Archive | October, 2011

Neville’s Advocate

25 Oct

Rugby World Cup semi final, 2011.

France v Wales.

Down to 14 men after the harsh sending off of their captain, and facing a French side with their cock-feathers up, the Welsh not only rally but battle back to a within a point of the opposition; denied a place in the final by the width of a post. They are defeated, but they have given every ounce of energy and have fought with passion right to the end. They have done themselves proud. The nation salutes them.

John Terry.

I’ll say that again.

John Terry.

Or how about…?

Wayne Rooney

Or perhaps…?

Peter Crouch.

The comparison smarts, doesn’t it?

And before I’m accused of club bias (I’m a QPR fan):

Joey Barton.

Why are there so many turds in football? The Premier League is awash with them, like a sewer drain in flood season. I’m not going to list them all. In fact, I don’t think I could list them all. Maybe Motty could give us the full shit-stats? Opta probably have a shit-index for footballers. They should have.

Football has always had its share of cheaters and whiners. But why this unprecedented turd-storm? What makes the current PL such an unfailing shit-magnet?

Here’s my answer. Greed – pure and simple (if Gordon Gekko had managed Hear’say…)

Clubs want success because success means cash, so they borrow breathtaking sums of money to buy the best players and pay them spectacularly inflated salaries. Almost invariably, the best players have the emotional intelligence of a fridge so when they aren’t diving or bawling at referees they’re in a nightclub trying to spit-roast Shelley and Kelly from Strelley. The clubs wont discipline them for even the most trivial lapse of discipline in case they tear up their contracts, pack up their Gucci man-bags and leg it to the club up the road. So their behaviour is not only tolerated, it becomes the norm. And so it goes on.

Think about it. We’re breeding a super-race of super-brats. Soon football clubs will be so astronomically powerful we will all have to give our children to them for “football processing”. Those who can trap a ball will be selected for further training. Those that can’t will be sent to work in Greggs. Our daughters will be forced to get hair extensions and queue up outside Premier Inns as votive offerings to the Soccer Gods. John Terry will be allowed to climb in your kitchen window whenever he likes and piss on your biscuits. I have seen it all…

There is only one man who can save us…

Gary Neville.

Gary, you have the respect of clubs and country alike. Ok, no you don’t – but you’re good with players and doing the whole “shop-steward – power to the people thing”, albeit you were entirely self-appointed and your actions nearly resulted in a player strike. But that’s not important right now. Gary! Draft a manifesto, organise a rally, take a vote. Get Becks involved if you have to. He could hand out flyers. Grab a megaphone and sort these bolshy clubs out before it’s too late. We need you, Gary. Do it for us.


Can there be comedy without tragedy?

25 Oct

As I try to make my way in the world as a writer of comedy, I’ve come up against a problem; to be funny, you have to have suffered.

Well, that’s the theory; to make people laugh you must have been a victim yourself.

Tony Hancock is the classic example; a man who split the sides of a nation, yet was so tortured by psychological demons that he was driven to drink, and ultimately suicide. Hancock was the epitome of the weeping clown; laughing in the public eye, but in the lonely room he slugged vodka and counted out the amphetamines. Would he have been able to pull off the performances which so regularly caused us to splutter Ovaltine into our wirelesses had it not been for the flawed persona, the crippling introspection?

The list of great comedians and comic performers who have channelled suffering to improve their art is immense. Richard Pryor was raised in a brothel by his prostitute mother, who sexually abused him. Drug addiction haunted Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, and drink has been the downfall of more comedians than you can shake a Martini at. But many other performers cite less obvious trauma as the spark that lit their comic flame. Being the victim of bullying is a common theme. Many comics are the kid who didn’t fit in at school, through no fault of their own, and who found themselves singled out and victimised. Learning to ingratiate yourself with your oppressors through laughter is a skill which comes quickly to many in those circumstances. But it is the emotional pain caused by these incidents which gives the victim energy and purpose. From the tragic comes the comic. It is the yin and the yang.

But what if you don’t have a yin?

