The Stand

Can’t quite believe that I’ve been in Edinburgh for three weeks, and that ‘…Have No Shame’ is now in its final stretch. Loved (almost) every second of it, too. But more about that another day.

I’ve tried to see a fair few shows while up here – it’s far too easy to focus obsessively on your own show, and all but ignore the massive international arts festival happening all around you, but I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s sad to look back at the festival once it’s over and realise you didn’t take advantage of it.

One thing I’ve noticed this year is that almost all of the best non-free shows I’ve seen have been miles from the old town hub of Assembly, Pleasance Dome, Gilded Balloon and Udderbelly. The highlights – almost without exception – have taken place at the Stand.

The politics, and the commercial administration, of the festival’s comedy is, happily, no great concern of mine. Say what you like about the Free Fringe, it is utterly isolated from all of that nonsense. But I don’t think I like this development. Not least because performers and audiences appear to be taking sides, and looking down on those who disagree with them.

The consensus seems to be that you earn the right to appear at a club like the Stand, whereas you simply buy your way in to the big four venues. I’m in no position to judge. More to the point, I don’t want to care which organisation owns which performance space – I just want to see some good shows. It reminds me a little of the indie/major label snobbery back in the 90s, when fans would turn their backs on a band who moved from a small, cool indie to a major, and declare them sell-outs. What had started as a political stand by punk bands in the late 70s often felt, in the 90s, more like crabs in the bucket.

But there’s no arguing with the quality of the work in the Stand this year. Genuinely amazing shows – my highlights of the Fringe – have come from Paul Sinha, Phill Jupitus, Andy Zaltzman, Tony Law and Stewart Lee, all at the Stand. There’s a week left. See them all, if you can.

Sneaky quotes

Chatting last night to some comics in Edinburgh, and conversation turned – as it is obliged to do, according to ancient Scottish law – to the subject of reviews.

Not that we’ve had any yet, of course. The Fringe only formally began the day before yesterday. But we’re all discussing it nevertheless, fearing the worst while hoping for the best.

We all agreed that the chief value of a review lies in the quote – a snappy excerpt you can use the rest of the year round.

And we kept coming back to the idea of the ‘sneaky quote’. Using this disreputable method, a sentence like “His performance was adequate, and he seems competent enough – all he needs now is some genuinely brilliant material” is reduced to the phrase “genuinely brilliant material”. Much better, I’m sure you’ll agree. Clearer. More distinct. A blatant lie.

“She’s beautiful, talented and charming – in her own deluded mind.” I think you can guess what stays and what goes there.

Conversations like this are not fatalist, or unhappy, of course. These were all performers who deserve, and will doubtless get, all manner of critical praise.

This is about fending off a jinx – about warding off demons. It’s about making light of one of the many little things over which we have no control. Squashing a neurosis by laughing at it.

So, of course, I’d love a good, kind review or two. And I’ll need a Mars bar or six to recuperate from a bad one. But so long as it says something like “this idiot clearly imagines he’s a comic genius with the funniest show in Edinburgh…” – I’ll be absolutely fine.

A question of taste

This evening, I saw a show that was genuinely dreadful. Awful. Catastrophically, diabolically, overwhelmingly shit.

I sat in the audience, getting increasingly bored, frustrated and finally angry as the laziest comedy ever written unfolded before me, one wasting-my-life-just-by-being-here sketch after another. The writer-performers wouldn’t know a joke if it slapped them square in the balls. Which is precisely where they should be slapped.

The thing is – this was a well-reviewed, very successful show. And I seemed to be the only person in the room who disliked it this strongly. Sure, not everyone loved it. Chatting to them afterwards, some had a few criticisms: that it was a little lowbrow, perhaps a little amateur. But, still, you know, fun in its way. (It was not. It was horribly bad.)

Being alone in my contempt for the show has made me wonder – has this ever happened to me? So far as the performers were concerned, tonight went very well – full of loud laughter from beginning to end – but in the audience was one furious bloke, hating it all. Have I ever walked away from a successful gig and left behind an audience member fuming at my very existence?

I’m not sure. No one’s to everyone’s taste, of course, so even at a good gig there’ll be a few happy to see me say thank you and gooodnight, eager for the next act. That’s just indifference.

But I’d be very surprised if I’d prompted any outright loathing – if only because, to be as gob-smackingly crap as the show I saw tonight, you really need to put in some special, dedicated work.

These guys made a real effort.

Pictures of me

I’m a huge fan of doing things at the last minute.

I must be. It’s the only explanation for how I behave.

