- ▼ 2011 (21)
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Sure, in Melbourne you can sunbathe at the beach before your show, but can you get a roll and square sausage? No you can’t. And you certainly can’t get it from a woman who looks like one.
There is definitely something about inclement weather and artery-choking food that increases the predilection for hearty laughter. Granted, it might be mental illness, but if that’s the case, I’ll take a room full of Seasonally Affected Drunks any day, over the silent stares of the sushi-nibbling moccachino-sipping bores at comedy festivals in sunnier and more cosmopolitan climes. There is nothing more depressing than being heckled by froth.
Seriously though, Glasgow audiences are nothing if not receptive.
English comics have this weird obsession with the dangers of being English in Glasgow. I always point out to them that Glaswegians hate each other far more than they hate the English. I tend not to point out that even rival Glaswegians will collaborate to beat an Englishman dead before getting back to slashing each other in the face again. But seriously, I’ve never found Glasgow crowds to be anything but extremely generous. Even if they don’t like you, they will still buy you drinks and patiently explain why they don’t like you. Even if you beg them to leave you alone.
Now I should point out here that I’m originally from Australia. But in a lot of ways Glasgow always feels like a hometown gig to me. I tend to think anywhere you've racked up a 5 figure drug debt pretty much qualifies as a “Hometown”. My show is guaranteed to sell out, largely thanks to dealers I owe money to from the late nineties and women seeking paternity tests for strangely familiar looking children. It’s an unconventional marketing strategy, but one that unfailingly works.
I started my stand-up comedy career right here in Scotland back in 2005. From the very beginning of my stand-up experience, I’ve had to perform with regularity in this city, and as a consequence I have many fond memories associated with the place. I also have some I'd rather forget, and 18 electric shock treatments later I still waking up screaming about those. Many of those memories hark from my early days storming the comedy trenches of Glesga. Not every one survived that ruthless battlefield. But some more than merely survived. They thrived. Back then I used to regularly gig with the now very famous television comic Kevin Bridges. At the time, he was just a fresh faced, well-spoken young lad, straight out of Fettes College in Edinburgh, where he’d come up with the idea of an endearing working-class Glaswegian character during a Drama Class workshop. I told him it would never work. But he kept at it and finally got the accent right. Have a look at him now! What a gifted actor!
Yes, I’ve done hundreds of shows in Glasgow over the years, in every manner of venue, from the Carling Academy to the Crime Academy. Yes, I actually played a comedy gig at Barlinnie prison recently. I learnt an important lesson that night. Never go on stage with an ounce of heroin up your arse.
A few years back I was asked to do workshops with juvenile delinquents in Easterhouse, teaching them stand up comedy skills as a way of boosting self confidence and morale. Seriously. I did. It was one of many spectacularly ill-conceived things I’ve been involved in in my life. But I’m proud to say those kids turned out to be the funniest hecklers in Barlinnie prison.
If there’s one accusation that will never be levelled at Glasgow, it is pretentiousness. There is a sort of spit and sawdust civic pride in Glasgow that stems I think from a kind of deep underlying self confidence. Willing to laugh at itself but also assured that there is actually a lot more to the place than the negative stereotypes people around the world associate with the city. Sometimes I think all the bad stories about Glasgow are a clever diversion designed to make sure you are never colonised by English people and American tourists in the way Edinburgh has been. Stupid Edinburgh, always telling everyone how good they are.
The negative stereotypes really do affect the outside world's view of Glasgow, and to be fair, I have seen every single one of them unfold before my eyes at one point or other. In fact, I’ve seen them all unfold simultaneously in the space of 20 minutes, on the walk from Buchanan Street Bus station to The Stand Comedy Club, checking them off like some kind of sick back-seat car journey game where the highest points are awarded for the greatest scenes of human degradation and violence. Man injecting heroin thru a hollowed out ball point pen? Check. Teenager screaming “I’ll rip yer coupon aff ya wee prick!” Check. Woman instructing child what to steal from Poundstretchers. Bonus points!
