Thursday, 28 May 2020

500 Miles and The One And Only

First of all, can I say a huge thankyou to everyone who's viewed 500 Miles and its follow-up Dom's The One And Only in the past few days. When I scribbled some half baked lyrics on a notepad on May 23rd I thought 500 Miles might prove popular enough to break the thousand views barrier.

36,000 views later and still rising, this is now the most watched video I've ever made by a margin of about 35,400. The Proclaimers may even make a few more pennies off their best known song and good luck to them for that.

It's been interesting to read the comments and see people come together enjoying the song, plugging their own or starting intense political debate and conspiracy theories around why this particular event has been so high profile in the news compared to transgressions by other political figures. Bless the lot of you - this song isn't going to change anything and neither will an angry rant in the comments section of a meme. Have you ever read the comments on Mail Online? I did yesterday for the first time and nearly lost a day.

Yesterday morning, Anna and I came up with the concept of Dom's The One And Only over our morning coffee. Longer and technically a lot better (in true blogger style let's plug the products: Photoshop, iMovie, Garageband) - in the grand tradition of follow-ups to "hit singles" I fully expect it to do not nearly so well. Six hours of effort created this true work of art and art should be created for art's sake.

I'm joking. Please share the proverbials out of this :)

Elsewhere in comedy, thanks to those who gave feedback on the original tracks for At Home With Angela. The character's developing and I should have some kind of video series ready in a few months. Or whenever I stop making political parodies. I'm also working on a Parodies From The Peak District show for both Morecambe and Buxton Virtual Fringes this year. The green screen is going to get plenty of use that's for sure.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Anything Goes Online Open Mic #4

Click to view the show!
Yesterday the latest episode of Anything Goes Online went live on Youtube with another fantastic selection of acts. Some have been on before, others are brand new. All are worth a watch so click the picture to commence proceedings!

Assuming you've done as directed you may have noticed a unifying feature of the clips this month. In coincidental follow-up to my post about the Abba parody earlier this month, the production values of the clips are all rocketing away from the comedian-talks-to-their-webcam style (in plentiful supply in earlier shows) and towards TV-esque micro-series with cut scenes, green screens, subtitles and rolling credits. One in particular even has a blooper reel on the end of it.

With lockdown forcing all performers into a screentime or die scenario it seems many have taken the time to pick up a copy of iMovie or equivalent and set about getting their work out to the biggest audience possible by playing a glossier game. 

In this fortnight's show Jack Kelly moves into documentary parody featuring a cast that includes his mum, Aimee Cooper goes the classic route of addressing you directly through the camera as a member of her fitness group (complete with green screen background), Marty Gleeson present the third episode of her ongoing one woman sitcom, Zachary Slater goes mad with Powerpoint, Tom Short and his partner Rhiannon are up to episode thirty two thousand of their travel and lifestyle mocumentary and Gaz Smith produces an entire noir pastiche with the aforementioned blooper reel. This leaves just myself powered by green screen and some, occasionally awkward, dubbing + a straight to camera song by Mark Rodrigues that in this new context actually looks like a deliberate act of indie-inspired minimalism right down to the point that he leans forward to turn off the camera at the end.

Regarding the rights and wrongs of this new normal I'd conclude that no-one knows right now. High production values often make for better viewing but conversely they can delay getting an idea out quick enough for it to be relevent. From my own experience it's quite apparent how little content is going out that is based on current events - beyond a general nod towards Covid-19. When you spend time and effort on something you want it to last so a joke about a dodgy quote from a politician or commentary on a soon forgotten event seems like a waste of time. Perhaps it's just best left to Have I Got News for You and its awkward no-audience atmosphere for the while. Then again, maybe someone will come up with something that works. At the moment there are a lot of unknowns and its actually quite exciting to be observing and being a part of it.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Comedy Competitions and Furloughed Festivals

As the lockdown continues the festivals continue to fall. Though already a foregone conclusion, the loss of Edinburgh this year was further confirmed by email last week with Edfringe requesting bank details to send refunds to. The chances of a "mini-Edinburgh" also currently look slimmer than the regulation 2 metres social distance that would be required for anything to go ahead.

My own Glossop Festival, scheduled for mid-July, is also now looking very unlikely and I'm looking at alternatives ranging from postponement to the Autumn to re-running the whole thing next July and pretending 2020 simply didn't happen. Fortunately, very little money had been spent on this before the lockdown came in and I'm glad to say I don't have 5,000 festival programmes currently sitting under the stairs.

