Oh do shut up.

Last night I sat in a pub function room with about ten other people sitting a written general knowledge quiz originating from Croatia. Last Saturday I was sat in a pub function room in Liverpool answering 150 questions as part of something called Quiz in the North. Three days previous, the boyfriend and I  both made our debuts in the Merseyside Quiz League. And for quizzers, December is the off season.

Like all the Chasers I live and breathe quiz. Outside the “glamour” of the show, quizzing could not be more different, a world of early travel in freezing weather, spending the rest of the day hoping your brain will overcome sleep deprivation. And for what? Outside of telly the most reward we get is the quiet, grudging respect of our peers. And we work really hard to achieve that.

With all due respect to screeching online wall of sound that routinely emerges every time we, god forbid, take advantage of the hard work and play well, why the devil would I or the others, risk all that hard earnt respect to take part in a fix?

I was there at Jenny’s recording that was broadcast last night. When I recognsied Charlie from 15-1 and University Challenge, I knew they had to be favourites to win, but was not expecting 24. I too thought they had won. But guess what? Sometimes completely deserving teams do not win, in the same way that sometimes we play so badly that nondeserving teams do win. Just because it feels unfair does not mean it has been engineered.

Unlike most of the complainants, I have watched both chases again. They were really well matched. Both teams had a selection of really hard ones, and Charlie’s answer of “Patrick Dempsey” was the star answer. And here is the key. Both teams had a selection of easy questions. Both. Not just Jenny.

Because that is the way it has always been. That is why even average teams score more in 2 minutes than a lot of Mastermind champions score in 2 1/2 minutes. But whereas people scream when the Chaser is asked what the “T” in “T Rex” stands for, people cheer when the team get asked “How many vowels in the word vowel”.

I had never heard of the concept of “confirmation bias” until a few years ago. Now it seems to inform everything I read about the show, egged on by the bottom feeders of a rancid online press who seem to believe that a couple of dissenting comments is a “meltdown”. People have undoubtedly made their own minds up and are too arrogant and stubborn to countenance the possibility that their world view might possible be based on nothing.

I’m tired of it all, and at the same time accept that this is the side effect of being in the limelight. But I will say this hand on heart. With the exception of Mark, none of us are geniuses. What we all are are successful, respected, hardworking trophy-winning quizzers, who, at the end of a two hour record, sit in a chair and have a barrage of questions fired at us under pressure. Sometimes we’re shit, most of the time we’re good, and occasionally we’re exceptional. Yesterday Jenny was exceptional. It is telling who agrees………..  https://twitter.com/CharlieRowland8/status/943274654969552897

 

 

 

Love Actually

Fourteen winters ago I spent three weeks in Durban doing a show curated and hosted by global comedy sensation Russell Peters called “India’s Kings of Comedy”. I was the token gay one trying to make a connection with an audience more used to alpha male posturing. It was a fascinating three weeks in that I experienced hippos and crocodiles in the wild, racially segregated nightlife, and the Richard Curtis rom com Love Actually.

I don’t usually hate a visit to the cinema, because I don’t take many chances. I hated Love Actually. Yes it was beautifully made, had a great soundtrack, and a cast to die for. The quiet underplayed majesty of Emma Thompson is still a thing of wonder. But in my opinion the overambition of Curtis, his desire to be Altman, floundered badly.

At the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe, my first solo show was devoted to explaining what I disliked about the film. Amazingly, despite an overheated room in the glamorous 2245 time slot, nobody came. The Stage called me “smug”, getting me prepared for the first six years of being a Chaser on Twitter. The Scotsman went harsher with “irritating”. One thing was for sure, I lost the battle.

Thirteen years later, it is clear that I lost the war. Love Actually has inveigled its way into the affections of mainstream Britain where it is considered “feelgood”. Certainly when Laura Linney loses her man because of the interruptions of her brother with mental health issues, I have rarely felt more full of Christmas cheer. People I know, adore and respect love this film and cannot fathom the occasional opprobrium. I will try today to explain, because I am procrastinating on Christmas shopping. I am aware that someone, somewhere has done the definitive sassy take. This is my milder version.

 

  1. For the opening monologue to invoke the memory of the victims of 9/11 was a risk. It puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the film be be a fitting tribute, rather than a film where Kris Marshall has an orgy with the first cartoonishly hot women he meets in US. It suggests an awareness of a post terrorism world that is curiously absent when Liam Neeson’s son is sprinting past those jobsworth curmudgeons, airport security. Still, he’s white so clearly he can do what he likes.

2.  Post Notting Hill, Curtis finds black actors. None of their roles have any bearing on the plot whatsoever. Most damningly he casts Chiwetel Ejiofor as the husband of Keira Knightley and reduces one of the greatest actors of his generation to irrelevance.

