Archive | Feature RSS feed for this section

Ten things you really need for your new baby (and ten you don’t – necessarily)

10 Jul Sleeping baby

Are you about to give birth to a baby and plan on raising it? Having seen yet another list of baby must-haves that contains stuff I’ve never even seen in real life, I’m writing a blog that’s been brewing in my head for a while: what you really need for a new baby, and how to get it all for under a grand – or nothing. (more…)

Seeing stars

12 Aug

First published on The Skinny website

If you’ve been following Skinny Fringe coverage, you may have noticed there are no one star reviews. We’re not publishing any – we don’t see the point.

A 1 star review means there really is nothing to recommend about a show. The act may have taken a brave risk, but they’ve got it wrong and, in the opinion of the reviewer (who’s quite possibly talking bollocks, by the way), should probably go home. Is it really helpful to publish this for all to see?

Of course, some people like reading bad reviews. They love a delicious postmortem full of overly long metaphors in which the writer attempts to show just exactly why they are much, much better at what they do than the performer was. And sometimes, these have their place. I carry with me to this day The Stranger’s roasting of Sex and the City 2, a film dripping with cultural imperialism and the most depressing kind of sexism, which spent millions of dollars trying to sell us Möet & Chandon and a Mullerlight.

But this is the Fringe, not the Oscars. These are people who aspire to a pint of Fosters, for Christ’s sake. If you rip a comedian to shreds, they can’t while away their stresses by checking into rehab or buying a baby. They weren’t trying to sell you anything – many aren’t even charging for entry. They were just trying to make you laugh. And they’ll already be proper gutted that they didn’t.

All of the Skinny Comedy content is online (along with a shedload of extra stuff from The Shimmy – check it out) and the internet is already too full of useless vitriol. So we’re with our mums on this one – if you can’t say anything that is genuinely helpful, don’t say anything at all.

Thoughts on rape jokes

5 Aug

So, a friend linked to this article yesterday about rape jokes. The premise of the, very brief, article, is that you shouldn’t make rape jokes because statistically, one in five people have been raped, and it acts as a trigger,and you shouldn’t upset people.

On the face on it, I totally agreed. But it’s been percolating in my mind. The thing is, there are many horrific things that may happen to someone over the course of their lifetime. Some are undoubtedly more horrific than others, but horrific is horrific, traumatic is traumatic and a trigger is a trigger.

I work in comedy so I’ve seen many of its incarnations, but there is still some material that triggers me. Jokes about eating disorders tend to be the worst. They upset me, they make my stomach flip and  make me want to stick my fingers in my ears in a bizarre childish fashion. Jokes about self-harm can have a similar effect, and even very banal material about family relationships can make me uncomfortable and sets me off on trains of thought I didn’t want to be having.

I am very lucky; I have never been raped. Many people close to me have, though, and it’s been various stages of horrific. I’m not for one moment suggesting it’s anything less than that and I wouldn’t swap my traumatic experiences for theirs. So I suppose that, if I’m in the business of ranking trauma (which I’m not), I’d rank their experiences as Worse Than mine.

I don’t need to say it: rape is bad. We all know rape is bad. Some know first-hand, some, like me, second hand, some just in the same way that you know killings is bad. The debate about whether we know this intrinsically as humans or not is for another day, but it certainly feels instrinsic.

Rape is so bad that we shouldn’t joke about it. We can joke about other forms of abuse (or self abuse), we can joke about death or trauma or illness or terrible bad fortune. But we shouldn’t joke about rape. In fact, you know what, we probably shouldn’t talk about it at all…

This is my problem with the ‘don’t joke about rape’ concept. It in fact reinforces the concept of rape as the Last Taboo. It’s something that’s still stigmatised and putting into its own separate category of unacceptability underlines this stigma.

But the original article is right. Son’t say ‘I totally raped level three’ (not a phrase,thankfully, that I’ve ever heard myself). Similarly, don’t describe the wonky wheel on your shopping trolley as ‘totally gay’. Don’t call the checkout operator at TK Maxx ‘a total spastic’.

Don’t make jokes *at the expense* of those who have been raped, and don’t apportion language in a way that will upset people and reinforce stereotypes and stigmas. But the moment we stop being able to joke about something is the moment when it holds most fear for us.

Don’t not make rape jokes. Just joke like you should drink – responsibly.