I did potentially have 5,000+ flyers for our 2019 Edinburgh show destined for that position last summer when I found they'd printed double the amount I'd requested but fortunately they were delivered to the venue and the city has a very good recycling system.

Do we even really need flyers anymore given the use of apps and websites though? Something to think about.

Anyway, one festival that did go ahead (sort of) was the West Didsbury Comedy Festival. This boutique event has been broadcasting panel games and a limited number of full length shows in place of the originally envisaged physical experience. They were also halfway through their new act competition heats when everyone was told to stop going out.

For a while it looked like the competition had been shelved but then it was announced the final heat would go ahead after all - online. And so it was that yesterday I sang about pies into my laptop whilst the public posted comments on a wall and the host and MC provided the laughs in the right places. As a viable alternative to the live experience there were plus points - not least that I could go and get a beer after my set without paying £5 for it - but I'd be lying if I said it had the same atmosphere. Still, a valiant attempt and 10/10 for effort by the organisers. I shall be watching the final on Sunday even if I didn't make it through to the next round, congratulations of course to those who did.

Disco Divorce Party rehearsals continue with Anna taking on scripting to transform the show into a full blown musical rather than our usual knockaround-with-the-audience approach. Meanwhile, Angela's online mini-series now has five songs of its own and filming starting next month. Parodies from the Peak District also has some recording going on for the Morecambe Comedy Festival (online). I may as well paint one of our walls green at this rate.

Monday, 11 May 2020

What's in the Box?

As social shutdown continues and it looks like the chances of any kind of live entertainment is kicked squarely into Autumn at best, more and more comedians have been looking to flex their virtual arms and initiate the kind of online content projects originally sat halfway down the third page of their global domination to-do list.

One that is now plenty of episodes in is Friz Frizzle's, "What's in the Box", an improv-based gameshow featuring three comedians and the man himself in the driving seat. Last Friday, in the space of thirty minutes my fellow contestants and I had sold items from each other's boxes QVC-style, made dashes around our houses to find items that rhymed with other items in our boxes, played a list game and predicted which bands from 2007 are still releasing records. Despite some technical issues early on it went well and was thoroughly enjoyable - though if the same can be said as a viewer rather than a guest is of course up to you.

Another covid-prompted opportunity that came up last week was from West Didsbury Comedy Festival. Originally booked to perform at their new act competition, the lockdown threw the whole festival into doubt but since then some shows have taken place on the web and now the competition is back on next Monday evening at 9pm. If you fancy watching me ride my parody pony into battle the event can be found on Facebook.

Given that I've now finished watching the incredibly violent but utterly brilliant Gangs of London and the latest episode of Drag Race the rest of this week will mainly be spent writing songs, working out how to crowbar two tracks into five minutes for the comedy competition and collecting in more videos for the next Anything Goes Online Open Mic for May 21st. The current one is well worth a watch if you haven't already.

That's probably enough for now. I've just remembered there's the current episode of Killing Eve to watch.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Anything Goes Online Open Mic: Episode 3

It's been another week made up solely of prescribed walks, queueing for sausages and finding out first hand why most people don't attempt to watch comedy made for Sky. Or it would have been if I hadn't been busy writing songs, playing with my green screen and compiling the latest episode of Anything Goes Online Comedy Open Mic. 

The new show can be found here and is, in my opinion, well worth a watch. From the bedroom boogies of Ashley Frieze and Friz Frizzle to risking life and limb with Tom Short and a garden-based big cat plus Marty Gleeson's shortform sitcom with a cast of 1 and potential for a BBC3 series AND MORE! There really is something for everyone. I even employ the world's simplest drum machine to give my Smiths parody a bit of bop-ability.

As you watch it remember to give the clips their own thumbs up and share with whoever you think will be tickled. The link to the playlist resembles an automatically generated password, such is it's complexity, but who needs a catchy when you've got the power of 'copy' and 'paste' at your fingertips.

You can also click it or the picture if that's easier.

Friday, 1 May 2020

It's all about the parodies

This week I have been drowning in parodies. Not just from the usual sources - namely the Musical Comedy Collective Facebook group, various performer's social media updates and my own guitar - but also from less likely places. 

This new stream of songs with new lyrics are an eye opener for a couple of reasons and the one that has caught my eye most is an Abba -based tribute to lockdown.

