|No image||21st||Custard Comedy Barnstable||more details|
|No image||9th||Comedy Depot for babies Bristol||more details|
|No image||28th||Hull Comedy Lounge||more details|
|No image||29th||Blackpool Comedy Station||more details|
An Edinburgh post-mortem
“Have you recovered from Edinburgh yet?” people ask, throughout September.
It’s usually a question about whether your bloodstream has rid itself of alcohol, or if your bodyclock is back to British Summer Time – it always takes me ages to remember that you can’t text people at 2 in the morning outside the festival – or if you’ve slept at all; but it’s also about working out where you are as a comic.
And I’ve spent the last month thinking about how the show went, and what I need to learn from it. Which may seem excessive, but, if I’m honest, I spent the whole of last year thinking about last year’s show and how it went…
Mainly because last year’s show, for the first time, went well. It was an actual show, rather than a greatest hits collection (as my two previous shows had been), and it got five stars from Chortle; which is more than anyone got this year. (Quaere: does this mean my show was better than any show this year? Ha! No. To get five stars – from Chortle, anyway – your show has to be, not just good, but important; and actually, as Kingsley Amis put it in a similar context, important isn’t important. Good is important.)
So this year’s show was the DIFFICULT SECOND ALBUM. (Odd how one still thinks in musical terms. And slightly outdated musical terms: the difference between being a festival comic and a club comic reminds me of the way 60s music journalist sneered at the Kinks as a “singles band” – as if that was in any way a bad thing.)
And it was difficult. Partly because I was still thinking about last year’s show – I was still performing it in April, at the New Zealand comedy festival. It had been my plan to polish off this year’s show in Auckland, but that didn’t happen – I found it difficult to get in the headspace for a new show when I was still doing the old show.
But I did get it done. And the show was competent. Actually, it was good. It was fine. It was – enough. I showed that last year’s wasn’t a complete fluke; and so now I want to draw a line under it and move on.
But a brief word about the reviews. I posted this round-up on Facebook:
My reviews so far:
The List: “contentedly niche comic”
Chortle: “has carved out a niche for himself in comedy, a tweedy mix of cricket, economic theory and social awkwardness”
Broadway Baby: “this material might seem niche…”
The Skinny: “His act was perhaps a little too niche for the varied free crowd that were in, with one solid cricket joke only caught by about three slips.”
Now I know why they all used the word “niche” – it’s the power of suggestion. I had a joke in it about my worst heckle – someone sitting in the front row looked up at me, shook her head sadly, and said, “Niche.” (“Look, I’m working here! I don’t come round to where you work and give you quite sensible advice on broadening your popular appeal!”) Never use a word to describe yourself in your show if you don’t want it to appear in a review.
A few of my friends got cross on my behalf – and it is weird that talking about babies is niche when talking about Tindr (which no one who hasn’t been single in the last couple of years has used) is lowest common denominator – while most of my friends came up with a lot of suggestions for next year’s show: No more Mr Niche Guy, Mr Niche (with me posing as Howard Marks), Naughty but Niche etc etc. Now I think of it, Naughty but Niche is probably a good description of my set – a bit of blue, but with some highbrow references so Guardian-readers don’t feel ashamed laughing at it.
There were some points in the show that only people who had had babies laughed at, sure. (The bit about how parents can recognise their own child’s poo. That only worked when I had someone in the front nodding vigorously so I could demonstrate that wasn’t just a flight of whimsy.) And I suppose no one who hasn’t had a baby will really understand why I got so angry about Gina Ford… But that was, to a lesser extent, true of last year’s show, too. (I got good reviews from older feminists; younger feminists hated it. Because, I think, younger feminists assume that the battle over equal childcare has been won, and feminism will be bullshit if it isn’t [insert voguish buzzword]; older feminists know better.)
But I think it shows definite progress. I had a review three years ago, which said “Watts displays a deep wealth of knowledge and at times such highbrow references fall flat; “I have seriously misjudged my demographic” is the comics utterance on more than one occasion.” (Now that did piss me off – that utterance, which only came once, was a structural device enabling me to divide the room by age and then play the two groups off against each other. That’ll learn me to say something in my show I don’t want to turn up in a review.)
But this is the thing: three years ago, if the audience didn’t understand me, the critics assumed it was my fault. Now, the critics assume it’s the audience. That, I think, is progress.
One final thing before I wrap up this show forever. (Which I’m doing formally next week, at the Museum of Comedy – booking details are here.) In my show, I talk about my son being required to do an “interview” for a nursery at the age of two-and-a-half. Later on in the show, I talk about how children born in August lose out from being the youngest people in each school year. There was a lovely coda to this, which I wish I’d been able to put in the show – when we returned from Edinburgh, there was a letter on the mat saying he’d been rejected at the pre-interview stage because of his position in the school year. (Thus tying together all the threads in my show in a way I didn’t quite manage to do…)
I wrote up this rejection in the Spectator here.
