- Sharing his name with a more famous son, who was the lead vocalist with The Main Ingredient, who had a 1972 US Top 10 hit with “Everybody Plays the Fool”
- What connects the first Duke of Normandy with the first Queen of Carthage?
- What connects James Stewart’s female costars in It’s a Wonderful Life, and Vertigo?
- Who is the only male World Footballer of the Year to have English as a first language?
- What connects the TV shows The Chase and Lucifer?
- The 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter won an Oscar for which song, heard more frequently at this time of year?
- Which is the only country in the world to be named after as woman who definitely existed?
- The 2000 film comedy Saving Grace led to which far more famous TV spin off?
- Who is married to the lead guitarist of Reef?
- Reuben and Rose Mattus, who coincidentally both emigrated to New York on separate ships in 1921, founded which globally successful company in 1961?
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
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
So that is Edinburgh done for 2017. I have learnt that I am old now, and that I don’t always see getting drunk as a cure for everything anymore. I learnt that thanks to the symbiotic relationship between PR and an extremely complacent and lazy press, the Fringe will never remotely approach being a true meritocrcacy, but nonetheless great comics do succeed. Congrats to all the performers.
So it is now time to take this show on the road. I’m bloody proud of it, and I am looking forward to the travel. This show was developed around the UK and that is where it shall be seen. Many more dates will be added in the new year but for this autumn here we go……..
Saturday October 7th.
WINCHESTER – Discovery Arts Centre
Friday October 13th
SOUTHPORT – Southport Comedy Festival, at the Bold Hotel
Friday October 20th
NEWCASTLE-UPON- TYNE – Stand Comedy Club
Sunday October 22nd
WETHERBY – Wetherby Festival *double bill with Mitch Benn
Thursday November 2nd
LIVERPOOL – Hot Water Comedy Club
Friday November 3rd
COLWYN BAY – Theatre Colwyn
Thursday November 23rd
CORSHAM – Pound Arts Centre
Thursday November 30th
BROMSGROVE – Artrix Arts Centre
I have been very lucky. It is hard to moan when numbers have been good and reveiwers have been kind. I do wonder sometimes where my comedy career might be floundering without the veneer of minor celebrity, but so be it.
A summary thus far can be found here….https://www.comedy.co.uk/fringe/2017/paul_sinha/
Whilst crossing every finger and touching all available wooden structures, my sanity, voice and health are all intact. I am damn proud of the show, even if on at least three occasions the audience seemed to majorly disagree. Such is the nature of the fringe. By far the most important audience member liked it though. My ex.
The Stand Comedy Club have been amazing. Across the rest of the Fringe are many great shows in terrible, illness-inducing venues* The uber professional staff at the Stand have ensured that my show starts at 1655 on the dot every day, and I never have even the slightest complaint. Various factors have served to geographically isolate the venues from the main hub of the Fringe, and the usual names who delude themselves into calling themselves comedy journalists, have shamefully never ventured anywhere near, but the Stand remains a defiant network of excellent venues full of excellent people. I can’t see myself ever doing a show anywhere else.
*Monkey Barrel and the Tron are superb spaces.
As for other shows, well they have all been brilliant in their own ways. Hannah Gadsby, Glenn Wool, Matt Ewins have been rightly earning accolades, but it has been inspiring to watch so many acts of every level of status and skill busting a gut to bring their passion pieces to a wider audience. Themes that have recurred include mental illness, trauma, comedians whinging about comedians talking about mental illness and trauma, sexual experimentation, LGBT abbreviations, gay marriage, Trump, Brexit and especially lefty disillusionment with lefties. Despite this bleak sounding list, there is enough joyful silliness about as well. It is a bewilderingly massive and varied smorgasbord and any attempt to make crass and lazy generalisations would be crass and lazy.
