Sunday 23 August 2015

Holiday Special: Hicks in the City XI

Truth and reality in art do not arise until you no longer understand what you are doing.
- Matisse


Before you criticise someone, walk a mile in his shoes.  That way, if he gets angry, he'll be a mile away - and barefoot.
- Sarah Jackson (attributed)

Me:  So, the Socks.

Him:  What's wrong with the recording that you got?

Me:  The one in the helicopter?

(Something marine, blinky and badgery this way comes.  Slowly.)

Me:  Okay, the recording's fine, but I'm fed up with transcribing like that at the moment.

Him:  Why?

Me:  Just because.

Him:  Is there any reason?

Me:  Yeah.  Tell me about the Socks.

Him:  It was ages ago.

Me:  It was less than a week!

Him:  That's a long time.

Me:  I remember when a week was a long time and I'm not even a politician.

Him:  Is a week not... No.  It's a lot shorter for you now.  It only lasts a few seconds.  But that's okay because you can take twenty mental snapshots every second.

Me:  They aren't that bad.  Some of them even look like something.

Him:  That's nice.

Me:  Puns?

Him:  Couldn't you just have said, "We'll never record it again after that last one"?  Oop - almost killed the phone.  But you could've just used the one we recorded.

Me:  I've not totally given up on recording.  And, anyway, most of the recording was about Perseus or rude about Zeus.

Him:  It wasn't rude about Zeus -

Me:  I called him a golden shower.

Him:  - and I've already forgotten who Perseus was.

Me:  Right.  No dessert until you've finished your Harryhausen.

Him:  What?

Me:  Do you remember anything about Scope?

Him:  I've never even heard of Scope.

Me:  You have.

Him:  I haven't.

Me:  You have.

Him:  I really haven't.  You can't implant these false memories.

Me:  See?  This is why I prefer typing live when we can.

Him:  Why?

Me:  The Pun Run was in aid of Scope.

Him:  I thought Scope was a TV show or something.

Me:  I think there might've been something regional and Seventies with a similar name.  Bit like Look Around You.

Him:  Okay.  You write 'OK' wrong.

Me:  Both are acceptable.

Him:  No.  Your one's wrong.

Me:  The Pun Run?

Him:  Typing it like that makes me look like an idiot.

Me:  This is why we never get quotes on posters!

Him:  Can't you just go back and fix it instead of drawing attention to it?

Me:  I'm in the zone now, so no.  You could ask the Mystery Voice for a clue.

Him:  I doubt that's a good idea.  The response'd be random.

Me:  Oh, I don't know.  I think it's more calculated and workshopped than you'd imagine.  Try it.

Him:  You ask.

Me:  Okay.  I will.

Him:  And stop typing 'OK' wrong.

Me:  This is ridiculous.  Mystery Voice?

Mystery Voice:  Hmmmm?

Him:  I see what you mean about being calculated.

Me:  Tell us about the Pun Run in aid of Scope, Mystery Voice.

Mystery Voice:  Hmmmmm...

Me:  I've already done the sea badger gag. 

Him:  I think that quote would actually go quite well on a poster.  "The Mystery Voice says, 'Hmmmm...'"

Me:  It's worth a shot.  Shall I just explain in the footnotes?  Along with -

Mystery Voice:  I didn't realise I said so much.

Me:  - the rest of this year's 'Hicks in the City'?

Him:  Yes.

Me:  Okay, that'll be 1 then.

Him:  Stop typing 'OK' wrong!

Me:  Tell the nice lady and gentleman about the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre's new show, Minging Detectives.  Please.

Him:  I've already reviewed it twice.  You lost the first recording and you refuse to use the second one.

Me:  AAAAARGH!  What was the theme of the show?  Anyone?

Him:  R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Me:  "Find out what it means to me"?

Mystery Voice:  Crime.  Well, TV cops.

Me:  Yay!  Thank you, Mystery Voice.  Anyone want to describe my humiliating brush with authoritah?

Him:  No.

Mystery Voice:  Is that the one where the helicopters were overhead?

