31 July 2010

33 For Life


Apparently, Jesus died when he was 33. If that's true, then he sure packed a lot of everlasting fame and influence into those 33 years. Former President of the United States of America George W. Bush even named the guy as his 'favorite political philosopher'. Not bad at all for a sandal-wearing protohippy.

And ever since, turning 33 brings with it the uncomfortable realization that you are not Jesus. Not fame-wise, or impact-wise, anyway. Probably not in any other way either.

But you know what? I'm not gonna let that bother me, that's what Jesus wouldn't do too. But that's not why I'm rolling with the punches: I'm doing it because I'm not looking backwards. Not this birthday. I'm moving forward.

My other birthday posts have been about reflecting on my year and other years that have already happened. If I'm moving on from the past, it logically follows that I'd start looking at the present. However, I'm not going to do that.

Because at present things are only OK. I'm broke, I'm stressed, I'm nervous, and I'm confused.

But the good news is that I'm feeling pretty good about where I'm going. Short-term, I'm days away from my first Edinburgh Fringe. This means that I'll be performing Roman Around - my solo comedy show - at the epicentre of culture, comedy, and general creative radness.

Beyond that, in the long term... I don't really know. But I'm much too stressed and nervous and confused and excited about the next week to really concentrate on anything beyond that.

However, I'm going to go ahead and assume that it'll involve me getting paid regularly (and handsomely) for doing stuff that I don't hate doing, and thus being able to pay rent, bills, and more, laughing all the while about life's zany and pleasant unpredictability, as the future rushes past me all easy-breezy.

That seems like the way to think about it. So that's what I'm going to do.

Just like Jesus and Marty McFly, I'm going back to the future. I'll see you there.


29 July 2010

Next Up: Edinburgh Fringe


Last night was the fourth and final preview of Roman Around. It really drove home why we do previews: to test and strengthen our material. So that it's ready. And we're ready.

After last night, we're ready for Edinburgh.

The learning curve so far has been steep: I've been dealing with the nerves, figuring out which lines work, and which don't, where to stand, how to interact with the audience... everything really. In the process I've discovered that a live show is a living thing.

But I'm now starting to move on from the confusion and sleepless nights of being a new parent. I'm now less nervous when I interact with it, I know how to hold it. I'm almost at the next stage: the pride and joy of having a show that is walking on its own.

I hope extending this 'show as baby' metaphor is something that we're all enjoying.

Last night I was the first half of a double bill with Fat Kitten Improv at The Queen's Head pub. I performed for a crowd of about forty. That basically equals the audience totals for the first three shows combined. I realized that big audiences help. People (and performers) enjoy it when the echo of laughter is actually other people laughing, and not just your own laughs bouncing off the walls of an empty, darkened space.

Plus, I spent some time earlier this week adding in some new jokes. With the invaluable help and input of one Dave Waller of Cannonball Impro and Andrew and the Slides of Chaos. (We're also working on some two-man freestyle mid- and long-form stand-up/improv, but frankly, right now we're both too busy for too much of that).

But he helped me add in some new comedic bits, which I inserted into the show. They worked, these new punchlines, references, and actions. They also helped keep me on my toes, because I was trying to slide in those new bits in such a way that they didn't seem like new bits. it made the whole show seem fresh; a living thing will continually surprise you.

The crowd was responsive. And the applause afterwards was sustained. So, yeah, I'm now feeling good. However, in Edinburgh, when you're a first-timer, doing all your own promotions, performing in a noon slot, and only there for a week... well, I've heard big audiences can be hard to come by; I may yet experience the sensation of performing a show for one or two people.

But I'm not worrying about that right now. I'm focusing on the positive after last night. On Tuesday I leave for Edinburgh, and I'm keen to experience the Edinburgh Fringe for my very first time as performer and punter. That means meeting up with people (friends, strangers and friends-I-haven't-met-yet), seeing shows, doing workshops, and continuing to raise this child into an unpredictable and precocious youth.


26 July 2010

Trailer: Flunky

Flunky the Film.


20 July 2010

Sharpen Your Pencils, Artisanally!


Cartoonist David Rees is responsible for one of the most brilliant things ever: The web comic Get Your War On, brilliantly satirizing the gung-ho warmongering culture of the Bush years.

His My New Filing Technique is Unstoppable was likewise brilliant - using clip art graphics, bone-dry wit and absurdity to hilarify officeness.

He's now turned to something completely different - the "age-old art of manual pencil sharpening." It's elegantly simple: send David Rees a pencil, and in his workshop in upstate New York, he will sharpen it and send it back to you. All for just $12.50. Or send him $15.00 and he'll send you a brand-new hand-sharpened pencil.

