Waking in Hoxton

A couple of weekends back, I spent the night in London.  On purpose, you should understand, I didn’t miss the last train home and have to sleep on a park bench.  This is something I very rarely do as it is normally hideously expensive (even on a park bench) – however, I suddenly realised that London has a university (several, in fact) and perhaps I could revert to student life in the capital as easily as in Cambridge or Oxford.  I had been vaguely aware of the option for a while as one of my former offices – sited opposite Bankside Power Station (or Tate Modern as I believe we are now supposed to call it) – was converted into student accomodation some years ago and I’ve always fancied sleeping at my old desk (or at least its location – I fear the desk may be long gone).  The challenge would be in booking the right room, websites are not really designed to accept a description based on a relative location referenced to the building’s fourth floor frontage or its historic usage.

Whilst I could have stayed in NGH, my business in town was in the soi-disant centre of hipster culture on the borders of Hoxton and Shoreditch.  So, I found myself staying in an outpost of the Univeristy of Westminster for the very thrifty sum of £36 (or about €5 as I believe it is now).  I will not try and claim the room was luxurious, though the shared bathroom was suprisingly nice (not at all like my own student days), and I had to forage for my own breakfast – but it was perfectly comfortable and the cheapest night I’ve spent away from home in many a year (well, excluding the kindness of friends and family).

As mentioned above I was staying in Hoxton, but failed to spot a single penny-farthing nor any particularly baroque examples of facial hair.  Frankly, I was the most eccentrically-dressed person I saw – not that I want you to think I spent a lot of time regarding myself in reflective surfaces.  I am beginning to think this whole idea of the hipster is a practical joke promulgated by the MSM and providing much need employment for a few out-of-work actors.  I did have pizza for my supper and when I asked for some eating irons was told “we don’t do cutlery”.  They also didn’t do plates – only paper ones – so I’m not sure if this was a hipster-affectation or some sort of phobia of washing-up.  Or is it some adjunct to the thoroughly discredited idea of paleo dining?  As a result of their fork-embargo, my fingers were rendered horribly oily and I will not be dining in that particular establishment again: though the pizza itself was very good, I don’t like getting my hands dirty.

Brunch on Sunday morning was a much more satisfactory affair, as 8 Hoston Square has not embraced the post-cutlery world.  This was a treat: a leisurely and delicious meal (literally comprising all I would normally eat for both breakfast and lunch) in the liminal space between indoors and outdoors (doors?) overlooking Hoxton Square.  None of the usual urgency that seems to infect my Sundays, with errands or things I ought to be doing pressing at my conscious mind: I could listen to 6 Music, read my book and watch the world go by.  I think I ought to start instuting a regular Sunday brunch option at home, perhaps with friends, to recapture the atmosphere of that morning with a different and more exciting menu than my standard breakfast fare.

Why, you may wonder, was I in Hoxton at all?  Well, I was at ARGCOM Fest: which over two days offers nearly 50 Edinburgh comedy previews (though one person you could never catch more than 16) in the less used spaces of Shoreditch Town Hall.  In a rare feat of self-control, I limited myself to a mere twelve across the weekend.  I rather like ARGCOM as it is rather a good simulation of the Edinburgh Fringe: overly warm rooms, in spaces normally unused (or used very differently) with uncomfortable chairs.  This is how comedy should be!

It was a lot of fun, and really nice having a 5 minute walk “home” on Saturday night rather than 2+ hours making my way back to my tiny garret.  My three top picks – each very different – would be:

Max and Ivan: despite complete failure of the technology and the show not being quite finished, this was very funny indeed and included a nice bit of acrobatics from Max in a very tight space with a wet floor (he’s a braver man than I).

Ahir Shah: clever and very funny, if slightly disturbing as at regular points in the show he would refer to me by name (though I feel I was representing a form of “everyman”).

Andrew Hunter-Murray: also plagued with technical issues, but very funny.  I had to play a character in this one, which mostly involved me wearing a hat and mask: from which I can confirm that a mask is a very impractical choice for a super-hero, it jiggers your vision in all directions.  I did also receive a very sweaty hug from a QI elf, which is not something I can claim every day.  I may now have to aim to complete the full set…

The weekend did tempt me to spend a little more time in London, and less time commuting back and forward to Southampton.  However, I do feel a liitle bit of a traitor going to culture in London, it is in some ways the “enemy”.  I always feel I should be supporting a more local option and reducing the need for artists of all stripes to have to leave Southampton to live in cramped penury in the capital.  I comfort myself with the fact that I probably go to more local culture than anyone else in Southampton in my desperate search for divertissement: unless you know better?  In which case, I’ll try and up my game!



