitting – the man on the horse with the knitting needles pretty much says it all”

Cherryl Walker says, “Knit a hammock using shovel handles or pool cues? A saddle blanket for your horse using a piece of garden hose? Therein is your challenge! Very practical and forthright, a most excellent instruction manual.”

  1. Everything I know about women I learned from by tractor, by Roger Welsch

51I9BaVtQPL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

Randy170 says, “Had less tractor anecdotes than I expected.”

TomatoLady says, “If you are looking for another collection of Roger’s wonderful tractor stories, you will be disappointed. BUT, that’s OK.”

 

  1. Images you should not masturbate to, by Graham Johnson

41zam5-DcwL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

AmazonCustomer007 says, “Don’t tell me how to live my life.”

Rachel A Schuetz says, “This is just a collection of semi random photos. I could find a better collection on imgur. Not worth 10 bucks.”

Rodnvaldr says, “The title is completely subjective, so don’t let that stop you! You masturbate to whatever you want to masturbate to! This book did contain many images that I would not ever want to masturbate to, so I gave it 4 stars. I suppose I probably “should not” masturbate to any of these images if I wanted to consider myself a “normie” like Graham Johnson obviously is, sitting in an ivory tower somewhere, only masturbating to the “right kind” of images. No thank you! I’ll masturbate to whatever I want! Which was maybe only 3 or 4 images in this book. What?! you can’t tell me what to do! I’m 21 and I’ll do what I want!”

  1. A passion for donkeys, by Elisabeth D Svendson

worst-book-covers-titles-38What the Amazon reviewers said:

Hunter Greeno says, “For a the true Donkey enthusiast. This is not just surface level appreciation…this is heart and soul appreciation for donkeys. Anything you ever wanted to learn about Donkeys can be found in this book.”

Cindy Eriksen says, “Even more than what I expected to learn about donkeys.”

    5. Does God ever speak through cats? By David Evans

worst-book-covers-titles-56What the Amazon reviewers said:

Woodrow Vankirk says, “Being as i had just self published my own book, “Me, My Cats, and God” I ordered this book. What a great book. While it has parallels to my book this is an entirely different story with a different objective. I breathed a sigh of relief as I did not want anyone thinking I “borrowed” from someone elses work. So, cat or animal lovers see how a pet can influence a person’s outlook, behaviour, and faith. and make them all better and stronger. Read this book.”

Ryan H says, “My neighbor’s cat once looked me dead in the eye and began to telepathically dictate a lost chapter of the Book of Revelations to me. He explained that he was the angel Gabriel (in cat form), and God had chosen me as his prophet. I tried to write it down, but couldn’t figure out how to use a pencil at the time (I’d had a lot of acid earlier that day. Also some Vicodin, opium, and a handful large orange pills).

Obviously, some of my unusual experiences that day could have been related to the drugs, but the cat part was definitely from God.”

       6. Scouts in bondage, by Michael Bell

worst-book-covers-titles-15What the Amazon reviewers said:

SamuelDavidAdams says: “Not the real thing huge waste of money.”

ThreeStars says: “I had hoped for more salacious content of a homosexual nature.”

 

      7. Who cares about old people? By Pam Adams

worst-book-covers-titles-20What the Amazon reviewers said:

KristalinMiami says, “It’s moments like these I pray I have a massive heart attack in my 50’s, so I don’t have to be elderly.”

 

 

      8. The beginner’s guide to sex in the afterlife, by David Staume

worst-book-covers-titles-23What the Amazon reviewers said:

Obi Wan says, “A long long time ago I was sliced in half and my body instantly vaporized. Fortunately, my love making package remained intact in the afterlife. Much to my dismay, I discovered that…things…worked a little different. Have you ever tried making love with a body completely composed of ecto-plasm? I’m afraid the endeavor is quite difficult. Plus, she-ghosts are anything but easy to woo.

This book really changed all of that for me. Ever since then, my nether sex life has been greatly improved. Sex in the afterlife is the shizz. This book comes highly recommended.”

Irina Filatova says, “There is nothing about sex in the afterlife in this book. The name is deceptive. It deals with energies and planes and spiritual matters, and may be interesting for a student of metaphysics, however if you are trying to get an answer to the question “is there sex in the afterlife and if yes – can we get some descriptions?” you will be dissapointed!”

  1. Fancy coffins to make yourself, by Dale Power

worst-book-covers-titles-14What the Amazon reviewers said:

Edison says, “yeah, coffins!”

Gould says: “Everything about the book is unprofessional. If you’re an amateur it will not help and if you’re a craftsman you’ll be appalled.

You could do better with your own imagination. If you need dimensions, call a local Funeral Home, they’ll be glad to help.

Amazon should pull this title from their inventory.”

     10. Games you can play with your pussy, by Ira Alterman

worst-book-covers-titles-7What the Amazon reviewers said:

Johny says, “Gave it to my girlfriend for her birthday and now she won’t come out of the bedroom”

Sramazon says, “I was concerned that the pussy had grown tired of me, but this book has given me so many more tricks to play on pussy.”