Read that last line again: "Each pencil will get my closest attention." He's deadly serious about that. As he says in his Details interview: "The point is that I'm going to have an authentic, honest-to-God encounter with your pencil. I'm not going to be absentminded. I want to get these things fucking sharp as shit."

Oddly, some people think this might be a joke. Wrong. Every pencil Rees sharpens is shipped in a protective tube "with a signed and dated certificate authenticating that it is now a dangerous object." The package also includes the shavings because "the shavings are part of the pencil - and it's YOUR pencil."

I'm not sure I can afford that kind of pencil sharpening, but if you can, get on it, because this is the kind of offer that doesn't come along every day.


15 July 2010

A Live Show is a Living Thing


Live performance is something I've been doing for many years. Usually it takes one of two forms: either I am in a play, and have lines to learn and places to stand, which I then attempt to repeat night after night more or less exactly the same. This is called 'acting'.

Or I'm improvising, and every night is completely different: scenes, games and fantastical stories being made up on the spot using audience suggestions. There are different everythings happening all the time, so no two shows are alike, no two stories are similar.

I'm now in the process of delivering Roman Around, which is, for me, a whole new type of show. It relies on the skills that I've honed through acting and improvising, and yet it is an entirely different kind of thing.

I've done two 'previews' (shows of the 'work-in-progress' but with live audiences - mostly, but not entirely - consisting of friends and my wife).

The shows were very different - both in delivery and reception. There were similarities, as the show has a structure, but there were many deviations, changes and ad libs. Overall, the result was a contented audience. And a happy, if not entirely satisfied, performer.

I'm glad the audiences are enjoying it, but I'm also now realizing that all the rehearsal and preparation in advance of putting a show like this in front of the audience is really just work one must put in before putting in a whole bunch more work.

I'm developing a whole new respect for the craft of stand-up comedy, which seems to consist entirely of writing jokes, honing them in front of audiences until they're hilarious, then writing new jokes to go between the killer bits. Then honing them. And so on. Then shuffling and adjusting all of your material on the fly to suit your audience. It is a non-stop process of developing, building, cutting and shaping material. I'm getting a window in that world, and yet coming at it in an entirely different way.

I can understand why stand-ups start with a few minutes of material and then build up to more stage time. Not that Roman Around is actually stand-up comedy per se. But when I quit trying to hypothesize on the genre (solo storytelling? stand-up play?), it sure looks like stand-up comedy - me onstage for an hour, talking to the audience, acting out scenes and generally being funny, entertaining, and informative.

The thing is, before the first preview on Monday I had everything more or less ready to go: a whole hour of two interwoven narrative arcs, peppered with jokes and asides.

But when I got in front of an audience it was different. Some parts or lines I thought were funny, they didn't. Some things that I thought were only kinda funny, they laughed wildly at. I was surprised, but pleasantly so.

I even improvised some bits in and around some of the stories, because it seemed to be what the audience was looking for. I also added in some more acting bits for some of the stories, because it seemed to be what they (the audience and the stories) needed. And I think I got it mostly right. Because, at the end of the show, we were all happy.

After that show I figured I'd gotten it well and truly sorted out. I knew what the audience liked and what they didn't. I knew what to add and what I could subtract to bring it all together. Once I got over my initial shock at the unpredictability of the audience, I was comfortable - thanks to years of 'crowd-reading' at improv and theatrical hosting gigs.

And then, on Wednesday, I performed it again. For a different audience. This is where it got a little tricky. That audience also enjoyed it, but they didn't laugh as much, and when they did, it was not always at the same parts as the audience on Monday.

For example, I have what I would call a throwaway line in which I explain that, at a certain point in history, Jesus was dead, and "not Easter dead. Really dead."

In the writing of it, I thought that this line would be amusing. On Monday though, the audience could hardly contain their laughter. It started as a snicker, became a general roar of mirth, and then, when that subsided, even brought out a couple aftershocks of chuckles. I realized that I had written a bigger winner than I had first thought.

But on Wednesday, that line brought out a few giggles and nothing more. I carried on, but that moment only crystallized what I had been suspecting since I started the Wednesday show: I have a puzzle on my hands.

Actually, a puzzle is not the right analogy. The title of this post is.

This live show is a living thing. It is not something I've written that I recite in front of an audience. It is something created by me, that I perform to and with the audience. I had suspected that before, but now I know it, and know that the show will continue to change as every new audience comes in. Each show will be much different than the one before it, and the one afterwards.

