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From Queenstown to Swindon town

I still don’t like Queenstown.

It’s beautiful to look at, but it also knows this. Unlike the rest of New Zealand, it lacks a soul; largely as it’s pretty much just there for tourists.

That said, I enjoyed it more than when I was last there. This is because I wasn’t drunk every night and hungover every day. These two activities may also explain why lots of things in New Zealand aren’t entirely how I remember.

And just as a side note, the bar I got thrown out of in 2007 for being too drunk has since burnt down. So I think I won that battle eventually. Suck on that, bouncers.

But Queenstown is not somewhere you want to spend a lot of time. A couple of nights is all you need. In my experience, it also remains a magnet for twats. Twats with money who also want to throw themselves off platforms with elasticatated rope tied around their ankles.

Speaking of which, I returned to do the Nevis bungee/bungy. Even though I had done it before, jumping out of a cable car over a canyon and falling 134 metres is never going to be something that feels normal.

It was chillier than when I did it before. So getting a lung full of cold air as I fell added to the experience.

It provided quite a rush and was an exhilarating end to what turned out to be a nice little trip. I definitely won’t leave it another 12 years before I return to New Zealand, especially as I now have a cost-effective means of getting there thanks to ticket sales.

From Queenstown to Swindon town. The international tour rolled on.

Due to being wrapped up in my travels on the other side of the world, I had almost forgotten that I was bringing How To Win A Pub Quiz to Swindon Fringe Festival eight days after I arrived back in the UK.

In something highly unusual, I had barely given it a plug on Twitter. Luckily, I used my old hack connections and got an article in the Swindon Advertiser a couple of days before.

The show ended up selling out, which you may get tired of reading, but I never get tired of writing.

The crowd were great fun and interacting with them resulted in a lot of laughs.

The last event I went to in Swindon was Radio 1’s One Big Weekend that I was covering for the paper almost exactly ten years ago. The highlight of that day was getting back stage, blanking Vernon Kay and finding a tenner on the floor. Saturday’s show was much better in every sense. 

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop four: Dunedin

The final stop of my mini international tour was Dunedin.

I liked Dunedin last time I was there. Back then, it was a welcome escape from what turned out to be an awful stay in Queenstown.

Dunedin wasn’t quite how I remembered it. I don’t know if there’s been a lot of investment in it or that my perceptions of things in 2007 were skewed by alcohol and fatigue. Anyway, I liked Dunedin then and still like it.

Shortly after I arrived in my hotel, I had an email from the Otago Daily Times requesting an interview. As I don’t have a Kiwi sim card, a phone interview wasn’t feasible. So we did a Q&A over email.

Later on, a photographer was sent out to take a picture of me. I don’t think this has happened since I was in the birthday listings in the Stroud News and Journal when I was eight or nine years old. I’m more familiar with the other side of things.

The photographer even had a company car. I was amazed, as company cars were unheard of for reporters and photographers in my time at the local paper.

Onto the shows, ticket sales had been much quieter than I’m used to. On many occasions over the last couple of months, I would receive a daily automated ticket sales email to tell me I had not sold any tickets on that day.

I later learned that this is largely because people in Dunedin don’t really buy tickets for anything, which does explain a lot.

Fortunately, sales did pick up. In a 50 seater room, I had around 40 for the first show, which was pretty good going. It was also another lively one. I do love Kiwi crowds.

A few things went wrong, mainly the facts bell refusing to cooperate on several occassions. But it didn’t spoil the show and also got a few more laughs along the way.

For the second show, there wasn’t enough room for everyone who wanted to see it. If only they’d come on the previous day.

So, half an hour after the triumphant end to what was meant to be my final show, I did another performance due to overwhelming demand.

However, the extra show ended up being in front of nine people. It felt a bit anticlimactic after the previous show. Still, they paid to see it and more money helps reduce travel costs further.

And that brought an end to my NZ shows for this year.

This morning, I got a bus to Queenstown at 8.30am. Unlike in 2007, the bus wasn’t full of public school-educated 18 year olds. I am grateful for this.

I’m here for two nights, specifically to do the Nevis bungy/bungee before I fly home.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop three: Christchurch

In Christchurch, things didn’t go entirely to plan.

What was originally offered as a free stay in a four-star hotel turned into a stay on a sofa, which later turned into nothing. So back to my hostel roots I went. I haven’t missed staying in hostels, but I splashed out on a single room to avoid sharing a dorm.

As for the show in the city, the venue cancelled it three days before. A replacement was quickly found, but a one-off show in a venue that’s changed with three days notice was always going to be tricky. Five people turned up, so I made the decision to pull it.

