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Saturday 18th June 2011

Writing As It Occurs To Me might be a bit tough this week as pretty much all I have done is write, fail to write or gig. But I suspect the script will mainly just be the pay off to running jokes so maybe it doesn't matter. It's all a bit relentless and not too much fun though and doesn't make for great blogs either.
And in case I had enjoyed last night's gig too much I had a tougher and weirder one tonight in Highbury and Islington where I was doing 20 minutes as a prelude to a pub quiz to an audience who mainly just stared at me and clearly didn't know what hubris meant. I told them they were going to be rubbish at the quiz when they failed to get the opening joke, but maybe they were so super clever they saw it coming so didn't think it was funny.
But I got to listen to the Radio 2 New Comedy Awards show on the way there and the results on the way back so that made it a bit more fun for me. Most of the contestants did better with their 7 minutes than I did with my 20 tonight. The standard was pretty good overall and it's a great little leg up for the people concerned (well done to Angela Barnes who won it on the audience vote), though I slightly worry that these things can be counter-productive. TV and radio does seem a little geared to finding the hot new talent, but with comedy you are probably better off learning your trade in the clubs and not getting "discovered" too soon. Having said that one of the judges was Sarah Millican who had done the competition six years ago and it didn't do her much harm (though interestingly she didn't win). If it gives a bit of exposure and assists people in getting more gigs then that is cool, but there maybe should be competitions for acts who have been going about six or seven years and have a strong 20 minutes, rather than all these ones that attempt to discover someone new via a short set. It's easy for people to get eaten up and spat out in the search for something novel, but the more I gig the more I realise how many superb comedians we have in this country, many of whom are never going to be household names.
It seems a few of the older comics are harking back to times gone by and saying things were better then and positing Michael Mcintyre as a bad thing for comedy Alexei Sayle is the latest, but I actually think that the stand up scene at the moment is more inventive and exciting than it's ever been if you know where to look. And mainstream comedians in the early 80s were way shitter than Mcintyre (who I have seen doing some amazing live sets)- Mcintyre is a much better comedian than Ben Elton who might actually be the 1980s counterpart (and I am sure Sayle would agree with me on that). Although comedians like Sayle and the people from the Comic Strip were massive influences on me as a youngster and though I love some of the more experimental acts that they had back then, I actually think there's as more interesting comedians now. There might be more corporate and careerist ones too, but that's only because more people are doing this job now. In the early 90s I though stand up comedy was in a pretty dire state. But now in the 10s I think comedians like Sayle, Stewart Lee and myself actually fit in much better. It's easy to start believing there was a golden past, but every generation has its greats, its overlooked geniuses and its mainstream flashes in the pan. We tend to forget the latter group over time and only remember the masters. Comedy is in a great state overall and I hope that I never become one of these grumpy old men complaining about how things were better in the olden days. As a comedy fan much as I loved Stew's idea of doing a show with comics from the 1980s (though sounds like some of them should have been left as a memory) I'd rather see a show highlighting all the exciting comedians who are working now and have been doing so for long enough to have developed their own styles and personas.
I think the problem in this country is that perhaps stand ups are snapped up and become TV stars or presenters and don't carry on doing the job - which is perhaps why Frankie Boyle thinks so few people are good after they turn 40, and why Seinfeld who clearly thinks stand up is his main job despite the other distractions, thinks that the years from 40-60 are the golden ones. Personally, as someone who was perhaps discovered too quickly the first time and was quick to dismiss and leave behind stand up, I hope he's right.


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