betting on the horse


And for the sake of shamelessly courting needless controversy in order to draw attention to my blog, while ridiculing the idea of the ‘comedy competition’ (without explicitly showing my deep bitterness that I’ve never won one), here is the Charlie Duncan list of odds



Helm and Taylor 4/1 (because they stormed their semi-final and are more fun than jellywrestling)

Kai Humphries 4/1 (beat a very strong semi-final lineup, beating Fergus Craig and knocking out Joe Bor, Joel Dommett, Tom Goodliffe)

Joe Lycett 5/1 (also won a very strong semi, knocking out Tania Edwards, Mark Simmons, Joe Baker)



Fergus Craig 7/1 (Hackney Empire new act champion, came 2nd in a ridiculously strong semi.)

Sam Gore 7/1 (a big hit in the Manchester/Yorkshire circuit, though he won the semi with the weakest – on paper, at least – lineup)

Jason Patterson 10/1 (won his heat, very charming and confident, frequently does well. Likely to get a placing.)

Alex Maple 14/1 (Lovely act, won his heat but might be too laid back to upstage the likes of Helm + Taylor )

Tony Dunn 14/1 (strong runner up in the semi despite going on first, killer material, big Scottish face)



Lady Garden 25/1 (Hackney Empire finalists but would have to do something special to win this)

Andrew Ryan 25/1 (Affable Irishman, was a runner up in a very strong semi, but would have to pull off a surprise against the big guns to win)

Mike O’Donovan 25/1 (lovely stage persona and deserving finalist; like Alex Maple, may be too laid back to storm in a competition final though)

Lambros Fisfis 30/1 (Very funny, but as the 2nd placed act in one of the weaker semi-finals would be a surprise winner in the final).

Martin Hill 30/1 (great ranting which could get a great response on a big night if he brings the room with him; but was only 3rd placed in his semi so has to be ranked as an outsider)


If anybody wants to place any bets with me, they’ll have to do it on the sly seeing as how as I’m not a licensed bookmaker. But feel free to ask for my bank details. (A payout is not guaranteed under any circumstances. Alex Petty, other employees of Laughing Horse and their families are not eligible to enter.) 


credibility for sale pt. 2

…And while I’m on the subject of stupid adverts, I’m a little bit worried by facebook’s user-tailored adverts, especially when I keep getting options like this:


 Is this what facebook thinks I am? Are these supposed to represent the demographics I am in? People who are:

A) nearly 30 and are so pleased about it that they want to be constantly reminded with a kitsch fucking t-shirt that has the year of their birth on it

B) make ‘hilarious’ prank calls on people, and 

C) not only need to get a get a girlfriend, but are so screwed up about it that they have to be marketed at by an advert that offers to tell them whether they are even capable of being a boyfriend?

Is this me? Is this really me? 

You remember the good old days, before there were adverts on facebook? Was the bigger server really so expensive that paying for it means I have to be taunted about my age and social ineptitude? Has facebook really been improved by this?


credibility for sale

Last week I did two ‘cultural’ things: I went to see the Picasso exhibion at the National Gallery, and I went to ‘Classic FM Live’ at the Albert Hall in the evening. (Don’t ask why I was at ‘Classic FM Live’. I just was.)

The Picasso exhibition was okay – not Picasso’s best stuff, obviously, but a telling idea of how much an artist has to study the past masters before they can really do anything original – but the thing that really caught my eye was this huge, cringeworthy text on the wall by the way out:

cringey ad 1

What? Seriously, what the…? Are Credit Suisse – a bank, whose sole purpose is basically just to move numbers around on computers – saying that they are ‘like’ Picasso? Why did the National Gallery let them do that? I can understand sponsorship (though the ticket was still pretty expensive), but surely somebody at the Gallery should have said, ‘alright lads, we’ll take your money and you can stick your logo all over the place, but this text is just fucking embarrassing. You aren’t like Picasso. You’re a fucking BANK.

And then I went to ‘Classic FM Live’, and on the back of the programme was this full-page advert:

cringey ad 2

Do Benecol honestly think that people think to themselves, ‘well, I have been eating a lot of pizzas and chips recently. I suppose I’d better stick Mozart’s Requiem on’? No – it’s a shitty, moronic advert that isn’t meant to be taken seriously but that at the same time makes genius music into a part of their crass little sales pitch.

