Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's About To Kick Off...

...and the broadsheets are busy talking up this year's potential winners. Part of this must be based on the previews, but part of it must be on gut instinct and therefore be of dubious reliability, but still, you assume that these people have some qualifications, know what they are talking about and their opinion may count for something. Or it could simply be a quick way of filling newspaper pages.

So, in no particular order, the Times mention Elizabeth and Raleigh (which judging by those involved just has to be worth a look), Hans Teeuwen (getting a few shouts, this bloke) and Umridge Swain, amongst 47 others; the Telegraph do a mammoth 100 reasons to go, and include Idiots Of Ants (very funny last year, for sure), Dan Antopolski (veteran, could go either way) and the ever-reliable Mark Watson; and the Guardian, always at the forefront with their coverage, again cover Teeuwen, as well as Daniel Kitson (great if a keeps control of his rambling) and John Pinette.

Lots of coverage of the Box Office woes, which as of today seem to finally be sorted; and finally one very good reason to avoid a show like a freeze-dried plague.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

It Begins...

So the programme is out, and speculation as to who this year's big names are going to be has begun in earnest. The usual suspects are present and correct - Mark Watson, Rhod Gilbert, Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Simon Amstell... Tim Minchin's back, after sensibly taking a year off, hopefully to write some decent songs... Otis Lee Crenshaw is always worth a punt...

One of my favourite shows from last year is back - Celebrity late-night quiz show We Need Answers, hosted in a very individual but charming style by Mark Watson, Tim Key and Alex Horne.

As to new names to watch out for, The Guardian blog mentions a few - Louis CK, Dan Nightingale etc. There's also interesting-looking Theatre, and as usual the Traverse is at the forefront.

This Edinburgh Comedy Festival thing is a bit odd, is it not? Is it actually a seperate festival? No, seeing as the venues involved are still selling tickets via the Fringe Box Office. Is it marketing? Yes, probably. All it makes me do is be more determined to visit venues not included in their little club- most notably The Stand.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Story So Far

Usually by this stage in the Festival you can get some feeling for possible award nominees, but this year it's difficult to see who is really getting the "buzz" - at least from this distance. By looking at the reviews, all that comes across is wild inconsistency, with several acts getting a slating in one paper, only to be praised to the rafters in another. Plus the lazier reviewers just seem to enjoy giving away the act's best jokes, which does nobody any favours.

Mark Watson seems to be one of the few acts to be universally praised - is the world finally waking up to his talents? Apart from a few lacklustre performaces on Mock The Week he's not really famous yet, but you do get the sense he's about to be. Could this be his year? The same could apply to any number of the "nearly famous" - Michael McIntyre, Adam Hills, Reginald D Hunter, Nina Conti, Lucy Porter - all getting decent notices, all regulars on the panel show circuit, none of them yet famous enough to be excluded from the awards roster.

What of the relative unknowns? Stephen Grant, Nick Doody, Steve Day, Izy Sutie, numerous interchangable angry Australians - all are getting reasonable write-ups, but nothing really leaps out as this year's "must-see". At least, not yet. Traditionally the pace picks up around now, and the If.Comeddie nominations are announced on Wednesday next week, so expect the promoters to really wheel out the big guns in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Fringe Survival Guide part two

2. Plan Carefully.

To see everything you want is impossible, but with a bit of thought and planning you can see most things on your wish-list. It also helps if you're ever-so-slightly anal.

Some shows will sell out quickly: special offers, well-known comics, acts who did well the previous year. These will often be "known quantities", so should be a fair guarantee of enjoyment. Book up at least one evening of this sort of thing in advance. Then wait until the festival actually starts, read some reviews, sense who the buzz is about - and book up further shows then. Finally, always leave at least one evening unplanned until you get up there - some of the best shows you will see will be following the recommendation of someone you met in a queue.

When planning an evening of shows, take the city's geography into account. Try to book things on the same night at the same venue, if possible. You don't want to be tearing all over the city to get to your next show - you want to be gently supping a beer in the Pleasance Courtyard, acting all cultural and saying things like, "ooh look, it's Richard Herring."

Pace yourself too - leave time to chat, eat, drink and do all the things you would do in normal polite society. Shows will run late - leave at least half an hour between them.

