Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mackenzie Taylor, RIP

Last August at C Venues. among so much theatre and some comedy sketch groups, the only solo stand-up shows on offer were mine and Mackenzie Taylor's two shows. I didn't know him, but I got in touch before the festival and he came to see my first performance, answering my cry of help for the presence of two critics. I met him only briefly at the bar afterwards, thanked him for coming and mumbled something vaguely apologetic, to which he didn't reply, probably charitably so. The day after I went to see one of his shows: "No straitjacket required". It was the story of his battle with manic-depression and his attempted suicide and I found it compelling and moving. It was at moments very funny too, although it was wisely listed in the "Theatre" section of the program. I must admit, however, that it reminded me of what Ivor Dembina once told me about his own take on "not for comedy" subjects matters: you need to be careful of not being "too real". Probably the reason why the show wasn't listed as comedy is that it was indeed still "too real". Of course it might be the advantage of hindsight, but I got the impression that Mackenzie's wasn't too confident in the possibility of the irony and laughter to do that much for his pain, a lot of it was just laid bare on the stage, making sometimes for difficult viewing. This made it a truly unique type of show, in theatre proper in fact you know that every is fake, while here you had the sincerity of the best confessional comedy, but performed sometimes without the emotional safety net that comedy usually provides. Mackenzie was also running a second show called "Joy", with the intention I guess of offering a more upbeat take on things, unfortunately it clashed with mine so I couldn't see it. But I saw a short extract from it during the C Venues opening showcase: a funny and masterful comic magician's trick that did indeed show me a more playful side of Mackenzie. The idea of running two solo shows everyday for almost a month filled me with awe, unfortunately a week or so into the run I overheard some venue's staff discussing the scheduling for the rooms and saying something like "now that Mackenzie Taylor is dead". I asked them what they meant and they told me that they didn't mean it literally, but that he had some sort of breakdown and cancelled his run. And I didn't hear from or about him until yesterday, when on Facebook his sister announced from his account that he had "lost his battle with the demons in his mind". I cannot claim to have really known him, our paths crossed only briefly, but through his art he gave me and so many other people a truly deep glance into this battle. As cliché as it might sound, I'm very sad for him but also happy that he found peace at last.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


As a diary of my Edinburgh experience(s) this blog doesn't see much action outside August and the months leading to it. Instead, it's becoming a dump for my (failed) contributions to Chortle. This time it's an interview with the founder of ComdeySubs, a group of people who volunteer their time to write Italian subtitles for English language stand-up comedy DVDs. Unfortunately the editor of Chortle found that the subject didn't meet the requirement of being of sufficiently general interest (in his words: "it would interest only you and Giada Garofalo"), so here it is instead. One thing I didn't say is that I'm now collaborating with ComedySubs myself (I have just finished my first complete DVD translation, not released yet, and started on a second), in fact I didn't want the article to sound too self-referential. On the other hand, self-referentiality is practically mandatory in blogs, so I'm saying it here instead. Staying on the subject, on the ComedySubs website you'll find an inteview with me (in Italian), with a link to this blog. Be careful of not being caught in an infinite loop!


Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. In my previous
contribution to Chortle I wrote on how disappointed I felt watching a
documentary on how one of my favourite Italian comedians, Daniele
Luttazzi, had stolen most of his material from English speaking
comedians. That same documentary, however, made me curious about the
people credited for adding Italian subtitles to the clips from
American and British comedians used to show the extension of those
“loans”. I had a look at the website and I was
amazed to discover a community of people so passionate and competent
about English speaking comedy to volunteer their time to write Italian
subtitles for many of the most classic stand-up comedy shows available
in DVD. Users can download the subtitles file for free and display
them along with their DVD on their computer. The catalog is impressive
and include the greatest names of comedy, such as Bill Hicks, George
Carlin and Billy Connolly. I then decided I wanted to know more and
share the news, so here is a brief interview with the founder of
ComedySubs, Roberto Ragone, aka ReRosso.

- How did you come up with the idea of ComedySubs?

A couple of years ago I was watching “Zeitgeist”, a web documentary
that includes George Carlin’s routine about the "Invisible Man". I
thought "Hey... this is a routine by Daniele Luttazzi, how come it's
in English?!". So I did some research and I found out about Carlin. I
had never heard of him before, in Italy he's not famous at all. When I
watched his version of the Invisible Man routine, I was awestruck. It
was so much better than Luttazzi's version! I just had to translate it
and share it. So I I added subtitles to the video and shared it on my
personal blog. After that, I translated other bits by Carlin, then
Bill Hicks, Billy Connolly and Ellen DeGeneres. My audience enjoyed it
and so, with the help of a friend, I decided to make the subtitling
project autonomous from my blog. And ComedySubs was born.

- Some people think that stand-up comedy is impossible to translate.
Your experience seems to demonstrate the opposite, doesn’t it?

I'd say that sometimes comedy is indeed impossible to translate. It's
really hard to convey a comical idea in the small space of a subtitle
line, especially when it involves a cultural background that is really
far from the the viewer’s. Most of the times we pull that off quite
well, but sometimes we have to resort to using annotations to
"explain" the cultural references behind a joke. We try to keep the
amount of these explanations to a minimum, but we prefer doing so
rather than going too far in the adaptation.

- Who is your audience? Do you think there is much interest in Italy
about stand-up comedy in English?

Our audience is made mostly of comedians and comedy authors.
Apparently Italian comedians love us because we allow them to gain a
deeper understanding of English language comedy with little effort,
for them ComedySubs is like a library where they can go and study
comedy techniques. Of course our audience also includes "normal"
people, who don't work in comedy. Italians, however, are not really
subtitle fanatics - we like our movies dubbed - so I'd say that our
target audience is some sort of a niche, but it's growing fast.

- I hope that this time those Italian comedians will not borrow so
heavily from the library! Actually, some people think that the
internet is making stealing jokes easier, but I think it's opposite,
you can't steal a joke if people know its real paternity. Do you

I totally agree. By popularising this material we also make it very
hard to steal from it. We are very well known in the Italian comedy
industry so any comedian copying from shows we published subtitles for
would be exposed by their colleagues from the very start.

- So far you have translated mainly American comedians. Did this
happen by chance or by choice?

A bit of both. Even though the USA are further away than England, in
Italy American culture, society and politics are more widely known.
It's because of Hollywood and the American TV shows, which are very
popular... well... everywhere. This makes easier for both the Italian
translator and the Italian viewer to grasp the cultural references.
Moreover, American comedians don't use the same amount of wordplay as
the British ones and jokes with wordplay are probably the most
difficult to render. In any case we're trying to improve our British

- You provide only the subtitles, inviting your audience to buy the
DVD. I noticed that you are very careful about never promoting file
sharing, but I got the impression that this is the way most people get
hold of the video anyway. Can you confirm?

Yes, of course people do a lot of downloading. We don't support it but
it's their choice. Personally I think that in a perfect world ideas
and art would be shared freely but there is a law and comedians of
course need to make money out of their job. So we invite people to buy
DVDs. I think it can work, for example many of our followers bought
Eddie Izzard’s DVD collection because it comes with Italian subtitles.

- Which brings me to my next question: I heard that you are trying to
enter deals with DVD production companies to include your subtitles on
their products, Can you confirm? Maybe you can launch an appeal.

Yes, we made some cautious approaches but it's not easy when you don't
know which door to knock on. So, my dear copyright holders, if you'd
like to open a brand new market for your products, with 60 million
potential buyers, on a very small investment, just contact us

Good luck with that. Thank you Roberto for your answers and thanks to
all the people who collaborate with ComedySubs for giving me, at last,
some very good news from my native Italy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Fringe and the FA Cup

Here is something I wrote for Chortle's Correspondents section. It will not be published since Bob Slayer got his article published before mine and he makes some very similar points. So here it is, exclusively for this blog's readers:


There has been a lot of talk recently about the Fringe becoming too
professionalized and monopolised by big name comedians, for instance
in Harry Deansway’s contribution. I’m now going to argue that these
reports of the Fringe spirit’s death are greatly exaggerated.