It has often been said, mostly by those with no medical training, that laughter is the best medicine.  While I was up in Edinburgh, I developed a cold (OK, as this did not involve a lab and a team of rogue geneticists perhaps I should say a caught one) and I am unconvinced that any over-the-counter ‘medicines’ have any positive impact on the progress of the virus (except – if I’m lucky – for acting as a brief palliative).  However, my location and the time of year did mean that I did extensively self-medicate with comedy.  The cold proved very mild and the worst of the symptoms swiftly passed – could this be down to my frequent laughter?  Or was this purely coincidental?  As I am unwilling to be infected with multiple cold viruses and then ‘treated’ with varying degrees and styles of comedy we will probably never know – sorry folks, my commitment to the advancement of scientific knowledge only stretches so far.

Despite my obviously overweening self-regard, I do realise that the vast majority of the readership of this blog will not be visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  However, this is also true for significantly more august organs with a much wider readership and the fact doesn’t stop them – and so it won’t stop me.  Plus, I do have an actual reader request for my comedy highlights!  And, you never know, these funny folk may visit a venue near you one day…

So, in no particular order (though I have not properly randomised the list) are my favourite ‘acts’ from those I saw over the last week.

  • Kieran Hodgson (FF): this is the third year I’ve seen Kieran’s one man show, in which he tells a story playing all of the characters.  The bad news (for me) is that his genius has now been recognised by others, including a 5* review in The Guardian, which may make him rather harder to see in future (or it may involve arriving very early to be sure of a seat).
  • John Robins: probably my 5th or 6th visit to his Edinburgh shows.  He really is a very funny performer, mining two-and-half relatively minor incidents for a full hour of laughs.
  • Brett Goldstein: my first time, inspired by seeing SuperBob earlier in the year.  He was a lot of fun, and surprisingly soft-spoken given that when he is invariable cast as a thug when you see him acting.
  • George Egg: almost a speciality act with jokes.  George cooked a full, three course meal using only the equipment you find in a typical hotel room. e.g. iron, kettle, trouser price etc.  At a time when many struggle to microwave an instant meal, the man should be an inspiration to us all – and perhaps placed on the National Curriculum.  His poached sea bass was glorious and you will never look at a wire coat-hanger in quite the same way again.
  • Max and Ivan: incredibly funny, apocalyptic story-telling.
  • Alfie Brown: inspired to see him following his interview on ComComPod.  Very funny and the finest Derby accent you will ever hear (including in Derby!).
  • Stuart Goldsmith (FF): I’ve seen and loved all of his Edinburgh shows.  This was his first time on the Free Fringe and he seemed much more relaxed and the show was excellent.  Arrive early as it tends to fill-up.
  • Nick Doody (FF): effortlessly funny, intelligent comedy.  I think we can all see why I’m not paid as a critic – this is nearly as bad as writing “satisfactory progress” in a school report, but Nick was brilliant and criminally under-attended last Tuesday.

It was great to see some old ‘friends’ doing well, some newer discoveries and some acts entirely new to me this year.  None of the people I saw are massively famous (as far as I know – be aware, this does not preclude massive fame) and it is hard to see the character comedy, in particular, working as well on radio or TV.  As I grow ever more ancient, I become increasingly convinced that comedy works best seen live and preferably in a small, sweaty venue – somehow it loses something important on the television and in larger spaces and even, sometimes, on radio (which is the medium that introduced me to comedy).  In so many parts of the country, it seems so hard to see a broad range of comedy – and, particularly, the full hour scale shows which can be important for more narrative acts.  I usually have to travel to London or Edinburgh to see old friends or expand my comedy horizons – a situation not helped by the fact that the ‘industry’ seems to believe that comedy should start late in the evening with little thought for those who have to catch the last train home (and the rail industry’s view that this last train should be well before 10pm unless it departs from London).

I always suspect that live comedy is missing a substantial, albeit latent, audience who are put off by the difficulty of seeing so many acts and the late nights and/or additional hotel costs which even the keen must endure.  Then again, I am broadly recognised as slightly odd and so generalising from my own experience may be fiscally irresponsible.   Nevertheless, if I had a larger parlour (and owned a few more chairs), I would be tempted to book acts myself and then attempt to defray the costs across an audience of 20 or so friends or acquaintances (or total strangers with cash – though this may cause issues with my lease): I suspect a couple of hundred quid (plus standard-class rail travel) would be enough to tempt many to indulge in a mid-week visit to the south coast.  I suppose I could rent a space – but this increases the costs and so would require improved marketing to boost the audience and keep my costs down.  Then again, how much can a church hall or pub room cost?  I think I shall investigate: if things go well, I could have a whole new career as a live comedy promoter!