Be democratic. It's best to go in a big group, so you will need to take everybody's views into account. Unless they suggest going to see Jimmy Carr, in which case ignore them by all means.

Vary what you see. You will quickly develop stand-up fatigue - the same jokes will start to appear, and you may even start to speak in the rhythms of the comic. Should this happen, either get someone to hit you (there should be an orderly queue forming amongst your party), or do something else for a bit. If all you like is comedy, see some sketch shows. Otherwise, see a play, see some art, even see some "physical theatre" (at some point every Fringe-goer must see some incomprehensible Polish interpretive dance - no-one will take you seriously otherwise).

And above all, relax. It's not worth getting too stressed about it all. If all else fails, you can just turn up at a venue and see the next thing going. If it's the worst thing you've ever seen, sit in a bar with your group and rant about exactly how shit it was. Some of my fondest Fringe memories are of doing precisely that.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Fringe Survival Guide part one

It's Sunday, it's early August and that can only mean one thing: The Edinburgh International Festival opens today. Rejoice! The rest of the country may be headed for the beaches, but the prospect of three weeks of non-stop comedy, theatre and general cultural hi-jinks renders The Distractor so excitable that it borders on the embarrassing. And anyway, the sun hurts our skin.

So, as part of the build-up to actually going up there (at which time things may well go quiet on this page - well, there are other things to do), we present some top tips for making your Festival experience as rewarding as possible. Starting with:

1. Avoid the big names.

It goes against the whole ethos of the festival. Surely it's better to see an eager newcomer with plenty to prove in an intimate dark room, rather than someone coasting to the converted in a cavernous, atmosphere-free enormo-venue? What would you rather tell people - that you paid seven quid to see a star of tomorrow in a sweaty bar, or that you paid thirty-seven quid to see a past-it fat bloke trot out his "ironic" unpleasantries in a castle? Yes Gervais, I'm looking at you.

The thought process goes something like this: "Do I really need to write a whole new show and flog it for the whole three weeks to forty people a night - or can I get away with three shows of recycled old stuff at the EICC?" If their answer is yes, then they've lost all respect for their audience and they have officially lost it. From that point on, you can easily catch them fronting TV panel shows, developing their sitcom or appearing in building society adverts, so don't bother wasting an hour on them at the Fringe. Your time is precious enough.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Fourth Most Depressingly Influential Record Ever

4. Bob Dylan- Blowin' In The Wind

"How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?" How many, Bob? Say, about, ooh, six? What's that? The answer is blowing in the wind? Well, thanks for that, Bob. Not at all wasting my time, then.

I've always been suspicious of lyric-heavy music. Music, for me, is about feel first, and if the words make you think well, that's a bonus. Poetry simply set to music feels forced or jarring. And musicians don't seem to be best qualified to tell me about the world - a coke-addled hedonist is more than welcome to cheer me up or bring me down with a well-executed chord change, but get them to try to explain my existence in the universe and they're on pretty rocky ground.

Not that I don't love Bob Dylan. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is a brilliantly surreal string of non-sequiturs, and his later work is wonderfully curmudgeonly - is there a more world-weary chorus than "I used to care, but things have changed"? But "Blowin' In The Wind" was the first in a long line of cod-philosophical yawners, the first link in a chain that ended with Sting singing about blue turtles.

My main problem with this song is that it inspired many, many oh-so-earnest singer-songwriters with lesser talents to have a go. Chris Martin, a would-be philosopher who contributed to Q magazine's recent Dylan tribute issue, sang "Climb up, up in the trees, Every chance you get, is a chance you seize." (Speed Of Sound). Which may apply to monkeys but says nothing to me about my life. Coldplay understudies Embrace are currently boring the arse off the charts with "Nature's Law", which features such platitudes as "you should never fight your feelings, when your very bones believe them... You have to follow nature's law." Yes, I'm sure that will stand up in court.

Alanis Morrisette, Oasis, Pete Doherty, all are guilty of producing lyrics which intend to be profound but in the end signify nothing. And it all started with Bob, and lines like, "how many times must a man look up, before he sees the sky?" Well, that one's easy. Assuming he's outside, just the once.