Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Piece...

I'm working through my material to construct my set. So far it includes murder, sex, colds, maybe getting visas (but not sure), Madge & Guy's divorce, and lawyers--all the sorts of things that beset us in our quotidian existence. Sounds cheerful too.

Trouble is, I can't really say what's in it...I'm trying to intimate.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ain't No Butterfly...

We constructed a show tonight with two halves and placed performers according to where they would fit the structure. It was a balance between almost soft and loud as well as other aspects.

There was also a feeling of inevitability about tonight's class because we are now concentrating on refining material we have already created. It is more or less there, done, waiting for revision.

Some of us are using news as a basis for our material, and so for me the impending divorce of Madge and Guy is a godsend. But it also means that I am sinking into the mire. Let me put it this way when I read that Guy was bummed out with his marriage, it was clear that this had no connection to boredom.

My persona therefore sinks lower and lower. Chris was nice enough to say that the contrast between my voice's smooth delivery and the "naughtiness" of what is actually said creates an obvious disjuncture. Anger, woe, and frustration all play their part. The last two weeks have opened my eyes to another me.

I'm happy I've begun to find my voice: it's not what I expected. So, up with the introspection and on with the rehearsing and writing. And it's still hard.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What the Hell's Your Persona?

Preparing new material to perform in front of one's peers week on week in the comedy class is bloody hard. Especially when there are other things going on like moving home, starting teaching new classes, and dealing with a big "mancold". (I have a friend in Oxford to thank for that.)

Somewhere along the line almost without thinking or even being aware of it, my persona has crept forth into an alien world and presented itself to me. As I've hinted before, it's not quite what I expected. I now understand the true meaning of the film Alien; I think I've got one inside me.

This week we were concentrating on persona. According to Chris there are essentially three types: high; audience's mate; and low. They aren't necessarily correlated to status or intelligence, but rather to one's relationship with the world--how one lives in the world. This is a far more subtle approach to studying social types than is conventionally found. Most indicators of status refer to external indicators such as education levels, income, and even class.

So, for example, someone like Jack Dee is a high status persona. He's in control, he's withering, and he looks down on the audience. Whereas Bill Bailey is jolly and buddies with the audience. And finally, Will Smith (the posh one), despite being posh is actually quite low status as the world does its worst to him.

As we went through our sets, we were focussing on what is his or her persona. And it's not always as easy as you might think. Some people's persona's were ambiguous and crossed over at times.

We have two definite lows in our group while the remainder are evenly divided between high and audience's mate. We have the intellectuals, the whingers, the City boys, cheeky chappies, the social commentators, and even a confused ethnic.

Chris, our teacher, has a method of selecting us to perform which is we put our names in his hat and he picks the first to go up to the microphone. The performer then selects the next and on. You have no idea of when your turn will come.

This being week 5 of our course we are getting a bit more experienced in what works and what flops. The acts are getting stronger, funnier, and leaner. But last week, for example, was a big flop for me. And after I got over the depression, I realized how it could be improved. So this time I was last on.

My set was angry, bemused, and gross. That's the only way I can describe it. And I'm not going into detail on this one. Those who were there will know why. When it came to analyzing the persona, everyone agreed that it was "low". I'm still pondering this as I thought it might be high, but I am now understanding what it at play here. And indeed, I agree my comic persona is low. What is not involved here is any kind of stigma but rather a type that works in performance. It isn't necessarily part of one's real everyday life.

We are now honing our material written over the last weeks as we zoom towards our debuts. There's still new material to write. And our anxiety levels are soaring as we realize that moment is no longer a distant galaxy in the future which will take a few light years to reach. I wish...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Professionalism and Patronage and My Sinuses

Terry Johnson, in Professions and Power, remarked there were essentially two ways to resolve the inherent tension in the relationship between producer and consumer. All right he did have a third but that's not at issue here.