Fringe mastery

I believe this may be my tenth year of coming up to Edinburgh in August to see the Fringe and, sometimes, a little of the Festival to which it forms a rather overgrown adjunct.  However, as I type this racing south by train, I feel this is the first year that I have truly mastered the experience (obviously, mistressy remains an even higher standard, but one which will ever lie beyond my reach).

This hard-worn mastery has a number of components which, as the more prescient or fatalistic reader will have realised, I am going to reveal to you (whilst studiously avoiding use of the phrase ‘life hack’ – except just then).

Let’s start, as some actors do, with the feet.  Enjoying the Fringe does involve a lot of walking around: most of it up hill and much of it over cobbled ground.  This can – and, in the past, did – play havoc with a chap’s feet and ankles.  This year, in one of those flashes of insight which is such a rare visitor to my intra-auricular void, I travelled north with the perfect footwear solution.  What are these wonder-shoes?  They are a pair of New Balance 1060s, bought several years ago as urban walking shoes: but rarely used.  They entered my life just as I started cycling everywhere and they make for a poor cycling shoe.  As a result, they have lain forgotten at the back of the wardrobe for several years – just waiting their chance to shine.  Shine they most certainly did – taking hills and cobbles in my stride.  Never have I left Auld Reekie with such undamaged feet.  I’ll admit that they lack style – and whilst gloriously breathable (a boon in the hot and sweaty venues that characterise the Fringe) are not the ideal companions in heavy rain or deep water – but they have more than repaid my faith in them.  No longer will they be mocked by more obviously popular footwear in my wardrobe: they have (finally) found their niche.

Next, I shall turn my attention to the duration of the visit.  I started at a mere couple of nights and have gone as far as a fortnight.  This year I went with a week – and I feel that is the perfect length.  Enough time to indulge thoroughly in the delights on offer, but not so much time that the physical and mental toll on the visitor becomes excessive.  To avoid missing out on too much on offer, in the weeks prior to Edinburgh I caught a number of acts previewing their shows – which is also quite a thrifty option (special thanks must go to ARGCOMfest and the BAC).

This year, I also decided that you may have a very fine show – but if it starts after 22:00 it will not be graced(clumsied?) by my presence.  I now miss the last bus home for no man (or woman) – and so can generally have my head in contact with pillow by midnight.

It is generally best to avoid buying beer in most of the paid Fringe venues – the choice for the connoisseur is limited and prices are higher (£4.00-£4.50 per pint!).  The Free Fringe or Fringe-free venues are a better bet with prices falling to £3.90 (that I have lived to see the day when £3.90 seems a relatively reasonable price for a pint) and a much better range of session ales on offer.  This year, I acquired a cold mid-way through my visit – though my immune system has already (almost) sent it packing – so on health grounds, during the day, I switched from beer to black tea for my liquid refreshment requirements.  This was a much cheaper option and must shoulder much of the blame for my current abnormally healthful state.

This year my events formed a rather pleasing balance between comedy, spoken word and circus (of which, more in later posts).  In the past, I think I have tended to over-emphasise comedy and it can all become a something of a blur – but adding circus made for a much more balanced(!) mix.  I also spread myself across a wide range of venues and between the Free and paid Fringe – though, in general, I pay as much (or more) for the Free Fringe – so the latter is rarely the cheaper option.

The final element is my growing knowledge of where to find some decent food or a refreshing session ale when one is called for.   This year’s discovery was Malone’s – an unexpectedly spacious and architecturally-interesting Irish bar which is handily close to several Fringe venues.  Here, standing on the gallery, I took in the second half of the England-France rugby match and indie music from the Free Fringe.  Not a combination which would generally be wise, but it was time-saving and did make for an enjoyable end to an evening out.

You’ll believe a man can cry

Not the author in this case.  As this blog has amply documented, I will weep on even the most slender of provocations (though in no way endorse such an unrealistic body image for any young provocations reading this post).  I suspect I shed a manly tear on the majority of days and laugh on virtually all: I like to test my full emotional range on a regular basis (just in case I need to deploy it).

Yesterday, I spent the day at ARGComFest in the less fashionable parts of Shoreditch Town Hall.  The festival is like a super-concentrated version of the Edinburgh Fringe – or at least some of its comedy elements – fitting 48 acts into three overly warm rooms across two days.  I only attended day two but, feeling I should get full value from my £25, did manage to take in seven acts over just under nine hours.  Unlike Edinburgh all the events take place in the same building, so you never have to go outside (and I didn’t) and can pack more into the time – though you do get a lot less exercise.