Here’s my problem; my childhood was utterly Yinless. I grew up on a farm in the countryside with a loving family, some chickens, rabbits and a goat called Ermintrude. My parents were hard-working, dedicated and caring. My sister could be a bit scatty but she was harmless. I went to an average comprehensive school, played cricket in the summer and went sledging in the winter. The height of excitement was when Ermintrude got her head stuck in the fence. You should have seen it! We dined out on that one for months.

At university I got drunk (a lot), slept around (a bit) and generally had a smashing time. The closest I got to tragedy was losing my ticket to see The Pixies down the back of a bus seat.

And since then, things have idled along smoothly enough. Career, marriage, mortgage. All very nice, and all very perfect in their own way. But now, as I try and establish myself as someone who can do “funny”, I look at the comic writers and performers I admire and part of me envies them their still-tender psychological scars. When Billy Connolly talks about growing up in poverty around the shipyards of Glasgow, he can call on countless stories and characters that give colour and authenticity to his performances. I look back into my past for a tale of suffering and all I can come up with is the time I couldn’t tune the radio into Test Match Special. Oh Aggers, do stop it.

So can you be funny without having experienced tragedy in your life? Of course you can. Comedy is an astonishing self-defence mechanism. You develop it when you need it, but only the individual concerned can decide what it defends them from. For some people it is a shield against physical harm. For others, it protects against the psychological attack of our demons. Or guards us from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And for some of us it simply serves to hide, or maybe disguise, our own fears and uncertainties, whatever they may be.

But would I make a Faustian pact, and swap my cosy, safe childhood for one of hardship, if it guaranteed me a career writing comedy? That might make the premise of a good comic novel. Is David Nicholls reading this…?

This blog first appeared on Chortle a couple of months ago.

Muppetry In Motion

19 Oct


Look who’s the subject of this week’s blog:

Yes, I know what you’re thinking:

“I could have sworn Stephen Merchant was taller”.

Or perhaps:

“Who’s that muppet … with the puppet from Sesame St?”

Hey hey! Love your work.

So, yes, with almost overwhelming reluctance I sight the laser crosshairs of this week’s blog squarely upon the rictus grin of Ricky “He’s having a laugh – is he having a laugh?” Gervais, and his controversial use of the word “mong”.  And yes I know the world and his stuffed ostrich has already blogged this bloody subject into oblivion but, fuck it, I WILL HAVE MY SAY.

Right. You all know the back-story; man says thing, world spins off axis. My thoughts on this are threefold:

  1. Ricky Gervais is a master of self-promotion. He’s got various new projects to plug and he knows if he pokes a hornets’ nest with a shitty stick then the hornets will be angry and they’ll fly about and you’ll have to get a pest control man in to gas them and it will be messy and expensive and everyone will run around shouting “Oooh, this is simply intolerable”. Sorry, that turned into an episode of Downton. But you take my point; controversy sells. It even sells tripe like “An Idiot Abroad”. Ricky 1 – World 0.
  2. Ricky’s claim that people only disagreed with him because they were “jealous of his success” is well, contemptible, with added “cunt”. Come on, so successful people are immune to criticism? That was a cheap retort worthy of a fuckwit. The irony is, of course, I am jealous of his success. I’m also jealous of his talent. But I also I think he’s a tosser. These facts are all utterly unrelated. Ricky 1 – World 1.
  3. At the risk of coming over all Stephen Fry (blimey) don’t blame the words. Words are great. Try “Lozenge”, for example. Or “Torchbeam”. Roll that around a while. “Torchbeam”. Yeah, it’s crunchy, yet juicy; like the crisp, wet hit of biting into a Bramley. I also love the sound of the word “mong”. If some schoolboys kicked a football through a belfry window, the sound of ball hitting bell would be “mong”. Of course sound is one thing, meaning another, and Ricky is right when he says words evolve different connotations through time. But the key point is this evolution does not happen at a uniform rate. Consequently words develop multiple meanings depending on the contexts in which they are used. During the war, when I was a regular poster on the Popbitch messageboard, most contributors (myself included) used the verb “to mong” to mean “to fuck about”, eg. “I’ve spent all day monging on this pointless forum when I should have been doing my real job… which is seriously fucking cool and exciting btw”. Within that (very) limited community, the word “mong” developed a distinct meaning, which, although not totally removed from its original sense, would be sufficiently different for it to warrant its own definition in a dictionary. And that’s Ricky’s premise; “words change”. What he forgets, of course, is that he’s not tweeting to a limited community with a shared and accepted “new” definition of the word. He’s tweeting blindly to millions across the entire planet. And for many of his followers the word “mong” will retain its original hateful connotations.

