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Too many projects, not enough focus

I have various things I want to write but have difficulty focusing on one project. As a result, very little ends up getting written. Or I do a bit on one project, then leave it and pick up another, only to put it down and then do something else.

I have ideas for scripts, novels, a certain musical, and not to mention a new hour of stand-up. One of the biggest challenges is deciding what to focus on. There is always the small possibility that the idea I choose to focus on ends up being the wrong option. One of the reasons behind staying back home a little longer was to use the extra time to write all these things, although there’s not much sign of them materialising so far.

The advantage of stand-up is that I have the experience of putting on shows and know the work that is involved. However, there has been a heavy reliance on the presence of a quiz in my shows that have been successful. In fact, every show I’ve worked on that hasn’t involved a quiz hasn’t achieved any level of success. The moral of the story here is that I need more quizzes.

Thinking about it, an hour of stand-up is the easiest of all projects to get off the ground. I don’t mean the process is easy, as it can be painful at times. I mean that I don’t have to worry about approval from agents, commissioners or publishers. It’s something I can pretty much just get on with on my own accord, and then have the target of getting everything ready to take to Edinburgh in August.

What makes this more difficult is that I currently have no gigs in my diary. So far this year, 100% of my gigs have been cancelled due to the latest Covid outbreak. Admittedly, I only had one actually booked. And technically, it has been pushed back to April. If I book a slot at a festival, I know I’ll then write a show. I’m not sure where I take novels or scripts, but I’m fairly sure it helps if they’re finished first.

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2022: what awaits?

At the start of every year, provided I remember, I like to write a post on here with my hopes and aims for the next 360-odd days. Part of the thinking behind this is that it will spur me on to actually doing something, or at the very least allow the version of me in 360-odd days time to read it back and think: “Haha. Oh, what a naïve fool. I can’t believe he actually thought that could happen.”

New Year’s resolutions are one means that I find helpful to getting me to do things and avoid being mocked by the future me. I successfully stuck to my resolution from last year to write an entry on here every for the year. I think I’ll continue to do this as I try to make sense of what is going on around me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more entries about performing comedy that aren’t referring to the distant past.

And I have also stuck to my 2015 resolution to stop buying meat. Another NYR also saw me learn Spanish throughout 2017 and into 2018, until I took an actual physical class that put me off after it was much harder than Duolingo.

Then there was the ordeal for everyone of my Joke365 challenge in 2014. I completed it, with my sanity severely diminished. In a similar vein to this, my plan this year is to write ten jokes a week. I don’t have to publish them anywhere, but that should make sure I keep writing throughout the year. Also, this will yield at least 520 jokes for the year, which will put the tally of Joke365 the shade – and hopefully the quality too.

Reading back through some of my posts from last year, I’m reminded that I appeared on Alison’s podcast and that set myself a challenge to turn off my phone data between the hours of 10am and 3pm to stop me wasting time, while also avoiding social media during these hours if on a computer. I remember how much clearer it made my head and the decrease in distractions meant I was more productive. So, I’m going to try and stick to this challenge for the full year. Obviously, this will be tricky if I go to Edinburgh, so I can relax restrictions then.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like Ross Kemp: The Musical will be happening this year. Development has stalled. By this, I mean that I haven’t done any work on it in months. It is fast becoming my equivalent of Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy.

This year, I want to do more gigs. My tally of five from last year should be relatively easy to beat, although I’m aiming for high double figures. I’m not going to set a specific target, as I’m not entirely sure where these gigs are going to be. I will need to get on top of my admin and deal with my loathing of driving to gigs caused by the rising stress levels. This may have to wait until later in the year. Because doing plenty of gigs and avoiding driving to them is going to be much easier in London.

The plan is to move back there in September after Edinburgh Fringe, possibly even sharing a flat with a certain ex-comedy partner. My aim is to also start running a gig or two a month, where I have the freedom to mess around ideas and don’t have to worry about impressing the promoter. I’ve really missed this during the past six years.

Did I mention Edinburgh Fringe back there? Yes, I think I did. My plan is to take a new version of How To Win A Pub Quiz there this year and see if there are any industry doors that I can open from it.

Part of me does also wonder whether my ship has already sailed, which possibly embarked in 2016 or 2017. But I have set a date of when the final ship will be leaving the port, which may turn out to be full of holes and could sink before it reaches its destination.

