Articles & a-musing musings...
Periodically I will be adding below articles on various subjects. The most recent at the top and the oldest at the bottom. Enjoy!
During lockdown through the simple edict to stay at home we have been challenged to think through what does ‘Home’ mean to us. Take my situation for example. I had my whole year planned out travelling the UK and abroad performing comedy in clubs, festivals, cruises and churches [now look who’s laughing]. I had not realised how much I took my house and home for granted as I unconsciously saw it as a base from which to strike out from.
For many people home is a place of refuge or a place to hide away from the world. For some it can be a place of pain and strained relationships. And for some it can be a place of loneliness. This time has also gifted us with the chance to appreciate our home, invest time into family and perhaps do some necessary repairs both physically and metaphorically.
It has also become a chance for reinvention. My house as well as a home is now a fully functioning school for our two non-fee paying students. A necessary move as it turns out comedians are not classed as ‘key workers’ [knew I should have gone for that job at Timpsons]. My wife and I have designated educational roles according to our skill base. She is headteacher and all the other teachers, I’m the school janitor. I even conducted our own Ofsted inspection and am pleased to announce that we were found to be Outstanding…. [in the garden].
Over the past few months my appreciation of home has come through working with rough sleepers at a local homeless shelter. With live entertainment on pause I decided to get a job at the shelter rather than have to become a resident. A surprise benefit from lockdown is that space has been created to provide accommodation for all rough sleepers in hotels that are suddenly empty due to Corona. The budget for this initiative has been made available to prevent virus spread but the real benefit will come from many vulnerable people having a roof over their head, 3 meals a day, the chance to get their addictions dealt with and their long term accommodation needs sorted. It’s an exciting project though I have discovered I’m not a natural care provider cum social worker – I’m half expecting one of the residents to heckle ‘’Don’t give up your night job’’.
May this for you be a time to really appreciate ‘home’. Don’t let lockdown simply become a lock-in. We must practice social distancing outside our homes but let’s not practice emotional distancing inside. May this be a time of unexpected spaces created for you. Take time to explore the difficult emotions that may be coming up. Each arrow that pierces your heart may have a message attached. Panning for gold can be a rewarding prospect. With that in mind every last Sunday of the month I host an on-line Zoom event called Men Behaving Vulnerably in which 50+ men discuss what Vulnerability looks like for them alongside contributions from poets and musicians. If you would like to join drop me a message email@example.com
‘’A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.’’ George Moore
As we celebrate Fathers Day this June I’d like to invite all fellow dads to join me in a campaign to kick into touch the false and outmoded trope of the bumbling family man. Born out of a slew of dysfunctional family sitcoms, he’s a deliberate subversion of the standard fifties father [arguably equally as problematic] who was portrayed as wise and in charge.
The hapless dad is lazy, gluttonous, a lovable buffoon whose children love but don’t respect him and has a wife who ends up parenting the husband. You can see it everywhere in media portrayals. Each episode of Everybody Loves Raymond follows a pattern of him solving problems that he himself created. The archetype is most clearly demonstrated in Homer Simpson:
Mr. Bergstrom: Lisa, your homework is always so neat. Does your father help you with it?
Lisa: No. Homework’s not my father’s specialty.
Mr. Bergstrom: Well there’s no shame in it, I mean, my dad—
Lisa: Not mine.
Mr. Bergstrom: You didn’t let me finish—
Lisa: Unless the next word was “burped”, you didn’t have to.
When my kids were really young we watched so much Peppa Pig I don’t think I could ever go to a hog roast again. In one episode Daddy Pig loses his glasses, the entire family search the house only to discover at the end that Daddy Pig was sat on them all the time. ‘Silly Daddy Pig’.
This creeps into mainstream thinking and does a disservice to all sexes. Dads are expected to fail and mums are expected to be perfect. I remember once at a friend’s house my baby daughter had filled her nappy and my toddler son was having a meltdown. I jokingly pretended to cry alongside my little boy whilst comforting him and my friend Joanne quipped ‘You just need to grow a pair’ whilst holding both breasts. I laughed as that was a nice subversion of the phrase usually referring to testicles. It did however subtly imply that you needed to be a woman in order to cope with this kind of intense parenting situation.