I was a little worried about my ability to survive quite so much comedy in one sitting (though given the rather uncomfortable chairs, I did allow myself the occasional stand and stretch) and the amount of yawning (mine) that accompanied my morning train journey into London did not bode well.  Pleasingly, when checking the route from Old Street tube station to the venue I realised it passed close to 8 Hoxton Square (the eastern outpost of the 10 Greek Street empire) and so took in some solid (and delicious) brunch there before events started – carb-loading is critical preparation for the serious comedy aficionado.  To avoid losing comedy value by having to leave the venue for subsequent nourishment, I had provided myself with a packed supper – which I thought might be a deeply shameful option but, as it transpired, I was far from the alone in my choice (and some of my fellow munchers seemed much trendier than I).

Each act was a preview of what its creator hopes will be wowing Edinburgh come August.  Each act was followed by a ten minute break for fluid transactions or room transfers and the whole thing was held together by an MC (or two, as they divided the day into two shifts) for each room.  Some people had rather more work to do in the next month than others (I think I now know who did their homework on the bus on the way into school), but all the shows were entertaining and provided plenty of scope for laughter.  Whilst I stayed awake in admirable style, the effect of quite so much comedy in such a short period of time is that I can remember even less of the content than usual (so no spoiler alert will be required).  I can remember that James Acaster was the highlight of my day – and I can remember thinking at the time that he is eminently quotable (but can no longer recall anything to quote) and a surprisingly skilled physical comedian. The title comes from Joel Dommett – a man less in touch with his emotions than I – who at one stage attempted to cry while reading a set of one-liners.  He came very close, he started to tear-up but then lost it.  Watching a man determined, desperate even, to cry and just failing is terribly amusing – the lad may wish to embrace his failure as I suspect it may work better comically than success.

I can also recall, for more traumatic reasons, that the final act was Simon Munnery.  Before he started, I found myself suffused with nostalgia as I recalled listening to him on the radio as Alan Parker, Urban Warrior or The League Against Tedium when I was but a lad.  As a result, it came as a terrible shock when, during his act, it was revealed that he is younger than me: not by much, but enough to take the wind out of a chap’s sails, I can tell you.  At least I could comfort myself with the knowledge that the years have been rather kinder to me than to Mr M (in terms of third-party visual amenity, at least).

However, that is all by-the-by, the primary purpose of this post is for me to introduce another one of my cunning business proposals.  Yes, I am once again treating you, dear readers, as a veritable den of dragons and am seeking investment in my latest wheeze.   Here goes the pitch:

Given the expected (and realised) sauna-like conditions at the festival, I choose to wear shorts for the day.  I will admit that I felt somewhat underdressed walking around London in shorts and also upon returning to Southampton after dark.  When in Edinburgh itself, despite the heat of the venues I am usually forced to wear proper trousers both to cope with the Scottish summer and by the shame engendered by unnecessary display of the fleshy wrapping of my tibia and fibula to the kilt-clad natives.  It really isn’t practical to make the switch between shorts and trousers during the day given the absence of decent audience changing facilities at most comedy festivals.  A similar issue occurs when cycling to the concert hall or theatre on a sticky evening, I feel it inappropriate to wear shorts and so instead inflict my perspiration-soaked body on the rest of the audience.  Surely there must be a solution, thought I.

Well, I am sufficient worldly to know that male strippers have trousers which can be removed at speed and without troubling their shoes.  Something along this line would be ideal for the festival or concert goer – assuming they were as easy to put on (a part of the process rarely vouchsafed to the public) as to seductively remove.  Investigating the existing options this morning, I found that the leg coverings on offer were of a very inferior quality – and I don’t feel would pass muster in either concert hall or city street.  They were obviously aimed at the novelty market, not at the serious homme d’affaires.  There is clearly an opening for a sturdier, more formal trew (or better yet, a pair of them) that can be added or removed from a gentlemen’s ensemble with the minimum of fuss and bother.  These should be relatively generously cut above the knee – to avoid painful bunching of the shorts – but taper to the ankle to avoid conflict with a bicycle chain.  I’m thinking the range should include a chino, a dark formal (perhaps even black-tie friendly) and some denim based options.  Accoutred in such style, a chap can be comfortable in both the hottest of venues and the most formal of occasions without requiring access to a changing room or telephone box.  He would also be ready, at a moment’s notice, to provide any potential admirer of his unexpectedly hench physique with quite the performance – and any resulting tips thrust (demurely, I trust) into his waistband would help defray the day’s other, unavoidable expenses.  Trousers that pay for themselves!  Who could resist?

If this idea generates the level of interest I anticipate, the next stage would be to cost the product and get a Kickstarter (or similar) going and watch the money roll in.  I look forward to the day when an omi’s strides can keep his lallies at a bona temperature throughout the day.  Ooh, ain’t he bold?

