Happy New Year! A 2020 Retrospective
For the last five years or so, I've done a two-part New Year's blog every year where I set career goals for the year to come, and look back on last year's blog to assess how "well" I did at fulfilling last year's goals. This will be the last one of that type that I do, for two interconnected reasons. The first is, obviously, the pandemic we had (and are still having, let's not get complacent just because the date has changed). The second is the new Pixar film, Soul, which coalesced a lot of stuff I've been gradually learning all year. For those who've not seen it yet, this paragraph will contain a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven't seen it yet. There's a scene where the main character gets a train home after the gig of his life, and has an existential crisis as he realises he doesn't feel any different. That scene leads into the sequence of the film that everybody talks about, which is just one of the most incredible film moments I've ever seen. The moment on the train really got me, though, because I used to think about the exact same moment very often. Over the years of doing comedy, I started to notice that the tube journey home after every gig always felt exactly the same. Regardless of whether the gig had been embarrassingly, crushingly awful and made me want to never perform again, or if it had been absolutely incredible and made me feel like I was exactly where I wanted to be in my life, in the moment of journeying home I always became just a guy sitting on the tube going home to go to bed and get up and do it all again.
I think this year has taught us all to adopt a certain amount of perspective in the way we look at our lives. I achieved some quite good career-goals this year, all things considered, but none of them really factor into the highlights of my year. The highlights of my year are things like the garden I grew, and the meals I learned to cook, and the moments of connection I managed to achieve with people I care about even in the circumstances we all found ourselves in. I fell in love this year, and my girlfriend doesn't set specific goals year-by-year, she just chooses a word for the year and then tries to live according to that word. Her word this year was "Courage," and apparently if that hadn't been her word she would never have messaged me and we would never have met. My word for 2021 is going to be "Appreciate," and as part and parcel of that I'm going to stop looking at my life like it's a series of thresholds to cross, like it's a series of hoops to jump through and goals to tick off before eventually arriving somewhere. I'm going to try to get better at understanding that I'm already there.
So, for the sake of completism, I'm going to look back at last year's goals and see what ended up happening to them all in the year of Covid, but I won't be setting myself any new career targets for 2021. I'm just going to keep working hard, keep trying my best, keep making stuff, and keep enjoying my life, whether that means being proud of big achievements or just enjoying the tiny boring stuff. It's all the same stuff. So here we go for the last time:
You Build The Thing You Think You Are. This was going to be my latest live show. I developed it in February as part of an artist's residency at Battersea Arts Centre, and had a tour lined up taking it round a bunch of lovely comedy festivals, culminating in an Edinburgh Fringe run. The shows at the Vaults and in Leicester were lovely, and the performance in Glasgow was very sad, because it was just as we were being told to avoid going out as much as possible, but before lockdown had happened, so I found myself realising while I was performing it that the thing I loved doing for the last ten years was coming to an end. I've not performed live since. But I loved the show I was putting together and the things I was trying to explore with it, so I adapted it into a feature film, with help from Alex Hardy and Objectively Funny Productions, and presented it as a ticketed screening during the summer. The Guardian and the Telegraph singled it out as one of the comedy highlights of the year, and after I'd felt generally demoralised by my attempts at livestreaming or making short-form lockdown content, it was a big boost to my confidence to feel like I managed to find a way to keep making the sort of gentle, introspective, unusual thing I used to make even in the new circumstances we found ourselves in. It felt like an important statement of intent to myself - that I was going to keep trying.
Some Things For The Radio. Both of these actually ended up happening! In January Roxy Dunn and I made a sort of semi-scripted, podcast-esque programme where we chatted about the unique failings and quirks of our generation, and that was a pleasure. Later in the year I was supposed to be recording a stand-up special for Radio 4 which would be my first ever professionally broadcast solo project. It got postponed by Covid, and then we were offered the opportunity to record it without an audience instead, and I leapt at it. During lockdown I completely forgot how a live audience worked, and became more focused on making scripted, edited comedy that was more interior and kaleidoscopic, so I rewrote the special to be a sort of sketch-stand-up hybrid that better reflected my current approach to making funny stuff. It goes out on Sunday, and I can't wait for you all to hear it!