But the negative stereotypes are hardly the full picture. I like to think of Glasgow as a bit like the guy in the pub who always plays the drunken fool, but then can randomly quote Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in the midst of a heated argument. On the surface a dangerous looking drunken maniac, but underneath,a reservoir of rich socio-political and cultural passions. Basically I’m saying Glasgow is Raymond Mearns. If you do not know who Raymond Mearns is, then I put it to you that you do not know Glasgow.
One of my favourite aspects of Glasgow is the Cab Ride. In a Glasgow Cab you can drive for 20 minutes listening to a continuous and amusing monologue from the driver which will simultaneously cover 400 years of sectarian bigotry, the industrial revolution, the decline of British Industry, the sins of Margaret Thatcher, the idiocy of Allied involvement in Afghanistan, the injustice of TV talent shows, before finally bringing everything into a spectacular conclusion with a tale about the time Tommy Sheridan and Gerry Adams spit roasted Michelle McManus in the back of the very cab you are riding in. And at the end of this seemingly never ending journey and speech, he turns to you and says “that will be 4 pound 40 pal.” And you’re like “that can’t be right”. So you go “Here mate call it a fiver”. And he thanks you profusely, through streaming tears, never before having experienced such generosity from the natives.
Yes, the negative stereotypes about Glesga have been much covered in stand-up comedy, including my own. Crime, poverty, violence. Men who take their porridge with a spoonful of crushed glass and women who think methadone was invented to help babies sleep. But Glasgow has a much deeper soul than that. The 18th and 19th century merchants of Glasgow built fine buildings, parks, galleries and museums. Just to rub it in to all the poor cunts toiling in their factories probably. But they remain as an impressive reminder of Glasgow’s important role in the empire of old. And to culturally enrich the citizens of today.
The denizens of Glasgow have a saying, “if you want to really appreciate Glasgow, just look up”. And it’s true, when you do, you will see just how beautiful the architecture in this town really is. Quite often you will see a teenage girl is about to lob an empty bottle on your head too.
But for all the jokes about the less fortunate aspects of the city, Working class people in Glasgow have a history of being very self-educated, aware of social justice issues, prepared to fight for their rights. Much of what we associate with the modern labour movement had its origins in the weaving villages and shipyard’s of Glasgow. In particular the love of Swingers clubs and Sado-Masochistic sexual role play.
And I don’t think that this heritage of grassroots-driven activism can be underestimated in forging the unique and formidable comedic tradition in this town. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of negative social aspects the city has seen over the years, combined with this intelligent sense of social and political justice that makes the comedy that springs from here so prolific and funny. Fuck me. I might have just started to take this blog too seriously.
Anyway, as it happens, I recently discovered that after all the years I’ve been performing in Glasgow I actually have some Glasgow familial connections myself, albeit a long time ago. Earlier in the year I took part in a BBC Radio Scotland programme called “Digging Up Your Roots”, (which would mean something far more disturbing in Australia I might add!! Haha!) where I learned some interesting shit about one of my forefathers.
Turns out my Gt-Gt-Gt Grandfather was a Glasgow weaver. Unfortunately the 1840’s weren’t great times for weavers, so he actually spent more time breaking into wealthy people’s houses than at the spinning wheel. I can’t help but see his chosen targets as being a deliberate act of class warfare. But in reality, his fellow slum dwellers probably had nothing worth stealing.
One day, shortly after robbing a farm house near Helensburgh, he was stopped by the Polis as he walked up Broomielaw, having just disembarked from a steamship on the Clyde. Over his shoulder was a sack of stolen kitchenware and bed linen pinched from the Old Drumfork farmhouse in Cardross. It included six pairs of blankets, two bedcovers, seven sheets, six cups, six saucers, a tea pot, a crystal decanter, and a brass jelly-pan. He was essentially a mobile 1840’s stolen-goods version of IKEA. The Polis didn’t buy his story that he had happened upon the goods in a field, and he was sent to prison, where he was given the nickname “Jelly-Pan Campbell” and ridiculed him for ignoring the old-school criminal code that dictates “never go back for the jelly-pan”. Alright, I made the last bit up, but lets face it, it probably did happen.
