How I learned to stop worrying and love the ‘block

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It’s been a while since I blogged here, but some exciting things have been happening. There have been some problems too; the kind which are probably familiar to many. A few months ago writer/producer Ravonski wrote this really interesting post about the difficulties of having too much creative freedom. This is something I’ve struggled with in the past couple of months, and especially since finishing my stand-up course. For the first quarter of the year I had a target; a very real motivation. Once that ended, things became more difficult.

I’ve written here about the comedy which I saw in New York later that month, and that should have acted as an inspiration. Right? Well, that’s not how it turned out. And I was pretty frustrated for a while because I was getting nowhere – there were a few loose ideas, but where to start? What did I even want to achieve? There can be few worse feelings than being passionate about creating something but feeling completely unable to do that, either because the ideas aren’t coming, or you don’t know where to start, or because you’ve suffered some huge drain on motivation.

Getting my ‘Fix

Luckily, although the stand-up course has long finished, the results of it haven’t. I’m now involved with a show called The Comedy Fix on Rhubarb Radio, which I co-present with Gary Dring and Jonny Greatrex who also completed the course. Being part of this has been a huge motivational boost for me as it’s given me a creative outlet and means that I have a regular (fortnightly) show that I need to write material for. I’ve been doing items for the past three shows and while none of that material is stuff that I’m really proud of, it’s a good arena for trying certain things out, and some of the jokes might work well if transferred into other formats. I’m still interested in doing more stand-up, for example, and some of this material might translate, although I’d like to do something based around a concept if I go back to the stage. Most of the stand-ups I enjoy tend to do stuff which is interesting structurally or thematically, and has intelligent ideas behind it. Although even then, jokes are still important! There are a couple of concepts I have in mind but, particularly with one of them, I’m still figuring out the logistics of how that could work. I’m also wondering how the lessons I learned and feedback I received from the stand-up course can be implemented here – this is ideas-based comedy, cerebral or at the very least quite meta in some places, whereas it was the more physical elements of my set at the course showcase which got some of the biggest laughs.

On top of the stand-up I still want to work on some ideas I have, especially a monologue I’ve been thinking of for a while now and I’d also like to do something visual – either a zine or graphic novella, perhaps with a collaborator whose skills lie in illustration (N.B. mine most certainly do not). But the radio show satisfies some of my creative/comedic tendencies, although I’m not the most natural person in the studio. My writing habits are still pretty scattergun too; I tend to have bursts of ideas rather than writing every day – sometimes I can go for days without writing anything which makes me laugh, and then have a sudden impetus. Maybe it’s because I work best when deadlines are looming, as I often put things off until the pressure is really on. I don’t like this way of working, I’d rather be more organised and be more ahead of myself, but I’ve been learning to try to accept that way of working and harness it, rather than being frustrated by it. I don’t think it’s the ideal way, but neither is trying to force it.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

The main thing for me – and I’m prepared for this to sound really self-indulgent and pretentious – is trying to create something which has some sort of artistic value, rather than just writing stuff for the sake of it. I don’t feel that any of the stuff I’ve done yet has been particularly ‘worthy’, but I have a lot of ideas for things we could do with the show. Several of these are things which would work well collaboratively, and I think this stems from my belief that although the three of us have very different styles and tastes when it comes to comedy, we could do something a lot more ambitious with the show if we work together more often. I enjoy working on my own bits for the show, but feel we could do something between us that experiments with the form, structure and style of the show, and incorporates a lot more ideas. This will be more difficult to achieve because it would involve a lot more communication between each other and regular time pre-recording items for the show, which might not be feasible because everyone is very busy with their jobs and social lives, plus Gary and Jonny are both doing stand-up gigs too.

I’d like to see us push ourselves and also the audience, because I don’t think we should be restricted by assumptions of what the audience wants or expects, or will find funny. I think radio is a great breeding ground for ideas and generally trying stuff out to see what works, although without much feedback it’s very difficult to know which bits are enjoyed the most by listeners, or even how many people are listening in. The same goes for podcasts. I also think that working on stuff together would help to give the show more of an identity, but we’d still have the freedom to mix things up a bit and experiment. What’s the point in doing something if you’re not going to aim high?

