Thursday, 28 January 2021

So that was January

January is usually a quiet month when the world isn't contending with a pandemic. However, we are and it wasn't.

On the tutoring side of things, my hours have continued to increase as more and more parents have come to me finding the home school experience isn't as productive as it could be. What's impressive about all my students is that, regardless of whatever additional needs they may have, they're all switched on for their time with me. It speaks volumes about how much natural drive all children have to learn and how often that, for many, this is actually damaged by the school environment; nevermind by the remote learning fudge where parents are left to do a job that requires years of training and simultaneously work from home.

Anyway, that's the serious bit over with. What's been going on in comedy?

TikTok (link)

Six months ago I'd have stared at you with a mixture of confusion and contempt if you'd suggested I signed up to TikTok. The home of dance routines and lip syncs were all I knew if for and neither interested me. But then I actually went and had a look at it and, most interestingly, the number of views the clips got. In a world where 1,000 views ranks as an achievement on Youtube it was staggering to see just how many 15 second slices of the banal, obvious or downright moronic clocked up tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of views, likes and comments.

So Angela signed up and started posting. Initially her videos were hatchet-job edits of some of her songs but she then moved into telling jokes to camera - something infinitely easier to do in such a short timeframe. The chorus to Fitness to Practice got 850 views, Nuclear Cooking Cave cracked 500, then everything else started to bump along at around 200.

It turns out banal, obvious and downright moronic engages the TikTok generation. Angela making puns about Nigel Farage in front of a greenscreen doesn't so much. Still, it's a start and if this was any other platform I'd be pleased with how it's going. What is unique to TikTok, at least in my experience, is how international the audience is. One Trump-baiting nursery rhyme later I had MAGA devotees telling me to "watch out" because "something big" was going to happen on inaugeration day. 

So maybe Angela needs to learn a dance routine, "bus it" occasionally or record her own version of a joke ten other people have already re-enacted (yes, this actually happens). Or maybe she'll just keep ploughing her own furrow like a beligerant indie band and grow slowly but surely.

I assume that can still happen. It was definitely a thing in the 90's.

Yoga (link)

In December Angela recorded a parody for Andy Storey's vlog. A tribute to his Nationwide advert, I Wanna Be Your Dog was about home yoga and featured Angela in a variety of approximately yoga-esque poses whilst shouting the names of them. Though good it had been rushed out and I didn't feel it had reached its full potential so I recorded a new version last week.

It went on TikTok and, despite the dance moves and music, it made it to 146 views and gave up. Facebook video did better as I posted it to various humour and drag pages and it's currently on 252. As an afterthought I posted it to Youtube for posterity and didn't really talk about it at all. The next day it had over 900 views as Youtube had decided to recommend it to a lot of people.

I don't think I'll ever understand how social media works.

Bonkers Quiz Night (link)

These have been going well. Anna and I hosted another two this month with Ali Woods, Stella Graham and Andy Storey all in the guest seats alongside Andy Onions. The most popular part in every show appears to be when we've either forgotten to turn the mic on or off but I'm just happy people are watching at all. As well as the thousands who appear to be watching it on Facebook it also has a healthy number of viewers on Youtube, where I upload it afterwards. I'm always looking for guests so if you fancy it give me a shout.

February

Notable for containing my birthday. Though I don't think the last year really counts so I may just have the same one again.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

2020 (Re)Vision

It's been quite a year hasn't it? After a promising start, lockdown kicked in and the whole world went to crap. However, whilst we lost our socialising, gigs, festivals and freedom many of us took up new interests to plug the gap and, well, survive the social distancing.

I'm no exception and, as I've just been out and bought all the beer and cheese necessary to see in the new year, have some spare hours to write about the highs and lows of my 2020.

Let's start with the...

Lows

Well, what can I say. Life went down the pan(demic) in a variety of ways from March onwards. In the first lockdown my tutoring business lost 80% of its students and there was no government support as I hadn't been self employed long enough. The occasional bit of supply teaching I'd done the previous year did mean one of my agencies paid me weekly furlough though. That £23.15 a week being better than nothing at least.