  1. Reusing old graves, by Douglas Davies

41qgJOwmdBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What the Amazon reviewers said:

RW Haven says, “I really dug this book.”

Butler says, “I bought this book as several elder members of our family are nearing the age to need a grave. I thought this book would show me how to save money by reusing old graves that people don’t need (long decomposed, etc). Well this book had no advice at all to offer. I feel like I wasted money that I could have spent on purchasing new graves.”

     12. Still stripping after 25 years, by Eleanor Burns

worst-book-covers-titles-16What the Amazon reviewers said:

Deb Phillips says, “All pages are intact and readable.”

A Sullivan says, “This hardbound book is filled with great pictures of many of her best ideas- “simplify the process, be brave, and enjoy your own creativity.” Quilt top piecing becomes a breeze because her directions are explicit, logical and easy to follow even if you are a novice. Warning, if you ever listen to her on t.v. her voice and demeanor may drive you a bit bonkers. None the less, Eleanor is a quilting expert worth her weight in gold. Her methods always make patterns that look difficult, easier for big chickens like me!”

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you have stumbled across a book with a title so bad you think it deserves to be included here, then let us know in the comments below! 

Faking Lit: A serious podcast about books

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Faking Lit is a new podcast in which five rising comedians (Chin Tee, Daniel Offen, Haran X, Alice Burden and Josh Bellman) get together to discuss the finest works of classic literature, the twist being that none of them have actually read the book.

The podcast has been started primarily as an excuse to eat various pies, which are lovingly produced each week by Alice. Ideas about growing the profiles of five talented young comedians are very much secondary to this objective.

“In essence, we’re five comedians who met at the Edinburgh festival (where most of us took successful shows) and we’re incapable of hanging out without the excuse of some sort of content to produce. We hope that Faking Lit will become a roaring success, not only for the good of our careers, but also our social lives,” Offen explains.

The opening episode features Paulo Coelho’s 1988 novel “The Alchemist”. Talk of the book somehow leads to discussion of which is the best House Robot on “Robot Wars”, the underlying racial themes in the movie “Predator” and that this book isn’t all that forthcoming on how to actually turn base metals into gold. Also, somehow along with all of this, the episode features a fair amount of discussion of classical literature and is occasionally insightful as well as nonsensical.

You can listen to the podcast here below:

The podcast will be released weekly, from now until the end of time.

In praise of sincerity and emotion in comedy

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Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson – artistes in their own right                     

Everybody who’s spoken to me for more than about ten minutes about comedy and probably anybody who’s seen my act will know I’m a huge Stewart Lee fan. Though he wasn’t the first comedian that I loved – that would be Eddie Izzard – he was the comedian that made me a fan ofstand-up comedy as an art-form.

Stewart Lee views stand-up comedy as art. His is not an unusual view-point, especially amongst the UK alternative. There’s a great bit from Simon Munnery about his annoyance about being reviewed “as the closest comedy gets to art” that perfectly describes the frustration stand-ups feel about how our craft is viewed.

Not all stand-up has to be art, of course. Michael McIntyre isn’t an artist. I doubt he wants to be. That’s not a criticism, if you were to decry everything that doesn’t attempt to be art and isn’t, you’d spend a lot of time walking down the street declaring road signs shit. McIntyre is entertainment, and that’s fine.

In contrast, Stewart Lee views what he does as art and his work should be judged as such.

The entirety of a stand-up comedian’s art is contained within the presentation of their onstage character. The show I consider Stew’s best, 90s Comedian, represents his attempt to present an argument regarding religious censorship of art. There are other themes too, and Stew handily sums up the aims and ideas of the show at the end, so that the audience know that they’ve seen some art.

Though 90s Comedian is based on Stew’s life, the character he presents on stage is relatively distant from his real person. Though, inevitably, the ideas and opinions in the show are all his own, for its success it’s important that the audience understands the figure on stage is an artificial construct. tThey’re meant to doubt him. In much of his later work, such as in the latest series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle where he attacks Graham Norton for winning a Bafta, the joke (and therefore the artistic merit) is found in the gap between Stewart Lee the Comedian and Stewart Lee the actual real person. Of course Stewart Lee isn’t really angry at Graham Norton; his onstage character is. As such the material is a comment on fame and failure; on arrogance. For us to understand the point  he’s making, we need to understand this dissonance, that an artistic comment is being made, otherwise it’s just a badly ageing man airing his own bitterness.

This distance from his own material makes Stew a somewhat cold figure on stage. There’s not a lot of warmth or genuine feeling to be found in his work. Every joke, or story told, is in some way an attempt to further the message of the piece. There’s never really a sense that the audience is being brought into his world sincerely. It’s as if a novel is being presented on stage, a monolithic block of ‘art’.

Recently I’ve been watching and listening to a lot of Daniel Kitson’s shows. I’ve said before that Kitson is the greatest living stand up and my certainty of this has only increased as I’ve delved deeper into his available catalogue.