I’m aware as a full-time comedian that it is important not to lose ones sense of humour and become overly sensitive or offended over portrayals we may disagree with. Which is why I’m not calling for some kind of meme or hashtag campaign. This trope can be quietly and nobly dismantled by the lives of ordinary men like you and me living with dignity, co-parenting, being as serious about how we act in the home as we do at work or appear on social media.
So as an act of defiance this Fathers Day, do some high level multi-tasking, help the kids with the homework, put up a shelf, mow the lawn and bake some bread then tidy up after yourself – let the Dough Rise and the Doh Fall.
Myself and fellow comedian Andy Kind meet up 12 noon every Tuesday at Al-Qudz Kebeb house in Rusholme Manchester to chew the fat (as well as to talk). We call it ‘Kebab Tuesday’ and are confident with the right amount of Arts Council funding this movement could go national.
The conversation ranges from theology to politics to choice of Kebab. Andy has Chicken Tikka on a plain naan, I have the same but in Greek Flatbread, as in the words of BA Baracus “I Pitta The Fool!”. We’ve agreed as a rule Doner Kebab is best not consumed pre watershed without the accompaniment of 5 beers and 2 Setlers Antacids, after what we entitled “Regret Wednesday”.
People assume as two comedians getting together we would be constantly cracking jokes. Not the case. Trying to make people laugh on stage is our job so we are not interested in procuring this result when conversing in our ‘time off’. The same is true for my friend Gavin who is a Chef, he never wants to cook when he comes home much to his wife’s disappointment. Same also is true for my friend Greg who is a Gynaecologist…Anyway…
For these meet ups I am always 15 minutes late which invariably puts Andy in a bad mood (reason number 2 for general lack of humour). The conversation starts like this:
Andy: “Vino your 15 minutes late, again.”
Me: “I know, but at least I’m consistent”.
Andy “What the hell are you talking about”
Me “Kindy, I don’t think you quite appreciate the dependability of my tardiness. Every week I’m here exactly 15 minutes after our agreed arrival time. You could set your watch by my lateness.”
Andy “OK then next week lets just meet at 12:15.”
Me “Unfortunately that’s not how it works, now I know the revised schedule I will be here at exactly 12.30”.
Andy “Fine lets meet 12:30 then”
Me “Sure but I will arrive at 12:45”
Andy “Vino, you’re an idiot. Buy me a Kebab immediately.”
Me “Sure thing Kindy, do you want chill sauce “
Andy shakes a box of Rennies conspiratorially “Absolutely”
Throughout our friendship Andy has struggled to come to terms with the obligatory 15 minute “Where the flip are you Vino!” window. I have tried to counsel him through the deficiency in his psychology by getting him to see it as a gift, some precious ‘me time’, a chance for him to gather his thoughts and prepare for our humourless dialogue. He mistakenly thinks the answer is for me to set off earlier. However the problem (if we want to phrase it like that), isn’t me being unpunctual it is a technological issue. I have the weekly appointment scheduled in my smart phone ‘Andy – Kebab Tuesday, remember the Gaviscon’. This flashes up on my phone at 12 noon the time we are meant to be meeting. I then send Andy an SMS text saying “I’m on my way” which of course everyone knows actually means “Im getting ready to leave the house”. Then hey presto, I’m there in bang on 15 minutes giving Andy enough time to build up an appetite and some acid reflux.
Giles Brandreth relates a lovely anecdote in his autobiography about meeting Jeffrey Archer for lunch in Sloane Square. At 12.55 Brandreth saw from the restaurant Archers car circle the square three times before he entered the restaurant. When quizzed about this Archer pointed to the clock which showed the time to be exactly 1pm saying “I am never early. I am never late. I am Jeffrey Archer.”
