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Saturday 15th June 2013

Nearly had a complete day off today - though spent the morning writing next week's Metro column (about "Railways and the Holocaust"). That leaves me free to devote my attention to Russell Brand and Death for the next couple of days (which might make quite a good magazine in itself).
Trying to stave off death (and maybe Russell Brand too - I can hopefully outrun him if he becomes enflamed with sexual desire) I jogged down to Hammersmith to pick up a few supplies for an afternoon barbecue. I have been inactive and greedy of late and larded up good and proper, but hopefully I can get back into a slightly more healthy lifestyle before I resign myself to getting old and fat and becoming essentially a wrinkly human ball. I am running a half-marathon in October, so do need to get out pounding the streets again. It might kill me or it might save my life. I love that jeopardy. I hope that they will make a Sliding Doors 2 about this.
I haven't officiated at many barbecues, though it's strange how this is the one area of cooking where it is just accepted that men will take the helm. If you're using actual fire then I guess some caveman instinct pops back up. So me and the male half of the couple of friends we had around stood outside in the drizzle and tried to get bits of charcoal burning hot enough to cook some sausages. We weren't immediately successful but used our masculine instincts to throw more fire at the problem and that seemed to work fine.
We played a couple of games of 4 player Scrabble, because that's the kind of rock and roll lifestyle I lead. I am not a fan of the 4 player version of this game, because it is not a fair test of Scrabble skill. If your turn follows the turn of a weaker player who doesn't understand the tactics required then you are at a massive advantage, but also you don't really get enough turns to show your real Scrabble expertise. In a two player game you might get about 16 turns which means if you have a terrible set of letters in your rack you have a chance to balance it, by dumping your Us and Vs and hoping for better letters. But with four players you can get as few as 6 turns at the board which means you are relying heavily on luck.
I shouldn't complain because the luck was firmly with me today. In the first game I got one of the two blanks and three of the four S's, which are like gold dust to someone who thinks that the ability to win at Scrabble has any kind of worth. I got 98 points for one turn, which essentially meant it was game over. In the second game I got both blanks and three of the S's which made my opponents think that I was employing some kind of system of magnets or braille. I got two bingos, "eroding" and then on my final go I took a bit of a punt and went for "Glassmen" - having some (actually incorrect) memory of a glassman being the name of someone who collects the glasses in a pub (that would be a barman). I could take only minimal pleasure in my dominant Scrabble victory because these were meaningless four player games and I had had good luck. But they still count in my Scrabble statistics which I assume God is compiling for me, which will be presented in a big gilded book when I arrive in Heaven.
And it was a precious Saturday night off from performing stand up myself, so I went to watch someone else do it instead, namely American comedian, Aziz Ansari. He is one of the stars of "Parks and Recreation" which with the decline of Community has become pretty much my favourite current sitcom. The first season isn't as great, but it really hits its stride in the second and now it's got to that sweet spot where it's effortlessly funny. The writing and performances are spot on. Ron Swanson actually comes close to being my favourite sitcom character of all time (though Hank Kingsley still holds the crown) and I get a bit giddy every time Jean Ralpheo appears (and I am not completely convinced that he's not being played by Mark Gatiss in disguise). Aziz plays Tom Haverford, a character who successfully combines being a bit of a dick with being one of the greatest things you'll ever see (not to the same extent as John Ralpheo, but in a way that means he can be in every episode which JR would not sustain).
I hadn't seen any of Aziz's stand up work however and there's always a worry that a big sitcom star will trade on their telly success and turn out to be not so great when someone else isn't writing their lines for them. No worry on this score tonight though. Whilst retaining a little of the Tom Haverford swagger, Aziz was his own man and effortlessly charming and funny. He managed to breathe new life into the well-trodden subjects of marriage and relationships and had one of the funniest and most charming paedophile bits that I've ever seen. He danced around on the line of bad taste, but somehow almost never crossed it, was outrageous and wrong and yet you felt you could have happily introduced him to your parents. It was a commanding and hilarious performance. And he did about 80 minutes (if not more) which is unusual for an American act.
Highly recommended if you get a chance to see him. As it Parks and Recreation. It's worth watching the slightly awkward first series just to try and get a grip on what makes a successful sitcom work. But also shows that for comedy to work executives have to be prepared to let it fail and flourish.

The John Lloyd RHLSTP is now up on gofasterstripe or as free audio on the British Comedy Guide or iTunes.

And joining Edgar Wright on the RHLSTP on 24th June will be the brilliant Mark Thomas. Already selling fast so Book Now.

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