Wednesday 30 June 2010

Career advice for budding writers

In answer to questions sent my a friend writing a book:

1 - Your working life seems to be based on being pro-active and innovative; how much of that approach is natural to you and how much did you have to work to achieve it?

The creative arts are competitive and often you have to go out and fight for work. In my case I've created work when there's none seemingly to be had. For example when most of the comics I'd been working for ceased to exist and work was drying up, I tried to do a comic books pin-off of the tv series Gladiators. I spoke to LWT and found what terms they'd ask for a licensed comic, then I spoke to a publisher I'd worked for before, contacted writers and artists, and brought the project together. Okay, it flopped after two issues and lost me money, but that's the sort of thing you have to do.

In another instance, when comics had again gone through a boom & bust cycle, I started producing the annual Comic Festival, something I'd never done before but that kept me in touch with my artform and the business until things looked up again.

2 - Looking at the unique ways you've got yourself out there - comic art masterclass, Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre etc - can you talk us through the process that turns these very individual ideas into income?

The mechanisms of most businesses are very simple. Make something you can sell, sell lots of them, and you're rich. In the creative arts you have the choice of waiting until someone in a position of power recognises how good you are and pays you to do it (eg a publisher or a broadcaster), or alternatively do it yourself. I have done a lot of both. In comics I have always made my money through the patronage of a publisher, be it DC Thomson and the Beano, or Marvel comics or whoever. I've convinced them I was good enough, made whatever changes or compromises they've demanded, and taken the money.

In comedy one tends to begin by making ones own work. Either by playing for free until you're good enough to get a paid gig, or staging your own shows. In the case of the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre I have to invest in my own shows, eg putting a show on at the Edinburgh Fringe which can cost £6000 so has to sell a lot of tickets to break even, but then I can get theatres to book my appearances later in the year and make guaranteed money that way. In comics I have tried self-publishing, which is increasingly popular and has made fortunes for some, but not yet for me.

3 - Are there any ideas, or attempts to develop ideas that finished unsuccessfully and taught you important lessons?

The best laid plans of mice & men gang aft aglae. There are some people out there who can turn creative ideas into money, and succeed every time. I've not met any of them. Most people I know have, at some point or other, had a flop. In comedy I took a sketch show called The Sitcom Trials up to the Edinburgh Fringe for three years, and every time it lost money (though it did get a short TV series, which was a great result). It was a well thought-through show, a genius format, and looked on paper like a surefire success. But it never was. Then, as a spin-off from that show, I started doing a little comedy act with some sock puppets with silly voices. That, The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, has become the most successful comedy show I've ever been involved in and doubles its profits at Edinburgh every year. But on paper it probably still looks like a daft idea. Sometimes you just can't tell what will work. (Google the quote "in Hollywood, nobody knows anything")

4 - What strategies in terms of getting and keeping the employment you want have been most useful to you over the years?

Expect the unexpected, and remember the creative arts are probably the most consistently unreliable way of earning a living there has ever been. There is a quantum jump between being the poorest person in the room and the richest. I know a great many comic artists, stand up comedians, actors, writers, sculptors etc who have been in both positions at some point or the other. And it is not always the most talented who ends up the richest.

5 - What are the best elements of working so much on your own terms?

I have a degree of creative freedom that is envied by loads of people. And most of what I do is actually great fun while you're doing it. I get paid to make people laugh, which is fantastic. On the other side of the coin, boring accountants have big houses. You have a choice.

6 - And the worst elements of the same thing?

Did I mention the unreliability? By the end of the 1990s every comic I had ever worked for had ceased to exist. I phoned up one of my former editors to ask if there was any work going and he wasn't even in comics publishing any more, he was selling orthopaedic furniture. I worked for Marvel comics, the biggest comics publishers in the world, just as they filed for bankruptcy. I got the break of doing my first weekly strip for the second biggest music newspaper in the UK, Sounds. I was in the final issue of Sounds. I got my first big break in the brilliant British humour comic Oink. I was in the final issue of Oink. I went up in everyone's estimation when one of my strips made it into the legendary Brit comic Warrior. I was, as you possibly saw coming, in the final issue of Warrior. I really was hoping to be in the final issue of The Beano, and you never know, that could still happen.

The consolation is that, now there's a recession on, nobody has a secure job. Well hello everybody else, and welcome to the level of security freelance entertainers have always had.