The good news is that both audiences loved the show. I got lots of positive feedback - even from the audience members who were not my friends. The other good news is that I'm determined to tighten up the show, emphasizing the narrative drive and tuning the funny bits so that it delivers maximum thought-provoking mirth to maximally engage minds.

As the performing of it is something I do with the audience, I'll be listening to us both, and get clues from my paternal instinct, and the audience's laughter as to how to care for and nurture the show so that it continues to grow, as all living things need to do.

If you want to be part of the action, you can.


13 July 2010

World Cup Final: A Kick to the Heart


I was cheering for Holland in the World Cup final, but they sure didn't make it easy for me.

The match was not a great example of 'the beautiful game'. In fact, it was pretty savage. The Dutch players were fouling the shit out of the Spaniards (lucky to receive only nine yellow cards). The Spaniards were relatively foul-happy themselves. Getting five yellows themselves.

At first I thought it was just nerves, then I realized it was the Dutch gameplan to hack and chip and slide and foul in order to disrupt the Spanish 'tika-taka' passing game. As Dutch footballing legend/hero/icon Johan Cruyff said "Sadly, they played very dirty."

And none more so than Nigel 'The Heartkicker' de Jong. The Dutch defensive midfield pairing of Heartkicker and Mark 'Leadfeet' van Bommel spent the whole tournament disrupting build-up play with hard tackles. Fine. It's ugly. But it worked.

But only insofar as it was the sturdy foundation for the dangerous Dutch attacks. However, when the whole team adopted that style of play Holland, undervalued their potential and robbed themselves of one of their key attributes.

It's odd that the Oranje have been complaining about the refereeing. Admittedly it wasn't great - and Webb erroneously awarding the goal kick that led to the Spanish gamewinner is a fine example of a legitimate beef - but if the ref had been calling everything correctly the Dutch would've been down to nine men before halftime.

It's unfair to hang it all on the ref, because it wasn't just a few calls that were missed - that whole game was missed opportunities.

Holland, a talented team with one of the most creative midfields in the tournament, missed the chance to find out how they would've fared going head-to-head against Spain. Instead they chose to foul their way through football's biggest showcase.

Even worse, in losing in such an ugly fashion, they also forfeited the chance to hold their heads up high afterwards, knowing that they came and played their best.

Instead, they played their worst. And that's why they lost. With all due respect to Alonso, that's the real kick to the heart.

Spain played a slightly less ugly brand of football, and thus deserved to win, so congratulations to them.

Let me finish with a request to football worldwide and future World Cup participants: can we please resolve to play better finals, with less headbutting and heartkicking?


08 July 2010

World Cup: The Final Beckons


After an impressive display of 'sexypass keepaway fancy-footwork but no-finish', Spain switched gears. In the 73rd minute Carles 'the Lion' Puyol thundered in a terrifying header to lead his side to a 1-0 victory over a German team that had walked over most of their competition in this tournament.

Now it's straight on to the final: Holland vs Spain. Two teams who have never before won the World Cup. Which means there's going to be a brand new name on the trophy. That's exciting! Plus, both teams play exciting and creative football - so we should be in for 90 minutes of free-flowing football.

It's everything the discerning football fan could want. Unless of course you're from France, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Uruguay, North Korea, England or any other country that got knocked out of the tournament. But suck it up, losers and get ready for a very colourful Roja vs Oranje final.

It's the kind of story the neutral fan dreams of, full of talented well-managed teams and great storylines.

  • They have never before played each other competitively. (I know, how the fuck did that happen?)
  • It will be a showpiece of masterful attacking football. Total football.
  • Spain are sliiiight favourites. But a team has never captured the World Cup after losing the first game of the tournament.
  • Arguably the best performer at this world Cup has been an octopus
  • Each team is carrying a super-talented megastar who has been sucking like a shop-vac all tournament (Torres and van Persie, respectively)
The problem is that watching as a neutral supporter is never even remotely as exciting as throwing your support behind one of them. The problem is that both of these teams are so likable - they both play attractive football, neither has won the tournament before, and they both lack the douchiness of say, Uruguay, the hubris of Argentina, or the entitlement of England. One possible complaint could be the collapsible Arjen Robben; the skilled Dutch midfielder who crumples way too frequently. So I suppose the edge is in favour of Spain.

But, I'm sorry, Spain. Thanks to my Dutch history (a glorious year living in Amsterdam cultivating my love of oranges and stroopwaffels), I'll be hupping Holland all the way. If Robben goes down at the slightest provocation, I'll be screaming for a foul loud as anyone. Let the build-up build.


