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Unemployment and other forthcoming adventures

I have handed in my notice in my day job. I don’t have another job to go to and am not earning anywhere near enough from comedy to make a living, which currently shows no signs of changing in the near future.

You are probably now wondering just I’m playing at. Well, I will explain.

The end of January was eventful, to say the least. A colleague who sat at the desk behind me had a stroke in the office on the Thursday night and then died a couple of days later. I was waiting with him until the ambulance arrived.

Then the next day, I had the funeral of a school friend. He’d been living out in Australia and had just bought some land in Tasmania. When they showed drone footage he’d taken of his land during the service, I suddenly realised that I need to see more of the world.

And I can’t do this if I’m stuck behind a desk for eight hours a day, while driving all over the place in the evenings in a vain attempt to pursue my comedy dreams and just generally feeling exhausted. There was no pressure on me to leave my job, I just felt the time was right to do something else.

After Edinburgh, I’m going to move out of my flat in Manchester, pack up my rucksack and go travelling for a few months. It’s time to have some more adventures. I’ve saved up enough over the years to keep me going for a while. And my trip to New Zealand showed that gigs can cover travel costs, so that’s what I’m looking to do more of.

I made some enquiries about some festivals in America, but they didn’t really go anywhere.

My next idea was to do a gig in each of the other 27 EU member states before the current Brexit deadline on 31 October. However, this is proving difficult. The itinerary and getting around on a budget looks tricky, but not impossible. I could cover much of it on trains or ferries.

What’s proving the biggest stumbling block in all of this is actually getting a response from promoters. At the moment, it seems easier to book gigs in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand than countries that are about an hour or two away on the plane.

I’ve just realised that getting frustrated with Europe and instead favouring Singapore, Australia and New Zealand is very similar to what those hardline Brexit types are always on about. Plus, I also opted to leave something with nothing to go to. They say you become what you hate, I just didn’t realise it was so easy.

I potentially have four gigs so far in the EU27, just 23 to go. What I may do instead is just try and do as many gigs as I can around Europe and see a bit more of the countries I’m visiting while I’m still an EU citizen.

Then in March to April, I plan on going back to New Zealand and then to Australia. I’ve never actually spent more than a night in Australia, despite passing through it a few times over the years. Also, festivals there are much easier to book than those in countries ruled by unelected bureaucrats. There it is, slipping out again.

Once I’m done with that, there’ll be Edinburgh 2020 on the horizon. So I may end up having a year out from any full-time employment. I’ll be doing bits of freelance writing, so I will see how much that brings in before I decide my next move.

Are you looking for copywriters? If so, get in touch. As it says at the top of the page, I’m a trained journalist. But obviously don’t get in touch if you want me to write for free. I save that exclusively for this site.

And also get in touch if you live in one of the EU27 countries and want to book How To Win A Pub Quiz. I need the money.

After Edinburgh 2020, I’ll be looking to move either back to London, where I was based for six years; or to move to Bristol, where I was based for the first eight weeks of my life.

Or I could just quit comedy, accept defeat, get a full-time job and a mortgage, and try to become a normal person. Actually, maybe not.

For many people, uncertainty is a scary thing. For me in this instance, it is all quite exciting. I’m looking forward to having more time available to write and think up ideas, but probably also do a fair amount of procrastination.

Anyway, I should probably go buy some gammon and fantasise about how great things were before I was born.

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Trial and error

On Tuesday, I did something I haven’t done in a good few years.

No, it wasn’t that. I performed the latest incarnation of HTWAPQ in front of an audience who had no idea what show it was they were about to watch. It was at a weekly open mic night in Leeds in a small room that is reliably full.

The look of bewilderment on people’s faces when I handed out the stationary was something to behold.

Nevertheless, it was nice to do the show without any expectations and have the freedom to try stuff out. Although I never tire of performing HTWAPQ to packed rooms of paying punters, I sometimes miss the room to experiment where there is no pressure.

After all, trial and error were a massive part of how the show came to be in the first place. It’s just as well I still have open mic gigs then.

Having done variations of the show so many times in numerous venues, I have a good idea of what will work within the format. However, what I thought was about 15 minutes of material was actually closer to ten minutes, so I need to get some more writing done. The new stuff received a mostly positive response. But then again, it was the same venue in Leeds last year in my preview for Stop the Press where one particular bit got a massive laugh that was never anywhere close to being replicated in any of the other shows.

In spite of the set coming in shorter than expected, I know I can always rely on riffing and audience interaction to get me through this particular show. The quiz itself needs work, but I have plenty of time.

This Edinburgh, I just want to enjoy myself. Last year hit me hard both physically and mentally. I was spreading myself too thin and didn’t have enough time or energy to devote to making the best of my new show.

What is particularly exciting for me this year is that not only am I returning to the midday slot at Stand 2, but I am also doing several late-night shows in the 140-seater Stand 1 downstairs.

I don’t expect the sell this out. Then again, I never expected any of my other shows to sell-out when I first moved to the paid Fringe. I honestly had visions of people queuing up at the box office demanding refunds. Things didn’t quite work out like this.

Edinburgh Stand is a special place for me. When I first went up to the Fringe in 2010, I saw Stewart Lee in the same venue and said to a friend that my aim was one day do a show there. I may have achieved this via a gimmick, but I’m counting it as a colossal win nonetheless.

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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.