A couple of months later when many of the families I worked with acclimatised to the new normal things did begin to pick up. I'm still earning less than this time last year but the vast majority of my sessions are now online though Zoom. I've even started working with two families in Hackney who tracked me down through my association with the primary school I worked at down there for ten years. When people talk about outsourcing work remotely to cheaper areas I'm pretty sure they didn't mean the north but I'm not complaining!

Physical festivals and gigs died a death of course. Anything Goes (my monthly open mic) was forced online and the bar it took place in is now gone forever. The annual trip to Edinburgh didn't happen and neither did bookings everywhere from Retford to Morecambe. There was a thin silver lining to this though which I'll go into shortly.

On a personal level, not seeing family (who are spread across the country) much - if at all - has been particularly hard. However, we're all now well versed in Zoom, Facebook Messenger and that old fashioned thing known as a phone call. I saw my nephews open their presents on Christmas Day and I keep up to date with the adventures of my 91 year old grandparent via letter and telephone. Once "all this is over" I'll be down south asap. You never know, I might squeeze a gig or two in along the way.

Highs

Ah, the uplifting bit. This roughly breaks down into three areas; work, family and comedy. Let's do it in that order.

Work, as I've said, has picked up and I have developed my skills when it comes to tutoring online. I Zoom with up to three children at a time and use the same interactive whiteboard software that I would be using in class. We've all learned to screen share, annotate and wait for BBC Bitesize clips to buffer. Things continue to improve when it comes to the hours I'm working and when the national tutoring programme is finally able to deliver all it's promised I should have more work than I need. Which is always a good place to be.

When it comes to family I have been able to keep in touch with everyone thanks to the technology we all have to hand. Ebay and the infamous Amazon have stepped into the present buying gap left by the closure of non-essential shops (sorry, but it's too convenient.) Like all couples, Anna and I (and our cat Lilo) have been living in each others' pockets with little in-person interaction with anyone else and we're still stronger than ever. Come the zombie apocalypse we'll be just fine.

Now the comedy. Well, without any live events on the table everything went pretty much virtual. Anything Goes Open Mic became Anything Goes Online and, if anything, actually provides more exposure for acts than the physical version ever did. 15 people in a room vs 100+ viewers every month in fact. However, the feedback you get from a live performance is all but eliminated - which is neither good for developing material or getting the buzz from the experience. When live events are allowed a new live show will return...though most likely in a very differenty form.

Which leads us to my (or rather my new character, Angela's) work with Bonkers Bingo. A plucky startup overseen by a couple of people in their early twenties, the original plan was for Angela to MC the bingo with songs and general rabble rousing thrown in. Covid hit and the twenty or so shows planned out reduced to just two and a replacement event had to be found. Anna and I had always fancied running a pub quiz so Angela Bra's Bonkers Quiz Night was formed. Running fortnightly on a Saturday at 9pm, the quiz welcomes live guests (via Streamyard) and regularly gets hundreds, sometimes thousands, of views. We make the content, Bonkers promotes it. It's an arrangement that's working out well for both parties. Is it making any money? No. Is it helping us develop our characters, increase our exposure and lay down the template for a new cabaret quiz night once being socially distant is once again considered to be a bad thing? Yes.

Angela Bra. Where do I start? Originally dreamed up as a dippy divorced primary school teacher to complement the festival hardened punkish character of Annie Sup (played by Anna) in our new drag-infused festival show, Disco Divorce Party, Angela has taken on a life of her own online.

Moving from a bloke in a t-shirt and jeans (possibly a golf visor when rapping) to a female character act with influences ranging from Drag Race to Lily Savage to my late nana. Lou's (the presenter of The Big Gay Comedy Show - performance pictured) first comment when my Streamyard feed went live was, "Gemma Collins has lost weight," which was pretty much on the money. Is it just a character or is it an expression of an authentic "me"? Both. If you've ever listened to Courtney Act talk about their take on gender fluidity I'd say I'm in the same camp.

And it does get pretty camp at times.

