Monday, 1 February 2016

Let's talk about cancer.

We lost David Bowie, Terry Wogan and Lemmy in January; all 3 of them to cancer. Whenever someone dies from cancer, it can't help but remind me of the fact that people close to me have suffered from it. This includes both of my parents. My Mum was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005; luckily, they managed to remove it successfully, and, in lovely news, during January she got the "all clear" after 10 years of check-ups at the hospital. Dad, meanwhile, has suffered from lymphoma cancer since 2011. While the hospital can control it, it isn't something they will ever be able to fully cure. The obvious positive is the fact he's still here, and should still be here for a while yet, which I am indescribably grateful for. However, it has still had a huge impact on our life as a family; due to the cancer, as of last year my Dad has taken early-retirement due to ill health - at the age of 53. This has made home-life a fair bit more stressful, as we have had to adapt to the new circumstances, both practically and financially. Particularly over the last few weeks, I have been feeling quite stressed out, and I have had a few down days over it all; I'm not saying this to get sympathy, or anything like that, it's just an important thing to talk about so others going through similar experiences know that they aren't alone. I know there are people on my friend list who have lost people to cancer, or who have cancer themselves - I'd like them to know that I think about them, and anyone else I know affected by it, every time I hear sad news like that of the deaths of Wogan, Bowie and Lemmy. Out of dark times always comes light, of course, so I'd like to direct people towards something my Uncle Graham is doing: starting on 8th June 2016, he is doing a 300 mile bike ride from London to Paris, over 4 days. He is doing this in aid of the Lymphoma Association - primarily as a show of support for his brother-in-law. Now, when I want to show support, I'd usually send an e-mail, or send a text...a 300 mile bike ride is an absurd level of support. Lots of people say to me "stand-up comedy must be so hard, I could never do it" - but, frankly, most people could do it after you put 5 drinks in them. Make them tipsy, give them a microphone, and there we go! They are a stand-up comedian. Not a good one, but still. A 300 mile bike ride, however? If anything, 5 drinks will make a 1 mile bike impossible, never mind the rest. If you fancy throwing a couple of pounds his way, that would be absolutely lovely. Don't do this if you can't afford it, though; I've had many times in my life when I couldn't afford £4 for a drink at the pub, so I completely get it. The link is below: https://www.justgiving.com/GrahamFranklinLondonToParis

Thanks for reading,
Tom


Friday, 13 February 2015

Hecklers and Homophobia

Last night's gig was...shall we say eventful?

Firstly, during my set itself, I had a nice back-and-forth exchange with two guys in the front row. One of them was a bald heterosexual man called Dom, but he initially said his name was Jon - for no discernible reason. I renamed him Daisy. I went on to have an odd flirtatious chat with him - all for comedic effect, of course - in which he at one point joked "shall we just go to the toilets now?", implying we would have homosexual relations. It was all funny and light-hearted, and it made me think "ah, it's always nice when people are carefree and rational enough to be comfortable with their own sexuality to joke about things like this".


After the gig, his mate came into the green room and apologised for heckling, to which I said it wasn't needed as an apology, because they were friendly and helpful heckles. We then - along with a comedian friend of mine who also performed - chatted for a good hour or so, and he said that he used to be in the army. He told me he'd had to return fire at people in Afghanistan, jump out of planes, and that his best mate died in his arms. He then went on to say "I could never do what you do", insisting it was "a different kind of bravery". I am struggling to get my head around it, to be frank. I've never been more proud of the fact that I do stand-up, though.

At this point, I will reveal the fact that the other comedian was a gay man. This shouldn't be something I need to reveal, but sadly it was.

My comedian friend offered myself and the army man a lift to the train station, which we kindly accepted. The army man went up to his mate and said he was getting a lift with us, to which his mate said "careful! They might bum ya!", before looking over at us and saying "No offense." Then, as we were leaving through the door, he shouted "remember to spit on it first!" He then called the guy up twice in 30 mins to check he was alright, both times implying nasty things. I'm not entirely sure what he said, but his mate had to respond "no, they were just two nice guys", and "yes, I'm safe and sound".


