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Monday 22nd September 2008

So as expected the Guardian chose to herald the writing guide as "Catherine Tate
How To Write Comedy" which is as close to claiming that the booklet is written by her as they can possibly get, though of course as there is no possessive apostrophe at the end of her name they can claim that is is merely a brochure that includes those two things. So she writes two pages and I write nearly all the rest and it's her name up on the front page. Am I bovvered? A little bit. But only a little bit. It took the shine slightly off what is actually one of my proudest achievements. I love the Guardian and I love their little giveaways and I felt I did as good a job as possible with this given the limitations of space. And my mum had been all excited on the phone because she'd seen the first one being held up by Jeremy Paxman (or whoever was hosting that day) in the tomorrow's papers review and seen the picture of Robert Harris on the front page and thought that my photo would thus be up there too (similarly Harris had only written the introduction too). She was actually more excited about my photo being on Newsnight than on the front of a newspaper and was slightly disappointed when she realised that mine was coming out on a Monday and there was no Newsnight on a Sunday. "It'll still be on the paper," I had said at the time (before I realised that it obviously wouldn't be), but she was crestfallen because she was only interested in seeing my face on Newsnigh. But in hindsight that was a good thing. Because she would have set her video recorder and invited all her friends around to celebrate the moment, only to see Catherine Tate's mug glaring back at her. Then she'd have had to try and explain this away to the Cheddar community, not understanding why I had lied about writing a guide to comedy writing, when someone else had apparently done it.
So I will just have to go to plan B and get on Newsnight by going into a high school and shooting loads of kids instead. I will only be doing it for you mum.
I can understand what the Guardian PR people are thinking, that Catherine Tate is on the TV and thus might encourage more undecided potential readers to buy the paper than my face would, but as my supportive colleague Andrew Collings points out, it is a bit crap of the Guardian to treat its readers as if they're stupid. Once they get the actual guide they will realise that it isn't Tate's guide at all. So it's actually just as bad for her as it is for me. She was commissioned to write an introduction and that's all she was expecting and now the paper is heralding it as her views and people are buying the paper on the strength of that, only to be disappointed. It's a pity that the Guardian feels the need to stoop so low and as a regular reader I feel slightly put out that they are trying to trick us in this silly way.
This is in no way the fault of anyone involved in the project. Philip Oltermann and his team have done a wonderful job on the series and I've found the other ones very informative and interesting and I love the look and lay-out of them all and it seems that all the people who have done the actual hard work of writing the booklets have, like me, felt rather flattered to have been asked and thus done their best to impart their knowledge. So it's just as insulting to everyone involved that whoever is trying to publicise the thing is not letting the work stand on its merits and feels the need to push the celebrity angle. It just doesn't seem like a very Guardian way of behaving. But doubtless it led to the sale of a few more copies. But as Michael commented on Collings' blog "I thought that was his first lesson! A writer does all that work only for a performer to come along and take all the credit."
But overall I was much more pleased with the finished product and satisfied with what I had done. I would never have expected to get my picture on the front of the paper, but it's just odd to see someone else's picture on the front of a paper, seemingly taking credit for your work. Anyway, if you missed it, you can read it all here or view just my bits in the downloads section of this website (plus a slightly different earlier draft).
Despite all my good advice to the world I completely failed to get any writing done today myself. My brain just wasn't clicking into the right place and the minutes ticked away. And then the hours. And I'd got nothing done. I went to the gym at least and found I had lost a kilo and a half since yesterday which was good news (I am aware that perhaps the scales at the gym are not the most reliable ones on the planet). Then I headed over to London Bridge to do a gig at King's College student union.
After last night's sublime gig I suspected I was about to come down to earth with a juddering jolt as when I got there it became clear that entry to the event was free and the bar was rammed and the people at the back were just drinking and talking and making no attempt to listen to the comics. This will pretty much always happen at a free gig, especially at a bar in a college. Just some token payment will keep out the people who don't actually want to see the comedy. I prepared myself for a horrible 45 minutes on stage.
But as it happened it was a lot of fun. I felt old and disgusting compared to these fresh faced youngsters half my age and so just played up the dirty old man side of my persona (it is a side, that admittedly is so large that it stretches almost to the other side) and tried to shock these happy youngsters with lewdness and filth. Due to the packed nature of the gig I had a couple of dozen pretty 18 year olds sitting and kneeling on the floor directly in front of me. Can you imagine what use I made of such an image? It worked out OK, though it was disconcerting to see the people I picked on actually squirming and going pink with embarrassment. Disconcerting and sexually arousing. Comedy club audiences are made of stronger stuff, but a lot of these young people were in their first week of University and made of more fragile stuff. A couple of years ago I think I might have given up on a gig like this before I started, but I messed around, overstepped the line, dug myself into holes and dug myself out again and generally enjoyed myself, feeling old, but glad to be old and happy to be making young people laugh. Almost like I am a proper comedian. After my barrage of filth, MC Mark Olver made delighted fun of the fact that I had written a Guardian guide to comedy and advised everyone to read it and then think back to all the disgusting stuff I had done at the gig, which he rightly pointed out was not mentioned in the brochure.
On the tube home suddenly my comedy writing brain started working and I had loads of ideas for the new script that I am just starting work on. Despite having thought of nothing all day long. That should probably have been another chapter in the guide, about how you don't really have control over when inspiration is going to come along. I guess I partly covered it, but it seems indeed that during the day of funk and procrastination things were clicking around in the back of my head and then after properly waking up my subconscious with a tricky gig I was in the mood to unleash ideas. But it happened on a tube train at 11pm when I was on my way home to bed and had no computer or notebook with me. Hopefully I'll remember it all in the morning.
Comedy is definitely the hardest job in the world.

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