There’s a lot of reasons I think this is true. Firstly, Kitson is one of the most naturally funny people alive. When he’s onstage there’s always a sense that he could make the entire audience laugh uproariously whenever he wanted to. That any quieter moments are entirely intentional, any time he’s not making an audience laugh must therefore be a moment of great wisdom.

Secondly, he has a fantastically unique and clever way of expressing his ideas. In the last blog I wrote for Nothing in the Rule book I used a quote of his that better expressed the point I was struggling to make over a thousand words, in a few sentences.

Thirdly, I think his shows are some of the best sincere investigation of an artist’s own character that I’ve found anywhere.

(The best place to investigate Kitson’s work is either live (difficult to get tickets) or the full audio recordings he’s posted of a few of his shows on Bandcamp. Many people have watched his three five minute videos on youtube and gone away wondering what all the fuss was about; the equivalent of just looking at the top left corner of Rain, Steam, Speed and declaring that “Turner cannot paint”)

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Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed. 

Kitson’s shows are often introspective affairs, evaluations of his own character. His stances on issues. Though of course Kitson is a character on stage – every comedian is, to a degree – there’s never the sense of the remove that we get from Stewart Lee’s work. We become intimately involved with Kitson’s character, we understand him as a man. Kitson discusses big ideas intelligently, but all of the themes of the shows are born from his own character. In After the Beginning, Before the End Kitson presents us with the idea that we can truly understand our own character by telling us about his own life, and how he and others have perceived his personality. The audience thus come away from Kitson’s show with a portrait of a man, rather than of a cold, distant, concept..

I’m being unfair on Stewart Lee here, who does at times give a far better investigation of his own character than I’ve given him credit for and I’m largely using him as a comparison because I believe that he is the only “artistic” comedian that non-comedy nerds will be aware of.

However, I feel that Kitson’s looser more personal approach better uses stand-up comedy’s strengths. Other art forms, including books, paintings, films, and so on, are always presented to the audience with what one might call a remove, be it through the conduit of a page, as in poetry and literature, or actors, in theatre. Even performance poetry could, ultimately, be performed to an empty room to much the same effect. Only stand up, performed live, presents itself as a direct conversation with the audience. While this conversation may not be participatory, with the audience strongly encouraged to remain silent, their laughter is an intrinsic part of the performance. The comedian is directly before them, usually alone on stage with a microphone. Surely there is no better medium to present a truth about oneself?

Kitson understands this better than most. Even in his most reflective shows he often breaks a monologue to talk to a member of the audience, who may be doing something interesting (like eating food out of a tupperware). This makes his performance feel more alive, more involved, compared to Stewart Lee, who’s interaction is largely limited to audience evaluation (you can see this in the below youtube clip), which, while often hilarious and brilliant, feels much more stage managed, with the quieter reactions to jokes clearly deliberately solicited.

Kitson’s sheer natural ability to be funny on demand allows his shows to maintain this personal, sincere feel throughout. Other comedians talk about having to break character, or shift their status, in order to deal with hecklers, but Kitson never really does. Of course, he might need to shift from introspective to brutally insulting, but because he lacks a theatrical remove from the audience, this feels much more natural than with other comedians.

It’s easy to identify with Kitson, not in the observation “don’t we all do this funny thing with our dishwashers” way, but as a person. He’s widely known as a recluse, often discussed as an elusive enigma, but having watched him perform around five times and listened to hours of other recorded material I feel I know him far better than other acts and that’s not just due to familiarly. Kitson’s wide-eyed earnestness, his joyful sentimentality, all come across well in his work.

In other art forms sentimentality often comes across feeling fake and artificial, as if the writer is attempting to make us feel things for their own sake. When Love Actually attempts to tug at my heartstrings I can actively feel myself resisting; it’s trying too hard. The same is true with better films than Love Actually (which is to say most films), there’s just too much artifice for the emotion, the story, to ever feel quite real. With Kitson, and other similar stand-ups, it’s all coming directly from the horses mouth, how can it be artificial if it’s what the person on stage is actually feeling?

A lot of this might feel obvious to more seasoned comedy fans and I’d also like to say that by no means do I believe that Kitson is the only comedian capable of effectively performing in this way, as there are tonnes of comics doing brilliant shows using their own character to say something broader about humanity.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that, while stand-up can say these real, important things and evoke real emotions in the audience, comedians themselves are by no means truthful. I imagine tonnes of Kitson’s shows are chockablock with lies.

It’s just easy to feel that comedy is under-appreciated as an artform, with the lighter entertainment side of the industry over-shining the more sensitive artistic side to the extent that it gets forgotten. There’s room for both; it’s just a shame that in ‘mainstream discourse’, stand-up still does not get the respect it deserves.

About the author of this post

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Daniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty five year old man and will talk about them at length. He deals primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.

 

 

Creatives in profile: interview with Pondering Media

 

In the latest of our ‘Creatives in Profile’ interview series, it is an honour to introduce you to Karen and Michael Healy – the brother and sister duo behind the award-winning original comedy production company, Pondering Media.

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Karen Healy – Pondering Media’s founder, CEO and perennial lead performer.

