29 September 2010

Having Stood Up


For a long time I had no desire to try stand-up comedy. Even working as an improviser and writing and performing sketch comedy for many years didn't change that. It's not that I didn't think about stand-up, I did - especially as people frequently assumed I was a stand-up comedian when I told them I did comedy. The general lack of being able to discern the differences betwixt the comedy disciplines used to annoy me. Not any more.

Last night I did my very first five-minute set, and the whole thing has turned around - now I'm feeling like it's somethng I want to do a whole lot more of.

There were 20 improvisers at The Miller on Tuesday, trying their hand at stand-up. For most of us, it was our first time. Everyone killed it - largely because the material was sharp and diverse. Acts ranged from dangerously manic to dangerously zombified, from medium-brow to morbidly scatological - you couldn't have programmed a greater variety. Compere Chris Mead did an admirable job keeping the event rolling, ensuring the crowd was noisy and appreciative throughout.

Of course his job was made that much easier by the fact that approximately half the audience was more-or-less terror stricken at the thought of taking the mic and facing down the audience, despite their apparent friendliness. It was a perfect venue, organized by Steve and Edgar of Hoopla.

Between last week's launch of Marbles, and this week's launch of my stand-up career, I've got a lot to thank Hoopla's Tuesday Night's for.

I wasn't nervous until about an hour before the show. And then I got all anxious and pacy. It was a bit strange to think about doing five minutes of stand-up, as I've got a bunch of performances of Roman Around, a kind of full-length stand-up-cum-history lesson, behind me. And yet, I was nervous. And excited.

And the years of performing improv and sketch. But still, stand-up was a distinctly different thrill. Same great taste, but a different kind of satisfaction once my brief few minutes were up. I covered such important topics as kittens, scarecrows, and bike theft, then it was done.

I understand why it's addictive - having a great set (as we all did last night) and you're keen to get another fix of audience laughter.

And presumably, when you've had a terribly show - walking on to frowny hostility, and leaving to stony silence - you're just that much keener to blast your comedy bolts at the next audience. Either way, once you walk off the stage you're just looking for another chance to get back on, grab the microphone and tell some comedy jokes.

For me, that time will be sooner rather than later.


28 September 2010

Reporting Edinburgh: Critics, Comics & Bloggers

I wrote an article for the European Journalism Centre on my Edinburgh Fringe experience, and more generally, the relationship between performers and critics.

“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” E.B. White

This summer I – like thousands of other brave extroverts – put myself at the mercy of the critics at the Edinburgh Fringe. My hour-long show, Roman Around: A Guided Tour of the Eternal City, was my first foray into the world of solo comedy.

The good news is that my audience grew progressively throughout my week-long run. As happy as I was with the experience as a whole, I was forced to hear not just the post-show comments (which are usually positive) but also read criticism (which can frequently be more, as the name suggests, critical).

There’s a performer’s maxim that states ‘never read your reviews’. This is to shield the player from upsets to the equanimity; if the reviews are bad, your confidence can crumble and put the whole show in jeopardy.

But conversely, if they’re good, you can get a distorted sense of your own self-worth. This summer I read reviews of my show and fell victim to both the highs and lows that reading reviews can engender.

To read the rest of the article, go here.


26 September 2010

Mirko's Diving Header


I was going to celebrate the start of the 2010 Serie A season a couple of weeks ago with a post about Roma's Montenegrin striker Mirko Vucinic. I didn't, because it turned out that he was injured. Then Roma's season started off in such an appalling fashion that I didn't want to write anything about it at all.

And then, in the 92nd minute of last night's game this happened:

Against arch-rivals, the league-leading and overwhelming favourites Inter. At the very end of extra time: one sublime pass, one perfectly timed run and flying leap to connect with that curling orb. In that next moment, everything changes. Mirko's goes Godzilla on the advertising hoardings, gets mobbed by his team mates and the whole year looks different.

This season, which had been threatening to become an aggrievement (especially considering the scandalous nature of Roma's last loss), is now looking full of promise.

Now, all of a sudden, it feels like anything is possible. It's a long season, but now I'm saying that without letting out a mournful sigh afterwards. Daje.

For another epic late matchwinner from Vucinic and some ballsy celebratory antics, check this out.


23 September 2010

Improv presents: Marbles

There is a brand new powerhouse-roundhouse of improvised comedy hijinks in London. It is made-up magic in between bouts of banter. Independently, we are Dave Waller and Ryan Millar, but together we are Marbles.