04 July 2010

I am Roman Around

When an Italian wants to wish you good luck they say: in bocca al lupo (which means 'In the mouth of the wolf')

To which you respond: crepe lupo! ('I hope he dies!')

I learned this charming and dramatic way of wishing someone bonne chance when I was living in Rome. Which I did for almost two years.

While there, I worked as a tour guide. It was an amazing job, involving lots of site-seeing and even more dramatic and perplexing history. I loved this job.

In fact, I liked it so much, I wrote a show about it. That show is called Roman Around: A Guided Tour of the Eternal City. And it's about to become available to the public for the very first time.

After years of performing and teaching improv, as well as hosting events and writing stuff like comedy sketches and plays and short films, (not to mention giving guided tours of Rome) this show is taking it all and putting it together into one package. Then putting it out there; an hour of me, telling stories, jokes and history - entertaining a live audience.

I am excited and nervous in equal measure. There's been a lot of time and money involved in putting this together. There has been an equal amount of loving contributions from friends: website, photos, illustrations, flyers, feedback - some wonderful people have rallied around. I feel loved and supported. Now it's officially time to deliver the goods.

Today is exactly one week before the first preview. And it's also exactly one month before it goes to Edinburgh for a week. To be part of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The point is: there is heaps of work, love and thought in this show. And it's fucking good. Come see it, or tell your friends to come see it. Join the Facebook Group. Convince your local theatre to hire me to perform it. Help me hand out flyers in Edinburgh. Make me dinner...

At the very least, wish me luck. The wolf is gonna die.


03 July 2010

World Cup Quarterfinals: Day 2


Holland won, and Ghana fell at the last hurdle yesterday. Today will be tough to match yesterday in terms of ecstasy and agony, but it shouldn't want for drama - particularly this afternoon.

Argentina and Germany are engaged in mind games and trash talk. The bitterness and lack of love is no surprise, since they came to blows four years ago, before Germany beat knocked them out in a penalty shoot-out.

I think I'm pulling for Germany - I like the free-flowing style of their young team. But Argentina, coached by crazy and crazy-good Maradona and built around Messi, the new Maradona, are a force of nature. Either way, it'll be a brilliant match.

In the evening it'll be Spain vs Spain. I mean, Spain will be playing against Paraguay, but really Spain are overwhelming favourites, and they just need to not fuck it up. That's not to say Paraguay are pushovers - they're not - but only that the expectation is for Spain to win. That's the kind of expectation that has caused teams (especially Spanish teams) to falter. But I expect the Euro title holders to advance comfortably (by a score of 2-0) and face a battered Germany or Argentina in the semis.

Let the drama unfold.


02 July 2010

World Cup Quarterfinals: Day 1


The action today kicks off with Brazil-Holland then Ghana and Uruguay. One match could be an epic battle of skill and class, the other the whole world will be watching.

I jest: of course people will be interested in Brazil-Netherlands: it could be a classic match. Brazil is awesome, they've won 5 World Cups: more than any other nation. And with Dunga coaching them, they've learned how to do it with a more workmanlike approach. There's still some flair players and exciting off and on-the-ball runs, but, who wants them to win? Not me.

I'll be cheering for the Dutch - the perennial bridesmaids. But I'll also be cheering for an action-packed thrilling match, which I think is what we'll get. It could be slower early on as each side seeks to impose themselves without giving up too much on the counterattack, but I think there should be a fast-paced second half.

But it's really Ghana-Uruguay that's the match to get excited about. And by that I mean it's really Ghana that we should all be excited about. Ghana: the first African team to make a world Cup Quarterfinals are this year's feel0-good story. Uruguay won the first world Cup, and are great and all that, but come on: first African World Cup, first African team in the quarterfinals? Who doesn't want to see them make it to the semis?

Exactly. Nobody.

It's almost quarterfinal-time. Go Holland. And, especially, go Ghana.


01 July 2010

Canada Day: London Edition


I'm on my way down to Trafalgar Square to celebrate some Canada Day at the redundantly titled 'Canada Day: It's a Canadian Affair' celebrations.

As Canada tries to shake off its tired image of being a bunch of beer-swilling hockey-loving hosers there will be hockey, beer and mounties there. But not only that: bison burgers, Cirque de Soleil and DJ Richie Hawtin will all add layers of complexity to the traditional beaver-loving image of the Canuck.

I've got a red shirt on, am jovially drunk, and am off to the party to tell jokes and hug strangers.

If you're not able to make it, you should at least read this very informative little article I wrote last Canada Day, about what other countries need to know about Canada.