I had to visit a doctor which is why this came to mind. Every year I get a cold at this time of year. You can set your calendar by it. It has the exact same result each time. As I get to the end--that catarhhal stage when my sinuses awaken like the Kraken and pour forth their evil issue into the world (enough)--I always find my sinuses get infected. They just do and no matter what I do, they will. They truly have a life independent of me.

Because I'm in the middle of moving home, I'm away from my normal doctor. When I visit her, she listens sympathetically, prescribes the wide-spectrum antibiotics and I'm away and better in a week. All really quite simple.

This time I went to a walk-in clinic in Soho. This place is used to seeing every imaginable disease walk off the street. Mine doesn't even register on their scale. Even their form refers to triage--memories of "Mash" flash by.

When I saw my nurse, I told my story. She flicked through multiple screens and said, "The computer says 'No'." Well, almost: she said, "Antibiotics are contraindicated because you don't have a bacterial infection." This on the back of no tests and my prior experience.

"Go home and inhale steam," she said.

"That doesn't work anymore. I can't sleep and I can't work," I almost yelled but not quite.

She turned away from her screen and grimly looked at me. "What makes you think you know better than me?"

The killer question. I screwed myself up and announced, "It's my body and I know how it works. And it's done precisely the same thing for the last several years. One course of antibiotics will clear this up. Simple. That's how I know."

She glared at me. "Well I think it's contraindicated but I will give it to you anyway."

Oh thank bloody god for that.....

She did, but with bad grace. And when I said thank you and goodbye (without gloating), she only murmured a brief bye.

According to Johnson, in the 18th century medicine was one of those occupations where typically patients told their physicians what was wrong with them and what they expected to be done. Given the state of medical knowledge, that probably was a safe thing to do. It was a form of patronage where the client determined the resolution of this tension I referred to at the start.

The 20th century was characterized by the rise of professionalism where the producer became the dominant partner. Now of course external regulation has taken a firmer grip.

I felt rather chipper about reinvigorating some 18th century values for a change. And I can already feel my sinuses getting better. Did someone say placebo? Get out!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Weird Personas

The personas are coming to the fore now the more we perform in class. There's the City boy, the charmer, the self-deprecator, the mouth and more. None of them has been forced but you can see an element of inner struggle as the persona works its way through the layers of consciousness we overlay on everything. (Give it up for the superego!)

Mine is more mixed than I thought. Chris, our tutor, said something about a mixture of charm and harshness. The charm is in the delivery and the harshness appears in the words. There is a suppressed anger emerging. I like it: it's a new me. I'm still trying to come to terms with it.

We listened to Jerry Seinfeld riffing on New York cabs. If you've been in them, you'll empathize immediately. It was only two and a half minutes, but by the time we'd analyzed it, we were exhausted at seeing what he was doing--anthropomorphism, bathos, 3 part lists, inner monologues and much more. According to Chris, Seinfeld probably performed this material a hundred times before he considered right for recording.

Here is a YouTube clip of the piece, which is an earlier "draft". And there are many differences between this "unrefined" performance and the one I heard. So much to learn. It's fantastic!


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A New Comedy Class Tonight...

As I thinking about tonight's comedy class I wrote to a friend.

I have my third class tonight. The fact that it takes place in a room above a pub seems most appropriate to me--no esteemed halls of academe--especially as I can pop down for a drink half way. God, I need it.

It's a feeling of exposing yourself in a way that I've never done before. Giving papers etc, is play acting. There's the audience and already you know how you are going to play them. It's pure Goffman (the cooling the mark out bit...). It is fun: I know for many giving papers may not fall into the category of fun, but there comes a time when you think sod it I refuse to be nervous and anxious every time I do this. That creates a space for improv and surprise. But in standup it's immediate even though it's prepared and the audience reaction is also immediate. The last thing you want is a thoughtful critique of your material and performance (otherwise known as heckling).

Back to the material. And one thing the writing of this stuff is just as hard as the other kind of writing!