I know nothing about this group but I do know that my mum really likes this video. I know this because she not only sent it to me but she also shared it to our family Facebook group. My mum is now part of the viral video chain and she's sharing because it brings her joy and she wants it to do the same for others.

Compared to other videos I've seen recently it does, objectively, piss all over them. The time, effort and skill that's gone into the production of both the video and the music is obvious. This wasn't knocked out on an acoustic guitar in the spare room one lockdown Wednesday afternoon (guilty as charged.) It doesn't try too hard to make jokes either. Its gentle humour both visually and lyrically translates well to a general audience and there's no pretence of making over-educated observations or including lyrical wordplay only someone fluent in politics/pop culture/English-to-degree-level would get the humour from.

I should hate it on principle for being too easy but I don't. It's not easy. In fact that's the one thing that concerns me as Youtube videos were inevitably going to go this way.

Here comes a metaphor only those over 35, possibly over 40, will understand.

In the 1980's (I warned you) the computer games market was exploding. WH Smiths couldn't sell enough little boxed cassettes to primary-aged kids like me who lived for riding their bike, singing along to Top of the Pops and spending inordinate amounts of time on their Sinclair Spectrum / C64 / Amstrad CPC (delete depending on how posh you were, as a child of the people I had a Spectrum.)

The games were often pretty basic. Thanks to the technology, the graphics could be rough, the sound sometimes little more than a series of bleeps and bloops and the gameplay satisfying for about twenty minutes before you wanted to spend another ten minutes loading a new one.

But they were often the product of one teenager in their bedroom doing everything. They had great ideas but they were limited in terms of time and skill set. Great programmers are rarely great graphics artists or musicians - especially at 17 or 18. This "homebrew" generation though were inspirational to kids like me though and I started programming games too. It looked like a level playing field which anyone could enter. Then the 90s came and the big software houses moved in. By the end of the decade no 8 year old could imagine making a game themselves that would be able to compete.

The same happened with music and film in previous generations but this parallel is easiest for me to picture and it's now inevitably happened on Youtube. The barriers to entry at this point are definitely lower than in the computer game example. It's not particularly expensive to get an audio interface, microphone, video camera and green screen but it will take time to learn how to use them all. And a lot longer to use them well. 

Do all comedians need to become audio engineers, videographers and social media specialists to be heard? Or will they also need to team up? And will we all have to work in the expectation that the gap between coming up with an idea and putting it to broadcast will be getting longer if we expect anyone to view it?

Back to the homebrew...


Saturday, 25 April 2020

Ryanair - Refund It!

Earlier this week I had an email from Ryanair. Having promised Anna and I a refund for our cancelled flights earlier this month I'd since received two emails telling me the refund was being processed. 

The new email was impressively brazen, we'd been issued a voucher and told that if we wanted the cash we'd have to re-register our claim. 

Upon re-registering I received an email telling me that there wouldn't be any cash refunds and I should speak to someone on the chatroom if I wanted to discuss this further. They provided a link...which took me to a chatroom that has been closed every time I've tried to access it.

Under normal circumstances I'd be frustrated but resigned to the rumours about Ryanair being true, take the voucher under duress and vow never to pay for another flight with them again. However, I have a lot more time on my hands at the moment and my brain is working overdrive on parody production so I made this.

Having posted it on my walls, the numerous Facebook groups dedicated to bad experiences with Ryanair and tweeting it to Martin Lewis it's drifted past the one hundred views mark and gained eight likes. Not exactly viral but a cathartic experience nonetheless and the closest I'm ever likely to get to writing a "protest song". 

Rehearsals continue with Disco Divorce Party but given its interactive crowd element we're debating at the moment if it's worth recording for the various online festivals this year or if we should just rehearse it to a bulletproof level for 2021. 

In the meantime I've got the guitar out and paired it with very loud drums and acid house era bass synths to create whatever comes out the other end. The first song has a distinctly late nineties / early noughties indiepop vibe about it, the second comes about as close to psytrance as I'm ever likely to venture. Once I've got six recorded I'll start work on a Youtube mini-series, working title: At Home With Angela. Could be great. Could be atrocious. But what's comedy without a little risk?

The second Anything Goes Online Open Mic came out on Thursday. 20 acts were involved this time, making it nearly twice to size of the debut show. It's a mixed bag in the most positive sense. Click here to kick off the playlist and be sure to leave feedback on the videos you enjoy.