Friday, 25 March 2011

All new?

I was thinking of something to chat about that concerned children's entertainment and stand up and decided to ponder on the topic of trying new material v honing your act. Something that sparks debate among both children's entertainers and comedians with quite a few parallels between the two. And quite a few non-parallels (perpendicular bisects? is that the opposite?) as well.

Amongst children's entertainers there seems to be two schools of thought;
You should be constantly changing your show and buying every new gizmo, DVD and gadget that comes out or you should spend decades honing your show by performing it until your fingers bleed and a load of your brain neurons reassemble themselves to create a space in your head entirley devoted to putting hankerchieves into a bag.

It's either one or the other. Children's entertainers aren't very fond of grey areas. What they are fond of is forming one infallable opinion whereby they can look down on anyone who has a different opinion and therefore assume they are a better performer/thinker/person than the purveyor of the opposing line of thought.

Comedians seem to accept that the answer lies somewhere in between the two although can have a good old barney about where exactly the answer lies.

As I'm fairly new to stand up I can only hypothesise about the correct balance although having said that being a fairly old hand at children's entertainment I still don't really know where the balance lies there either.

Some say the main argument about changing your act is that audience may have seen you before and therefore will want to see something new.I feel this tends to be more applicable to adults than children. Children enjoy the repetition (as any parent who has watched "The Little Mermaid" 47 times will concur) and in their short lives seeing the same show half a year later is a long time for them. Here are my thoughts on that pasted in from a forum:

I wrote:
"I do have 2 shows now but it's just to keep the adults happy and to give me something to do.
Then again my show is different every time as I riff off what the children have said and ad lib a lot. It's also quite a knack making the material always seem fresh and original. If you're bored of it then the audience will be too.
The problem with performing to the same group of kids several times in a month is they become over familiar with you rather than the show. Familiarity breeds contempt they say... I was flavour of the month at a particular hall and was doing pretty much the same show to the same children every week for 2 months there and it was going fine. I then decided to do new stuff as the children has seen me so many times before and this is when I lost them (and subsequently lost my flavour of the month position). Not doing my classic stuff meant I couldn't ad lib as well and couldn't control the room as well.

I think the problem with too many repeat multiple bookings in a birthday party enviroment is the children feel more at ease to shout out at inappropriate times etc thus leading to problems with the flow of the show. The bookers will blame these problems on the fact you are doing the same stuff whereas in actual fact it is other factors that are the problem."

In that example it is the adults who get bored with the same stuff not the children and by pleasing them you can end up not doing so well with the children. Pleasing the adults is a factor you have to consider. Even if it's wrong you have to take into account the booker's perspective. I have heard adults mention this about other magicians too. They'll say "We used so and so but he always did the same thing and the children got bored" I'd bet my bottom dollar that the children didn't get bored but as far as the show goes it was probably the adults that got bored.

On one occasion a boy was at 2 of my parties in one day and basically watched my show twice in the space of 3 hours.
I kept an eye on him to see how he'd enjoy the second performance and he laughed pretty much as much as he did 2 hours previously if not more.

To please the adults and amuse myself I do change my show. But I do it slowly working in one new effect until it's strong then going on to another. I know have about 8 hours of tried material for kids shows but I would say about 1.7 shows (I can do 2 strong shows with one routine the same in the middle once I work up another strong puppet routine I will have 2 kid's acts)

In Belfast the open mic scene is pretty small so you tend to suffer old material guilt. When travelling to a new city to perform I certainly feel a lot more relaxed as I can perform my golden oldies without that nagging thought in the back of my head that everyone has heard all this shtick.

I wonder how much of this guilt is in our heads.

It is true that adults don't like to see the same act repeated. My father attended about 3 open mic nights in the space of 2 months when I started out and started saying I should be doing new material. Grown ups don't want to hear the same shtick more than twice (or maybe he just thought my material was crap, which to be fair, at the time it probably was). I think there are 2 reasons they don't want to see the same act. firstly the obvious; they want to see something new but secondly that it ruins the illusion.
Your average punter, rather than a comedy connoisseur, wants to believe that you are just a funny guy on stage rather than someone who has worked on a funny script and performance. My non-comedy mates will see an act and I'll go "that's a great act" and they'll go "that's a funny person". Magic godfather Jean Robert-Houdin is quoted as saying " A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician" and I think a comedian is an actor playing the part of a comedian. We don't want to know that they're doing an act we want to see a funny person.We don't want to know it is someone giving the illusion of being a funny person via hard work and commitment.
Someone mentioned on the chortle forum a while ago that they overheard a punter complain that they had seen the same comedian a week previously and they were doing the same jokes. This kind of perspective on things seems unbelievable to perfomers but I suppose is quite common for those not immersed in the business.