The plan is to move back to London, try to do as many gigs as I can within the following two years and then see where I am with everything at the end of Edinburgh 2024. If I’m not where I want to be, or don’t have some exciting projects in the works, it might well be time to try and live the life of a normal civilian – or at least pretend to be normal. That’ll be the year I turn 40, which seems a ridiculous to write. But that seems as good a cut-off point as any. And if I’m going to achieve anything, a target always helps.

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Farewell, 2021

The 12 months of 2021 has been another Covid year when everything has remained on-hold. I’ve spent time waiting for things to get back to something vaguely normal, only for another rise in Covid cases again and more uncertainty to prevail.

At least 2020 didn’t start out quite so bleakly as 2021 did. My main concern when 2020 began was whether I had enough pairs of pants and socks for my ten-week trip to Australia and New Zealand.

What neatly summarises how little I’ve actually done this year is when a hair cut is viewed as a major event, even if my doomed mullet was 18 months in the making.

I only gig five gigs this year. This is the lowest number of gigs I’ve done since possibly 2008, when I took an official hiatus from comedy after starting my new job as a reporter for a local newspaper. I ended that year burnt out and in hospital with a broken ankle, so I’m grateful that neither of these things happened. But there’s still technically time left in the day.

For the first eight months of the year, I wasn’t really missing comedy at all. I’d already kind of got it out of my system during 2020 when there were no gigs running. Arguably, I never quite got back into the rhythm of gigging regularly after the Edinburgh Fringe of extreme
highs and lows in 2018.

Anyway, I wasn’t missing comedy this year until I saw my Facebook feed filled with people braving the pandemic and doing shows at Edinburgh with full rooms in August. It was particularly seeing my old room at the Kilderkin full that made me really miss it and want to be there. But then most of the comedians I know who went there ended up getting Covid afterwards, which is what put me off going up in the first place.

The end of August saw me returning to the comedy stage. I felt a little rusty at the first one, then much better for the second, even if being in a room full of people did make me paranoid. Then I did two performances of HTWAPQ, one in Stroud with a few technical difficulties. Then one in Swansea, with no technical difficulties but instead had chatty volunteers on the door who ended up annoying the entire audience. The fifth and final gig was for the year was in Ashton Keynes at the end of November. That was also fun. But I’m going to need to solve my booking admin issues for 2022.

Probably the highlight of my year was the brewing day down at Stroud Brewery, where I was joined by three of my good mates to spend the day making ale. It was so different to anything I’d done before and proved just how little I actually knew about the brewing process. In short, it’s nothing like cooking a pot of something where you can make adjustments to the flavour as you go. It’s more of a science like baking where measurements and temperatures have to be exact, otherwise everything goes wrong. And if you make a mistake, you have little control in changing it. These are reasons why I enjoy cooking and avoid baking.

It was really strenuous work with the mash in, but the combination of learning, drinking, and laughter made the day fly past. I would definitely like to do it again one day. The brewing day was part of the Covid crowdfunder for the local brewery, which also got me growing hops in my garden. While this year’s harvest only yielded 1.5 hops, it was a fun project to have. And next year, it should yield least three hops.

A week in Westward Ho with my family was enjoyable, although not exactly relaxing as I was on driving duties and mainly concerned with making sure my dog wasn’t too stressed out by her new surroundings. Still, sunshine and ice cream every day on the beach is never a bad thing.

This year, I also had my Facebook account of almost 15 years locked due to what was described as “unusual activity”, despite the fact that I barely post anything on there these days. To unlock it, it asked for me to upload a scan of my official photo ID such as a passport or driving licence. That wasn’t going to happen, so that was the end of that. With it went an archive of pictures and stupid comments over the past decade and a half. But it’s fine. As Kylo Ren says: “Let the past die.” But the thing is, the past is already dead. That’s why it’s called the past. It also means I won’t get quite so jealous if I don’t go up to Edinburgh in 2022.

In October, I returned to working full-time. I just don’t have to worry about commuting as it’s all home-based and I can still take my dog for long walks every day. My bank balance is looking a lot healthier at the end of the year than it was at the start. It’s been nice to have a break between Christmas and New Year, even if my Covid booster on 23 December did hit me harder than my first two doses of the vaccine.

