Sunday, March 28, 2010

Musical Comedy Awards 2010

From existing only in the comedy wilderness and filed under 'novelty song', musical comedy has now been welcomed back into the fold thanks primarily to Messers Bailey and Minchin making it cool again (for the first time?)

In honour of this fact, Ed Chappel has set up the Musical Comedy Awards to celebrate the best newcomers, and he hosted the Grand Final which took place at the New Players Theatre in Charing Cross on Friday. The finalists had been through a fair few rounds (a nice way of saying I'm not quite sure how many...) and earned the right to perform alongside the current crop of tiptop musical comics including the wonderful Ginger and Black, uber-cool Pippa Evans as scuzzy US country singer Loretta Maine and one of my faves, Mr Tom Basden.

The standard was pretty high and, it has to be said, pretty even. Rob Carter kicked things off, just him and his guitar and, it would appear, a deep love of Flight of the Conchords (not a bad thing). Genuinely odd stuff - a song about getting bullied turns into one about a boy with a face that looks very much like a pizza... both funny haha and funny peculiar.

Next up were Amateur Transplants who are NHS workers with a sideline in doing parodies of existing songs. Not all hit the mark, but their last song - a satirical look at tube strikes using The Jam's Going Underground - is a winner; in fact I remember the YouTube clip doing the rounds at uni, showing it has legs. Positive sign.

Horse and Louis came next, and performed as an inappropriate duo teaching kids about the dangers of drugs through song (well-worn territory, but really well performed), as well as themselves. Their gigglesome take on automated phone systems went down particularly well, and they bagged themselves second place.

York Uni alumnus Jay Foreman was the penultimate performer and his ditties covering Stealing Food and finding An Imperfect Girl seemed to be the first of the night to really win over the neutrals - I wasn't quite that, being a fellow York...ian, but he certainly made me laugh the most, and he's a genuinely great musician. Mr Foreman was placed an honourable (but too low, judges!) third.

Last up, and the eventual winners, were Abandoman - a three-man Irish improvised hip-hop troupe Abandoman. Of course. It has to be said that what they do - and lead rapper Rob Broderick in particular - is frankly astonishing. He uses snippets of information from two members of the audience, and from that improvises a whole slo-jam around it, incorporating the most RIDICULOUSLY brilliant rhymes along the way. The guy is clearly super-talented. The question, to play Devil's Advocate, is whether this is actually musical comedy or one hell of a party piece... either way, they slayed the crowd.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ben Folds indulges in a bit of live ChatRoulette fun...

Depending on the amount of time you spend online, and specifically YouTube and that maker-and-breaker of overnight YouTube sensations Twitter, you may be completely familiar with "Merton's" fun, warm and witty take on ChatRoulette - the site where one user chats live with another chosen at complete random - or, you might be completely unaware of it. If you're in the latter camp, catch up here...

[EDIT: Merton's video was down for a while there but should be fine now!]

Thanks to Merton's playing style, sense of humour and kick-ass specs, there's been a rumour that he's in fact Ben Folds; though you just have to listen to his voice to come to the conclusion that, well, he's definitely not. News of the rumour must have reached old Benny though, so at a recent show in his near-home-town of Charlotte, North Carolina, he did a bit of ChatRoulette piano improv himself. Course he did. Cos he's ACE. Take a look:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Giggles on the radio

I've been to a couple of rather wonderful recordings of Radio 4 comedy recently, and listened to a few more shows the old fashioned way, on the radio (Actually, that's entirely untrue, I've listened to them the very new fashioned way, on iPlayer.) So, I thought I'd share.

First up was the live recording of two episodes - 1 and 3 oddly - of Party, a four-part sitcom version of Tom Basden's play that I saw up in Edinburgh (ok, and down in London) in which five young and essentially clueless idealists set up a political party in its self-appointed leader's shed (or summerhouse, as he insists). It's broader than the theatre version, certainly, but the writing's still wonderful, and the performances still pitch perfect. Jonny Sweet is especially brilliant as that disputed leader, a campus Clegg/Cameron/Blair-like lothario; and Tim Key's immaculate timing is given a great showcase as the newest member of the party, drafted in because he new dad owns a print shop (though he thinks he's there for another reason entirely - listen on iPlayer for the twist).

Also worth a mention - several, in fact - is The Museum of Curiosity, of which there have been a couple of series already. For the uninitiated, the show is presented by comedy producer/godlike genius John Lloyd, and he's joined by a different 'curator' each series; Bill Bailey, Sean Lock and now the brilliant Jon Richardson. Three contributors - comedians, scientists, authors, historians, generally fascinating people - donate something the museum each week, and that something can be absolutely anything, no matter how huge, tiny, fictional or dead. I won't give away what Shappi Korsandhi, Terry Pratchett and Marcus Chown ("cosmology consultant of New Scientist") gave to the museum, but I will say that all three spoke passionately about their donation, and that Chown's made my brain hurt for days. The series will air later in the Spring.

