This week on Litro Lab, Joel Patterson reads “Fear and Loathing in Heaven” where we witness a group of men at their orientation in Heaven.
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The first publishing triumph Joel Patterson can claim is a review of Hunter S. Thompson’s “lecture” given on the campus of UC Davis in 1978 in Ampersand magazine. These days he does audio and video production in the Albany, New York area, but he still dreams of his heroes (not only Thompson but Hemingway, Brautigan, you know, all the outlaw writers) and what they’re doing these days.
The Defender is Guilded| Litro Lab| Podcast
This week on Litro Lab is Joseph Doretzky’s “The Defender is Guilded” where a nine year old and her dad play out a court case in a car
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Jay Duret has had many stories published in online and print journals, including Boston Literary Magazine, Limping Devil Press, Stone Path Review, The Green Briar Review, Gambling the Aisle, Cigale Literary Magazine, Outside In, Roadside Fiction, and Fiction Vortex. He also has stories forthcoming in Gargoyle (edited by Richard Peabody) and December (edited by Gianna Jacobson). Blue Lake Review published his 10,000-word short story called “Bicentennial” which was a finalist for Big Fiction’s 2013 Knickerbocker Prize. Two of his stories are appearing in anthologies to be published in the next several months – “Smut” in Book Lovers Stories (edited by Shawna Kenney) and “In Bogota” in Whereabouts: Stepping out of Place.
Café Society: The Comfortable Pathos of Late Woody Allen
Many do, and I do too. I really like Woody Allen. I like Woody to the point that, as my male pattern baldness enters endgame, I look forward to having his hairstyle. Even through all the iffy films, my gushing, balding that I would’ve hated reviewing, I like Woody. It’s fortunate then that his new film Café Society is his best for some time.
“Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.”
Here’s what Café Society tells us about Allen. He would like to travel back in time. I should’ve got that with Midnight in Paris (2011), in which the Woody protagonist actually does travel to the Jazz Age. The clue was in how much better that film was than the films since, right up until Café Society, which is set in Hollywood in the thirties, where beige suits and Count Basie reign supreme, and where Hollywood bigwigs hold court, see.
This is where our plot begins, as Allen’s narration sets the scene, poolside, with Hollywood producer Phil (a portly Steve Carrell) midway through a self-aggrandising anecdote. Allen’s read-from-a script delivery is a tad clumsy, and its not helped by sounding like it was recorded on an Amiga 600, but does a decent job of setting the scene nonetheless. Phil takes a call – he’s always taking calls – he’s glad; he’s expecting a call from Ginger Rogers after all. But it’s not Ms Rogers, nor is it any voice he wants to hear; it’s his sister from back in the real world, the Bronx. He’s informed that his nephew Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), whose existence itself Phil can barely recall, is on his way down to Hollywood to make it big. In lieu of Uncle Phil, who is far too busy to show his own nephew around town, Bobby has his socks knocked off by the smart and droll Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), if not Hollywood itself, reporting to his brother: “I’m kind of half bored, half fascinated.” The fish out of water pair would be a perfect match if it were not for, yeah, Uncle Phil. A love triangle ensues in a plot as predictable as our hero’s downfall and as old as the screenplay’s setting.
Bobby is the Woody of the film, an easy fit for Eisenberg who has been delivering comic, angsty performances in the lead since the excellent The Squid and The Whale (2005). Kristen Stewart too does well in a role infused with hints of Woody. Her character is slick, smart and struggling between two loves. The passages involving Stewart in which Woody takes on the subject of simultaneous love is where Cafe Society is at its most interesting. There are genuinely interesting arguments regarding being in love with two different people at the same time within the dialogue, and Stewart is convincing in her rationale. Carrell too is in good form, not missing a beat with the japes, and coming across amiably as “the other man” – no mean feat. In fact, the film’s greatest triumph is this trio of actors, who turn a good, funny script into an excellent and rewarding one. This point was really driven home for me in the closing scene, which could have stunk if it were not for the understated facial work of both Eisenberg and Stewart, tying the story’s lasting message together nicely.
There’s all the usual Allen stuff, of course. Even the interludes Allen likes to take from the plot, which are either worth it or very not worth it. I think most of his films over the last twenty-five years have been true to that. One such occasion in which the meandering is more than worthy of its place is an early set-piece in which a skittish first-time prostitute comes up against our own nervous protagonist, who is “not in the mood” because she’s late. The neurotic counterparts have met their match. The scene was so funny (Prostitute: Don’t you want to try me? Bobby: Listen, I’m so lonely I would have been happy just to talk, but now I’m even too tired for that.) and the pair so enjoyable together, it’s a shame that the match-up isn’t revisited later on. Instead, the only other breakaway set-piece interrupts what is at that point a narrative well into its flow, and fails to deliver to the same standard. Thankfully, Café Society isn’t short on laughs in general, especially in the movie’s opening gambit, which is the best thirty minutes of an Allen picture this century. I won’t ruin the vintage one-liners by repeating them here, but rest assured they’re there. After that, Woody’s voiceover becomes a clumsy hindrance, and along the way there’s some silly and even cringeworthy references – a shame, because the earlier Barbara Stanwyck cameos are purposeful.
Late period Allen is suited to films set around about the time of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He knows it well. At times the film isn’t just charming, but full of grace, kindness, and, outside of the whimsy of the story, even occasionally poignant. The naive glamour of Bel Air, doe-eyed movie stars, and New York nightclubs provides a natural milieu for Woody’s false pathos: “Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ But the examined one is no bargain.” Someone at a nightclub tells us. Make no mistake; this is Allen well and truly inside his comfort zone. It’s about as far away from Stardust Memories (1980) as you’ll get, but if recent less-controlled offerings are to go by, I’ll take this version of late-period Woody over last year’s mess in Irrational Man (2015). Woody Allen is not 40. He’s not aching with heartbreak and he’s not under Fellini’s spell. He either thinks he knows who he is, or doesn’t care if he ever finds out anymore. He’s 80. He’s inspired by slow mornings with coffee, and jazz, and stories of classic Hollywood, and cute details of that period, and I’m thankful for that because Café Society is as pleasurable for it as it is doleful.
Don’t get me wrong, to enjoy this film quite as much as I did, you need to be one of two things: a Jazz Age aficionado or a Woody Allen fan, and preferably both. But it’s a tight film, much tighter than I’ve come to expect of recent Woody Allen films, and in that way, you don’t need to be a gushing, balding, nostalgia victim to enjoy it. A warming, satisfying picture.
Comedians Should Be Allowed to be Offensive. That’s Just Not All They Should Be
One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in myself after a year of regularly performing comedy is a broadening of my comedic tastes. If you’d asked me a year ago what comedy I thought was good I would have replied with very strict and narrow parameters. “Stewart Lee is good.” I would have said, “I like all those British alternative comedians. People with clever, nuanced material. I’m not a fan of the more observational, mainstream comedians. I’m not a fan of ‘edgy’ comedians like Frankie Boyle.”