And there were two visits to London. Cue more paranoia of being surrounded by large groups of people. Importantly, I met up for a pint with Moz and Langton. It was the first time that the three of us were all together in four years. Hopefully, 2022 will see more of this. My current plan is to move there in September.

Then there are all the shows I consumed on Disney+. WandaVision was unlike anything I’d seen before. It left me perplexed and fascinated at the same time. Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki were both entertaining. And Hawkeye was surprisingly great. The recurring theme for these shows is taking a character I’m not overly fussed with, but doing something new and interesting with them so that I want to see what that character goes onto next. With The Bad Batch, it was fun to step back into the Star Wars universe. And The Book of Boba Fett has started promisingly.

My film of the year is actually The Suicide Squad. The first Suicide Squad film was atrocious for a number of reasons, but maybe all its problems were solved by prefixing the title with ‘The’. James Gunn’s sequel surprised me and made me laugh a lot. And while Spider-Man: No Way Home was good, there wasn’t much in there that really surprised me.

Although 2021 has seen some highlights and not many lows on a personal level, I will be glad to see the date turn on the calendar amid the hope that 2022 will be better and see an end of this infernal virus.

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Doing a gig

I had an actual gig on Thursday night. I was in Ashton Keynes, which was another area that my local paper used to cover. But it was my first time there as it wasn’t a patch I covered, or even remember much about. Still, it’s a nice place.

The gig was run by the blokes from Barking Road, who ran that gig I did in Cirencester in August. They know how to run a good night and fill the rooms with a good audience.

I was opening the show and did pretty well. The room had about 40 people in and they were up for it. Most of my punchlines got a decent response, with a couple of newer ones almost expectedly falling flat. But I think for a free night, that sets the tone nicely. I.e. there’s going to be some good stuff tonight, but not all of it is going to work. And you haven’t paid to be here, so just be grateful. Admittedly, this might not be the best calling card.

The thing with not gigging much is that it becomes really difficult to hone new material. And I find I often forget what I’ve written and want to try out. For example, none of the new material I tried on Thursday was about Smallville, which I was attempting to write jokes about last week. The stuff I have written about that is not ready for public consumption and may never be. But doing more gigs would certainly help the chances of a public airing.

You typically need to try a line out a few times on a few different audiences before you know it works. Sometimes it works instantly and you don’t need to do anything to it, but these occasions are rare. The majority of comedians’ material is the result of hard graft and trial and error over several gigs.

On a technical note, but I’ve got a new microphone technique where I hold the stand and not the mic. I obviously still talk into the mic.

I was always told to take the mic out of the stand and that keeping the mic stand up creates a barrier between you and the audience. But it feels so much more comfortable and I’m not going back to the old ways of doing things. Unless there is no mic stand or a mic.

There is a risk with this new mic technique because stands aren’t always reliable. I remember performing in one of the afternoon shows during my first visit to Edinburgh Fringe in 2010, I was using the mic in the stand for a bit when I would play Let’s Get Ready to Rumble from my phone into the mic. It was a bit where I would stretch my resemblance to both Ant and Dec out for about three minutes longer than was really necessary.

The 2010 gig wasn’t going particularly well anyway. But when I put the mic in the stand to try and play the tune, the entire mic stand fell apart in what was a handy metaphor for the gig. It was met with pitying and bemused stares what had been an apathetic audience up to that point. So, that was at least some progress.

I now don’t have anything booked up until the new year. And with a new Covid variant about to weep across the country, I could see live comedy gigs shutting down again within the next month or so.

I hope that doesn’t happen, as people’s livelihoods depend on it. Going full-time was always one of my goals in doing comedy, but I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve managed to keep my Plan B running in parallel with comedy. In fact, Plan B has been much more successful and hasn’t involved travelling to all the far corners of the country to perform in front of rooms full of strangers in the hope that they laugh at the stupid things I have to say. So, my lack of success actually happens to be success after all.

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Somebody save me

I have a gig on Thursday, which will be my first one for a month. Even if there are last-minute petrol shortages – and I know I risk causing one by using those two words – I have about 200 miles more in my tank than I need to get there and back. So they’ll have to lay on quite the detour from road closures for that to happen – and I may have also risked that happening by using those words.