I’ve now romanticised my ancestral heritage to the point that My Gt-Gt-Gt Grandfather is no longer a simple and impoverished housebreaker living off crime due to industrial turmoil in the 19th century weaving industry. He was a political activist courageously waging a one man war on the privileged establishment. While they slept. Or were at church.
Anyway, he got transported to Tasmania for that. Van Diemans land as it was known then. Well actually, he spent 500 days incarcerated on a festering prison hulk first, before almost dying on the five month voyage Down Under. I know this because of surviving surgeons’ records in the convict archives. I imagine by the time he disembarked in the strange and foreign land on the other side of the world, he really was regretting going back for the Jelly Pan. But also really in the mood for stealing land from indigenous people.
One thing is for sure. I doubt he ever thought he’d see Glasgow again. And he was right. He never did. I wonder how he’d feel if he knew one of his descendants had made it back here 160 years later to do a comedy show? Well I imagine that would be too much to compute and his head would explode. But not before one final chilling scream of “Don’t go back for the Jelly Pan!!!”
See Ro Campbell's solo show Alibi at Capitol on Sunday 10 April 2011. Find out more about the show here.
Monday, 4 April 2011
‘So there I was waiting for my kidney to get taken out of me and an Alsatian dog peed on my leg’, is one conversation from a bus stop in Glasgow by a wee man called Tam with a bunnet and penchant for calling Polish people ‘The Migrant Workers’.
You see Glasgow people are angry, bitter and as soft as fondue inside, we tell it like it is and that’s why my fair city bred some of the world’s best comics, from Chic Murray, Billy Connolly to latest comedy kid of the moment Tam at the 62 bus stop going to Shettleston.
We are funny people, we are Celtic (spoken with a hard C, anything else would divide the city) and Celtic people are inherent story tellers. The women that come out of the comedy circuit in Glasgow aren’t all cakes, cats and cushions nor do they bang on about being fat – they usually have stuff to say and they say with aplomb.
Glasgow has comedy ingrained into its very fabric, the people here laugh out loud at funerals and see the funny side of being under Tory rule again by snickering at the London anarchists who up-end litter bins and call it a demonstration. The Glasgow people threw cans of Irn Bru at Sheena Easton for affecting a Los Angeles twang at a Glasgow green concert and the old women of the council houses threatened to stab Maggie Thatcher with their knitting needles when she came to their community centre.
We are Glasgow, we are funny. Now go away before I set ma dog on ye!
See Janey Godley's show The Godley Hour at Oran Mor on Sunday 10 April. Click here for more show information.
Find out more about Janey at www.janeygodley.com.
Friday, 1 April 2011
That’s the kind of maniac that Glasgow can offer. One who can threaten to ruin your dancing career forever, but in the same breath will buy you a drink. Top tip in this situation: don’t let them buy you a drink. This is called danger avoidance.
There is no such thing as a typical Glasgow audience. The only thing you have to do is make them laugh, same as in any other town in the world. There is one thing that sets aside a Glasgow audience aside from most others, but I’ll come back to that.
Last year’s Glasgow comedy festival nearly destroyed me. In a good way though. I felt like I was living a double life. I worked full time in my office job during the day. I’d go home, be a dad and husband. Then at night I’d run around the city like a very low budget Challenge Anneka going from gig to gig.
It’s pretty hard to keep it together during that type of thing. At points you will be sitting on a train/taxi/bus/car going to another gig and think “I really just want to sit on my couch and have a shout of my xbox”. Then you get the thing keeps you going. It’s the thing that sets Glasgow aside. The audience reaction. If they like you, you will know.
Before I go I should really plug my show. My solo show is Work Life Balance,and it’s really all about the stuff I’d mentioned in this blog about trying to keep it together while my life seemed to be 100 miles an hour. Last years show got four stars, so hopefully I can better that.
As you can see self promotion is not one of my skills. See you soon!
See John Gavin's solo show Work Life Balance tonight, Friday 1 April at 8.30pm at Capitol. Find out more about this show here.