Often, looking back, I defined my taste more through what I didn’t like, rather than what I did. ‘What do you like?’, ‘I don’t know exactly, but I can tell you what I don’t like and in great detail.’
A year in and I basically just enjoy good comedy. Of course, I still love many of the alternative comedians; people who are doing interesting and clever stuff, but honestly I’m happy enough listening to observational comedy done well. A couple of weeks ago I shared a bill with a comic who did a long bit about the different mouth shapes men and women make when thanking people. It was little more than ‘look how different men and women are! Look at this weird thing we all do!’ A year ago I would have scoffed at it, but I enjoyed his set a great deal. It was well performed, it was slick. If there’s one thing that trying to succeed in comedy teaches you it’s that comedy is bloody hard. I respect anybody who can do it well.
There is, however, one type of comedy which I retain a strong dislike for, anything that defines itself by how edgy it is. Anything which seeks to offend, to push boundaries for no reason other than the idea of doing so. As soon as anybody describes themselves as a dark act, or difficult, or offensive, I steady myself for a five minutes that I will not enjoy.
There’s probably a couple of people reading this thinking, “hang on Dan, we’ve seen your act. You’ve got plenty of offensive jokes. You’ve got more than one gag involving paedophiles, you’ve made light of the Syrian refugee crisis, hell, the routine you’ve done the most, your ‘feminist routine’, is basically just you saying sexist stuff for about four minutes. You are a hypocrite. How can you look at yourself in the mirror. You are a disgrace.”
Firstly, calm down. Secondly, it’s difficult to justify one’s own, possibly offensive, material directly without coming across as more than a bit of a pompous tit, so I’ll attempt to do so indirectly over the next few paragraphs and hopefully only come across as a tiny bit of a tit.
I’m not annoyed by self proclaimed edgy comedians because I’m personally offended by their jokes. There’s not much that offends me, honestly. I am a white, straight, able-bodied (with a few caveats), relatively good looking (with a few more caveats), upper middle-class man. There aren’t really many jokes which can be made at my expense, and those which can are usually some variation on the theme of: “look how great you’ve got life, you massive privileged twat.”
I’m not really even much offended on the behalf of other people. I usually don’t feel that it’s my place to feel outrage on the behalf of marginalised groups. I’ll stand up to bullies when needed, but l sometimes feel that it’s difficult to know what crosses the line when you aren’t the person a joke is directed at. Offence is a complicated thing and it’s probably best to leave it to the marginalised and support them when needed. Life is too short to do take up every cause and claim it as your own.
Obviously I hate racism and whatever as much as the next man (and the next man to me happens to be Nelson Mandela) but there are plenty of comedians I love who do material that skirts on the edges of the various isms. Broadly, I feel that intent matters most with this material. People often speak of a punching up, or down, dynamic but I think it’s possible for a member of a more privileged group to do a joke about a less privileged group as long as the joke is not intended to belittle. In my year on the stand up circuit, watching hours upon hours of comedy, I don’t think I’ve seen any comedian make a joke which has actually offended me.
So my gripe is not with the existence of dark material but with its deployment for its own sake.
What I love about comedy is its inclusiveness. That you can unite a room full of strangers in laughter with ideas that you’ve conjured up in your own head. I cannot understand why anybody would enter comedy with the intent of making jokes that are going to make a lot of people unhappy.
Jokes should be written with the express intent of being funny. That’s what they are, they’re jokes. Obviously with that comes a whole load of other stuff, underlying subtext, a political point or whatever, but the laughter is the actual point of doing the comedy. If the through-line to that laughter comes across something difficult, or offensive, then so be it, but that’s not the end point.
Daniel Kitson, as is his way, said all of this far more sufficiently and better in his show ‘Weltanschauung:
“I find anything that proclaims its own danger in comedy or art or music just immediately just a bit tedious and wearisome. Ooh it’s dangerous, ooh it’s edgy. Ooh it’s dangerous and edgy. Is it? Wouldn’t it be better if it was just good?”
I’m distrustful of anything which has the central selling point of possibly upsetting somebody. A total reliance on something other than the actual quality of material, or performance, to carry an act. Of course comedy can have qualities to it other than raw humour, my favourite acts sell themselves on that very thing, but is ‘being offensive’ really a quality?
The ludicrous interpretation that what was good about Bill Hicks was not, “he was really funny and had an interesting unique way of expressing his viewpoints” but instead “he sure ruffled a lot of feathers.” By all means ruffle feathers but don’t break into an owlery with the express intention of doing so.
Furthermore, I’ve always felt there’s a smug superiority to writing material that you’re certain is going to be ‘too much’ for your everyday, BBC2 watching, people-carrier driving, chain restaurant-eating chumps. As if they’re thinking “I can make and enjoy this material because I am better than you.” That the comedian is some kind of worthy pariah, that they are making a necessary sacrifice, their own popularity in exchange for some higher artistic goal. That without their voice saying these things some vital part of public discourse would be missing. There is nothing of great importance found in being abrasive. Anything worth saying can be said to everybody.
There are lots of caveats to all of this of course. Firstly, as a response to the predictable braying of the ‘PC Gone Mad Brigade’, I’m not calling for offensive comedians to be banned. I’m not attacking free speech. I’m just calling them a bit shit. Secondly, there are lots of comics I love, respect and have gigged with who have emptied rooms because the audience felt they were offensive. Just the other week an audience member, after a gig, said that my material was offensive and sexist. This man was a fucking moron. There are always going to be audiences that misunderstand intent behind great comedy, and that’s not a shame. Some things are divisive, that’s just not all they should be.
Auditions, Disco and Chloe Sevigny: Frenching the Bully
Freddy Syborn and Florence Keith-Roach are having an argument about Chloe Sevigny. Florence cites the actress and high fashion muse as an inspiration, while Freddy insist that he has no idea who she is.
“I still don’t think I’ve seen her in anything,” says Freddy.
“She was in Kids,” says Florence.
“Oh yeah. I have seen Kids.”
“And now she’s in this, in spirit.”
Freddy and Florence are the writers, directors and stars of Frenching the Bully, a half-hour comedy film that they have just made available online. The show follows the travails of Fleur (Keith-Roach), a struggling actor wading from dodgy audition to dodgy audition, and Freddy (Syborn), a fledgling writer desperate to meet women. The roles are autobiographical: Freddy is a comedy writer known for his work with Jack Whitehall and for creating the post-apocalyptic ITV2 comedy, while Florence is an actress and playwright whose play Love to Love to Love You we reviewed earlier this year at the Vaults.
