on karl edrik

So now Karl Edrik is dead. Apparently they found his body out in Goa. I don’t know exactly how he died and I’m not prepared to speculate.

I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t want to get a reputation for just writing about dead or dying comedians. But I’m quite sad about it. So I will say this about Karl:

1) We started out in comedy at the same time. We did our first ever stand-up course and our first few gigs together. His material back then was terrible (as was mine), but something about his style made the material almost irrelevant. He was just ridiculously confident and ballsy.

2) His ballsiness wasn’t a stage act; in fact, I think he was borderline crazy. But he went full throttle at life, he was amazing to go drinking with, and he had stories that made me blush. I like to think he was also outgoing enough to make sure plenty of those stories are still out there knocking around. It would be a tragedy if they go to the grave with him.

3) I haven’t seen him since Edinburgh last year. We were doing shows in the same venue, and in the first few days he said, give me a call and we’ll go for a beer. But because it was Edinburgh, and everything gets in the way of normal planning, I never did. I’m sad about that. And I’m sad that I won’t get to make up for it.

Sorry, Karl.

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not breaking the jinx

I got knocked out of the Laughing Horse competition tonight, at the quarter-final stage.

Which brings us back to where this blog started a year ago.

It’s annoying because I’m so much better at this now than I was then.

Still. It’s my own fault; I started well, then took a risk on a bit of new-ish material that did really well on Thursday; but it turns out that it’s one of those bits of material that either kills or, if it doesn’t fly, just leaves me standing there shouting. And, for whatever reason (partly because I rushed it to try and fit a seven-minute story into four minutes) it just didn’t fly tonight. So I ended weak. And so the three guys who did good, solid sets went through.

Still. This is how it goes. If you gamble, sometimes you lose.

how babybird saved my life (yet again)

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Camus, and I’ve been marking it by contemplating suicide.

Not really, you know, contemplating doing it. Just thinking about it as a thing (I don’t think I’d ever do it – that would be retarded! If only because it’s such a cliche. Also because it’s contagious and I tend to hang around with people who, for the good of humankind, I wouldn’t want catching it.)

But when you read the opening sentences of Camus’ The Myth of Sysiphus…

“There is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.”

…it’s pretty tough to argue with. Of course, you could point out that in order to make that judgment, we ought to know more about the kind of judgment it is, and so a proper understanding of the relationship between experience and our judging faculties are necessary before we can make it. But that doesn’t take anything away from the overriding importance of the problem. At bottom, ‘to be or not to be’ is still the question, and it’s one that, however annoying we might find existentialism, we can’t get out of answering.

So I’ve been thinking about what topping myself would be like, and how it would get me out of the overwhelming exhaustion that comes from waking up every day and thinking, (in Mike O’Donovan’s words), “Oh God, I’m alive again…“, and having to go through the ridiculous charade of pretending to like people you don’t like and not to love the people you do love, and not getting to spend your time doing whatever you like because you have to spend it waiting for buses and queueing and wishing you had an umbrella when it starts raining, and knowing that you’re going to have to do the same thing again but with worse and worse health, interminably until you die anyway

But I assume everyone gets this. (Right?)

I mentioned that I was thinking this to one of the other acts (I won’t say who) at the Comedy Cafe on Wednesday night. He said, “God, that’s an awful thing to be thinking. But, if you DO do it…can I have your jokes?”

Which I suppose is both a compliment, and a perfect example of the stand-up mindset.

Anyway, so this is what I’ve been thinking – the question of the value of being – and as is the way with these things, once you start thinking about something it starts popping up everywhere. In the news; in casual banter with the man cutting your hair; in other people’s blogs; a sociologist friend mentions he’s about to start teaching Durkheim’s On Suicide; a book I’m reading about Hemingway randomly falls open at a page near the end… Suddenly the idea pops up all over the place. And, I’ll be honest, it was starting to trouble me just a little bit.

Then the new Babybird album came out.

I once wrote about Babybird in my now-defunct Myspace blog, and a few people were surprised at how it was I could have so much love for the guy who wrote ‘You’re Gorgeous’.

But the new album, Ex-Maniac, is just remarkable. The third and fourth songs in particular. It might be hard to understand for a casual listener, but you don’t really know what relief feels like unless you’re in this cold, numb kind of place, weighing up the value of being, while at the same time wondering if this album you’ve bought is going to be any good, and then you hear Stephen Jones’ most calming, reassuring voice open a song with the words, “Step one, don’t kill yourself / Step two, don’t do yourself in…”

It’s called ‘Failed Suicide Club’, and it’s beautiful and it’s funny and it is enough to make you put the knife/rope/gun/toaster down.