We all agree that what makes the Fringe great is its openness,
especially at its the bottom end. Less known acts need to have the
chance to access it. The increasing availability of free slots in the
past year has actually made things better from this point of view.
When I did my free show last year, for instance, I found a slot
despite being on the circuit for less than one year and never having
had my a paid gig yet. Moreover Imran Yusuf’s best newcomer nomination
this year demonstrates that it is not true any more, if it ever was,
that doing a free show will condemn you to be overlooked by critics
and prize panelists.

Its openness at the top end, however, is in my opinion equally
important. The reason is that it makes the Fringe something similar to
another great British institution: the FA Cup. Taking part to it for a
less known comedian is like taking part to the FA Cup for a small
provincial club. You might end up playing at Stamford Bridge and in
that case you would of course be expected to be defeated, and
typically you are, but playing there instead of your usual crap ground
is already some sort of victory. In the FA Cup case this “trickle down
effect”, with ticket sales and sometimes TV right shared between the
teams, is probably more easily recognisable than on the Fringe, but it
cannot be completely written off in the latter case either. Big names
after all bring more visitors and more media and promoters’ attention
to the Fringe as a whole and everybody can have a go at taking a bite
at this bigger pie. Moreover, like in the FA Cup, there is still the
possibility of being the "giant killer". I think the Fringe is broadly
meritocratic, you can still be a big TV name and have a bad run, while
people like Daniel Kitson can sell out a big room at at 10.30am
without a single TV appearance or a single DVD under their name.

Without the big names the Fringe would stop being the FA Cup of comedy
and would just become another minor league. We less known comedians
don't need that, we are already playing in a minor league all year
round. For at least one month of the year it's great to have the
chance to walk with the giants. It's well worth the danger of being
crashed under their feet.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What next?

I have accepted that offer to do a gig in Italy during a congress on translation organized by the University of Bologna, even if unfortunately it meant canceling my partecipation to the Manchester Comedy Festival. I'm really intrigued and not only because it will be my first performance in Italy, although still in English. I'm also intrigued by the academic settings, after all many critics niticed that at times my show sounded like a lecture in linguistics. This might also indicate a line of development, some new jokes have sprung to my mind during the festival's run and they all happen to be on the subject of language. I originally thought of doing a show on language for this Edinburgh, but I didn't have enough material so I added the part on becoming British and tried to harmonize these two parts under the umbrella of a reflection on national identify. This forced marriage probably wasn't a complete success and I must admit that the part on citizenship tasted a bit stale in my mouth. I'm now ready to let it go, so I'll work on replacing it with new material on language with the goal of finally writing that language-centric show in time for Brighton in May. After all it's the only subject that is winning me invitations to literally festivals and prestigious universities. More importantly, it's the subject that feels "mine" to me and that gives me the greatest pleasure.

The last performance

Today Edinburgh was very quite and I was worried of breaking my no cancellation record but at the I had a small audience but I had an audience. And I managed not to get too nervous or discouraged about it. After all confidence is a form of memory, it depends on having enough good experiences to remember when you are having a difficult one. This run has given me exactly that so there couldn't have been a more fitting finale.

It's almost over

Just one more performance. I feel quite sad but also satisfied. Two weeks ago Ashley told me: by the end of your show will be a different show and you will be a different man. Am I? I do feel different, I don't remember doing anything else in my life that required so much resilience, such a continuity of effort and concentration. I never had a day off, never cancelled a performance, I never gave up on the promotion. And I had people in my audience who really loved this show. There will be more reflections, balances and projects from the train home but for now I'm enjoying this nice feeling of achievement.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A twist in the tail

Today it went really well, the audience loved the show, laughed loudly and clapped enthusiastically. Such a difference a day makes. Pity I didn't register today's show, but maybe it was the camera that made me nervous yesterday. And, I discovered afterwards, there was a critic from FringeReview, so the last critic word on the hasn't been said yet. I'll be curious to see what a critic says after seeing a good performance, no justification this time. But no critic can be as severe as I was yesterday witj myself after my horrible performance and I'm happy that I came back from that. Tomorrow is the last show and the start of the countdown to the next Fringe.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Learning the hard way

Maybe I should have gone to bed earlier yesterday, expecially since I got the time of the tour wrong by a hour and I managed to catch only the last ten minutes. And when I arrived home at 3.30am I couldn't find the keys and I had to phone and wake-up a flatmate. Today I felt fine but at the end I gave one of my worst performances so far. The audience combination was quite unfortunate, mainly local week-enders with some non resident Italians, with no Londoner and only a couple of foreign UK residents. I know, classifying the audience by geographic origin goes against the very spirit of my show. Whatever the reason, they reacted very weakly to my opening gambits and the vicious circle of the bad show started again. When things go well now I'm pretty good at milking the laughter with a pause and sometimes a facial expression, but when I get silence I just rush towards the next line. What I need to learn is how to milk the silence, how to extract laughter from the jaws of silence with a pause and an expression that says: you can take your time, I'm waiting for you but I'm not anxious, I know you will join me. Otherwise you are telling your audience that you are giving up and even the few members who are laughing will start to think that they are the ones who are getting it wrong, given that their laughter is often covered by your rushing nervously to the next line. While I'm writing these lines I'm quite happy, at least, by the level of consciousness I managed to achieve. I will probably not show today's recording to anybody else, but I'll watch it myself in order to become even more conscious of these mechanisms.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fringe binge

Today I felt physically tired but I was surprised to my find my performance quite energetic. The wise thing to do now would be to go to bed early, given that tomorrow I'll video-record the show, but few days ago I bumped into Arthur Smith, who was really nice with me and invited me to this year's edition of his legendary alternative night tour of Edinburgh. I read about these crazy, almost dadaist events in his autobiography and I was really fascinated. Arthur even told me that I should play a part, probably involving speaking in Italian only. The only problem is that it will start at 2.45am! I voiced my dilemma to Ashley Frieze, who told me that it will be an experience I will never forget. He is probably right, besides I'm a little ashamed of having these doubts while the man running this event is much older than me, is diabetic and survived a near-death experience. So, fuck it, I'll see a "Dracula" at midnight, then I'll probably go to Late 'N Live (it starts at 1am and finishes at 5am!) and then to the tour. Tomorrow I'll pray Dr Theatre to give me, again, an extra injection of energy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Never had so good

Everybody around me seems to be counting the days to the end of the festival, but I'm really enjoying this tail. I feel so much more confident and relaxed about this show and I'm having an absolutely lovely audience. Today at the Pleasance I gave a flyer to these two guys, a Scot and a Belgian. We started talking and I offered them two free tickets, but they accepted only one while promising to buy a second. And so they did. After the show they waited for me at the exit, complimented me warmly and, again, asked to take a picture with me. They told me that they met at the Fringe many years ago, when apparently there was also an Italian girl involved, and kept meeting here every year despite living afar. Now I'm part of their Fringe memories and of course they are also part of mine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In your face, critics

Today I had another very good show, with big laughs. This morning I was down because of the review, but at the end I managed to pull myself up and I gave an assured performance, maybe with a bit more of anger than the usual, which seemed to suit well the more polemical bits of the material. The only negative side was that there was this sweet old lady on the front row, a student of Italian, who seemed to be disappointed during the second half, the one about becoming British. I know why, she is an example of the typical elderly English italophile who perceives my journey as a betrayal. But other people seemed to connect very well. I also gave an interview to an Italian radio and agreed another with BBC Worldwide for Thursday, which will include extracts from my show registered on the same day. They are all part of the fallback from the Guardian's article, it's amazing how much the media world feeds on itself. Quite a lot to savour for a day.