When challenged on my liberal time keeping I prefer to quote Gandalf ‘A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.’
So next time you have a gripe with someone who is a free flowing time bandit like myself and you start to get all annoyed he is not working within your exacting schedule, think to yourself who would I rather meet up with – Jeffrey Archer or Gandalf.
If you want to join the Kebab Tuesday revolution, we are meeting at Al-Qudz Rusholme Manchester next Tuesday 12 noon…ish
In May of this year it was my 39th birthday (“congratulations Tony”), “thanks reader”. According to the well-oiled phrase apparently, life begins at 40. Good job too, I feel like I’ve been waiting a very long time. It’s not that I’m generally waiting for life to begin but more specifically for my ‘adult’ life to kick in. Even though I have all the hallmarks of being an adult such as a wife, children, career and a shed, I still feel like a child flapping around in an adult body. A bit like Tom Hanks in BIG. I get especially intimidated talking to authority figures like doctors, police and receptionists in posh hotels.
One thing that did give me true adult status on my 39th birthday amidst the detritus of age appropriate presents (socks, aftershave, Gaviscon etc) my dad bestowed on me a bottle of wine. Cue Marks & Spencer advert voiceover, ‘This was no ordinary bottle of wine’. This was a vintage 1959 Gran Reserva Rioja from the darkest recesses of his wine cellar. A proper Rudyard Kipling ‘now you are a man my son’ rite of passage moment. With a proud look on his face he presented me with the dusty bottle, I thanked him, wiped it with some Pledge and tried my best not to look disappointed he hadn’t got me Argos vouchers (or Universal Vouchers i.e. money).
Unlike my dad I don’t have a wine cellar. Instead I have a booze cupboard. The only thing in there which comes close to being vintage is an out of date half-finished bottle of Advocaat. This is where I stored my prize Rioja not expecting to take it out until my own sons 39th birthday where I use it to fiddle him out of a proper present too.
Skip forward 3 months to a dinner party at my friends Mark & Rachel’s house. Upon arrival my wife declares “hi guys, we brought a bottle” and nonchalantly places my family heirloom next to the bowl of cheesy puffs. To her it was just a bottle of red which she fished out from the back of the booze cupboard. She was totally unaware it’s worth 50 times more financially and emotionally than the Tesco Australian Shiraz which was sat at the freakin front of the cupboard!!!! I gasped in horror and started to feel nauseous at the prospect of my birthright being glugged down at a mid-week social.
I could have simply explained the mistake and nipped out to buy an alternative. But that would have been the actions of a proper adult and we’ve already established Im still at least 6 months away from that reality. Instead I became the most conflict averse British stiff upper lip saying nothing as the host Rachel pops a corkscrew into my Fathers most precious possession, then pours everyone a glass. “Nice Wine” comments Mark which temporarily eases the painful abyss in my soul but is soon extinguished when someone equally remarks how tasty the Marmite Twiglets are. “Oh Father forgive me for I have….” dear god no Rachel then liberally splashes some of it into the Bolognese sauce for good measure. I was so distraught I couldn’t even bring myself to drinking any of my lost inheritance. The guilt was unbearable, as if I had cashed in my children’s ISA and spent a reckless afternoon at Betfred.
At the end of this disastrous evening I found an empty shoe box and placed the empty bottle into it as if it was a casket containing the corpse of a treasured family pet. When home I filled the bottle with the contents of the Tesco Australian Shiraz and re-inserted the cork. When I present it to my little boy on his 39th birthday in the year 2049 it should have aged that well he will be none the wiser. Next year I’m asking my dad to get me a Nintendo DS, it’s not fun being an adult.
Having two young children I am discovering the difference between inquisitiveness and curiousness. The inquisitive mind wants to know why a hedgehog curls up into a ball, the curious mind wants to see whether it uncurls if I poke it with a stick. The inquisitive side of my kids is intrigued by how things work and the curious side by how things stop working when flung across the room. Their curiosity has led to the breaking of several iPhone screens and my will to live.
