Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Demütigen Prahlen?


I meant to write about this a while ago... but I was too busy and so it drifted away with a shrug... but, well, here's something that doesn't seem to be quite right.

On August 25th I was promoting the tour - that I'm now loving by the way - with an interview on Dermot O'Leary's Saturday Breakfast on Radio 2.

As the name suggests, it's an early show. It's also based in London, where I no longer live. So I was up earlier than normal. Well, we have a toddler so I'm often up early, but I'm not often showered, dressed and out of the front door by 5.20 am. But I was that day.

Now me mentioning the particular radio show I was on my way to appear on might come across as something of a humblebrag, it is after all almost entirely incidental... but I think the hour of the day is relevant and that it would seem odd not to add some context. (But maybe it's just a humblebrag.)

The reason I think the hour of the day is relevant is because this is about Twitter... and in my experience a Twitter feed looks different at different times of day. I often only realise that I've stayed up too late working, when I become aware that my Twitter feed has become dominated by Australian comics.

Anyway,  that morning, as I sat bleary eyed on a train, I had a quick glance at Twitter. And something caught my eye that, had it been there at, say, 10am, would have probably just been washed away on the tide of tweets that swirl around in my feed during normal, up-and-awake, British hours.

The thing that caught my eye - or rather, the things - looked sort of like these...





... but they weren't these. The tweets above were sent today. I've included them as examples because the actual tweets that caught my eye on August 25th have been deleted since. But they were the same shape and style as these. In that they were retweets of spam.

So, in this instance, the account Learn Languages (@differlanguages) has retweeted Rubie Rosas (@Rosas_rubie) who's retweeting and commenting on tweets about stuff you can buy that just happen to include links to the places you can buy them from.

I guess it's possible that, whoever 'Learn Languages' is, they just happen to think that Rubie Rosas comment about the necklace received by Débora Díaz is worth retweeting for its, um, sass(?)... but I doubt it. And I doubt the sincerity of the original tweet about the necklace from Débora Díaz because, well, because here she is tweeting about a bracelet her boyfriend, Josh, got her on October 16th. ..



and here she is tweeting on October 17th about a necklace she got from her boyfriend, Andres...

She moves on fast, that girl.

And for what it's worth, here she is tweeting about another sunflowerjewels necklace and also a keychain, with both tweets posted on October  8th...





I guess it's possible that Débora Díaz has two boyfriends and they're both aware that she's obsessed with SunflowerJewels and so buy her gifts accordingly, but it seems more likely that her account is being used to send spam and that Rubie Rosas and then Learn Languages are amplifying it.

So far, so what?

I know Twitter is polluted by all sorts of spammy garbage and I spend about 20 minutes a day blocking all sorts of p0rnbot nonsense. But I'm not following those people and I appeared to be following 'Learn Languages' and that's what seemed so odd.

Because, even setting the spam to one side, it's not really the sort of account I would have followed. Most of its tweets look like this:


and as I'm not the kind of person who wonders what American for 'cheese' is, it seems highly unlikely  that I would have followed them in the hope of finding out.

So I started scrolling back through their tweets to see if I could see anything that would make me think, "ah... that's the sort of thing that would have persuaded me to follow them!"  

But nothing of that sort turned up.

What did become apparent is that tweeting cue cards for simple words in various languages was a pretty recent turn of events for @differlanguages.

They'd only been doing it since August 10th. Prior to that, they'd been tweeting macro photography - close up details of images photographed under a microscope.

I guess that's a little more interesting to me. I mean, it's just possible that I might have decided to follow that sort of account on a rainy afternoon, one day.

It still seemed a little unlikely... but not impossible. And it didn't explain how an account dedicated to macro photography had suddenly switched to tweeting bland shit about languages and was also - being paid (presumably) - to amplify spam.

What made it all the more curious was the number of followers they had... and the number of people following them that I was also following. Apparently, amongst their 377,000 followers were more than 100 people I follow too.

In that screen grab you can see the avatars for American comics, Randy Rainbow, Brian Posehn and Sarah Silverman, Australian comic, Celia Paquola, Irish comic, Jarlath Regan and British writer/producers, Ash Attalah and James Serafinowicz. As well as three others whose avatars aren't instantly recognizable to me even though I'm pretty sure the one on the top right is a picture of the magician, Doug Henning. (He died before Twitter existed and having a Twitter account would be quite a trick.)