So far Angela has featured in her own six part Youtube series, recorded a bunch of parodies, presented and appeared on a handful of comedy shows and quizzes (not just her own), started an Instagram account and blog and is putting the finishing touches to the first draft of her 2021 show, At Home With Miss Angela Bra. A musical comedy suitable for an all-ages audience mixing up songs from the series with parodies from my Parodies From The Peak District virtual festival show this year. DDP is going ahead too - aimed squarely at an adult audience, which'll be a first for us.

Parodies From The Peak District deserves a mention of course. An online show thrown together in record time featuring the parodies I'd been performing throughout 2019 with me chatting about my move to Glossop inbetween each whilst sitting in a wood. The most popular show at Buxton Fringe this year if you based it on the comments section, it also proved popular in pre-recorded form at a number of other festivals - including Morecambe where it won the award for Best Musical Comedy. The one live-streamed version was also a success, a virtual performance for Laughing Horse / Edinburgh Festival where the vast majority of my Zoom audience were over fifty and American.

Online parody videos have been another big feature of my comedy output this year. Not least the 500 Miles tribute I made for Dominic Cummings. With over 88,000 views to date it made sense to make it a last minute addition to the Parodies festival show. Youtube views for my other videos were a lot more modest but none-the-less a lot more than anything I have put out previously. Not everything in 2021 will be Angela Bra. Andy Quirk will still be knocking out political satire in video, tweet and meme form. I'm now writing actual jokes believe it or not. One day Newsjack might actually use something I send them, who knows...

As anyone who knows me well will know, I love a good set of stats. Without Edinburgh to dissect by spreadsheet this year, here are my top 10 Youtube videos by views. Really I should add the additional views from the Facebook and/or Instagram versions but even I think life is probably too short for that.

Happy New Year!

My Top 10 Youtube Videos of 2020
(as of 31/12/20)

1. Dominic Cummings 500 Miles - Andy Quirk (88,343)
2. Dom's The One And Only - Andy Quirk (1,575)
3. Livin' Covida Loca - Andy Quirk (895)
4. All I Want For Christmas Is Spoons - Angela Bra (889)
5. We Will Pee - Andy Quirk (505)
6. Ryanair Refund It! - Andy Quirk (382)
7. At Home With Angela Episode 1 - My Nuclear Cooking Cave - Angela Bra (355)
8. Agent Orange In A Shirt - Andy Quirk (though looking like Angela Bra) (306)
9. Andy Quirk's Parodies From The Peak District (Full show, mainly on private link) (253)
10. Sani-Tiger - Angela Bra (242)

All videos can be found here.

 





Sunday, 29 November 2020

Quiz Nights and Christmas Cheer

With confirmation we were going to be stuck in Tier 3 for the foreseeable future, it was back to the internet for all things comedy this week. Who needs actual social contact when you've got a green screen and Streamyard? Well, everyone as it turns out but this runs a close second.


The first stop was making the video for Angela's Christmas parody tribute to Mariah Carey and nights out in the pub, 'All I Want For Christmas Is Spoons.' Featuring a Santa hat, an early Black Friday deal from Boohoo and thirteen vocal takes until something reasonable came out, this parody was initially inspired by Anna reading the distressed tweets of Glossopians mourning the continued closure of our local cheap drink chain pub. A few shares on the local Facebook groups and it topped 300 views in 24 hours. Where it goes from here remains to be seen but you can watch it here.


Saturday night was Bonkers Quiz Night and Annie Sup (say it quickly and you should get east end vibes round 'the old Joanna') joined Angela Bra for the full show. The guests were chatty and the atmosphere very lively as we clattered from one round into the next. At 90 minutes we gave triple gameshow value but every minute was well worth it. Angela has learned, however, that long false nails and trying to operate a laptop do not mix well. Feedback has been great and there's another show planned for Dec 12th, followed by the Boxing Day special on the 26th. Big thanks to Kitty Cassis, Donna Landy and Andy Onions for being our very special guests. The full stream can be watched again here.