Edinburgh seems to be struggling though. Not the Festival, the city. As the festival expands exponentially, the strain on the city is palpable. It is a city of amazing sights and great bars and restaurants. But the time taken to get from A to B is getting longer, and on a Saturday night there is barely room to move in the Old Town. Meanwhile the Ibis Hotel on Nicholson Street continues to cheerfully advertise rooms for £250 and upwards.
But I am content. Proud that I have given it my best shot and that I have a new show to tour. The show is definitively not for the prurient, nor for those whose only interest in me is as a Chaser. I can also say without any doubt that I have no idea where this show would be without the help of friends, family, supportive promoters and especially my agent, and my boyfriend. And of course, lovely audiences.
It is here. At 1655 today, I take to the stage at the Stand Comedy Club for the first Fringe outing of Shout out to my Ex, my eighth full length Edinburgh show. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Little Mix, and everything to do with the fact that I still love Edinburgh, enough to only ever want to do a full run, and I believe that I have an interesting, feelgood and most importantly funny story to tell.
Preview season has been tough, in the sense that in May I had one quarter of a show, and although I knew what I was trying to do with the previews, audiences aren’t necessarily expecting a lack of slickness from a minor celebrity. But it has been creatively energizing to have taken so many steps way out of my comfort zone, and I am pleased to say that the last week and a half of preview shows have been deeply satisfying.
A quick summary of how Edinburgh has been for me thus far…..
2001 Big Value on a bill with Birdman, Cochrane and Micky Flanagan. Watched the “out Out” routine 25 times.
2004 First solo show about my hatred of “Love Actually”. I hope I convinced the 17 people who turned up that month of how bad the film was.
2005 Came up for 2 days. Saw Kitson. Suddenly realised how lazy and shit much of my writing had been.
2006 Surprise nomination for the prize leading to….
2007 A whole month of being a talked about comedian.
2008 A short run including my worst ever Fringe gig, involving me offering a punter 20 quid to leave, and him being cheered by the audience when he took it. I cried behind the stage for twenty minutes afterwards. It wasn’t the Pleasance’s fault, but in my head I decided I needed a new venue.
2009-2011 Warmly reviewed shows at the Stand 3
2015 “Postcards from the Z List” , my first post-Chase fringe show, and an experience I loved, feeling that the Stand Comedy Club helped make me less of a clumsy performer.
Sixteen years since I first performed at the fringe, and of course everything has changed. It is a bloated behemoth, with statistically far less chance of getting noticed. But that is good news for the punters who have never had more choices. My plan is to drink less, eat more healthily, and see and recommend a massive number of shows. I am aware that none of this is likely to become reality but its good to have ambitions. I will start with some recommendations, which come with no explanation….
My main recommendation is ………….don’t go and see shows just becuse the act is on the telly. Unless it’s me.
The tawdry need for self-promotion awakens me from my six month blog slumber.I’m doing a new show at Edinburgh this year, called “Shout out to my Ex” which is attempting to be a feelgood look at acute heartbreak. I’ll be performing it at one of my alltime favourite comedy rooms, The Stand Comedy Club. Details here…..
What this means is that I am deep into preview season. This is my eighth solo show, and it never gets any easier. There are bits that really work, bits that never get any laughs, and bits that I dont know about because I always forget to deliver the material. It may sound ludicrously self-important to claim that it should be fascinating watching an established comedian performing way out of his/her comfort zone, but I believe it to be true. Please don’t expect it to be a finished product yet, and please dont expect it to be bland, clean and peppered with jokes about white suits.
I thought I only had twelve previews left. I have fifteen, and here they are.
Monday 3rd July
Good Ship Comedy
289 Kilburn High Road
Tuesday 4th July
Red Imp Comedy
Thursday 6th July
Wickersley, South Yorks
Friday 7th July
Chorlton Irish Club, Manchester
Saturday 8th July
Darwen Library Theatre, Darwen Lancs
Sunday 9th July
Off the Rails Comedy Club, Hebden Bridge
Friday 14th July
Comedy Cellar, Bracknell
Saturday 15th July
Thursday 20th July
Last Laugh Comedy
Friday 21st July
Rotherham Civic Theatre
Saturday 22nd July
Great Yorkshire Fringe, York
Saturday 22nd July A second preview!
