Tag Archives: comedy

Stewart Lee – “A Room With A Stew” – Oxford Playhouse – March 31st, 2015

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Stewart Lee appeared in Oxford again, with his new “work-in-progress” shows, titled (by the awesome Alan Moore, apparently) “A Room With A Stew“. The last time I saw him was at the New Theatre on the “Carpet Remnant World” tour, a few years ago. I wish I could remember a lot of it, but all I can recall are the YouTube comments bit, the budget Scooby-Doo episode (after the Tories ransacked the show’s budget) and his reference to Dr Strangely Strange‘s “Heavy Petting” LP. I do recall enjoying the gig a lot and was excited when the missus found out he was going to be at The Playhouse.

The missus had to pass on the show, due to a really bad chest cough, so I went with her brother, his wife and an old work-mate. We had decent seats, in the stalls, about seven rows from the stage. John Coltrane‘s version of “My Favorite Things” was piped through the in-house speakers as the crowd settled into its seats. Eventually, the lights dimmed a bit, a stage announcement was made and the man walked out to applause.

He explained that the two sets of the show would be broken into segments, as he was working on material for the newest series of his Comedy Vehicle programme, which was picked up for more episodes. The first bit consisted of Lee poking fun at the right-wing media pundits, who ask why no left-wing comedians ridicule ‘the Muslims’. He dove-tailed that with a shot at popular comics who use tired “observational comedy” (he did a funny bit where he pretended to run around the stage – in a Lee Mack or Michael McIntyre way) as the main part of their humour. In the end, Lee just said “How ’bout those Muslims you see these days?” There was a (possibly fictional – sometimes you can’t tell with Stew) story about a Muslim woman, who sat on a copy of the Jehovah’s Witness magazine, “The Watchtower”, on a bus. He diverted into other topics during the telling of the story, like Twitter-spying and Nigel Fart-age, before finishing the entire bit with a really funny and lengthy punchline (which I can’t recall completely at the moment).

The ‘second half’ of the first set started with a story about himself being urinated on by a group of bullies at his school. This led him, he suggested (in a Freudian way), to want to entertain people. He reasoned that on some level, as the bullies were laughing at him, he was ‘entertaining’ them. More off-shoots of the central premise followed, including a urine-based aphorism that his family used and a story about his grandfather, a World War II veteran, attempting to wee on flies in a Maltese gents room – pretending they were German aircraft. He said, with a lot of gravitas, “For some of those guys, the war never ended”. When the crowd failed to laugh at that line – Lee went into a (jokey) tirade about how comedians are under-appreciated and shouting “it’s crowds like you that tied the noose around Robin Williams‘s neck!” The hilarious faux-crowd-berating continued for another few minutes and then Lee bounded off-stage for the intermission.

The second half of the show involved surplus England flags, various bodily fluids and hanging England flags outside his home to dry and the impression it made on his neighbours. I won’t spell it out graphically – but I think you can piece the bit together from that. The funniest bits were him calling his cat “Paul Nuttall From UKIP” and referring to lustful feelings as “Nigel Farage is on the campaign trail”. There was also a part where he told how one of his friends looked very “Venezualan” (earlier in the show, he asked for a name of a country that would seem benign to the crowd) – a funny riff on how xenophobes view ‘foreigners’. He described how his friend would wear strange clothes (he came up with some fantastical outfits), listen to weird Venezualan music on Radio Three (he launched into an improvised record-scratching, high-pitched vocal and animal noise sound for about 5 minutes) and how, in the end, everyone but Lee’s friend knew he was ‘Venezualan’.

Lee finished with a short section that he referred to as an ‘encore’, but he did say at the beginning of the show that he wouldn’t leave the stage and walk back on. It was a short fragment of a bit about clients of sex workers leaving used condoms around the street and sometimes in Lee’s garden. I can’t recall the final punch-line, but it had to do with Lee’s wife and feminism, but in a praising way, not an obnoxious one.

I found the second half wasn’t quite as tight as the first – but to be fair, even these later shows on the tour are still opportunities for Lee to hone the material. In any case, I had a great time and it’s always good to see Stew – even when he’s mock-berating me for showing up to watch him.

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Busy Week: Mark Thomas – The North Wall, Summertown – 15th Oct./The Orb – O2 Academy, Oxford – 16th October, 2014

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Pixie and I actually had somewhat of an active social life this past week, as we caught leftie comedian Mark Thomas in action at The North Wall theatre, a tiny venue in Summertown on Wednesday night (15th October). The next night, we were at the O2 Academy in Oxford, to see The Orb on the current leg of the group’s 25th Anniversary Tour.