But for now, I’m just glad to have found an outlet and a way of working. Plus I’m also learning to put less pressure on myself if the material just isn’t coming. I do owe a huge amount to Ashley Robinson who usually has to listen to my moans about things like this, so she has been enormously supportive and helpful in getting me to be more relaxed about it and to let things flow more naturally, however frustrating my natural tendencies might be. I’m keen to pursue a few ideas to really have a go at comedy writing, both on my own projects but also with any collaborators. So if anyone reading this would like to work on something together, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.


Fantasy Sitcom: Who’s in yours?

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Last night I was listening to The Comedy Fix, a comedy-based (fortnightly) show on Rhubarb Radio. It’s presented by Gary Dring and Jonny Greatrex, both fellow graduates from the stand-up comedy course I did at the MAC, and who opened and closed the live showcase respectively. I haven’t had any involvement with the show yet but will hopefully be contributing new material to it in future weeks.

Before listening to yesterday’s show I had an idea for a feature to include on the show. I can’t even remember what inspired the idea now, but here it is: Fantasy Sitcoms. I remember listening to The Evening Session with Steve Lamacq back in the days when Radio 1 wasn’t terrible (Mark & Lard, Lamacq and of course John Peel were required listening as far as my teenage ears were concerned – sadly I don’t have first-hand memories of the station’s comedy high-point, when the likes of Danny Baker, Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Lee & Herring and Simon Munnery graced the airwaves in R1 colours, although thanks to the internet and the foresight of people who not only listened to but also recorded those shows at the time, I’ve heard them since). A feature Lamacq regularly used to do was Fantasy Festival, with listeners’ dream festival bills, or even Fantasy Supergroup, where people at home would devise their ideal band line-ups.

Fantasy Sitcom follows the same basic principle. If you’ve ever wondered what Fawlty Towers would be like if Basil had been married to Thelma from Whatever Happened To the Likely Lads?, or if Del Boy and Racquel had ended up raising one of the kids from Malcolm In the Middle, that’s the kind of thing we’re looking for. Or perhaps Bill Cosby took a part-time job at Dunder Mifflin after his pension was wiped out by the credit crunch. Also, maybe there’s an iconic sitcom location where you’d like to see another show set. For example, what if Rob Corddry’s Adultswim show Children’s Hospital was set in the wards where they filmed, say, Only When I Laugh? You get the picture.

There are also writers to think about too. What if Hancock’s Half-Hour had been written by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, or if Porridge had been penned by Simon Nye? How about if Galton & Simpson scribed inner monologues for Mark and Jez in Peep Show, or Red Dwarf writer Rob Grant introduced aliens to Keeping Up Appearances?

It’s meant as a playful thing, and a topic for discussion to get people interacting with the show. Obviously different writers, characters and situations are products of their own time and place, so might not be directly comparable or interchangeable. Anarchy might ensue, and some combinations might simply be too off-the-wall. But that doesn’t stop people comparing Messi with Maradona, Matt Smith with the actors who have played previous incarnations of the Doctor, or Alex Kidd In Miracle World with L.A. Noire. Well, maybe not the last one. Anyway, hopefully this is a fun idea which will get people talking.

It doesn’t necessarily just have to be sitcoms; you can broaden the field to sketches, films or other formats too if you like (maybe you’ve always thought a Reeves & Mortimer character deserved their own sitcom, or a film character should’ve had their own spin-off). What we want are your Fantasy Sitcom suggestions for the following: the title of the show/film/sketch etc, the situation it’s set in, the names of the characters or actors who would appear in it, the names of the writers involved, and the location where it’s set.

Anyway, if you’ve got some suggestions for Fantasy Sitcom line-ups, leave a comment here or on the show’s Facebook page. You can also send suggestions via Twitter, directly to me or to the show, using the hashtag #fantasysitcom. Let’s see what you’ve got!