Karen Healy is Pondering Media’s founder, CEO and perennial lead performer. Her work on Pondering’s award-winning shorts has earned her strong press attention, including write-ups in the Irish Post. Her credits include RTE’s IFTA-nominated Irish Pictorial Weekly, numerous roles with famed immersive theatre company Reuben Feels, and countless other adverts, shorts, and performance art pieces. She’s also a fixture in the London stand-up comedy scene. Karen is a passionate advocate of women in the arts and is a big supporter of recently launched Bechdel Theatre Festival in London.

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Michael Healy – seen here on set of his debut cinematic short, ‘Would You Like Some Toast’

With a background in marketing, Michael Healy has helmed numerous projects for commercial clients over the last five years, as both writer and director, including commercials for radio. With a focus on comedy, his online shorts have attracted press attention in both the UK and Ireland. He holds a first class degree in Film Studies from Trinity College Dublin and Would You Like Some Toast is his debut cinematic short.
Founded in 2014, Pondering Media has gone from strength to strength – building a reputation for the weird, the eccentric, and the sometimes upsetting. You can check out their videos on Youtube, and follow them on Twitter here. We hope you enjoy this detailed interview…

 

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

 

PONDERING MEDIA

Michael – I’m Michael, I’m a writer and film director working mainly in comedy. I come from a background of hopeless, awful, soul-destroying marketing work. And I guess my ethos is to have a unique voice, but to put the audience first. I want to avoid self-indulgence, and also avoid ever working in marketing ever again.

Karen – I’m Karen, I’m a producer, actor and new to the scene stand-up comedian. I come from a background of dropping out of college and happily working tearing theatre tickets, selling ice-cream and pointing out where the toilets are. I suppose my ethos is depicting entertaining, strong female characters. I’ve never been drawn to roles in which the character’s main function is “the girlfriend”, which is very difficult to come across. Michael and I are on the same page when it comes to what makes an appealing character and we share the same sense of humour, which is great.

 

INTERVIEWER

Have you always known you wanted to work in comedy?

 

PONDERING MEDIA

M- You know, I didn’t really set out to be a comedy specialist right away. Like most obnoxious filmmakers, I wanted to make heavy stuff about the grim realities of life that only middle class college students ever understand. But my natural response to basically everything dark in life is to laugh. Funerals, wars, executions – all full of awkward hilarity. And when you’ve got that kind of pathology about you, you’re stuck in comedy forever.

K- I knew that if I ever decided to get back into performing it would be in comedy. I think it’s my default setting. It comes naturally to me to always see the humour in a scene, regardless of its premise. Nothing beats the buzz on a set where everyone is laughing. And who doesn’t like playing with prop moustaches?

 

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

PONDERING MEDIA

M -Fellini is my stock fancypants answer to this question (not sure how fancypants you guys want to get). He’s one of the few artists that managed to be both absurd and extremely human. I also go back to Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismaki as comedy directors all the time. Both masters of depicting sublime, painful failure in comedy.

K -I just finished watching Horrace and Pete and was totally blown away. I think Louis CK is incredible at creating socially important conversations and fairly representing all sides of that particular argument.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City are two heroes of mine at the moment. They have created a very funny show that depicts an unwavering female friendship and makes little to no reference to relationships or career-pressure. Hurrah!

INTERVIEWER

What are some of the key challenges facing aspiring artists – particularly comedians – today?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- Actually, I think aspiring artists have more advantages today than artists have had in the past. It’s easier to network, easier to create, easier to find a platform. I think artists are usually their own worst enemies, and I include myself in that. I’ve found producers and executives are quite open to giving people opportunities – but they want to find organized, audience-focused people and have no time for self-indulgence and daydreaming. Which sucks, because those are great craic.

K- I can only speak from my experience but at the moment there’s such a huge platform for comedians who are starting out. You will find an open mic every night of the week in London which is great for practice. The only thing is it can be mildly soul-destroying. Most of the people you performing to are other comedians waiting for their turn. It’s a good idea to keep an eye for any competitions for new-comers. “Funny Women” are a fantastic organization who provide support for new female comics.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about Pondering Media, and how you established the production company?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- Karen and I were both drifting from gig to gig, her as an actor and me as a writer, and at around the same time we both realized we needed a proper plan and a bit of direction or we’d never get anywhere. So we got organized, started handling our own corporate gigs, published some stuff for the web, had a couple of viral bits do well and now we’ve just wrapped on our first full, cinematic short. All inside a year or so.

INTERVIEWER

Are there any projects or films you’ve made that you are particularly proud of?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- I gotta be boring and say the film we just completed is my favourite. We had a bigger crew than we’d worked with in the past and the whole process was a huge learning curve. Seeing it finally get proper laughs from audiences is the best feeling in the world.

K- I have to agree. I’m very proud of how “Would You Like Some Toast?” turned out, majorly thanks to our producer, Richard Wade. He gathered a brilliant cast and crew and it really is a credit to them as it was made on such a low budget.

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On the set of ‘Would You Like Some Toast’

INTERVIEWER

What are the key differences between performing on stage to a live audience and performing to a camera? How do you adapt your performance depending on the different medium?

