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.