Reading out loud: Will Eaves and The Absent Therapist

absent therapist

As you well know, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook are quite partial to the Goldsmith Prize shortlisted novel, The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves. Not only is it one for any essential reading list, and makes for a great literary stocking filler, it also lends itself to performance in a way that many books simply don’t.

This is in no doubt partly down to the variety of the novel – the different perspectives and voices, characters and ideas held within its pages. We’ve already put together a short list of some of our favourite extracts, but what better way to appreciate a work of writing of this nature than harking back to the aural origins of storytellings?

At a recent event at Vout-O-Renee’s, Eaves performed (it truly is a performance) a fantastic 45-minute reading of excerpts from The Absent Therapist.

You can watch a short video clip of the reading here below:

Now, if that’s peaked your literary curiosity, then we have a great tip, just for you. Will Eaves will be delivering another animated reading at Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace, on Thursday 24 November.

We speak from experience when we say this is an opportunity not to be missed. And if the 24 November seems far too long away, then you can always purchase the book itself.

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An evening with Will Eaves and the Absent Therapist

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Few things are more enjoyable than those evenings filled with literature, good conversation and excellent company in a relaxing venue. So of course the Nothing in the Rulebook team leapt at the chance to attend Will Eaves’s reading of his Goldsmith Prize shortlisted novel, The Absent Therapist, at Vout-O-Renee’s.

Stepping down the stone steps from the street and into the foyer of Vout-O-Renee’s immediately transports you to another time and place. The private member’s club is almost effortlessly cool in a world of hipster joints trying their hardest to stand out. It is a place for jazz and charm, for mystery, sharp minds and conversation. And absolutely worth the price of a ticket to one of the many book readings and spoken-word events they run on a regular basis.

The perfect location, in other words, to hear Will Eaves reading from The Absent Therapist – a thoroughly curious and brilliant book that, as we’ve previously mentioned, should be on every essential summer reading list.

The Absent Therapist is, in some ways, rather hard to define: not necessarily a novel; not quite a collection of short stories, but rather a collage and compilation of over 200 mini-narratives. Described by the author Luke Kennard as “achingly good”, Eaves’s book never ceases to surprise you. What other piece of writing, after all, can so easily slip from eloquently philosophising about the nature of mortality and artificial intelligence into the following internalised commentary on the constructs of social gatherings:

“You know you’re among the remnants of the aristocracy when you accept an invitation to Sunday lunch in Deal and find yourself talking to a florid character who eats with his mouth open and who, when you turn your ankle on his steps, produces from his ‘cold store’ a compress made of frozen squirrel.”

The intelligence with which Eaves curates the words on the page and the structure of this collection of mini narratives is absolutely unique. And it is incredibly satisfying to hear these little fiction vignettes read aloud by such a performative author. Indeed, Eaves’s ease in front of the microphone and a crowded room is quite rare – and it is not hard to imagine him gathering crowds on the stand-up comedy circuit, should he ever wish to try his hand at it.

In case you missed it, here is a short extract of Eaves’s reading for you to enjoy:

If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of Eaves’s readings, we cannot recommend attending highly enough. Until that point, you will have to make do with purchasing the book itself (you can do that here).

Poetry Can F*ck Off is coming to London and Brighton

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Heathcote Williams’ radical new work, Poetry Can F*ck Off is coming to The Cockpit Theatre, London on 29th, 30th, and 31st October 2015; and The Other Place Theatre, Brighton on 20th, and 21st November.

“Poetry Can F*ck Off is a revolution in poetry. And it’s the revolution in poetry”

-Jeremy Hardy

 

When Brainfruit artistic director and seasoned performer, Roy Hutchins began his daily visits to Brighton Occupy in 2011, he did what he does best – rouse the crowds with the words of radical poet, Heathcote Williams.

Williams, known for his idiosyncratic documentary/investigative poetry style, was in turn inspired by Hutchins’ activism to reflect on the role of poetry in all political uprisings, and Poetry Can F*ck Off was born.