7 - When you meet aspiring comic artists, comedy scriptwriters and the like, what advice do you give them?

If they're very young and don't realise they can do whatever they want for a living, I like to keep them excited about the infinite possibilities that are out there. If they're a bit older and in danger of stealing my work cos they're too talented I try and depress them so much they go into civil service.

8 - In terms of your Sitcom Trials, how much of the eventual success of any writer is down to talent, and how much down to working to achieve success?

In comedy writing you do actually have to be funny, that's hard to get away without. But hard work, perseverance, learning the ropes, making and exploiting the contacts, getting the breaks then not blowing them, these are all vital things on the road to success.

9 - If the teenage Kevin encountered your present day self, what would each one say to the other (feel free to draw this and send in a jpg if it makes the point more clearly than mere words).

Teenage me would be very disappointed with old me. He really thought I'd be living in a Manhattan penthouse making millions as a film director. Old me would tell teenage me to shut up and shave.

Hope that helps, all the best

Kev F

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Sitcom Trials autumn 2010 - producer wanted

Hi Sitcom Trials fans & contributors,

There's been a lot of interest in the return of the Sitcom Trials and there are no doubt 100s of writers and almost as many actors out there waiting to compete in an autumn season.

The problem is our esteemed producer from last year, the brilliant James Parker, is far too busy with other work to look at running a Trials season, and I am too. But there is still the possibility of running a season at the Leicester Square theatre, and there is the usual guarantee of a big enough audience for the show to make money (or at least break even). If only we could find a producer.

So is there anyone out there who feels they are willing and capable of producing The Sitcom Trials? The right candidate for this job would be someone who has, ideally, been involved with the Trials before (either under James or his predecessors Simon & Declan) and can convince me of their vision for and dedication to this project.

Email me with Sitcom Trials in the header if you are interested in learning more.

Meantime I hope you're all well and doing great things, and I look forward to seeing the many Sitcom Trials alumni at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Kev F Sutherland

Sunday 20 June 2010

Sitcom Trials stars at Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Sitcom Trials at Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Among the hundreds of excellent shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, I'm going to make an extra effort to see these shows, featuring as they do the stars of the last season of The Sitcom Trials.

The Sitcom Trials, if you're not familiar with it, is the show I've been producing since 1999 where sitcoms compete head to head with the audience and a panel of TV & comedy biz judges choosing the best. The last season ran at the end of 2009 and featured our strongest line up of writers and performers, some of whom will be at the Fringe. They include

Steve McNeil & Sam Pamphilon in Addicted to Danger (7pm Pleasance Dome). Described in the Fringe programme as "Sitcom Trials winners" they are, indeed, that, and brilliantly so.

The Real MacGuffins (10pm Pleasance Courtyard) are a sketch troupe two of whose members were in two of the entries in the Trials grand final, and one of whom, the marvellous Dan March, has starred in the Trials since 2000.

The Unexpected Items (4.30pm Gilded Balloon) were in the Trials final as an ensemble and have since had a miillion hits on YouTube with the cult classic Gap Yah.

Stuart Goldsmith: The Reasonable Man (7.30pm Pleasance Dome) as one half of Kiosk of Champions was in the Trials final and now debuts his solo stand up show.

Wendy Wason (7pm Gilded Balloon) is an excellent stand up who co-starred in a Sitcom Trials entry that made it to the semi finals, along with Jen Brister

Rogue's Handbook (5pm Counting House, free) not only have members who appeared in the Trials but their Paul Gannon was invaluable in helping run the last season

And of course there's The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (9.5pm Gilded Balloon) who hosted the Grand Final and are produced by me, the inventor of the Trials.

I'm sure there are many other Trials actors, directors and writers on at the Fringe. If you're out there, let me know and I'll, er, big you up, as I believe the kids say.

Sitcom Trials final:

Sitcom Trials 1st semi final
Sitcom Trials 2nd semi final

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Vuvuzela - new World Cup song from the Socks

Brand new from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, a look at the most annoying thing about this year's World Cup.

The Socks play Edinburgh Fringe 2010: 9.15pm 4-29 August, Gilded Balloon

In praise of downstairs

A quick note here. Regular readers of my blog notes might have seen occasional mention of the noise we sometimes suffer from the flat below us. A minor consideration on a global scale, and only a concern to us, nothing that could ever interest the rest of the world. Well I just wanted to make quick mention of the fact that, for nearly a week now, we have heard absolutely no noise.