With nature curiosity can be especially cruel. I remember boys at primary school pulling the legs off daddy longlegs because curiosity was piqued by the rumour it’s legs continue to twitch after being detached. My mother recalls an incident when my older brother Gordon was 2 .When playing with a plastic bucket and spade in the sand pit an inquisitive sparrow landed next to him. Upon noticing the unsuspecting bird he whacked it over the head with the toy spade instantly snapping its neck. After a few playful thuds of the birdie cadaver he went back to filling a bucket with sand blissfully unaware of his sociopathic toddler cruelty. My stunned mother had to sit down after witnessing a Mary Poppinsesque picture of nature and childhood in blissful co-existence suddenly turning into the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey.
I didn’t fare much better. For my 9th birthday I bought a gerbil and called it Nibbles. I had already demonstrated I could keep something alive after successfully growing cress in a yoghurt pot. My best mate Clippy had been given a radio controlled aeroplane for his birthday which was really unfair as he couldn’t grow cress to save his life. We decided to combine our presents. Aware a monkey had already flown in space we figured how hard could it be to put a gerbil to flight. With cellotape, elastic bands and a margarine tub we turned Clippy’s toy plane into the world’s first rodent based passenger aircraft (with the exception of the two mice riding a seagull in The Rescuers) . I kitted out Nibbles with my action man Battle of Britain flying helmet and goggles. Holes were put in the side and roof of the tub so Nibbles could stick his head out to enjoy the views. I even put dry food pellets in the tub in case Nibbles fancied a ….snack. By providing in flight meals we set our standards higher than most budget airlines. What could possibly go wrong?
After a smooth take off Clippy circled the aircraft in a gentle arc 30 metres above our heads. I took the controls promising Clippy I would be careful. Nibbles periodically poked his head out and with an imperceptible squeak willed me to go “higher, faster, further”. I jerked the lever back, Nibbles began climbing into the atmosphere up and away. After a little while Clippy instructed me to bank round to the left bringing it back towards us. I pressed the lever to the side and to my surprise (and Clippys horror) the plane did not respond. Nibbles reckless goading had caused me to inadvertently fly the plane beyond the range of the controllers radio signal. Like a furry Icarus his cavalier attitude towards flight safety became his downfall.
As the plane disappeared off into the horizon Clippy and I stood silently aghast like a rubbish version of the Wright Brothers. Nibbles may well still be flying to this day, up there in the stratosphere amongst long forgotten Chinese New Year lanterns, Party Balloons and the spirits of viking warriors.
From daddy longlegs, to sparrows, to maverick gerbils, curiosity has indeed killed a whole lot more besides a cat.
My wife believes the inability to notice what blatantly ‘needs to be done’ around the house and my general forgetfulness are due to a lack of ‘mindfulness’. I’m not centred enough to realise items left on the bottom step need taking upstairs and too distracted to remember Monday night the bins go out.
I brush it off with statements like “I’m more of a big picture kind of guy”. Sometimes life gifts us moments to prick our self preservation bubble. Mine came recently on the last day of a year long leadership course. 30 of us gathered for the final time Saturday morning at a conference centre in Leeds. We suffered a hiccup two thirds into the year as our beloved course leader Helen quit her job to take a senior management position at Pirelli Tyres, we all felt very let down. Her replacement, let’s call her Janice (because that’s her name) was instantly disliked by all.
My favourite participant was Barry a business consultant who DJ’s at weekends (though strictly off the record). He rang me the night before saying his dad was in hospital and he may not be able to make the meeting, please could I tell Janice. At the registration desk was www.nofriendsreunited.com Janice. I momentarily distracted by the sight of Blueberry Muffins said in passing “Barry can’t make it today, his dad has died”. Due to a lack of mindfulness I had severely misdiagnosed Barry’s dads condition. In my defence the muffins did look particularly moist.