Firstly, saying "they might bum you" about non-heterosexual people, while talking to your heterosexual friend, is not something you can simply say "no offense" about. You have just implied that you think that any man who is interested in other men is therefore likely to rape every man he sees, which I think one would be quite within their right to take offense over. Secondly, I wouldn't have a problem with someone calling up a friend if they were getting a lift with a stranger, far from it. It's the fact it was more than that. It's the fact that I am certain, considering the guy phoned up twice asking if his friend was alright in such a short space of time - and the responses his friend gave - that it was something worse than that. What made it all the more confusing was I had earlier thought this man was clearly a tolerant and open-minded individual - he had been willing to joke about the idea of himself being gay, after all - but it turned out that he was the type of person who genuinely believes that non-heterosexual men can't be trusted, and are a real threat.

This is, sadly, not a new thing. They are many cases of straight men being scared of non-straight men; phrases like "keep your backs to the wall" and "don't drop the soap" are ones that most people will have heard. But I had never before come across a man who was happy to joke about the concept, but actually had deep-rooted homophobic tendencies. It's more than a little disconcerting.

Aside from this, it was a nice gig. It was at a pub called The Unicorn, too, which is an awesome pub name. Also, seriously: what kind of homophobe says to his mates with a straight face "anyone fancy a pint down The Unicorn tonight?" A stupid* one.

*All homophobes.

Thanks for reading,


Tom.


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Alcohol and Comedy

I recently read an article on Chortle about the new Redemption comedy night, which is running what have been referred to as “dry” comedy nights – that is, comedy gigs without alcohol. I thought I may as well write a piece about my own experience of running a comedy night without alcohol.

In August of 2014, I entered into negotiations to start running a comedy night at Dar Papillon in Berkhamsted. Dar Papillon is a vegan café, owned and run by a woman who is a Muslim. Due to her religious beliefs, I was told that it would have to be, rather unconventionally, an alcohol-free night. This didn’t bother me, really; it was already an unconventional venue, after all - most gigs are in pubs or nightclubs, not vegan cafés. I was assured that we would be able to get an audience, as they had previously had a good audience there for variety nights, consisting of musicians, poets, and dancers, as well as authors talking about their work.

While planning for the night, we decided we’d use the venue – and stipulations regarding the venue – to our advantage. We marketed it as “the comedy club that’s different”, celebrating the fact that is was abnormal, rather than being put off by it. We then went about booking acts who were a bit different, to match the vibe. For example, on the first night, we had one act in the first half of the night that played the character of an African Dictator, President Obonjo. We then opened the second half with him being “himself”, bemoaning the fact that this character, his own creation, was taking over his life. It was different, absurd, and silly, but most importantly it was funny. As for the room itself, we decorated it with Chinese lanterns, bright multi-coloured cloth, and put little pots of nibbles around the room for acts and audience alike to help themselves to. All of the acts commented on how nice the room was, and how it was different from most venues they had played.

Before the first night, I was be told by a friend of mine that he’d overheard a comedian at an open mic night saying “comedy without alcohol? That can never work”. I also know an act that has fallen out with another act due to an argument over whether comedy can work without alcohol. I understand that lots of comedy nights – particularly those ran in rooms above pubs – rely on the extra income from drink sales to keep afloat, and in no way am I saying that alcohol should be banned from comedy, or anything absurd like that. I have done plenty of brilliant nights in rooms above pubs, and I understand completely how important alcohol can be in making many nights financially viable, especially when promoters are trying to convince landlords that they should host a comedy night at their venue. I also know that alcohol can help audiences relax, letting the laughs flow more freely. However, we all know that alcohol at comedy nights can turn audience members – and sometimes comedians – into disruptive morons who damage the night for everyone, so I guess it’s important to recognise that there are both pros and cons.
All I can say is this: we have run two nights at the venue so far (last October and November, respectively) and for both nights, we had a good audience who enjoyed the night; we had acts who had good gigs; and we made a profit on both nights (and after only charging £3 per ticket/£1.50 for concessions, and paying for a headliner). So, while some acts might think “you can’t have stand-up comedy without alcohol”, we managed it.