When you think about it, his arrogance is staggering. He’s trying to single-handedly redefine a word on a global scale; in essence saying:

“I am Ricky Gervais, writer of The Office, look on my new definition of the word “mong”, ye mongs, and despair”

But of course he isn’t actually doing any of that at all. He’s just pushing our buttons to shift some units.  More fool us for reacting.

Final Score: Ricky 2 – World 1.

Cue storm of outraged letters to FIFA and re-ignition of “goal-line technology” debate.

Hey ho, nearly Christmas. Less swearing next time, promise.


How do you write a joke?

13 Oct

If you were expecting this blog to be a searing political commentary then you have been shockingly misled (a bit like this country under the coalition, eh? EH?). But those of you who are aware of me from Twitter will know joke-writing is something I’ve been wrestling with for a while. So I thought it might be interesting to share the way I compose jokes; to see whether this bears any resemblance to the way other people write. To do this, I’ll slap one of my jokes on the mortuary slab, tug on the gloves and get Quincey MD on its ass.

So here’s a joke what I wrote:

“I used to do a bad impression of Eric Morecambe, but now I’ve seen the error of my waheys!”

So there it is, spread out like a literary reference anaesthetized on a table. Firstly, we must consider its medical history. Nurse, my thinking pants.

This joke began life as a conversation I overheard on a bus. Most of Twitter – perhaps, even, most if life – is overheard on a bus. The conversation in question took place between two ladies of grandmotherly demeanour who had just visited a relative and were now taking advantage of some “bus-time” to “have a brain dump” (they must have worked in marketing). Anyway, Doris says to Deidre: “I see he has started going to church again?” to which Deidre replied “Yes, let’s just hope he’s seen THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS”. That’s my emphasis, incidentally. She didn’t stand up and shout “THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS, YOU HEAR ME PEOPLE??” to everyone on the bus. But the phrase stuck in my head.

Now for the science bit.

Pun formula = think of pun, derive set-up, invert.

Dermot the TV presenter taught me that. “Oh, really?”. No, O’Leary.

So what can you do with “error of my ways”? “Error” doesn’t pun with much. For “ways” you’ve got “weighs”, which is dull. I toyed with a Frank Sinatra joke, ending with the punchline “the error of My Ways” but even I couldn’t get that to work (he says, not in a shy way). But as soon as I hit on “waheys” and applied the golden rules (see below), the bad Eric Morecambe impression leapt out. The world was a happy place and the little woodland creatures danced to the sound of pixie disco.

I did consider framing the joke as though it were being told by Eric’s partner. But decided that would be un-Wise.

Other shit that seems to work. Sorry! I mean “Golden Rules”:

1. Celebrity references – people are a bunch of evil bastards who like laughing about/at other people.

2. Bathos – start serious, finish stupid (like the coalition government eh? EH? OK – I’ll stick to puns)

3. Get the rhythm right – I’m not suggesting having sex with tramps is wrong, but as Giles Coren will attest, it’s bad to climax on a downbeat.

There is also a lot of shit that doesn’t work. I’ll do a separate blog about that some time, when the scars have healed.

So there you go. As I say, not exactly The Wasteland, but hey. Wo weilest du?

Still, you don’t know if it’s funny till you tell it. Likewise I wont know if you enjoyed this trip through my head till you’ve read it. There is only ever hope.

*weak smile*

Thank you for reading 🙂