Janice opened the session with a grand announcement “Good morning everyone, I thought you should all know Barry will not be coming today because his father has sadly died”. ‘Ooops’ I thought as Janice moved on with the mornings teaching. I wrestled internally with how best to rectify the situation, make an announcement or quietly explain my mistake to Janice in the break? After 30 minutes of indecision Barry walked into the room. ‘Ooops’, I thought again. Everyone looks at him putting on their best condolence faces. As he sits down Rachel (mid-level RBS executive) squeezes his hand earnestly. Barry looks confused. During the break a stream of people approach him saying “Sorry to hear about your dad”. Barry thanks each one in turn looking increasingly more perplexed.
I sit paralysed with mounting horror as the situation unfolds. Eventually Barry breaks as Miranda (semi-retired headteacher) forces his head into her heaving bosom and cries “You’re poor Father”. Barry pulls out from the ample cleavage exclaiming “It’s only an ingrown toenail!”. Sympathy for Barry turns into fury towards Janice for her outrageous statement. A middle-class vigilante mob assemble as people discuss how they are going to sternly confront Janice for her gross insensitivity once she’s back from the toilet. Barry in a moment of realisation looks over at me quizzically. In the distance a cock crows and I with head held low do the walk of shame around the room explaining to everyone how I mindlessly relayed the wrong information.
The situation dissolves as does my group status. I sneak off to the toilet furiously clicking my heels together in a vain hope to be transported home. I return at the end of the break looking to comfort myself at the refreshments table only to discover the only treats left are stale Hobnobs. I look over at Janice who is biting into the last blueberry muffin blissfully unaware of the near lynching. Lesson learnt, the following Monday the bins go out fine.
Developing a fine wine pallet after drinking a pallet of fine wines was once considered the benchmark of middle class sophistication. The ability to distinguish between a fruity merlot, a full bodied Shiraz and Lambrini an essential quality for the refined masses.
However all this elitist posturing of the wine quaffing fraternity is a thing of the past. Coffee connoisseurism is taking over. I don’t say this lightly. My surname is Vino and I technically own a wine cellar having stashed a case of Blue Nun in my basement for years. But its true. Try starting a conversation at a house party about what cheese compliments a particular wine and you evoke glazed looks all round. Mention which muffin variety you think goes best with a double shot Americano and watch the fun times commence (Answer of course: Blueberry).
The cultural ascendancy of Coffee can only be a good thing. Unlike wine Coffee is legally consumable by all ages and more socially acceptable to drink at 7am. Also Coffee addiction side effects are mainly irritableness rather than liver damage and loss of house (which itself can lead to severe irritableness). After drinking alcohol many people can become obnoxious, angry or even violent. I am all three of those things before drinking Coffee.
As a proud Coffee snob visiting friends can lead to tense situations:
“Tony, would you like a coffee”
“Real or Instant?”
” I’m leaving now, you are dead to me”
The idea that cheap instant Coffee is an acceptable drink offering in the 21st century is simply ludicrous. It’s like offering a guest a glass of freshly squeezed Orange Juice then serving up Sunny Delight.
Instant Coffee needs to be banned instantly. It actually still has a majority share of the market. Thus proper coffee is known as ‘Non-Instant. This is ludicrous as ‘Instant’ isn’t a drink, it’s a statement of time. Milk out of a bottle is instant. We dont describe it as instant Milk and milk left out in teh sun for a few days as Non-Instant Milk.
Sometimes we feel impotent in the face of declining moral standards, well this is something we can all do to raise the bar on decency and good taste. From now on if someone offers you Mellow Birds, you become an Angry Bird and kill a green pig. If after church they serve up Tesco Value Instant in a Styrofoam cup whisper in the ministers ear “I’m leaving now, you are dead to me”. On your way out, like Jesus in the temple knock over a couple of tables in disgust.
