Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015: A LITERAL Year in Review.

2015: A literal Year in review.

2015 has been a pretty great year for me. Not the perfect year- no one has had the perfect year. If you have had the perfect year: I hate you, and I will send you online threats and punch you in the elbow. In doing that I will make your year imperfect, like everyone else.

My year had plenty of highs and lows, so I thought I would review my entire year. It’s like a movie review, but with my actual life. I can’t review it all. It would take too long. It would take me the entirety of 2016.  So I will quickly look at some of my biggest events of 2015 and give them a rating.

Hosstages:  Sketch Show
In the early winds of January, my band of jolly comedians and I created a sketch show called Hosstages: Stockholm syndrome which we performed for two successful night at the Jolly Sailor. Sketches included the world worst neighbour (Roger), a sitcom where one character didn’t get any laughs, and an Alan Bennett monologue placed in Mordor.  8/10 (If I may say so myself).

The second show: The Final Remnants Of Our Creativity  was an intensely weirder show due to many reasons, but it was still a fun show. It featured a literal personal demon, a social awkward James Bond and mafia family who are in the REALLY ORGANISED crime business. I give that show 7/10.

I was immensely proud of these shows, but more so impressed with the cast within the shows who really made a dream of mine come true. I would like to quickly thank the following comedians for helping me with their awesome contributions to these shows:

Maddy Willis, Stuart Hosmer-Wright, Zach Cameron, Claire Nott, Francis Murphy-Thomas, Henry Maddicott,  Olaf Galicki, Jonathan Maltz, Dean Hochlaf and Verity Tan. And Blacky from the Jolly Sailor for helping us with the venue - and for his support for Toys In The Attic too.

And a special thanks to Dan Rhodes, my writing partner. Graham Lineham once said “Finding a writing partner is A LOT HARDER than finding a wife. So when you find one you click with, stick with them”.  Together, we are the perfect concoction of stupid.  But I give him 4/10.

Hosstages will be returning in the new year and with a new cast.

Game Of Thrones Series 5
This was obviously a big moment in my year. Bloody hell. As book-reader this series was incredibly disappointing. Many story lines were dumbed-down. Amazing characters were cut. And the changes to the plot seemed unfathomable. But was worse thing about Game Of Thrones this year was the spoilers that people openly post on facebook. Seriously. If you did that you are sociopath. Or a dickhead. Or Ramsey Bolton.

My Stand-up comedy
I gave stand-up comedy a big wellie this year. As of last night, I achieved 100 gigs in the entirety of 2015. Some have gone brilliantly for example:

1)  Folkestone Comedy Club in October. It was the opening night of a professional gig. I needed to show that I was a good act. And the lovely audience were full of energy and gave me the love I sought from them. Hopefully I will be back there soon.

2) Fringe’s Got Talent semi-final at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. It was one of those gigs which the energy of the room was thick and ripe. They wanted me to succeed and I had the material to smash it. I also bribed the judge, April Pearson, with pre-requested Chewits. But I had accidentally attached my number to it. And by “accidentlly” I meant cello-taped it on. April really liked it. Her boyfriend didn’t.  

3)  I headlined a comedy club in Deal which people loved. People asked me for selfies and autographs as they assumed I would be famous in upcoming years. And I got a girls phone number. It was a strange gig as I was overwhelmed by positivity and affection, things i'm not used to.

However there were a lot of bad gigs as well…

1)      One gig in Eastbourne was one of the worst gigs. There was no lights, the stage was literally a staircase and the only audience members there was a very drunk man and drug dealer.
But they did enjoy my set.

2 )      One night in Stoke Newington, in February. Some of my friends came along to support me which was so lovely. There were some amazing acts on the bill like Chris Coltrane, Darrell Skipper and Eric Lampaert headlining. Every act smashed it.Then I came on. I thought it would be an easy audience. I was severely wrong.
That was also the first night which Steve Bennett, the head of, saw me perform and wrote this review: “Starting with mixed-results material about vegetarianism, Matt Hoss went off-script – and came off seeming more nervous and unfocussed than he probably is… he certainly seemed disappointed in his decisions.