Thomas started his show by praising the hall. “I love this fucking space”, he exclaimed a few times – “I feel like there should be a priest hole somewhere”, he added. After that, he went into a few random riffs on what he’s been up to, while promising that “the second half is fucking great”. He had a competition to find a definition of “Farage” (which he insisted be pronounced “fair-idge”, not “far-odge”, like the media do). He chose the best one – which was the residue you find at the bottom of a food waste bin. He also hawked stickers saying “Daily Mail Free Zone” to place on trains and coaches. The first set was quite short, only about a half-hour or so.

The second set centred around Thomas’s work and protests with the C.A.A.T. (or Campaign Against The Arms Trade). The main subject is a fellow activist called “Martin” – Thomas never says his surname and we were never quite if his first name is even Martin. Martin was a convert to the anti-arms trade cause, after working in the trade for a long while. Thomas talked of how dedicated Martin was and the amount of time he spent organising and helping with protests. He cleverly used videos of fellow activists and ‘talked’ with them about Martin. All was well, until a rumour started circulating that Martin wasn’t quite what he seemed. An audit of C.A.A.T.’s computers turned up evidence that Martin was spying for B.A.E. Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer.

Thomas and a few staunch supporters of Martin refused to believe the allegations and Thomas even went so far as to shout denials to the organisation’s leaders. Somehow, though, to Thomas, something wasn’t quite right about Martin and he was eventually convinced to read the file on the audit. The evidence looked incontravertible and Thomas was forced to change his opinion of Martin. In the end, Thomas, despite many efforts, couldn’t get Martin to admit to what he had done. He closed the show with more videos of fellow activists who had also been spied on by either corporations or goverment agencies. It widened the show’s scope from personal betrayal to the enormous implication of spying going on in society at the moment.

The Orb have been on their 25th Anniversary tour since mid-2013 and the show stopped in Oxford on 16th October. The group, at the moment, is a duo of original member (and the only constant one) Alex Paterson – sorta the Robert Fripp of The Orb, with Thomas Fehlmann, who joined up around the time of “U.F.Orb”, released in 1992. To my surprise, the show was on the upper floor of the O2 Academy. It’s a smaller space and makes for a more intimate setting. We missed the support act – I think it was someone called Nick Hooper. He had the usual laptop/sampler set-up and was winding down his set as we walked in.

After a short-ish interval – Paterson and Fehlmann took centre stage where their gear was set up. I suspect most of the first half were tunes from the latest album (released in 2012), Orbserver In The Star House – a collaboration with dub reggae legend, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I don’t have “Orbserver…” yet, so I didn’t recognise anything until Pat Metheny‘s sampled guitar notes floated into the mix, signalling their classic “Little Fluffy Clouds“. A nice “Towers Of Dub” followed and a surprise “Toxygene” made it into the set. “Blue Room” was dusted off with a harder-edge beat than the studio version and “Assassin” made an appearance as well.

I also remember a re-working of Pink Floyd‘s “One Of These Days“, mainly using the bass riff and layered sounds. “A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain…” was announced by way of the Minnie Riperton sample, but it wasn’t its usual epic length. The nearly two-hour set wound down with what I think was “Ball Of Fire” off of “Orbserver…” (based on the spoken-word sample in it). Paterson and Fehlmann left the stage and the crowd stamped and shouted for an encore, but the house lights switched on and we all shuffled out into the street. A decent show – fairly stripped back compared to the shows of twenty or even fifteen years ago. The duo kept things moving along nicely and there weren’t any dull moments. The mix wasn’t the best, but then the acoustics in that space have never been, in my experience, ideal. A lot of the spoken-word samples were difficult to hear, so some of the depth of the Orb sound was lost. Aside from that, it was good to see the boys out on the road, bringing a bit of psychedelic ambient dance music to the faithful.