Navigating the Fringe

According to the Guardian, the broadsheets have largely abandoned reviewing productions on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and folk are having to turn to other less traditional sources for information (though I don’t think they were directly suggesting GofaDM).  This came as news to me (which I guess fulfils their remit as a soi disant newspaper) given the tendency of these same broadsheets to give very good reviews to things I want to see, thus making them either very crowded or sell-out in advance of my intended visit.  Or perhaps this is just further evidence of my deep connection with the current zeitgeist and I should soon expect a lucrative writing gig with one of the aforementioned broadsheets.

I am far too lazy, and frankly lack the skill, to offer readers detailed and star-based reviews of the shows I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.  Instead, I shall offer you my recommendations of the best shows I have seen to-date.  Why is he inflecting his irrelevant opinions on us again, mummy?  Well, at least one person asked for it (though not, I will admit in blog form) and so now you will all suffer!  So, please blame him or her: as so often it is always one person who spoils it for the rest.

Before I proceed, I should remind everyone that comedy (as so much in life) is a rather subjective experience and so just because I enjoyed something, there is no guarantee that anyone else will (though I would note that other people were at least laughing and giving the appearance of having fun at all of the gigs I am about to mention – however, this may have been the result of peer-pressure or the use of mind-altering substances, like cheese).

In roughly the chronological order in which I saw the shows, the following receive the GofaDM imprimatur of quality.

Nick Dowdy: never has going to a hardware shop in Crouch End been so much fun (or so disturbing).

Josh Howie: some have said he under-sells his punchlines, but this was great fun for those who remember the 80s.  I also learnt how useful a pregnant woman can be, as I sat near one and she (and by extension, yours truly) was cooled by the only fan at the gig.  Could the gravid hire themselves out to over-heated Fringe-goers as a way of defraying the high costs of bringing up a child?

Nish Kumar: how could I resist a fellow insomniac with a “statement” nose.  Sadly, I had tried even his most outré aid to sleep – and, for me at least – it doesn’t really work (though I had never tried mixing the two elements).

John Robins: even better than last year’s show (which was a tough act to follow) and somehow quintessential Robins.  Incidentally, I would thoroughly recommend his show on XFM with his radio wife – Elis James.  I listen via the podcast as it neatly avoids the adverts which otherwise make commercial radio anathema to me.

Stuart Goldsmith: a show for which I had seen an early preview – which was itself very good.  The final show had changed enormously and was even better – and for those that listen to comcompod covered all the key elements of “Goldsmith”.

Wittank: by some distance the silliest show I have seen this year and also uproariously funny.  I do feel that anyone who doesn’t laugh at this must be at least somewhat dead inside.

Tim Key: I can never explain why he is funny, but even in the cavernous surroundings of the Pleasance Grand he still made me laugh.

More recommendations may follow, as an unusual proportion of my first week was spent at the “proper” Festival, pretending to be a serious adult, and so attendance at more comedy gigs will be scheduled in the week ahead.  You have been warned!

All of the other shows I’ve seen have been perfectly decent with many a laugh, but didn’t achieve the consistently high standards of those listed above, so I’d thoroughly recommend taking a punt on a show on the basis of an even sketchier recommendation than mine.  This is especially true on the Free Fringe which seems to improve in standard every year and where you can also, in a very modest way, feel like you are sticking it to “the man”.  It also one of the few times when you can feel a moral obligation to partake in a pint of beer.  When I bring my middle-aged, gymnast comedy show to the Fringe to mark my fiftieth sidereal year on this rocky outcrop, I’m wondering if I can stage it in a fromagerie  – with the venue costs being covered by purchases of cheese by my audience.  I will, of course, need to find a cheese shop with nice, high ceilings – but, frankly, that is the least of the issues involved in preparing my “show” as the comedy stylings of this blog will have made clear to regular readers.  I may be presenting the first Fringe show which requires its own York Notes or (alternatively) to insist that the audience pre-qualify (perhaps by means of an NVQ) for attendance to ensure that they will at least understand my faltering attempts at humour.  Twenty-three months and counting to EdFringe 2016, so given my usual rate of progress I better get my skates on (and invent a time machine).


I am now well into week 2 of this year’s Edinburgh festivals experience, so my body is probably running low on green vegetable-based goodness by now and the city’s cobbled streets have played their traditional havoc with my feet and ankles.  It is also probably time to mention my comedy experiences at the 2013 Fringe.

I should perhaps make clear that I have “views” on comedy – though as with most of my views, these are really rather mutable as I am not terrible good at sustaining dogma in any area of my life (I’d make a very poor fundamentalist).  I think that comedy, like jazz, is best served live in an intimate (even sweaty) venue – it really doesn’t work in a stadium (or even large theatre) and loses something when televised (though survives the transition to radio quite well).  As a result, I tend to stop seeing comedians when they become overly successful and start playing larger spaces, but this has the positive benefit that I do keep having to seek out fresh (to me at least) talent.