PONDERING MEDIA

K- I have more experience acting on screen so performing on stage for me is still pretty daunting, but exhilarating at the same time. I think you have to be aware of adapting your performance depending on the atmosphere in the room and the general reception you’re getting from the crowd. In stand up anyway.
As for acting on screen, sure there’s room to try something in several different ways but there’s almost just as much pressure as you’re often under time constraint and everything is heightened on screen. You can’t fake it when the camera is fully zoomed in on your face.

INTERVIEWER

A lot of comics and spoken word artists talk about a fear of ‘dying’ on stage – has that ever happened to you, and how do you cope with the fear of that happening?

PONDERING MEDIA

K- There is always the fear of that happening. I don’t think that ever goes away. Some jokes could land well with an audience one night and could be greeted with bemused silence another. I had a gig recently where I completely bombed. I was half way through my set and I realized this was not gonna get any better. But I gave it my all, finished it and bowed. I was obviously slightly disheartened afterwards but woke up the next day singing, “I BOMBED LAST NIGHT!” That’s when I really felt like I was doing stand-up. You can’t grow as a performer if you don’t have the occasional crap gig.

INTERVIEWER

For you personally, what makes a ‘good’ gig?

PONDERING MEDIA

K- I think when there is a happy, up-for-it atmosphere it makes performing a lot easier. When the audience gets on board with immersing themselves in the night it feels more like you’re having a chat with them rather than talking at them. I’m delighted whenever something new gets a laugh, that way I can go home and expand on it. I’m also relieved when I manage to not burst into flames.

INTERVIEWER

What is comedy for?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- Comedy’s all about exploring the parts of our lives that don’t fit in with how we like to view the world. We like to think that we’re part of a clear narrative, with proper goals and challenges and destinations. Comedy is about showing up how dumb that idea is.

K- Comedy is an opportunity to be more honest than you would be in everyday life. Being honest is what the audience relates to, it’s what gets them on your side. Tears and laughter are one in the same. Laughter is just another form of release and that’s what comedy is for, to provide the audience with a release, an escape.

INTERVIEWER

In our digital world, with so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard.

PONDERING MEDIA

M – Slowly and steadily, and with the support of collaborators and other pros. And also, by incessantly emailing people who are higher up the ladder than us are and asking them for favours. That’s probably the most important part.

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Still from Pondering Media’s ‘Would You Like Some Toast’

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a bit about some of the future projects you’re working on?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- We’re finishing up the fundraising for our next project, a short set in a political campaign hit by a sudden scandal. There’s a lot of prep work to do now, given the size of the budget and the extent to which we could catastrophically screw it up, so it’ll be a few months before we’re in production. And we also have a top secret, mad ambitious project in development too, but we can’t talk about it until we’re sure it’s actually going to happen or we’ll look sad.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for aspiring writers and comedians?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- 1. Be a professional and treat it like a job, even if that means faking it.

  1. Understand that producers and editors invest in people, not just projects. They want to support people who are easy to work with and have a plan.
  2. Have a plan. Even if it’s a crap plan. You’ll eventually figure out what a not-crap plan looks like.
  3. Be brutal with yourself and always think about your audience. There are no points for creative intent or grand gestures. If the audience can’t walk in and get a strong impression of you and your work right away, you’re wasting your time.
  4. Don’t be a diva, and treat your collaborators with respect.

K- Just keep doing it. Even if you’re dying on stage every night, just keep getting up there and doing it, you will eventually find your voice. That’s what I’m doing.

Comedians should be allowed to be offensive, they just shouldn’t be

Microphone-Whealans

When it comes to comedy, is “being offensive” really a quality?

One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in myself after a year of regularly performing comedy is a broadening of my comedic tastes. If you’d asked me a year ago what comedy I thought was good I would have replied with very strict and narrow parameters. “Stewart Lee is good.” I would have said, “I like all those British alternative comedians. People with clever, nuanced material. I’m not a fan of the more observational, mainstream comedians. I’m not a fan of ‘edgy’ comedians like Frankie Boyle.”

Often, looking back, I defined my taste more through what I didn’t like, rather than what I did. ‘What do you like?’, ‘I don’t know exactly, but I can tell you what I don’t like and in great detail.’

A year in and I basically just enjoy good comedy. Of course, I still love many of the alternative comedians; people who are doing interesting and clever stuff, but honestly I’m happy enough listening to observational comedy done well. A couple of weeks ago I shared a bill with a comic who did a long bit about the different mouth shapes men and women make when thanking people. It was little more than ‘look how different men and women are! Look at this weird thing we all do!’ A year ago I would have scoffed at it, but  I enjoyed his set a great deal. It was well performed, it was slick. If there’s one thing that trying to succeed in comedy teaches you it’s that comedy is bloody hard. I respect anybody who can do it well.

There is, however, one type of comedy which I retain a strong dislike for, anything that defines itself by how edgy it is. Anything which seeks to offend, to push boundaries for no reason other than the idea of doing so. As soon as anybody describes themselves as a dark act, or difficult, or offensive, I steady myself for a five minutes that I will not enjoy.

