on the brilliantness of patch hyde (and toby french)

Today I would like to specifically write about Patch Hyde.

Not simply because I did a gig with him last night and he mentioned that every time he pops up in this blog he seems to play a very small role (ie “something happened and then I had a chat with with Patch and then something else happened”); but also because I was thinking what an exceptionally good compere he is.

I was even talking to one of the co-promoters of the club about it (the club, incidentally, is a new one called ‘Llaugh‘, it’s in Clapham Junction and by January I reckon it will be one of the super-top comedy clubs in London).

We were talking about Patch’s compering, and I was saying how for me as the night’s opening act – I am asked to open about three quarters of the gigs I do at the moment, it’s getting ridiculous – Patch got everything just right: he made everyone feel comfortable; talked to individual audience members in a way that was pitched just on the right side of cheekiness to be funny; did a few little material-y lines so that the room could get the hang of listening to material; and then brought me on at exactly the right time so that I had just the right amount of goodwill from the audience and all I had to do was come up and do my stuff and enjoy it.

And then as the night went on, Patch’s bits in between the acts were great – at one point he got a muscular-looking foreign gent in the front row to come and lift him up to show he could lift him up, but the guy didn’t speak English so the whole thing took on that wonderfully surreal quality that you sometimes get with really good improvised stand-up that you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen next but it doesn’t occur to you for an instant that it might not be funny.

And then at the end of the night, some people came in late and Patch basically described the whole show to them in a way that felt like an event had happened and everyone could go away feeling like they’d seen a show which was simultaneously anarchic and yet somehow very well-put-together.

It’s a really difficult skill to compere like that. I’m getting to be a pretty competent MC now, but I’ve only done it as well as that maybe once or twice ever; but Patch seems to be able to do it effortlessly. It’s a complete change from so many acts who, when they compere, still have everything meticulously planned in a way that guarantees laughs but never quite hits those heights of potential chaos.

Having said that, meticulous planning and scripting has its merits too. Not least because it leads to comedians saying things like Toby French (who has some really very well-scripted stories) did before the show.

He was looking very seriously at the list of routines scrawled on his wrist as an aide-memoire. And then, with a very straight face, looked up at me and asked, “Do you know if we’re doing ten minutes or fifteen? Because if it’s fifteen I’ll do all this and the granny-fucking bit; but if it’s only ten then I’ll have to drop the foetus.”

Brilliant.

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decisions, decisions

I just don’t know who to vote for in the General Election now. I thought I did; now I don’t. It’s the toughest electoral decision I can remember.

The question for me is very simple – it’s really the same as it has been for the last six or seven years: ‘what can I do to help keep the Tories out of power, without giving Labour a mandate to do very much either?’

All my other general election voting decisions have been easy. My first one was in 2001, where I was so impressed with Tony Blair’s first term, and so annoyed that I’d just missed out on getting to participate in the 1997 mini-social revolution that he’d brought about, that it was basically a no-brainer. I voted in Northampton North – a constituency that was a straight Labour/Tory toss-up – for Sally Keeble, who had been one of the incredible influx of brilliant women into the Labour government in that first term and was doing a pretty impressive job as a junior minister at DFID.

2005 was tougher, but not by much. I was living in Leamington Spa, doing teacher training at Warwick; and if it hadn’t been for Labour’s huge investment in education and the increase of teacher’s pay to a decent level, then as a fairly high-level master’s graduate I wouldn’t have been considering teaching at all. I know a lot of amazing teachers for whom the same thing is true. So Tony and Gordon had stayed true to the promise of making education a priority.

But they hadn’t stayed true to Robin Cook’s principle of an ‘ethical foreign policy.’ I’d been one of the million that had marched against the Iraq war and written letters and been ignored or dismissed just like Cook himself was. So voting for Labour after that wasn’t so easy.

Still – the Leamington and Warwick constituency was another straight Labour/Tory toss-up. So even though the Labour MP, James Plaskitt was a slippery, disingenuous tosser when I met him on the Parade (he was going round telling people he ‘didn’t vote for the invasion of iraq’ when what he’d actually done was voted for every motion which led up to the invasion, ie on the votes that claimed we didn’t need to see WMDs or get a second UN resolution before invading – and then just didn’t bother to turn up for the final vote on declaring war) I voted for him because even though he might as well have been a Tory, the leaders of his party weren’t. (And of course, the leader of the Tories at the time was Michael Howard, a genuinely appalling man who tried to position the Tories just a few notches away from the BNP and was surprised when the British electorate didn’t want that).

Anyway, I voted for Plaskitt, gagged a bit, and then made up for it by voting Liberal and Green in the local council elections (which are done by proportional representation so there’s no need for tactical voting.)

This time around, though, I’m so depressed with Labour: with their infighting – including from Sally Keeble, one the MP’s who idiotically called on Brown to resign because she basically knows she’s going to lose the Northampton North seat – and their failure to come up with a single policy that seems genuinely useful.

But my constituency is Islington North. It’s a very safe Labour seat, currently held by Jeremy Corbyn, who is probably one of the most fundamentally decent MPs in the Labour Party. He always rebels when he thinks it’s right, and he also has a very nice beard. I like him and when he keeps the seat (which he will), I’ll be more than happy for him to be my MP.

But on the other hand, that means I don’t have to actually vote for him. I can vote for whoever I like. And if I vote for the Liberal candidate, I can help increase the overall Liberal share of the popular vote, which could be important if there’s a hung parliament and we get a proper debate about electoral reform…plus I like the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg is a good, principled leader who speaks five languages (very useful in foreign affairs) and would make a smashing Prime Minister, and Vince Cable would be a Chancellor who actually has a PhD in Economics and knows what he’s talking about.

Plus…I don’t even hate David Cameron. I mean, I know he hates me. Or at least, doesn’t consider me or my family and friends worth looking after as long as he gets to do his tax breaks for the super-rich and married couples, which doesn’t include me. And I know he’d cut teacher’s salaries back again to the kind of obscene level they were under the last Tory government.

But I don’t really hate him, because he’s tried to remind the Tories that they once used to stand for maturity and a strong society and a government that keeps out of people’s way when it’s not needed. And these are good things. I mean, I could never vote for a Conservative party candidate because with the exception of Ken Clarke and John Bercow, the rest of the parliamentary party seem to be the same greedy, xenophobic, homophobic bastards with that irritating sense of entitlement that they always were.

So it’s going to be tricky. I’m going to read the manifestos and see what I think after that. I’ll probably let you know.