 

“A picker pucker panoramic poetry parade”

John Hegley

 

Performed with live music, Brainfruit’s epic production charts the great resistance movements from the Peasants’ Revolt to Occupy Wall Street. Over 80 poets are referenced in a 55-minute mind-bending maelstrom – a compendium of the courageous, creative voices who called for change, from Shelley to Ginsberg to Pussy Riot.

Their Edinburgh run culminated in Williams being awarded the most prestigious award of the festival: The Glasgow Herald Archangel – Lifetime’s Achievement Award.

From Tahrir Square to Fukushima to Mesopotamia, this is not canonical school stuff its electrifying and erudite, passionate and political

-Three Weeks

 

Roy Hutchins is joined by Sameena Zehra, who cut her teeth performing AIDS awareness shows on the streets of Delhi; Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene; Selina Nwulu, daughter of Nigerian refugees, charting her parents’ flight from the civil war in her poetry; and they are joined by a host of special guests – all underscored with live, original music from Dr Blue.

A convincing case for poetry as weapon of choice in the revolution

-Sabotage Reviews

 

In the light of recent political events, this radical work finds itself a part of a much larger movement of artists, liberals and activists calling for change, and the response (and in many cases participation) of the audience has been electric. The reminder that words alone can bring down a tyrant, encapsulate a vision, or simply embarrass complacent leaders into action, has never been more timely.

Auden said, Poetry

Makes nothing happen. Auden

Was quite mistaken.

The world that you know

Can have its entire shape changed

By just one poem. Poetry teaches

The heart to think.

 

Poetry was school

Roddy Doyle recalls.

All poetry could fuck off.

Professor Wu says:

“This much needed poetic call to arms promises to provide a crucial rallying cry against authority figures whose pursuit of power at all costs threatens to reduce our society and culture to binary and uninspired norms of cultural subservience and insignificance. Nothing in the Rulebook wholeheartedly recommends you attend one – if not all! – of these upcoming shows. This revolution will be poetic.”

Further reading

To find out more about the project, follow @PoetryCanFckOff on Twitter, Like their Facebook Page and check out their website!

Thoughts of a stand-up comedian: ‘I Have No Voice But I Must Perform’

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When I’d just begun stand up, the excellent Scottish comedian, Matt Winning, told me something along the lines of “You should wait till you’re at fifty gigs before you decide whether you’re funny or not, because by then you will have found your voice a bit more.”

I’ve reached my fiftieth gig, through a mixture of open mics and a few ‘proper’ booked gigs. It’s probably natural then, that I’m returning to Matt’s advice. I’m usually pretty funny. Well, last night I told an extremely unfunny joke about the experimental noise artist Prurient that nobody understood and insulted an Albanian man, but I’m usually pretty funny. I make people laugh on a regular basis. I’m hardly the funniest new comedian around; but I’m not bad.

I’m concerned, though, that I’ve yet to find what my voice actually is. I don’t mean this literally of course, I’m well aware of the fact I have a prominent London middle class accent. I’m not proposing that I begin performing in course Glaswegian tones or the husky growl of Tom Waits, although both of those sound quite funny so I might give them a go.

Most successful stand-up comedians have a distinctive flavour to their comedy. You could identify a Stewart Lee routine by reading it off the page, let alone hearing it spoken. Simon Munnery; Josie Long; Bridget Christie; Tony Law; each one a top stand up and each one totally unique. Even outside of the arty alternative, comedians like Michael McIntyre or Kevin Bridges can arrive on stage to an audience who already know what  to expect.

The voice of a comedian is not just the content of their jokes; but their phrasings, rhythms, timings and looks. Different comedians can give the same material have drastically different meanings. Tim Vine and Simon Munnery both often tell neat, clever puns. Tim Vine just tells them like a father who continues to joke at a daughter who is publicly embarrassed by him because he knows she’s secretly enjoying it. Simon Munnery, meanwhile, can make a simple bit of wordplay seem like the arcane wisdom of a wizard whose brain has been fried by powerful magic. Same jokes, vastly different outcomes.