The play’s genesis came in summer 2012, when the pair were in Edinburgh performing in one of Freddy’s plays. “It was just one of those whinging moments,” says Florence. She cites Lena Dunham’s breakthrough Tiny Furniture as a particular influence: “In America there were these young filmmakers making very autobiographical, very un-sensationalist stories of slightly humiliating experiences – that moment of leaving university and having that realisation that the world is very disinterested in what you have to offer and quite rightly so.”
The immediate question surrounding Frenching the Bully is: how does it distinguish itself in such a crowded landscape? There is no shortage of comedies about struggling actors (Extras, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Toast of London) or the difficulties of graduate life (Girls; E4’s Drifters, recently commissioned for its third series). Go to a meeting of young writers and you’ll be sure to find someone who says she is writing “a British Girls“; surf through comedy writers’ Curtis Brown pages and you’ll be sure to hit upon “6 x 60 comedy in development about unemployed graduates”. With the bleakness of the graduate job market making it easy comedy fodder, how does Frenching the Bully stand out?
The answer is ambition, which manifests itself in two ways. First, there is the substance of its themes and influences. Rather than owing a debt to other sitcoms, Florence and Freddy constantly cite art-house influences from the films of Larry Clark to James Bidgood’s cult film Pink Narcissus (1971), a classic of erotic gay kitsch. The unconventional hook of the film, which gives it its title, is that Fleur dreams of putting on a one-woman show about the tragic life of Mia Zapata, of the Seattle punk band The Gits, who was murdered in 1993 at the age of 27.
“The idea was always that the whole series would be about the making of the musical about Mia Zapata,” says Florence. “Originally we wanted to do the musical live at the end of a proposed series: it’s that thing of these outsiders trying to make it, faking it before you make it.”
Freddy adds: “The idea was to find some integrity out of a process that had zero integrity. Florence’s character would start just wanting to write something sad, but in the end we wouldn’t make something sad, we’d make something celebratory.”
Most young filmmakers who shoot a web series will do it with a 5D and tripod and hope that the story makes up for it. Frenching the Bully, in contrast, is visually distinctive. It has impressionistic, hazy sequences basked in white light; elsewhere, it is graded in a faintly downcast sheen which, in a scene towards the end, drives home the wretched humiliation of the early-hours night bus. For a film with a tiny, five-figure budget, this is no small achievement: it was shot on an Arri Alexa, the gold-standard camera in the film industry, by experienced DoP Sarah Cunningham, who has worked as a 2nd unit DoP on films by Ken Loach and Guy Maddin. Freddy continues:
“There are lots of small web series independently made like ours – ours is different because we put so much effort into the look. It’s filmed on Alexas which are what you film TV on: we went down a slight different route. For the money we could have made three smaller, less good-looking, less cinematic episodes, but it wouldn’t have been as distinctive.”
The ambition of Frenching the Bully, however, was a double-edged sword. After a gruelling but exhilarating week-long shoot, Freddy and Florence made the film they wanted to make – but the resulting product also made it difficult to place. The rule for film festivals is that shorter the film, the easier it is to programme – so its half-hour length made it an awkward fit. In other ways, the film’s visual style worked against it. It made it a difficult sell when pitching it as a TV pilot to production companies, and the resources involved also made it harder to do a follow-up.
“We didn’t know we were going to make it on such a well-produced scale, to be honest,” adds Florence. “That was something that happened over time. We started talking more and more and realised that we were quite ambitious with what we wanted it to look like. It took on a life of its own. It’s a shame only in the sense that because we’re so attached to this visual style it means that just making another one is not a very easy option.”
Now that the pair have put their distribution issues behind them, they are simply glad that Frenching the Bully is out there. Currently streaming on Vimeo, the film can now find the audience it deserves, with its well-observed character detail – such as the unwieldy morass of shopping bags that Fleur brings to auditions, in contrast to her more polished actor rivals – and bold set-pieces, such as a climactic, opulent party in a railway arch (featuring Spooks’ Shazad Latif).
After Frenching the Bully, the duo are now turning their hand to new projects. Freddy has the Bad Education movie coming up; Florence is working on her new play, Eggs, “about female friendship and fertility and death”. In contrast to Love to Love to Love You, which had a large cast and an elaborate set, Eggs will be a minimalist piece with just two women in a blank, white room.
Frenching the Bully shows how the pair do not shy away from ambition. But if – like Caden in Synecdoche, New York – they were given unlimited resources to pursue whichever project they liked, what would it be?
Florence replies: “Mine would probably be some kind of classical gay disco adaptation of Oedipus set in ‘70s New York with the cast of Midnight Cowboy reprising their roles, co-directed with Peter Bogdanovich. Probably.”
Freddie? “Florence has got such a good answer. I’ll be a runner on hers.”
Frenching the Bully is available to view on the Wits’ End Productions website.Eggs runs Aug 7-30 at Sin, 207 Cowgate, Edinburgh.
What Makes Us Laugh?: Jesse Armstrong Talks to Ned Beauman at Lutyens & Rubinstein
What makes us laugh? Misfortune – epitomised in the act of slipping on a banana skin – is endlessly funny. The luckless characters of Chaucer’s fabliaux bring us famous examples of this, and, a little later, Malvolio’s yellow-stockinged incarceration does the same. Indeed, Malvolio’s plight marks one of the earliest recorded uses of the term “stitches”. Maria commands the others: “If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself into stitches, follow me.” “Stitches” then, as now, attests to a sharpness, a pain, felt by the laugh-er, but also, we presume, by the laughed at, and this pain is acknowledged in the ius nocendi or “right of injury” that Horace believed comedy to possess. Laughter is too often cruel (we’re never really “laughing with”, are we?). And British laughter: might that be the cruellest of all laughters?
Twentieth-century literary laughter has a lot to do with class, and the butt of such jokes are rarely treated benignly. The Bertie Woosters of Wodehouse’s imagination, and the Reginalds between Saki’s pages are endlessly mocked; cruelly so, perhaps. In Saki this has a sinister edge. His short story “The Reticence of Lady Anne” describes Egbert’s “quarrel over the luncheon-table” with his wife Lady Anne, and her subsequent “defensive barrier of silence”. He protests and cajoles, to no avail; only later do we hear from Don Tarquinio (the cat) that Lady Anne “had been dead for two hours”. Similarly, Evelyn Waugh brings his comedy to levels of near-hysteria before his characters burn out spectacularly and unhappily.
But when we read these books – or, to look elsewhere, the endearingly strange works of Douglas Adams, the wince-inducing musings of Adrian Mole – are we really laughing? No, said Ned Beauman in a conversation with scriptwriter-turned-novelist Jesse Armstrong. We’re not really laughing. Beauman, who has himself been hailed a success in comic-writing spheres, observed that he would feel fortunate if his writing elicited a “weak smile” from his reader. That is the remit of comic novelists these days: the uncertain lips of idle commuters. Forget roars of laughter, or wiped-away tears. The power of novels lies in weak smiles alone.