Brighouse, West yorks
Tuesday 25th July
XS Malarkey, Manchester
Wednesday 26th July
Comedy Box, Bristol
Thursday 27th July
Keighley Comedy Club
Sunday 30th July
Milton Keynes Comedy Cow Festival
It seems an eternity ago that my agent told me that I had been offered the part of Abanazar in a production of Aladdin at the Grand Opera House in York. My immediate instinct was to turn it down. I can’t sing, I can’t dance and my acting experience had been limited to the occasional medical revue. The idea of spending Christmas away from the family when I have a young nephew and niece did not enthuse. “But just find out how much the money is, just in case”
Two days later “Bradley. Can I have a word? I have just been offered the part of Abanazar in panto. Do you realistically think I can do it?”
And the vastly talented king of light entertainment, a true panto A lister, listened to the question. His eyes lit up and he said “Do it. It will be the most fun that you have ever had”.
It has been well documented that December is not a fun time for comedians. This was my chance to do something different. This was an opportunity to step way, way outside my comfort zone. I had no relationship with panto. I had never seen one, and knew nothing of its traditions and tropes. All I knew of Aladdin was from having watched the Disney movie in 1993. Crucially, I had no idea that by me saying yes, they had just cast a man with no acting experience into a massively important role.
When I first met the cast for rehearsals, that is when I realised the scale of the task. They were all so effortlessly talented and experienced. In amongst this cast of showbiz veterans and natural movers, was me, a man who makes John Sergeant look like Gene Kelly. I cast my mind back to November 1995, one of my first comedy gigs, dying on my arse while Harry Hill looked on, trying his best to look sympathetic. Suddenly I was an open spot again.
The dress rehearsal was one of the most dispiriting days of my life. Nothing went right. I was nervy, fluffed lines, props and scenes. Nobody really came out of it with their dignity intact. And yet, one day later, on the afternoon of Friday 9th December, I had to walk on stage as Abanazar and get the ball rolling. I walked on. And 500 kids booed their hearts out. And it felt amazing. And then a few days later, the reviews came in. The panto was great. Apart from the guy who played Abanazar, who really wasn’t very good.
I was gutted. I’m used to getting bad reviews from witless strangers on twitter. This was different. This made me feel embarrassed. I felt like a contestant on Faking It who had really, really tried his best but hadn’t quite made it. The difference was, there were still 30+ shows to go. I had choices. Organise a longstanding personal vendetta against each of the reviewers, losing all dignity in the process. Start a hunger strike until the reviewers were forced to admit that they had unrealistic expectations of a man with no acting experience. Walk out of the production and flee to Belgium. The one option that sounded the best, though was….”You are having the time of your life. The good reviews for the show will guarantee audiences. You are working with people you utterly adore. Listen to their friendly advice, work harder and get better. Pantomime is a team game. So get over yourself.”
Team game. Stand up comedy is anything but. It is a lonely, neurotic, narcissistic journey. When Bradley had told me how much I would enjoy panto, he meant being part of a group who were all working for each other and not for themselves. If I had stopped enjoying being Abanazar because of what a critic had said, my unprofessionalism would have damaged the whole production. I desperately did not want to be that dick.
I’m back home now. I gave it everything I had for the remaining 30+ shows and I hope I improved. Pantomime, a genre I had always ignored, gave me the best month of my life. York, both the city and the Grand Opera House, was a magnificent host, and the cast, from the better known names to the stupendously talented but less heralded names made me feel humbled by how good they were. And the audiences, from people in the first year of life to people in their 90s, seemed to love the show. Pantomime appears to be based on bad puns, good puns, pop culture references and gay innuendo. Why wouldn’t I want to do it again?