3)      Jungle Bar, Hertford, on the 30th march. The promoter didn’t turn up and the only audience members were hecklers. They offered me mental help during my set.  I gave them by business card. 

Overall though, I have to give my efforts in stand-up and my enjoyment as a whole. I’ve poured so much time, money, blood, sweat and train tickets into this profession. And I like to think that it is paying off. I’m doing bigger and better gigs. I’m getting to know more and more people. But I’m still having fun. Its genuinely the most important thing.
But still. B+. Room for improvement.

Winner of The Eric Barker Award 2015
One of the most proudest moments of 2015 was achieving the Eric Barker Award from the University of Kent for being the best Comedy student. Even to this day I am incredibly honoured to have this status. And Olly Double shook my hand. Winner  10/10

Getting a First Degree.
“I got a First degree!” 8/10
“I got a First degree in Classics and Drama!” 4/10
Graduation was a great day. Great outfits, Great company but very boring speech. But my mum got drunk for my special congratulatory dinner.  Back up to 9/10.

Working at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Great experience and a great month in the biggest arts festival in the world. However when youa re working 10 hour days for 6 weeks straight things get a little bit murdery. “Oh- you have an original adaptation of Shakespeare? PLEASE TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR ORIGINAL IDEA.”
However I got to see some of the best stand-up acts in my life Bridget Christie, Tom Parry and Luisa Omielan. And I got to meet Susan Boyle. I hit on April Pearson from Skins and was hit on by an BBC egghead on the same night.
 It was a great retrospective experience but at the time was difficult. But it was a testament to a lot of hard work.
And my diet for 6 weeks was Tesco cheese and onion sandwiches. 3 stars.

Mark Thomas

I was given the opportunity to help political activist and comedian Mark Thomas. I helped him with a Loitering Fete and I gigged with him on the same day. I also met Tiernan Douieb (who was an ex-monkeyshiner). I did the RBS way walk for Mark Thomas, where I walked outside the headquarters for RBS in London Liverpool street. I chalked up a 15 metre section outside there building and walked in 666 times to aid Mark’s last show, Trespass , in order to fight London’s private property.
Mark Thomas is the only person I would do exercise for.
Exercise: 2/10.
Activism Exercise: 9/10.

In the final third of the year of 2015 could have been possibly the most magical. I was finally accepted onto doing an MA in Stand-up comedy, meaning I would perform at Canterbury’s renowned comedy night “Monkeyshine Comedy Club” on a weekly basis performing stand-up comedy. This is something I have wanted to since starting university and it helped blossom my love for stand-up comedy.
These weekly gigs have gone surprisingly well and I’ve done material about my mum, I’ve started a musical comedy act and there was Pasta Pete. It has honestly been the happiest term of my life.

Pasta Pete wishes you a Happy New Year. He will return. 

Overall 2015 has been amazing. I’ve obviously omitted the bleak days, the depressed weeks and the heartbreaking moments which interweave itself in all of my days from this blog. But these dark moments happens despite what year it is. Nothing ever changes. You are always going to have a shit year unless you pick yourself out of the gutter. That is why New Year’s Resolutions are stupid. You are letting time dictate when you should do something, when you should be the one making those active changes whenever you see fit. Help yourself out of the gutter and have a great year.

To finish, here are a list of aims for my 2016. Some are funny, some are serious, but I hope you enjoy. Happy New year to you all
Aims for 2016:
-            Produce an spectacular hour long comedy show about vegetarianism. It is called Vegetari-Man.
-           Gig as much as possible. I’m aiming for over 150 gigs.
-            Do gigs which gain me status as a comedian. I’m exclusively ONLY playing at the Apollo for 2016.
-           Be politically active. Campaign for what I believe is right. Do not sit idly by. Everyone has power – so exercise it. If you see a rebellion against the First order - you know it is me.
-          Be constantly giving in Time, Knowledge and Kindness. It costs you nothing to help another out.  Apart from your time. But what is that truly worth?
-           Be academically sound as comedian. Read the books, study the history and learn the truth of stand-up comedy. What could be funnier?
-           Be forever playful – on stage and in life. But not in playgrounds.
-           Have time to relax- it is vital. And how else will video game developers make any money if you aren’t wasting your time playing their games.
-             Make time for friends. I’ve been an awful friend this year. If you want a friend, you need to be a friend. So the coffees are on me guys.
-           Take chances.
-           Help the vulnerable.
-           Become Danny Zucko from Grease.