Perhaps this is true. Yet Jesse Armstrong does much to remedy this in Love, Sex & Other Foreign Policy Goals, his debut novel about a group of idealistic youngsters in the 1990s who plan to take a travelling play to the war-torn Balkans, bringing with them a host of risible inadequacies and sexual tensions. You will know Armstrong from his work on Peep Show and The Thick of It, and his ability to read people, to capture exactly their uglinesses and their faults, translates well into a novel. His characters are completely believable: from the incessant question mark which punctuates every one of their sentences, to their focus on the menial even as they drive through devastated villages (“a nudge of Christian’s Adidas shoulder bag a few centimetres into my footwell felt like a thumb pressed on my windpipe”, our narrator complains).
Beauman suggested that the selfishness of Armstrong’s characters points to a pessimistic world view (a “Dostoevskyan nightmare-scape”). With such self-interested pettiness dictating human behaviour why, he asked, his expression serious, “don’t we just die?” Armstrong replied with, perhaps, the most interesting revelation of the evening: that despite writing such unlikeable characters, despite hating the company he keeps “over half the time”, he still considers himself an optimist. He subscribes to Updike’s interrogative outlook (“my work says, ‘Yes, but.'”, Updike explained in a Paris Review interview), asking and asking of his characters until they are entirely exposed. Not a misanthrope, then. Seeing the best in people even as he leads them into minefields to relieve themselves (one of the funniest episodes in the book, actually).
Beauman tried a different tack. If you don’t hate them, do you admire them? Do you envy the passion with which these students take their sincerely-crafted, if terrible, play into the Balkans? Armstrong laughed again, and admitted to being a liberal. His position is to be open to lots of positions. So, no. He doesn’t envy the students their single-mindedness.
The book is funny; a “money-back guaranteed” kind of funny, Beauman said (and that’s Beauman’s money, Armstrong was quick to add). It’s cruelly funny – Armstrong even slips a banana skin beneath his protagonist’s feet at one point – and self-referentially so:
As we made our way towards Slovenia, Christian’s delight increased steadily. He started to laugh as he read. That is always irritating. “What’s so fucking funny, friend?” you want to ask of this person off on their own, having a good time with an author right in front of your face while you’re trying to mind your own business among all the horror in the world. He banged a fist into the seat in front of him. “Oh man, this is it!” he said and crossed his legs with merry abandon.
But it also raises plenty of questions about the funniness of idealism, of earnest art. And it deals bravely with issues of the Bosnian War and Britain’s position of non-intervention. As we have seen elsewhere – in Four Lions – and as we significantly haven’t seen elsewhere – in his unproduced screenplay Murdoch – Armstrong isn’t afraid to address “difficult” subjects.
In light of this talk I left the book with a feeling of admiration for Armstrong’s self-professed optimism. If you can live with this really unloveable bunch, their rising lilt ringing in your ears day after day (after day?), immersing yourself in what Beauman called a “Hobbesian universe” in which people make only “ephemeral associations”, and still maintain a love for your fellow humans – well, I’m very impressed.
Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals is published by Random House.
Book Review: He Wants by Alison Moore
Alison Moore’s second novel is a sparse yet sculpted study of what happens when the routines of daily life fall away. We follow Lewis Sullivan in the aftermath of his wife’s death and his retirement from a lifelong career as an R.E teacher as he struggles to make sense of the life he has lived and the unstructured existence he lives now. Holed up in a small house in a small town, he has little appetite for food or anything else, spending most of his days alone, with occasional ‘trips’ to the outside bins. Looking back on key moments in his life forces him to contend with its blank spots and lacunae; he begins to hunger for more.
Moore uses desire as a prism through which to explore Lewis’s life and it’s unravelling. Each chapter focuses on an aspect of his desire, past and present, satiated or otherwise: ‘he does not want soup,’ ‘He Wanted to Live in Australia,’ and ‘He Wants to Feel an Earthquake.’ The taut prose, like these chapter titles and the title of the novel itself, explores the meaning and uncertainty hidden in the banal details of everyday life with understated skill. Here, for example, on why Lewis does not want to eat the soup his daughter, Ruth, brings him every day:
What Lewis really wants is one of Edie’s steak and kidney puddings her chicken curry, her hotpot… He does not want soup but Ruth brings it anyway and Lewis eats it… More often than not he eats it cold, straight from the fridge, minutes before she arrives to take away the empty tub and leave him with another.
The deliberate sparseness the prose and the frequency of short, declarative sentences, create the uneasy sense that these everyday items are both specific surface realities and symbolic of a wider shadow reality. This made the novel as entertaining as it was gripping; Moore walks a tightrope between tragedy-cum-thriller and deadpan comedy and she does not fall.
The key to Lewis’s transformation and burgeoning self-knowledge comes in a reckoning with Sydney, an old school friend who reappears unexpectedly in his life. Sydney is the opposite of Lewis in that he knows what he wants and he goes after it, regardless of the consequences. Moore opens the chapter with his return to their sleepy small town, inhabiting his point of view at such a distance that we believe in him without knowing why he has returned or why he has to hide from certain people. These unanswered questions cast a subtle shadow over the rest of the book, lending Lewis’s hum-drum wanderings an air of menace and mystery. As in her Booker shortlisted debut, The Lighthouse, Moore marries the meticulous plotting of the thriller with a distinctive pared-down style; Moore trusts the reader to find their own answers to the existential questions which emerge from her work’s silences as elegantly as they do its words.
Getting Stuck in the Snow: an interview with Dan Rhodes
Dan Coxon talks to Dan Rhodes – author of Anthropology, Timoleon Vieta Come Home and This Is Life – about his latest novel, When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow, and the difficult decision to self-publish.
I miss Spitting Image. If it was still going they would definitely have a Richard Dawkins puppet, and every week I would be sending in lines for it – but with no Spitting Image I’ve had to take matters into my own hands. I’ve had ideas about writing about him for a long time, and when it was in the news that he’d gone apeshit on Amazon about some instructions for a DVD writer, I knew the time had come. There’s a lot of comedy to be found in people who are perpetually exasperated at the world around them – he’s a bit of a Basil Fawlty in that regard. Coupled with this was a trend for assaults on authorial freedom from people with access to petrifying lawyers. Scarlett Johansson, for instance, appears to have driven a French novel out of print because a character in it resembles her, which apparently damages her brand – as if her maximising her fees from Soda Stream and Moet adverts is in some way more important than authors being able to write fiction – that’s fiction, Scarlett – freely. I had the idea of assembling a protest anthology containing stories featuring clearly fictional versions of public figures, but in the end I decided it would be clearer and less bother just to write this book instead.
I’m sure you know that this year marks the 30th anniversary of Spitting Image. If they were to revive the show next week, who would you like to see them lampooning (apart from Richard Dawkins, obviously)?