Me:  It is!  I got jumped for drinking mango juice with bits of sick in it.  Fifteen huge security guards wrestled me to the ground and gave me a thorough doing.  Thanks for sticking up for me, gents.

Him:  It was pretty funny.

Mystery Voice:  But the-  What?  Hey?  Did what?

Me:  How many stars would anyone who isn't me but still involved in this conversation give the Socks?

Him:  There are none of those people.

Mystery Voice:  Out of how many?

Me:  Five.

Mystery Voice:  Hmmmmmm...  Somewhere between four and four and a half stars.  Are we doing half stars?

Me:  We're not.  Give 'em five.

Mystery Voice:  Four and a half of a half.

Him:  And a half?

(At this point the conversation degenerated into maths and I'm afraid that I stopped listening.  The Socks were glorious as ever - the correct star rating's just above the footnotes that'll explain the rest of the Adventure.  Don't phone in, it's not for fun.)

Mystery Voice:  There y'go.  Do you not want to be included in our maths conversation?  I've got a conundrum for you.  It involves maths.

Me:  We could make it a quiz.

Mystery Voice:  I've forgotten what is is. 

Him:  Have you forgotten how long it is?

Mystery Voice:  It's about three.

Him:  Three what?

Me:  Go on then, give us a quiz.

Him:  What's negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus 4AC over 2A?

Me:  And on that bombshell, here're the 'reviews'...

1.  You found it!

Audiences, eh?  What’s that all about then?

The Gilded Balloon's helipads.

I made some mistakes last year, so this ‘review’ is going to be as spoiler-free as possible.  And by that, I mean it’s largely going to be a list of who we saw and why they were great.  Feel free to spend the time you’d lose reading it doing something fun instead.  The world needs more pictures of foxes.

Dave Sim once made an observation2 that I can’t properly remember, but I’m still going to paraphrase here.   Oscar Wilde was appearing in Cerebus at the time and the gist was that anyone writing about Wilde has a tendency to start writing like Wilde.  It’s the literary equivalent of adopting the accent of whoever you’re chatting to - which security guards just hate.  Trust me.  Seeing as I’m about to write about puns, I'm obliged to warn you that there might be some in the following.  They won’t be intentional3 but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any.

The Pun Run is an event that was set up by Bec Hill and usually, unlike David Bowie, appears in London a couple of times a month.  Tonight’s special Edinburgh appearance was in aid of the marvellous Scope.  The Gilded Balloon donated their Nightclub for it and deserve a massive hug for that, but be gentle ‘cause they’re getting on a bit.

Earlier in the day, the Socks'd announced they’d be making an appearance at this, and seeing as the times lined up with our helicopter landing, it seemed rude not to attend.  Also, I think it’s important that the Him get to see as much live comedy as possible.  I’ll explain why at the end.

Since last year I’ve developed an urge to be in the front row as often as possible when it comes to live performances.  I’ve got a theory as to why, but it’s wrapped up in the exciting conclusion so you’ll have to wait for that as well.  We managed to get seats in the second row – if you squint at this you’ll notice we’re in almost every shot – and started sweating immediately.  I’m not sure why so many Fringe shows are held in saunas, but they don’t charge extra for the weightloss which is nice.  It’s great to again be able to fit into clothes that've shrunk in direct proportion to the amount of typing I've been doing.  As we sat down, one of the Socks popped out from behind the side curtain for a selfie.

The night was compered by Darren Walsh, a highly personable and charming fellow who kept things moving smoothly.  And those smooth things are (and were):

Pun Man, a shimmering superhero who'd borrowed Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows. 

Jessica Fostekew, in whose brief set I first noticed the Him having a fine time, and quite right too – she’s very good. 

Steve McNeil and Richard Soames, who gave an incredible performance whilst stealing pints from the audience – I’ve got to give them extra points for stagecraft for that alone.

Next, the afore-mentioned Bec Hill - very good indeed.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre. Who were great. (Hey – I'm biased.)

Yve Blake, who performed a jam-packed (and fruity) song.

David O’Doherty, who looked familiar and kept the musical theme going.

