Check the Socks out all over the centre pages of Metro newspaper, at the start of Easter weekend and on the day of their Superheroes Preview at Bath Comedy Festival.
Lucky old Bath Comedy Festival, courtesy of good old Nick Steel its sterling organiser, had the privilege of a 90 minute show for this our tenth appearance at the Festival. (We are, if you're interested, the only act to have played all ten festivals.) They were also the first of this year's preview shows to have the actual title (Superheroes) in the programme. Leicester, Glasgow, and Brighton in May put their programmes together so far in advance that we've been listed only as "The New Show", cos I had no idea what the theme of the show was going to be back in November. In fact Nick had us supplying him with info so close to the deadline that we even managed to squeeze onto the front cover of the Bath programme:
So, how about the show itself? Thanks for asking, it was brilliant. Our best Superheroes Preview yet. And, with the exception of the last show at Glasgow, they've all been pretty good.
Because of the odd nature of the audience at our last show, the 2nd Glasgow Preview, which I'd spent a day rewriting and preparing, I didn't feel that rewrite had had a fair test, so tonight in Bath they got that rewrite with no changes (just two removals: the then-topical Ken Dodd and Stephen Hawking gags, and the lame Wonder Woman routine).
In addition, because we were doing a 90 minute show, the Bath crowd, which was about the size of the Leicester audiences and very appreciative from the start, got a 30 minute warm up from the Socks, doing our old favourite stuff. Luckily for us, though we've been there 9 times before, alternating between shows at Widcombe Social Club and the Rondo Theatre, they've been seeing the new show every time, so last night most people hadn't seen our 'staples', so gave a smashing reception to the Halloween, Michael Jackson, and Magic routines, and to Walk On The Wild Side and Sweary Poppins. And there was another addition to our comedy arsenal - Lovehoney.
Lovehoney, whose banner ad you can probably make out in the background of this Sock selfie, are new sponsors of the festival, and they do sex toys. Which gave us the opportunity for some great ad libbing, and nice callbacks throughout the show. Sadly I only videod the second half of the show, the Superheroes bit, so didn't record most of the Lovehoney adlib material, so you'll have to take my word for it that we were on form.
Thus warmed up, the Bath crowd were the perfect test for the Superhero material which is holding up very well, and will be developing further by the time of its next preview in Brighton in May (if anyone has any preview opportunities in April, we'd jump at them). High points include Superman and the Racist Brother story; improvements are needed to the Avengers Reel, the Avengers skit, and the X Men; a lot needs to be done to integrate or give better punchlines to Batman, Harley & Ivy, and the Fantastic Four; and items that may hit the cutting room floor include Steed and Mrs Peel and Spider-Man, if and when better material comes along. The writing process continues.
A return to Prema Arts in Uley in Gloucestershire looked in danger of being snowed off (a bit of a theme this year) but went ahead fine, with two classes going beautifully, and a lovely cover in the form of Chubby The Space Cow. And I was on a door split, which I should do more often (memo to self).
Then, in a contrast to my last visit to Dublin where I was there for a whole week, this was a whistle-stop one-day visit to Larkin school, which I haven't been to since 2010. A sambo is what they call a sandwich, honest. Though beware what happens when you tweet it, is all I can say.
Whizz Kidz Manchester was a short one-off class with the wheelchair kids, some of which I've worked with before, in Birmingham, most of which are new to me. And I'll be working with another group again soon, in Liverpool next time. There was no access to a photocopier, so this group went away without a finished printed comic, but I still coloured the components up after the fact, as is my wont.
The celebrities these five groups chose for my demonstration strip were Elvis Presley, David Beckham, The Queen, John Cena and Donald Trump.
Chortle is the most respected authority on comedy in this country, so it's incredibly pleasing when one gets a good mention. In the story today plugging the Gilded Balloon's Edinburgh tickets going on sale, they've put us prominently in the article as "festival stalwarts". It may only be a small thing to you, but to move from also-rans to stalwarts is a definite pleasure.
Added to this, they've listed our full Edinburgh run on their gig guide, which is a boon and a boost. So, many thanks Chortle. We look forward to delivering a show that merits a review in August.