All these are my aims. I will fail some, but not without a fight.

Thank you 2015 and here is to 2016.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Magna Laughter: An Experimental Comedy night with historical characters

Hello my avid blog fans. I’m not sure how many people read the things I put online, let alone the amount of people that actually enjoy reading it. Hopefully that is everyone on my friends list. Hopefully. But if you do enjoy reading it or if it has any interest to you, please recommend it to a friend. Let it will be your kind deed of the day – but EVERY DAY. Don’t stop sharing it. It’s like a public service announcement but it’s based around me.

My blog today is about something a little bit different. It is less of a ‘blog’ but it is like an ‘informal yet somewhat academic discussion about comedy’. Blog is easier to say by far, unless I abbreviate it to “IYSADAC”. And it is going to be somewhat like an exploration of some ideas which I have experimented with on stage and my reflection of so. It’s like a relaxed academic paper about a specific performance. But what EXACTLY am I waffling on about?

Magna Laughter:

On Monday 23rd November, I organised a one-night special comedy night. It was sold as an experimental comedy night where stand-up comedians would dress up as Historical figures and perform Stand-up comedy as them. The was plan was to try and establish something different in the world of comedy. I wanted to give the comedians the chance to do something different and the audience a chance to witness something either genius or downright weird. Or both.
It would be called: Magna Laughter. *

(*Well not for very long. For legal reasons – I can’t call the event Magna Laughter anymore. Apparently English Heritage have an event with the same name, and have politely asked me not to call any further events Magna Laughter anymore. I’m infamous. I’m a renegade. I’m a MAVERICK).

The Experiment:

So what was I experimenting with? Answer: Many things – both as a performer and a promoter. My main idea, however was: Can you negotiate with an audience with a potentially offensive subject? And if the experiment went well, I was interested in seeing the flip-side: Could I get them to like the potentially offensive subject?
So the experiment was something that had intrigued me as both an academic concept and from a performance perspective. My character in this, now bear with me, was somewhat (and intentionally) controversial.
I dressed up as Adolf Hitler and acted as the compere of the evening. It was like The Man In The High Castle, but in a room above a pub. It was like a Donald Trump speech.

As I said, I had several ideas which I really wanted to explore when performing as Hitler. Firstly, I wanted to give myself a challenge as an Mc. The role of a compere in normal comedy club circumstances is to build up energy in the room, warm up the audience and support the acts as much as possible. The compere’s primary goal is to maintain the audience and his secondary objective to be funny. Therefore I wanted to challenge that status, making it harder for the audience to get on board with the gig, as the first act they see is Hitler. The Mc acts as the transition from cold light of normal life to the temporary extended boundaries which the comedy club provides. Hitler would act as plunging them into the deep end. How would the audience cope with that sudden shock?
Secondly there was second level to Adolf Hitler. It wasn’t just me playing a dictator,  but I was playing Adolf Hitler, as if he wanted to be a Michael McIntyre-esque comedian. Hitler’s opening line is:

Hitler: So I tried art: That did not work. I tried politics: That did not work. So I’m trying Stand-up comedy to try and take over ze world.

This image will definitely not resurface on the internet to haunt me in years to come.

I did say bear with me. Apart from that opening line, I wanted Hitler to not acknowledge that he was Hitler or had any connotation that he was evil. In fact, I wanted him to have the least offensive material ever, creating a dichotomy between Material and Image. I wanted to play with the fact that I had volatile and potentially offensive exterior but have incredibly inoffensive material.  Just to top it off and give it that extra comedic wallop – I decided to make Hitler use the most Hack material going…            
Hitler: “So what is the deal with Airplane food?”

Hitler covered Tinder, Online Dating, Airplane food, the differences between men and women and “Then I got off the bus”. It was bound to be a fun night.