King of sticking with your act is TVs Mr Matthew Collins. Who keeps the same act and hones it. He goes down great with crowds. Of course the comedians have seen his act so many times they know it word for word.

And the COMICS joined IN with the PUNCHLINE.

However as I've said he does wonderfully, he quite wisely ignores the comedians and has managed to hone his act on a small circuit to a degree few others have reached.

Sometimes getting the comedians at the back to laugh can help win over a small room (especially if they're half the crowd and lord knows we've all played a couple of them here or there). However long term it's probably best just to ignore them. As soon as you say something vaguely familiar they'll roll their eyes and all file out for a smoke anyhow.

However, given the size of the circuit here there will be quite a few who have seen me before so new stuff can be good for the punters too. I'd love to live in London where one can hone a set doing the same crap to a fresh crowd every night. On the other hand the good thing about a small circuit is it does force you to write and try out new stuff if you're doing it on a regular basis.

MCing the same gig fortnightly I have to come up with something new every two weeks. It's fun and it keeps me writing and experimenting. If I did spend the last 3 years honing the same 15 minutes I would undoubtably have a fantastic set but I fear my creative side would be lacking. If, God forbid, at some point in my life I get any mainstream exposure I will want to be in a postition where I'm not spent after showcasing my best 20.

A good thing about new stuff is it sounds fresh (because it is) but here it seems to get old fast but I also think if I got a chance to do a set umpteen times it would start sounding fresh again. I know from my kids act that when you know something so well you don't have to even try to remember the words then you can put effort into the delivery and play around with it a lot more. Adults will recognise if something is new by the delivery and give you extra kudos and I suppose when you can make it sound like it's fresh again you will get the kudos on top of the fact you've a great set.

One thing that makes it more difficult to add new stuff to my kids act is they don't give you the new material grace period so doing a new set is hard work.

New material in stand up is of course hard work too. When I perform it it is pretty obvious it needs work. Two local performers who I greatly admire for the knack of hitting the ground running with new material are Morgan Hearst and Ruaidhrí Ward. I'm constantly gob-smacked at how polished their new material is. Morgan tells me he achieves this by a lot of hard work putting hours into scripting and spending a lot of time saying it out loud at home (or in his garage to the cat). Morgan also tells me that Rua doesn't script it just works it out roughly and relies on his immense natural eloquence. The talented git!

(And if you're reading this fellows let me say that this doesn't mean I think Rua isn't hard-working or Morz isn't naturally eloquent....)

I've no conclusion to this blog. It's just general wittering. I suppose kids show performers or comedians who never try anything new under the guise of honing an act are conning themselves out of fulfilling themselves creatively and conversely performers who chop and change stuff weekly are conning themselves out of finding out what their act could be after time is added to the mix.

Anyhow, I have a whopping 4 children's shows to do tomorrow and I will be trying out a new routine. It's the opening routine too. Ugh! That's the hardest one to swap. If the opener doen't go well in a stand up act there is a vague chance of winning the crowd back. If the kids don't go for the opening routine then they'll be outside looking for a small animal to poke with a stick about 3 minutes in to the show.

I also have several stand up spots over the next fortnight. The one I am most looking forward to is the Queen's Comedy Club this is the last big comedy venue in Belfast I have yet to play (well I've performed on that stage a couple of times but not at the actual proper comedy night). I will probably look over the hours of material I have worked on over the last three years and pick out my best 10.

Whereby any mates I have managed to drag along with me will ask "doesn't he have any new stuff?", roll their eyes and all file out for a smoke.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Privates and Roberts


So not an essay on anything in particular today just some bits and bobs (hence my hey-larious title)


I think it's safe to say the whopping 9 votes that came in for the great Norman debate represent an accurate cross-section of society in general and therefore:
67% of the population (6 people) think I shouldn't worry about basing a few of my routines on jokes from the instruction leaflet that came with them and can carry on regardless.
22% (2 folks) think I should rewrite the hackier parts
And 11% (1 ballbag) think I should drop the whole shebang and deal only in original thoughts and premisses.