Star of stage and screen and... um... wireless, Milton Jones, who finished the evening with style. 

On the way out I nabbed flyers and shook hands with as many of the performers as possible, little knowing I was about to be extraordinarily rendered.   He’s at the age where he’ll deny it – and quite right too, it’s one of the few perks – but the Him had a fine, fine time.  We recorded the proper ‘review’ on the return flight, but you know what happened to that.

There’s a reason the Mystery Voice and myself didn’t manage to see Bridget Christie, but it’s a sad (and lengthy) story.4  Instead, here’s a link to a Twitter account that she doesn’t run

This year’s Stewart Lee show was easily the best one we’ve seen to date.  Even if he’d disagree.  Which he might not.  Who can tell?  Anyway, that’s about the highest praise I can give.  So there. 
The venue was substantially larger than in previous years.
Katherine Ryan’s had a good year.  Even I’ve noticed that.  Last year we saw her in a much smaller sauna and I got left holding a baby.  Perhaps some of the current material’s less caustic than it was, but not by much.  She’s an excellent performer whose confidence dazzles and she makes everything look effortless.  I got papped with her afterwards – I’m still on the ‘no photos’ deal though, lady and gentleman, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine. 

Simon Munnery’s another act that the Mystery Voice and I’ve managed to unintentionally miss quite frequently.  I’ve got fond memories of being blown away by FuturTV in general and the League Against Tedium in particular.  “Attention Scum!” goes a long way to explaining the personality I used to wear on stage: blood and glitter glisten so seductively under stagelights that a terrifying sonic wall merely brings balance to the show. 

Simon Munnery’s performance wasn’t totally what I was expecting, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And he was kind enough to sign the final Dodgem Logic for me.

I’ve signed up as myself on Twitter.  There’re a few reasons for this and only most of them are to do with preening and #IncomprehensibleSelfPromotion.  The Him’s not as young as he used to be, but then again – who is?  Well, I am obviously, and so’re you.  We all fixed when we were around eighteen and’ve kept steering these steadily decaying meatsuits around, trying not to bump into the furniture, ever since.  Which brings me back to Twitter and ageing.  See?  Seamless.

Although we've been on Twitter for a while now, I think the time’s come for me to leave the nest.  Since this blog started things’ve changed, and entropy’s mostly to blame.  Following the Him’s encouragement I’ve taken on various projects that’re starting to move (some of them almost certainly won’t fly, but that’s okay because foxes need to eat).  It’s not going to be fair, or totally appropriate, for me to push them solely using an account that represents both of us. 

The world’s moved on.  Sojalmejuh’s now as near to a self-righteous moral panic (with digital tar, binary feathers and a hair-trigger) as anything Mrs Whitehouse once rode round on.  I’m conscious that doing - or saying – anything that might result in an attack from keyboard warriors, can’t involve Him.  Even though all our tweets have all been very clearly attributed, I’ve reached an age where I need to take more responsibility.  Stand on my own wobbly legs.  Get out there and meet people.  Things like that.

The Him’s opinions are his and it’s not fair that there even be a possibility that people could mistake something stupid I might say for his opinions.  Guilt by association and that – he didn’t sign up for shared accountability.  We've got Poe's Law for a reason. 

Ah, who am I kidding?  It’s yet another case of the unfunny one in a double-act deciding to launch an unsuccessful solo career and nothing else.  I’ll still bring my washing home on weekends, obviously.5

Last year the Mystery Voice introduced me to Katherine Ryan and I was blown away.  This year he’d decided we’d check out two artists that I knew nothing about.  Remember, I’ve not watched TV in twelve years. 

Other currencies are available.  (And far more likely to be accepted in shops.)

Jena Friedman wrote jokes for Letterman and works on The Daily Show (about which I really couldn’t tell you very much, sorry).  I failed as an audience member here – a few of the jokes went over my head and got lost in the darkness of the teeny air-conditioned sauna.  We’ve still got a 15 rating, so I can’t go into too much detail about the show, but I’d definitely see her again.  And this time I’ll do some groundwork first.