Mark Thomas: Cuckooed – North Wall, Summertown

First set: “What I’ve Been Up To” – including “Farage” & playing gigs in strange venues

Second set: “Cuckooed” (a tale of betrayal)

The Orb – 25th Anniversary Tour –  O2 Academy, Oxford:

Africa

Soulman

(not sure)

(not sure)

Little Fluffy Clouds

Assassin

Towers Of Dub

Toxygene

Blue Room

One Of These Days (Pink Floyd remix)

A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain…

(not sure)

Ball Of Fire

–no encore–

Things I Don’t Get: Golf

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There seems to be a lot of excitement today over the European team staging a come-back to win the Ryder Cup yesterday. Now, I understand there’s a skill involved in hitting a small spherical object a few hundred yards, then hitting it again to make it fall into a hole not much larger than the object. I just don’t get all of the adulation and money that gets poured into the ‘sport’.

Golf always seemed to be something that my parents, or at least my father, played. The idea of buying a set of clubs and trooping to a course on a Saturday morning with co-workers is anathema to me. I remember having to learn the basics of golf in a high school gym class – which I was miserable at, but somehow the instructor gave me a passing grade for that portion. I tried again, in my early 20s, agreeing to go with my father to play nine holes one Saturday in late summer. We ended up being paired with two strangers, which caused me more embarrassment when my crapness at the game was on full display. Seriously, trying to hit an initial drive and watching the ball roll about ten feet from the tee can be will-sapping. I pretty much avoided golf after that, except for a few rounds of crazy/miniature golf here and there.

My father sometimes would ask when we would go again, and I’d say “Oh, I don’t know…sometime.” I think eventually he caught on that it wasn’t really my thing. I even considered going to a driving range a few times, but couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. When I found out some of my old high school friends were taking it up, I was gobsmacked! “Not us” I thought “We can’t be turning into our fathers…”

So far, I’ve managed to avoid turning into a golfer, even a very, very amateur-ish one. I admit to watching bits of tournaments about ten years, only ‘cos it was on teevee in my folks’ house and I couldn’t be arsed to change the channel. It bored me, except for the putting – that’s when the game can spark some real tension. As I say, some of the drives can be impressive, but if you’re going to watch it – just watch the putting on the greens.

I’ve never been to a tournament and I would never pay to go to one. When I was younger, there was a mini-tournament in Conn. called the Greater Hartford Open. My parents went to “Celebrity Day” a few times, when some famous players of the time and a few actors and that would show up. I never went myself, save one year, when I was temping in the summer and was working at an office furniture warehouse. Our team was supposed to go the site and set up tables or something. The supervisor on the job was a massive twat and I only remember unloading trucks and sitting in a huge marquee for a while. That and the supervisor’s shit jokes – oh yeah, and chuckling to myself watching him try and chat up some woman who was also working at the tournament.

O.K., so perhaps I haven’t made the best case against golf, except to say that walking around a field, albeit a pleasantly mowed one, with a bunch of white sales exceutives, hitting small spherical objects with metal clubs isn’t really my idea of a fab time. I’ve gotta side with the late, great George Carlin on this one:

When Comedians Attack!

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A friend of mine shared a blog post from a stand-up comedy site called “Cook’d and Bomb’d” on Facebook yesterday. I was intrigued by the title of the article: “Comedians using their fans for co-ordinated safety-in-numbers bullying” – so I read the post.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter – it’s a ‘social networking’ site that lets you post statements of 160 characters. It’s become a phenomenon in the past few years, mainly due to celebrity endorsers, like Stephen Fry. Unlike Facebook, which has you send a friend request to celebrities, leaving them to decide whether they want you to be able to see their profile page or not — Twitter lets you “follow” them, without any restrictions.

As such, ‘slebs’ get large numbers of followers..Fry has more than a million. That in itself is no problem – though some get very desperate to curry favour with their fave actor, or musician, or comedian, in this case. The blog post is about what happens when a ‘regular person’ has a disagreement with a celebrity on Twitter – or the celebrity spots a bad review online and ‘tweets’ about it. Sometimes, the celebrity will mobilise their Twitter followers into an internet mob, to excoriate the ‘offender’. They followers either attack the person, if they are on Twitter – or go to the online review and deluge the comments section with positive comments about the sleb and negative ones about the review and reviewer.

Ricky Gervais, according to the blog post, seems to be the biggest culprit for this type of Twitter behaviour. This doesn’t shock me that much – as Gervais has always seemed to have a bit of the “dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it” persona. I love “The Office” and I even like some of his stand-up stuff, even though, to me, his schtick wears a bit thin over repeated viewings. The reviewer in question, wrote a disparaging comment about the second series of “An Idiot Abroad”, which Gervais took exception to. A link was added to Twitter was added to his page and away it went.