Comedy without alcohol? I’ll drink to that.


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Winter Goodwill 2014: #4: The AhhGee team

I have recently been ordering, packing, and posting Christmas pressies to a small number of friends. Due to financial reasons, I have had to cut back the number of presents I am buying this year; however, when I look back at 2014, there are more people than ever that I want to express my gratitude towards. That is why I have decided to start a series of blogs entitled Winter Goodwill. In each blog, I will write about a certain person or group, championing them and their impact on my year, as a means of thanking them for being good to me. Hopefully this will put a smile on their faces over the Christmas period, while also celebrating the goodwill that people do across the year, not just over Christmas.

The blogs will cover a variety of people; some are people I have known throughout the year, while others I have only known for a matter of months. Some are close friends, while others are acquaintances - but ones that I hope will one day become a good friend.


The AhhGee team consists of Andy Harland, Grax, and Michael Bell. First and foremost, they do a podcast, but they have also branched out into YouTube videos and live performance throughout this year. I spent a fair bit of time in their company during the Edinburgh Festival, and it was a pleasure getting to know the former two, as well as spending time with Mike, who I've known for a couple of years. Firstly, I want to say thanks to them for letting me crash in their Edinburgh flat for a couple of days so I could stay for longer - thanks guys! They also gave me a spot during one of their Edinburgh shows, so thanks again for that, too.


I am going to start with Mike, as I've known him for longest. Throughout the year, there have been times where we've exchanged late-night ramblings, countless Simpsons quotes, and drinks. One of the most awesome things about Mike; he's the only person who, when I send a text that only reads "It stinks! It stinks! It stinks!", will know that it is a Simpsons quote from the 90s. Throw in a shared love of The Muppets and comedy, and there's the foundations of a good friendship. He's also been really lovely about this blogs, so thanks so much, mate. We're going to push ourselves to blog and make videos more come 2015, but I'll reveal more details about that in the new year. I'm really looking forward to it!



Grax is a very nice man. One thing that sums up how nice he is is some of his YouTube videos, which you can see here. The most viewed one involves him having every single hair on his body waxed/shaved, in aid of Leukemia and Lymphoma research. Considering the fact my Dad has Lymphoma cancer, seeing he had done this really touched me personally, and it epitomises the fact that Grax is a decent guy who wants to do a lot of good. There are also videos of him taking part in Run Or Dye, videos of him before and after he ran the London Marathon, and one of him dressing as a giant purple cat for World Polio Day. I really admire how much he has done to raise money for charity, and I respect him hugely for it. 


Finally, Andy. Throughout the last handful of months of 2014, every time I've put a status or Twitter out about being nervous due to a big gig, I've received a post/tweet from Andy simply saying "I believe in Tom Mayhew". I can't recall how it started, or why, but it's always a really nice thing to read, something that has helped me kick the nerves and put a smile on my face. Andy, like his two co-members of AhhGee, is also a lovely guy, which is summed up by his video I featured in the blog, in which he talks about his work with London band The Autistix.



Basically, all 3 of them are proper lovely guys, who have been nothing but friendly and kind to me over this past year. If you wish to follow them on Twitter, @AhhGeeProd is their group account, on which you can fairly easily find links to their 3 personal accounts.



Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Winter Goodwill 2014: #3: President Obonjo/Benjamin Bello

I have recently been ordering, packing, and posting Christmas pressies to a small number of friends. Due to financial reasons, I have had to cut back the number of presents I am buying this year; however, when I look back at 2014, there are more people than ever that I want to express my gratitude towards. That is why I have decided to start a series of blogs entitled Winter Goodwill. In each blog, I will write about a certain person or group, championing them and their impact on my year, as a means of thanking them for being good to me. Hopefully this will put a smile on their faces over the Christmas period, while also celebrating the goodwill that people do across the year, not just over Christmas.

The blogs will cover a variety of people; some are people I have known throughout the year, while others I have only known for a matter of months. Some are close friends, while others are acquaintances - but ones that I hope will one day become a good friend.



Blog number 3 of this endeavor will be about another fellow stand-up comedian, known to most as President Obonjo. I first met this man at a gig back in September, and since then I've crossed paths with him at a couple other gigs since then, mainly because the man works incredibly hard at honing his craft. His comedy act consists of him coming on stage and telling the audience that he is the President of Lafta Republic, and that he is an African dictator. The concept of the character alone really makes me laugh, and his performance skills and writing match the quality of the idea. What epitomises his dedication to comedy is the fact that, on the first night of the Dar Papillon Comedy Club, he agreed to come and do the gig with less than 7 hours notice, and performed not just one 10 minute set, but two; one as President Obonjo, and one as Benjamin Bello, complaining to the audience that President Obonjo was stealing his life. It was the type of thing that made me want to run a night in the first place. I didn't want to run a night with just a load of brand new acts trying out material (though these nights definitely have their place), I wanted to put on shows that had things that were a bit weird and a bit different, and - most importantly - very funny. An act doing one set in character and then another berating his character for stealing his life is something I'd never seen before, so I was delighted that he did it. The fact it was the first time he'd done both acts on a single night, and it was at my club, made me very happy.

Speaking of the club, as of 2014, Leslie will sadly no longer be able to help out in the same capacity that he could before. However, President Obonjo has agreed to co-run the night with me, which I am very, very excited about. He's a great act, and a truly lovely guy, too. We talk quite frequently on Facebook about comedy and silly ideas, and he's one of those people who, when I look back over this year, think "how did I not know you before this year?" I'm really excited to gig with him loads more come 2015.


I had the pleasure of helping President Obonjo film his 2014 Christmas Message yesterday, in a town local to me, Aylesbury. I will post it below. You may notice that it is uploaded to my YouTube channel; this was his idea, as he said "I like to give thanks to people who help me", so he wanted me to do so as thanks for me filming and editing it. I genuinely was expecting a simple "thank you" message on Facebook, so the fact that he let me host it on my YouTube channel, as well as buying me a drink on the day, epitomised the fact he's a great man. Do give it a watch, it's good fun

Vote Obonjo



I also had the pleasure of meeting his 10 year-old son yesterday. As 10 year-old's go, I've never met a wittier one. I am quite sure that his son will be crowned King of Comedy within 10 years, just you wait.



Many thanks for reading,

Tom.

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Friday, 19 December 2014

Winter Goodwill 2014: #2: Leslie Tate & Sue Hampton

I have recently been ordering, packing, and posting Christmas pressies to a small number of friends. Due to financial reasons, I have had to cut back the number of presents I am buying this year; however, when I look back at 2014, there are more people than ever that I want to express my gratitude towards. That is why I have decided to start a series of blogs entitled Winter Goodwill. In each blog, I will write about a certain person or group, championing them and their impact on my year, as a means of thanking them for being good to me. Hopefully this will put a smile on their faces over the Christmas period, while also celebrating the goodwill that people do across the year, not just over Christmas.

The blogs will cover a variety of people; some are people I have known throughout the year, while others I have only known for a matter of months. Some are close friends, while others are acquaintances - but ones that I hope will one day become a good friend.

For blog number 2, I am going to talk about a couple of people I didn't know until August; which, considering how often I converse with them now, seems absurd. By couple, I mean this this in the sense of a married couple. No, it's not Dirty Den and Angie Watts! Though that would be totally topical. The couple I am talking about are both writers, both really interesting, and both lovely. Their names are Leslie Tate and Sue Hampton.