There’s probably a couple of people reading this thinking, “hang on Dan, we’ve seen your act. You’ve got plenty of offensive jokes. You’ve got more than one gag involving paedophiles, you’ve made light of the Syrian refugee crisis, hell, the routine you’ve done the most, your ‘feminist routine’, is basically just you saying sexist stuff for about four minutes. You are a hypocrite. How can you look at yourself in the mirror. You are a disgrace.”

Firstly, calm down. Secondly, it’s difficult to justify one’s own, possibly offensive, material directly without coming across as more than a bit of a pompous tit, so I’ll attempt to do so indirectly over the next few paragraphs and hopefully only come across as a tiny bit of a tit.

I’m not annoyed by self proclaimed edgy comedians because I’m personally offended by their jokes. There’s not much that offends me, honestly. I am a white, straight, able-bodied (with a few caveats), relatively good looking (with a few more caveats), upper middle-class man. There aren’t really many jokes which can be made at my expense, and those which can are usually some variation on the theme of: “look how great you’ve got life, you massive privileged twat.”

I’m not really even much offended on the behalf of other people. I usually don’t feel that it’s my place to feel outrage on the behalf of marginalised groups. I’ll stand up to bullies when needed, but l sometimes feel that it’s difficult to know what crosses the line when you aren’t the person a joke is directed at. Offence is a complicated thing and it’s probably best to leave it to the marginalised and support them when needed. Life is too short to do take up every cause and claim it as your own.

Obviously I hate racism and whatever as much as the next man (and the next man to me happens to be Nelson Mandela) but there are plenty of comedians I love who do material that skirts on the edges of the various isms. Broadly, I feel that intent matters most with this material. People often speak of a punching up, or down, dynamic but I think it’s possible for a member of a more privileged group to do a joke about a less privileged group as long as the joke is not intended to belittle. In my year on the stand up circuit, watching hours upon hours of comedy, I don’t think I’ve seen any comedian make a joke which has actually offended me.

So my gripe is not with the existence of dark material but with its deployment for its own sake.

What I love about comedy is its inclusiveness. That you can unite a room full of strangers in laughter with ideas that you’ve conjured up in your own head. I cannot understand why anybody would enter comedy with the intent of making jokes that are going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Jokes should be written with the express intent of being funny. That’s what they are, they’re jokes. Obviously with that comes a whole load of other stuff, underlying subtext, a political point or whatever, but the laughter is the actual point of doing the comedy. If the through-line to that laughter comes across something difficult, or offensive, then so be it, but that’s not the end point.

Daniel Kitson, as is his way, said all of this far more sufficiently and better in his show ‘Weltanschauung:

“I find anything that proclaims its own danger in comedy or art or music just immediately just a bit tedious and wearisome. Ooh it’s dangerous, ooh it’s edgy. Ooh it’s dangerous and edgy. Is it? Wouldn’t it be better if it was just good?”

I’m distrustful of anything which has the central selling point of possibly upsetting somebody. A total reliance on something other than the actual quality of material, or performance, to carry an act. Of course comedy can have qualities to it other than raw humour, my favourite acts sell themselves on that very thing, but is ‘being offensive’ really a quality?

The ludicrous interpretation that what was good about Bill Hicks was not, “he was really funny and had an interesting unique way of expressing his viewpoints” but instead “he sure ruffled a lot of feathers.” By all means ruffle feathers but don’t break into an owlery with the express intention of doing so.

Furthermore, I’ve always felt there’s a smug superiority to writing material that you’re certain is going to be ‘too much’ for your everyday, BBC2 watching, people-carrier driving, chain restaurant-eating chumps. As if they’re thinking “I can make and enjoy this material because I am better than you.” That the comedian is some kind of worthy pariah, that they are making a necessary sacrifice, their own popularity in exchange for some higher artistic goal. That without their voice saying these things some vital part of public discourse would be missing. There is nothing of great importance found in being abrasive. Anything worth saying can be said to everybody.

There are lots of caveats to all of this of course. Firstly, as a response to the predictable braying of the ‘PC Gone Mad Brigade’, I’m not calling for offensive comedians to be banned. I’m not attacking free speech. I’m just calling them a bit shit. Secondly, there are lots of comics I love, respect and have gigged with who have emptied rooms because the audience felt they were offensive. Just the other week an audience member, after a gig, said that my material was offensive and sexist. This man was a fucking moron. There are always going to be audiences that misunderstand intent behind great comedy, and that’s not a shame. Some things are divisive, that’s just not all they should be.

About the author of this post

danoffenDaniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty four year old man and will talk about them at length. He deals primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.

Thoughts of a stand-up comedian: Next year is my year

 

Microphone-Whealans

Competition season is upon us. I’ve already crashed out of two large competitions for new acts, Laughing Horse New Act of the Year and Leicester Square Theatre New Act of the Year. They’re a frustrating experience and I hate them. There’s nothing quite like the imposition of competition to make an activity which I love doing, stand-up, stressful and unpleasant.