I first met Dave back in April, at a workshop given by Abandoman's Rob Broderick. Shortly afterwards I wrote that he and I "are now not far from doing a hip-hop/improv/stand-up show. Seeds have been planted, are sprouting."

On Tuesday evening we debuted that project. Marbles.

It involved much less hip-hop than I had predicted, but a whole lot of improvised scenes and banter and also, quite a lot of cupcakes.

We presented a forty minute show of scenes and bantered riffs. It was unpolished and new, but contained plenty of gems and potential. We mined some comedy seams of unchased dreams, jealousy and smells, among other things. Some in scenic form, some in improvised chatter. We felt good about the blend. It augured good things.

The second half of the show was Katy & Rach, a two-person improv show that was remarkably assured and polished. They were a perfect foil for our disheveled debut.

Thanks to Steve Roe of Hoopla for putting it on. Thanks to Katy & Rach for their hilarious and inspiring show. Hoopla does shows every Tuesday at The Miller. There's something new every week, check them out.

And also thanks to The Hummingbird Bakery for the cupcakes.


19 September 2010

We, Myself & I: Don't Sleep on Shad


Just came across the video for Shad's We, Myself & I on the Ugsmag website. It's awesome in at least five different ways.

Click through to watch, and then see if you don't bump it two or three times in a row. Then check his tour dates to see if he's coming to rock your town any time soon.


12 September 2010

Chatsworth's Creperie du Monde

Just a couple of days ago the newest footsoldier in the Chatsworth Road gentrification brigade opened: Creperie du Monde. As a hang out it gets five stars: the decor is an outstanding refit of the butcher shop that used to be there (I think). It's all exposed brick and industrial wood - everything has a patina.

They've foregone art on the walls in favour of artfully displayed empty frames. It's all effortless, functional and paying off: there was a diverse Sunday afternoon crowd, heavy on the young families. Unfortunately the success of the slick retro design aesthetic was let down by the mildly-inflated price point and politely stunned service.

Slow service is really to be expected in the early days - and at least it was friendly - so I'm going to give them a wait-and-see on that front. Yet we were not the only patrons surprised by the disorganization. Others seemed extremely put out by it, but we were won over by the earnestness of the girl behind the till. Anyway, once the growing pains pass, alert service should smooth out the frowns.

My real problem is price. While I wholeheartedly support your efforts to make Chatsworth Road a funky weekend destination, I think you could still provide a reasonably-priced cup of coffee? Not to niggle, but I will. Charging 2.25£ for an array of espresso-based beverages that I should cost 2£ (in my decidedly unglamourous neighbourhood well outside the centre of London) just seems unnecessary.

Besides, I'm a jobless recent gradute - I need a place to hang out and drink inexpensive coffee. Not that you could have known where I'd draw the line, but err on the side of caution. Anyway, the fact that you misspell cappuccino doesn't encourage me to overpay for your coffee.

My crepe was the Taste of Mexico - nice enough, with a generous portion of chicken breast, but the flavours didn't bring to mind pinatas and banditos. Might I suggest the addition of some jalapeƱos? Or perhaps the problem is my own: I generally prefer my French pancakes on the sugary side, so maybe I should have sampled one of the berry or nutella based versions. C'est ma faute.

Overall, Creperie du Monde is a comfy and tastefully-designed hangout in the Chatsworth area. Once the discombobulated service gets sorted it'll be worth the trip if you're crazy for crepes. And the cultural impact could be significant; I'm expecting it to become a reference point for gentrification-theorists - Venetia's and L'Epicerie started the regeneration wave, but the creperie was a formal statement of intent.

I just hope those theorists don't mind paying a little extra for their 'cappacinos'.


09 September 2010

The Job Hunter


Artie hit backspace. Twice. Then he pressed it again and held it down, watching the parade of letters recede. He glanced over to the front door of his studio flat. When his eyes jerked back to the screen in front of him. It was blank. The cursor blinked.

He began again. "Dear Prospective Employer," he typed. What next? Perhaps a pithy reference to the desirability of the available position? Or should he just launch into some subtle self-aggrandizement? He was never sure. He rubbed the sweat off his palms onto his t-shirt and clapped them together. He let them fall into his lap.

