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, 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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Modern Life Is Goodish Day, Everyone



Series 5 starts tonight. 10pm. On Dave. 
And there'll be a new episode every Tuesday for 8 weeks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Series 5 Starts Next Week...



And look... we only went and got the brilliant Cassetteboy to make us a trail...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Hello. Long time, no see.

I thought it was worth posting something here because I had dozens of people getting in touch with me yesterday about the same thing - largely on Twitter - and I didn't find the limits of Twitter very helpful as a way of responding...

It started when the announcement was made for the "Funniest Joke Of The Fringe" award.

The award is sponsored by the TV channel, Dave and the joke that, scooped the top prize - because as we all know, scooping is how top prizes are won - was as follows:

"I'm not a fan of the new pound coin, but then I hate all change" and it's attributed to a comic called Ken Cheng.

A lot of people were immediately scathing about the selection - with the comedy website Chortle writing,
"The choice is likely to inflame accusations of unoriginality for a gag that has done the rounds on Twitter. Cheng himself tweeted it as long ago as March 21, 2014, when news of the design first broke, but he was still beaten to it by many people."

I doubt there is anyone attending the Fringe who really thinks that is the funniest thing being said on a stage throughout the thousands of comedy shows being performed at the world's largest arts festival. What's more, I'd lay good money that it's nowhere near the funniest joke in Ken Cheng's show either.

Stand up is a more nuanced art form than that. You almost certainly can't extract the words that lead up to the biggest laugh in any given show, type them up and present them as a one-liner that will work well on the page.

I think that's true, even for those comics whose stock in trade is one-liners. Even then, the jokes aren't discrete units of comedy that can be assembled in any order, each standing or falling purely on its own merits. There's always more going on than that.

And it seems unfair for people to pick on Ken Cheng for telling the joke when we're unaware of the context in which he tells it.  Ken Cheng is a relative newcomer, but at least two of the other jokes in the top ten list - both told by very experienced (and brilliant) comics - are every bit as old as that one, if not older. (One of them was even in my original set when I was starting out at 19, but I soon dropped it when I realised it was a thought that had been had by hundreds of people before me.)

The truth is of course that the short list of "best jokes" aren't the best jokes at all. Not at the fringe and not even in the shows from which they've been culled. If you compiled a list of the things-that-made-people-laugh-the-longest-and-loudest-at-the-fringe-this-year it wouldn't make any sense in print and would have to be book ended with countless but-it's-the-way-she-tells-it and you-had-to-be-there and but-of-course-it-won't-make-sense-because-you-didn't-see-the-first-fifteen-minutes-where-he-set-up-this-idea codicils. So instead you get a list of these-are-the-only-things-we-could-extract-that-are-understandable-as-jokes-in-isolation-when-put-in-print-but-it's-destined-to-get-a-lot-of-coverage-and-that-works-well-for-all-concerned-okay?

At this stage, you might be thinking there's no reason why I ought to feel compelled to offer an opinion either way. But it gets more complicated (for me) because a version of the winning joke had been in one my TV shows. The shows that are broadcast by Dave. The channel that gave Ken the prize.

It was in Series 2, episode 8 as it goes.  We're currently working on Series 5 - so it's more than 3 years old. But by sheer coincidence it happened to be the episode that was repeated last night... on the same day as the announcement.

Now this raises the obvious question: why were you telling a joke in your show if you know it's unoriginal and don't think it's very good?

Good question. I'll explain.

Here's the thing. In that episode there was a found poem about the new one pound coin. I road test all the material. That found poem always went over well. Found poems basically work best when the people writing the below-the-lines comments are pompous. It's an exercise in pointing out how seriously they take themselves by taking them even more seriously in jest. So people expressing outrage and upset about a topic that ought to generate none are perfect.

And I like it best when the end results contains comments both for and against because it helps underline that none of the opinions are mine. (You'd be amazed at how many times people write to express their upset at something I said in a found poem believing it to be my heartfelt opinion).

But in setting the poem up, I often need to give a precis of the topic. I need to explain why people might be for or against. I need to provide that tiny bit of context that will make people understand where these things have been found.

In this case I needed to express the idea that some people were upset about the new pound coin because they don't like it when things change in life. And the simplest expression of that thought is simply, "of course some people are upset about the new pound coin because they fear change."

Like I say, before we get to the recording of the show, I run it in over several live shows to try and find the best way through the material. And this simple thought - necessary to make the found poem work - was something of a road block. There basically wasn't a way of saying it that didn't lead to some form of negative judgement.