Comments and reviews

Once again some very nice comments from members of the audience have come to my rescue in a difficult moment. Thank you very much Murray Brady and all the other people who enjoyed my show, your "stars" are the most precious.

The last review

Here it is:

There are a couple of points that really annoy me. First, of course I don't answer my own questions on identity. Funny enough, the very same publication in their preview article about my show wrote that this is typical of all good comedians and I even declare it in my publicity, albeit of course in an interrogative form. And my favourite definition of a philosopher is: somebody who has a question for every answer. Maybe I should say during my show, although I don't want to call myself a philosopher. The other point is that I don't make enough fun of stereotypes. It's what Henning Wehn does brilliantly but I'm not him and I'm not interested in doing the same things. This kind of expectation, however, might indeed been erroneously suggested by the publicity. Of course what hurts more is the allegation that my jokes might simply be not strong or sophisticated enough. I need to remind myself why I believe in the opposite, hopefully before 5.35pm.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's how you hold it

My exercise in reliability is going pretty well. Today I was worried since, despite having gone to bed early, I overslept and woke up very sleepy. It seems to happen on rainy mornings, so I came to the conclusion that I'm more meteopathic than I thought. It's of course a very dangerous thing to be in Scotland, although it has been quite a good year from that point of view. But my performance was good and I got laughs all the way true. I'm also experimenting with ways of holding the microphone. Ivor Dembina told me that leaving it on the stan would help me to avoid looking down and loosing visual contact with the audience, but I love to move on the stage and I don't want to do like Lewis Schaffer, who walks around with mic and stand. So I'm now holding the mic with both hands, as if to project an ideal stand in front of me. For some strange reason this seems to force me to look high while also allowing for freedom of movement. Please send your Freudian interpretations on a postcard.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Best show so far!

After my unusual night of sleep in "normal" hours this morning I woke up full of energy. In fact I bumped into Giada who asked me why I looked so cheerful. And I did a showcase slot just before my show, not just after. It went less well than the other ones but that was because it worked as a warm-up to my show instead of the other way round. My performance was very energetic, I did feel hot but I actually enjoyed my sweat as the proof that I was giving all, as if I was doing some physical workout. And I never lost visual contact with the audience, which had been one of the problems in my past performances. Audience that, on their part, really seemed to enjoy it, with a couple of people even waiting outside to congratulate me. All this, however, makes me also a bit angry with myself. If all my performances were like today's this show would have been a great success instead of the struggle it has actually become. I guess this is the real distinction between the pro and the non-pro, professionalism after all is mainly about reliability. But at least now I know what I can achieve on a good day and I discovered a reserve of performing energy I didn't even know I had. My next challenge will be to keep it flowing.

A bad one

Yesterday, after a string of good performances, I had a really bad one. I hadn't slept well, I discovered that going to bed late and waking up late doesn't really do for me, so
last night I went to bed at 11pm and this morning I woke up at 8.30am. So rock-and-roll. The heath in my venue was also particularly unbearable and chance had put together an audience mix that seemed to react weakly to even my strongest jokes. It's very difficult to say to what level is your performance and what level is the audience, since what happens in these cases is some sort of vicious circle, where a weak response to something originally delivered reasonably well makes you loose confidence and concentration, leading to a weaker delivery and an even weaker response. Of course the right reaction would be to do the opposite, to step up your game in front of the adversities, but I guess this is one of the things I'm here to learn. Today I feel more rested so let's see.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sorry for the delay

Here I am again. I was quite busy with my parents in town on top of everything else. I enjoyed their company and they loved Edinburgh and the Fringe atmosphere. They came to see the show, which was a bit weird given that they don't understand English. Fortunately it was a good show so they could at least see that the audience were laughing. The only moment of embarrassement was when my mother started to clap a bit too early. I came out to the stage after the show to greet them and this German woman was absolutely enthusiastic, she told me that she had been looking for a long time for a good comic treatment of those questions of identity and that she related completely to the spirit of the show. She even took notes to send to her friends and yes, before you asked, she also laughed heartly. It's encounters like this that make the all thing worthwhile. And yesterday I received an invitation from the University of Bologna to perform my act as part of a conference about translation. I'm really honoured, I just hope they'll not say afterwards that it sounds more like a comedy show than a lecture .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A day full of events and people

First of all, a media event I have waiting for ages has finally happened. The Guardian has published (for now online, tomorrow Wednesday on paper) the interviewed I gave to Brian Logan along with other foreign comedians:

It's a good article and I think I come out pretty well. And it's the Guardian. Wow. Roll, presses, roll.

And at the show I had some very important guests. First of all, my fellow Italian comedian Giada Garofalo and her partner Nelson. Since I did the Brighton festival with Giada she followed with interest and partecipation the development of my show so I was looking forward to her opinion. I wasn't disappointed at all, she gave me a lot a food for thought, for which I'm really grateful.

And Ivor Dembina came too. He is a comedy legend and a personal hero of mine, I loved his show "This is not a subject for comedy". Later I pumbed into him on the Royal Mile and he gave me a lot of advice. In particular he advised me to keep more often the mic on the stand. The amazing thing is that I had just read on Stewart Lee's autobiography how he learned that technique from nobody else than Ivor Dembina. I mentioned that to Ivor and he said: "yes, but you are even worse than he was back then". Well, I can live with that. Here was somebody who remembered when Stewart Lee was bad and taught him to become good and who now was giving advice to me, as if me and Stewart (as I feel entitled to call him now) were pupils in the same class. Amazing, only in Edinburgh. This is one of the reasons why is great to be here, you are fighting shoulder to shoulder with so many good and great comedians that not learning something from them is almost impossible. Especially with somebody as generous as Ivor.

The show itself was not bad, the audience was small but there was an Italian young lady who laughed at every punchline, serving as a cheerleader for the others. The critic must have thought that she was a "plant", but I swear she was "real". Regarding the critic herself, I regret to report that she never laughed and smiled only a couple of times. She spent most of the time scribbling as if she was going to publish a verbatim account of of my show. Let's see.

And my parents have arrived in town, of which I think I'll write more tomorrow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Never count your chickens

When you think that you cracked the code, there is probably a bad gig just around the corner. Today the omens weren't good. I didn't sleep well since I had just forrgotten to have dinner, it can happen at the Fringe. Then I went to a showcase at 12.40am to discover at the last moment that it was a show for children. I panicked, thought of removing the swear words but realized that it would be pointless so I chickened. The MC was forced to pull the show since I was one of the only two acts who hadn't cancelled. And it was a paid show. At the end I think I did the most professional thing, it was more serious for the audience to get the money back than to witness the wrong type of show. And my solo show got a weak reception. No I need to understand why, but the truth is that there is probably no code you can crack once and for all.

It's all about me

I was reading another comedian's blog where I was mentioned along with many other people and I realized that I have hardly mentioned anybody else in this blog. Maybe it's not a bad thing, at least I'm not in danger of damaging or hurting anybody else. I'll make an exception for a critic: yesterday I bumped into Kate Copstick from the Scotsman, who last year wrote a very good review of my show. Not only she recognised me, but she remembered my name and even pronounced it correctly. We then went on having a conversation in Italian, she told me in fact that she spent some years in Italy. That reminded me how much comedy is about connection and how that applies both to audience and critics. The critics who speak well of me are those with who I establish that connection, those who don't are those with whom that connection fails. This thought should help me to relativise both criticism and praise. She also asked me about this year's show and she told me she'll try to come, although I felt obliged to tell her that this year show is "an extension" of last year's, meaning that I repeat quite a lot of material, so it's probably unlikely that she'll come. Let's see.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Safety in numbers