Funny’s Funny

1 Jun

First published online for The Skinny

I’d like to start this piece by thanking Funny Women, which is a pretty unusual thing in the comedy community right now. The organisation is less popular than ever, following their recent decision to start charging entrants £15 to compete in their annual all-female contest. It was the last straw for many from an organisation which seems to have set back feminism far more than it has promoted it. Whilst founder Lynne Parker denies such allegations, female comics all over the country tell tales of censored material and a clear steer towards lovely girlie acts performing ‘appropriate’ material. Parker was allegedly thrilled by any competition winner who “looked pretty on the posters”.

Funny Women’s latest move has been described as causing controversy in the comedy community, but that’s not entirely accurate. In fact, it has caused unity, distilled in the creation of new co-operative organisation Funny’s Funny, who are running their own competition this month to promote the best of female talent. Entry is free, material is uncensored (provided, of course, that it is original), and the competition is open to anyone who identifies themselves as female.

However, this isn’t about the industry uniting against a common enemy. “Leading by example” is how Funny’s Funny co-founder Ashley Frieze puts it. Frieze was a leading voice in the outcry against Funny Women’s actions, but rather than just sit back and complain about inadequate provision, he decided – together with fellow comics Okse, Jane Hill, Rob Coleman and Bethany Black – to create a workable alternative.

But does an organisation promoting women, but which is run predominantly by men, not run the risk of seeming patronising? “I don’t think we who are male see it that way,” says Frieze “Why can’t men appreciate the value of women in comedy?” This in fact is feminism at its very strongest. It’s not about treating women differently, pandering to their delicate sensibilities and uncomfortable shoes, or ghetto-ising them. It’s about recognising that any comedian is part of the same community, and that the predominate function of that community is to be funny.

But if that’s the case, why do a female comedy competition at all? This was a question raised by Chortle editor Steve Bennett when Funny’s Funny emailed him to call on his support.

“It’s not our philosophy that women must have their own competition,” explains Frieze “Our philosophy is that it doesn’t matter what your gender, or persuasion, or anything else, is – if you’re funny, you’re funny.” But they did see the need to redress the imbalance caused by Funny Women’s monopoly on declaring the title of Funniest Female Comedian.

Well, it was good enough for Bennett. Chortle have thrown their whole-hearted support behind the competition; hosting the final, donating the prize money and – perhaps most importantly – ensuring the presence of industry professionals at the final, making it an invaluable showcase for all the finalists.

It’s a clear message of solidarity, and one that has been echoed by club owners, promoters and comedians all over the country. Frieze describes that he was “touched” by the way the industry have responded. “There’s a clear message that the comedy industry likes its women.”

This isn’t about Girl Power, Solidarity Sistas or positive discrimination. It’s about comedy and genuine equality.

Money Women

21 Apr

JoJo Sutherland

Funny Women instate ‘pay-to-play’ policy, causing outrage in the comedy community.

All-female comedy award Funny Women launched in 2002 as an attempt to put right the under-representation of women in comedy. Whilst initially supported by many acts, its reputation has gone rapidly downhill in recent years.Although Funny Women style themselves as a feminist organisation, many believe that they’re actually doing far more to damage the reputation of female comedians than to help it. Acts claim to have been censored by the organisers, being warned against swearing, talking about being gay, and material that was not considered ‘appropriate’ for women.Most worrying of all, perhaps, is a story recounted by comic Elise Harris of her experience at a heat: “I overheard a conversation between the organisers and a person who was trying to enter. This person was insisting they were female, they had a female name. The organisers argued for quite a time that they did not accept that and then told the person they would not let them enter.”

However, Funny Women founder Lynne Parker denies allegations of censorship: “We don’t censor acts’ material,” she told us, “unless there is a reason to do so, either for broadcast or a commercial commission.”

Funny Women announced yesterday (20 April) what could be the final nail in their coffin: with entries now open for the 2011 competition, they have introduced a £15 administration charge.

‘Pay-to-play’ is a practice that has been universally criticised in the UK and quashed by the comedy community wherever anyone has tried to institute it. Comedy should be a meritocracy, nurturing talent on its own basis and allowing for experimentation, and comedy promoters should be part of this process. Where promoters both charge performers to play, and charge the audience to watch (tickets to Funny Women heats are priced at £10-£12); the incentive is not to programme acts based on talent, but rather on what they are willing to pay. Ultimately, audiences are likely to turn away from a comedy industry devoid of artistic practice, and without an audience, the industry is dead.