Leslie and Sue actually knew my Mum before they knew me, having talked to her in Boots in Berkhamsted, where she works. I am unsure how long they knew each-other, but I am presuming it was a while, as it was long enough for Mum to find out they were both published authors.

I was at a low point in August; sick of being unemployed, being rejected for Tesco jobs I was far over-qualified for, and having not gotten far with my writing or stand-up, Mum decided to ask Leslie and Sue if they'd be able to help me out, as people within the industry. I initially only had contact with Leslie; after exchanging a handful or so e-mails, we decided to meet up at Dar Papillon, and discuss the possibility of hosting a comedy night there. 2 months later, the Dar Papillon Comedy Club had its first gig. I should at this point also add in a huge thanks to Salva, who owns Dar Papillon, for her enthusiasm and support during our venture. It wouldn't have happened without you.

Back in Janaury 2014, I had no desire to run and organise a night, or to MC. Frankly, I thought I would be a poor MC, and I thought I'd be awful at the promotion side of things. The fact that our first night had 37 paying audience members, and was promoted by my debut appearance in my local newspaper, as well as my first ever appearance on the radio - a BBC station, no less - is a pretty incredible thing to look back on.

This couple did more than get me 5 minutes in the limelight, though. Leslie was the first person I didn't know who I showed a video of my stand-up with the view of him giving me his opinion. All the other opinions I'd had regarding it were from people I knew, so this was a big step that could have backfired. I can recall thinking defensively to myself as I sent him the link - at a point where I didn't really know him, so there was no reason for him to be anything but honest - my mind saying "ha, what does this person know about comedy?", anticipating the slating before my message was even in the Outbox.

However, he enjoyed my style of comedy, and found it really interesting. He completed supported me chasing my creative dreams - at a time where I couldn't get a job at Tesco to fund travel to gigs, and where Mum had asked me "Is this comedy thing just a dream? Is it realistic?"; his support, as a fellow creative, artistic type, was a beacon of light when the rest of the world was being horrible, when I started to wonder if I was wasting my time and energy.

September-December have been my most gig-heavy months to date, and have seen me advance in two competitions, MC for the first time, and start being happy calling myself a comedian, instead of thinking "I'm just a guy who does comedy every now and then". Leslie and Sue definitely deserve my sincerest thanks for their roles during this time. They also told my Mum that they think I'm talented, which finally helped sway my parents into thinking "maybe he's not wasting his time"; something that was obviously helped by the aforementioned promotional appearances. Their passion and commitment for helping and supporting creative people (including running variety nights with a huge mix of talented people), and their understanding that artistic-types put their creations ahead of money and comfort, was a much needed antidote to the job-obsessed world I had found myself trapped in.


Outside of comedy things, Leslie has also been very supportive when discussing general life events and troubles, and I truly consider both him and Sue friends of mine. It's also blooming great to know more people who support The Green Party, and have excellent ethics. I also admire both of them incredibly for their individualism. They are just awesome human-beings.


You can get an eBook of Sue's latest release here, if you are a Kindle kid. You can also find Sue on Twitter - @SueAuthor - while Leslie is LSTateAuthor.


Thanks for reading,

Tom.

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Winter Goodwill 2014: #1: Matthew Courtnell

I have recently been ordering, packing, and posting Christmas pressies to a small number of friends. Due to financial reasons, I have had to cut back the number of presents I am buying this year; however, when I look back at 2014, there are more people than ever that I want to express my gratitude towards. That is why I have decided to start a series of blogs entitled Winter Goodwill. In each blog, I will write about a certain person or group, championing them and their impact on my year, as a means of thanking them for being good to me. Hopefully this will put a smile on their faces over the Christmas period, while also celebrating the goodwill that people do across the year, not just over Christmas.