If you are new to the world of acceptable tasting Coffee, there is grace and forgiveness but it’s time to stop. First thing find a local Coffee shop, preferably an independent with Free Wifi (Coffee tastes better with internet access). If not possible, here’s a rundown of the big three:
Starbucks: The least good Coffee but most affordable for a long stay. Purchase a small filter coffee for £1.19 (they call it tall, it’s not tall it’s just small, let it go) you can have as many refills as you like all day. When you develop a nervous twitch and feel paranoid it’s time to leave.
Caffe Nero: By far the best tasting Coffee.
Costa Coffee: Controversially my favourite of all three because their furniture is the most comfortable. Which I know is a bit like going to IKEA for the meatballs but I play by my own rules.
It will take time to rid the world of cheap nasty instant Coffee but unlike the Nescafe couple we will eventually get it together. If not, then I will see you in my basement for some Blue Nun fun.
I think it’s not our successes which make us but our failures. For instance to truly become a comedian you need to die several times on stage. To feel the clawing panic as an audiences goodwill drains from the room and there is nothing you can do to bring it back. At the end of the night you collect the fee from the promoter who looks at you with increasing disdain with each £20 note he unwillingly slaps into your palm as if you’ve just mugged him.
My worst ever death on stage still haunts me. I was at a charity boxing event at the Hull KC Stadium. There were 12 fights scheduled and the promoter thought wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a comedian on beforehand (the answer is no it wasn’t a good idea). I had to do the set from the middle of the ring whilst 600 people sat all around on large circular tables eating their 3 course meal. Once I started it soon became clear there was a fault with the wireless microphone which intermittently kept cutting out, mainly during the punchlines. The PA’s anti-comedy timing was impeccable. After a couple of minutes those few people who were trying to listen in between mouthfuls of chicken kiev shouted “we can’t hear you”. A man from the PA desk ran to the side of the ring and said “pass me the microphone”. He put a new battery in it whilst I stood in the middle of the ring thinking to myself I have more chance of beating tonight’s Heavyweight contestants than winning over this crowd. With mic in hand once again I continues my routine, unfortunately the mic problem persisted and after a few minutes everyone had given up trying to listen to whatever I had to say. Amidst the din of people’s chatter and general indifference another man came to the side of the stage. He looked quite official in a black suit and said “pass me the microphone”. I gave it to him but to my horror he brought it to his mouth and shouted “You’re shit!” and then just passed it back. There are times when it’s best to accept when you are beaten. I could hear Mickey Goldmill from Rocky in my imagination from the corner of the ring shouting “stay down Tony”. I was booked to do 45 minutes. I looked at my watch = 8 minutes. I managed another two minutes before the promoter came over and threw a white towel into the ring – this got the biggest laugh of the night.
I got straight into my car not stopping to sign autographs. Mercifully there was an emergency exit out of the changing room into the car park. I felt this catastrophic death warranted the classification of an emergency. When I got home I was still in a state of shock having literally been to Hull and back. However there was also a sense of peace as I realised that this was as bad as it gets. One of my worst nightmares had come true and in the end it didn’t matter. I was still alive, still a comedian and loved by those who are important to me. The next morning my kids cuddles and kisses were not contingent on whether I did well the night before. Also they think I’m funny – my Peekaboo routine always smashes.
Theodore Roosevelt at his Citizenship in a Republic speech in Paris 1910 said:
‘It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena;
Who at the best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.’
Whatever challenges you have ahead of you don’t let fear of failure stop you getting in the ring. Dare greatly and if you do get knocked down, go find the emergency exit.
My favourite TV show as a child was Record Breakers with the trumpet toting Roy Castle. The theme tune repeated the mantra ‘Dedications all you need’. But is it? How about the essentials like a house, love and coffee. Dedication to a cause does seem like a self-evident good. Staying power and the ability to commit are qualities you generally admire in others and hope to cultivate in yourself. But surely it depends on what you commit to. What if the cause is dead or worse, dead stupid.
I’ve recently read about a man who for me captures this conundrum. Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese Imperial Army Lieutenant in the Pacific Theatre (that’s the 2nd world war not a venue which stages Miss Saigon). In 1944 he is sent to the Philippine Island of Lubang with instructions to disrupt the enemy occupation and never surrender. He faithfully held out in the mountain jungles of the Island fighting for another 30 years, 29 years after the end of the war.