The Mystery Voice and myself met Jena Friedman, briefly, afterwards.  She signed my ticket and later freaked me out by retweeting a tweet I got mentioned in before I’d introduced myself to the Mob.  Does that mean I’m real now?

The final act of the Fringe this year was also, for me, the stand-out.  I’m not familiar with Aisling Bea, so this show was a shock. 

We got to the sauna early and were given complimentary (and individualised) paper plates to fan ourselves with.  That’s a brave and confident move.  “Never arm the audience,” was the first thing I learned during my college years.6 

We filed in and -

Yeah.  That’s nearly enough of this.   

Aisling Bea’s incredible.  The energy.  The persona.  The mind.  Kroll knows, she’s going places.  All of the acts mentioned are – obviously – hugely recommended, but…

Well, that’s the problem.  I can’t compare these artists with each other – they’re too different.  And, I’m not going to judge them against an imaginary and arbitrary criteria either – I’m not being paid to pretend my opinion counts here.  And I’m not an expert.  In anything. 7 They made me laugh and that, surely, is the only thing that a comedian can be judged by.

That’s where this should end.  The house lights’re coming up and the ushers’re making a game attempt at clearing both of you out, but hang on a second.  I said there was a reason that I think it’s important the Him sees live comedy, remember?  I wouldn’t want you to leave before the pay-off.

Edinburgh’s a beautiful city.  Ignoring the volcano and castle, there’s a very good reason it’s the capital of Scotland, a wonderful country full of breathtaking scenery and incredible people.  Unfortunately, I live in the Arctic Circle of Hell.

That’s not a new observation.  I live in a cold place, y’see.  Most of the year it’s a barren, colourless and windripped place.  Eking out a living is hard.  Still, life’s tough all over.  Every now and again I manage to travel somewhere else and it gives me a perspective on things.  Sometimes I travel by helicopter, train or coach.  And sometimes I travel through words.  Whether those’re words I type or words someone else’s typed doesn’t matter, it’s travel and it broadens both my mind and the borders of my Hut. 

Brace yourselves.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe represents the very best of what humanity’s capable of achieving.  All the poisonous, stupid stuff’s still there under the surface, naturally, but for a time you can ignore it.  Speaking as a tourist who lives in Hell most of the year, the atmosphere’s invigorating and the shows are…


Near enough every sauna’s laid out the same: a mic stand and a mic.  There’s no scenery, very little in the way of props or special effects, just the performer and the audience.  Unarmed, hopefully.  There’s a danger to live performance; a frisson; an edge.  Things go wrong on stages.  People die up there.  It’s a high-risk business. 

The stand-up comedian kills or dies on two things: their words and their audience.  The words, as always, build the world, but more than that, they build the audience.  Luck’s involved as much as rehearsal, but foxes still need to eat.  Not everyone can make it.  Life’s not fair and, sometimes, those foxes get to chow down on something they don’t deserve.

I read somewhere that performing a stand-up show is the equivalent of playing Hamlet, but that’s bollocks.  It’s much more important than that.  Almost anyone can play Hamlet if they can read.  Very few people can do stand-up.  Stand-up's shamanistic.  The words build the worlds.  

You still here?

2.  No, not that one.  Shush. 

3.  Further reading.

4.  If you’ve got a spare twenty-five years then I’m happy to tell you it.  Otherwise…

5.  I’ve not explained that very well, which was kind of the plan.  Here’s my personal Twitter account for you to ignore.

6.  Punctuation and Shouting.  Came second, in case you were wondering.

7.  And that includes Doctor Who.  I just watch the damn thing, same as everyone else.  It interests me though – from a sociological perspective as much as anything else.  I may’ve read and written more about the show than some people, but so what?  All I can try and do is type things the way they appear to me, based on all the baggage I’ve accrued in the last few million years.  If it makes you laugh, then it’s good comedy.  If it makes you think, then it’s something else as well.  As to what that something else actually is?  Well, that's yet another tale for another day. 

And, possibly, a different Twitter account. 

Squint or you'll miss it...

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