Jokes That Aged Badly

I’ve lately taken an interest in collecting jokes that haven’t aged well. By which I mean: jokes that no longer work, or require explanation, because they’re conceptually ‘dated’. Typically, these jokes aren’t funny any more, or are only funny to people who were around at the time that they were first conceived, and I imagine that we, as a civilisation, are necessarily relegating more and more jokes into this particular category as time goes on.

A man used to make his wife go to bed first in the winter-time, caller her his warming-pan; which she not well relishing, one night left something smoaking in his place. Finding himself in a stinking pickle: Wife, said he, I am beshit: No, husband, said she, it is only coal dropt out of your warming-pan!
I don’t mean outdated like this joke, published in 1803, but ones that require explanation because a listener is no longer likely to recognise the concepts or people referenced. For example, if it were the case that warming pans were now such an alien concept that nobody knew what they were any more, then the above would certainly qualify (that’s not true yet… right?).

My favourite joke of this category is the following classic student joke, which was relevant when I first heard it in the 1990s:

What’s pink and takes an hour to drink?

Grant cheque

By way of explanation: the grant cheque was how British students used to receive their government aid to support them during their studies. It had become gradually smaller (relative to the value of the pound) over time by failing to rise in value in line with inflation, and was printed on pink paper, hence the joke. There was an effort to revive it in the late 1990s/early 2000s as follows:

What’s green and takes an hour to drink?

Loan cheque

By this point, the grant had been replaced by the student loan, whose payments came printed on green paper instead. This is, of course, simply an example of adapting an old joke for a new audience, as we’ve all seen time and again with the inevitable string of recycled gags that get rolled-out every time a celebrity is accused of a sex crime. Incidentally, the revised form of the grant cheque/loan cheque joke has itself become dated as students now typically receive all of their loan payments directly to their bank accounts for convenient immediate spending rather than what my generation had to do which was to make the beans-and-rice stretch another few days until the cheque cleared.

An idiot asks a silversmith to make him a lamp. 'How big do you want me to make it?' the silversmith asks. 'Big enough for eight people to see by.'
This 4th/5th century joke (presented with a contemporary translation) doesn’t count, because it’s still flipping hilarious.

Here’s another example:

Bill and Ben the flower pot men are in the garden.

“Flobalobalobalob,” says Bill

Ben replies: “You’re drunk, Bill.”

Now those of you who are about my age, or older, are unlikely to see why this joke has dated badly. But it is dated, because the 2001 reboot of The Flower Pot Men (now called simply Bill and Ben) features the titular characters speaking in reasonably-normal English! The idea that they were only speaking Oddle Poddle because they were too pissed to speak English is no longer a point of humour, and increasingly the population won’t remember the original stilted dialect of the flower pot men. If we assume that anybody under the age of 24 is more-likely to have come across the newer incarnation then that’s a third of the population!

Let’s try another, which became dated at about the same time:

Why are hurricanes names after women?

Because when they come they’re wet and wild and when they go they take your house and your car.

The history of how we’ve named hurricanes over the centuries is really quite interesting, and its certainly true that for the majority of the period during which both meteorologists and the general public have shared the same names for tropical storms they’ve been named after women. Depending on where you are in the world, though, it’s not been true for some time: Australia began using a mixture of masculine and feminine names during the 1970s, but other regions took until the millennium before they followed suit. However, the point still remains that this joke has been dated for a long while.

Eye of a storm.
Why is a topical joke like a tropical storm?
When it comes, you’ve never seen anything like it. By the time it goes, you’re sick of it.

Here’s a very highly-charged joke from the 1960s which I think we can all be glad doesn’t make much sense any more:

What’s all black and comes in an all white box?

Sammy Davis Jr.

For those needing the context: Sammy Davis Jr. was a black American singer, comedian, and variety show host who triggered significant controversy when he married white Swedish actress May Britt. Interracial marriage was at the time still illegal across much of the United States (such prohibition wouldn’t be ruled unconstitutional until the amazingly-named “Loving Day” in 1967) and relationships between whites and “coloureds” were highly taboo even where they weren’t forbidden by law.

Topical jokes like that are often too easy, like this one – even shorter-lived – from the summer of 1995, presented here with no further interpretation:

Q: What’s the difference between O. J. Simpson and Christopher Reeve?

A: O. J.’s gonna walk!

Perhaps my favourite strictly-topical joke of this variety, though, comes from 1989:

Q: Why is Margaret Thatcher like a pound coin?

A: She’s thick, brassy, and she thinks she’s a sovereign.