Now that’s what I call dedication!
But it’s not all he needs. What he needs is information. Someone to tell him the war is over. As he and his handful of compatriots take to the hills, leaflets are dropped by authorities informing them of the surrender by Japan. They believe this to be an Allied conspiracy so they carry on fighting. More years go by and newspapers showing the end of the war as well as messages from loved ones are dropped for Hiroo and his fellow remainers to see. Again they see this as a ploy (declaring it Fake News, take note Mr Trump) and he continued to fight on for 29 years. Meanwhile all his colleagues surrender or are killed in skirmishes with local police.
Now that’s what I call dumb!
Dedication isn’t all he needs. What he needs is perspective. The military culture he had come from was all or nothing, ‘never quit, never surrender’. If only someone had qualified that maxim with ‘unless you find yourself in a freakin jungle for 20 years’, in that instance ‘definitely quit, definitely surrender’.
In 1973 Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was found in the mountain jungles of Lubang by a hippie backpacker from Japan. They strike up a friendship but Hiroo still refuses to believe the war was over and that Japan would ever have surrendered. The only way he would believe it is if his commanding officer comes and tells him in person. The Hippie tells the people at home and in 1974 Japanese authorities fly out his old commanding officer who at this point was a book seller.
Onoda was thus properly relieved of duty, turned over his sword, his functioning rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades, as well as the dagger his mother had given him in 1944 to kill himself with if he was captured. He returns to Japan to a Hero’s welcome and a serious amount of backpay. Presumably they gave him time and a half for Christmas and New Year. He writes a memoir, gets a movie made out of his story (essentially being the real life Japanese version of Captain America) in which he decries the loss of traditional values in modern Japan, then moves to Brazil to be a Cattle Farmer. A perfectly normal life all in all.
Life is complex and can’t be reduced into a single maxim. It needs wisdom and a whole lot more than just dedication. For instance if a personal trainer says something moronic to you like ‘Go hard or go home’, just go home.
My friend Jeff came round for drinks, nibbles and a game of Risk. It was getting late and he was about to smash my European borders so I decided to call him a taxi (he didn’t see that move coming). Jeff insisted there was no need to use the phone as he could order a taxi using the Uber App. I pointed out he would still technically be using the phone, then called my local taxi company because I’m ‘Old Skool’ like that.
Call me old fashioned but I prefer to have a human involved in the process. Don’t get me wrong it’s not as though there’s much of a relationship with the guy answering the phone at my local taxi company. He’s as close to an App as is humanly possible. He doesn’t even say hello, just “Taxi?”. If I reply with “No thanks, just rang for a chat” he’s never up for any banter. The guy’s literally Uber serious. A man who knows he’s part of a dying breed like the Woolly Mammoth in Ice Age. His role is utterly replaceable by two taps of a touch screen. I can hear the existential angst in his voice, “Where you wanna go mate?” as if asking himself the same question about life and career.
Like our Industrial Revolution predecessors, we in the Digital Age need to question our decisions amidst the incessant emergence of new technology. We’re at a fulcrum, a point of choice, man V’s machine, should we always go with the automatic check-out at the supermarket. What’s that ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’, the destruction of our species or a red herring you forgot to scan.
The Luddites smashed up textile machinery back in the early 19th century as they saw the wholesale redundancy of skilled human labour. Do we need a similar movement and smash the screens on our smartphones. Apple have made this remarkably easy as you simply need to breathe on the iPhone 6 screen and it cracks under pressure like a News of the World Editor in the Leveson Inquiry. Would it be human progress to regress back to the Nokia 3210 playing snake instead of Bejewelled?