There’s never going to be a shortage of horrifying public figures to make fun of. I’m sure they would get a lot of mileage out of Vince Cable for a start. Michael Gove would be an open goal.
For a comic novel, there are some pretty deep, philosophical discussions about the existence of God and the coexistence of science and religion in When The Professor… Why in particular did this interest you?
I’m not embedded in the argument. If I was, and I was trying to get a point across, I think the book would have suffered for it. If I ever tune into those debates they sound to me like the screeching of squabbling toddlers, and I don’t find myself with much option but to make fun of both sides.
You mention a number of celebrity authors during the course of the novel, from Martin Amis to A.C. Grayling. Have you met any of these in person? What has been your experience of these kinds of celebrity authors while on the book festival circuit?
I’ve not met Martin or A.C.. I tend to be at the tail end of these literary events. I always seem to end up among the aspiring novelists as they vomit into municipal shrubberies.
Why the decision to publish this one yourself?
I wanted to get it out fast, and publishers don’t do fast. Also, they are – to put it politely – cautious, and it’s unlikely they would have waved it through without demanding changes. I’m hoping, with this publication, to prove that it isn’t a legal minefield, and to partner up with a conventional publishing house for the paperback. Wish me luck with that.
How challenging have you found that?
Hmmm… You’d better ask me in a few weeks. So far it’s been pretty smooth. I’ve printed 400 first editions, which I’m signing and numbering, and they are trickling out nicely to independent bookshops.
You’ve said that this year marks your twentieth year working in the book trade. What lessons have you learned during that time that you’d like to pass along to our readers?
That nobody knows what makes a book catch on. I know I’m doing everything wrong, but I take comfort in the knowledge that there’s no right way of doing things.
What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?
I just bought a stack of John Wyndham novels, which I’m looking forward to, I’m watching Dad’s Army and Blossom, and listening to Samson & Delilah by VV Brown. Part of my determination to get this book out – less than two months between finishing it and publishing it – is my continuing dismay at the delay of the MKS album. We should have been listening to that for months, but instead we’re growing old.
And what can we expect to see from you next? Do you have any unfulfilled projects you’d like to tackle?
Every time I finish a book I feel as if I’ll never be able to do anything every again. But so far something’s always reared up. Who knows?
When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow is available now from select bookshops, or from Dan Rhodes’s website. It is also available as a Kindle ebook. Dan Rhodes has written eight other books and won a bunch of prizes, including the E.M. Forster Award. He lives in Derbyshire.
Feature Film: I’m So Excited!
It is good of Pedro Almodovar to make it clear, right from the beginning, that we shouldn’t expect much in the way of seriousness during his most recent film, I’m So Excited! We definitely shouldn’t expect the kind of disturbing and darkly comic film he has won plaudits for in the past decade. If you’re hoping to relive the creepy thrill of The Skin I Live In or the rich tragicomedy of Volver, you’ll have to adjust your expectations – and sharpish. Instead, Almodovar takes us back to the 1980s and to the colourful, wonderfully kitsch, irreverence of early films like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Bright, jangling graphics adorn the opening credits, and provide us with the first clue that Almodovar is here to have to fun. We just have to cross our fingers and hope we will, too.
Peninsula Flight 2459 is in trouble. The chocks – no, me neither – weren’t removed before take-off (blame a high-vis-jacket-sporting Antonio Banderas, who was distracted by a baggage-truck-driving Penelope Cruz), and the landing gear has failed. Instead of flying to Mexico as intended, the plane is forced to circle Toledo, desperately waiting for a landing strip to become available. The economy-class passengers have been delivered a drug that renders them unconscious for the entire flight, so it’s left to the first-class passengers, three gay male stewards and the two pilots to fear for their lives, drink themselves silly, join the mile-high club and generally ignore every aircraft-safety rule in the book.
Meanwhile, back on the ground, Spain is also in trouble, only this time it’s not fiction. Government fraud, a mortgage crisis, swindling bankers and the worst unemployment rate in modern history make for pretty grim reading in the on-board newspapers. The metaphor is obvious, but no less important for being so: the powerful few have chosen to live it up in merry abandon rather than tackle the fast-approaching disaster; their passengers, meanwhile, sleep unknowingly, with no say in their own fates. Almodovar, an outspoken critic of Spain’s right-wing government, has declared this his “most political film” yet, and beneath the gaudy, alcohol-drenched exterior is a satirical attack on embezzling banks, the royal family and corrupt politicians.
Which all makes I’m So Excited! sound much cleverer than it actually is. In reality, the satire lacks bite, and as neat as the metaphor is, it never develops to its full potential. Of course, none of this would matter if the comedy were as funny as the zany trailer promises, or if the plot didn’t feel as thin as it does, or even if the characters were half as nuanced as Almodovar’s usual cast. As it is, though, I’m So Excited! is a mildly amusing but ultimately flimsy screwball comedy.
The problem is, nothing really happens here. Yes, there’s high jinks and more double entendres than you can actually entendre; yes, the characters bond and chat and generally get things off their chest (pun intended); and, yes, the story comes to a coherent conclusion and everybody had some fun along the way. But the plot is so basic that at times it feels as if you’re watching a ninety-minute-long music video. Bizarrely, too, only one of the character’s stories is developed outside the plane – the others are not granted these coveted on-ground shots. In a film that is nearly exclusively set on board a plane, a sub-plot needs to be very special to warrant those extra on-ground moments. These moments may be sumptuously shot and full of rich colour, but they add very little to the film.
Noticeable, too, is the lack of female characters in a film by a director known for his strong portrayal of women. Why must the stewardesses slumber in economy class for the entire flight, giving the three stewards and two pilots centre stage? And of the three female characters in first class, one is a society dominatrix, one a virgin and the other is . . . asleep. It is not just the women who are half-drawn versions of clumsy stereotypes; the rest of the cast barely function outside their categories: camp stewards, mysterious Mexican, swindling banker, womanizing actor, party-mad newly wed.
Nonetheless, Almodovar fans will still find plenty to like here. His recurring themes of sexual identity, transgression, family life and desire all feature, even if they are not developed much beyond easy laughs, and the hedonistic, farcical style is infectiously charming – you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculously camp rendition of “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters. Bright, over-the-top and outrageous, this is entertainment at its silliest, and it’s certainly fun enough.
But that’s all I’m So Excited! can be. The sparse plot, stock characters and underexploited satire clip the wings of this light-hearted comedy and prevent it from ever really taking off.
Of all the irritations of the cinema, other people are the worst. A modern cinema audience will chatter, eat, obscure the view, throw litter, snore and confidently make pronouncements on the plot to all and sundry. Friends will shush friends, then giggle. There are people who I know and love and have planned to murder for 90 painful minutes on a weekend, listening to them talk back to the characters on screen, self-censored by a half-whisper, which only goes to show they know that they are doing something forbidden. It’s true: you are.