The comics were announced in the venue’s first batch of programming today.
Omielan will be headlining Gilded Balloon’s biggest space, the Debating Hall, with her new hour, Politics for Bitches. She said: ‘I believe it’s my right to have an opinion on something I know absolutely nothing about.’
Gilbert continues his return to stand-up six years after his last tour with some more ‘‘work-in-very-very-early-progress’ shows. He said: The world’s gone totally mad since I last toured in 2012, and my head’s all over the shop. It’s time to get back up there sort it out once and for all!"
Because it has its own blog, I rarely mention the Sitcom Trials here in my blog, and to be honest there's not been much to say for the past year, not since the end of the 2016 So You Think You Write Funny season which culminated in Edinburgh that August.
But Friday morning, when I was waking up in Glasgow and recovering from a rather dispiriting preview gig (and reading the comment on the blog from one of the audience members I'd not been happy with, turns out the feeling was mutual), I got a helpful Facebook message showing me that someone was using my name. Namely RTE in Ireland launching what they rather cheekily called "The First Sitcom Trials."
Needless to say I wasn't crazy about this, and sent a few messages by a few different mediums, letting them know that the name was taken, and hoping they weren't trying to pretend to be us. They replied nicely:
Hi guys, just came across your tweets this morning. We would like to assure you that we are not using the same name as you. Before we start anything we also do a name check and make sure no one else is using the same name. We are going by "Radio Sitcom Trials' and you have 'The Sitcom Trials' so different names and didn't need to ask permission. We do see how it isn't the 'first ever', this was more directed as the first in Ireland, as it's only Irish born or Irish residents that can enter. To clear this up I will retitle it the 'first ever Irish'. Sorry for the mix up and hopefully that answers any questions. If you would like to get in touch about anything my email is M.......e. Have a lovely weekend, Michaella.
So I'm happily tweeting support for them and plugging their contest, since it can't do the Sitcom Trials brand any harm. Plus, I've been told, you can't copyright a name. And as long as they're not using my actual format, they're free to call their show what they like.
A few people suggested I should try asking them for money. Which does make me laugh slightly. After nearly twenty years of running The Sitcom Trials, it would be amazing for there to be an incarnation of the show that didn't end up losing me money. (If anyone has ever wondered why there are years between shows sometimes, that's the reason. Time has to pass until I forget how much the last show - or tournament, or season - cost me, then I have another stab at it. It's never been about making money, but it would be nice if, once in a while, that was an accidental by product).
As part of de-cluttering my laptop, and backing things up, I've put the whole of Socks In Space up on Youtube, so do please enjoy it.
It's a single camera recording of the 2014 Leicester Comedy Festival performance, from the start of the spring tour, the show having been our 2013 Edinburgh Fringe show. So it's not the greatest quality recording, but you'll find lots of it great fun. With the usual caveat that, to get the full experience, you really had to be there.
The running order is
I'm A Sock song SF genre gags leading to Bottle routine Comics to movie gags The Comics Song The Avengers routine Improv routine War Of Worlds gags Doctor Who / Capaldi routine Green Screen Song Alien routine Andy Warhol song Fireball XL5 song Countdown routine Star Trek routine Chekov routine David Bowie song Ding Dong routine Star Wars finale
The recording ends before we get to Star Wars I'm afraid.
A Sock with Lobey Dosser and Rank Bajin, outside Dram in Glasgow
The two previews in a row the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre have just done in Glasgow (of our new show Superheroes), playing at our regular venue Dram! as part of Glasgow Comedy Festival, have been quite the education.
Following on from the first two previews in Leicester in February, I'd done an extensive bit of rewriting, removing all the Christmas material, and introducing lots of brand new all-Superhero stuff. Now I had a Wednesday night and a Thursday night show in which to test out whether what I'd written was funny and worked, with a whole day inbetween to make improvements.
The first night, Wednesday, was a joy. It's a small venue, so the 30 punters we had made as much noise as a sellout, and responded beautifully to most of the show. It was clear that some pieces needed work, so I spent Thursday trimming the chaff, writing new gags, changing the order, and essentially sharpening up our act.
Highlights from Night 1. The good night.