A quick scroll through the 105 names of people I follow, that also follow @differlanguages reveals such luminaries as Jerry Seinfeld, Marina Hyde, Greg Jenner, Danny Baker, Lauren Laverne, Bill Burr, Boy George, Ross Noble, Sharon Horgan, Louis Theroux, Amy Schumer, Omid Djalili, Gabby Logan, Greg Proops, Simon Evans, Richard Bacon, Jon Ronson and the Simpsons producer, Mike Scully (who I once persuaded to tell a 'fisting' joke on live TV, but that's another story).

Oh, and in doing that scroll, the image of Doug Henning leapt out and revealed itself to be the avatar of Mitchell Hurwitz... the creator of Arrested Development, no less.

I mean, of course it's possible that any of these individuals would have clicked a link and followed an account devoted to macro photography... or even to learning simple words in common languages... but for all of them to be following this account just stretches credulity a little too far.

I didn't know what it had been before... but it seemed obvious that the change of focus that account had gone through in early August hadn't been its first transformation.

Surely, at some point before that it had been something more interesting to have so many comics, writers and comic-wranglers following it.

Unable to work out what it had been, I asked the question...


https://twitter.com/DaveGorman/status/1033218255979245568

It only took about 8 minutes to get a proper informed answer...


https://twitter.com/grumpygiant/status/1033220382617034752

Which links to this. Which tells us that the account used to belong to Harris Wittels. Harris Wittels was an American comic and writer. He wrote for The Sarah Silverman Show (which presumably explains why she's following the account, as well as cast member, Brian Posehn) and was a writer and executive producer on Parks and Recreation.

I doubt many British people knew his name. I didn't. But I did know the word, 'humblebrag'. He coined it. He was the man behind the twitter account @humblebrag that simply retweeted tweets of a humblebraggy nature. That's what I followed.

He passed away in February 2015. His account was taken over in early June 2018. It must have been quite a valuable account, what with so much influence. All of his tweets were deleted. The name was changed first to @micropics and then, in August to @differlanguages. And that's who they are now. Tweeting rubbish to make them look like an account with a purpose and then also spamming.

I don't have anything nice to wrap this up with. It's been written about in a few places now and lots of people have reported it to Twitter. But it's still there, profiting in its own small way, from the death of a man who was creative and funny and changed the language, by adding a word to it. I wonder what the Italian, French, Spanish and German words for humblebrag are? Maybe @differlanguages will tell us one day?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This is nice...

There's a nice review of one of the Brighton shows in today's Times.

If you're already coming along to the show at some point, then I'd suggest you're better off not reading any further as it contains mild spoilers.

But if you're the sort of person who (quite reasonably) wants someone else to validate their ticket-buying decisions, then hey, this might put the right amount of wind in your sails (and my sales):



























































































EDITED TO ADD:

A few people on Twitter have commented on the absence of something in the review... so it seems only fair to mention that the writer addressed that in a tweet himself...

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Extra Extra Extra


Blimey... when this new tour was first announced, it was going to be a short and sweet 26 nights. A few of the shows sold quickly and some of the venues came back asking for more and we added a further 9. And then another 7. And I thought that was probably that...

But now we're adding another 19 - all in January/February 2019 - taking the total to 61.

Some of the new dates are extra shows for existing venues... we're adding a third date at the Royal Festival Hall, London, the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the City Hall, Hull, the Guildhall, Preston, the Theatre Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham and the confusingly named Warwick Arts Centre, which is in Coventry and not Warwick.

There's also a fifth show at the Lowry, Salford which means a huge amount to me because Manchester/Salford is where I began my adventures in comedy some 27 years ago. I was a 19 year old soon-to-drop-out student at Manchester University and my first ever gig was as part of a charity night at Salford Uni. Time flies.

There are some new towns in amongst the new dates also. Northampton, Milton Keynes, High Wycombe, Cambridge and Guildford.

Of course, all of the dates are on my site... but here's a handy map to help show you where we're going:


I know that every time I post something like this I get a flurry of emails and tweets from people asking me why I'm avoiding certain parts of the country. Allow me to head you off at the pass...  because the answer is always the same: I'm not.

Of course, they might be avoiding me. I don't book venues. They book me. Sometimes places want to book the show but don't have dates that work. Sometimes venues want to book the show but can't handle it technically - I am in a double act with a large projector screen, so sight lines and lighting etc etc are more important than if it was just one-man-and-a-mic stand up. Sometimes venues just don't want to book the show.

