Archive for November, 2010

Lee Mack: comedy whirlwind.

November 27, 2010 Any other business, Comedy Comments Off

The role of the opening support act at a comedy gig is an interesting one. It’s commonly referred to as the “bullet-taking” spot – the act’s job is to warm the audience up and get them in the mood for full belly-laughs when the main act appears. Often they struggle to get massive laughs themselves – audience members have only just arrived, they’ve maybe battled traffic to get there on time, and they’re still ‘wary’ (for want of a better word) of the strangers they’re sat around.

Sometimes the support act can prove a surprise hit – I remember when I went to see Ricky Gervais last year, he was embarrassingly out-performed by his support act, Stewart Francis. Admittedly, that said as much about Gervais’s performance (average) as it did about Francis’, but much of the talk as we left was centred around how we’d have preferred a couple of hours of Francis and decidedly less of Gervais. The main act had suffered for his support act’s quality.

There was no such risk on Thursday, when I went to see Lee Mack at the BIC in Bournemouth. The performance of Steve Hall, Mack’s support act, was decidedly average. In fact, I’d go so far as to say he was frequently unfunny, in what was a tired, laboured, frankly dull 25-minute set. You know a comedian’s struggling when he has to start explaining his jokes and re-emphasising points that didn’t get laughs the first time round. At one point, when he was getting a minimal and muted response from the audience, he resorted to the lowest common denominator of stand-up comedy – ‘favourite swear words’. He asked the audience, on the count of three, to shout out their favourite profanity. The irony of the response – in which a few neanderthals shouted “C***!!” at the top of their voices – was that it wasn’t certain whether that was actually their favourite swear word, or if they were just saying what they thought of him.

By the time he’d slunk off stage, the audience was crying out for some material that they could actually laugh at. Lee Mack didn’t disappoint. From the minute he burst onto the stage, summoned a lad up from the audience, got him to get in a big box as if to be involved in a magic trick of some sort, and then just had him wheeled into the wings, before explaining he hadn’t liked the look of him, he had the audience in raptures.

The bloke’s a comedy whirlwind and seriously versatile. His observational comedy is arguably as good as Michael McIntyre’s, his deadpan one-liners rival Jimmy Carr’s, his physical comedy is Lee Evans-esque and some of his insult comedy isn’t dissimilar to Frankie Boyle’s (if, perhaps, less incessant). Add to that an incredible stage presence (second only to McIntyre’s) and flawless improvised interaction with the audience, and you’ve got yourself an incredibly talented all-round performer. Anyone who’s ever watched him in ‘Not Going Out’ or ‘Would I Lie to you?’ will know that panel-show and sitcom comedy are also in his repertoire.

It was his interaction with the audience that added brilliance to the performance. His ability to make belly-achingly good gags with the most mundane of material – the tax-man he’d put in the box, the Geordie who’d moved down south to ‘sell paint’, the student who was studying ‘maths’ and refused to expand on any other details of his life, the woman with four oddly-named children – was actually comedic genius in action. That he was then able to tie this new material into later pre-prepared jokes was just hilariously clever.

I’ve been to quite a lot of comedy gigs, but this was the funniest I’ve ever seen – funnier, even, than Michael McIntyre, whose tour was one of the most successful of all time. If you get the chance to see him live, do it. If not, make sure his DVD’s on your Christmas list.

Quote of the Day: Sarah Palin.

November 24, 2010 Politics, Quotes Comments Off

“Obviously, we’ve got to stand with our North Korean allies.”

(Sarah Palin)

A phone call to O2.

November 23, 2010 Any other business Comments Off

Man: “Hello, O2 speaking.” (or words to that effect…)

Me: “Hi, I was just wondering why my phonebill’s £10 more than it normally is?”

Man: “Ok, no problem. Let me have a look at your account.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Man: “Ok, I’m looking at it now. Right, it seems you’ve got a £10 loyalty discount.”

Me: “How does that work?”

Man: “Well you’re a loyal customer, so we’ve given you a loyalty discount.”

Me: “Right, but how does that explain why the bill’s £10 more than normal?”

Man: “Because you’ve got a loyalty discount.”

Me: “But the bill’s more expensive, not less.”

Man: “Yeah, it’s a loyalty discount.”

Me: “Right, listen to me. My bill is £10 MORE than normal. It’s MORE expensive. It’s bigger. It’s larger. Not discounted. Not less. Not smaller.  Are you saying that because I’m a loyal customer, you’re charging me MORE? Are you saying that I’m being penalised for my loyalty? In your parallel world, is a ‘discount store’ a shop where everything’s far more expensive than normal? Surely if I’ve been loyal, you should be REDUCING my bill – making it LESS – not increasing it like some kind of anti-loyalty punishment?”