The seeking out of novelty does lead me to believe (wholly unrealistically) that I “discovered” some people and I am then quite inappropriately proud when they go onto greater things or critical acclaim.  On the plus side (for the performer at least), I do feel a responsibility to support their career until they become too successful (see above) and I can feel that my work is done.

I first saw Bo Burnham as a rather brief talking head on a BBC4 documentary on musical comedy (two things very close to my heart) and was forced to use a well-known search engine (you know, the one that encourages you to stare) to find out who he was.   Back in 2010, I booked his show on the basis of this rather limited knowledge and it totally blew me (and the critics) away – it was incredible dense with ideas and jokes.  I have been somewhat obsessed by this show (and his recorded output) ever since and was properly excited by his return to Edinburgh this year.  Despite him playing (and filling) an undesirably large venue, I went and he really didn’t disappoint – I should also mention that he is quite sickeningly young and American, so I was overcoming a lot of prejudices to love his show.

I’ve been following John Robins since he MC’d a gig in Cambridge several years ago.  I do worry about the lad as he remains resolutely unfamous (despite producing consistently funny shows) and he seems to play to small and less than full venues each year.  This year’s show was his best yet and I was really pleased to read some good reviews for it.  He deserves some success and I am going to make it my mission to ensure he gets it – though will admit I’m not quite sure how to make this happen.  A project for the long, dark winter evenings, perhaps.  Stuart Goldsmith is a similar project, but more about him in another post.

This has been a very good year for sketch comedy – both the Beta Males and Max and Ivan were largely new to me but excellent and Jigsaw were as stunning as I’ve come to expect.  For me, WitTank were this year’s top sketch act in an extremely silly but very funny show – I even got to take part, playing the triangle in a performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria (which I think we can all agree is a pivotal role).  Actually, I have been starring in rather a lot of shows this year – I think it may be down to the fact that I have reached the age where I am more worried about leg-room than embarrassment and so am not afraid to sit in the front row (though not as yet, with Mark Lawson).

Whilst mentioning sketch comedy, I would also thoroughly recommend Daniel Rigby’s Berk in Progress – which was a little rough around the edges (given its “in progress” status), but exceeding funny.  I shall carry the phrase “mind beard” with me for a while and will never be able to look at Hungarian dance in the same way again.

I’ve tended to avoid “character” comedy in the past, but after seeing a little of him as part of a larger bill earlier in the year I took a punt on Kieran Hodgson.  HIs show based around a fictional(?) flood of the Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough was very funny indeed and once again provided a part for yours truly, as the police inspector’s deputy.  It also marked one of three shows where there has been some form of osculatory action between myself and the comic – another theme of the 2013 Fringe which the broadsheets seem to have missed.  Michael Legge also planted a smacker on me  — though I think I may have been the first audience member willing to play along with the conceit.  I also had a significant role in John-Luke Roberts’ wildly silly and very funny Free Fringe show which involved my apple balancing skills (using only my head) – initially very poor, but then rather too good – and also a slightly uncomfortable (and plain weird) serenade.

I tend to avoid one-liner comics as they relentlessness tends to grate after about 20 minutes.  However, I have heard so much about how great Gary Bainbridge joke-writing is that I decided to risk his show and was not disappointed.  I lasted the whole hour with no difficulty – and could have taken more – and boy can that man write a joke.

In terms of more traditional stand-up, I can also really recommend Alex Horne who’s show has an extremely clever McGuffin and is very funny.  I would also recommend James Acaster, who’s show as very good and very interesting to me as I’d seem a very early incarnation as part of a live ComComPod.  It was funny then and it was fascinating to see how much more funny he’d managed to extract from what might seem rather unpromising ideas in the intervening months.  I’d also really recommend Liam Williams – I’d only seen a little of him before, but his full show is very good and rather original.  It also one of very few occasions where I have found that my knowledge of English Literature was slightly inadequate.

Two people I didn’t see in Edinburgh, but caught in London’s terribly hip Spitalfields (not quite sure how I was allowed in) and would heartily recommend are Tom Rosenthal and Romesh Ranganathan.  I was singularly pleased when I discovered that their shows were deservedly  well-reviewed.

Jonny and the Baptists and Mitch Benn provided some excellent music-based comedy.  Mitch also provided my most exciting moment of the Fringe so far.  At the gig, I found myself sitting next to Ian Rankin – not planned, I just sat-down and looked to me left and recognised the chap and after a few seconds worked out why.  Given the cramped nature of most Fringe venues I was literally (in all senses of the word) touching with him.  I found myself trying to be cool, whilst also trying to decide how much accidental frottage I could get away with – in the hope that even the tiniest iota of his writing talent might rub off on me.

