Monday, September 30, 2013

Tony Law, comedy, but not as we know it...

AOG, Madrid

Last Saturday I went to see a stand up comedian called Tony Law with a couple of friends here in Madrid.

He is Canadian, and, according to a quick internet search, he is very funny, up-and-coming (although he’s been doing stand up for about 14 years) and the winner of numerous comedy-related awards.

So, what did we think? Well, I have to say that my friends -one of them Canadian- and I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

First of all, it doesn’t help that the guy who introduced the show was drunk, or high, or stung by a bee, or whatever.

He manages Giggling Guiri, a business in the business of bringing English-language comedy talent to Spain.

It is less than cool to be drunk when presenting an act. It is also rude.

The last time I saw one of their shows (Giggling Guiri's) it was at a smaller venue, and the guy at the time was very very funny, and the presenter wasn't drunk.

Was Mr. Law as funny as that other guy?

Well.... no.

He may be a comedy genius back in the UK, and he may have his friends and family in stitches when at home, but when presented with an ex-pat audience in Spain, he bombed.


Especially during the first half.

It isn’t that the material wasn’t funny, parts of it were funny, but his general attitude was that he sort of knew we didn’t know who he was and he sort of realised (before we did) that we would not find him all that funny because we didn't know who he was.

Now, like any self-fulfilling prophecy, he was right.

But only because he did little to alleviate our fears and even less to make us laugh.

His delivery was ok, except that at times you had the feeling that he didn’t really want to be there and that he didn’t really know what he was doing. It was strange seeing him pace the stage, play with his hair, and look like he was trying to remember his routine. His arms were usually up in the air for some reason, and his shirt went up, and you noticed, time and again, that he was wearing yellow underpants. And no belt.

He mumbled a bit, and then he would throw a statement in the air, hoping it would land on friendly territory. It did,  but the throw was such a mess that we weren't sure what to make of it all.

Was that part of his act?

I don’t know, but if it was, it didn’t work all that well on the audience. He was just that little bit too random to connect with the public. That little bit too...disinterested. Perhaps he thought we would be a walkover?

And what about part two?

Yes, that was slightly better, except for the odd fact that some of the jokes were rehashed from part one.
No idea.

During the intermission between both parts, I walked to the bar and chanced upon a conversation between somebody who was obviously a Tony Law fan, and an innocent bystander.

He is fucking brilliant but nobody knows who he is”, he said.

That, I guess, was his excuse as to why Mr. Law was not as hilarious to him (and the rest of us) as he normally might be. Or as he thought he was.
So, according to him, it was our fault Tony Law sucked.

I went back to my table and mentioned this to my two friends.
Our general comments were that him being known did not make him more or less funny. Funny makes you funny, whether you are famous or not (and according to the Huffington Post, he is 'surreal').

So part two started, and we thought things would improve.
No such luck.
Yes, there were the jokes about sheep being domesticated back in the ‘olden days’, and his children being Vikings (yes, we already heard that 20 minutes ago, thank you), and a few quips about the audience which only made you feel even more that he didn’t really like being there.

I would not say he tanked, but he came close.

He continued pacing up and down, made a quip about thinking of a joke on the high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid (btw, here's a tip, telling an expat audience that the people in Barcelona suck is about as effective as telling a Spanish audience that people from Manchester suck) and continued to play with his hair and remember what he was going to say next.
He finished, he said good-bye, and there was no encore.
We didn't see him again.
It was like a weird aftertaste all in all.
Like we had pissed him off somehow because we weren't laughing. Or maybe he had to pee. I don't know. 

On the positive side (and yes, there is one), it is obvious that Tony Law would have done better with a different sort of audience (one more alcoholised perhaps?) and in a different country, but you get what you get and run with it, and he didn’t really do that.
Also, and this is very important, he managed the most obtuse of hecklers masterfully, so he obviously is a pro at that sort of thing.

And he can do accents more or less ok, though his own accent is very British for some reason.
I mention this because Tony Law didn’t sound very Canadian, but then he does live in North London, in a small flat, with a wife and three kids.
One of them a 4 year old 21 year old. That, the surreal part, was funny. When it was there.

And he had very interesting hair.

He likes to move it from side to side in a sort of I’m-still-young-look-at-me kind of way. 

If he were young it would probably work better.

As would his outfit.

Baggy trousers with a crotch line near the kness usually look bad even on the young, so imagine how they must look on someone who is middle aged!