Man: “I take your point.”

What football could learn from rugby.

November 21, 2010 Any other business, Sport Comments Off

I thoroughly enjoyed watched England-Samoa at Twickenham yesterday. I’ve watched a lot of international rugby on TV over the years, and I’ve been to a few Plymouth Albion matches in the past, but this was the first big rugby match I’d attended. The game was an interesting one – England were gritty, patient, doughty even, but nowhere near the level they reached last week in beating Australia. Samoa were powerful and stubborn, but lacked invention and, by the end, fitness. Shontayne Hape was England’s man of the match, but Ben Foden was the most exciting player on the pitch. Rather than give a more detailed match report, when you can read far superior efforts elsewhere online, I’m keen to look at what football could learn from rugby.

Usage of video replays – This is the most obvious one. A couple of tries that seemed perfectly legitimate to the naked eye were disallowed yesterday after the video referee was able to analyse the footage and spot that small infringements had been committed – in one case, the ball had just slipped out the scorer’s hand, rather than being properly touched down, and in the other, the scorer had stepped on the touch-line before crossing over. Without video replays, both tries would have stood but neither were legal. Both could have affected the direction of the match, if not the final outcome.

Such a system could work just as well in football. In fact, there’s an argument that such a system would have an even greater impact on football, by nature of the fact that the sport is more typically low-scoring. In judging whether a player was offside, or if the ball crossed the line, decisions could be made very quickly and the sport’s legitimacy could be increased. Some argue that the delay in waiting for the decision would slow down the sport, but most evidence suggests otherwise. Not only can judgements be made near-instantly anyway, but the delay probably wouldn’t be any longer than the time it currently takes for the ‘victimised’ team to argue with the referee. What’s more, evidence from rugby, as well as cricket and tennis, is that supporters enjoy the tense build-up to the video referee’s decision. It becomes part of the drama, not an interruption to it.

Better conflict resolution – The way that fights are dealt with in football should be looked at. Yesterday, there was a bit of a fight between Ben Youngs and one of the Samoans. A couple of punches were thrown and they ended up wrestling on the floor. In football, that would have resulted in at least one red card, probably ruining the match as a spectacle. Instead, the referee calmly spoke to them both, got them to shake hands and that was the end of it. Of course, poor behaviour in sport should be frowned upon – particularly when sportsmen are many kids’ idols – but surely it could be dealt with in a way that doesn’t directly impact on the viewers’ enjoyment. This ties in with the next point.

Fewer yellow cards – In what was a full-blooded affair, in which the Samoans in particular seemed keener on destruction than creativity, it is quite something that there wasn’t a single yellow card in yesterday’s match. The referee just let the play flow, where possible, and acknowledged a lack of intent when fouls were committed.

Shorter half-time – Half-time is dull. Fans have nothing to do (because no-one in their right mind braves the kilometre-long queue for a pie), and TV pundits have to find filler and puffery until the players come back out. So why not shorten it? Rugby’s half-time is only ten minutes and seems, frankly, ample time for the players to get a drink and a bit of tactical advice. Football’s fifteen minutes is just unnecessary. Implementing this change would also result in less Gareth Southgate on TV, which could only be a good thing.

Unsegregated fans – I understand the reason that fans are segregated in football, and I know that it’ll never be changed, but mixing fans together adds something to a sporting atmosphere. It creates a sense that everyone’s there for the quality sport, rather than out of a hatred for the opposition. When Samoa scored their try yesterday, a bloke near us jumped up and waved a big Samoan flag. Of course, he got jeered, but to laughter. He sat back down and all was well. One can only imagine what would happen if a bloke stood up and waved a Germany flag amongst England fans at Wembley.

More beer – A significant amount of beer was drunk by spectators before and during the match, and hundreds of people frequented the Scrum Bar in the East Stand for a couple of hours after the match, with not a bit of violence. Again, I understand – stereotypically at least – that football fans’ propensity to violence is apparently greater than that of most other sports’ fans, but to be punished by reduced availability of beer is nothing short of a travesty.

Tories dread Cameron falling under a bus.

November 18, 2010 Boris Johnson, Political betting, Politics 2 Comments

I’ve just read an article by Tim Montgomerie on the Times website (behind the pay-wall) that suggests that William Hague is no longer the obvious successor to David Cameron. Montgomerie argues that Hague is no longer the ‘Right’s standard bearer’ having recently let them down on Europe, Israel and defence issues. Whilst the discussion of Hague’s approach to the job is interesting in itself, the article primarily got me thinking about the direction of the party’s leadership after Cameron.