Small crowds are useful for testing stuff out. And when I was first trialling the show concept in 2014, I would have gone ahead with it. Yet with a polished show in the bag, this almost feels counter-productive. Look at me, being a diva.

Then again, tickets hadn’t really shifted in the previous venue. The show sells well, but only if it’s part of a larger festival and people are actively looking for stuff to see.

Despite the mishaps, I still enjoyed my time there. I co-hosted a pub quiz and MC’d an open mic gig. Once my show was cancelled, I got a lift to New Brighton to do a spot at a gig there, which was fun. I’d not been there before, but have spent many happy a time in the old Brighton. Sadly, I didn’t see a New Langton, New Moz or New Luke. It was only a quick trip though, so they might have been there.

A lot has changed in the Christchurch since I was last there. The earthquakes that struck in 2010 and 2011 did conisderable damage to the city, which is still recovering. Then earlier this month, an utter moron killed 50 innocent people. Events like this really put into context that it really doesn’t matter if a show is pulled.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop two: Wellington, NZ

I am writing this entry from an environment that was highly familiar to me in 2007, but where I’ve not been since. I’m not referring to New Zealand, I am talking about internet cafes.

When I was in New Zealand last time, I would regularly frequent these places to keep in touch with people back home, write my travel blog, and generally use them as an escape from the backpacking experience or repeatedly watching the trailer for Spider-Man 3.

There were lots more internet cafes back then. This time, I had to hunt around pretty hard for one, as there don’t tend to be as many around these days. But I’m not here for nostalgia purposes, I’m in here as I needed to print something for my domestic flights and I figured I would make the most of the half-hour I’ve paid for by writing something.

Anyway, as you’re probably not reading this for information on internet cafes, I will move onto other things.

I have now finished my shows at NZ Fringe and I am pleased to report that they both sold-out, thus covering my flight costs. Friday’s was one of the liveliest I have done. They were up for it from the start and I had to use all the tools in my arsenal to keep them in line. Mainly deducting points. Friday’s show must have been the most times the ‘take one off’ chant has been used.

Saturday’s show was a little more sedate, but still good fun. Although all the tickets had been sold, nine people didn’t show up. But it doesn’t matter, because I still have their money.

I was gifted with a front-row of older people who were left confused by much of the show. These are usually the audience members I have most fun with as they have few inhibitions and will usually come out with an odd heckle or two. They didn’t disappoint.

The Cavern is a great room for comedy. It has low ceilings, is dark and has just the right amount of dinginess.

It’s nice being back in NZ. It’s a country I have a lot of affection for.

In 2007, I didn’t really enjoy Wellington that much. Mainly because the weather was bad and I was staying in hostels, living off a diet of pasta with flavoured  tuna.

But the combination of sun and not staying in hostels changes everything. Wellington is a city I could quite happily  live in. And who knows, perhaps one day I will do.

I fly to Christchurch tomorrow as I’m doing HTWAPQ there on Thursday.

Also, if you’re reading this and are in Dunedin, I am doing How To Win A Pub Quiz there on 30-31 March at Dee’s Cafe. Please buy a ticket.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop one: Singapore

When I first came up with the idea of How To Win A Pub Quiz, my aim was to get double figure audiences every day at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. I didn’t expect to be doing the show five years later and I certainly didn’t expect the idea would allow me to travel the world. But I am and it has.

The first stop on my mini international tour was Singapore. The last time I was there was confined to a quick stopover at the airport while the plane refuelled in 2007, when I think it was on my way back from New Zealand. It’s expanded pretty dramatically since then as I remember it being much smaller. Also, being in an airport doesn’t actually count as being in a country.

This time, I was totally unprepared for the humidity and was sweating profusely shortly after I left the airport. I’m used to sweating profusely on trains, but it’s normally due to me racing against the clock to catch one or being on the London Underground in rush-hour during the summer months.

I’d been booked in at a capsule hostel. Except it doesn’t feel like a hostel, which is basically like sleeping in a deep cupboard. It’s actually not bad, albeit with clammy conditions despite the air-conditioning being on constantly.

I was in town to do a show at The Merry Lion. As I was kind of limited with what days I could do, we settled on a Tuesday. It’s a great little room that had an audience of 15 people.

It’s not quite the crowds I’m used to with the show. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and also achieved my show’s original aim of getting double figure audiences numbers. It has also opened up potential opportunities to perform the show elsewhere in South East Asia.

I have now arrived in Wellington, where the climate is much more manageable. I perform my first show in a couple of hours time at The Cavern Club. I am also pleased to report that I am sleeping in a much more spacious room that doesn’t require air-conditioning.