Anyway... I hope you can come along. See you there!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Extra Extra

I can't pretend to be anything other than thrilled at the way the tour is selling - especially given that it's still a fair few months away. I couldn't really believe it last month when I was told that several of the shows had already sold out and that they wanted to add 9 more nights. And now - with the tour still 8 months away - we're adding a further 7.

I know some people find it a bit frustrating that the extra dates are in venues that already had the show - so I can only say that I'd love to playing in all four corners of the country... but I can only go where the show is booked. And it sort of stands to reason that the easiest gigs to add to a tour are ones at existing venues which have sold out 8 months in advance... it's venues who've already put faith in the show responding to the demand they're witnessing.

The Lowry Centre in Salford is one of the ones that has a new date.

Indeed we've now added three extra shows there. Which means a huge amount to me because Manchester was my home town for many years and is where I started doing stand up.

(Yes, I know Manchester and Salford are technically not the same city. But they might as well be. They're not twin cities, they're conjoined twin cities.)

I mention that one in particular because of the email they sent to their punters mentioning this new, extra date... which contains a bit of misinformation.

If you come along, please don't expect to be stepping into the magical and colourful world of Little Baby Bum.

That won't be happening. Not on purpose anyway.

Anyway, the full list of dates - including the extra 9 and the extra, extra 7 are all on my website.

And here's an ad in handy gif form... 



Monday, December 18, 2017

Goodish Bye

As the credits rolled on episode 7 last Tuesday, the continuity announcer said that...
... the series would be concluding next week - and added, "and it'll be an emotional show as it'll be the last ever one of the series."

Which, of course, led to a small flurry of tweets from people, asking if he meant it was the last ever... or just the last of the series... all of which is very flattering. Thank you.

As people have continued to ask me since then if this is the last one or not, I thought it was probably worth writing a few short words about it to try and add a little clarity. Or, more likely, I'll write a lot of words. Let's see how this goes.

The first thing to say is that I love the show and I'm exceedingly proud of the last five years of work. And I'm hugely grateful to have had the opportunity to do quite so much long-form stand-up on TV.

I add the words 'long-form' for a reason.

It seems odd to me that TV largely presents stand-up as something that happens in short sets of 7 or 8 minutes - or even as a quick minute, before "we get on with the rest of the show".

I don't think that's what any of my favourite comics are best at.

In terms of live work, the only times you really watch someone doing something that short is when they're a brand new act doing unpaid gigs as they learn or, maybe, somebody more established trying a new idea out somewhere.

A standard set on the circuit is 20 minutes, a one-person show at a festival is expected to be 60 minutes and a tour show is longer.

If you can get into the position of touring shows in your own name - you have to have worked out how to shape a longer show - and yet the people who have worked that out tend to be the ones being asked to do 7 or 8 minutes of stuff on telly.

I don't think doing an hour is as simple as just doing three lots of twenty. Or at least it shouldn't be. Because the longer form affords you more opportunities to link things up, to draw out themes, to misdirect audiences in more interesting ways and to make things feel more complete. You have to change things up more or they get wise to your rhythm. A short set can be great - but it's the fast food version of stand-up. It's a dirty burger. But long-form stand-up, done well, can be a banquet.

It's why I was chuffed to bits with this Sunday Times review of a show in Series 4.

The idea of 'handling an audience like a DJ at a club' sort of gets to the nub of the difference between long-form and short-form stand-up.

I don't think you can really do that in a short set. I think it's the thing to aim for in a longer show.

With that in mind; what a fantastic opportunity this series has been. When people say they think it's a shame the show hasn't been on a bigger channel, I always ask them to tell me any other channel that has given any other comic the opportunity to do this kind of show? Not stand-up and sketches. Not stand-up and anything else. Not a package of discreet bits that could be edited together in a different order and make just as much sense. Proper, long-form stand-up that actually represents what a touring comic does live? I can't think of many. I don't think I can think of any. Not just now... but for many years.

In that sense it is a dream job. And I have always tried to go about my job without complaint. There's no point moaning about having-to-come-up-with-more-stuff when coming-up-with-stuff is one of the key parts of your job. That's what we're supposed to do for a living.