And yet. On Monday evening I finished work at 6pm and walked along the streets between St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Smithfield Market. The City is a marvel for being both the oldest and the newest area of central London: steel and glass utility crammed improbably on top of medieval foundations, with plenty of alleys, ditches, old churches and guttural names to amplify the paradox. After reaching the old City walls, I climbed the stairs at Barbican tube station and skulked along the empty walkway which runs above Beech Street. The three mighty towers of the Barbican Estate, Le Corbusier’s bastard sons—Cromwell, Shakespeare and Lauderdale—loomed rigidly above me. I felt as though I was on a film set, about to get my head kicked in by a gang of thugs, or at least discover I was being followed by the Stasi.
On this occasion I met two friends at the Barbican’s swish new cinema. When we arrived the foyer was empty. There were two girls in black shirts and skirts wearing colourful sashes with the word INFO written across them. The impressive set-up for screens 2 and 3 of the Barbican arts complex boasts everything people have come to expect from a contemporary art-house cinema: cake and coffee, bold signage, suggestively Swedish plastic furniture, digital projectors and pop-cultural references dotted ironically on the walls and in the toilets. We ate bowls of pasta in a nearby Italian café, then headed back for the £6 Monday evening screening. More people had by now arrived, of all ages and stripes. Nobody seemed entirely comfortable in the building. Its newness left us feeling a little exposed. Where should we stand? What do we do?
We had taken to our red leather seats in the polished auditorium and were waiting for the screen to boot up when one of my companions took out a bag of crunchy popcorn. Horror of horrors. Relax, I thought. This is an indie comedy starring mumblecore sensation Mark Duplass and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza: popcorn is OK. Popcorn is good.
And it was. A large part of what makes going to the cinema memorable is the added awareness that comes with sharing your experience with others. Being squashed into a room alongside ten, fifty, one-hundred strangers, is part of the process. There is no such thing as silence when you watch a film like that. In the absence of noise, there lingers the airborne buzz of expectation, the deep breaths of catharsis. With comedy, the pleasure of laughing is partly down to recognising that the lives of others must in some sense resemble your own. People choose their favourite characters, tense up to varying degrees and ooze compassion to the point that the air feels thick before the final credits. I took a handful of popcorn. Though I still relish the freedom to walk into the cinema alone whenever the instinct grabs me, I am glad that, chances are, I won’t be in there on my own.
When the film was over we agreed that it was dumb in parts but pretty decent. A pleasant way to start the week. We said our goodbyes (sad ones, my friends are moving to California this week), and I tried to find a path through the Square Mile in search of Moorgate Station, being constantly re-routed by construction fences which created little lanes and crannies, where the City of the past has been flattened by the demands of—what? Law firms? Accountants? I have no idea.
I took the Northern line south, got off at Oval, stopped to read the day’s mantra on the notice board at the top of the escalator, and headed home. I live in one of the seemingly endless series of early 20th-century tower blocks which spread all over south-east London: erected in a previous period of planned social housing, spurred on by poverty and industrialisation, fifty years before the modernist explosion following the bombs of the Second World War. I walked down a back road past the goods-in entrance of a Tesco supermarket. It was almost midnight. Two men on bikes rode around me like sharks. One lent towards me, forcing me off the pavement onto the road. But there were no cars. Unlike the dead silence of the City, here there is the restless silence of a residential area. I could no longer pretend that I was walking through a film set.
Short Story: “A Professor on the Lawn” by Richard Smyth
You must be so brainy,’ the girl said. I remember that. I think – I think – that when she said that she was perched upon my arthritic old knee. I may have – you know – jiggled her a bit. Playfully. I don’t really recall.
Litro Lab starts the new year with a bitter-sweet short story, ‘A Professor on the Lawn’, by Richard Smyth. We loved this story as soon as we heard it, it’s funny and moving. A middle-aged man, thrown out of the house by his wife, remembers an illicit titillation at the local pub that brought him there.
To listen to the story, use the player below or search Litro Lab on iTunes.
Richard Smyth‘s stories have appeared in The Stinging Fly, .Cent and Vintage Script. He also contributed the title story to the 2012 Fiction Desk anthology Crying Just Like Anybody. His articles feature regularly in magazines including New Scientist, History Today and New Humanist, and he is the author of the non-fiction books Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History Of Toilet Paper (Souvenir Press, 2012) and Bloody British History: Leeds (The History Press, 2013). He is represented by Peter Buckman at the Ampersand Agency.
A Professor on the Lawn is read by Greg Page. Greg trained at Maria Grey College and the City Lit. Previous credits include touring with the London Bubble, Malvolio for TTC, appearing as a hired killer and a gay street preacher in independent films, and the voice of a coma victim for BBC radio. He currently appears in Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre, London. He can be contacted through Rosebery Management.
“Don’t you love farce?” The Magistrate as tragi-comic hero at the National Theatre
For an abject lesson in how to stage a classic farce, you could do a lot worse than the National Theatre’s current production of Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Magistrate. It is the set that immediately captures your attention. Designed by Katrina Lindsay, a wooden city bursts out across the stage, topped with a bow and labelled with the play’s title in scrawled handwriting, creating a chaotic, higgledy-piggledy playground-like arena in which the cast are free to explore their outrageous characters and the wealth of ridiculous scrapes they get themselves into. Those expecting subtlety or a light touch will be sorely disappointed. With performances that match the scenery in garish vivacity, it was obvious that a great deal of effort had gone into every aspect of this delightfully silly production. The play works all the better for this, and sometimes it’s nice to have all the work done for you.
Controversy has arisen over the inclusion of original musical numbers in this production, particularly from Michael Billington in a review for the Guardian, who remarked that it indicates a lack of trust in the script. However, I felt the songs, performed for the most part by a riotous chorus of pinstriped pantaloons and ruffled dresses, are never permitted to intrude on the main plot. Despite the seeming similarities, The Magistrate differs from a full-blown musical, such as Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, because the songs don’t drive the action. Instead they simply reinforce points, whilst also providing a neat sideline in social commentary. This is particularly the case with my favourite of the songs, “The Mystery of the Age”, which deals with the role of women and the restrictions placed upon them in Victorian England. The songs also help to ease the transition from one elaborate set to another, along with the chorus members who frequently come close to toppling into the staging mechanism beneath the Olivier stage. This production certainly shows a much more inventive and effective use of chorus members than that in Alan Bennett’s People, simultaneously being performed downstairs in the Lyttelton. The chorus here is more of the Greek variety than anything else, foreshadowing the play’s events and popping up now and then to clarify and comment on what we in the audience see.
They are, fittingly, the first people we see on stage, introducing us to a world of double meanings and misinterpretation, warning of “the little lies that get you into trouble” and promising to reveal what goes on behind the “closed doors” of the Victorian middle-class. This song is reprised at the end of the first act, hammering home this message.