More surprising was Noel Fielding, of The Mighty Boosh, using the tactic against an art critic who objected to Fielding being chosen to interview Damien Hirst. Just recently, his followers attacked a woman on Twitter because she took offense at Fielding using the word ‘retard’. Now, there’s two sides to the story and perhaps the woman was being unjustly harsh with him – but that’s no reason for his followers to jump in and castigate her for daring to speak to him like that. After a long confrontation with Fielding’s followers, she left Twitter and reportedly tried to kill herself. I love The Boosh, though t.b.h., I’m not so hot on Fielding’s solo efforts–his “Luxury Comedy” seemed to be just weird for the sake of being weird. Still, I didn’t think he would behave in such a way – given his image as a lovable, spacey fashionista. He’s since left Twitter himself.

There was also an incident with Simon Pegg, who became incensed with a follower’s comment and asked the rest of his followers to ‘flame’ the person. After the post was pointed out to him – he did apologise and reminded everyone not to attack someone on his whim. So, all in all, Pegg comes out of it as a gentleman and thoughtful.

I remember an incident with a guy called Jon Spira, who got into an argument with “Twitter-sleb” Emma Kennedy over whether up-and-coming writers should sometimes work for free, to get their name known. The argument escalated a bit and suddenly, Kennedy was claiming that Spira was ‘stalking’ her and she was calling him a misogynist, etc. Her followers got whipped into a frenzy and the same sort of thing happened. You can read about it here. I fell foul of her temper as well – when disagreeing with her about the Diane Abbott tweet shit-storm. I’ve since un-followed Kennedy – I may have blocked her as well. I can’t recall.

I suppose it’s just one more symptom of celebrity culture – people who are so desperate to be noticed by their idols will become mindless thugs if they perceive their idol “is” being attacked and instead of letting the person handle criticism themselves. At the very least, if they feel the need to jump into a conversation – they could at least try to discuss it in a rational manner.

You can read the “Cook’d and Bomb’d” post here. Warning: for a post about comedy, it’s not particularly funny – but then, it’s not meant to be.

Reality-Tunnels and Ideological Dogma

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I was on Twitter yesterday, when a row broke out over a joke that Richard Herring (who, you’ll recall, I saw live recently) made. The joke went something like (directed to a woman): “You’re the only person that a guy would use Rohypnol on and then leave you in the pub.” Now, the joke may seem to be in poor taste to you – but whether or not that “is” the case, a puritanical reaction of “You should NEVER make jokes like that” seems over-the-top hysteria to me.

Herring was immediately chided and scolded for making the joke, with the rationale that “it’s about rape and rape IS NEVER funny”. While I agree with that statement for the most part – why “is” that subject taboo for humour when others like cancer and racism ‘are’? Herring explained that it was about the woman talking too much, not about date-rape – but that didn’t satisfy the witch-hunters. To be fair, on the same day, a story broke about American stand-up Daniel Tosh joking about how it would be funny if some of the male audience members gang-raped a woman for heckling him. I don’t particularly like Tosh and find his comedy a bit lame and unfunny – however, calls for censoring his act and the witch-hunt mentality seem puritanical and moral-mongering of the worst sort.

Yes, the act of rape “is” not funny and the victim endures an astronomical physical and psychological trauma, even if the perpetrator does get convicted and jailed. Psychological authorities have often repeated that rape isn’t really about sex, but power and control. It seems to be about forcing your will (and physical being) onto another without consent.

Unfortunately, in the “dominator cultures”, as Terence McKenna called them (the ‘civilized’ cultures that sprang up thousands of years ago, continuing up to today) – rape has been an aspect. I do not intend that statement as an excuse for such behaviour, merely stating that “rape culture” “is” not a new thing in the U.S. or UK or any of the countries existing now. It didn’t spring up after 1960 or anything. It does inform the reality-tunnels of almost everyone in these societies, on some level.

Getting back to Herring – a fairly well-known UK ‘left-wing’ columnist had joined in on the chiding on Twitter. Another person I follow defended Herring, asking when it started becoming the job of “the left” to act in a censurious manner. I chimed in that most of those calling for jokes they didn’t like to be stopped, didn’t seem to be part of the left at all – but centre-rightists. Herring had quipped, in jest (as least that’s how it appeared to me), that it was O.K. because his wife “is” a feminist and that he himself “is” one as well.