I spent this afternoon being photographed for August’s Edinburgh show, with my comedy partner Laura Carr. These images will be used for publicity – most importantly, the flyer we’ll be handing out all month to anyone who wants one, and hundreds of people who really don’t. Most performers get this sorted in March. We finally got it done a week before the printing deadline.

We got some nice shots, though. To look at them, you’d never know this was the hottest day of the year thus far, and the two of us were being slowly cooked beneath the studio lights. Well, you know now. But you wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t mentioned it. Probably. Hope that’s clear. Good.

Spent an hour this evening messing about with a lo-res preview of one of the images, trying to get an idea of how the flyer might turn out. It’s a rough draft – but I think even at this stage, you’ll agree that photographer Giada Garafolo’s done a fine job…

David Kelly Laura Carr Have No Shame comedy Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Don’t Talk 2 Strangers

Prince, 2011I’ve loved Prince’s music since I was a tiny little lad. I bought every album, tracked down every rare and elusive B-side, sought out his videos, live bootlegs and everything else I could find. And I relished every scrap of it.

I was hugely curious about the man, too, and it was frustrating that he was so shy of journalists, and had almost never consented to an interview. Sure, it added to his mystique, but that mystique only made me more curious…

In the mid-nineties, he decided that he would, after all, agree to be interviewed. Not often, and when it happened the writers rarely asked anything probing, but all the same – now I’d finally get to find out what Prince was actually like.

And I did. He was mental. He had a view of the world that was utterly his own, a mish-mash of spiritual dogma and social polemic that defied all logic and reason. He was witty, charming and self-deprecating, which I was pleased about, but he didn’t seem able to get through a single encounter with a journalist without saying something utterly ludicrous.

The man’s obviously a genius. One of a handful of all-time, unarguable greats. He’s demonstrated a capacity for reinvention and surprise like no other. And after some reflection, I came to the view that the eccentricity of his conversation, and the uniqueness of his music, came from the same place. They reflected one another.

Which means I can look at this article, published a few days back in the Guardian, and enjoy reading something as batty as:

Asked, for example, why he doesn’t appear to have aged, Prince embarks on a baroque explanation that takes in an illustration of celestial mechanics involving a candle (the sun) and a sugarcube (the Earth); DNA research; his late father’s Alzheimer’s disease; the reason he doesn’t celebrate his birthday (“If you look in the Bible there’s no birthdays”); the importance of study; God’s concept of time; and the Purple Rain tour. “Time is a mind construct,” he finally concludes, setting his candle and sugarcube aside. “It’s not real.”

Fantastic. Nutty as a fruitcake. Just how I like him. But then, a few paragraphs later:

Sometimes he seems a little too fond of boundaries. “It’s fun being in Islamic countries, to know there’s only one religion. There’s order. You wear a burqa. There’s no choice. People are happy with that.” But what about women who are unhappy about having to wearing burqas? “There are people who are unhappy with everything,” he says shruggingly. “There’s a dark side to everything.”

It’s just as eccentric, but much less endearing, and a lot harder to defend.

I guess it’s not important. In a week’s time, I’ll still head off to a farm in Kent to watch him perform – and he, for his part, will almost certainly be absolutely bloody marvelous. It’s his music that matters, after all.

And my true feelings?

If you made “Sign ‘O’ the Times”, you can say whatever the hell you like.

In the moment…

Morrissey at Glastonbury 2011While I watched the BBC’s fine coverage of Glastonbury this evening on iPlayer, Robin Ince tweeted this, direct from the muddy field:

Morrissey looks like he’d rather be anywhere else.

A short while later, as I was watching Moz’s band beat seven shades out of a once-fine Smiths song, I could see what he meant. Morrissey had, as is his way, cast himself as the downtrodden victim – in this case, of poor scheduling, as he felt certain the audience were all simply killing time waiting for U2, and had no interest in him. Had this been true, would they have been able to sing along word perfect to “There Is a Light…” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday”? Nope. But Morrissey had decided that he wasn’t wanted, and it showed in his performance. It wasn’t especially endearing.

As the broadcasts continued, Bono, by contrast, looked as if he couldn’t believe his luck to be playing at Glastonbury. Biffy Clyro, and Chase and Status, gave their sets all the energy they could muster. And Jimmy Cliff seemed to be having the time of his life.

I’m hardly a dedicated fan of any of them – certainly nothing compared to the devotion I’ve shown Morrissey over the years – but, to pick just one example, Jimmy Cliff’s joy in singing “I Can See Clearly Now” was more compelling than anything Moz had managed. And it was all, it seemed to me, in the attitude.