Yesterday I had 31 people in: 8 paying full price, 1 senior, 12 half price and 10 for free. It's a good example of market segmentation or, in more socialists terms, from everybody according to their possibility. Income for the day: £155. Having a 2/3 full house: priceless. The theatre companies at my venue seem more comfortable with small numbers and less desperate to increase head count by any means, but stand-up really needs a good audience. Yesterday I had my best show so far, my delivery was lively and relaxed, I got laughs all the way through and I added new bits of bantering and audience interaction. I now understand how important it is to get the audience relaxed about me and me about the audience. Every time I add something new or I change something I wish I could move the clocks back and start the run again, but that is always the problem with learning from experience. And as a spectator yesterday I saw two amazing theatre shows at my venue, one so powerful that one member of the audience fainted and another after the show was sobbing in the arms of the actress. I love the Fringe.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

And up again

I know, this up and down thing must be sound a bit cliche by now, almost formulatic. I must have learned on a blogging course. But today I had a fantastic show. I really pushed hard on the promotion, it was a Saturday and as a tesult I had an almost full house, a lovely, responsive, laughing audience. I hope to defeat the cliche and stay "up" for at least few more days.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A very tough day

Today for the second day in a row the Half Price Hut failed to display the name of my show. In order to compensate I paid a girl to flyer for two hours in front of it explaning to everybody that the show was indeed available inside. But she didn't seem to understand the task, I was going back to my venue when I saw her going in the direction of the Royal Mile, so I had to stop her and send her back to the Hut, feeling a bit like some sort of Fagin. At the end she did spend two hours there and she gave away a shitload of flyers, probably all to random passers by, given that I didn't sell a single half price ticket. At the end I did a show in front of 6 people, 3 paying plus 3 from another company. There were some tantalising moments of laughter, an indication that a show very strong in all his parts could have worked never the less. Instead these moments were alternated with moments of embarrassed silence. Afterwards I felt as deflated as after the very bad review, with a feeling that the very small audience had made me face for the first time the limits of my show.

Storms and stormings

Yesterday the weather was really stormy, with violent showers that made flyering very difficult. After the show I faced one this shower to go to another showcase. Afrer the gig rhe MC said "you stormed", so this time you don't have to take my word for it. I guess what's happening is that I'm cashing the dividend in confidence from dealing with an audience on my own for almost a hour in a dark and sweaty room. Doing a short set in a club now feels like a walk in the park. If this is true and if this extra confidence is going to stay then this festival has already succeeded in making me a much better comedian.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's never too early

A couple of ideas for next year are already buzzing in my mind and given that apparently this year I wasn't brave enough they are suitably both quite wacky. The first is doing a solo show called "Giacinto Palmieri doesn't even mention that he is Italian". Apart from playing with the paradox in the publicity, I will indeed never mention a single time the subject of my nationality, but I will maybe allude to it, almost-say it but retreat at the last moment, play with it as with some sort of taboo elephant in the room. I might market it as a social experiment on the readiness of the British public to accept a foreign comedian who talks about something different from his nationality and it would also represent a logical next step from the cosmopolitanism I advocate in this year's show. Moreover the constraint would force me to write all new material. The second idea is to run also an evening free showcase called something like "Bad reviews support group" or "Badly reviewed anonymous", where comedians are invited to get out steam and vitriol about the bad reviews they had. I might offer the option of doing so publically or with a KKK-style "hat" (what's the right word?) over their head. The problem with bad reviews is that the rational behaviour would be never to mention them at all, but as with all negative experience a problem shared is a problem halved. And what better way for a comedian to deal with a negative experience than making fun of it? I would really love to hear from you what you think of these two ideas.

Healthy numbers

You might remember that I wasYou might remember that on Tuesday I was worried about having pre-sold only two tickets for Wednesday. So I released tickets for the Half Price Hut and I went to flyer there, but I found it less busy than I hoped. I didn't have a chance to check the sales report before the show so I waited backstage for the audience to come in fearing an almost empty house. When I was called to the stage I was very pleased to see a relatively well populated house. I checked the report afterwards and discovered that I had sold 21 tickets, only 8 at half price, for a total of £130. Not bad at all, given how competitive the festival is this year. Hopefully it means that the word-of-mouth is taking off, but is also due in part to C Venues having an excellent year, with an almost costant queue at the box office. I had my doubts before but now I'm happy of having chosen them, they have always been helpful and the venue has a very nice buzz about it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Good enough" is good enough

Chortle's review is out:

Now, let's put all this in perspective: I took the mic for the first time only two years ago. I'm pretty sure that many of my comedy friends, and a big part of me, thought it was simply mad to do a one hour show with so little experience in the most competitive festival in the world. I know many people who are very good but are still far from doing a hour. And I do comedy in my second language and in my spare time. I hope to get more praise and many more laughs, but for today "Good enough" (Chortle) is something I'll write proudly on my inner flyer.

Thanks for the comments

Just a quick note to thank you all for the very nice comments you are leaving. I haven't replied to any of them so far only bacause I haven't discovered how to do that with the app I'm using, but I'm savouring every single word of them.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

And jumping...

...which is probably the best way to prepare yourself for a new fall, but for now I'm enjoying it. The show today was a real cracker, the 2x1 audience was numerous and they laughed heartly all the way. Unfortunately tomorrow we'll be back at normal prices and I have sold only 2 tickets so far, but it's the first day of the Half Price Hut so I have released 20 tickets for it and I'll push them like cake or sliced bread or whatever the right expression is. Now I really, really, really want my show to be seen.

And galloping

Indeed I had fun at my how. The audience was very good in number and they seemed to enjoy themselves. Three Italian girls came backstage to give me feedback, the UK-resident among them loved it while the visiting friends confessed to have understood very little. This made me realize how much I was missing the immediate feedback I had last year when I didn't have a backstage where to hide, so maybe I might decide to thank the audience at the exit. After the solo show I rushed straight away to do ten minutes at a showcase, which made me feel very professional: no time to loose here and no need to rest either. The audience was young, nice and responsive. Then I switched my phone on and discovered that a critic from Chortle, the industry's main website, had been to my show. It was probably a good thing that I did not know it in advance, but I'm now happy that he was there and I'm looking forward to the review. I don't mean that I expect only praise this time, but Chortle's reviews tend to be quite articulated and alwayd an interesting reading. Regardless of the review, however, I think I proved to myself that the show is something I can be proud of and that my presence here is not a waste of time, money and energy but a small contribute to one of the most amazing events in the world.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back on the saddle

Sorry everybody for the gloominess of yesterday's post. Apparently what I was supposed to after the "fall" was to get straight back on the saddle. I was helped in this by the fact that today at lunchtime I was on a panel show based on the theme of skepticism and rationalism. It was good and I got some of the biggest laughs. I always thought improvisation wasn't my strength but now I think it's a side I should develop more. But above all the experience reminded me that the Fringe is about having fun, only that way you can bring other people to share it and have a successful show. I then went straight to do some flyering. Doing promotion after a confidence crisis feels weird, but it's also the best thing to do: you repeat so many times how brilliant you are that you end up convincing yourself. Which, by the way, makes me a bit worried for the guy flyering beside me, who had the brilliant line: "my show is rubbish". And today tickets are 2x1, it's raining after a glorious morning and the venue is packed with people. It's the right day to have some fun.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


The first review is out and I got a real trashing. If I had to write a parody of a bad review exaggerating its harshness for comic effect the result wouldn't fall that far from the actual words of that review. It has left me feeling completely broken. I dont't know what to do next. Going to see a show? What, a brilliant, well reviewed one? A bad one one in which to see the reflections of my fears? Every poster or flyers around me celebrates brilliancy and success. I have just be given one with five stars, for Christ's sake, some people have no shame. I feel like somebody dropped by his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. In Venice. On a gondola. And everywhere I look I can only see teddy bears and heart-shaped cushions.