The blunt approach to subtext doesn’t stop there, as the audience is consistently reminded of the root cause for everyone’s confusion: a lie told by the magistrate’s wife Agatha about her age and, more humorously, her son’s. Jokes are mercilessly signposted and reiterated, and everyone has a catchphrase or physical tic as the basis of their characterisation. Somehow, committed performances from the entire cast prevent this endless repetition from becoming tiresome. I’m not ashamed to say I laughed throughout at the skilfully-delivered punchlines and reactions on display. Acclaimed American actor John Lithgow is the production’s big-name draw as the titular character. Equally of note is Olivier-winner Nancy Carroll, who seamlessly switches between dignified grace and a roar of indignance.
Lithgow’s anxious attempts to both avoid temptation and deal with the its consequences remind me strangely of Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman. A professional man trying to keep his family intact under immense pressure, the magistrate seemed almost a tragic hero, whose fatal flaws were very much in evidence when his stepson—McGuire’s sinisterly precocious Cis—runs rings around him, dragging him into no end of trouble. Mercifully, there is no time given for an examination of this potentially dark side in Pinero’s plot. The magistrate remains a tragi-comic hero, while the slapstick and colourful characters keep coming. Even the smallest roles are juicy caricatures. The cast appears to relish the over-the-top stereotypes and the make great use of the opportunities for physical comedy inherent in the script.
The women in the cast bustle across a series of storybook page scenarios (their movement enhanced by their skirts), teetering on a set that looks like it is about to fall in on itself at any moment, mirroring the unstable facades of the characters themselves. There are wonky pieces of furniture and crooked doors in abundance, all adding to a gleefully slanted take on Victorian London, and a sneaky (possibly inaccurate) Christmas tree to really pump up the festive cheer. All in all, The Magistrate is just the ticket for a night at the theatre around the holiday season—there was even a light dusting of snow to disguise the tape used to mark out the boundaries of the set. At the end, after a good old-fashioned knees-up from the cast, the curtain call is given over to a tongue-in-cheek song that warns us all never to become the sort of person who gets “pilloried in farces at the National.” I’ll do my best, but no promises . . .
The Magistrate is on at The National Theatre in London until 10 February. It will be broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world on 17 January at 7pm. Find your nearest venue.
Part 2: The Road to Edinburgh
Whenever we meet someone new, we ask two stock questions in order to identify them:
1. What’s your name? 2. What do you do?
If you ever meet me, particularly after a few glasses of wine, let me apologise in advance for the rather long-winded response that may greet you: “I am a comedian, writer, director, producer, casting director, designer, editor, presenter, teacher, entrepreneur, advertiser, publicist…” The list goes on. Don’t believe me? You should see the number of email accounts I possess, and indeed, the number of passwords I don’t. But for simplicity’s sake, just call me a modern-day polymath, and prepare to quake at the mime I attempt for that!
But wait, don’t stop reading yet. Let me assure you, I don’t have an ego quite the same size as that list; I don’t take on all these jobs simply because I want to, but simply because I have to in order to get the job I want. In a day an age where the division of labour entitles the modern man to a far shorter job title, the same can’t be said for the entertainment business – unless, of course, you somehow landed right in the honey pot.
I came upon this industry as a young twenty-something. I had neither financial security nor family connections, but I was determined to navigate the unchartered and haphazard sea of showbiz, even if it meant doing it blindly because of the lack of rules or structure to entry. I thought, I’m the girl who got into Cambridge five times.(*) Surely I can crack this.
I barged into agents’ offices, offering appalling amounts of gifts in the hope of being remembered – a crate of clementines being my greatest offering. Still, the only agent I managed to charm was an 80-year-old who couldn’t even work a phone (which, on hindsight, couldn’t have done anything for my street cred). I was taken in by her copious collection of signed pictures of Judy Garland, only to discover that she was simply an avid fan of the American star and had never actually represented her.
I called in favours when and where I could, cobbled together show reels, photo portfolios and CVs. I produced my own showcase evenings, commissioned writer friends to create scripts with me as the star, and developed a phantom email persona who would stay up till midnight mass emailing casting directors.
And I pretended.
I talked my way into Spotlight, the search engine for professional actors, assuring them that my role as an extra in the 2005 Virgin holiday commercial was far more central than it might first be perceived.
I pretended I lived in Bristol to get my first paid job, and although I nearly jeopardised my first performance (thanks to a delayed train), I managed to maintain the pretense throughout. The directors never knew better.
Still, I was impatient. I wanted success immediately. There was one behemoth I had yet to conquer: Edinburgh Festival, the world’s largest arts festival.
In 2006, I found a willing comedy partner and set about writing a show for us. After numerous rewrites, I produced a sketch called “Magpie”, a title which had nothing to do with what it was about, or meant to be about: “seven lost lives, unravelling on one park bench.” It was a show, I am now proud to say, that absolutely lacked any structure, coherence or narrative – a tautological, poorly written first-timer’s attempt at being funny.
During the four-week festival, my co-star and I were either politely ignored by the critics, or completely panned. The Stage judged the material “weak” but said that I was “a confident, talented and quirky comedian, who could sideline as a Britney Spears lookalike.” While my peers made waves on the comedy circuit (Simon Bird and Joe Thomas were cast in The Inbetweeners off their show, “The Meeting”), I was faced with a lonely audience of four. Still, I buried my pride and braved the Royal Mile with a bountiful supply of flyers, kept going by my father’s dedicated texting service of daily inspirational quotes. One of them said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Then with the words of Thomas Edison ringing in my head, and much to my co-star’s disgust, I threw away the script I had written and started improvising, determined to make the audience laugh. Not surprisingly, our partnership didn’t last. I returned to London, financially far lighter than even Buddha would advise, but also more certain that this was what I wanted to do.
Interestingly, even though my show was, for all intents and purposes, a total box office flop, my peers began to respond to me differently, asking me for favours and even advice!
Someone asked me to fill in for a voiceover opposite Kevin Eldon, the British comedian and star of Brass Eye, and he being a lovely lad, told me to write to his agents, Earache. Luckily, they were looking for a voice like mine and I was signed immediately.
Then there was the friend who left me a frantic, scratchy voicemail, asking me to help out with her “pass the parcel” event at the V&A. Because I never say no to anything, I turned up, anticipating a child’s birthday party. Instead, I was faced with over 500 trendily dressed adults fully expecting a hilarious stand-up to host a giant take on the childhood game. I downed a pack of Haribo (which I’d brought with me as an incentive for five-year-olds) and pretended again that I knew what I was doing. Maybe when you pretend enough, it becomes real.
It all snowballed from there. Suddenly, I was Clementine wade, the “comedy presenter”, a “compère”.