I’m not saying this, of course, just because I failed to progress in two of the biggest competitions; but it is a factor. Laughing Horse wasn’t fun, partially because I was so very bad in it. My poor performance can, in part, be explained by a lethargic audience, tired after sitting through fifteen other acts (I was on last), including one who did a good fifteen minutes on stage instead of his allotted four. But I was also lacking in my usual energy, my presence was stilted and I visibly lost faith and interest when my first joke didn’t provoke huge laughter.

Leicester Square Theatre was frustrating for the opposite reason. I was really good and didn’t progress. I was on second and got big laughs from a large crowd. I came off stage delighted, certain that if I wasn’t placing first on the night I’d be given a wild card through to the next round. Three days of nervously checking my emails followed, before all the quarter finals were set in stone without me in them.

I don’t mean this blog to come across as the ravings of a bitter man, although it is by definition. The three acts who progressed through my heat, James Bennison, Red Richardson and Joe Jacobs, are all excellent. I wouldn’t place myself above them in a competition. There is, though, a definite annoyance at being really rather good, being told so by my peers, and then getting nothing from it. I’m insecure and ambitious and these slight failures make me ask questions that I probably needn’t. Are there inherent problems in my act? Am I actually good enough to make it as a comedian? Am I deluded?

All the comedians I’ve talked to about this, and I’ve talked to a good number because I am very insecure, have said similar things. Firstly, competitions don’t matter. They’re an accelerator, helping you get to paid gigs faster, sure, but if you’re actually any good, the recognition that a trophy brings you will come along in time anyway. Secondly, they’re essentially random. Good comedians won’t get through and rubbish ones will. It all depends on the audience, where you’re placed in the running order and a myriad of other factors. You shouldn’t worry so much, you’ll get lucky in time.

I think these are half true. Sure, a good comedian will eventually find success anyway, but I’d rather find it sooner than later. Besides, you get a thousand pounds for winning a big new act competition. I’d quite like a thousand pounds. Secondly, there is a certain element of unfair randomness but generally speaking the people who win competitions are good. There’s always a way I could have been better, without compromising my act, to wow an audience. It’s easy to blame fate, to blame the very nature of the universe. It’s harder to accept the inevitable unfairness and try to do the best with it you can.

So what now? I’m at the point, after six months and a hundred gigs, where I can comfortably do fifteen minutes in front of a packed Saturday night crowd. I’d like to move onto more paid work but there’s no real urgency yet. The mantra, repeated to friends and myself, has become “next year is my year”. I feel I’m growing as a performer all the time, I’m getting significantly better at dealing with troublesome crowds. I’ve got a healthy amount of material. I’m developing an identity. Most importantly though, I’m consistently funny. I’ve actually been paid real money. Twenty whole pounds of it.

“I tried out a joke about Jeremy Corbyn and homoeopathy the other day, and nobody in the audience either knew what Jeremy Corybn or homoeopathy were.”

Aside from the vague objective of ‘improving’ my goal is to have a half hour I’m happy with for the Edinburgh festival next year. With underlying themes and everything. I’m gradually managing to put together something that feels fairly consistent; but it’s difficult finding the time and space to try it out all at once. Most spots I do these days are ten minutes long, and I’m proud that I’ve migrated onto these longer sets from doing just five minutes so quickly, but it’s still barely enough time to lay down anything with a longer, more considered narrative.

I can find spots which are fifteen to twenty minutes long at the club where I’m now a regular: Cafe Mode. However, the audience found there, drunk party goers, aren’t the kind of people who are going to appreciate twenty minutes of satire. I tried out a joke there about Jeremy Corbyn and homoeopathy the other day, and nobody in the audience either knew what Jeremy Corybn or homoeopathy were.

The material will come together in bits then. Grown by a series of amendments to my existing cannon, trying out little new jokes that can be added to what I already have. The occasional longer two to three minute bit. I’m hoping to gain the confidence to perform new material for longer stretches, at the moment I give up at the slightest sign of trouble. Too cowardly to accept anything but instant love from an audience. A brave comic allows themselves to die. I’ve got to learn to commit suicide and come out unscathed. It’s not as dramatic as that really though, it’s just comedy.

About the author of this post

Daniel Offen is an aspiring comedian and writer. He has written four jokes and half a book. He assures us he is capable of all of the usual thoughts and emotions of an unusual twenty four year old man and will talk about them at length. He deals primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.

 

Diary of a Stand-Up Comedian’s First Edinburgh Fringe

Mark Tomlinson is an aspiring stand-up comedian. He thinks because he’s watched a lot of comedy that somehow means he’ll be good at it. After spending a year honing his material in various hovels throughout London (sometimes in front of as many as 10 people!) he’s hubristically decided to perform a split show at the world’s largest Arts and Comedy festival.

For the uninitiated, a split show means around four people performing four sets in one hour. For Mark this means carefully preparing 15 minutes of material, doing the first five, going off on a tangent because he’s lost his place and then deciding he’s sick of talking to people in the audience and leaving after a failed one-liner at the 11 minute mark.