It could very well be my final gig of the year. I don’t have anything else booked up until January and am almost resigned to the fact that I won’t have any in December.

Anyway, a gig being on the horizon has spurred my dormant joke writing skills into action. I’ve returned to a subject I’d trying to write jokes four years now with little success. I am talking about the TV show Smallville, about the life of a teenage Clark Kent, played by a man in his late-20s.

For the uneducated, the title of this blog comes from the Smallville theme tune. It is not a cry for help, at least not intentionally.

Admittedly, I haven’t tried very hard with the jokes about it after a couple of early attempts didn’t fly, which is actually appropriate for a show that actively aims to stop Superman from flying.

But the reason I have come back to it is that I have the waste of time factor gnawing away at me. My belief is that if I’ve spent so much time doing something, I might as well try and get something out of it. Ideally, a joke. This was my reason behind writing jokes about giant squid, which ultimately led to me developing a show that did rather well at Edinburgh Fringe and allowed me to travel the world.

And I have watched 216 episodes out of 217 of Smallville. The one I’ve not seen was about witches and looked awful. You’ve got to draw a line somewhere. I should add that I watched these episodes over ten years, it’s not something I’ve been doing on the sly this year.

I don’t have many jokes to show for it so far, but what has helped is one of the cast members was jailed in real life for being second in command of a sex cult. That was definitely a secret identity I never predicted.

The other thing is that I don’t remember too many of the episodes. Again, this is also appropriate, as convenient amnesia was a recurring plot device to stop people from remembering Clark’s secret.

Time will tell if jokes about Smallville do lead to another sold-out run at Edinburgh. I will admit, I have my doubts. But to know for sure, I will have to start the trial and error process from the stage. And I am fairly confident there won’t be many other comedians performing similar material, probably for a good reason.

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Metacrisis

Facebook has this week revealed a corporate name change to Meta, which I am sure is going to solve all its problems. A creepy video was released, where Mark Zuckerberg tried to convince the world that he’s just a normal guy and his organisation definitely doesn’t have any sinister intentions about new ways to manipulate people. I mean, a site that was reportedly invented with the sole purpose to stalk girls at American colleges could never do anything weird or disturbing.

I joined Facebook in December 2006. Admittedly, it was reluctantly. I was quite happy on MySpace, for the most part. But while Tom’s and his Space quickly vanished beneath the waves of time, Facebook flourished and became the go-to site to stay in touch with people and also get comedy gigs.

The reason I am writing about Facebook is that I had my account locked just over a week ago, for what it described as “unusual activity”. This is coming from an organisation where investigations have found that data bought from Facebook was used for targeted ads intended to suppress the votes of African American citizens who had been profiled as being less likely to vote for Trump in 2016. Facebook ads have also been used to pump falsehoods during the Brexit campaign in favour of leaving the EU, as well as the sit being used to spread anti-vax content and conspiracy theories.

Oh, and the site was allegedly founded specifically to stalk girls at colleges. I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned that. Presumably, that sort of behaviour is perfectly acceptable though.

You never had these sorts of problems on MySpace, it was mainly just full of emo kids who spent hours adding mods to their profiles.

The site asked me to confirm that I am really me by uploading some official form of ID such as a passport or driver’s licence, or at least something with my address on it. There was no way in hell, or anywhere else for that matter, that I was going to share this with Zuckerberg’s dodgy data farm, so I opted to leave it locked.

As things turned out, my account was locked immediately after I got back from the supermarket. While doing my shopping I bumped into a girl who was in the year below. She suggested that a group of us old-schoolers living in the area should meet up to reminisce about the olden days. Then just over an hour later, my profile disappeared in what looked like I’d rather shut down my Facebook account of 14 years rather than attend a meetup.

But for about 48 hours, I was free from Zuckerberg’s creepy tendrils, save for WhatsApp. Facebook was out of my life and it felt amazing. No longer would I waste hours of my time scrolling through the inane ramblings of people I sort of used to know but haven’t seen in years. No longer would I see someone pop up on my news feed and have honestly no idea who they were or why we were apparently friends. No longer would I think less of a casual acquaintance for expressing questionable views on social or political issues.