Busy days

For yesterday I was planning to take it easy and focus on the preparation, but I forgot that it was the day of Meet The Press. It's an event that seems to exist to remind you of how difficult it is to get any attention from anybody and how fierce the competition is. I queued 1 hour to get in, half hour to talk to BroadwayBaby and 2 hours and a half to talk to the Scotsman. At that point it was time to go to my venue for the show. I felt knackered and not looking forward to standing for another hour. Fortunately being physically tired helped to relax, the delivery was precise and animated and the audience laughed all the way. It was the first performance when I thought I was getting the result I was hoping for. In the evening I took part to a very funnily wacky talk show hosted by Robert Commiskey. It was nice, as it also was Electric Cabaret on Thursday in front of a packed audience who rewarded me with big laughs and a couple of applause breaks, that holy grail of comedians. I'm happy that this year I have been invited to quite a few of these events, not only they are a good chance to promote your show and socialize with the other comedians but they are so much easier than the solo show and they help you to recharge the confidence batteries when it's needed. And on Friday night I watched Richard Herring's show "Christ on a bike", very clever and very funny. Now I have finally got the C Venues pass so I'm planning to see more shows. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

First lessons learned

Today it went much better. I had around 15 people, I kept the audience light on and that helped a lot, I got many more laughs and the visual connection with the audience helped my confidence. But I forgot a couple of bits and I finished earlier. I came to the conclusion that in these two days I dedicated too much energy to the promotion of the show and too little to the show itself, maybe because I had only 0 and 2 tickets sold. For tomorrow I have got 6, so I will resign myself to the possibility of having exactly that number and concentrate on script alterations and on the preparation of the delivery. The most important thing is that your audience leave happy, regardless of how small it is. Otherwise even the best promotion becomes a lie or at least an unkept promise.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The baptism of fire

I'm in Edinburgh and I have done my first show. I arrived by train at 12.35 and went straight away to the venue to collect my flyers and print some complementary tickets. The reason for such haste was that I had two reviewers booked in and no ticket sold for today, despite a quite healthy sale of 54 tickets in total. I printed 20 tickets and went flyering like crazy in front of the Fringe box office, fighting for attention with Ivor Dembina and Lewis Schaffer. I mananaged to "sell" all my tickets to people who looked truly determined to come and in fact at the end I did a show in front of probably at least 25 people. Problem is, I have never heard people NOT to laugh so much at a comedy show. I had few chortles but norhing more. Strangely enough I had quite a generous applause at the end. It would be tempting to ask whether they knew it was comedy, but it's never the audience, it's always the message you send them. I think the biggest mistake was not to leave an audience light on. The room is narrow and deep so I could only see a couple of rows, which made impossible to interact with people. My delivery was ok, without any major setback apart from skipping a bit, but I didn't move enough in the space, which is a mistake I make often. Not, after all, errors impossible to correct. Problem is that I can now expect a bad review from ThreeWeeks and The List. Aside from the psychological blow bad reviews can just be ignored, but the "opportunity cost" is big, there aren't so many publications likely to see you after all. It's the revenge of that anonymous "source" who criticized my venue for allowing critics too early, to which I replied in my usual cocky style: it's up to us to be ready. Yeah. And I don't think you'll have a chance to vote for me in future editons of that "Who Is Your Comedy Comedy God?" survey, given the Foster's panelist was in today too. Not so bad, after all if it wasn't for Stewart Lee who would remember Frank Chicken?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Who are they?

Yesterday I received from C Venues my first tickets sales report, showing that so far 11 tickets have been sold. I know that this probably will sound hardly impressive to most people, but these tickets are the very first I have ever sold for a solo show so I can't manage to be all professional and blasé about it. Considering that my friends are waiting for complementary tickets, the question is: who are these people? Who decided to pay money with so much advance to be sure they will not miss out on my show? Who is, for instance, that single person with a Senior concession who will come to see me on the 24th of August? Given the advance, they are probably all Fringe regulars who receive the program at home, so there is a good chance that some of them might have seen last year's show. Or they might be people who have seen me on the circuit, maybe at the Hackney Empire, after all there were 2,000 audience members there. Or maybe people who were just made curious by the ad and the entry on the program. In any case, I can't help finding it a good omen. As I said before, I have most respect for free shows and I'll do for sure more free shows in the future, but I must admit that the idea of somebody at home taking his credit card out of his pocket to pay for my show (meaning my jokes, meaning my words, meaning my ideas) is just perfect to titillate my narcissism. I know, this reveals just how much of a beginner in this business I still am, I'm pretty sure that Michael McIntyre doesn't try to figure out identity and motivations of every single person who books his 02 Arena tickets, but for now I'm really loving this "first time" feeling. I just hope I'll also have a chance to become jaded.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

One month to go

Tomorrow it will be exactly one month to the kick-off of my next Fringe experience. Maybe it's because I feel much more confident about the level of preparation of my show, but my attitude has recently switched from "shit, only one month" to "shit, still one month". I thought of why I feel so much longing for the Fringe experience and that famous poem by W.B. Yeats came to my mind: An Irish Airman Forsees His Death. I know, the title doesn't sound well wishing for my comedy show, but the feelings the Airman in that poem expresses about war make me think of my feelings about the Fringe. After experiencing something so intense, "The years to come seemed waste of breath / A waste of breath the years behind / In balance with this life, this death". I know, that's a bit extreme, we are not talking life and death here, but whoever has felt the elation and desperation of the Fringe will probably recognise that it's not completely off the mark.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back to previews

Yesterday I did the my preview after Brighton. It was for a group of people called Italian Meetup, mostly made of Italians in London and people who want to practise Italian, so I knew it was a particularly suitable audience. Script-wise I had decided to remove all the part when I pretend to be a comedian who pretends to be me, I like the idea but it didn't really work, while of course I added more parts since my target this was 50 minutes. At the end I did 45 minutes after forgetting to do a 10 minutes bit. Considering that I have at least 5 minutes of cuts to do I'm pretty much on target. There were some moments, however, when some weak bits were met by silence and confusion, hence the cuts. But generally speaking I'm satisfied. The links seem to hold much better, the show looks more like a show and less like a patchwork of routines and this is helped a lot by the fact that there are more callbacks. The theme is simpler and much better introduced by a new opening, even if there are still some moments when it carries too much weight. Now the next preview will be in Manchester and it will probably be in front of a less forgiving audience. At this stage, however, what I needed was mainly encouragement and I got plenty of it. There is still work to do but I'm now looking forward to the next previews and of course to the "real thing".

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On a positive note

I think I have hit on a new note in my writing. As I said, the show in its Brighton form was a bit too abstract, so I'm now trying to inject more life into it. On one level this means trying to tell more episodes from my life that might contribute to show, instead of merely explain, what I want to say. On another level, it means to dig deeper into my text and my performance, looking for the "emotion" behind those ideas and for the "attitude" to express them. In a previous post I mentioned one of these emotions, my intolerance for any narrative of "collective identity" and, above all and most topically for this show, of national identity. This is indeed an important emotion to play with, but I have now come to realise that it's just one colour on the palette. Along with this negative emotion, there is also a much more positive one, the great sense of freedom and elation that I felt when I moved to Britain and I discovered that I could re-invent myself. Being funny with positive emotions is always more difficult. How many people, faced with the "rant or rave" exercise they always propose during comedy courses, choose the "rave" option? But of course it's not impossible, for instance you can always exaggerate your hopes and turn them into some utterly surreal, wildly utopian heaven on earth for us all. The challenge is to induce people to laugh at this comic surplus while sharing for a moment the truly felt hope behind it. I guess it's one of the reasons why comedy feels so liberating to both the audience and the performer: nobody asks you to be sensible and moderate in comedy, on the contrary you are invited to follow whatever you feel or think to the their most hellish, heavenly or paradoxical consequences. So, I will indeed rant against nationalism, stereotypes and pigeon-holing. But I want this show to be a faithful account of my experience of moving abroad, which has been by and large a very positive experience. I will also rave, then, on self-determination, individualism and cosmopolitanism or, better, on the experiences that made me feel a bit closer to these grand ideals.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