Then came the second night, with the same size of crowd, a much better script (I thought) and a response from the audience that bordered on the funereal. Right from the start they were hard to get a laugh out of, and there was an element I could hear (and, of course, I can't see them) who seemed downright hostile. At the end I had loads of people coming up to me telling me how much they'd enjoyed the show, and a couple of people explaining that there was one table - a group booking of ten, so effectively a third of the audience - who were distracted and on their phones all the time (someone referred to them as Hooray Henries) and they seemed to have spread a bad vibe around the room stopping everyone else from enjoying themselves. Who knows? I recorded both nights but haven't brought myself to watch the second night yet. I certainly came away with the resolve to make the show so solid and funny from the start that it would win over even the most reluctant audience.
(I am guilty, I think, of becoming complacent, and over-used to audiences with a high percentage of Sock fans. Though our magic usually works on any audience, I am wrong to take for granted their being on our side from the start. When I can "feel" that there are people not "getting" the Socks, not buying into their word play and their silliness - and, if what I've been told is correct, not even paying attention to the show, which would make everything they do pretty nonsensical and inevitably not funny - then it bounces back on me. When a crowd is "going" with it, every laugh they give provokes more from us, until you can surf the wave of laughter, your only worry being too long a gap between them. This was the experience on night one. On night two, I was more surfing the silences. And when a gag is met with silence, you convince yourself it's not funny, despite the evidence of the previous audiences who'd reacted like it was the most hilarious thing they'd ever heard. It's a funny old business).
Here's what we gave them and how they reacted. This is the running order for Night Two. Between Wednesday and Thursday we'd lost the Nursery Rhymes routine.
Opening lines - Ken Dodd and Steven Hawking gags. Mild response night 1, silence night 2.
Batman, Robin & Flash gags - Night 1: a hit. Night 2: a couple of groans.
I'm A Sock - Night 1: Perfection, got all audience on side. Night 2: Winning some over
Cosmopolitan routine - Night 1: Very good, built to great laughs (would have put it on Youtube, but want to keep it in the show, very strong opener). Night 2: They were not finding this funny.
Ang Lee & Bob Kane - new gags for Night 2. Some laughs.
Motion Capture - Night 1: Good, best reception yet, Night 2 (with good new prop) some response
Peter Parker Song - 1: OK. 2: Thought I could hear some people leaving during it.
Faraday, Boron, Sagan gags - 1: Excellent, 2: OK
Brother scene 1 - Night 1: Fantastic, lots of adlibs, audience loved it. Night 2: Some laughs from the people who were trying hard to enjoy the show. I could feel one side of the room were liking it.
Your Racist Brother song - 1: Great, 2: OK, some laughs, even from the tough element
New Batman lines for Night 2 - some laughs
Batman and Joker - 1: Hilarious, 2: some good laughs
Steed & Peel - 1: Good but slight drop from laugh level. 2: No laugh level to drop from.
Brex Men - 1: OK but needs better punchlines, 2: About the same (booing for the politicians)
X Men Scottish - 1: Good laughs, but last line flopped, 2: Some laughs, last line got a groan
Avengers Reel - 1: Lots of good laughs esp Hulk verse, 2: Not quite so good but not bad
Wonder Woman - 1: Flop (but by night 2 standards pretty good), 2: Awful
Fantastic Four - 1: Good laughs, nice applause at end. 2: Surprising laughs, but silence at end.
Brother scene 2 - 1: He came on to pantomime boos, which was great, and Sock On The Right was getting "aah"s. Great laughs. 2: Some laughs, but table to the left audibly restless
Schrodinger gag - Night 1: Whatever. Night 2: A new Sock fan, sat in the front row, started at about this point in the show to start SAYING THE PUNCHLINES JUST BEFORE I DID! How that was supposed to help anyone I don't know. He went on to do it a few times. The Socks tried to get some banter out of this, but frankly it was doing more harm than good, and by now I'd acknowledged the odd mood of the room, which is often a bad thing to do cos, unless you're turning it around, that can just make it worse.