Mark tweets at @MComedylinson. Mark likes writing introductions to his articles, eggs and talking in the third person.

Here, we present the unabridged diary of his experiences at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival…

Ed Fringe Diary Day -1

Dear Diary,

Finally ready to drive up North.
Finally ready to head to the Fringe and take part as more than a spectator for once.
Staying at relatives on the way to make the drive more bearable.
Questioning why I decided to drive in the first place.

Manowars ‘the Absolute Power’ live show will power my journey. All three hours of it. Unfortunately the only way I can listen to this in my car is by using my phone to send internet to my laptop which is then plugged into a radio transmitter which I then tune my car radio to. Perhaps CDs would have been a better idea.

Oh, also, my festival got off to a terrible start this morning with the cat jumping up and scratching my bell-end.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 0

Dear Diary,

Already seen Stewart Lee and Bridget Christie. Not as funny when they’re standing in a train station.

This could be a good omen though.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 1

Dear Diary,

First show today. I feel neither excited nor terrified. Which I guess means it will be average – either that, or I’ve finally achieved a state of emotional repression even Spock would be proud of…

Ed Fringe Diary Day 2

Dear Diary,

No egg cups.

EggCups

Ed Fringe Diary Day 3

Dear Diary,

Number of people I know that I’ve bumped into: 4
Number of those people I want to spend time with: 0

Ed Fringe Diary Day 5

Dear Diary,

I am politely informed by my fellow comedians that today is known as “Black Wednesday”.

I am politely informed by passersby on the street that they don’t want flyers.

I mean, silence is a kind of politeness, right?

Befitting of its name, today’s show has our lowest turnout and yet our highest number of walk outs…

Unfortunately, I am going on last today and the audience numbers drop from twelve to two by the time of my set. So I just try and speak to them like normal human beings. I could do with the company by this point.

The remaining man kindly describes my set as “cathartic”.

Later we find a flyer where someone had written a note to their mate saying “this is awkward as FUCK” – with “FUCK” underlined three times.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 6

Dear Diary,

So it’s come to this; putting out a message on Facebook to try and find some company: “Does anyone want to go see a celebrated Lecoq company present their award-winning five-star sell-out spin on Spielberg’s classic Jurassic Park?”

Ed Fringe Diary Day 7

Dear Diary,

Starting to get a little concerned at my inability to find guest spots. People said they were easy to come by in Edinburgh; but no luck so far. Despite my spreadsheet.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 8

Dear Diary,

Just spent about half an hour lost in a seemingly abandoned night club looking for some toilets before a show. In terms of drinking, last night was the heaviest night so far. If I’m going to shit myself, today will be the day.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 10

Dear Diary,

Somehow left myself over half an hour to walk to my next show for the first time. Looking forward to seeing my first piece of theatre. Also to the prospect of arriving somewhere and not being out of breath.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 11

Dear Diary,

It’s not Edinburgh until you’ve had to apologise to someone for forcing them to watch some utter garbage.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 12

Dear Diary,

Still no guest spots.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 13

Dear Diary,

Success, first guest spot! I thought it went well. Afterwards had to sprint along Cowgate to grab some flyers for my show. Gave away seven.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 14

Dear Diary,

Just had a promoter who didn’t recognise me by face, despite us meeting several times, say my name had been mentioned to him on the circuit. This could ruin my plan of starting afresh with a stage name once I feel like I know what I’m doing.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 15

Dear Diary,

Just had a guest spot, which was going well despite being in front of my biggest audience yet, get cut short for a last minute pro headliner. It’s a dog eat dog world up here, and I am crouched in the handbag of a Hilton trying not to be seen.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 16

Dear Diary,

I’m getting sick of watching stand-up so I finally made it out the flat in time for a show that starts before midday. I’d bought tickets and everything – only to discover there are no trains in time due to something called “Sunday”. It’s the bloody Fringe – every day is like Sunday! Ten pounds down the drain.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 17

Dear Diary,

I’ve had a first-hand glimpse of the negative effect the Fringe can have on a comedians psyche. A fellow comic complained to me about people with charity buckets taking away change that people could be giving to free Fringe shows. I pray I never become like him.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 19

Dear Diary,

I’ve now became so desensitised to stand up that I was comfortably sitting at the back of a show I had a spot in (success!) while reading about the migrant camps in Calais and still laughing along to the show.

Although this created one awkward moment when I laughed out of time after reading about a militia called “janjaweed”.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 21

Dear Diary,

Going home tomorrow.

I am so sick of stand-up; sick of getting on a stage; sick of watching people who are terrible; sick of watching people who are so amazing I’ll never be as good as them.

I came to the fringe to learn and if I’ve learned one thing it’s that next year I’m going to watch a lot more theatre.

Ed Fringe Diary Day 22

Dear Diary,

In a last minute effort to make up for lost time I’ve crammed in three guest spots today and had my most enjoyable day! I think I’d quite like to come back next year…

Signing off until then,

Dylan Dodds

PS. My meagre earnings have been spent on the way home.… begrudgingly given to a not amused petrol station attendant in small change.