I think what bothered me the most, was the fact that we paid €15.00 a head for an act which was not too interested in entertaining his audience and, when he did, he was funny, yes, at times, ok, but not €15.00 worth of funny.

Having said all this, should I be in the UK, and should he be playing somewhere in London (since for me London is the whole of the UK), I will probably go and see him.

Just to make sure he is as funny as the online reviews say he is.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Classic 60s TV

  AOG, Madrid

There’s something about it which makes me keep coming back for more. But why?

It was my birthday a couple of days ago and my partner had a gift vooucher which expired on the same day. We rushed to Barcelona’s FNAC to get me some sort of quick-lets-not-waste-it! last-minute gift. 

First we went to the book section, and the book I had in mind, one about one of Spain’s best illustrators from the 1930s, Carlos Saenz de Tejada, was out of stock. So we went to the CD section. Couldn’t find anything I liked -these days, with Spotify on my mind, I buy less and less music.

So off to the DVD section.

Yes, I’m one of those people who likes buying DVDs, and I especially like television series. And these days, I am especially hooked on those series from my childhood, which were not exactly of my time. What do I mean?

I mean that when I was a kid, my television programs were mostly 1950s cartoons, and 1960s series.

I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Batman, Get Smart, Daniel Boone, The Flying Nun, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hills Hillbillies, The Outer LImits,That Girl!, The Lucy Show, Lost in Space, The Dick van Dyke Show &c.

So, when given a choice between Modern Family (3rd Season) and The Twilight Zone (Season 1), I chose the latter.

I suppose that having a degree in History predisposes me towards these, for me anyway, visual documents of another era.

I enjoy looking at how those cars I used to dislike as a child, but love as an adult, moved. I like seeing how people drove. How they dressed, what they ate. Even how they spoke. Television English is a very interesting thing to listen to. So different from today’s colloquial television English — where everybody has a California accent.

Acting, obviously, has changed a lot since then too. When a woman (and it is always women), has a breakdown in 1960s land, she often falls into the arms of a man, then everything is ok.

In 2013, she goes on a drinking/screwing/shoplifting binge.Then a man turns her in the right path, and everything is ok.

I like the furnishings of the homes, the way the clothes move, the games children played. As I kid, I am not sure I understood at first that these shows were from the 1960s. In many cases, the shows themselves were in their teens back then, it was the beginning of syndication. 

We all know how I Dream of Jeannie had a bigger audience during re-runs in the 1970s than when it actually aired.

But it is more than just the visuals. It is the ideas of the time. The anthropological aspect of these shows is astounding. Not many black people, respectable women behaved and dressed in a certain way. As did men. To say nothing of the worries and issues of the time.
Watching 1960s Sci-Fi TV is also very enlightening. 

Lost in Space dealt with being shipwrecked in an alien planet, a similar concept to Gilligan’s Island. In both shows a group of people must survive and overcome their respective personality traits in unfamiliar territory.

What were the worries of the time? That Earth would blow up and we would fight for our survival? That a group of strangers who met on a boat would be able to survive on a desert island? That the rich can be of help? That a robot can both be our salvation, as well as the instrument of our destruction?

And what about traditional gender roles? And the idea about what constitutes, and what doesn’t, a family? Ideas surrounding friendship, and, of course, the supernatural.

These ideas are, today anyway,less of an issue on television, but that does not mean they are not out there, that we have stopped thinking about them, but our worries are different. We no longer worry about the superpower conflict, but we do worry about being killed by a terrorist. Or about being kidnapped and being retained against our will. Or being shot by a psycho sniper. Or…

So many things are going on today that looking at old 1960s tv is a very definite form of escapism. But also, a source of intrigue. 

Were people back then not worried about issues like our own? Being worried about death, about being abducted and killed, about abusive parents, alcoholic partners, about rape and incest, about poverty, were more than likely things people thought about back then, but, for a variety of reasons, were not talked about, or dealt with.

So when I watch these shows, I am obviously doing so for more than just one reason. It is not just leisure, it is not just curiosity, it is also a certain concern with the missing parts.
The complete abscence of gay people, the limited appearence of black people, the almost complete abscence of any other minority, of a social discourse.

Why weren’t those things talked about?

In reference to being asked about the significance of the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai -Communist China’s premier from 1949 to 1976- is often quoted as having said that, , “it is too soon to say”.

I can’t help but wonder if this is still the case with the 1960s today. As a historian, I would agree. And as a Journalist, I would disagree.