DeGrasse Tyson gag - Night 1: Genius. Night 2: Ignored. I think the audience were waiting for guy in the front row to work out the punchline and say it first
Superman - Night 1: An absolute joy. Getting laughs for the Jor El Kal El schtick, which wasn't working in Leicester, this piece just built and built, until we got to the Glasses routine, by which time we were surfing comedy waves of laughter. Night 2: A struggle, but I was getting there, and keeping them, until the buggers started groaning at the farmyard bit, then I won them back with the Glasses but it was so disappointing to have lost them when it felt like they could be coming back.
Dead Ringer song - good both nights. It's almost as if we know how to do this if you'll give us the chance.
Harley & Ivy's Cookery & Gardening - good both nights, though struggling a bit the second night
Brother scene 3 -Night 1: Okay, but overlong and lacking laughs. Night 2: Script tightened well, but hard to tell because of the nature of the night
What I've Learned speech - new for Night 2, and actually went well. Because it's more dramatic than comic, it grabbed them, then got laughs for its punchlines. Very promising.
All By Myself - Night 1: Good but messy, Night 2: Better, and good response
Finale Avengers - Night 1: Lots of laughs, but messy. Night 2: Better performance, good laughs, but chummie in the front row leapt in from the start, doing the "Irn Bru" punchline just before me, then guessing the next punchline wrong, neither of which was helping. Whole piece tailed off with rewritten end. So we need a better climax, otherwise it's a good last bit.
To prove it's not my imagination, here are clips to compare and contrast. The same gags and how differently they went down on nights one and two. No, you're obsessing about it!
At which point we told them, both nights, it was the end of the show. On Night 1 they interrupted their applause to sigh good-naturedly, and we rewarded them with Smell Like Xmas. On Night 2 the end fizzled, and when we said we'd reward them with a song, some bright spark on "that table" responded with "Oh god no".
We got good laughs by attacking him, and the song went well. But god that was a hard show, and no matter how many people come up to you at the end and say how much they enjoyed it, I defy any comic to come away from a show where the audience didn't laugh as much as you think they should, feeling good about it all.
Interesting to compare this year's Glasgow Previews experience with our 2015 Brighton Previews experience, as documented here, where Minging Detectives had two distinctly different receptions too.
Roll on Bath Comedy Festival the week after next, when they'll be getting the whole shebang - with even more improvements than we just did - and we'll be able to hear how an audience is supposed to sound again (fingers crossed).
It's been a busy start to the year with Comic Art Masterclasses in schools, coupled with writing and previewing the Socks' new show Superheroes, and doing art jobs for the Chartered Insurance Institute and finishing off my Bible Society work. Busy busy. But never too busy to put on a good pose for my ID badge at a school.
When you're working on a show about Superheroes, you start seeing them everywhere. This mural was on a boarded up shop in Weston Super Mare.
The scalding cup. You could market this thing as guaranteed to scald. It was one of those schools who take Health and Safety precautions and really run with them. In this instance, and you get this in quite a few schools, they've fixated on the ban on taking hot drinks into classrooms. The argument, quite reasonably, is that kids might get burned by your cup of coffee (and the school will get sued, which is most likely the real cause for concern). Their solution, however, is anything but. Their solution is the scalding cup. I was brought a cup of tea in this lidded flask, which was very kind, and for which I'm very grateful. But I couldn't drink it.
As soon as I took a sip from the narrow lip at the top I had to spit it out as it was scalding. So I sealed it back up and left it. Whenever I returned to it, it was still undrinkably scalding hot. Of course it was - it's a vacuum flask! That drink will never get any cooler. Ergo it will never be drinkable. Double ergo, it is consequently scaldingly hotter and more damaging to any child than if I'd taken a normal self-cooling cup of tea into the classroom. A normal cup of tea, of course, would have been drunk in a couple of minutes, thus eradicating the danger to the kids, whereas this high-temperature time-bomb remained blisteringly deadly until the end of the lesson. I finally poured it into a cup in the staffroom, left it to cool a minute, and drank it. But really.
If you ever wanted a definition of Health And Safety done very badly, this is it.
I don't usually take photographs of my food, but I thought this was worth a snap. Bringing to mind John Finniemore's excellent song Put It On A Plate, we have my breakfast at Cheadle House Hotel brought to me in a jam jar. Very nice, sweetly stylish. In fact I liked the hotel so much I stayed there again a week later. But this second time I did without the breakfast. At £15 a pop, and with Heather joining me for the second visit, that's a bit steep for some beans in a jam jar.