It has been, as both H & I have remarked independently, like "normal".

Let's enjoy this while it last shall we? It is, as I say, almost normal.

Tues June 15 2010

Monday 14 June 2010

Edinburgh flyer 2010

For the 4th year in a row we need a flyer to thrust in peoples faces at Edinburgh throughout August. It looks like this:

Sunday 13 June 2010

Friday 11 June 2010

A Scottish World Cup Song

New from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, an anthem for Scottish fans to sing (with love & best wishes to all our English fans)

And by the way, tickets for our Edinburgh Fringe 2010 show are now on sale!

Thursday 10 June 2010

Edinburgh Fringe prog 2010 - I like

I've just had my first excited read of the Fringe Programme 2010 and I'm delighted. I like the new layout, I think the photo listings do the acts a great favour (many are as effective as a paid-for ad, and I bet loads of acts are kicking themselves that they didn't get a good photo sent in now), and I think this year's line-up looks stronger than ever.

I had a few thoughts about who might be likely for awards, so here are my totally unreliable predictions:

Comedy Award Nominees
Sarah Millican
Alex Horne
Shappi Khorsandi
Jeremy Lion
Jason Byrne

Best newcomer
Gary Delaney
Nat Luurtsema
Andi Osho
Greg Davies

Scottish Act Likely to get a nomination
Susan Calman

Shows with stupid titles that nevertheless sound intriguing
Nick Mohammed is Mr Swallow

Titles that least make me want to see the show
Dark Side Of The Poon
Testaclese and Ye Sack of Rome
Quantum Sheep and a Load of Balls
Quiz in My Pants
Cum All Ye Faithfull
Laugh? You'll Shit Yourself!
About Nothing in Particular - Free
Exceptionally Average - Free
A Study of Embarrassment by a Guy with Two Bumholes
Kunt and the Gang

All in all an exciting line-up, with a good spread of shows around an increasingly wide variety of venues. Just The Tonic's line up in the Caves is particularly good (inc Wil Hodgson, Phil Kay, Henning Wehn, Susan Calman +), with good acts at the GRV (inc Robin Ince, James Sherwood), the Tron (John Robins, Gordon Southern, Andrew O'Neill), lots of stuff on the Free Fringes, a new marquee venue in Princes St Gardens, and of course the usual stellar line up at the Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Underbelly and Pleasance.

Here we go.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Socks vids - hits from the pits

Enjoy these folks, some treats from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre archives.

Life On Mars

Okay, I just put this up so anyone glancing at our blog for the first time doesn't see some boring notes about our noisy neighbours. Whatever, keep on enjoying.

Monday 7 June 2010

Noise reports a log

Anyone reading this blog will find little of interest. We had trouble with noise from the downstairs neighbours on Friday night June 4th and I kept a live log of it on Twitter. Because Tweets disappear after a while, I am collecting them up here so I will have access to the record when future events occur (which we hope they won't).

It began earlier in the evening, but this was when I started writing:

Oh joy. One of our neighbours is testing the stereo to see if it goes up to eleven. Well. They have been warned...
8.03pm BST (times amended from Twitter time) Jun 4th

8.15pm, the first time downstairs music was so loud it shook our table. So it continues. #neighbours 8:21 PM Jun 4th via web

I'm happy to report our downstairs neighbours are watching Britain's Got Talent. I wonder if Britain also has a volume control? #noise 8:31 PM Jun 4th via web

So now I have video of sound coming thru our floor while our TV's on mute. a) how pathetic do I feel? & b) what am I supposed to do with it? 8:44 PM Jun 4th

We're surrounded. It's a bit like being in the Winchester in Shaun of the Dead. 9:23 PM Jun 4th via web

And on the plus side, BGT resumes in 5 minutes, and the neighbours have spent half an hour getting ready to get louder. Brace yourself floor 9:25 PM Jun 4th via web

If any of our other neighbours are reading this, that sound's coming from the basement. One of us is ill or we would go out and escape. 9:30 PM Jun 4th via web

Now have video* of surface of glass of water being shaken by downstairs' noise. Thanks for the idea #drwho 9:40 PM Jun 4th via web

*NB: I realise bass notes and vibrations don't record well on video, but it gives some idea.