At least 40th Best Stand Up Ever (I should better be)

I'm finding very difficult to decide what I can and what I can't write on this blog. Problem is, I'm a very open person and I want to use this blog to let out steam by expressing my hopes but also my concerns. But I'm not alone any more, I'm going to run my next Edinburgh show with a professional organisation that even has PR people and I don't want to piss anybody off by saying very un-PR things. I'm sure that Gordon Brown feels exactly the same. By the way, I'm very good at ignoring my own advice, so let's proceed.
My venue confirmed me the definitive timeslot and ticket prices. The timeslot is not bad at all: 5.35pm. It's late enough but not too late, which is good for my "sober" style of comedy (in the sense that it works better when the audience are in that state). But I'm worried about the ticket prices: £8.50 on the first two days, £9.50 on weekdays and £10.50 on weekends, with £1 less for concessions. I really started panicking when The Stand published its program: on weekends my show will cost £0.50 more than Stewart Lee's! I expressed my concern with the venue and their first reply was that this pricing was, according to them, the one better likely to lead to "revenue optimisation". I then pointed out that audience optimisation was equally if not more important for comedy, and they promised to help me with running promotions. Let's see. Well, if I needed extra motivation to work hard towards a really good show now I found it. Besides, I take fewer and shorter pauses and I repeat my lines much less frequently than Stewart Lee normally does. That's better value for money, isn't it?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Of ideas and sentiments

I have been thinking a lot about the supposed lack of emotional engagement in my show. I think I pointed out the cause for it. I have always thought that behind every idea there is a sentiment, so in a sense all thinking is wishful (or fearful) thinking. I know, for instance, that the only way I can justify my atheism is on the account of my desire for the kind of freedom I can only enjoy in a God-free world. Getting clarity about your ideas is important for your content, but understanding the sentiment behind them is important for your performance, since sentiments can be acted out (theorists of comedy call that “attitude”) and can indeed resonate with the audience.

In the specific example, my idea can be expressed roughly this way:

“Nations are an outdated social constructs that tend to pigeonhole us by means of the prejudices and stereotypes associated with them. Fortunately we can move abroad, embrace a new culture etc. and by means of this contamination we can, at least partially, free ourselves from the burden of our national identity and gain more freedom in determining who we really are”.

I have now realised that the sentiment behind this idea can roughly be expressed as:

“You can stick your fucking flag up your arse”.

Actually, I think that identifying the sentiment is not only good for the performance, but can help you with the writing as well. I have now written some material that sounds much less like a “sociological” lecture and much more than the kind of libertarian tirade you can hear from the like of Doug Stanhope. I need to be careful about that change in tone, I know that my persona is completely different, I don’t drink twelve bottles of beer on the stage during a one hour show and I don’t live in a caravan, unless living in Bethnal Green can count as a sign of bohemian lifestyle. But that “rebellious” spirit is indeed there and is as mine as my passion for philosophical speculation, even if sometimes gets buried alive under too much of the latter. As I said, I don’t want to change my comedy for the only reason of meeting the expectations from audience and critics. But if listening to their reactions and comments can help me to find a comedy that is truly mine at an even deeper level, and if by doing so I can even rediscover levels of myself I tend too often to forget... now THAT would be a great vindication of all the time, money and effort I’m spending in all this bloody comedy malarkey!

Monday, May 3, 2010

And here is the review:

I think of course he has a point in the fact that my "lofty aims" are often too much enunciated than translated into comic material, which is exactly what has been troubling me all along. Which means, of course, that the least thematic routines are often the funnier. The lack of an emotional involvement is another interesting point, although I think I will always "speak to the head more than the heart". The only thing that really disappoints me is that you spend so much time writing and worrying about your writing, then you ad-lib a couple of location-specific asides and they end up taking a third of the review and risking to undermine your entire point. Well, of course there is a lesson there too, I'll be more careful the next time.

By the way, I'm very happy for Giada's review!

What a difference...

...few days make! If my Birmingham preview was an underwhelming experience, my two shows at the Brighton Fringe went really well. I had a packed room and standing people on both days. That was quite surprising, since I didn't print proper flyers (only paper cut-outs that looked a bit like the Italian "santini", look them up if you like) and I didn't print a single poster. Most people came from the Fringe program and website, so there must be something right in the new title/image/program entry combination. Of course it helped that it was free, I didn't realize that free shows in Brighton represent a much smaller percentage of the total than in Edinburgh. In any case, the room was full. And the audience seemed to enjoy it, with some big laughs. All this, of course, didn't wash away my concerns completely. But yesterday I changed the finale slightly to make the conclusion clearer and it worked much better. There is a bit at the end that I find important for the theme, so I can't cut it out, but which still doesn't work that well yet. It's not funny enough and it's not clear (or confusing) enough. But on Sunday it worked better, so I'm optimistic that I can salvage it. I didn't know whether to consider these shows as proper shows or as previews for Edinburgh, hence the lack of promotion, but I must say that they worked in their own right. To the point that yesterday I was excited to have Chortle's critic Steve Bennett in the audience. Now, put these words in a closed envelope with the date on it: I have great consideration for him, I think he knows a lot about comedy and I like his very analytical approach. Ok, I said it, before of course knowing if the review will be positive or negative. In any case receiving some criticism at this stage would be very useful for the development of the show, so I'm really looking forward to the review. Stay tuned and you'll the first to know. One last point: I really enjoyed doing the show with Giada Garofalo. Especially yesterday she was in a great form and it was nice sharing the weight with somebody else. Her boyfriend Nelson helped us a lot too. So, in short it was a great experience, now I'm looking forward to Edinburgh even more.

Friday, April 30, 2010

A difficult ride

There is no doubt about it: the preparation for my festival show is turning into a quite difficult ride. The main reason is that I made the task difficult for myself, not only by increasing the length from 30 to 50 minutes with the aim of re-utilising no more of 30% of old material (at the moment is more something like 50%), but with my “thematic” ambitions. The problem is, while I would have liked last year’s show if I saw it as a member of the audience, I wouldn’t have considered it one of my favourite shows. What I really like, in fact, are thematic shows like those that Richard Herring seems able to produce with reliable quality year after year. Not only, but the lack of any thematic ambition meant that there was a side of myself (better, a side of how I like to see myself) that was completely under-represented. I mean my “philosophical”, analytical side and the “quirkiness” of humour that represents in my opinion its best comedic expression. On the other hand, praise was often centred on my being the “charming” Italian, which I found actually quite surprising. Of course the tension between what you are and what you want to be, or between how you see yourself and how other people see you, is one of the cruxes of life. Even more so in an activity like comedy that is so much about been seen and been judged.
I think there was also a problem of “status” there. In this blog I once commented on an audience review that pointed out how my alleged problems with the English language were scarcely believable in the light of my education and profession. Back then I dismissed the criticism as nonsense, but now I realised that whoever wrote that reviewed was onto something. I mean, the role I unconsciously played was that of the low status foreigner/immigrant/outsider, which is of course the easiest role to play for an Italian in London. I didn’t know it back then, but Milton Jones in his very good book points out how low status tends to work better than high status in Britain and how in America, surprise surprise, seems to be the other way round. Problem is: is it how I see myself and I want other people to see me? Of course not. I’m proud of my ability to play with language and ideas and I do comedy because I like getting laughs by doing exactly that. If I want to be able to express that side of me and be recognised for that then I probably need to play a higher status. My new show, in fact, is written from the point of view of some sort of “mad philosopher” who tries to solve the most difficult questions of identity and free will in fifty minutes of comedy. I must say that I feel much better in that skin.
But will the audience like it too? Sometimes I fear that what I’m doing here is choosing not to be liked for right reasons over being liked for the wrong reasons. It’s probably what happened yesterday in Birmingham during my very preview. There was a group of people at the back of the room who chatted all the time and sometimes heckled me. They really hated my Italian-born London-based pseudo-philosophical smugness. I’m sure they would have loved me joking instead about my inability to pronounce the “h”. Well, you make your choices and you pay the price for them. Those people are clearly not part of my new target audience, I hope that in Brighton and Edinburgh (on the basis of them being festivals, not only of not being Birmingham) I will find a more sympathetic attitude.
Yesterday’s problems, however, were not only of a psychological or sociological nature, but were also due to some structural flaws in my show. The theme gets lost too often and some links are so weak that Anne Robinson would be spoilt for choice. The challenge now is recognising and addressing these problems but without loosing faith in the general approach. Nobody forces me to do comedy and I don’t need or expect to make any money out of it, so there is no point in doing anything else than what feels right. Hopefully I will also get some people to like it for the “right” reasons along the way, but quoting Coldplay: nobody said it was easy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