All things being well, Cameron will lead the party at least until the next election. If the Tories lose, he’d probably quit; if they win, he’d be expected to serve a full second term. But what if things don’t turn out as expected? What if he in, say, two years time suffered health problems or fell under a bus? Who would replace him? Using Ladbrokes odds, the favourites are as follows…

Boris – 4/1 – An obvious candidate and, as you’d expect, the preferred choice of this Boris backer. However, in reality, he’s not going to enter parliament during this term. If he wins the London mayoralty race in 2012, he’d be tied up in charge of the capital until at least 2016 and if he doesn’t win, he’d be damaged to the extent that I couldn’t imagine him becoming Tory leader at any point in the near future. And even then, if he is to enter parliament any sooner than the General Election in 2015, it’d have to be via a rare Tory by-election win. As such, I think 4/1 is a staggeringly poor price.

Michael Gove – 5/1 –  Six months ago, I would have said that Gove was a strong contender for the leadership. His education plans were amongst the most radical and exciting of the Tory manifesto. He’d spent years studying alternative education systems in countries like Sweden and Canada, and seemed to have developed some ideas that could revolutionise our education system. But Ed Balls frankly destroyed him over the summer and he’s yet to recover. Maybe he’ll turn things around, but I just can’t imagine him as Tory leader in a couple of years’ time.

George Osborne – 8/1 – I’m reasonably confident that George Osborne will never be Tory leader. He has minimal personal support amongst even the most ardent of Tories, and is seen as posher and considerably smugger than Cameron. What’s more, I expect him to take the brunt of the public’s anger over the budget cuts. His personal ratings have never been high, but I’d expect them to crash in the next couple of years. I think there’d also be a strong argument for keeping him in the treasury to finish the job off.

William Hague – 10/1 – Despite Montgomerie’s article, I still think Hague is (just) favourite to be the next Tory leader. He’s popular amongst the Tory grassroots, has leadership experience (in which he didn’t do as badly as the history books like to make out) and generally has an air of statesmanship. He’s a good communicator, too. That said, if what Tim Montgomerie says – about rumours that Hague’s fallen out of love with politics and is considering an early retirement – are true, then he probably wouldn’t even stand for the leadership, let alone win it.

Liam Fox – 14/1 – Brought up in a council house and educated at a state school, Fox’s story would certainly make a welcome change from Bullingdon chat, but I just don’t see him becoming Tory leader. He hasn’t got the charisma, the communication skills or the grassroots support to stage a viable campaign. What’s more, he didn’t come out of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review particularly well and is rated by Smarkets as one of the favourites to be the next person to leave the cabinet.

Rory Stewart – 16/1 – Rory Stewart’s clearly ‘one for the future’ but I’m sceptical that he could stand for and win the leadership just a couple of years after entering parliament, and with no front-bench experience. His good odds are based on the expectation that the next Tory leader won’t be appointed until the second-term at the earliest, by which point he’ll have the necessary experience to be a candidate. As a broader point, it’d be good to see the Tories make more use of his evident talent and knowledge.

Of the next five favourites – Nick Herbert – 20/1, Jeremy Hunt – 20/1, David Davis – 25/1, Ed Vaizey – 33/1, Theresa May – 40/1 – I could only see Ed Vaizey having any kind of chance of becoming leader, but he’d need to significantly raise his profile (and get himself a better ministerial job) between now and the contest. Fans of a long-shot might be interested in, or amused by, Eric Pickles at 66/1, Nick Clegg at 66/1, Iain Duncan Smith at 100/1 and Tim Montgomerie himself at 200/1.

So, the conclusion is that there’s hardly a wealth of quality potential successors. Boris is the stand-out candidate, but logistics make it highly unlikely that he’ll be Tory leader any time soon, if ever (though, naturally, that won’t deter this blog from championing his cause). Above all, Tories should pray that Cameron doesn’t get struck by either poor health or a bus.

Quote of the Day: Boris.

November 17, 2010 Boris Johnson, Quotes Comments Off

“Let me tell you, if they want a cut-price deal for a central London venue with a view of London landmarks, the ideal place would be City Hall.”

(Forget Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral – Boris offers City Hall as a cheap venue for the royal wedding.)