If you say it in a straightforward way, without a pause before the word 'because' then some people  still hear the joke and some of your audience think you've told a bad joke badly. If you put the pause in and acknowledge that it's a joke the whole audience thinks you've told a not-very-original-joke. If you rephrase it and say, "of course some people don't like it because they don't like it when things are different" some people think, "why are you going round the houses?" and other people think, "oh, you've missed a joke there, you should have said, 'some people fear change'..." and so on and so on.

Basically the joke is so obvious that some of the audience will think of it whether or not it is spoken aloud. And so even its absence casts a shadow over proceedings. And yet the singular meaning - that some people don't like things changing - needs to be expressed to make the next section work.

Our solution was to acknowledge the sentence for what it was. And so the show started with a warning that later on I would be telling an accidental, but unavoidable joke involving the words 'fear change', that I shouldn't be judged for it etc etc... and then, 20 or 30 minutes later, when it came in to play, I'd be able to play with the audience's reaction, whatever it happened to be.

But of course I don't expect everyone to have a 100% recollection of the show and the way in which every word was said. And so a lot of people who had seen the show had a vague recollection that I'd once said something about the new pound coin and the fear of change and then they read the story about the prize and suddenly I was receiving dozens of tweets from nice people saying things like this...


and also this...

And plenty of others like it.

At which point the 140 character limit makes it tricky to explain.  Because what I want to say is, "yes you heard something similar on my show, but you've forgotten the fact that I was sort of disowning it because it's not my joke it's one of those jokes that everyone thought of but I had a good reason for saying it, but at the same time please don't think I'm being really judgemental about the person who won the prize because I don't know the context in which it sits in his show but I do know that every joke in the list has been taken out of context in some way but people are happy to receive positive PR during a very competitive festival so let's not rain on his parade."

In acknowledging that the joke had appeared in the show, some people thought I was claiming it as mine and wanted to tell me that it was a shit joke I shouldn't be proud of. In explaining that I knew the joke was unoriginal and had been in the show in that context, I appeared to be critical of Ken Cheng. Which I don't think is fair either. Good luck to him.

Also: it's only a bloody joke.

By the way, if you want to watch the show, it's on UKTV Play as are the 28 other episodes from series 1 to 4.



Friday, March 3, 2017

A Yahoo Spokesperson Speaks

If you're not sure what this is about, it's probably worth reading yesterday's blogpost... and possibly the long post before that one...

But here's Yahoo's response. I've screen grabbed it from the email so that I make sure I maintain the context.



It doesn't specifically answer any of the questions I raised yesterday but, at face value, it looks like exactly the right thing to say. They agree that these ads shouldn't be there. And they're telling us that they do take steps to stop it. Regularly.

It's just a shame that those steps don't seem to, y'know, actually succeed in stopping them...

Let me give you an example. On February 9th, I sent an email to Michael Todd and Gavin Patterson at BT with a screen grab of this ad:

The business name for the ad has been squeezed on the page, but it was businesscasestudies. The title for the ad is How Bannatyne Got Rich and the tag line is Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets.

The ad was also being served on Yahoo's home page etc.

If someone clicked on the ad they were taken to a URL that starts: http://eurowatch.money/gb/duncanwh.php

I've removed some digits from the end of that URL so that it no longer works - I don't want to send anyone there - but here's a screen grab of the page it lands on.

If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you should be able to read the text.

Or you could not bother and just trust me that it is  transparently untrue.

You know the sort of thing. There's a secret system. It always beats the market. You can't lose. And anyone can use it.

And Duncan Bannatyne's found out about it. And one of his friend's has accidentally revealed it. The way you do. And now there have been loads of national TV and newspaper articles about it - you know, you've seen them! Haven't you?

No wonder the establishment is running scared that everyone will find out about it. I mean, it won't be long before everyone's a millionaire.

Anyway... the important detail is that BT knew about this ad on February 9th.

On March 1st I sent Michael and Gavin another email. And this time I also included Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo). The email included a screen grab of this ad that was on Yahoo's home page that day.
That's an ad from businesscasestudies for How Bannatyne Got Rich with the tag line: Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets. The URL it pointed to started with http://eurowatch.money/gb/duncanwh.php

That's the same ad. With the same wording. Using the same company name. And pointing to the same website.

I also emailed them on March 2nd. Because it was still showing up that day.

I emailed them again this morning. Because it's still showing up today. Same picture. Same words. Same ad.

But it's okay, because we have their statement. So we know that they regularly take action to block ads in violation of their policies, as well as bad actors who work to circumvent their human and automated controls.

It's just that they haven't done so on this advertiser in the 22 days since they first became aware of them.

That's 22 days in which this deceptive and misleading ad appears to have been accepted by Yahoo. But let's not be misled by that evidence of fact. Their statement is more important than the facts before my eyes. The statement makes it perfectly clear: ads like this are unacceptable. It's just that it is, as I type, still accepted.

So that's that sorted.