Well, that set it off – the columnist scolded Herring for using “feminism” as a shield, to which Herring replied that it wasn’t. A few of us then got into a debate about some (but not all) feminists having fascistic tendencies. I argued that Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan and Catherine MacKinnon have shown misdandrist attitudes in their writing and quotes. The columinst seemed to get risible that I would even suggest that such cornerstones of the feminist movement could even have such thoughts in their brains. After all, they’re “Feminists” – they would never be fascistic in the slightest! They’d never lump all men into the same group of despised brutes. Never!

It seems to me that this person blindly follows ideology, without ever questioning some of their choice’s tenets. If feminism “is” good, to this person, then all of it “is” good, no matter what. It’s that lack of discerning that I can’t understand. I’m a supporter of feminism, but I won’t support androphobes or those who want to blanket-statement entire genders. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in support of Sun readers who bang on about “the politically-correct brigade” all the time, either. I like some political-correctness – I prefer calling native Americans “Native Americans”, not “Indians”. I think “African-American” just sounds better than ‘negro’ or even ‘black’. However, I don’t care how un-p.c. I sound – Andrea Dworkin and Robin Morgan seem sexist and misandrist to me, so kick me out of your little ideological/p.c. club if you want. I’m not automatically inferior and a brute because I wasn’t born with a vagina.

To sum up – yes, what Tosh said seemed pretty vile and, maybe Herring’s joke wasn’t ‘appropriate’, depending on your own sensibilities. I’m for free speech, though and I’m not for censoring or calls for either to clean up their acts. Who gets to decide what “is” taboo for humour? I’m also guessing that none of these people ever chuckled at a “don’t drop the soap“/prison line in a film or comedy show, or chuckled at someone being called another’s ‘bitch’–with all that that line implies. Or chuckled at a priest/altar-boy joke. Of course, of course. They’ll probably say “Oh, well, rape in prison is different than rape in open society.” Really? How so? Still seems to be about power and control to me. Ah, ideological pretzel-twisting.

Anyway – peep this brill column from my teacher, the late Robert Anton Wilson. Says it all far better than I could.

Richard Herring/Stephen Carlin – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th June, 2012

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Pixie had bought the tickets a while back. It was tough to believe the gig was here. I nearly forgot about it a couple of times.

Richard Herring, in case you’ve not heard of him, is a stand-up comedian who started out on his own, in Oxford, in the early 90s. He was then part of a double-act with the excellent Stewart Lee for a while. They decided to split the act up and he (and Stewart) has been performing in solo shows since.

Herring has titled the show we saw “Talking Cock”, a sort-of male answer to the Vagina Monologues. The title makes it sound crude, but Herring throws in enough history and male inadequacy asides to make the show almost educational in spots.

He was perfoming the show at The Cellar in Oxford, as a preview/warm-up for the Edinburgh Festival – so it was a treat to see it in an unpolished (mind the pun?) form. Herring had the second half of the show, which started with Scottish comic Stephen Carlin.

Carlin was also previewing his latest Edinburgh show, called “Pandas and Penguins”. The main gist was the difference between the two species, and how to classify English and Scottish people according to their similarities to either pandas or penguins. Carlin has a laid-back delivery style and his observations seemed pretty spot-on. The funniest bits were the anecdote about having to get his parents drunk to let them know he was quitting drinking (his imitations of his parents’ voices reminded me a lot of Rab C. Nesbitt), and him talking about his girlfriend leaving him for no-one. At one point, the amplifier over-heated and the mic cut out. Carlin had been talking about paranoia and it was almost a perfect synchronicity with his act. A few times he tried to remember where in the act he was, but he played the delays off smoothly. It’d be cool to see the finished show sometime.

Richard Herring’s act had more flow – but he’s also performed bits of this show before. The joke about the loo graffiti, which still cracked me up –  I’d seen him tell it on one of his television appearances. Same for the joke about how to tell the size of a man’s penis. Most of the set-ups come from answers to an online questionnaire that Herring has on his website. As the cliched phrase goes, “most of this stuff writes itself”, but Herring deftly weaves the goofy answers, as well as the more personal, almost confessional ones, into the act as a whole. Along with adding in various slang terms for the male member: “meat thermometer”, “flesh silo”, etc.

It all winds down with Herring exhorting the men in the audience to shout “I love my cock!” He then tries to get the crowd saying “I love my cock and your cock!”, with a lessened result. I really enjoyed the show and it reinforces the idea that sexuality seems to have a very wide spectrum, even when just discussing one physical part of it.