3.  The plotting falls apart. At one point porn doubles Freeman and Page kiss each other on Christmas Eve, wish each other a Merry Christmas. Then later they are sat together at the school concert on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve when schoolkids are at home with their family. My favourite is Neeson telling a taxi driver “Heathrow Airport please, I know a short cut”. When they get to Heathrow the kid’s potential paramour is about to board the plane. Great short cut.

4. The fat jibes at the expense of beautiful, healthy Martine McCutcheon are appalling. The ones at the expense of Colin Firth’s potential Portugese sister-in-law are unforgivably crass. “Shut up miss dunkin donut 2003”   Feelgood. Merry Christmas.

5. The film is meant to be a paean to love. Kriss Marshall has an orgy, Alan Rickman plans an affair with the first younger hotter colleague he meets, a kid stops mourning his Mum within weeks because he fancies a schoolmate he has never spoken to. Colin Firth’s missus cheats on  him with his brother, he reacts by proposing to a woman he knows nothing about.

6. Egg/Rick Grimes. He hires a choir to interrupt his best mate’s wedding, he videos Keira Knightley obsessively. He feels the need to tell her the depth of his feelings. Somehow this behaviour is normalised.

The film is meant to be a multilayered look at love, and yet is driven almost entirely by the sexual desires of white heterosexual men. It is meant to be Christmassy and yet contains the biggest Christmas lie of all.

Image result for love actually at christmas you tell the truth

In one fell swoop this card demolishes any idea that the film has any understanding about Christmas. At Christmas, lies are the glue to keep families together.

 

In the 14 years since this film, I have mellowed a little on account of the fact the film’s ambition and cast are to be applauded. My anger is not with the film but with the intelligent friends I have who can’t seem to see that the film is a cruel, superficial, misogynist mess with very little to say about love, and even less about Christmas. I cheerfully accept however, that I lost the war.

Talking to the Paxman about poetry

December 1st 2007. Ten years ago today.

When the esteemed comedian Simon Evans rang me up one afternoon to explain that comedy impresario Peter Grahame wanted to put a comedians team together for  a series called University Challenge the Professionals, he explained that my name had come up, with the explanation “We need a scientist”.

What I didn’t say was “Don’t be silly. Family pressure saw me stumble into a medical career with no real understanding of, or enthusiasm for science”

What I didn’t say was “Oh my f**king lord. I have been obsessed with quizzing all my life, represented my school, my medical school, and have a longstanding and mostly successful addiction to pub quiz machines. This would be a dream. Do not under any circumstances take this dream away from me. I really, really need this.”

I think I said something like “Yeah I will give it a go”.

I was pretty sure that Pete, Simon, Natalie Haynes and myself had stormed the audition. I was sorry that Nick Revell and Stewart Lee couldn’t make the audition, and that Dan Antopolski had made the audition but not the final cut. Well more delighted than sorry, to be fair.

All that was left was to do our thing for the comedy community and defeat a team from the Ministry of Justice. Looking back, I don’t know why we were utterly confident that we would win. We weren’t to know that one of their players Rob Linham was one of the most significant figures in the history of academic buzzer quizzing. Or that another one of their players, Andrew Frazer was a veteran of the upper echelons of the Quiz League of London, whose knowledge of history was reputed to make Kevin Ashman look like Amir Khan.

We started well. Personal dreams seemed intact. Then slowly, and then remorselessly we got taken apart by the speed and brilliance of a remarkably knowledgable quartet, who would go on to win the series by marmalising all opposition. Watching back, the failure to identify the Graf Spee, or Kaliningrad stand out as poor misses.

It hurt like hell.

Then at the end Paxman said “Sporting enough to take part, anyway”

Which I heard as “Thank you for agreeing to be such amiable cannon fodder. Now piss off and let the civil servants do their thing.”

As usual I found solace in lager, as many of the teams convened in the hotel bar in the evening. I got chatting to the captain of The Lutenists, and the conversation moved on to our heavy defeat. I was asked the score, and replied “215-100”  He looked genuinely astonished.

“100? That’s actually a good score for a team of comedians”

That is how it all started. Being patronised by a lutenist. The shame. I looked at him. Then I looked around the bar. And all I could see in my head,  were white, middle aged, supremely well educated, badly dressed men.

And I made a vow that  I would bloody well join their gang. That one day I would be as good as them at quizzing, and as badly dressed as them as well.

I had no idea just how accurately I would fulfil my vows. Today I’d like to thank the lutenist who, ten years ago today, utterly changed my life. I owe you a pint.