That morning's interview at The Workplace had not gone well. He didn't know for sure, but he didn't think he'd got the job. The tightness of the Executive Assistant's smile in reception, the tepidness of the glass of water she had fetched for him, even the zealous pumping of his hand by Ed, the heavyset Floor Manager who was looking for the Department Sales Representative - everything made him suspect there was something amiss. There was always something amiss.

Since he'd been let go from his post as Programme Supporter eight months earlier, he felt that he'd done little more than type up cover letters and search online job profiles and newspaper want ads. Occasionally, his efforts would be rewarded with an interview, and he'd head out in his one gray suit and see a different office in another part of the city.

Those further steps were never rewarded with gainful employment. But still, it felt good, those excursions. The early morning shower and coffee, the bus with groggy commuters. And then: the bright lights of an unfamiliar workplace; each interview was an approximation of an actual job. A teaser.

He wasn't especially prolific as an interviewee: his record was two in two days. But he knew that if he could string together five in a row, it would be like he had a job again. Just for that week - but who knew, maybe one of those interviews could lead to an actual job - it was bound to happen. If only someone was hiring for the position of 'Job Applicant'. Because if they were, he was pretty sure he was qualified.

Just then, the phone rang. He grabbed it off the coffee table.

"Hello, Artie speaking."

"Hi Artie," a professional-sounding female voice said, "I was wondering if you would be..."

Artie looked over at his suit, hanging by the front door, and knew he would be.


07 September 2010

I Have Been Roman Around

After the last six months of intense Roman Around, it has come to an end. By 'end' I mean 'hiatus'. One that's been a long time coming.

Especially considering that I've spent the last couple of weeks writing up the experience of writing, editing, promoting and performing the show. That piece of writing, called When I was Roman Around, served as the final project for my Professional Writing MA. It is now going through a belated proofread, and then I will figure out what to do with it.

And speaking of figuring things out, I'm planning on revamping Roman Around - making it fitter, faster and stronger, and finding places to tour it. Possible times include fall, winter, spring, and summer, and possible locations include the UK, Europe, Canada and anywhere else. Now booking.

At first I thought that once the summer was finished I would put Roman Around on a shelf somewhere and begin a new project. I thought that the end of the festivals would be the end of the show. That was wrong: all of the work I put into getting the show ready, and performing it, was actually preparatory work for the next stage.

Now I'm just trying to figure out a way to move it into the next stages. Elements may include: hiring a director; taking it to some fringe festivals in Canada next summer; doing a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe next summer; anything and everything else that can prolong, elaborate on, enrich, and fortify the experience.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and Roman Around wasn't built in a half year.


05 September 2010

F*ck Sh*t Stack - Reggie Watts


I just can't enough of Reggie Watt's catchy track and boss video for Fuck Shit Stack. If you were wondering, it's NSFW. Click through for the full tune.

Reggie Watts - "Fuck Shit Stack" from ben dickinson on Vimeo.

And I didn't get to see him either when he was here in London, or for either of his stopovers at Boom Chicago - where I could have had most of my favourite beatbox improvised comedy humans in one place at one time. Instead, I'll just keep on keepin' on with the Fuck Shit Stack for now.

Also thanks to another great beatboxer and hilarious human: Dave Morris, for posting this video for me.


02 September 2010

Pogo: Vegan Hackney

Image Credit

Chiara and I went out for a walk the other day, and ended up at the vegan cafe not too far from our place. It's a good thing we did, because it was awesome.

According to their website, Pogo Cafe "is an autonomous, non-hierarchical 100% vegan space run completely by volunteers." They also make a great veggie burger.

Go for the food, then stay and be part of subversive wholesome dreadlocked anarchy: the place is a locus for any alternative left-wing activities you might like: be it squatting abandoned buildings, watching political films, or even yoga.

After ordering we sat and enjoyed our new books from Pages of Hackney. It's good we had some reading material, because the service isn't very fast, but that's alright; it's the kind of place you could hang out for hours, indeed, it looked like a few of the people hanging out there did little else. I can respect that.

But it's not just reading books and the plentiful photocopied political literature; there was a Tarot Card reading going on next to us; over on the comfy couches there was an awful lot of diagramming and laughing; and a few tables over a couple were falling in love.

It's the kind of place where you can do whatever you want. As long as there's no meat involved.*

*Their punk rock burger comes with "bacon." It is my mission for my next visit.

After yoga.