In short, this Fringe has provided a whole range of opportunities (real and imagined) to improve my performing and blogging skills – while I have an immoderate amount of fun (and consume quite a lot of IPA).  I fear it may prove quite tricky returning to my real life next week…

Crushing the whimsy

Worry not, no small china ornaments were harmed in the making of this post.

It must have been some four summers ago – back in the days when we still had summers – that I first saw Stuart Goldsmith.  It was my first year attending the Cambridge Comedy Festival and he came as part of a triple bill of comics trying out their material for Edinburgh (so three shows of an hour each) and which cost a tenner in total (or it may only have been a fiver).    At the time, I know almost nothing about him – but as the marginal cost of his gig was basically zero I figured it was worth a punt (and let’s face it, he does have excellent choice in first names).  The gig nearly didn’t happen, as until 5 minutes before it was due to start I was the audience, but luckily followers of kanban arrived just-in-time to swell the audience to something slightly more respectable.  He was my big discovery from that year’s festival and definitely the best thing I saw – though, so far as I know, he has never returned to Cambridge in a professional capacity since.  As a result, I have had to take in his two later Edinburgh shows at source (i.e. Auld Reekie).  All three shows have been really entertaining and, somehow, just a bit different from the norm.

However, possibly his greatest contribution to the sum total of human knowledge and happiness has been the Comedian’s Comedian podcast (follow @comcompod) – something I found through following him on Twitter (the acceptable face of stalking).  This has a simple premise: each time Stuart interviews another comedian about how they entered the business and their “process” and this is then edited down to around an hour for the edification of the listening millions.  These interviews are endlessly fascinating and absorbing, even with interviewees I don’t expect to like (and sometimes would probably find deeply irritating if I met them in person).  Whilst I have no huge interest in stand-up as a career – way too many late nights and far too much driving for my taste (it would seriously interfere with my theatre-going for a start) and at my advanced age standing for a whole hour would be a stretch – people’s explanations of their creative process have been amazingly interesting and frequently very funny.  Many of the issues stand-ups face creating material are the same one’s I faced writing essays for the OU or even the more prosaic writing I do in the day job – and some of their solutions are rather novel and I shall certainly be trying some of them in the future.  I have learnt a surprising amount about the human condition, creativity and even how to be happy from this series of podcasts (and quite a bit about the delicate mental state of the host – and I thought I was a worrier).  However, no warranty (express or implied) is offered that these insights will lead to any improvement in the quality of GofaDM.

In early February a live comcompod was staged in a modest room above a pub in a relatively glitter-free part of London’s famous West End.  Upstairs (or downstairs) at a pub is, for my money, where comedy should be staged; it just isn’t right for a stadium or huge theatre, it needs to have a degree of intimacy (and probably a slight excess of human perspiration).  I’d also say live comedy is, like live music, way better than the televised kind and so would encourage people to go out and see it for themselves – it is usually pretty cheap: comcompod was a mere £6 for a very full two hours of fun.  In exchange for our poorly cephalopod, we not only had compering from Mr Goldsmith but a set from Rob Sandling (who I’d not seen before, but would again) and one of new material from James Acaster before he was interviewed for the second half.  This was one of the best comedy gigs I’ve been to, with a lovely crowd – mostly listeners to the podcast (or those they’d dragged along for moral support) – and I shall certainly try and make any subsequent live performances.  It was a real great and novel way of consuming comedy.

It was James Acaster, in this interview, who provided the title for this post when describing how he writes new material.  As a phrase it was just too good not to use – and it could easily become the new strapline for GofaDM.


For those of a certain vintage, tradition becomes increasingly important – if only as a bulwark against the ever-increasing rate of change.  I also find that I start to develop a growing number of traditions of my own – and the last couple of days has scored quite highly in the I-Spy Book of Fish Traditions (a book with a rather limited potential market I’ll admit – but that’s the joy of e-publishing, or so I’m told).

On Thursday I made my annual August pilgrimage to Edinburgh and, as is my wont, spent most of the journey stuffing my face with the nourishing largesse provide by East Coast to its first class passengers.  Unusually, my journey was routed via Kings Cross – as this offered the cheapest Advance fare at the time of booking (I may be first class, but I am still cheap and do manage to consume most of my fare in free food and drink, further boosting its value for money credentials) – so I was able to check out the newly revamped station.  This is a significant improvement on the old rather tatty concourse, and has even gained a platform – though those travelling with an owl will be disappointed to learn that it is numbered 0 (zero) rather than 9.75.  As part of the revamp, there has been a major boost to increase standards of customer care, evidenced by the announcements advising us to take care as we wandered around the terminal because of the “inclement weather”; this on one of this year’s all-too-rare warm, dry and sunny mornings.  If only other sections of our rail network aspired to – and better still delivered – such high standards.

