Thursday, 13 January 2011

Comedy Vehicle

Most of my "real" friends have never heard of Stewart Lee. Or Comedy Vehicle. But my friends in the comedy scene look upon it with great reverence. And rightly so. When it was announced that the BBC had commissioned a second series, we couldn't contain our excitement. Well, we pretended we could so as not to embarrass ourselves by looking like excited girls in front of all the other "cool" comedy geeks, but we were all really wanted to whoop and dance with glee. And squeal a bit.

If you haven't seen it before, here is a great clip from the first series.

I was at a Soho pub waiting for my (then) iPhone hating friend - (oh it's all changed now since I wore him down and he finally got one. I shall forever cherish one of his texts to me: "I'm sorry I ever doubted you") -  when the news came through on Twitter that tickets were available. I immediately applied which was quite frustrating with a really crappy Internet connection and texted my friend Rob to do the same. A few days later, both of us had 4 tickets.


So on the Tuesday I had arranged to meet Rob, Richard and Sir Bob at the venue. It's a great little working men's club in Newington Green called The Mildmay Club. (Is that patronising? I think it may be. But it's not meant to be.) We met a good hour before the doors opened and I ended up only 6 from the front. There was a bit of a worry when Rob Sedgebeer explained that SRO Audiences often give out a large amount of priority tickets so I had almost assumed we wouldn't get in and had thought of seeing Mark Steel at the nearby Hen & Chickens.

But the doors opened. We were in. All the people who couldn't be bothered to get to a previous SRO recording on time had their special pink wristbands, but we, the true fans, had the scummy green ones. We were directed by a lovely and incredibly camp man to the bar with a free drink ticket each. Luckily we were so close to the front as the queue for the bar soon became enormous, but I got a bottle of cider and we grabbed a table. There was a TV set up in the bar which was showing a live feed from the main room so I presume that the people who couldn't get in had the option of watching it here.

The barmaid was very efficient at collecting empty bottles. She approached my bottle and I explained there was some in there and went to rescue it. She decided to help out by filling up my glass and pouring the rest of it all over my iPhone. That's a new method of customer service I hadn't seen before. Anyway no damage done, and the priority people were called in. Soon afterwards the green wristband scum people (us) were called in and again, we needn't have worried as 60 of us were allowed in. (We were numbers 7-10)

Well I'm not going to put any spoilers in here, but Stew came straight on to do 2 x hour long sets with a break in between. There was no warm up act which was quite an unusual move for TV comedy, and it did mean that the audience were a little quiet for the first 10 minutes or so. Topics included his grandad's obsession with crisps, commenting at length on Adrian Chiles and Russell Howard's efforts to raise money for charity, moving to the countryside, visible otters (including a 15 minute one way conversation with an estate agent about how the show was going), a rant against emigrants (massive prawns!), and Mock The Week.

Stew, as in the first series, used an off stage cameraman to directly address the TV audience at home, the assumption being that they were hating the show and having to explain any difficult material to them. This worked a treat on the first series and there was a point where the cameraman was shaking with suppressed laughter which has to be a good sign. No warm ups, no retakes, just a great 2 hours of comedy with none of the usual faffing that is often the case with TV recordings.

We went to a pub the other side of Newington Green afterwards to wind down and headed off home. Now Rob had never seen Stewart Lee before and is coming again tomorrow. I'm going to tweet that I have spare tickets and if you are free and have any sense you will come along too.


Bob and Richard couldn't make the Wednesday show, so I had two tickets to get rid of. I never thought it would be so hard to offer people free tickets to see Stew, but it was a bit of a trial. My brother was going to come but since his mobile phone stopped working it's been difficult to get hold of him, so eventually I managed to give my spare ticket to my friend Marco. he did tell me that he didn't "get" a lot of comedy so I was slightly worried as Stew isn't really an "entry level" comedian. I needn't have worried though because within 10 minutes of the show I was worried that at any moment he would accidentally spit a mouthful of beer over the person in front of him. (Incidentally I ended up sitting behind Sideshow Bob which I found rather typical and irritating.

