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.