With driverless cars it won’t be long until the Uber car you order will just be a SatNav on wheels. No driver to awkwardly speak to “Hi, whats you name” = “Tom Tom but you can call me Tom”
20 years ago I understood my own replaceability with a weekend job where I stood with promotional signs in the town centre. An arrow pointing to Dominos reading ‘2 for 1 Pizzas’ that sort of thing. I remember thinking I should quit. Any job where I can be replaced by a lamppost is not a great career option.
Shops are shutting as people buy through Amazon who will soon deliver packages via Quadcopter rather than a bloke in a van. With advanced Artificial Intelligence even human cognition can be replaced. Futurologists reckon for instance with biometric testing we won’t need doctors. Computers will better diagnose illness and prescribe treatment.
AI could lead to a huge ‘useless class’ of people with jobs done more cheaply and effectively by the Terminator. As an entertainer is my job safe? Jump 20 years forward as you step into a comedy club robot is on stage and in a stilted Austrian accent announces “I am the comic T-1000, a cybernetic organism, living tissue over a metal endoskeleton here for your entertainment”. A 1 million terabit memory replete every joke ever written. How can I compete with that? Not only can he recite the best gags ever written, he can banter with the audience and be charmingly self-deprecating “Hey what do I know, my grandfather was a toaster!”.
They can take our jobs but they can never take our humanity. Even if your working days are numbered. Whether a taxi driver, pilot, GP or comedian, for the time being give it everything you’ve got. Your love, compassion and personality is irreplaceable. If you hold up signs for a living, give people a little wink and a smile as they walk by. Bend down, stroke a dog then persuade it to go wee on a lamppost, up yours future!
When doing a Q&A I’m often asked what is the most important thing when it comes to writing stand-up. If feeling facetious I say “The hyphen”. My serious answer is that whether writing for stage or page the most important thing is to simply TURN UP. People are fascinated by what are the sources of inspiration and the writing process, do you use a pen and paper, index cards or are the routines gifted from heaven on golden plates by the Archangel Gabriel. All that is secondary to simply sitting down and writing.
Like any form of work turning up is the foundation to all creative processes. However unlike other types of work when it comes to art and creativity people think normal rules don’t apply. With a ‘regular’ job you have to turn up and do it, even if you are not in the mood. Imagine a tannoy announcement at a GP’s waiting room “Unfortunately Doctor Hammond is unable to see anyone today as he is not feeling the muse”. No McDonalds employee when told to serve at the tills has asked “Yes but what is my inspiration” (the answer is £8.67 an hour).
The best comedians don’t just see the 30 minutes on stage as their job but spend their days working on material improving the craft. They don’t wait for inspiration to hit, a call from the BBC commissioning department or the moon to be in line with Aquarius, they simply write. And why not? Most people work nine to five, some comedians struggle to work more than nine to half past.
Everyone is an artisan within their own world. Creativity and artistry are part of being human. The ability to create something from our imagination separates us from the animals (that and cutlery). However there is a natural force working against bringing your creative self to the surface. Whenever you try and get on with your creative project there is a sense of resistance almost like gravity. As you push in one direction there is a push back. It’s like the feeling you get when waking up too early for work. The alarm goes off and all you want to do is hit the ‘snooze button’. That force of resistance can take many distracting forms, lethargy, an internal critic saying what you are doing is rubbish, lunch invite, urgent desire to re-arrange your sock drawer etc.
There are loads of books on art and creativity. I have a read a tonne of them. In fact many times I have sat down to write and ended up instead just reading a book on creative writing. It’s like planning to go jogging then sitting on the couch reading Mens Health magazine instead. All of these books say the same thing. You simply need to get on and do the work without succumbing to distractions in order for something amazing to be produced. I reckon there was rarely an ‘Out To Lunch’ sign pasted to the front door of the Sistine Chapel when Michelangelo was around.
So whatever that creative project is within you it is only you that can gift it to the world. Whether a song, a poem, a talk, a new plan for the office lay-out, just turn up and do it. There are no shortcuts, no magic formulas to getting good, just action. Don’t pre judge your best efforts before you have started. I will leave you with something Van Gogh once wrote ” If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”.