We asked Scottish comic JoJo Sutherland what she makes of this latest news. “Exploitative, divisive and reprehensible are some of the words that spring to mind.” says Sutherland, a finalist in the inaugural awards, “I was initially supportive of an organisation that seemed to be providing a platform to encourage women into an ultimately male-dominated arena. How naïve and wrong I was.”

She is vehemently opposed to pay-to-play in any situation and believes “we must fight tooth and nail” to stop the practice.

“It is no coincidence that most comics who have been involved with Funny Women in the past are no longer willing to be associated with the brand, which persists in perpetuating the myth that somehow women need to be nurtured into performing stand up. The existence of Funny Women is a ridiculous notion but the idea that women are now being told they have to pay to be marginalised is frankly obscene.”

Parker insists, however that “anybody trying to change things will always get criticised.” She claims to have had an enormous amount of support on the issue, and that promoters of this kind of competition deserve to have a value put on what they do. “Maybe I’m just making a stand, perhaps rather bravely, that other people might agree with. We’re not the ogres; we love what we do.”

First published online for The Skinny

Actively funny

16 Mar

MGICF

With the launch of the Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival today, we take  a look at some of the acts who bring an element of activism to their work.

AAs comedian Keith Farnan puts it, echoing Hemingway, “Before you can become a comedian, you should have been something else. When you’ve formed opinions about the world and you have certain views, that will inform your comedy.” Whilst the likes of Daniel Sloss, Bo Burnham and Kevin Bridges may have proudly boasted sell-out audiences before they were out of nappies, something about today’s political climate is more reminiscent of the 1980s, where we saw the birthing of what was then alternative comedy.

In recent years, this uprising has turned into complacency and we’ve seen ‘political comedy’ put into an angry little box and roped off in the corner, sitting humourlessly alongside performance poetry and Private Eye. But the world is changing and comedy, ever at the forefront, is changing with it. There’s a new tide moving back towards comedy with substance, with something real behind it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-placed knob gag. It’s ill-placed, lowest-common-denominator knob gags that tire me. Frankie Boyle, for example, has arguably lost his way of late, battling the strictures of prime time panel shows. But it’s worth remembering that his shock and awe tactics originate from a need make a point, to question and highlight people’s behaviour. It’s great to see Frankie going back to his roots and using a rare live appearance to support the Palestinians in Stand Up for Palestine on the 21st.

In our MGICF coverage this year, both in print and online, we talk to acts who have lived their comedy: interviews with ex-lawyer Farnan and ex-doctors Paul Sinha and Mike Wozniak, reflections on his religious pilgrimage from Imran Yusuf and tales of activism and investigation from Mark Thomas and George Monbiot.

There’ll also be tweets and write-ups about all sorts of events on throughout the festival. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what panelists have to say about the future of comedy in a discussion hosted by the Comedy Unit – Scottish Comedy: The Best Kept Secret in the World? The event is supported by Creative Scotland and I’m fascinated to see if our new culture body is going to step up to the plate and start to support comedy as an artform.

First published online for The Skinny

Comedy Fetishist

8 Feb

Comedy Fetishist

A lot of people think that I first got involved in comedy when I performed it. In fact, I was only an open spot for about 18 months – I was terrible. It’s bloody hard, you know. In fact, I first started hanging around the comedy scene years before this ill-fated experiment, though. I was a groupie.

The thing is, I’ve always been very much of the ‘laugh me into bed’ school. Comedians are HOT. Really hot. My teenagedom was spent drooling over video and TV footage of Jack Dee, Dominic Holland (who I believe started my lifelong love affair with dark, curly hair) and Eddie Izzard and this was before I ever moved to the big city and got introduced to the heady, dizzying highs of live comedy.

In fact, it’s not just the comedians themselves that get my pulse running; merely being around good, clever comedy gets me excited. On my second-ever visit to The Stand, I fell into the arms of an Aberdonian stranger at the next table as we soaked up the lust around us. We bonded together over our love of all things comic and went out for about three months, most of that spent at The Stand. Eventually, he spent one too many nights drinking beer and falling asleep in front of Definite Article, so I dumped him. To The Stand, however, I remain true.

There followed an embarrassing period spent dolled up, spending my dole money at the bar and soaking up the erotic atmosphere of stale beer, cigarettes (in those days) and live comedy. I never had any famous conquests, I’m sorry to report, but I’ve done the maths and worked out that 85% of all my sexual shenanigans have been with people who had performed or would perform stand-up comedy.