And I'm not pretending that every last bit of it has been all my own work. I'm lucky enough to have worked with a fantastic bunch of collaborators - producers and writers - all of whom have contributed much. 

So please don't mistake any of what follows for any kind of woe-is-me, moaning. That couldn't be further from the truth. Here's the thing: as lucky as I am to have an almost unique opportunity to do the thing that I love, in the form that I love, on the telly... it's also bloody demanding in terms of time.

We've always recorded the shows in pairs. So when we've made six episodes (series 1 and 4) we had three recordings... and when we've made eight episodes (series 2, 3 and 5) we've had four. During this final series, we've had 9 weeks between recordings. In each 9 week block I've spent the first week having some time off. I've then spent the next five weeks working 40 to 50 hours a week and then, for the final three weeks of each block - which includes doing a few dry runs of the shows in small theatres while I try to properly hone the shows - working in excess of 100 hours a week.

Three or four times a week during that time I start work at 10am, work through to 5am try to get some sleep... and am at my desk by 10am later that morning to carry on. And while it doesn't happen every time, there are plenty of occasions where I work through the night and into the next day without sleep because I won't meet the deadlines otherwise.

And it's simply not possible to keep doing that without making yourself ill. In series 1 we didn't really know what we were letting ourselves in for when it was set up and as a result we only had two weeks between recordings. It's probably not a coincidence that I fainted on stage during the taping of episode 6.

Everyone involved - the channel and the production company and everyone working on the show - has been aware of quite how labour intensive the show is to make ever since we began. There isn't an executive involved who hasn't, at some point, been in a meeting with me when I've been awake for 48 hours and counting. And everyone has done everything they can to make it easier. But unfortunately, there isn't a short cut when it comes to building the powerpoint.

We don't write a paper script and then send it to a graphics department to build. We talk about ideas. We throw ideas around. We talk about a vague structure. And then I build it. And I don't build it to a script... me building it is me writing the script. Nobody involved in the show - me included - knows what it's going to look like until I emerge from my shed having built it.

And then, when I've built it, we talk about it some more, we come up with some definitive ideas for words to go with it. And sometimes that involves me rebuilding it. And then I perform it. And rewrite and rebuild it. Then perform it again. And rewrite and rebuild it. And then all of that a third time. And then we record it.

A regular show has somewhere between 300 and 500 slides in it. (A tour show, will have many, many more) Here, for example, is a version of what a late-ish draft of this series' episode 4 looked like the day before we recorded it:

There isn't a quick way of building this many slides - especially when there are plenty of moving parts.

Unfortunately, whatever we've done to try and find solutions, the nature of the beast is that this much work has to be squeezed into the final two or three weeks before a recording.

There are lots of reasons. For one: doing dry runs will always lead to rewriting and rebuilding because it's only when stuff is performed for the first time that you discover both how long it is and how well it works. And the dry runs need to be relatively close to the recording because a performance isn't learned, it's honed. In so much as things are learned, it's muscle memory - it's about instinctively finding what you did last night because that worked, rather than poring over a script trying to commit things to memory which, in my experience (and perhaps with my limitations) robs a performance of authenticity and immediacy. I don't want you to watch me remembering stuff - I want to relate stuff to you. Muscle memory doesn't last very long. A few days off undoes it. There has to be a churn of performing/rewriting/performing/rewriting for there to be any benefit to that process.

For two: it's unhelpful to build powerpoint for bits until I know what they're going to be a part of. For example, in a recent episode there was a small section about serving suggestions. It's an idea that's actually been knocking around since the start of Series 1 but has never found a home until this series. There'd be no point in me spending a day or two powerpointing it early on because it was one of 60 or 70 similar ideas and we'd never be able to use all of them.

It only earned it's place in a show because I could see a way of connecting it to other bits. It provided a segue to something else, but also created a really easily understood metaphor that improved a later, seemingly unconnected later bit making it shorter to tell and more immediate to grasp. I need to know these things when I'm making it... and I didn't know those things at the start of Series 1. It took a new idea, generated during Series 5 to provide the context in which that old idea could do two jobs on the show.

For three: even if I we were able to come up with a paper script that someone else could create powerpoint for... it wouldn't teach me the timing of the powerpoint. On the night it's me who presses the button to fire the next transition/animation/video/whatever. And it's me who's trying to wrap my words around it. The best way of me absorbing the timings is for me to create them. It's easier to learn a song if you're the one who writes the tune.