Auld Reekie was bathed in glorious sunshine and in my first 24 hours in the city I managed to cover pretty much all of the traditional activities I have accreted over the last few years.

  • Seriously good classical music: Tick.  The Arcangelo consort and Iestyn Davies doing the honours at Greyfriars Kirk (no relation to James T, so far as I know).
  • Quirky comedy: double Tick.  Both Matthew Crosby and Stuart Goldsmith were huge fun.  I’m always puzzled where Mr G is not better known: I caught him as part of a triple bill of folk trying out their Edinburgh acts in Cambridge a few years ago (3 for £5) and discovered he was brilliant.  Yet another example of why it is important to try things you don;t yet know you like.  Push that envelope!  Lick that stamp!
  • Serious cake: Tick.  The Falko konditorei in Bruntsfield does provide some serious cake (or more accurately torte) action for the true connoisseur – and the hike across the Meadows from the Pleasance does significantly ameliorate any feelings of guilt that might otherwise be involved.
  • Bonsai: Tick.  On my first ever visit to the Fringe, I needed to find a decent eatery near the Pleasance – and the miracle of the interweb brought me to Bonsai.  This could be the best bit of browsing I’ve ever done as it is now my regular haunt whenever I’m in Edinburgh.  Japanese food is genuinely fast and sustaining, and so I can grab a quick “course” between gigs.  I have been known to visit five times in a single day – so often have I been, that the staff recognise me even though I’m only a customer for a single week each year.

The second 24 hours was pretty good too.  I can add Michael Legge and Lloyd Langford to my comedy recommendations – though I’d see the former sooner rather than later, as I’m not sure his heart will hold out much longer.  My plan to try and do a little bit less is working nicely – though doesn’t seem to be generating much in the way of earlier nights yet.  Yesterday, it meant that I escaped from the rather limited (for which read, non-existent) cask ale offerings at the Fringe venues to visit the Regency splendour of the Cafe Royal.  Not a cafe, but a very fine pub which provided your truly with a brace of pints of Deuchars IPA at a significantly lower price than the nitro-kegged horrors on offer at the Assembly Rooms (though still at a price level that shocks those who fondly remember Joey Holt’s at 99p/pint in the Bluebell in Moston).  My visit also scored me another minor celebrity spotting to add to my list: the long-haired TV archeologist Neil Oliver.

Yesterday also yielded another traditional (and for the reader, tedious) trope with news reaching me of the official opinion on my latest OU essay.  It once again yielded 95 of your English marks (somehow I can never quite make it to 96): given the amount of blowing this particular trumpet is receiving at my hands, my embrasure must be coming along nicely.

Today I shall be breaking new ground, with my first visit to the theatre in Scotland – but first, back to tradition: the full Scottish breakfast.  So for the next hour or so, black pudding, bacon and sausages will be deemed to be vegetables (mostly).

German trinity anxiety

Or perhaps it should be Magyar rather than German?  Either way, this post is all about three Hun dread.  Yes, GofaDM has reached its third century – though it probably feels longer.

I had considered a video post, with the author stripped to the waist and oiled for battle to generate a worldwide outbreak of swooning at his chiselled torso (though I should warn you that my woodworking skills are almost non-existent: it was a great relief to both my woodwork teacher and me when I was able to quietly drop the subject).  However, on further, immature consideration I decided against this plan: whilst the internet would no doubt furnish an audience for such a spectacle, I think there is already quite enough material in rather dubious taste available to the surfer without any augmentation at my hands.  I also remembered that the eponymous apple probably represents my closest approach to the concept of Spartan.  It is also worth noting that rather more than 300 souls faced the King of Kings at Thermopylae: what with the allied Thebans and Thespians (yes, apparently the Spartans had their own version of ENSA) and the helots (who had little choice in the matter).  Leonidas and his followers may not have survived the battle, but I’m sure he’d be thrilled to know that he has now been immortalised in Belgian chocolate.

Still, few would have thought, way back in the more innocent days of 2010, that I had quite so much foolishness in me – or quite so much commitment to the project.  Nor that it would escape the censure of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for so long.

I had thought that my rather ordinary life would soon stop yielding new material: but apparently not.  It does so help to set the bar low in life, unless one is attempting limbo.  Despite the volume of material now produced, I fear I am little closer to a viable stand-up act, sitcom or side-splitting panel show concept.  I wonder if I may be spending too much time preparing weak jokes that require a detailed knowledge of the works of both Olivier Messaien and Douglas Adams?  The audience for which can probably be counted on the fingers of a very clumsy threshing machine operator.

Oh well, if I fire enough arrows one may eventually hit a target: or at least identify a suitable burial site for my writing career (I am from Nottingham, after all).  Until, then the punishment (and those first three letters were fully intended) will continue until morale improves.