This article was shared loads on Facebook, and not at all on twitter. Which is, of course, a reflection of my demographic – people my age and above share things on Facebook, and don’t really know what Twitter is for. The question for next year is, do I continue plugging this demographic, or do I try and talk to the kids who – after all – are the people who bother coming out to comedy?
in the Spectator
This one is something I've been meaning to write for ages, having outlined the central thesis (such as it is) to two chums. One, the lefty, acknowledged that the WCA regime might change people's lives for the better, but this was an accidental by-product of it being an evil austerity measure; the other, a UKIPper, thought that it didn't matter whether it did or no, so long as he didn't have to pay for feckless ne'er-do-wells... I am strongly of the view that both are completely wrong.
I've been doing a few Jewish gigs since I married in, and I'm only just learning how to play them
Last week, I saw some of the best MCing I have ever seen. It was a Jewish gig - it wasn't a theme night or anything, and most of the acts were goyim, but it was in aid of a Jewish charity and the audience was 95% Jewish, as was the compere, Bennett Aaron. This meant he could get away with a bit of Yiddish - he had a story about how Anthony Hopkins was his grandparents' shabbas goy - and could take shortcuts with the banter: instead of asking people what they did for a living or where they came from, he'd ask "So where in North London do you live?" or "Lawyer or Accountant?" (He can get away with this: the difference between a Jewish joke and an anti-Semitic joke is who's telling it.)
Now I've done one or two of these gigs over the past couple of years, and I thought the key was to throw in a bit of Yiddish myself; I have a few words that I can fit into my usual set. ("I've been reckless in my time, but I've never been so reckless I've shtupped a corpse..." Set-up in English, punchline in Yiddish - I could totally play Catskills.) And I introduce myself as the "Token Yok" and explain how I married in. I have a few bits about this that don't work outside Jewish gigs - about how I was surprised as how welcome T's family made me. ("Andrew, Andrew... [BEAT] She's thirty-nine." This is funnier if you have a Jewish mother and/or have heard all the jokes about Jewish mothers.)
But I realised last week that I didn't need to do all that. All you need to do to play a Jewish gig is to explain, in the first 30 seconds, why you're there. Once they've worked out your connexion to Judaism - by marriage, by matrilineal descent, by looking slightly more beige than most English people (Jen Brister's line) - then they could relax and enjoy. If I'd just been someone tall and blond and softly-spoken and not explained how I'd married in, they wouldn't have been interested, no matter how much Yiddish I slipped in.
There was one comic who didn't realise this, and just did their usual set. Perfectly good material - and I should point out that I've seen this act storm it in other rooms with the same jokes - but this comic is very White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and the unspoken thought from the audience was "Why are you here?" And the comic didn't have the best gig of their career.
Now there's a dilemma for an MC in this situation. Normally you jump up and say "Wasn't that great?" to keep the energy up,- but if you do that after an act that wasn't great, the audience loses faith in you, and it's not fair on the next act you introduce as "brilliant" or "fantastic". In fact, if you fail to acknowledge the bad gig in any way, you're losing the audience's confidence in you and the night. But on the other hand, it's quite meanspirited to slag someone off on stage. So how do you chose between offending a colleague or alienating the audience?
I've seen some MCs come down firmly on the side of offending their colleagues - Roger Monkhouse at the Store saying, "Well that was a bit shit, wasn't it?", or Michael McIntyre at Late and Live skipping on and saying, "[Name redacted] there - a contestant on the next series of Faking It." And this is where Bennett was brilliant: he ambled on and said, "Er- should we say kaddish?" and immediately brought out some of his best jokes. Now you may not be aware of this, but kaddish is the Hebrew prayer that is recited whenever someone dies - the audience knew this, I know this, but the act in question was completely oblivious. Perfect.
I'm a stand-up comic; why do politicians want my job?
I wrote an article about the mixing of comedy and politics, which ended up being the cover story for The Spectator.
Yes, I do see the irony of a comedian writing in a political magazine to complain that there is too much comedy in politics...
You can read the piece here.
"My name is Andrew Watts, and I am a stand-up comedian"
I’ve always had a rule – you might even call it a superstition – that I would never say on stage that I was a “comedian”, or refer to what I was doing as “comedy”. Mostly because I’ve heard lots of open spot comics saying things like “Speaking as a comedian…” or “Well, I’m a comic…” and something inside me wants to shout out “Prove it!”
Off-stage, even more so. I would never, even after the day job had become a distant memory, describe myself as a comedian. I might, after some initial hesitation, admit that I “did” stand-up; but that was about it. Again, this was because I’d read comedians’ takedowns of open spots who’d introduced themselves as “comics”, or who dared to turn up in the Loft Bar or at the Comedians’ Christmas Party.
It’s very recently that I’ve admitted to myself that I’m not faking it, that I’m not a hobbyist, and that I can call myself a comedian and no one is going to object or correct me. (This may not be unconnected with my show in Edinburgh.)
And so for the first time I’ve actually built a website. (Well, I got the excellent Neil Jollie to build it.) I may or may not blog some more, depending on whether I have anything to say; but I felt I ought to have one blog, otherwise the thing would look as if my heart wasn't in it.