The point is that neither Picasso, nor Classical music concerts, need this bullshit. And I wonder why they accept it. People would still buy the tickets if they were £1 or £2 more expensive, but for some reason the whole culture industry – even the Comedy Store – have got used to the idea that unless something is sponsored then it must not have value, so they always go looking for sponsors like they can’t operate without it. And so credible organisations like the National Gallery let companies who have no credibility of their own (like Credit Suisse and the frankly ridiculous Benecol), buy their credibility without realising that when someone buys something from you, you don’t have it any more.

So the National Gallery have made themselves a joke by putting that ridiculous text on their wall. And as for Classic FM, who for years have been a kind of Radio 3 for people too retarded to notice the crassness of the adverts…they have no right to the music they broadcast at all. Grasping bastards.

Derek Draper’s Comedy Masterclass

I suppose – as always – that Armando Iannucci got there long before I did.

His Friday Night Armistice was never a huge ratings hit but I watched it semi-religiously for most of 1997. I was 17, was just beginning to understand the British political landscape properly, and the Thatcher/Major government was playing out its last few sordid months. It made for great TV: there was Mellor and his sexual deviance; Neil Hamilton, quickly gathering a comedy reputation (in brown paper bags, mostly) at the heart of the Tories’ sleaze-riddled spectacle; poor Major cutting a tragic-comic figure in his failure to handle a fractured party. Iannucci and co were never short of material because the government were such a bunch of incompetent, sniping, grasping buffoons. I was inspired.

And then there was the Labour Party. Blair was young and dynamic and promised to be ‘whiter than white’; Brown was intelligent, principled, sensible; Robin Cook had ripped the Tories to bits in the chamber over Arms to Iraq and looked about to be a genuinely decent Foreign Secretary…

And on the night of May 1st 2007, while Dimbleby and co. were on BBC1 analysing Labour’s landslide in their straight, dry election night way, BBC2 was given over to Armando Iannucci to present The Election Night Armistice. I don’t remember that much about most of the show. I remember it was brilliant. The bit that stuck in my memory, though, was a section where they got ‘spin doctors’ from the major parties and asked them to try and put a positive spin on ridiculously bad quotes. And one of those was a young-ish guy called Derek Draper.

Draper was remarkably impressive; in fact I think he won the little ‘spin’ competition that the Armistice team held. He was charming and witty, and although he seemed like a little bit of a tool, he was a tool with his heart in the right place: he was the representative of the new government that were coming to save us from the sniping and sleaze of the old politics. I liked him.

This week, Draper – several scandals later, the editor of the LabourList blog – was revealed as the recipient of those emails that Gordon Brown’s press guy Damian McBride wrote discussing a number of possible smears of Tory shadow ministers. I’ve read his responses to the whole thing blowing up and he’s clearly the same guy I watched 11 years ago, trying to make a bad situation look better. But he’s obviously still a tool.

His overall motives, I think, are decent: he was fed up of the fact that politics in the blogosphere is dominated by right-wing gossip and rumour-mongering and wanted to change it.

But he forgot that there’s a reason why that kind of nasty politics is done by Tories, and that’s because they are supposed to be the nasty, sleazy, sniping ones. And he – and McBride, of course – are both massive tools because Labour are supposed to be, in the public’s perception, the ‘good guys’; when the Labour party stoop to the level that we expect of Tories, then it is always going to be big news.

The traditional perception of the floating voter in Britain is generally that the Tories are unpleasant and sleazy, but competent; and Labour are decent and principled but a bit rubbish at governing. The reason Labour won by a landslide in 1997 was because, in addition to being principled, they managed to appear more competent than the Tories. They don’t look competent anymore (despite Brown’s handling of the banking crisis); but the one thing they still had was some kind of shambolic decency – they were going to keep the debate about policy, not personality etc.

And now Draper and McBride have blown that. All the Tories have to do now is look suitably offended and shocked and their job is done.

What makes it all so tragic, so heartbreakingly tragic is that it was all there, all the ingredients of this, from the very beginning. And Armando Iannucci saw it long before I did; when Iannucci met Draper on election night back in 1997, he knew that he was meeting what the Labour party had really become – a party so obsessed with its image and making things look good that it was never going to be able to do a really good job of governing.

So, tomorrow, ‘In The Loop’ – Iannucci’s film about government spin and underhanded, spiteful, sniping politics – is out and it looks like it’s going to be brilliant. And perhaps Derek Draper will watch it, and recognise what a complete tool he always was.