The blogs will cover a variety of people; some are people I have known throughout the year, while others I have only known for a matter of months. Some are close friends, while others are acquaintances - but ones that I hope will one day become a good friend.



For this first blog, I am going to talk about a fellow stand-up comedian on the circuit called Matthew Courtnell. I first met Matthew when we were gigging together in September 2013 at a We Are Funny Project new act/new material gig. Despite September 2013 being a number of years after my first ever gig (which was way back in 2010), the night in question was only my 15th gig; this was due to a mixture of circumstances, financial problems, and - most crucially - self-confidence issues. It is fair to say that I hadn't really got going in terms of regular gigging. However, this night helped kick the latter issue in the butt.

It was the first time I left the stage thinking "fuck me, I just had a great gig". While for most comedians their 15th gig would be within less than 2 months of their first gig, the fact that this gig came so long after I first stepped on stage as a shy, terrified 18 year-old back in 2010 made it mean so much more to me. It was an incredible feeling, having acts come up to me during the interval saying "really great set, man"; a feeling that was only bettered when I was named as the best new act of the night after a crowd vote, winning that night's "I Am Funny Award". I can still remember the fact that I couldn't stop smiling for minutes afterwards, and that my face was all tingly because I was so utterly delighted. As someone who has always been quiet, shy, with low self-esteem, to receive the first bit of validation of my potential in the stand-up comedy world really flipped my perspective of what I could achieve.

It wasn't just about being crowned the best act of the night, though. What made me just as happy was talking to Matthew after the gig, and him saying to me "I was cheering so loud for you". The fact that someone enjoyed my weird, awkward style of comedy so much was completely new to me, but it felt bloody lovely. What made it even more lovely was the fact that I respected Matthew as a performer and writer after seeing him gig for the first time that evening. Of the many reasons that I really like Matthew is that we have a fair few similarities; we're both quite socially awkward, we both have some pro-feminist material, we're both naturally quite low-key, low-status acts. He has better hair, though.


But enough about when I met Matthew in 2013; why am I choosing him as my first choice to be featured in my Christmas Goodwill 2014 list? Well, in May 2014, he got in touch with me, and asked if I'd like a spot at his new comedy night he was running. This was the first ever time that someone had ever invited me to be on a bill at a gig. For those who don't know, getting gigs while starting up as a stand-up comedian involves sending out a ton of e-mails to promoters, basically begging for stage-time with no evidence that shows them whether you're funny or not. To have someone say to me "hey, I want you on my gig" was another massive confidence boost, which helped me reach a level of confidence that enabled me to do more gigs in 2014 than I'd done in the previous 3 years combined by far.


More than being someone who helped me believe in myself as a comedian, Matthew Courtnell is a really nice guy. However, I don't want people to think that impacts my view of him as a stand-up; there can be really nice people who are poor stand-ups, or horrible people that are great stand-ups. With that in mind, I'd like to clarify that I think he is a great stand-up. He has some lovely pieces of writing, as well as being an interesting, compelling performer. What sums up my belief in him as a writer and performer is that he was the very first act I approached when I was looking for a 10 minute spot for my comedy night I was organising in October.

Talking to him in late-November, I think he's at a similar stage to me, in that we both are experimenting with different personas/voices on stage as it stands; what I do believe, though, is that once he's nailed down what he wants to do, he'll be a fantastic act.

Here is a video of a set by him below. If you fancy following him on Twitter, his handle is CourtComedy - though his last tweet was way back during the Edinburgh Festival. I like to imagine his timeline was frozen by the weather...




So there we have it. I thought this blog series would be a nice way of me saying "thanks" to some awesome people who have played a part in my 2014, though only now have I realised it might make some people feel a bit uncomfortable...I am hoping it will make those featured feel "aww, I'm a good person who had a positive impact this year" more than anything, though. It's nice to celebrate people for just being nice people, I think.



Thanks for reading. I am going to try and do another of these tomorrow.

Tom.


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