Finally, a one-off to catch on iPlayer before it disappears (you've only got 'til 11.30 tonight, I'm afraid...) Tom Wrigglesworth was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award at last year's Fringe, and while I was behind Key and had missed Wrigglesworth's show, the fact that so many people I trust were eulogising about him suggested that he would nonetheless be a very worthy winner. This radio show is a half-hour version of his 'Open Letter to Richard Branson' in which he recalls a particularly eventful trip on a Virgin train which saw him arrested and, eventually, effect a fundamental change on company policy. A very funny and eloquent man ranting and raving against unthinking jobsworths - gotta be worth a listen, right? Right.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mark Watson's (and my) Ten Year Self Improvement Challenge

I thought I'd welcome the little influx of readers I've had thanks to lovely Mark Watson's generous recommendation with a blog in kind - one that recommends his own latest venture.

Anyone with a passing interest in his work will know that Mark's not averse to the odd challenge (odd can be taken with either meaning, to nick Rhys Darby's joke) - whether that's attempting to be less Crap At The Environment, or helming day-long comedy shows. Thanks to a combination of the latter being put to bed or at least on very extended hiatus, reaching his 30th year and the arrival of his first child (welcome to the world, Kit Watson) Mark's now looking to the future. Ten years in the future, in fact, by which time he hopes to be a more positive person - a personal "journey" lasting an entire decade, on which he hopes to be joined by lots of people similarly hoping to make a real change in their lives.

Where Watson leads many are following - just take a look at the comments on his blog which contain dozens of touching promises of self-improvement from learning to play an instrument or travelling the world to changing jobs, gaining self-confidence or getting published. It's a hub of mutual encouragement - the very act of stating, in writing, that you're going to do something does in fact seem to be having a hugely motivating effect; already aims are being met, little changes made.

Personally, I have set only a couple of rather small, and - compared to some of the worthy and ambitious challenges being proposed - embarrassingly achievable goals. The first is simply to get back into the habit of reading. I read voraciously as a kid, and there was never any doubt that I would study English Lit (though perhaps combined with theatre studies) at university. Like many Lit students, though, the sheer pace through which you have to get through heavy tomes at uni meant that I took something of a break when I finished, and for some reason it was the last thing I felt like doing during the period of anxiety which quickly followed. So it fell out of my routine.

The good thing about this particular challenge, of course, is that it is not only the process of reading which is undeniably A Good Thing, but I can also hopefully achieve a little bit of that 'Self-Improvement' through the content too - I'm not talking about self-help books of course, just fiction and non-fiction that will leave me a little wiser and more informed on life, the universe and everything.

I've taken, it has to be said, something of a 'soft' start in the self-improvement stakes with Mark Kermode's It's Only A Movie and Juliet, Naked, but we've got ten years so there's no need to run before I can walk. Next up though is Millennium, a history of Europe around 1000AD; and I'd imagine it's an era I'll return to sporadically over the decade as I enjoyed studying Anglo-Saxon so much at uni (once all the mind-bending grammar was out of the way and we actually got onto the literature and historical context, at least). In fact, five of so years down the line I may make a bit of Anglo-Saxon-to-modern English translation part of my TYSIC... Then again, I may have forgotten all I'd learnt by that point. Watch, as they say, this space.

The second part of my TYSIC can scarcely be called a challenge - it's just something I want to do, and TYSIC might provide the motivation: to go to more live sport. I have been to one live professional sporting event (Wimbledon last year in the blazing sun) so it's not a case of "you can't very well watch more than nothing", but it's not far off, and this despite the fact that I will sit and watch everything from football to snooker to curling to cross-country running on TV. So it's time to get out there - dad's a big cricket and footy fan, mum loves athletics and Paul's into a lot of American sports so there's really no excuse. Olympics, here I come. Eventually.

The biggest trial of all, of course, is actually for Mark and all the TYSICites to maintain the challenge for ten years; for him to keep blogging, and us to keep reading, commenting and generally participating. I would imagine there'll be meet-ups and games and mini-challenges along the way, but come March 2020, will those of us involved from the start really still have TYSIC on our minds? Mark's burgeoning positivity, the involvement of so many fine people (several of whom you can follow in blog form via the Latest Blog Posts section down the left there), and the success of Mark's past projects all give me hope.