You don’t have to be a cheerleader, of course. Nor do you need to pledge your love to the audience every five minutes. But if you can’t convey to a crowd gathered to see you that right now, this moment, there’s nothing more important for you to do – that there’s nowhere you’d rather be – then why are you there? And why would you expect anyone to want to watch?

Something new…

A new material night tonight. A chance to develop some more stuff for the Edinburgh show (which starts in just six weeks! Six blink-and-you’ll-miss-them-why-didn’t-I-write this-stuff-in-February weeks! Why do I do this to myself?)

Anyway.

There is something especially daunting about performing untried material. You have no idea – despite your best efforts – if you are about to waste an audience’s time with stuff that seemed ingenious to you a few hours before, but is, in fact, cobblers.

What makes this worse is that, apparently, you can be a comedian for 20-odd years and still, when it comes to new material, despite all your experience, despite all your skills, you just never know – is this going to be shit?

But, like so much else in life, the higher the stakes, the greater the reward. I might end up looking like a fool. (In a bad way, you understand. The wrong kind of fool.) Or I’ll come away beaming, some good new material in my notebook, ready to be polished up into something I’ll still be telling in six months time. Few things make a comedian happier than that.

Wish me luck…

The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test book coverJust read Jon Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test, and I enjoyed it enormously. At its core is a quiz – not so very different from those ‘Are You a Real Man?’ articles you see in magazines – except this is more ‘Are You a Dangerous Nutter?’ Though, of course, it is more sensitively titled. It’s called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.

Twenty questions. That’s all. You don’t get to answer them yourselves, mind – a trained counselor interviews you, and marks you accordingly – 0 if a trait on the list doesn’t apply, 1 if you show mild signs, and 2 if you show strong signs. Score over 30 and you’re a psychopath. The end. No further discussion.

(In fact, the question of whether there really is no room for discussion is a major theme of the book. But all the same – score 30 and above, and you’ll probably never be allowed out again.)

Here they are:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

The thing is, a number of the traits on the list seem quite, well, everyday. I’ve definitely got a few of them – that I’d admit to – and maybe a few that I wouldn’t. No one, for instance, can fault me when it comes to criminal versatility.

And there are others which, while not defining my personality, do show up from time to time. I may not live my life with a grandiose estimation of self – far from it most of the time – but I am, nevertheless, a stand-up comedian. Draw your own conclusions there.

And doesn’t the skill of the comic rely, to some degree, on manipulativeness? Lying? Superficial charm? And I’m not even going to start on ‘lack of realistic long-term goals’…

I don’t think I’m a psychopath – I really don’t – I’ve always felt that my flaws fall into the neurotic, rather than psychotic, camp. But it was beginning to bother me. After all, I would imagine that most of the people in Broadmoor would argue that they were not psychopaths – even if they did eat those people. They were just peckish.

Which is why I’m very grateful to Martha Stout, from the Harvard Medical School, who about halfway through the book says this:

“If you’re beginning to feel worried that you may be a psychopath, if you recognise some of those traits in yourself, if you’re feeling a creeping anxiety about it, that means you are not one.”

Well thank God for that…

Blurbiage

You know, it occurs to me that, as people communicate more and more in status updates and tweets, there will be just as many positive effects as negative.

OK, sure, the novel might just keel over and die. And that’s a pity.

But on the plus side, we are going to become demons at blurb writing.

(I say ‘we’ – I tweet about once a month, and even then, I’m not entirely sure what I think I’m doing. But that’s another matter for another time and another place…)

I have been struggling to put together some brief, but fascinating, text to sell my next Edinburgh show. The Edinburgh Fringe programme insists on no more than 40 words – a couple of tweetsworth – and the Fringe website won’t let you write more than 100. It’s notoriously one of the trickiest things to get right, and many people find it slightly more daunting than writing the actual show itself. It’s a sod.

Here’s my rough draft of the website blurb. Would you come to see a show that described itself like this?

[NB – the show name is still to be finalised. This is just my current favourite…]

Laura Carr and David Kelly Have No Shame – FREE

You can eat healthier food, take up exercise, find love, fulfil your hidden potential and become the person you always dreamed you could be. Or you could see our show. The effect will be the same. Stand-up comedy from ‘So You Think You’re Funny’ finalist Laura Carr, and renowned under-achiever David Kelly.

“Brimming with confidence – an energetic delivery that instantly appeals…” Chortle.

One of Scotland on Sunday’s ‘Top 10 Free Shows’ in 2009 and Scotsgay ‘Editor’s Choice’ in 2010.