Even the better comedians  a newbie like me is able to get on bills with have their own distinct voices. The audience – that’s to say the real, non-comedian audience – will probably have no idea who they are; but, within a minute of their performance, little that follows will be a real tonal shift. The audience will remember their presence, if not necessarily their jokes. Ashley Haden’s air of having uncomfortably trapped you in the corner of a pub to let you know, hilariously, exactly what’s been bothering him. Joseph Murphy’s weary commitment to the telling of his wonderful jokes, as if he’s being forced to continue by a mad king who really loves spooky puns.

I could continue list the styles of my favorites of the comedians I’ve gigged with, but it would be little more than an open-mic masturbatory exercise so I’ll refrain from doing it. They’re all very good though and I love each one of them. Especially you (if you’re a comedian or a loved one).

I’m still not sure where I fit in. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve veered between the personas of a man who hates both his own jokes and the audience, an energetic fun loving hawker of bee puns, and a passionate, smart, political satirist. At present I’m not sure exactly what my persona will be until I actually step onto the stage and begin my first joke. I’m not at the stage where I’m a confident enough performer to be able to deliver my jokes in a certain fashion irrespective of my mood.

Perhaps though, those who have seen me multiple times would have a different opinion. When I saw Daniel Kitson (who is probably the greatest working stand-up and performs like a child who’s just discovered a particularly rude word and is delighted to tell everybody about it) he did an hour long show about how our impressions of our own character are less true than how other people define us. Perhaps stand up is like that. Perhaps I’ll never really understand exactly what my own voice, or style, actually is.

I think it’s probably more important for me, at this early stage, to understand my own weaknesses, limitations and strengths. I know I struggle with crowd interaction, I’m not yet very good at saying something amusing about somebody’s job or telling men that they are less attractive than their girlfriends. My attempts to do looser, stream of consciousness style bits have also all resulted in dismal failure.

I can’t be great at every style of stand-up and, while I probably need to improve the areas in which I’m weakest, it makes sense to focus on honing and exploiting my strengths. The two gigs in which I’ve arguably been at my best, last week, I used an angry, shouting style, hurling words at my audience and  barely pausing to allow for laughter. I enjoyed performing like this and I know the audience enjoyed it too (one of the great things about stand up is that you get immediate feedback on your work); but in subsequent gigs I’ve had difficulty maintaining the level of energy required.

As my on stage-character is an ironic figure – a male feminist who doesn’t understand feminism , the worst of middle-class liberalism – I also need to overcome my worry that the audience will genuinely think I’m a dickhead. A friend recently saw me perform and said “if I didn’t know you were genuinely a proper feminist, I’m not sure what I’d conclude about you as a person from what I just saw”. I think it’s something that, as long as I’m being funny, I shouldn’t worry about. Anybody worth talking to will be able to appreciate the satire.

I’m going to perform the same, shouty, set at least eight times over the next 2 weeks. If I can pull it off as I’ve envisaged it I hope I will have found my voice for the time being. Stand up is an evolving medium, and I’m sure I’ll continue to grow and evolve over my ‘career’ but for the time being it’s heartening to be finding myself on the stage.

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.

Experience: My first 20 gigs as an aspiring stand up comedian

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It’s my first gig. I’m at Angel Comedy, and it’s rammed. There are people standing, there are people being turned away from standing. The MC, Barry Ferns, has got the crowd properly warmed up. This is an audience that wants to be entertained, they want to laugh at every joke and unless they find a very good reason to not, they will.

There’s been about fourteen comedians on before me and I’m the penultimate act. I’m nervous, properly nervous. I’ve got about five friends in the audience, well three friends and two friends of friends. This is a room of total strangers, about a hundred of them, and I have to make them laugh. Mental, why did I ever sign up to do this?

Barry does about five minutes, calls my name and before I’ve had time to do any final preparations  I’m on stage. I take a deep breath and launch into my first joke. It’s a good joke but I tell it badly. It gets a big laugh anyway and my nerves dissipate. My next joke goes well too and the one after that. My entire routine about King Solomon goes down a treat, it doesn’t really have an ending and there are no proper punchlines, but if it’s getting laughs like these who cares? Comedy is easy and I’m fucking brilliant at it.