And that’s why I would only ever be a comedian and not a politician; I knew it even during that inspirational election night in 1997, when in my youthful naïveté I felt like Blair was going to fix everything. And I certainly know it now.

this week…

So I’ve got this new Iphone, right… The question is, will it make me blog more, because I have easy access to the internet at all times, or less – because I have easy access to the internet at all times…

It will certainly be useful during the edinburgh festival, about which I am far more confident after this week’s scurvy Wednesdays show. All three of us were pretty ace, particularly Loz and Tony who both filled an astonishing amount of time with killer ‘greatest hits’ sets while we were waiting for Pat Monaghan to show up and headline (he eventually arrived an hour later than planned and was as charming and funny as ever – just phenomenally late).

Anyway, my heavily re-written bit about sandwiches did very well and I’m pleased to have it back – also the confidence boost from knowing I have a bit which is clever and funny and doesn’t involve any props is pretty nice…

why Heraclitus sucked

Old school reports are fun.

I just found one from when I was 9. It says,

“Although Duncan still produces a phenomenally small quantity of work, there has been progress. He needs to get to work straight away rather than forming all his ideas in his head before he puts pen to paper. Good behaviour and cooperation with others. Excellent creative work.”

I have concluded from this that Heraclitus was wrong about everything being in a constant state of change. 

In order to change, something needs to make some kind of effort.

necessity and contingency

I think I’m a pretty good philosophy teacher.

There was never a doubt in my mind – not at any point – that I would be. (Bear with me, the self-loathing’s coming in a minute.) Anyway, it occurred to me today that maybe my being good at teaching philosophy is partly due to the fact that I’ve never doubted my ability to do it.

And then I wonder whether I would be better at stand-up comedy now, if I had never doubted that I would be a great comic. And I wonder if there’s a psychological hurdle that I still need to cross in order to get to that next level. (See?)

When I’m standing in front of a class teaching philosophy…I feel comfortable, I feel confident, I feel funny. When things are going well, I might catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a window, moving with that sense of purpose and fun that I see so often in the comics I admire. I play spontaneously with ideas, coming up with stuff on the spot that is better and funnier than anything I could have planned. And yeah, I get quite a lot of laughs. Admittedly in the context of a philosophy class the laughs are easier because that’s not ostensibly the primary purpose of the activity so the pressure’s lower; but I get a lot of good laughs nonetheless, because I don’t doubt that I will. Even when things aren’t going great, I don’t doubt for a second that I’m still going to pull it round.

But in front of comedy audiences in the last few weeks… I seem to have this fearful voice in my head that says, ‘don’t fuck it up – don’t fuck it up or you’ll lose them…’ And then a joke doesn’t work, I get distracted by it, and then (stupidly) refer to it, which gets a good initial laugh of recognition that the joke didn’t work but doesn’t do much for the audience’s faith in the rest of my act…

Most audiences don’t really notice, of course; they still laugh all the way through the set and seem to enjoy themselves; and I’m mostly still doing the kind of open-mic circuit gigs where nobody really kills, so my jitters maybe don’t stand out that much. But I’m sure I can sense a slight feeling in the room of, ‘well, that was averagely competent’; and I can feel the difference between an average gig and really good one. And it’s a good few weeks since I’ve done a really good one.

It hasn’t always been like this, of course. There’s been patches when I’ve got on a stormingly good run of gigs, when every audience – big or small – seem to laugh like I’m saying the funniest and yet most insightful things they’ve ever heard; when every line seems to get a really good, honest laugh and the best ones get spontaneous applause; when girls have come up to me after gigs and told me how great I was (obviously I thank them politely and go home to Nan)…when I’ve thought, ‘maybe I really am able to do this well…’

But that feels like short runs of gigs – maybe 10 or 12 at best – and more significantly, it never feels like that success was inevitable or necessary. It always feels like it will come to an end. (And most annoyingly, it very rarely seems to coincide with really important gigs like the competitions, or open spots at the big clubs).

So I’m guessing the difference really is just confidence. It’s quite likely that I’m a confident teacher because I come from a family of schoolteachers; of course it’s inconceivable that I won’t be a good teacher. It’s the family business.

But annoyingly, neither of my parents are comedians.

So I guess I worry that that makes a difference; though when I can think rationally, I know that it’s not the genealogy, but the worrying, that really makes a difference.

In short, as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself…”

“…oh, and having crap material. Obviously”