There was also the fact that I would lose touch with large swathes of people from various points in my life, not to mention losing all those hundreds of pictures – many of me drunk. But it was a price I was prepared to pay.

Then I realised the sad truth. Without Facebook, I would find it almost impossible to get any comedy gigs. I mean, I am finding it difficult enough as it is without losing my sole source of leads. With the exception of one or two long-established gigs, probably about 97% of all comedy gigs looking for acts are posted on Facebook groups.

So I set up a new account. It’s smaller and with far fewer ‘friends’, but it will be used for exactly what I need it for. Not sharing personal information to allow any sort of data profile to be built, or engaging in political debates with people I barely know, but purely for booking comedy gigs and making the occasional stupid comment.

My old account is now consigned to a server archive either somewhere in Silicon Valley, or somewhere in the world far less expensive. All those memories and stupid conversations are locked away, never to see the light of day or the light from a computer screen ever again. And that’s fine. It’s the past. It’s gone, no longer matters, and does not define me.

There is no question that social media and particularly Facebook has made the world a far worse and more divided place.

Everything that rises eventually falls. I can only hope that Facebook’s ultimate demise isn’t far away, provided I can find another way to get comedy gigs. But the damage it has done to the world may well last for far longer – from Facebook, not necessarily from my comedy gigs. And I maintain my view that MySpace was always better.

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On the road again

On Friday night, I drove 100 miles down to Swansea to actually perform a comedy gig. It was fraught with delays, taking an hour longer than it should have done. And a further reminder of just how much I hate driving to gigs.

But still, I had plenty of time. And I’m pleased to report that there was no repeat of that horrific five-hour drive to Newcastle that should have taken just under three. For one thing, it would have taken me to completely the wrong place. More on this later.

I was in town to perform at Swansea Fringe, having previously performed there just over two years ago. Before the dark times, before Covid.

I was in a different venue this year and arrived to find the stage area right next to the front door, which isn’t ideal. But with fringes, venues can be a bit like that. The room was long with a bar on one side and the room becoming a corridor further at the back. The sound system was a considerable upgrade from my previous show in September, which certainly helps when performing in a room not designed for comedy.

The show itself went well. Despite not having had a gig since 9 September, performing felt good. People laughed when they were supposed to. And some newer ideas and jokes I have added to the show relatively recently now look like they’re here to stay.

Bizarrely for a Friday night in Swansea, the majority of the disruption came from the two front-of-house volunteers sitting on the desk by the door, regularly chatting to each other and oblivious to my references to it. Fortunately, they didn’t stay for the entire show. And if anything, it brought the audience together more. Regardless, it was a decent show and the audience seemed to enjoy themselves.

Now, back to the subject of going to the wrong place, there was the drive home the next day. Compared with the drive down, there were hardly any delays. But what stopped me from getting home earlier was a stupid and inexplicable detour from Google Maps. For some reason, Stroud has about four or five different sets of temporary traffic lights at the moment. So when Google suggested taking another route, I thought that made sense. Only this route ended up taking me off the motorway two exits past my normal junction, which is where I used to get on the motorway to go north. So it sort of made sense. But then when I was nearing the middle of Cheltenham town centre and it said I was about a mile away from where I needed to be, I finally twigged that something was up and stopped the car.

Despite setting Google Maps to take me to my home address, it was instead trying to take me to Cheltenham Racecourse. This is somewhere I have never been, have no interest in going, and have never even looked at on Google Maps. So why this happened is a mystery. I can only assume that Google had detected that I was doing a comedy gig and wanted to keep the tradition of frustrating gig driving alive.

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Returning of returns

I have returned from a most excellent week in North Devon. It was sunny every day, but that nice autumn heat that is a pleasant one and never gets too sweaty. I also had a Hocking’s ice cream every day, which is a habit I could certainly get used to a little too easily.

I managed to avoid taking my dog to the beach, opting to take her on the rural back roads where there was much less chance of meeting another dog and experiencing any canine confrontations.

And I swam in the sea. It was rather cold and I didn’t stay in for long, but I did it. And that’s the main thing. All in all, it was a successful trip to a part of the world that is full of fond childhood memories.