It’s my second gig. I’m at Heavenly comedy. It’s a small room below a pub which the comedians have to set up before the gig. There are seventeen comedians on and two genuine audience members. The room is hot and the audience is bored. They want to go home but they aren’t allowed to because they’re all comedians, they have to stay to the end to support the other acts and turn makeshift comedy club back into a small room beneath a pub. They don’t want to hear two minutes of incompetently told jokes about being tall and a three minute routine about King Solomon that doesn’t have any punchlines. Especially not from a man who is visibly shaking from nerves. At best, I get two laughs. Comedy is impossible and I’m fucking terrible at it.

I’ve done twenty gigs now and many of them have been like my second. A room either beneath or above a pub in front of around fifteen other comedians and a few genuine punters who look somewhere between confused and concerned. I genuinely love it and my only regret is not having done significantly more over the past three months. I secretly think I’m quite good too. Don’t tell any of the other comedians I said that though or they’ll shun me for being immodest.

My earnings thus far are: three drinks (two Cobras and a Yakima Red) and eleven AAA batteries. I won the batteries for coming joint second in my heat at the Jaunty Lark competition, which is my career highlight to date, and every appliance I power with them will a reminder that I’m at least a reasonably good comedian. Unfortunately all my alarm clocks, nineties Gameboys and anal vibrators require AA batteries, so I’m hoping I’ll win some of them in the final (which is later this month).

I’ve performed, all in all, about twenty-five minutes of material. Some of it has worked, some of it, like my 4 minute routine about Stewart Lee, has conclusively not. I write a lot of material as the writing is probably my favourite part of the whole thing. Aside from the booty and batteries obviously. The process of watching a routine turn from a half baked idea based around a single pun to a genuinely tight five minutes of comedy is wonderful. I’m seldom happier than when I’m in-front of six other comedians trying to turn my new routine about satire and feminism into something that’s at least serviceable.

About half of the gigs I’ve done have been ‘bringers’. A large proportion of the gigs available to new stand-ups require the act to bring audience members along with them. My friends, generally, have been very supportive and I’ve only had to cancel one gig due to unreliable companions. Most comedians seem to hate bringers and some refuse to do them on principle. I’m somewhere in the middle. Most of the ‘great’ audiences I’ve had have been rooms full of people dragged along by acts. It’s a pleasure to perform in-front of a packed room but I’m also beginning to run out of friends who haven’t seen most of my material. There’s only so many times you can sit through my puns about Ed Balls.

I’m not sure the friends of acts are proper audience members anyway. They either only laugh at their friend or are so surprised that some comedians on the open-mic scene are actually quite good that they laugh uproariously at every single joke. My twentieth gig, this evening, was in front of my first genuine, paying, audience who’d come of their own volition (for some reason) and the atmosphere was very different to what I was used to. Obviously I’m far too new a comedian to make wild judgements about the nature of audiences but my feeling is that bringers aren’t a particularly good place to hone your craft. I’m only going to become a great comedian if I learn to kill at the nights where it’s just the other comedians and a few bedraggled people off the street. After that, a room full of real, actual, people will surely be a doddle?

Anyway, I’m getting better slowly. Lots of comedians have come up to me and said they’ve really enjoyed my sets, or given me invaluable advice, which is always lovely. I’m constantly humbled by how many other brilliant comics there are on the circuit. As arrogant as I am, there’s rarely a night were I can conclusively say I was amongst the funniest on. I went to see the wonderful Bridget Christie a few weeks ago and her brilliance reminded me quite how far I have to go before I’m considered even competent. I reckon I’ll need to do at least eighty more gigs before I can even begin to think of myself as a proper comedian, I’ve got around ten planned in over the next two weeks. That’s a start.

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 deal primarily in irony and whimsy. He tweets as @danieloffen.