Congratulations, but…

November 17, 2010 News Comments Off

Congratulations are due to Prince William and Kate Middleton on their engagement. The wedding will be a source of unbridalled (pun intended) joy for the couple, their families and the nation. I’m certainly all for an extra bank holiday (there will be one, I assume?), a bit of bunting, a street party and six hours of David Dimbleby’s commentary of the event on TV.

That said, there a couple of things I’d prefer not to occur. Firstly, please can we not have wall-to-wall coverage of the preparations for the next six months? As big a fan as I am of the monarchy, I’m not massively interested in who’s making Kate’s dress or who’s not being invited to the reception or what antics Harry gets up to on the stag-do. Actually, scrap the last bit – I’m keen on stag-do news, but none of the rest.

Secondly, can we try to avoid this event prompting a tiresome and inane wave of republicanism? We each pay 70p a year for our royal family. Now, I value my beer as much as the next man, but even I’m happy to give the equivalent of a quarter of a pint to keep our monarchy. It’s a ruddy bargain and, what is more, doesn’t even take account of all the revenue they bring in by means of increased tourism etc. and all the good they do for charities and societies. And, anyway, what’s the alternative – a president? You must be jo-king.

Time to end the cynicism?

November 16, 2010 Politics Comments Off

It says something about the precedent that Labour set that, now, any bad news that is released on the same day that ‘bigger’ news is released simply has to be a case of ‘burying bad news’. Of course, we remember Jo Moore rabidly sending an email out hours after the 9/11 attacks suggesting it was “a very good day to get out anything we want to bury”, but what a shame that such cynicism has developed into a form of almost post-modern cynicism amongst journalists and opponents of the government. The issue is no longer politicians’ cynicism but instead the cynicism of their opponents in making assumptions of the politicians’ cynicism. A complicated affair!

Anyway, the reason for my mini-rant? The Twittersphere has been agog with allegations of cynical governmental bad news-burying, after some bad news was released this morning around the same time that Prince William’s engagement was announced. The normally considered Paul Waugh sarcastically remarked:

only to have to backtrack having actually looked at the facts:

I have no doubt that the government pick the best moment to release bad news. They’d be stupid not to. But maybe it’s time for journalists and opponents to end the instant cynicism whenever such coincidences – genuine coincidences – occur. Not all politicians operate at the loathsome and contemptible level of Jo Moore.

Tuition fees protest: literal Demolition.

November 10, 2010 News Comments Off

When the NUS named today’s tuition fees protest ‘Demolition‘, who knew that the students would take it so literally?

So, erm, yeah, that’s a compelling argument for spending more taxpayers’ money on students. Bravo, NUS.

[UPDATE: Quote from Boris: "Appalling abuse of the right to protest by a small minority today. Intolerable. They will face the full force of the law."]

Obama struggles; Pawlenty of hope.

November 9, 2010 Political betting, Politics Comments Off

This is a fascinating time, politically, for America. Everyone had predicted that last week’s mid-term results would be difficult for Obama, but few had predicted that they’d be as bad as they were. The Democrats suffered their biggest losses for 70 years (worse, even, than Clinton’s kicking in 1994), they lost the House, only just held onto the Senate and even lost Obama’s old Senate seat of Illinois (the American equivalent of Labour losing Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath or the Tories losing Witney).

Never has Mario Cuomo’s adage that “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” seemed so sage than when talking about Barack Obama. The sweeping, inspirational, near-utopian rhetoric of the 2008 presidential campaign has been replaced by a decidedly disjointed, faltering prose. Yes, presidents have come back from worse positions than he’s in, but he badly needs for the economy to boom and unemployment to fall significantly in the next 18 months if he is to have any chance. Having, for the last two years, been sure that he would turn things around and win a second term, I’m now increasingly uncertain that he’ll win in 2012.

Much will depend on the identity of his Republican opponent. I refuse to believe, for example, that the American electorate would be idiotic enough to elect Sarah Palin as president, even if she was the Republicans’ preferred candidate. A look at Ladbrokes‘ odds suggests that, although Mitt Romney is favourite, there is no obvious or outstanding candidate. I was intrigued to read a post on BryantPedia (an excellent blog, incidentally, that I strongly recommend) that suggested we keep an eye on Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. Having done a bit of research, this seems a reasonable call – he seems a pretty uncontroversial, if perhaps unremarkable, candidate, who’s earnt particular praise for balancing the state’s budget without increasing taxation. He’s also got blue-collar credentials – his father was a truck driver, his mother died when he was young; he’s experienced the American Dream.

Anyway, I’ve put my money where my mouth is (or, rather, I’ve put my money where BryantPedia’s mouth is) and put a tenner on him to win the 2012 Presidential race, at odds of 25/1.

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