Of course, I’m happily married these days, to a magnificent lady who has brought down my average by stubbornly refusing to take the mic. I did meet her in Nicol Edwards, though, and I was only in there for the comedy. I just can’t get away from it: if it weren’t for stand-up, I’d still be a lonely virgin.

Top 5 hottest comedians you can catch in the MGICF

The Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival this March and April is bringing a myriad of ripe comic specimens to town and frankly, I can’t wait. Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day and all, I’ve come up the top five sexiest comedians coming to the MGICF.

Before I get accused of objectification, by the way, I should clarify that these people are really fricking funny – that’s what makes them so hot.

Miles Jupp
One of my original, unattainable comedy crushes. That dark curly hair, that effortless humour.
See him in: Miles Jupp: Fibber in the Heat, The Stand, Glasgow, 20 March 7:30pm, £10(£8)

Susan Morrison
Made me have to define the term ‘MILF’ to someone. Smart and sexy, could crush you with a single sentence.
See her in: Susan Morrison: Faffing Around, Brel, 25 March 8:30pm, £7(£6)

Imran Yusuf
Short-listed as best newcomer for the Edinburgh Comedy Award last Fringe. Had me swooning in Espionage. Sober. Not something that happens a lot.
See him in: An Audience with Imran Yusuf, The Stand, Glasgow, 4 April, 9:30pm, £10(£8)

Sarah Millican
Recently won the slavering admiration of P. Diddy and Vince Vaughan. Which makes her sexier than Jennifer Aniston. And much, much more intelligent.
See her in: Sarah Millican: Chatterbox, Old Fruitmarket, 5 April, 8pm, £15

Doug Stanhope
Angry American in the vein of Bill Hicks (and which of us, really, doesn’t want to go back in time for that rendezvous?). Just watch him rant, lie back and shiver.
See him in: Doug Stanhope, King’s Theatre, 22 March, 9:45pm, £19.50

First published online for The Skinny

Creating your perfect wedding

3 Aug

There are some very simple things to remember if you want to make your wedding truly memorable.

You’ve bought all the magazines, you’re on all the forums, you’ve been planning this event anyhow since you were five. Every idea you come across seems bigger, better – and pricier – than the last. So how do you make sure you still have money to make it through the first year of marriage?

Every Little Counts

The important thing to remember is that the small touches are cheap and easy, but tend to be the things people remember. Conversely you can save hundreds by cutting down on the price of your shoes, bags, and accessories, and your guests are unlikely to notice. You certainly won’t. Making a commitment like that tends to distract you from whether you bought the Tiffany’s bracelet, or the eBay one.

Talking of which, ebay is a great source of money-saving ideas. You might understandably be nervous about buying anything pricey, like your dress, but look out for shoes, accessories, favours and thank you gifts for a fraction of the price of the boutiques. These sorts of things are easy to forget to budget for, and can end up blowing the money you do have.

Creating Community

Think about the day from your guests’ point of view. Try leaving a few things in the toilets (particularly the ladies’). Mascara, hair grips, sun cream if it’s a hot day – the sort of thing you mean to keep in your handbag and end up leaving on the sofa.

Think of what’s going on in your guests’ lives, too. If you’ve got a lot of people coming, statistics suggest that someone may well be celebrating themselves – a birthday or an anniversary.

Others may different events going on in their lives. If you’re having a religious ceremony, you could include prayers for a sick relative, or a new (or impending) baby. This all helps everyone – including you, to remember what the day is about – love, community, and togetherness.

Be in Love

However great the cravats, however exactly the bridesmaids match the napkins, the bottom line is that there’ll only be one thing your guests are likely to be talking about by the time you get back from honeymoon. It’s the one thing that separates a joyous wedding from a dull one: love. Don’t lose sight, amongst the colour co-ordinating and the dress fittings, of your relationship. Enter the wedding full of joy and love for your intended, and it’s your one guarantee to nab your perfect day.

How to pretend you’ve seen Star Wars

3 Aug

Star Wars. Staple of buffs, geeks and both. If you are neither, here’s how to cheat.

Trying to impress a Star Wars geek? Can’t be bothered watching hours of very boring sci-fi? Your best bet is not to mention you haven’t seen it, and just follow these simple hints.

Star Wars Episodes I-III

Great news first off – you don’t even need to pretend you’ve seen these three episodes. For the true beginner: Star Wars Episodes 1-3 are not the first three. They are the last three. They are generally accepted to be the bad three. You can quite easily explain not having seen these by adopting a look of disgust:

“I can’t believe you sat through those. I couldn’t face it.”

