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...
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.
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.