Friday, 26 September 2014

...And So Am I examined

With the dust well and truly settled after this year's Edinburgh Fringe, and the Socks about to do their first live show in a month, I've had a chance to look back at this summer's show, ...And So Am I, and see what I think of it in retrospect. It's been interesting, in the intervening time, to re-read Stewart Lee's How I Escaped My Certain Fate, in which he dissects three of his stand up shows, with footnotes that take up far more space than the routines themselves. I don't propose to do that, but for my future reference it will be interesting to look at this, our most topically-based show, and see what was in it.

Intro - Mass Debate. Good start, we greet the audience with a gag stolen from Radio Active, making it a good 30 years old. So they know what they're going to get. This three-gag routine does, actually, set the tone very successfully for the rest of the night and, plagiarism aside, I'm rather happy with it. It's also three short lines, which gave me the confidence to then launch into audience interaction and improv before the opening song, which is a good thing to do, as long as you've delivered some good punchliney material to begin with. A bad move is going off at a tangent before you've set the actual course of the show.

I'm A Sock - I've tried in past years to replace our theme tune. But disastrous preview shows where that was attempted (Brighton, Bristol and Leicester have suffered these over the years) hammer home the fact that we can't do it. Again, it sets the tone for the show, and also gives me a chance to assess the audience. If they laugh at certain points, ("...not on your cock", guitar solo, and "do you want a fight?" are the three key ones) I know they're newbies, or particularly easily-entertained regulars. If they don't, they've heard it many times before, or they're going to be harder work then usual.

Ignoranus - This very good routine asking how the audience are going to vote in the Scottish Indenpence referendum is sadly redundant now. Again, continued the theme of the show nicely.

Clegg/Milliband/Cameron - Shamefully I use the c word to get the first big laugh of the night (actually often the openings have done that, with their scope for audience interaction and improv).

Pros - The first thing I wrote for the show, this is a very old-fashioned and tenuous wordplay routine that I was worried wasn't going to work. So many points of reference that not everybody would get - Heidi Fleiss, Cynthia Payne, Billie Piper in Diary Of A Call GIrl and a list of golfers - but the structure and momentum made this work. It was written hurriedly one morning, literally on the back of an envelope. Here is that envelope.

The Adele/Peter Benchley joke - My Stewart Lee moment. A joke that only I got (and so did David Quantick when I originally tweeted it, which is frankly why I kept it in). It's a good gag, but only if you are au fait with the works of both Peter Benchley and Adele which, I can confirm, is about 3 people in every 90.

Intro to Mumford & Son - rubbish, never made that make any sense, changed it every night, will happily never try it again.

Mumford & Son - jolly good fun. It's more Crackerjack than Mitch Benn, if I'm honest, but I like it and so did every single audience.

Baby In The Corner - the running joke. This was a shamelessly reverse-engineered callback, which saw me starting with the punchline which comes towards the end of the show, and inserting set-ups through the preceding hour like a comedy-writing automata. Worked every time. I shall be using this piss-easy comedy-whore writing-by-numbers method again.

Europe / MP passing a motion - Some more set-of-three good comedy gags, which are fun to write and a treat to deliver. And topical, so their shelf-life is coming to an end.

Noah - What was this doing in the show? Doesn't fit the theme of the show whatsoever, but kept getting laughs from the start, had so much scope for audience interaction it got better every time, and best of all it's not topical so it has life in the touring show. Best laugh from a rubbish punchline in years.

Downton Abbey - One of those scripts that starts promisingly, starts to look less funny as you go through the previews, then finally comes together during the Edinburgh run. I chopped a good third of the lines out, keeping only the funniest bits, then mercifully found a way of giving it a punchline by segueing it into the next song.

The Franz Ferdinand gag - Wrote this about 3 days into Edinburgh, thus linking Downton to...

Oh What A Lovely War On Terror - I'm proud of this. I don't care if you think it's Crackerjack-y, and I'm not too worried at those people who were laughing at "My old man is in the Taliban" for the wrong reasons. This is a satirical tour de force in my books, and the fact that it's not been seen by million on national TV is their loss.

Stereotypes - A classic Socks word-association routine, and their best for years. Well done them.

Street Where You Live - A new addition to the "three songs" the Socks have been doing for years. I like it.

Song For UKIP - My favourite three minutes in the show, about which I can only reiterate my remark about the millions on national TV and their loss. All going well this will last till next year's election, possibly with lyrical updates. Also not a problem that the "Jews" line doesn't get a laugh. Satire's not all ha-ha hee-hee, you know.

Send It Back gag - Can't fathom why this never got the laugh I wanted, it's another of my favourite gags.

St Andrew - Early on, in previews, someone remarked that the show was all good except for this routine, and I started to agree with them. Then it got whittled down until only the funny was left, and I made it segue into the pre-finale break-up routine, and suddenly it was perfect. For about a week it ended a bit messily though.

Always A... - Revived from 2010's show, On The Telly, this fitted perfectly. Big Sock fans hadn't seen it for at least 2 years, and for newbies it was as good as ever. Fitted the mood of the moment perfectly. Followed by..

The Break Up - On early nights of the run, we had the Batman/Tennis routine, which thankfully was squeezed out once the laughter made earlier parts of the show last longer. Now we went straight from the song to the break-up, including the Snot Talking, which was an ad-lib that stayed in.

Baby In The Corner punchline song - This wasn't so much stolen as inspired. I mean, obviously it comes from Dirty Dancing. But breaking into this particular song at this part of the show came from seeing a series of French double acts on TV in Toulouse back in April, all of whom ended their routines with a choreographed musical bit, and one of which used this. To say I thought "I'm having that" would be libellous. But I did end up having it. Coincidentally, in one of our last preview shows, in Birmingham in July, the new double act Crumpkiss ended their routine with exactly the same song. So it's a meme, clearly.

Macbeth - The bin is welcome to this. I was so glad on the nights when there wasn't time to do this finale, which had gone from being well-written but unfunny, to re-written but still not funny enough, to its final state of "done in 90 seconds and get to the punchline quick". When it was good it was very very good, and very short. And it did round up the theme of the show, which is something the Socks have failed to do many a time.

Sweary Poppins - Finally we ended with a song, often by sacrificing Macbeth, and it's the perfect ending. It's been in our touring show for years, but Edinburgh has only ever seen it in 2009's show Goes To Hollywood, so a perfect note to go out on.

In all I thought And So Am I was our best structured show, with some of my favourite songs (however long they stay topical) and the most consistent level throughout, and the audiences seemed as happy as ever, but I don't think ultimately it gave us any timeless routines quite as strong as Socks In Space (Avengers, Star Trek, David Bowie), Boo Lingerie (Horror Cliche Song), Hollywood (Star Wars, the 3 Songs, Word Association, Sweary Poppins) or On The Telly (Missing Off TV, Ship In A Bottle, Walk On Wild Side, Always A.., Sawing A Sock In Half).

Seven shows later, we still got it. Now, what shall we write next?

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre are on tour... NOW!

Sept 26 - MAC, Belfast Comedy Festival
Oct 10 - Heron Theatre, Beetham Cumbria
Oct 11 - Leamington Royal Spa Centre
Oct 16 - Ormskirk Civic Hall
Oct 31 - Lichfield Garrick Studio

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