April is the cruellest month

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Fringe program deadlines, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull scripts with fresh ideas.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with club spots.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Underbelly
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Urban Garden.
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour. [to be continued?]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A surreal experience

This was one of the most unexpected experiences that the comedy thingy has brought me so far. An agency I work with pushed me forward for a TV commercial, apparently to promote a satellite TV network, and got me an audition. The role was described as "FOREIGN" and the main skill required "a STRONG native foreign accent". So, I can't say that the reason why I accepted was that I felt flattered, I guess it was more to do with curiosity and the sheer novelty of the experience. So I arrive at the casting studio only to discover that my name isn't on the list. Not only, but the woman managing it at one point even suggests that I could be too old for the role! Great, I'm here to take advantage of ethnic positive discrimination and instead I get to suffer negative age discrimination! I'm already on the way to the tube station when the agent calls me to say to go back to the studio and mention a certain name. So I do and finally I'm in. The waiting room of a casting agency must be one of the weirdest places on earth. People are clustered in groups where everybody eerily resembles each other. At one point I ask when my turn will be and I'm told: "After four more David Bellamy(s)". Apparently it's not a measure of time but it has something to do with some elderly guys (no age problem for them, I guess, if not maybe in reverse) with big white beards. I wonder what the casting to play ME would look like. "Please have a sit with those five Giacinto Palmieri(s), but I'm afraid that your goatee doesn't look messy enough". Moreover, I'm asked to fill a form full of questions like: "Do you know of anything regarding you that could bring ridicule or disrepute onto the product?". "Yes, I once applied for a TV commercial", I think, but cowardly not write. After wasting an hour with a male/female script only to discover there is no female partner available ("the story of my life", I tell the casting people) I'm finally paired with an atypically timid French guy and given a different script, some sort of gangster scene. This is of course a positive turn of events, given that in my comedy I play quite a lot with the Mafia stereotype. We rehearse the scene few times and at last, two ours after my original appointment time, we are asked to perform it in front of the camera, first in English, then replacing the last two sentences with the Italian/French equivalent. How did it go? That's very difficult thing to say, given that I'm not quite sure of what was expected from me. If the point was sounding Italian, then I probably did, but I would have achieved the same result by reading the Queen's Speech. But I had quite fun doing it and it was for me a truly novel experience.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Raising the stake

With the Empire final done and dusted, it's now decision time for my next Edinburgh. Actually the two things are related, given that a couple of "observers" from the C Venues came to see me in Hackney, liked me and offered me a slot. The C Venues are the biggest venue outside the "big four". One of my favourite comedian/comedienne was with them last year, to protect his/her identity I'll call him/her "a source". So I asked this source what he/she thought of the experience. At first he/she gave me a negative assessment, but for very interesting reasons. Apart from financial considerations, the main accusation was that they got the reviewers to see the too early, when it wasn't honed yet. Most of us at the Free Festival / Free Fringe struggled to get reviewers at all, and my friend Ashley got a good review at the end of his run, which must have been very frustrating. Being reviewed early is a good thing, it's up to us to be ready for it, sorry source. And then he/she told me a couple of things that really made me sway towards the "yes" side. The first is that performers have free access to all of the other C shows. I really want to enjoy the Fringe as an audience member as much as a performer and last year's C programming was excellent, with "The Trial" being my favourite show of the entire festival. The second was that the girls working at the venues are all very pretty. Oops, I might have revealed the gender of my source here, but hopefully there are enough lesbians in the comedy circuit to leave this quite open. So at the end I decided to accept the offer. This means that next year I will go commercial, if not pro. Part of me feels sorry and even slightly guilty for "betraying" the Free Festival / Free Fringe "movement". I want to make it clear that I don't consider myself in any sense "beyond" this kind of show, in fact I'll do a free show in Brighton in May. I'm still convinced that everybody who thinks that a free show is always a worthless show is an idiot, as not only big names like Robin Ince and Lewis Schaffer have demonstrated, but as I'm convinced that many of my friends will demonstrate again this year. But it's also true that the world is full of idiots and having a bit fewer of them to convince makes for a nice change. But I know myself well enough to be conscious that the main motivation in this decision is sheer vanity. And a very expensive vanity at that. But there has already been a positive consequence. After signing the contract I had an almost sleepless night, fortunately spent not at reading my bank statements, but at writing my script. I heard an interview with Jimmy Carr where he said that what really gets his writing going is fear. Apparently it works for me as well. I'm really raising the stake for this year's Fringe, both in financial terms and in terms of time and energy. Maybe I'll fly too close to the sun and I'll suffer a terrible fall, but maybe I really need this challenge to discover what I'm really capable of. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

And a positive review on Chortle!

"The audience took a while to warm to Giacinto Palmieri, perhaps trying to work out if his very thick Italian accent meant he was a character act. But he established his authenticity, winning them round with some nicely quirky material about idioms, offering a unique view of the oddities of the English language. His nerves were his downfall, making him appear slightly uncomfortable on this grand stage, but he had some beautiful lines, including refreshingly biting observations on Italian politics. Palmieri’s brilliant closing line regarding Silvio Berlusconi is proof that there is lots more to come from this engaging comic."

A night to remember

Here I am, drinking coffee after coffee trying to overcome the hangover not only of the after-show drinks, but of a truly inebriating night. Yesterday I felt restless all day and and I went to the Empire as early as it was allowed, in time for the 6pm sound check. Not that I had anything to check, I din't even try the microphone. But apparently everybody else was feeling the same, when I arrived, in fact, most acts were already there. So we all spent more than two hours moving relentlessly between the stage, the green room, the dressing room, the water cooler and, above all, the toilets. At the end even those two very long hours managed to pass and the show began. My position in the line-up was fifth in the first half, an almost ideal position, not too "cold audience" and not too "tired audience" either. Performers were asked to wait in the green room until called backstage, so for me the first three acts were just an almost incomprehensible voice coming form a cracking speaker. Amazing how being part of an event means the opposite of having a privileged perspective about it. Even when I went on stage I couldn't see the audience almost at all. I finally realized how packed and beautiful the theatre was when after the interval I joined a friend of mine to watch some acts from the upper circle. It was a breathtaking view and I was happy of not having seen it before my performance. Which, by the way, went very well, I felt concentrated but not tense, did my set without any hiccups and got some big laughs, which I milked in quite a "professional" way with long, reassured pauses. Everything felt a bit detached and remote, though, such a contrast from the terrifying experience of the Comedy Store! So, after seeing two or three acts from the gallery, and enjoying the sight of the audience members pointing at me as an instant and (very) local celebrity, I went back to the Green Room, waiting for the moment when the acts were called back to the stage for the results. And when we did the organizers announced that exceptionally a fourth place would be awarded. Now, I must confess a moment of hubris here: I thought for a moment that a fourth place could be in my reach. At end it wasn't me, it was one of the acts I couldn't manage to see (Andrew Ryan), while the first three (Abandoman, Inel Tomlison and Frisky & Mannish) were truly fantastic acts who normally play two or three leagues above me. I know, if I think that not even a truly original and amazingly well crafted act like Jo Selby's character Tatiana managed to get a placement I realize that it was indeed a moment of madness. But if I wasn't a bit mad I wouldn't be doing this. At the end I had a fantastic night, in an amazing theatre and in front of a wonderful audience, in which I managed to do a performance that did myself justice and demonstrated, I immodestly think, that I deserved to be there. Surely a night I will remember for a long time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gong went the show