This week Annie and Angela are working on the final draft of their 2021 festival show (cross fingers for the vaccine) and a potential second show spinoff. Annie is also writing her first quiz round, giving Angela the time to take pointless selfies and build on her Instagram following of 50.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

A Weekend of Quizzes

It's been a busy couple of days full of clever questions and occasionally clever answers as Angela Bra has both competed in and hosted a quiz show this weekend. In the run up to this there was much chaos on the hosting front as I got to grips with Streamyard, question writing and the best way to stream to ensure no-one appeared as a blurry collection of pixels. Overall, it work out pretty well.

First stop was on Friday night when I took part in Kate Bouquet's On The Game, an improv panel show hosted by drag superstar Kate Bouquet and in the company of a couple of stand up comics. Getting the brain in gear took most of the first round but after that I came up with a couple of winning answers in the Blankety Blank-esque competition to fill in the gaps and my conspiracy theory behind Pride and pea powered Boris bikes also took a few points. By the end of the show I'd come joint first and got my mind sufficiently sharpened to be confident Angela's own quiz the next night wouldn't be a complete disaster. You can watch the HD ready Youtube version on the link.

Angela Bra's Bonkers Quiz Night on Saturday was scheduled for 9pm but with tech, make-up, multiple outfit changes and general faffing about started three hours earlier. Come 8.40 though I was sat in front of a shower curtain festooned with fairy lights chatting to my contestants for the night. Bang on 9pm the intro rolled and we were off with four rounds of varying daftness. General knowledge in a general's hat was followed by a song lyric round, a video round featuring footage created by resident contestant Andy Onions, a bonus round just for Andy to account for him making the video and a final round involving guessing the weight of objects owned by Annie Sup (Angela's housemate / my wife.) I won't give away the pun powered titles for some of these rounds and will leave it to you to click the link and find out for yourself.

The show lastest about 1:15 and felt turbo-charged for the most part. Running a quiz is a very different beast to performing comedy straight and gives both the contestants and host the chance to continuously adlib safe in the knowledge that everyone will at some point come back to questions and answers. The pressure to be funny is less intense and as a result when funny occurs it's more natural.

Importantly also, with the pub quiz aspect opening the show up to multiple audiences the viewing figures were excellent with approximately 400 tuning in live and a further 200 watching the recorded version today. Once this lockdown's over Anna and I will be looking to take it live but until then regular episodes are almost guaranteed.

Tomorrow it's back to the weekday necessities but I'll certainly be looking for more opportunities for Angela to pop up on alongside her own doings. The most recent Anything Goes Online Comedy is close to 200 views itself which is a huge improvement on the past few.

I've also attracted a troll or two this week which I'll take a compliment.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Can I ask you a question?

Occasionally I make a decision that pans out for the best in retrospect. Two weeks ago, feeling frustrated, I started to make enquiries with the various bars in Glossop about running a covid-safe comedy night as the town was in tier two and with any luck would be moving down a rung within the month.

Then it occurred to me that this could be a lot of work for something that wouldn't happen so I retreated back to the box room office to think again. Days later Bonkers Bingo were on the phone to tell me that all the November shows were being punted into 2021 and could I think of anything that Angela could do to entertain the substantial army of Facebook followers they'd be amassing.

Now, I've always liked a pub quiz. I've always liked a gameshow. Not the daytime ones with real questions and actual tactics but the cheesy bombastic ones where previous rounds become irrelevent as the money doubles. Family Fortunes is king when it comes to this, Catchphrase and it's increasingly obscure non-sayings is heir to the throne and Pointless is most likely the court jester with its attempts to add marginally higher brow content through the veil of 100% silly.

Pub quizzes are great too because you get to join in. But the catch is they can go on forever and the questions are often far too challenging for mere mortals. There's also the issue with people cheating on their mobiles. The i-phoneys of the egghead world.

Incidentally, Eggheads is rubbish.

So I've started work on a gameshow pub quiz for these lockdown times. Some rounds will appeal to know-it-alls, others are more so for those who preferred their gameshows with a gunge tank. You might get all the questions right. You might not. There's no point in cheating because there aren't any prizes and if you're on your own you can chat with others by commenting on the Facebook stream and watching the "special guests" (also known as locked down comedians) on screen with Angela.