Some Other Scripted Projects. Obviously it's not been a vintage year for actually getting scripts commissioned, because the entire comedy industry spent most of the year in a state of shutdown, so I didn't really make much progress with this one. However, I did come up with an idea for a scripted project which, for the first time, wasn't just focused on myself, but was a bit bigger and more outward-looking and high-concept, and I had so much more fun writing a pilot script for it than I usually do. Regardless of what ends up happening with it, I had a blast writing something a bit more imaginative than what I usually write.
A Couple Of Podcasts. Neither of them are at the point of being able to be listened to yet, but I did contribute to two podcast concepts this year. Matt Highton and I have recorded a taster/pilot of a podcast idea we had, and we might record more and start putting them out this year if we can find a producer for it, so watch this space for that. And I can't say too much about it because it's not really my project, but John-Luke Roberts is working on a very imaginative, original, excellent podcast concept and I've been contributing a few random sketches and characters to it which he's assembling into something which I think is going to be really unique and brilliant, so watch out for that too.
Trucking On With Making Things. Mixed results on this goal. During the first lockdown I really threw myself into trying to make stuff, both solo sketches of my own and collaborations with other people. Some were fine, some were good, some were things I actually felt really proud of. But I also had a go at livestreaming, and things like that, and by and large it all left me a bit cold. I eventually got a bit tired of constantly trying to come up with ideas for little online sketches, and ended up disengaging from that world quite a bit as the year went on. I'm proud of most of the little bits I made, and of the way I tried to flex new creative muscles, and I'll keep making stuff going forward when I have an idea I'm genuinely excited by, but by and large I found it a bit exhausting and dispiriting trying to carve out a place for myself in the world of online comedy, so I'm not hugely satisfied with the progress I made on this particular goal.
ACMS & Weirdos Again. On the other hand, these two collectives continue to be my favourite groups with which to be silly. While most of my attempts at streaming or doing online live comedy left me feeling sad and very far away from the stuff I used to do, ACMS and Weirdos put on online events which made me feel like part of something imaginative and collaborative and daft and special again. I did a skit about being a selkie for an online ACMS that was one of my favourite stupid things this year, and Adam Larter constructed a whole bunch of ridiculous imaginary worlds for various Zoom gigs in which the Weirdos were allowed to play - a spoof celebrity Twitch-a-thon, a Houseparty call hosted by Bill Gates, an intergalactic space opera. These online happenings made me very happy and grateful to have the friends I do in the comedy world.
Acting. Again, not a vintage year for this goal as not that much stuff was being made, really. But I played a few guest roles in friends' online comedy projects, and did some acting in a handful of little sketches, and played the voice of David Beckham in a silly gameshow on Comedy Central. So a few bits and bobs. I'll try harder to do more acting next year.
Just Having A Bit More Confidence, Actually. I think I did pretty well at this one. Going back to my girlfriend again (sorry to be that guy, but hey, she's been the best thing about 2020), she recently listened to my episode of the Comedians' Comedian Podcast which I recorded with Stu Goldsmith last year, and said she didn't recognise any of the things I was talking about. I think that podcast is a good reflection of who I was at the time and how I looked at my work, but apparently I talked a lot about my comedy being about losing and failing and being pitied and bullied by others, and she said she didn't recognise any of that in the person she'd got to know. I hadn't really noticed that change in myself, but looking back on last year's goals I guess it must have been a sort of semi-conscious change to try and take more pride in my work and in my life and in my relationships with others, and to try and stop looking at my life through the lens of being a bit of a hopeless individual trying their best to get things right, but to start being happier and more accepting of who I am. I'm not going to get carried away - I've got a lifetime of being an absolute goon behind me, so I'm hardly going to start believing I'm Dwayne Johnson. But I'm happy to think that my confidence and self-esteem took a step forward this year, and I'd like to carry that on into 2021.
And that's it! No more of these. I hope you all found things to be happy and proud about in this very difficult year, and that you're all looking forward to a year where we take the lessons of 2020 and turn them into positive change for ourselves. Lots of love and Happy New Year,