No point trying to sleep, I still have to come down, this stuff should count as a class A drug! So let me update the blog instead. Where to start from? I arrived at the Comedy Store pretty early, I didn't know if it was already open to the public so I told the bouncer at the door: "I'm going to perform tonight". And he went all sarcastic: "Really? You are going to perform? Good luck, mate!". Great, heckled by the bouncer, such a start! The next step doesn't help you to relax either, the corridor in fact is full of all the pictures and the signatures of the greats who have performed there, people like Robin Williams. And when you enter the room you can't help noticing that the walls are plastered with newspaper cuttings, so many of them that the expression "press coverage" seems to assume an almost literal meaning. Are you trying to impress me, Comedy Store? Well, you did. I register and I'm told that I'm 10th in the line-up. I ask if I'm after the break and they tell me that they should manage to fit ten and more acts in the first half. I soon realize the implication: they don't expect many comedians to last long! In fact the show starts and the first couple of acts last around fifty second. Then Stephen Grey comes out and he does brilliantly, surviving the entire five minutes. Good, I think, it can be done. My turn comes and I start really well, the first routine goes brilliantly, with those "long laughs" that you can milk for what seem to last ages, a mixed bless at a competition where you only have five minutes but a total bless at a gong show where you have to buy time. Then the first heckles start and I fire the comeback I had prepared for the occasion. I'm not sure if I should tell this, given that I might "spontaneously" come out with it again in the future, maybe already on Saturday. But nobody really believes that heckle comebacks are really improvised, besides they are the "open source" of the comedy world, in the sense that they are the only jokes that are freely shared among comedians. So here is my contribution to the community. I shouted back at the hecklers: "I have no idea of what you said, we speak English in this country"! Thinking of it, I still can't believe that I had the guts to say that! But it paid off really well, I got a really big laugh and an applause. Then I moved to the idioms routine, the second joke has a long set-up so part of the audience became impatient and started booing. I became more and more confrontational, with jokes about me having "stolen" their job or about the opportunity of starting a fight with an Italian, every time going down a bit along the slippery slope of cheap stereotypes. Part of the audience were still with me, but the booing part were booing more and more loudly and it was more and more difficult to get the jokes across. When it became impossible for me to get heard the gong went off to liberate me from my misery. I had been on stage four minutes, maybe more, and I had one of the most amazing roller-coaster experiences of my life. For more than half of my set all went really well and I felt really close to the five minutes finishing line. I'm not sure what went wrong afterwards, not the being confrontational bit, that was more of a desperate effect than of a cause and the quite confrontational heckle comeback worked beautifully anyway. I'll think about it. In any case during the interval somebody came to me and said that he was the promoter of the Chuckle Club and that I was the only act of the first half he liked (sorry, others). So he asked my number to book me for a spot! I have just been to check their website and they have some of my comedy heroes on the bill, people like Milton Jones and Robin Ince. To whoever booed me tonight: what about THIS as a comeback?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On a roll

Yes, these warm-up gigs are going really well. Actually, they are not jut a warm up, you need to take every gig as it was the most important gig in your life, especially if it goes well. Monday I did one for an agency that runs loads of gigs all over the country and towards which I was feeling a bit frustrated, since they only offer me open spots and not many of them either. It was a free gig so at first I struggled to get the attention of the casual and chatty audience, which seems to be a constant for me at this type of gig, I guess mine is not the stage persona that commands immediate attention from everybody. But fortunately I managed to recognise and address this particular elephant in the room. I interrupted a particularly chatty girl, who turned to be the same who had heckled a previous comedian by asking "Where is Quebec?". Yes, it was that kind of audience. So I said: "Ah, you are the Quebec girl", to which she weirdly replied: "How do you know?". So I replied back: "It's part of my job noticing what happens and making clever callbacks", which gained me a big laugh. After that episode I had the undivided attention of the audience. Lesson of the day: if you want attention from somebody you should first demonstrate attention towards them, maybe by showing that you noticed their lack of attention. I wonder if I can apply the same lesson to other fields of my life, but I'm digressing. At the end of the set the pub owner was enthusiastic, it was the third time I had played that club so he told me he had seen dramatic improvements and he added: "I'll tell the people who count", meaning of course the agency that sent me. Let's see. The next gig will be the gong show at the Comedy Show. I know it's probably going a massacre and I'm expecting the worst, but at least I have never been in a better fighting form.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The shape of Fringe to come

Time flies like an arrow or and, as my Philosophy of Language professor used to say to highlight the Chomskyan notion that when you hear a sentence you are actively imposing a grammatical structure onto it, fruit flies like a banana. I'm still not sure to have completely digested my last Curry in a Hurry and it's already decision time, or at least ideas gathering time, for the Edinburgh Fringe 2010. January, in fact, is the month when the "venues" open their application process. So here are some ideas I gathered so far:
  • Last year it took a week to get the reviews and the word-of-mouth, so doing two weeks meant that I had to kill the show in its prime. Despite the bigger investment in time and money I will seriously consider doing the entire three weeks run.
  • Again in the logic of stepping up my game, I'll aim at writing a "full length" show, which normally means from 50 minutes to one hour.
  • Given the ambition of the project I need to get there step by step. To this purpose I booked previews at the Brighton Fringe in May and a preview to those previews in Birmingham at the end of April. They will probably be 40 minutes shows, leaving room for expansion in the following months.
  • I hope to write a show that will be at least 70% new, but there are routines from the last year's show that I'm not ready to let go yet. I will probably let go the phone call (I have always been very ambivalent towards it) and maybe all the part about the citizenship.
  • The writing of new material is proceeding slowly but steadily. Most of it tends to be about the Italian language v. the English language, so I think that language will become more and more the real focus point.
  • I'm conscious that I will probably change idea on every one of the previous points.
So, in a sense the adventure has already started... how exciting!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Where were we?

I confess: I didn't keep the promise of updating this blog. In my defence I can say that it wasn't just laziness. It's more that the Fringe is such an intense drama, offering a classical narrative of a quest, difficulties and (in the best case scenario) the overcoming of these difficulties. All packed in two or three weeks. For a non-professional comedian, on the other hand. life after the Fringe is a more patchy business. I didn't want this blog to become a list of "I did that gig, it went well", "I did that other gig, it went so and so". Orson Wells once said that cinema should be life with the boring bits left out. So should be blogging.

So, why am I back writing this? Probably because I have the feeling that things are getting interesting again. The first gigs after the Fringe weren't easy at all. Before the festival I knew what my strongest 5-10 minutes were. After doing 20 performances of 30 minutes, however, I wasn't sure any more. I started picking up a different selection at each gig, some of which worked while some worked less, and in most cases the links were quite weak. Besides that, I kept doing bits that worked well in front of a festival audience but not in front of a club audience. As a result, I probably missed some important opportunities.

I probably found my confidence back when I had the chance to do bring my Edinburgh show to the Nottingham Comedy Festival. It went very well despite the small audience and I got a real kick out of it. Besides, some basic adaptation mechanisms started to kick in during my club performances and I resumed some "easier" bits, adding some new "idiom" jokes that seem to work very well. The pick of this process was doing a very successful gig at the Hackney Empire New Act of Year audition, which gained me the qualification to the final. It's something I'm very happy and excited about.

The same week that will end with the Hackney Empire final will also start with the Comedy Store gong show, so I will break twice and in rapid succession my personal record for the biggest audience I will have performed for. A period of almost Fringe-like intensity is going to start. Something with a story that is worth telling.