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A busy March ahead

I always mean to write more regularly on here, but usually need something horrible or really out of the ordinary to happen to me.

Don’t worry, I haven’t experienced either. I just don’t feel the need to share every thought and facet of my life on the internet. Plus I am also highly conscious of breaking my mystique. That is the excuse I am sticking to, which sounds better than me admitting that the inactivity is down to me being either lazy or busy with more mundane things.

In terms of comedy, I will briefly summarise my 2019 so far. January: quiet. February: slightly busier, with a nice show at Leicester Comedy Festival.

But March is where things start to get really busy, before likely dropping again, then building up to another Edinburgh Fringe where I will be returning to the midday slot at Stand 2.

Two weeks today, I fly out to Singapore for a few nights, where I will be performing How To Win A Pub Quiz abroad for the first time. Wellington follows for a few nights and two performances of HTWAPQ at NZ Fringe; then I fly to Christchurch for a few nights and another show, before rounding off the mini-tour at Dunedin Fringe with two more shows.

Once I’ve finished my shows, I am heading to Queenstown to get reacquainted with the 134 metre Nevis bungee/bungy jump out of a cable car. It has been 12 years before I jumped off anything while attached to elasticated rope. Then I head back to Christchurch to fly home.

The trip is only going to last about three weeks and I’ll be spending a fair amount of time on planes, but I am looking forward to it nonetheless.

There are also other things in the works that I cannot reveal at the moment. There’s that mystique again.

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2018 review

While spending the final couple of hours of 2018 helping calm my dogs scared by fireworks and actively avoiding Jools Holland’s Hootananny, I will review the past 12 months.

Every year, I set myself a challenge of learning a language. This year, I had Spanish lessons for about eight weeks. This ended up being the extent of my Spanish learning for the year, as the level was a bit more advanced than I anticipated. After I failed to get my head around the numerous verbs, I decided that it wasn’t the language for me.

A work trip to Cologne briefly made me try to rekindle the German I had learned at school. Now, between the ages of 11 and 14, I was really good at German. I was getting consistent A-grades, until I was moved up a set and then stopped doing any work. As a result, the longest sentence I could put together was: “Yes, that is right. I am 12 years old. Do you speak English?”

Comedically, it has been an up and down year. My main aim for the year was to focus on new material and write more. I achieved this, even if I have since binned a lot of it.

The low point of the year was in the struggles I endured in my new show during Edinburgh. This is what I wrote after a particularly bad one that I performed to mainly blank faces, but didn’t publish on here at the time: “I don’t want to perform this show any longer. It is not fun. I am not getting anything out of it and it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall a lot of the time. I hope that I’ll come out the other side.”

I wasn’t exactly having the time of my life doing it. Although all that banging of my head on the wall did pay off and I found a way through the brick work.

It wasn’t just the new show that often wasn’t going well, my bowels were also in a bit of a state throughout. If there’s anything that can make a bad situation worse, it’s problems with the bowels.

My highlight of the year was completing a third sold-out run at Edinburgh Fringe. HTWAPQ was better than ever this year. It was amazing how regularly euphoria and despair were felt so closely together during August.

Outside of comedy, my highlight was visiting Oslo. In the two days I was there, it became one of my favourite cities I’ve visited. Even if it does cost almost £10 for a pint.

The final four months of the year have been quiet for gigs, as I wasn’t sure where I’d be living by the year-end, so didn’t have many booked up. Using this time to think about what I do next won’t do me any harm.

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Back in town

As the year nears an end, I am without a massive amount of gigs in the diary. This is partly because I didn’t know exactly where I’d be located come the end of the year, but mostly because of that pesky thing called admin.

Last weekend, I was back in London for a couple of nights. A mate from school had managed to get a ticket for the rugby match at Twickenham.

Twickenham is in south-west London, so I made the sensible choice to book a hotel in north-east London.

This choice was of course for Walthamstow purposes. And I really miss the place. It was my home for six years, making it the second longest I have lived anywhere apart from where I grew up, which is still in the lead by at around 23 years in total.

Although Walthamstow has changed a lot since I first moved there nine years ago, it largely retains its charm. And it is as a rare part of London that feels like a community where people actually speak to each other.

On my way back from a doing spot at a poorly attended open mic in Finsbury Park, I headed for a pint at quite possibly my favourite pub in the world, Ye Olde Rose and Crown. It was where I used to run a monthly gig, where I could drink a few pints with friends until late, enjoy the live band, and then stumble home afterwards. Running my own gigs is one of the biggest things I have missed since I moved away.