Character Comedy:

I actually realised that this is my first attempt at playing a different character onstage in front of a live audience.  I’ve toyed with a range of weird ideas and characters in some comedic workshops with friends, for example I had once played John Skelton: An unknown 16th century court-poet who gets infuriated that he isn’t treated like a celebrity. Later in the month I played as Pasta Pete, a man who had pasta glued to his body and face and exclusively told Pasta Puns.That was a fun night FOR EVERYONE. 
Pasta Pete- A night to remember.

I also played a version of a character who was called David Britton, who was a 45 year old divorced Pub Quizmaster who tries to win his family back through Stand-up comedy, despite being quite awkward. Unfortunately David was just like me, but in 24 years’ time. Other than those, in a stand-up context, I’ve always played a relatively honest version of myself. So Adolf Hitler was my first time as a character in front of a paying audience. And Hitler is the first time I’ve tried an act out without any previous road testing. I thought if I wanted to conduct the experiment properly, it should be in front of a real and paying audience.

The performance:

Lights go down, I head to the tech desk. I top-up my marker pen moustache and I call my own intro:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the stage – your host”. And I emerged onto the stage.

There was a mixed reaction from the audience straight away. There were some who were confused and some laughed out of surprise. But the audience got on board. They began to warm to the act, as soon as they had cottoned onto the joke of “I’m doing this through a lens of irony” as opposed to “I’m just trying to hobble some cheap gags together”. I like to think the audience enjoyed the different perspective of Hitler. From what I gathered from my audience interaction, they seemed to enjoy the character of Hitler. My experiment seemed to go well. Then I introduced the acts onto the stage.

On the Bill we had:
MC Adolf Hitler
Henry VIII,
Winston Churchill,
Steve Jobs,
Caveman doing DefJam Comedy,
Julius Caesar
and Admiral Horacio Nelson

In my mind, the acts were to stay in character for the entirety of the night. The characters were meant to be naturalistic and entirely in character.  This did not quite go as planned. Irrationally, I believed that the Historical character would perform in total character, but since it was a strange night, the comedians felt inclined to comment upon the absurdity. It would also be worth mentioning that it would be a completely alien concept for the comedians to not acknowledge something happening in the room for a laugh- it’s second nature for stand-ups. So instincts came in on this occasion.

Fun fact: Andy Kaufman, a legendarily surreal American comedian, would turn up to a gig in full character and not break the character until he got back to his home. That’s astounding!

The acts danced around this line of narrative, which was sewn by Magna Laughter, and the comedians brought out their own personas on-stage (and once their own material) in an attempt to gain some additional laughs. It’s an incredibly rare and weird gig- the comedian would be unlikely to be in this situation again, ergo, they feel more inclined to play on the now, to the delight of the audience.

In particular, Adam Morrison-Jones who played Winston Churchill, made his act devoted to playing with this line – as when he had a hat on: he played a loud-mouthed and obnoxiously rude Winston Churchill, however he routinely took off the hat to explain the bit, existentially, as Adam Morrison-Jones. I believe he was riffing his act, but he has such a charm regardless, it paid off massively.

I believe that the acts broke character for a couple reasons. 1) It is a comedian’s reflex to address the “now”, to talk about what is happening in the room at that moment. 2) The venue is in the function room above a pub, which may have loosened the concept in a way, perhaps giving a licence to comedians to play around with the character. 3) The novelty of the gig. Also it probably didn’t help myself as I didn’t explicitly express this rule to the acts. But this was done nearly-on purpose as to let the acts have reign of their historical character.

This looks like a fascist version of Vernon Kay. Family Fortunes would be a vastly different game.

On a personal note, I believe I delivered one of my favourite “heckle put-downs” as Hitler. When Winston Churchill was being laddy and began (comically) shouting at my character. He got the audience to sing “HITLER HE’S ONLY GOT ONE BALL -THE OTHER IS IN ALBERT HALL”. And from my MC seat I shouted in response: “No – ze other one is in your mum!”.

But overall I believe the night was a success as an experiment. I was able to portray Hitler in a comedic light without offending anyone. On top of that I managed to piece together a successful gig with a great bunch of acts. The audience seemed to have really enjoyed themselves, but also admiring the weirdness of the gig. It was one of those nights which were weirdly good fun. I look forward to doing the next one.