It is like living inside someone else's stereo. At what point do you call the police? #neighbours 9:40 PM Jun 4th via web

Have just been next door. They too are being disturbed by downstairs noise. 9:41 PM Jun 4th via web

Thought for one blissful moment the basement had read Twitter and turned it down. They were clearly just changing a CD. Okay... 9:53 PM Jun 4th via web

@S...d They have 50 minutes. Thanks for the tip. 10:06 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to S...d

@d....d 11pm seems to be the official cut off. 49 minutes and counting... 10:06 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to d...d

@r...tes We've called the cops once before, in 1996. Once every two decades, not a bad hit rate. We'll be patient. 10:07 PM Jun 4th via web in reply to ra...s

Thanks for this tip To everyone who's looking forward to a peaceful night 10:10 PM Jun 4th via web

The good news, they've all gone out downstairs and the noise has stopped. The bad news? Pubs close. #neighbours 10:20 PM Jun 4th via web

Socks fans will realise tonight's return gig in Poole got cancelled. Means I was at home & H didn't have to suffer alone. Alls well that etc 10:40 PM Jun 4th via web

Reassured re our disturbed night by typing "neighbours" into Twitter & reading everyone else's tales of woe. We are not alone. Night all 11:56 PM Jun 4th via web

Downstairs neighbours have turned in @ last after party that started in the afternoon. Must have work tmrw. Now where did I put that hoover? 11:58 PM Jun 4th via web

Saturday 5 June 2010

Edinburgh Fringe programme nostalgia

The new Edinburgh Fringe programme comes out this week, and that's long been a thrilling moment in our household. In more recent years it's been fun to see where my show's advert appears in the prog, and to see the ads by the other acts. But long before I started taking shows to Edinburgh, I went up as a punter. And for any regular Fringe goers, seeing for the first time the incredible range of entertainment that's going to be taking place in August can only be exciting.

So, if you're familiar with the Fringe and its programme, here's something that will count as either nostalgia or history, depending on your age. The Fringe programme from 1984. (Don't worry, not all of it). Click on any page to see it in full. Enjoy...

74 pages long, compared to 2007's 288 pages, it begins by boasting:
"...last year 425,500 tickets were sold for 6,886 performances. Over 500 different participating groups took part, made up of nearly 5,000 individual performers."

Let's have a look at the shows that were on in 1984. Don't worry, they all fit into just two pages...

Theatre shows take up 2 and a half columns, Comedy takes up just a third of a column - and includes Accidental Death Of An Anarchist and Comedy Of Errors!

But look at those others categories: Revue? Cabaret (including Alexei Sayle)? Mime? Bloody mime? Truly the past was a foreign country, they did things differently then.

Nowadays the display ads by, mostly, comedy shows, are ubiquituous and colourful. In 1984 there was only one display ad booked by a comedy act.

One ad.

It was, naturally, black and white. And this was it:

We went to that gig. Alexei Sayle died on his arse, the show having been papered and being peopled by drunks from the street who didn't get him. And look at those ticket prices. Three whole quid? The cheek.

Here's the rest of what passed for "comedy off the telly". The only other display ad booked by comedy shows in 1984:

St Marys Hall? Where the hell is St Marys Hall? I went and I don't even know where it was. And whatever became of Paul Martin? He seemed quite promising.

And this is what was on at the Pleasance in 1984.

What? Nine shows? No stand up? The Edinburgh Comedy Awards would have difficulty drawing up a shortlist from that lot. They'd have to look at other venues or something. (The Pleasance courtyard was still a car park, and there was an art exhibition taking up an entire floor).

You can order the new programme, and of course see all shows online and book tickets, at

Friday 4 June 2010

Always A... - New from the Socks

New from the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, one song sings about the other. He's Always A...

Eat your piano out Fyfe Dangerfield. And you, Billy Joel. And John Lewis? This version is available for your next ad campaign.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Saatchi Video Artist of the Day - Heather Tweed

What a brilliant find. Online, today, the Saatchi Gallery's Video Artist Of The Day is our own, our very own, Heather Tweed.
Saatchi Gallery. Click on that, scroll down and there she is.

It links to Heather's Anubis Walks: Tate video, which you can also see here.

Heather Tweed's work is currently appearing on Governor's Island in New York and will be appearing as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival in August. Find details and contact Heather at

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