No one will know you couldn’t face the first three either.

A New Hope

This refers to Episode IV – ie the first film (hope you’re keeping up). However, true fans will never use that phrase. The first film is Star Wars. The subsequent films are Star Wars sequels. Star Wars was renamed A New Hope by director George Lucas, who claimed that was always supposed to be the title. Refer to it only as Star Wars, never A New Hope.

This brings up the next, rather confusing point. George Lucas conceived of the whole idea, and directed and wrote quite a lot of it. You’d think that would make him popular. The interesting thing though, is that most Star Wars fans don’t actually like George Lucas. Throw it a wistful “Ah, George Lucas. If only he actually had talent” and your geek will be cosying up in blissful agreement.

Quotes From Star Wars

Some great quotes to litter in conversation:

“These are not the droids you are looking for.”

Easily adapted to any day-to-day event. For “droids,” substitute crisps, socks, cans of beer.

“You watch your language!”

This one is to be used specifically in response to a series of beeps from any random machine (it refers to R2D2, who “speaks” only in beeps – he is genuinely quite sweet).

“Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi [/Sam/Ashley], you’re my only hope” Combine with a girlish request for help opening a jam jar.

Girl It Up

For a touch of authenticity, you don’t have to pretend you loved the light sabres and fighting. Pick out other things that you enjoyed. You’ll be mocked for it, but no one will guess you haven’t really seen it. Try the following lines:

“My favourite is R2D2, he’s so cute.”

or

“You know, the feminist credentials really go down as you go through the films. Princess Leia starts off as this, strong independent woman and by the end they’ve got her in a gold bikini.”

Don’t try and pretend you fancy Luke Skywalker (the main character, played by Mark Hamill). They’ll smell a rat – he’s not an attractive man. If you have to go down that route, you could feign a crush on Han Solo (Harrison Ford, the early years). There’s a real dearth of attractive men in those films, though, so you might be flogging a dead horse here.

Princess Leia in a Gold Bikini

The above rule does not apply to attractive women. Dress like Princess Leia in a gold bikini and your intended won’t care if you’ve never even set foot in a cinema.

First published online for Suite 101

Making your money last

3 Aug

The credit crunch and recession are starting to hit us all hard. But there are a few things you can do to batten down the hatches and weather the storm.

Outgoings starting to exceed income? Here are a few handy tips to rein in the panic.

Facing the Beast

It’s the natural instinct of many to look steadfastly in the opposite direction of their looming iceberg of debt. But looking it in the face and working out exactly where you’re at will help relieve the stress.

Sit down with a copy of your bank statements, with your partner or anyone else financially linked to you and have a good look at what you’re spending each month, versus what is coming in. Identify the biggies. Some people find they are spending much more than they thought in the pub, or eating out, for example, and it’s amazing how much you can save by making just a couple of adjustments.

Talk to Your Creditors

If you have looming bills or insurmountable outgoings, talk to the people you owe to. It’s terrifying, but making contact with them isn’t going to force them to take any money they’re not currently taking.

People are often angry and abusive to people working in collections departments. If you call up and are polite and friendly, but explain your situation, it’s amazing what you can achieve. And as long as you are in contact with your creditors, and doing what you say you’ll do (even if that’s paying them £20 a month), it won’t go against your credit rating so avoids further distress.

Deal in Cash

Once you’ve taken a look at your bills, work out how much ‘disposable’ income you have left – how much you can really afford to spend on groceries, travel, and luxuries. Work this out on a weekly basis – even if you’re paid monthly. This helps you to keep in control and not be in dire straits by the end of the month.

Once you’ve worked this out, take out that amount – in cash – at the beginning of the week. That is how much you have to spend that week, and no more. Leave your debit cards at home and spend only the cash you’ve taken out.

It’s up to you what day you want to start your nominated week on, but if you work Monday – Friday, it’s often easiest to take the money out on a Monday. When you’re busy working early in the week, it’s easier to be frugal. If you do well with this, you’ll have a bit of spare cash for Saturday night

Plan Your Meals

It’s so easy to live life on an ad hoc basis and spend £15 a day on groceries for that night’s dinner. Conversely, a well planned £40 spent in a big supermarket can last you the week and then some. Just like the cash you took out, the food you buy in your weekly shop is what you have to eat that week. Be creative with your food, and with your cash, and it’s amazing how fun the whole process can end up being.

First published online for Suite 101