Having done caricatures at a Holiday Inn in Wakefield, Hev and I stayed over in town and the following day were able to take in the Hepworth Gallery, which is one of the country's finest fine art galleries. This fun installation was by Anthony McCall and is the perfect thing for entertaining families and non-art-lovers, and attracting a wider audience to the gallery, without letting the side down. It's a smart conceptual and installation artist who can straddle the divide between challenging brain-doodles and theme park ride. If you haven't been to the Hepworth, you really should.
My travels included journeys around the country in the face of the Beast From The East, a day or two of cold weather which we'll be struggling to recall when it comes to Big Fat Quiz Of The Year time. It did, however, give the opportunity for some nifty pictures. This is the view from my hire car during my trip to Berwick On Tweed.
When you're writing a show about Superheroes, you start to see them everywhere. This was a shop window in Stratford On Avon (visited en route back from Leicester).
This week's schools took me from Manchester to Birmingham to Monmouth, and ran the gamut of school types, from inner-city school to posh girls school. At Blakesley Hall Primary in Birmingham I've done my thing of trying to represent the demographic of my pupils on the covers, and they've reciprocated by coming up with probably my favourite title of the week.
At Alma Park in Manchester the kids' choice of title gave me the opportunity to parrot the logo of a Marvel comic from my childhood. I haven't googled to see what the Thing's actual logo looked like, but I bet it's exactly like the one I've done*.
Actually this is probably my joint favourite title of the week. They came up with another corker at Haberdashers Girls School in Monmouth. And what did I say about going from inner city to posh? One of my schools this week had a few of those traits that come from being a bit under-pressure: school gates that are locked when I need to get in, to stop parents from using it as a drop-off zone; a photocopier where you have to bring your own paper (someone thinks that's a saving, rather than just inconvenient and frustrating); a staff room with no tea bags for guests, etc.
Then you get to Haberdashers in Monmouth and you know you're in a posh school when the teachers eat the school dinners - which today had the option of veg lasagne, veg chilli & tacos, fish and chips, and a fourth main dish, and a fully stocked salad bar, and... well you get the picture. Old girls of the school include the Official Harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales, don't cha know.
The celebrities these six groups chose to appear in my demonstration strip were JK Rowling, David Bowie, Selena Gomez, Simon Cowell, Michael Jackson and The Queen.
Phew, that was close. Just had my credit card scammed and, thanks to Santander, spotted it in time. Someone had tried to make ten £100 payments from my credit card this morning. Santander texted me, I rang em back, and now I get a new card in a week. Seems they'd cloned my card. So now I'm looking back to see where that could have happened.
Hotel in Alnwick? Morpeth? Berwick? Wisbech? Ilford? Oh god, I'm a credit card scammer's dream, aren't ?
Here are the payments they'd tried to take by the time I got on the phone to Santander. A day later I find they'd kept on trying, and got even bolder this time:
I mean good luck trying to get two grand out of any of my credit cards! I do hope they catch these scammers. I don't want to cast aspersions without any foundation, but there is one of the hotels I stayed at last week that now makes me think it was the kind of place where it could have happened. I won't name it, in case I'm wrong. (But I've mentioned them to Santander, just in case).
Blimey we were lucky. Hev & I travelled back from Manchester to Clevedon yesterday afternoon and got home just as the snow was building up. In fact our road was already un-drivable-up when we arrived. Now we're watching the TV news with people who've been stuck on the M5 overnight. So, phew. Big thanks to Manchester Academy for ending the day two hours early.
Here's what Clevedon looked like yesterday. The beach covered in snow, not something you usually see in these parts.
Wooa-oh we're halfway there, wooa-oh living on a prayer...Thanks to today's new pledges, the Socks Kickstarer campaign for Edinburgh Fringe 2018 is now halfway there, with 10 days to spare. Well done everyone. Keep spreading the word and we can do it. (Right now we need less than 45p from all the followers of this page and we've done it!) https://tinyurl.com/soxkick18