A tweet from a random stranger a few hours ago reminded me that it is five years to the day since I made my debut on The Chase. Five years since my life changed from being a little recognised but perfectly successful comedian, to suddenly being thrust into the role of smugfaced, shit-suited jelly-necked Granny magnet. I have tasted triumph and disaster and utterly failed to treat those two impostors just the same. I have some pithy observations to share with you.
There is no “best chaser”
You will all have your favourites and Lord knows, I know you will all have your least favourites. But there really isn’t a best Chaser, we all have our different strengths. Shaun is supreme on sport and history, Anne is remarkable on literature. Jenny is one of the elite entertainment quizzers in the UK, I now know who plays Harry Potter. Mark brings the same ferocity and speed to devouring questions on the Final Chase as he does to finishing off three pork chops. What an afternoon that was.
We have never thrown questions.
The accusation of throwing questions is utterly bizarre in that the complete opposite is true. Chasers are all narcissistic dullards who want to show off to the world just how much we know. But what about the Celeb Chases? Those shows get us our bigger audience figures, and our need to show off is even greater. But we are human, and we all have our weaknesses. There are hundred and hundreds of very simple questions that I do not know the answer to.
Bradley is remarkable
Before I started the show, I didn’t really know the difference between Shane Ritchie, Brian Conley and Bradley Walsh. That was to my utter shame. Bradley’s natural, effortless bonhomie with every demographic of contestant has seen him rise inexorably up the light entertainment ladder, and deservedly so. In addition, in contrast to the notion that the “mainstream” and “alternative” comedy circuits don’t get on, he has never been anything less than supportive about my comedy career. I love the man.
I’m a stranger in my own town
Real life is now something of a rollercoaster ride. There are certain towns and cities where I can barely move for selfie requests. But in Crystal Palace where i live, I can wander around for a fortnight without a single human being spotting me. The show is not big in London, as people do not get back home from work in time. Either that or Richard Osman has Crystal Palace trapped in his vice-like grip.
The Lower Offer
The show has changed over the years. The questions are now harder, and fewer teams score 20+. It used to be that good players threw temper tantrums over contestants who take lower offers. Now, they actively encourage it. A good player who takes a higher offer back does not believe that that is the money he/she will be playing for. He/she knows that it is a tactical negotiating starting point. Do you know why the Chasers hate contestants taking the lower offer? Because it maximises the chances of us losing the game. Outside of the hate cauldron of twitter, it is seen as a valid tactic.
I’m a very good quizzer but…….
Kevin and Pat on Eggheads, and a guy called Olav Bjortomt are the three best quizzers in the UK. They have a combination of dedication and memory skills that mere mortals can only dream of. I am one of a number of quizzers who regularly trade blows in a quest to be amongst the “best of the rest”. I can hold my own in this company, and I was 10th in last years European champs, and 14th in this years world champs. But it pains me to say that sometimes, under pressure, I can be utter dogshit. It doesn’t make me a bad quizzer, and it doesn’t mean it’s a fix. It just means that I am human, have bad days, and should not have challenged The Beast to a pork chop eating contest at lunch.
The magic of this moment will sadly never be repeated. The reason being that Bradley’s magical corpsing was based on utter shock. Now that the surprise element has been removed, so has the corpsing. Our most joyous moments now come from things contestants say.
“Which Prime Minister had the middle name Hilda?” “John Prescott”
“What colour was the racehorse Desert Orchid?” “Green”
And my alltime favourite contestant.
Being a Chaser and being a standup comic does have certain similarities. There is a needy desire to be liked. And there is a tendency to focus on the negatives rather than the positives. I hate losing, and it destroys me when I perform badly. I can display a clumsily short fuse with idiots on social media, when i know perfectly well that the mute button can be my friend. And I should never forget that I am privileged to do a job that I love, and that it isn’t “proper” work.