Yes, I tell my share of white lies along the way to curry more work, and the most audacious of them – that I worked for BBC Online (don’t sue me!) – allowed me to roam freely backstage at the 2011 Comedy Awards interviewing A-list celebs. At the same time, there comes a point when you have to stop and just be yourself. I spent far too long looking up to other comedians and trying to be like them, but in my meandering career I’ve learnt that to get anywhere, you have to stick your head above the parapet, create your own work, in your own voice, on the issues that matter to you. The best actors and comedians aren’t the ones who can do the best accents impersonating someone else; they are the ones who can perform and communicate uniquely as themselves.
As Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Even though my first attempt at Edinburgh didn’t bring about critical acclaim, it did put me on the map. I’m not sure where exactly, but somewhere!
Well, I started at Homerton College, reading English and Drama alongside Education Studies. Still, I was aware that Homerton wasn’t one of the “classical” colleges (it used to be a teacher training college), and so with the hubris of youth, I deemed it unworthy of my intellectual prowess – I had, after all, just been awarded the highest grade in Sociology in the country. I went undercover, writing, petitioning and begging the admission secretaries to secretly slip me into the new round of Cambridge college interviews. Within a week, I had lined up eleven interviews, and to my delight, received five offers. Of course, my trick was soon discovered and I was left only with Corpus Christi applauding my efforts: they’d kindly decided to regard my actions as “entrepreneurial”. Pembroke just thought it was “disgracefully irreverent” of me.
Part 1: A Portrait of the Comedian as a Young Girl
Litro Note:In line with our upcoming #116 Humour issue,instalments ofClementine’s World will appear in instalments over the next month.
Knock, knock. Who’s there?
Clementine. Clementine who?
Clementine Wade. …Is that the joke?
Sorry about that.
However, hello, my name is indeed Clementine and I am, amongst other things and contrary to the above evidence, a comedian. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with Litro readers the trials and tribulations of producing, writing, directing and starring in a scarily mammoth Edinburgh comedy show. Before unleashing my diatribe of angst though, the folks at Litro thought it would be wise for me to introduce myself.
I was born to Sir Alan (Lord Sugar just doesn’t have the same ring) on 24 March 1983 (not like him) at an artfully chosen Hampstead hospital – a decision that, despite adding an extra 20 miles to a fraught journey, ensured Mrs Wade’s progeny a classy passport.
I wasn’t early and I wasn’t late. Much to my annoyance there was no drama in my birth, and indeed, as the years have proven, I wasn’t adopted either. Most of my childhood could be categorised as magnificently uneventful, something which I have been trying to rectify ever since.
At primary school, as a bucked Anthea Turner doppelganger, I wasn’t academic in the slightest. Reading was an enigma, writing proved treacherous, and being almost totally deaf, I spent my days cutting up clothes, talking to myself and creating my own stories. Unlike my sister, I couldn’t show off my perfectly executed novella – god, I couldn’t even spell my own name – and as my baby looks slowly faded (you are reading the words of the cutest North London baby 1986) and my tendency towards tie-dyed cycling shorts pervaded, I realised I had only one thing to fall back on: making people laugh.
I went big (aka local) in 1989, cast as the Ugly Bug, the lead, in Class 4’s summer blockbuster. I swaggered my way to success, covered in leaves I’d forced my poor mother to sew onto a lilo.
Disaster loomed, however, when I was rejected from the Royal Ballet School (my father mistook a penchant for flannel wielding for talent), and I was packed off to a convent. Undaunted, I remained true to the belief that I was descended from Charlie Chaplin, and continued to hone my craft as the class clown.
The year 1997 was another cornerstone in the life and times of C. Wade. The St Martha Sixth Form Production usually took the form of a Bible story, but that year, mutiny was in the air – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was chosen, the lead actress was expelled, and my sister came to the rescue, proffering a quick re-cast: her 14-year-old sibling, who wielded a head brace, would take up arms as the inimitable Mr Collins.
Despite a heavy degree of articulated spitting, I was, by popular agreement, the only choice, and thus in one fell swoop, I successfully turned Jane Austen’s greatest love story into a farce. As far as big breaks go, this was a rather nonchalant affair, with only a small mention in the The Barnet Reporter. But it determined my fate: I was to be a comedian, come hell or high water.
Over the next few years, my “talent” was placed on hold, while I dabbled with being a born again Christian, giving out party rings and exclaiming, “God will fill your hole!” It was only when I got to Cambridge that I really started performing comedy and realised how serious a business it was. I watched and learnt from my peers, artfully snatching up agents. Despite appalling first efforts, my terrible writing got better.
Since graduating, I’ve become aware that the entertainment industry is not one you can go into; it’s one you have to create. So, I have been producing my own work. Sure, I’ve worked in TV, radio and film and will soon appear in the Objective Productions pilot comedy Private Eye with Stephen Fry for Channel 4. And sure, as a presenter, I’m in demand to host and emcee the best in live events throughout the capital. But ultimately, the stuff that has got me anywhere, the stuff I am most proud of, is and has been that of my own making – which is why I’m creating two comedy shows – Back to School and Back to School Disco – for this year’s Edinburgh Festival, but more on that later. In the meantime, here’s a video of me getting dressed on the Tube:
They say it takes 10,000 hours of concerted effort to make an overnight success. I’m hoping I’ve clocked up 99,998.
Back to School will run 1-26 August at 4-5:30pm; extra shows at 1:30-3pm, Fri-Sun. Book tickets here.
Back to School Disco is on 3-25 August, every Fri & Sat from 10pm-1am. Book here.
There is a preview event on 18 July at Aura Mayfair. You must buy your tickets in advance here and you must turn up in school uniform.
The Anti-Slam London: Anti Valentine Special
If you Google ‘anti slam’ you get a bunch of information about a pretentious-sounding poetry movement which took place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan a few years ago. Happily this event is absolutely nothing like that. The inspired idea behind this particular type of anti slam is a simple one: bring together a group of talented performance poets, and then challenge them to write and perform the worst poem they can possibly come up with. A jury then confers, and the lowest score wins.
The concept was dreamt up by a bunch of (presumably quite drunk) slam poets in a bar in Berlin back in 2009, and like-minded events have since been popping up all over the place. London’s first taste of the so-bad-it’s-good was last autumn – sample couplet: ‘oh sensitive soul that’s hurt by images of people who suffer / It irks me, like a YouTube video which won’t buffer’. The whole thing went down so well that the brains behind it all have decided to host another one this coming Valentine’s Day at Artch in Bethnal Green, East London.
Separating the chaff from the wheat this time around are literary types Shane Solanki, John Paul O’Neill and Comfort Cydelle. If past events are anything to go by, the victor may be decided by volume of audience laughter alone…
The Anti-Slam London: Anti Valentine Special is being held the Artch arts venue on the 14th of February. Tickets are £5 and doors open from 7:30pm. A sister event will be taking place in Berlin on the same date. You can find out more by visiting their Facebook page here.