I was momentarily a bit upset that someone clicked the "drop it, you hack" option and then realised that I had titled the option myself and if I had made it a "George, I love you but I think this particular routine is beneath you" option they would've had to click that instead. So you're not really a ballbag, you ballbag. Anyhow, I can't see any reason why I should drop the whole thing rather than rewrite the hacky (they're only semi hacky, they are nearly completely rewritten) parts so maybe it's just someone who doesn't like prop gags. In which case I'm not going to listen to them anyhow.

Quite a few of my friends have read it and were interested in discussing it with me. And even some of my friends who will call things hack quite regularily thought I was within my rights. Which made me think the poll was pretty worthless. People say what I want to hear if they like me and don't if they don't. So it was really just a popularity poll. And 2 out of 3 people think I'm great. Result!

Marcus Keeley noted that what I do is different to what comedians do so he thought it is a horses for courses situation. It was sweet of him to say but I don't really agree with this attitude as it is exactly the attitude that has kept most magicians in the "I can do any material given to me" frame of mind that I despise. I'm playing comedy clubs so I think the same rules should apply to me. Although maybe I can bend a few. Such as performing classic effects or reworking the odd old visual gag. I think maybe that it's cheeky but not wrong. Something that can be done sparingly, with consideration, research and honesty.

So, I'll probably go for the rewrite option and take out anything that is recognisable from the original instruction book. Bye Bye Julia Roberts then :(


I've just read three books by performers in a row. Maybe I'm in a particularily receptive frame of mind or maybe I just got lucky but I can honestly say these 3 books were the best of their kind I've ever read. These books were:

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin Fantastic! Things will ring true and familiar for any comedians or magicians reading. And positively toll true for anyone who is both...

How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee Smart man. This book is a comedy nerds wet dream. Skips all the boring childhood stuff to make room for full transcripts of shows plus his thinking behind why he says what he does.*

Confessions of a Conjuror by Derren Brown: Smart smart man. Whether he is talking about magic or life; that man can see the Matrix. I spent most of the book nodding. Like a top observational comedian he says things everyone kind of knows but no one ever says and if they do, not half as eloquently. I also think he's caught footnotitis of Mr Lee.  (Thanks to the aforementioned Marcus for the lend)


Having recently acquired a new phone. It's an android HTC desire. Don't get me started on it or I'll bore you stupid. Suffice to say, it's fabtastic and I can genuinely say it has improved my life. I know. What a geek. (nearly went off into a bit of Catty Mollins material there)

Anyhow. I can't believe how easy it is to put videos up now. I used to have to record a video,find a usb cable, transfer it to the pc,change the format of the video, log in to youtube then do all the uploading stuff, now I press one button on my phone, shoot the video and it's done. So I've popped two unedited videos online this week.

One of me making a 5 petal flower out of balloons. It's not very exciting. It was just an interesting problem how to do this in a neat and simple way. It's easy to work out even numbers of petals but takes a bit of flair for odd numbers.

And one of me performing an old domino trick. I say domino, it's more like a hybrid of a playing card and a domino. Or half a domino. I'm not sure anyone cares what it looks like.

Ironically folks seem to like the balloon one more. Which is kind of annoying as the balloon one was merely to show a few folks how I did something whereas the domino one did have some thought put into it with regards to making an entertaining video. I deliberately performed it for youtube rather than just did a stage presentation in an empty room. The domino one was also in response to some of the dire videos on youtube where you watch magicians pause, look in the wrong place and wiggle their hands suspiciously. ( Try these: ).
I suppose mine's not that great either (I found myself distinctly irritating when I watched it back) and one of the drawbacks of youtube is you convince yourself that you are good by watching people do things very badly...

The Magic Cafe

I do try to be helpful on magic forums but occasionally I just like shooting the breeze and cracking a few jokes like I would with my friends. Unfortunately, I forget they aren't my friends, they're magician/childrens entertainers and most of them haven't a clue what I'm talking about. Which does kind of make things funny while also making me look a bit mean. Try here, here and here.
The first one is just me being silly but he got a bit cross. It was his final reply that made me laugh the most. He did get me, though, as I wanted to say something about lazy stereotyping but I was genuinely in the pub when he replied (with a pig under my arm, dancing a jig, eating a potato).
The second one gets funny near the bottom and unto the next page talking to the lovely Stephen Ablett. I do try to have serious conversations with him. But it's hard...

Apologies if I've upset anyone. I am just being silly not mean!

That's me for now. I have an idea for a video project which I will be contacting my chums about this week. Keep an eye on your inboxes.
All the best

Ta ta

*He really loves footnotes +

+ See what I did there