Dave have been brilliantly supportive all round. Before we'd finished series 1, we knew they wanted series 2 and 3. And before we finished series 3, we knew they wanted 4 and 5. And before we started work on series 4, we knew that everyone was committed to trying different schedules and finding ways of solving these issues. We tried all sorts. Most of the time it made it harder. But the efforts were sincere. In the end, the reality is that there are no short cuts. And nor should there be. Like I say, I try to do my work without complaining.

It's hard to let go of such a wonderful opportunity. I know that if I wanted to make more I could. But I don't want to do it half-cocked. And I don't want to make myself ill doing it either. And I want to do other things too. I want to do more live work.

In a way, the decision to tour next year, made my mind up for me. It would be impossible to create another series at the same time as creating and touring a new show. So series six was never going to happen in 2018. And I can't help thinking that not-working-100-plus-hours-a-week is probably going to feel quite nice after five years of crazy. So it's probably best to leave it there.

I know that, with ads, each show is less than an hour long... but creating 36 telly-hours in the space of five years is something I'm hugely proud of. There aren't many comics that will get that opportunity. And I like to think I respected the opportunity - and the audience - and always gave my all to it.

In the mean time, I'm having a bit of time off over Christmas - and the channel and I are actively looking for ways of working together in the future.

If you don't know what this rather self-indulgent post is going on about - here's a nice write up of the series from the Christmas Radio Times. (My Mum's chuffed about this)

It's rare for a series to end like this, with everyone involved feeling happy that it happened and nobody bearing any grudges.

If you've enjoyed the shows - thanks for being a part of it. I'm pretty sure they'll be available on UKTVPlay for some time to come. The final episode airs tomorrow, Tuesday at 10pm. I hope you can catch it.

If you want to make sure you know what I get up to next, my mailing list is the best way to find out.

For now, my thanks to Nick Martin, James Fidler, Judy Lewis, Nick Doody, Sarah Morgan, Carrie Quinlan, Carl Cooper, Paul Wheeler, Kumar Kamalagharan, The Bilroth Quartet, Annabel Port, Richard Watsham, Iain Coyle, Jamie Isaacs and a whole host of other people who all came on the ride with me. I've had a blast.



Monday, November 13, 2017

NEW TOUR: With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint

This is happening next year...

Tickets are on general sale from Friday... but they go on pre-sale from 9am tomorrow, Tuesday 14th via SeeTickets.com, then on Wednesday at 9am they go on presale via Ticketmaster.co.uk and on Thursday morning you'll also be able to get them from tickets.amazon.co.uk

And yes, I know 'pre-sale' is a silly phrase but I don't know what else to call it.

Anyway, live shows are far and away the most fun part of what I do and it's been too long since the last tour so I'm chomping at the bit to get on with this one. I hope to see you there...

*UPDATE*
Hello... I'm editing this post to explain that the poster has been changed. The original had some errors on it - for which I apologise. It seems that one venue has a refurb scheduled that won't be finished as early as they anticipated so they've changed a date... and it seems another venue was making arrangements while looking at their 2019 diary by mistake! These things happen. I apologise for the confusion caused... oh, and I also have all the correct dates on the live dates page of my site.

Friday, November 3, 2017

If you want to win some Mockbusters...

As a brand new series of Modern Life Is Goodish is underway, I've been asked if I'll be reviving my competitions for my mailing list... and yes, as and when there's something to give away, I will. If I can, I use things from an episode that's already gone out - that way, the prize doesn't act as a spoiler for what's coming up.

Which is why the prize for this week is going to be this assortment of terrible mockbuster cartoons.
 

(If you haven't seen the first episode of the new series then the full horror of this, um, prize won't make a lot of sense to you, but, of course, it's always very easy to catch up with the show using UKTVPlay)

To be in with a chance of winning these - and who wouldn't want to own them - you need to be on my mailing list. I'll email a reminder for the new episode on Tuesday along with a question about that night's show. All the people who send an email to a secret address with the right answer go in the hat. One (un)lucky person will win the DVDs. Simple.

In other news... I filmed an episode of Pointless over a year ago... and it's being shown on Saturday. I was paired up with one of my comic heroes, John Shuttleworth and, well, I'm not allowed to tell you how we did...

By the way, it's okay, I think everyone involved in the show already gets the irony in the title Pointless Celebrities. It's on Saturday at 6pm. On BBC1.