But this week is going to be a busy one where I am plunged back into the real world as a reluctant grown up. I’m heading back to London this afternoon for the first time since the end of March 2020. This could well be my longest gap between visits to the capital since possibly the late-1990s. This evening, I’m meeting my old comedy muckers Langton and Moz for a pint. It will be the first time the three of us have been together in four years.

Then tomorrow morning, I have to do HR stuff at my new-old place of work. So I’m hoping those old dogs won’t lead me astray like they did circa 2010. Then I’ll be back in full-time work again after a two-year hiatus disguised as freelancing. But I will be working from home, so spared of the ordeal that is the commute. I am already looking forward to that first full month of pay.

And on Friday, there’s going to be some more comedy. I’ll be going back to Swansea for what is set to be the second and final performance of How To Win A Pub Quiz for 2021. As things currently stand, anyway, I am always open to bookings – and also money. I’ve not had a gig since my last performance in Stroud just over a month ago, with admin still proving the main stumbling block. I doubt I’ll feel quite as rusty as my first gig back in August and should be able to slip right back into the rhythm of things. I mean, I’ve done the show enough times by now that I find it far easier to perform than a stand-up set at a comedy gig.

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Winding up the freelancing

This week was my final full week as a freelance journalist, at least for the time being. That is if it’s possible to have a full week as a freelance journalist when not working full-time hours.

Anyway, I had three deadlines for features and managed to meet them all. Working to freelance deadlines certainly took a bit of getting used to. Initially, I barely did any work until about four days before the article was due.

I would often wonder why it always felt like such a rush and why I never seemed to have enough time. Then I remembered that I often had three or four weeks after receiving the brief to get the article written.

Occasionally when I get into bad habits, I hear the voices of my old editor and news editor in my head from my reporter days for corrective action. In this case, it was my news editor who used to say: “Always put your calls in first.”

As if by magic, when I was more organised with putting articles together, the deadlines became a lot easier to hit.

I have enjoyed a lot about the life of a freelancer. There has been the variety in workload in writing about various subjects and freedom to choose what hours I work, plus ample time for dog walking.

What I haven’t enjoyed is the uncertainty of it, never knowing whether or not I’ll manage to get any work from one month to the next. I read something on Twitter that freelancing was a constant balance between either taking on too much work or not having enough.

Then there is the matter of invoicing and chasing unpaid invoices. Some publishers are really good at paying within a month of receiving the invoice, but others can take the better part of two months to pay up. There have been others that have taken even longer, and the chasing up can get rather tiresome.

But I know it can work, I know how to put together features, and will probably continue writing the occasional freelance article here and there for stuff that interests me. I also know roughly how much I can realistically earn from it a year. I will save this information for future reference if another viable income stream materialises. Say, one that might involve saying words into a microphone in the hope of receiving laughter.

Based on current statistics, this could take a while. Things are still sluggish in that department, even if this is currently half intended. I did have one gig booked this week, but I didn’t actually end up performing. The gig was an unpaid 10 minutes and 30 miles away. I have no problem with either of these facts ordinarily, as I was going to use it for testing new material. But then came the madness with petrol supplies and I thought it was best to conserve what fuel I did have left in my tank. This is not a metaphor.

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Admin time

In what must be my most productive day of comedy admin for about three years, I sent three emails for booking gigs yesterday. I sent one, then saw other spots advertised and got on what could almost be considered a roll.

I don’t know if I’ll get any of them, but I need to get back into the habit of trying again. It’s all about persistence, or perhaps just not taking the hint.

It’s difficult to get back into the gigging game quickly at the moment as many spots are filled for some time yet due to the Covid backlog, while others are booked far in advance.

In fact, my reason for getting back on the gig-based horse was for the performance of HTWAPQ at the local brewery that I had booked in around March during their crowd funder campaign. I don’t know if I’d have started gigging again yet otherwise, given how everything still feels a bit weird with Covid. And it’s hardly like I’m being inundated with offers at the moment.

But performing stand-up again has given me that itch that I now want to scratch. This week, I have a gig in Bristol. Then I don’t have anything booked until 22 October when I’ll be doing HTWAPQ in Swansea. After that, things might get increasingly itchy. Having long interludes between gigs also makes it much harder to hone new material. But the only way to scratch the itch permanently and get the material honed is through regular gig admin. Unfortunately, they don’t sell any cream for this sort of thing.