My trip wasn’t all rosy nostalgia. Something else happened that brought everything into stark contrast. I was unable to get on several consecutive tube trains, only to eventually cram on and be surrounded by dozens of people in a confined, sweaty carriage. And thus my decision to move away was entirely justified.

But then Brexit and Trump both happened after I moved away, so maybe people should be persuading me to move back in the hope of preventing further disasters. The world could depend on me braving sweaty tube carriages every morning.

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Returning

Last Friday, I returned to the stage for the first time in nearly seven weeks.

I felt a little rusty, but broke the longest stretch of time without a gig since I returned to stand-up nine years ago. I needed a break after what was a physically and emotionally draining August. Then a resilient cough and cold extended my absence from the stage.

So, what have I been doing with myself other than being ill? I’ve been writing songs about the life and career of Ross Kemp, that’s what. I’d like to do an Edinburgh show on this, but it may take a while to come together. And as the old saying goes: if you’re going to write a musical about Ross Kemp, you might as well take the time to do it properly.

The other thing I’ve been doing is consistently questioning what I’m doing with my life and my next step. It’s been something that has left me dumbstruck, because I genuinely have no idea at the moment. What the hell am I doing and where am I going? I may still not know the answer to the former, but now have at least a temporary answer to the latter. I am going to New Zealand.

In March, I will return to the country I spent four months in my early 20s that consisted of travelling around and doing stupid things.

What’s different with this trip is that I’m going there to perform comedy, as I’m taking How To Win A Pub Quiz to NZ. A show that was inspired by giant squid is going to a country where these creatures live off the coast of.

I currently have dates in Wellington and Dunedin, with others potentially in the works. I’m only going for two and a bit weeks this time, with a gig in Singapore on the way. But if the gigs sell well, then the trip should pay for itself.

An awful lot has happened in the 12 years since I was last in New Zealand. A ridiculous amount of things have happened to me personally and the world we live in. What hasn’t changed are my need for adventures and adrenaline rushes.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Days 21-23

With two shows cancelled for Stop the Press on the bounce due to having two in for audience and then a day off, I was going to pull a third. Only to have the three people who had made the effort to be there be very insistent that I give them a show.

So I did, even though it was more of a chat than a gig, but I’m still counting it as a gig as they also insisted on giving me money afterwards.

The penultimate show saw my audience double to seven, who were a more receptive than many other audiences I’ve had for this run.

Then the final Stop the Press show gave me my biggest ever crowd for the show and my largest Kilderkin audience since that crazy run in 2015. As a finale, it was okay, but nothing outstanding. It started off pretty well, but soon descended into mediocrity.

The best thing about the final performance was the euphoria of finishing a show that I haven’t enjoyed performing much. It was my first experience of performing an hour without the involvement of any quizzes and at times it was just painful.

There were some good shows, but a greater number were a struggle. Although the show was in a better shape by the end of the run, I couldn’t get it to where I wanted and I still don’t know exactly what the ending is meant to be even after performing it for a month.

It has been consistently difficult to build momentum throughout the show. When something got a laugh, the next bits often didn’t and there were far too many blank faces throughout, which I have to take full responsibility for. If I’d been able to do more previews, it would have certainly helped.

The show only really flowed when I incorporated the audience into it more. This kind of defeated the object of doing a show that was intended to be more about the material and not the interaction, as I already know I can do that. There have been a few enjoyable gigs, but it’s mostly felt like a chore.

As I said in an earlier entry, it wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to the Kilderkin. It felt much more like the 2013 run there, which wasn’t much fun but ended up being the catalyst for How To Win A Pub Quiz. So perhaps something will similarly emerge from the ashes of Stop the Press. Nevertheless, I have learnt a lot and now have much more material. Maybe not a solid hour, but certainly enough to draw on for a club set.

The more of a struggle Stop the Press became during the run, the more fun I had with HTWAPQ. Even after four years and five Fringe runs, the show still feels as fresh as when I first performed it at The Roadhouse in Birmingham in May 2014. One of the best things is that a number of people come back to watch it every Fringe and always really enjoy it.

It’s almost become the holy grail of an Edinburgh show for me. One that I didn’t have to do any flyering for, I have no media profile, no reviews or PR, but still managed to sell 99% of tickets. I may have been in a 50 seater instead of a 60 seater this year, but that’s still not bad going at all. I’m not taking any of this for granted and am well aware that I can’t do this forever. HTWAPQ will certainly return to the Fringe and other venues, but it does still pose the question of: what comes next?

I’ve got a few ideas for new shows floating around. But whatever my new show will be, I’m going to make sure it’s fun. Because if it’s not, the Fringe is always a lot harder.