But then the next song – ‘Unloveable’ – comes on, and it’s is the best they’ve done in a long, long time. It’s got a little bit of ‘Creep’ and a little bit of ‘With Or Without You’ (except with Johnny Depp being The Edge – Babybird are his favourite group and they let him play on it) and probably a little hint of ‘Run’ by Snow Patrol and ‘sha-la-la’s that remind me of the theme from ‘Local Hero’ by Mark Knopfler.

But it is entirely a Babybird song. Partly because nobody can sing ‘sha-la-la’ as meaningfully as Stephen Jones – he bellows it out like it really counts for something, because he knows that in pop music, it does. But also because nobody else could write a closing section that goes

“Love so sweet, it suffocates us like a sickly candy gag
And we’re floating down the sewerpipe like kittens in a bag
And the mirror screams to both of us that we are not alone
And the metaphors explode, and suddenly we’re home…

You can’t love me – I’m unloveable – but baby, you could try…

And I want to be able to explain why hearing Stephen Jones’ voice singing this makes me want to cry with happiness and despair and hope all at the same time, but I can’t. I can say that I suspect it’s the same mix of feelings that compels us to imagine Sisyphus happy. But that isn’t the point: the point is that it makes me feel something – and that is enough to pull me out of whatever swamp of thought that Camus might have put me in.

And so I listened to the rest of the album, and every single song (‘Bastard’ and ‘On The Backseat Of Your Car’ in particular) is witty and heartfelt and it’s what pop music is supposed to be like when it’s made by people who mean it.

So I got on facebook and I found out that I had friends who were also secret Babybird fans that I wasn’t aware of, and I got tickets to go and see them at the Scala in a few weeks.

And so it doesn’t matter whether my thinking about suicide was a practical or an academic matter. I know Camus had a go at Kafka for the ‘glimmer of hope’ in his writing, but he was wrong. Because hope IS the answer to Camus’ absurdity problem. The reason people don’t – or shouldn’t – do themselves in, is that you never know when there’s going to be something that turns up to look forward to.

For me, I’m just looking forward to putting Ex-Maniac on. Again. And that is enough for now.

out of sync

Last thursday I did a gig where, for the first time ever, I had to ask a member of the audience to stop laughing.

The thing is, it wasn’t that he was laughing too loudly or in a mean way – it was just that he was laughing in all the wrong places. Actually, he was laughing in the right places too – but the problem was that he was just laughing ALL THE TIME, and any variation in the types of laugh he was doing seemed completely random and not in any way related to what everyone else was laughing at.

I don’t know if he was drunk, or mentally ill, or what; but it was as if he just couldn’t comprehend the basic rhythm-structure of comedy.

Normally the comedian (or a heckler) says something funny, then the audience laugh – together – for a length of time and volume which is in some way proportional to the funniness of the thing they’ve said. Then they stop, or at least let the laugh ebb away a little, and that gives the comedian the signal to continue with the next funny thing. There are subtleties in the structure of which laughs are supposed to be bigger and smaller, but the basic joke-laugh-pause, ‘call and response’-style structure remains the same throughout.

But this guy just couldn’t seem to work with it, and it was incredibly offputting. Again, the laugh is where everyone comes together and this guy just couldn’t, or wouldn’t, work with it. I often didn’t know when to start the next line because I was waiting in vain for him to stop laughing, and the rest of the audience were waiting for me to carry on, and…it was just impossible.

It felt mean at first to ask him to stop laughing, but I tried to do it in a funny way (making a joke of the fact that it’s unusual for a comedian to want anyone to laugh less, etc.) and think the audience recognised the need for it. They had paid to be part of the mysteriously (and possibly frighteningly) unifying experience of the stand-up comedy club, where not just shared values are reinforced, but shared biological rhythms of thinging, laughing, breathing.

But this guy was just unable to work with me, or them.

I don’t know what this does to my thesis that comedy clubs operate in a pretty efficient anarcho-communitarian way; the fact that there will always be nutjobs who just can’t work with other people is a pretty cliched criticism of it, but annoyingly it did mean that some policing needed to be done.

Some more thought needed, perhaps…