So I got there again with plenty time to spare and was again right at the front of the queue. I had decided to wear my Richard Herring "Virgilio Anderson" t-shirt as some sort of subversive act. Marco and Rob joined me and we got into the bar rather quickly. Now, as I said, they have a TV set up in the bar so that anyone who can't get into the live recording has the option of watching it, but they had set out the seats in rows already which, bearing in mind how packed the bar was yesterday seemed like a mistake. However the bar seemed much quieter which was weird. However within 15 minutes it was heaving. They had been letting people into the venue much slower this time which certainly helped the congestion at the bar.

We got seats in the third row; the same row as yesterday, but this time towards the left and much more face on to where Stew was standing. This time, the camera he would address the viewer was stage front rather that stage left which was just in front of where we were sitting. The first part of the first set was a routine we saw yesterday about moving to the countryside, and this time his imaginary conversation with the estate agent took a rather different direction. Next was a discussion about how comedy today is different to comedy in the '80s: "In the '80s all the comedians hated the Tories, now they hate their electrical appliances", as well as a great routine about Al Qaeda, and how he finds them rude  - "I can't bear them."

This set was enlivened by 3 walkouts. Now I've since seen it reported on Twitter that people had stormed out, but in reality I think they were simply desperate for a wee. Stew however had a lot of fun with this with a very bemused response about having never, in all his days, seen people walk out of a TV recording. One was bad enough, but by the time the third guy tried to sneak out in a rather optimistic hunched way, the audience erupted with laughter. Stew later told us that he would try to include this in the final edit, as it would make a change form the usual Live At The Apollo cutaways where you see Lulu pissing herself! He finished this set with a song I wrote about in my last Stew blog about hack lines used by lazy comedians.

The interval came and went. Rather uneventful. Nothing to report.

The first half of the second set was his long story about his grandad and his love of crisps again. Stew seemed distracted and we could see the odd smile and smirk on his face. He stopped the routine for a few minutes and picked up an empty bag of crisps from the front row of the audience and said he had to move it as whenever he saw it he had to stop himself laughing. The end of the night saw a long story about how he thought he was friends with David Cameron when he was a student and how he organised pop groups for parties held by himself and other Bullingdon club members. This was a lower key set with fewer laughs and more poignancy but when they did come it was really worth the wait.

In fact you need patience when you see Stewart Lee. He delights in his silences, and pauses far longer than any "normal" comedian. This of course, as well as the anticipation of the punchline is often funnier than the punchlines themselves!

At the end of the show someone in the front row (not sure it was the same person with the crisps) dropped their glass, which smashed on the floor. Stew asked for it not to be cleared up so they could get a close up and asked the person to stay in their seats at the end to get a close up of their feet.

A very funny, unusual, odd and satisfying night.

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle will be broadcast at some point in the future. I'm guessing spring time. Watch it!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Mick Karn 1958 - 2011

Mick Karn was "the best bass player in the world". Well, so I said when I was a teenager and had a best guitarist, drummer etc. Now I know these things can't be measured quite so simply, but to the grown up me, Mick was still the best bass player in the world.

The sound he made with the fretless bass was so unique, you could always tell when Mick was playing on a track. From Japan to Gary Numan to Kate Bush and his solo work, his technique made it sound although the song was melting through your speakers and it was very rare to hear Mick play anything obvious, The keys he chose were so unusual, so odd that instead of focusing on the singer, I would always listen to the bass lines, and there aren't many artists who would have that effect. I mean, who listens to the bass player more closely than anyone else in the band? (Apart from bass players.)

I never saw Mick live, but I was turned on to Japan via through my best mate Spencer at school, who moulded my musical tastes for years to come. Japan were often dismissed as Duran Duran wannabes, mainly because of their looks, but they were so much more than that. They were often criticised for copying Roxy Music, mainly due to David Sylvian's remarkable Ferry-like voice, but, to me, again, they were so much more. Japan never achieved the commercial success they deserved, splitting up after one hit single, just as Duran and Spandau were about to make it big.

It was announced in the middle of 2010 that Mick was suffering from advanced stages of cancer. I guess I assumed they would be able to make him better, and my hopes were lifted when reading that Pete Murphy and Karn were planning a new Dali's Car album any time soon.

