Hello! And welcome back to the Fruit Salad Therapy Tapes, a weekly interactive sketchpad/notebook project from friendly nuisance Jog Noggins. If you’ve enjoying the newsletter I’d love it if you shared it with a friend or encouraged people to subscribe! Alternatively, if you decide you’ve had enough of it and it’s no longer for you, you’re very welcome to unsubscribe any time you like. If you’re still with me, then read on for this week’s Tape!
Finding My Way Back
I’ve just got back from a walking holiday in the Highlands, which has been a great opportunity to blow out some cobwebs and see and take in some new stuff. On the last day of the walk, something quite unusual happened which I’ve not felt for a long time and which I wasn’t anticipating feeling again for a little while. Tomorrow night (as I’m writing this – it’ll be last night by the time you’re reading it) I’m doing my first live comedy gig since a solo show at the Glasgow Comedy Festival in March 2020. I booked it in a while ago as an opportunity to try and explore the idea of being onstage again and trying to be funny in front of an audience, and didn’t until recently have particularly high hopes that I would enjoy it all that much. Over the last year my attitude to live comedy has shifted a great deal in all sorts of directions – I didn’t feel like online gigs were an adequate replacement for the ways in which that environment used to stimulate me, and because they were the only surrogate readily available, I ended up just shutting off the part of my brain that used to enjoy live comedy full stop. I put all my energy into writing long-form scripted stuff with characters and narratives, and the idea of standing onstage and exploring a comedic idea in the company of an audience felt further and further away.
Then while I was walking on the last day of my holiday, I started actively considering the question “What am I going to talk about at this gig in three days’ time?” and found my brain rattling out ideas to itself in a way it hasn’t done for over a year. I started thinking of games it would be fun to engage an audience with, and subjects it would be fun to riff around and figure out live onstage, subject to the whims and moods and tides of the audience. I was making myself laugh in my head by coming up with stuff that I thought could come alive and spark and spiral into unexpected places based on how a live environment responded to it. I had completely forgotten that this was how I used to write material. The idea of having access to a live audience to play with had felt so distant and impossible that I simply hadn’t allowed my brain to play in this way, and now I was looking at the realistic prospect of having a group of people to perform to on Wednesday, my brain was rediscovering old pathways it used to enjoy running down.
The writing I’ve been doing over the last year has been of a very different kind – while it’s still been centred on playfulness and silliness, the fact that I’ve been writing scripted, edited projects has meant that often the main question I’ve been occupied with is “What is the right thing to happen here? What’s the right joke to make, the right beat to hit, the right bit of nonsense to engage in?” But while spitballing ideas to myself in a wood halfway up a big hill, the idea of coming up with the “right” thing was suddenly a distant concern, because it’s rarely the point of live performance. Suddenly I was asking myself “What could happen here? What could I talk about?” and laughing at the various options I was coming up with. I may well find out tomorrow that not much of what I thought of was all that good, but I was thinking in a way I had completely forgotten to do.
The reason I’m using all this as the basis for this week’s Tape is because one of the hardest lessons I’ve been trying to force myself to learn this year is to try to get better at avoiding absolutism. At thinking “I am this, I am not that.” To stop trying to use what my brain is currently preoccupied with doing as some sort of fundamental basis for my sense of my own identity. Austin Kleon has his whole thing about how we are verbs, not nouns (I know I was sceptical about Kleon in a previous Tape – I have mixed feelings on him. He’s basically very good) – that we should be more focused on what we do, not what we are. I’ve been struggling with this all year. “I guess maybe I’m just not a comedian any more,” I’d tell myself. “Maybe I’m more of a writer.” I had effectively adopted the title of “someone who makes stuff” several years ago rather than telling myself I was a “comic” or a “writer-performer” or an “artist,” a word I would use a whole lot more if it didn’t come loaded with a huge amount of baggage. Calling myself “someone who makes stuff” made it easier to commit to doing rather than being, but the seismic shifts in comedy and the arts over the last year made it a lesson I had to learn all over again. The part of my brain that enjoyed pratting about live onstage in front of people totally shut off the second live audiences disappeared, and a different part that was more studious, more analytical and more thoughtful took up the baton and helped me to keep making stuff for over a year. And all of a sudden, with the prospect of being able to perform to an audience again, that younger, sillier, more impulsive self had crept back out to help me write material, concerned principally with fun over quality.
The thing to remember is that I am neither of these people. I am neither a writer nor a comedian nor a performer, I am no more a funny person than I am a thoughtful person, just as nobody on the planet “is” an architect, “is” a tree surgeon, “is” a vet, “is” a father, “is” a sister, “is” a skateboarder, “is” a prog rock fan. We are all just people who make stuff, one way or the other, and all we need to do is the thing we currently feel like doing. By the time you read this I will have done this gig and will know whether my newfound cautious optimism about live performance was well-founded or not. Perhaps I’ll include a post-script.
PGPS (Post-Gig-Post-Script) – That was fun. I’ve got a long way to go before I remember how to be confident and accomplished onstage, but remembering how to be silly in front of a group of people who are there to have a good time was a whole lot of fun.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – There’s a new series of The Skewer launching on BBC Radio 4 next Wednesday, and it just won a Gold Award at the Audio & Radio Industry Awards. I mention it here because a little something I’ve made about Matt Hancock and the Blue Fairy might be making it into the first episode, so give it a listen and see if you hear it!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I’m pitching something based on my character Mr Fruit Salad at the moment, and the producer says we need to change his name because the name is currently too annoying to be commissioned, so there’s a chance he might be changing his name to Mr Jobby, and frankly, the fact that this is being considered as a more likely name to get commissioned makes me piss myself every time I think about it.
Book Of The Week – The Buddha Of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. I was mostly aware of this because Bowie made a really good soundtrack album to the 90s TV adaptation of it, and eventually thought I should give it a read. It’s fantastic. It’s one of Zadie Smith’s favourite books, and you can see some of that same energy in there. It’s really been making me belly-laugh.
Album Of The Week – Trouble Will Find Me by the National. Can’t stop singing the chorus of “I Should Live In Salt.” Absolutely beautiful.
Film Of The Week – I’ve not watched any films this week! We were gonna watch some on holiday, but then all the walking made us too tired to last through anything longer than 40 minutes.
That’s all for this week! As ever, I love hearing your thoughts, takes, opinions, etc, so please do let me know what you thought! And as ever, any shares or recommendations are hugely appreciated. Have a lovely couple of weeks, take care of yourselves and all the best,
Here’s me on the Bridge of Oich.