At a technical level there's an audio mixer for background music, a green screen and a video round. Will it all work properly? Probably not. But Angela isn't so good with the tech and she'll no doubt ride it out in style.

Angela Bra's Bonkers Quiz Night streams on the FB page for Bonkers Bingo - The Tour from 8.45pm with the quiz kicking off at 9pm and runs for a solidly manic 60 minutes on Saturday November 14th. Pop it in your diary by joining the event here.

Elsewhere on the internet, the November edition of Anything Goes Online went live and has already had more views that any of the previous three did in a month. It could be the quality. It's more likely that no-one can go anywhere. If you fancy a fix of new acts and new material from across the UK the playlist starts here!

I'll leave this with a joke that popped into my head this afternoon when Anna showed me a photo taken during her walk in a churchyard. No, I don't want to know who thought of it first hundreds of years ago!

#quiz #comedy #drag #standup #musicalcomedy #blog



Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Getting "High" In Manchester

When people create scales they usually have a ranking that runs from low to high. But the people in government are not usual people. They have a ranking system that starts at "medium" and then climbs to "high" and "very high" in a move somewhat reminiscent of a certain minister who in the past said all schools should have "above average" results.

Manchester is "high" (insert obvious joke) which, though not as bad as the tier above, is still pretty grim for bars and similar venues. Yes, you can get a drink. No, you can't drink it with anyone outside of your household.

So Bonkers Bingo in Stalybridge this Friday is still on and, presumably, now reduced to a weird take on Family Fortunes. This does mean that Angela's latest videos promoting the show, and her MCing of it, have not been made completely in vain. 'Balls Balls Balls' has clocked up over 400 views on Facebook Video whilst 'Sani-Tiger' is heading that way with an additional 200 eyeballs on Youtube. Her latest track - the closest she's ever going to get to writing a protest song, 'Bars,' had 100 Youtube views in 24 hours + another 50 or so through Facebook. Whether songs do better on Facebook Video or Youtube, and if FB better promote content it hosts, is an experiment in progress for me. Currently, there's no clear winner.

What I do know is that the most watched video of Angela's on Instagram TV comes in at 28 views. Clearly there's still some way to go before she becomes a social media sensation.

And before you ask. Yes, as well as views the videos do actually have likes. And yes, I have grown my subscribers by a modest but much valued amount.

Elsewhere in comedy, Retfest is on in two weekends' time and Parodies from the Peak District will be showing in video form. There's also a chance I'll be doing something more live for them in the run-up to it next week. With the chance of live shows further diminished by Boris's flipflopping I'm pretty much a streamer for hire for as long as this cruddy situation continues.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Back on stage

Last Thursday I broke my covid enforced stage absence with a show in Manchester for new act / new material show The Laughienda. Based at The Lions Den on Deansgate the beer was ordered from the bar by text message and the audience were socially distanced only in the physical sense. In short, a nice little night.

Overall it was thoroughly entertaining with a number of more experienced hands stretching their stand-up wings once again. Ben Silver and Hannah Platt performed either side of me in the final segment and both were great to watch. Also, it's also nice to see Adam Hughes, on MC duties, hasn't let fatherhood or lockdown change his raucous rambling approach to crowd work and drinking on the job.

My own set gained momentum after a slightly shaky start with 500 Miles, making its live debut as the mic stand recoiled and forced me to pretty much stand over it to be heard, before I gave it a few determined twists and tugs and knocked out Stuck in the Lidl With You and Ex On Fire like the stalwarts they really are now they form the core of my Parodies from the Peak District show.

By 9:50pm the show had run and we were outside the venue - the audience using the QR code posters to donate to the night. Laughienda is every Thursday night at The Lions Den from 7pm. Entry is free and you should definitely go.


Back in the virtual world, Anything Goes Online put out it's October show with Angela Bra on MC duties. So far it's clocked up 74 views. Small beer to most people but it's more than the last one and well worth a watch!