Unfortunately this wasn't to be, and Mick died yesterday surrounded by his family. Not since Kurt Cobain in 1994 have I felt so affected by someone I never knew dying, and to finish this off, here is a Spotify song list featuring what I think is some of his best work.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Christ On A Bike

2010 was a good year for Richard Herring. A successful tour of "Hitler Moustache", with a DVD in the shops, a run of 10 live Collings & Herrin podcasts at Edinburgh Festival, the release of his book "How Not To Grow Up" as well as continuing with the As It Occurs To Me (AIOTM) podcasts and becoming a regular on 6 Music every Saturday morning with Andrew Collins. To cap it all , his almost record breaking score in Celebrity Mastermind. What will 2011 bring?

Well it's bringing us "Christ On A Bike - The Second Coming" which is currently running for 5 weeks at The Leicester Square Theatre before Rich takes it round the country till the middle of May.

COAB is a reworking of a show he did 10 years ago which features Herring's fascination with Jesus, although he is a confirmed atheist. I don't know how much has changed since then but it's a good opportunity for Herring to get the show on to DVD at last!

Rich has possibly booked the worst time of year to start a 5 week run in the West End. Christmas week, although good for Jesus, isn't so great for audiences, and the first week in January isn't ideal either as we've all spent our money. However I was hoping to go with a couple of mates tonight who ended up not being able to make it, so I went to the theatre by myself and just paid on the door.It also doesn't help sharing a week of the run with Stewart Lee, who I will be seeing on Wednesday. If Lee & Herring fans are going to go to one of the shows, then for Lee would be the obvious choice (with him being on telly and all that..), but I urge you to think again (You've had weeks to see Stew!)

Rich has mentioned on his blog that the audiences are not as large as he had hoped and this was confirmed tonight. There were 60 people in, and although that's a fine audience for a small comedy club, it's not ideal when in a 400 seat theatre.

The show started and Rich certainly didn't show any lack of confidence but did state at the start that sometimes when a show goes really well he would love to thank every member of the audience personally, and that tonight he probably could! The audience, to me, seemed rather quiet, although everyone did seem to be enjoying themselves. I imagine that some people, in a small audience in a big room may feel too self-conscious to let themselves go.

Rich On A Bike
The show is not as serious or hard hitting as Hitler Moustache, but the poster and the title would lead you to expect an offensive anti-religious rant, however this isn't the case. COAB is a light hearted and playful look at the Bible as well as comparisons between Jesus and Richard: "I'm not saying I'm the new Jesus. That is for other people to say". God's clumsy writing technique is criticised in a passage about the 10 Commandments, and Richard reads out his genuine application to become Pope (addressed to The Popefinder General, Vatican City). It hinges around a dream where Herring has a Tortoise and Hare style bicycle race with Jesus (I won't give any spoilers as to who wins but I'm sure you can guess.

A tape of his mum's voice echoes round the theatre "If you don't believe in Jesus then why do you spend all your time thinking and talking about him?" Just the thought of Rich asking his mum to record these words is extremely funny in itself!

After the break, Rich launched into his extremely impressive and hilarious genealogy of Jesus, all from memory, along the way asking searching questions about some "Boaz of Rahab" and others. He lets us into the trick of how he memorised these 40 or so generations and the secret is the most unusual noise I've heard coming from anyone on stage. It would make a very confusing ring tone.

The audience had certainly perked up by this point and seemed to be committed to a great night out. The show came to an end, though I could have happily listened to more. Grudgingly I had even agreed with Brian Logan about one supposedly weak line in the show, however what Logan failed to spot was that "Jesus" told Herring off for it towards the end.

By the time I left I had drank maybe one or two drinks more than I should have done and went on some rather lengthy twitter conversations which i was highly embarrassed about the next day, but I guess that's what happens when you go out in the afternoon then decide to go the the west end on the spur of the moment to see a show.

Christ On A Bike is a great night out. You could even bring your granny or your vicar. Londoners, get your tickets before he hits the road and come to The Leicester Square Theatre before the 22nd January or if you're one of those provincial types, check Herring's gig guide for details of venues. I don't give 'stars' and stuff in my little write ups, but if i did I would give the full amount of them (minus one as I don't like comedians to be too cocky!)

See you on Wednesday for Stewart Lee! Why not see Herring beforehand at the same venue and make it a Fist Of Fun special!