It’s at least two-thirds funny even if you don’t have the full context, and that’s what’s most-interesting about it: it’ll take until the new £1 becomes ubiquitous and the old one mostly-forgotten before it will lose all of its meaning. But as you’ve probably forgotten why the third part of the punchline – “…and she thinks she’s a sovereign” – comes from, I’ll illuminate you. The joke is wordplay: there are two meanings to “sovereign” in this sentence. The first, of course, is that a sovereign is the bullion coin representing the same value as a conventional pound coin.

To understand the second, we must first remind ourselves of the majestic plural, better known as the “royal ‘we'”. In 1989, following the birth of her grandson Michael, Thatcher made a statement saying “we have become a grandmother”, resulting in much disdain and mockery by the press at the time. The Prime Minister’s relationship with the Queen had always been a frosty one, and Thatcher’s (mis)use of a manner of speech that was typically reserved for the use of royalty did nothing to make her look any more-respectful of the monarch.

1952 advertisement for Prince Albert pipe tobacco.
And you thought it was just something to put in your penis. Turns out it’s something to put in your lungs, too.

The final example I’ve got died out as a joke as a result of changing brand identities, more cost-effective packaging materials, and the gradual decline of tobacco smoking. But for a long while, while Prince Albert Pipe Tobacco was still sold in larger quantities as it always had been, in a can, a popular prank perpetrated by radio stations that went in for such things was to call a tobacconist and ask, “Have you got Prince Albert in can?”. The tobacconist would invariably answer in the affirmative, at which point the prankster would response “Well let him out then!” This joke may well predate the “Is your refrigerator running?” prank call that might be more-familiar to today’s audiences.

If you’ve got any jokes that have aged badly, I’d love to hear them. And then, I suppose, have them explained to me.

Hello 2013: My Birthday

This is the second in a series of four blog posts which ought to have been published during January 2013, but ran late because I didn’t want to publish any of them before the first one.

I spent the weekend of my birthday working in London, alongside the Squiz team, who make the CMS that forms the foundation of most of the public-facing websites of the Bodleian Libraries. We’d originally scheduled this visit for a different week, but – in that way that projects sometimes do – the project got juggled about a bit and so I found myself spending the week of my birthday away from home.

The team at Squiz's London office, debriefing over drinks at the end of a crazy week.
The team at Squiz’s London office, debriefing over drinks at the end of a crazy week.

But on Tuesday – my second day working on-site at Squiz’s office, and coincidentally my birthday – disaster struck! Our first clue was when the lights went out. And then, a minute or so later, when the fire alarm started going off. No big deal, we all thought, as we gathered our possessions and prepared to leave the office – it’s probably just that the fire alarm sounds as a precaution if it’s electricity supply is disrupted… but as we started to go down the stairs and smelled the smoke, we realised that there really was a fire.

Visiting @SquizUK in London when... Building caught fire! Heaps of smoke, two pumps. Been evacuated.
My tweet, from outside the Squiz offices.

The first two fire engines arrived within minutes. Apparently, they don’t mess about when a city centre office block catches light. The smoke was very visible from the street: thick grey plumes pouring out from the basement windows. Theories about the cause of the fire were whispered around the assembled crowd, and the consensus seemed to be that the substation in the basement had overheated and set alight its room.

The first fire engines on the scene, as people are still filing out of the building.
People were still filing out of the building when the first of the fire engines arrived.

A third fire engine arrived, and – after about a quarter hour of assessing the situation and controlling the crowd – we were told that we wouldn’t be able to get back into our building for “at least an hour, probably more.” So, being British, we therefore decamped to one of the nearby bars for networking and a round of gin & tonic. After I texted some friends to say that I hadn’t expected to spend the afternoon of my birthday in the pub, but that it wasn’t an entirely unwelcome experience, a few of them had the cheek to ask once again how the fire had actually started.

Fire engines behind a yellow tape line.
Before long, the fire brigade had established a cordon some distance back from the fire, and were pouring water into the basement.

By the time we were allowed to return to the building, it was already getting dark, and we quickly discovered a new problem that faced us: with the power still well and truly out, the electronic door locks that secured the offices had become completely unusable. Not willing to abandon my laptop, keys, and other personal possessions overnight in an unfamiliar office, I waited around until a locksmith had been summoned and had drilled his way through the cylinder and allowed us into the building.

The code lock at the door of the Squiz offices.
Without power, it turns out that these things can be pretty useless. At least they “fail secure”, keeping the door locked (from the outside) in the event of a problem, rather than the alternative…

It being my birthday, I’d arranged that Ruth would come and spend the night down in London, and that we’d go out to Dans le Noir, a restaurant that I’d heard about from news articles and via friends some years prior, and always wanted to try. The restaurant has a distinct and quite remarkable theme that you probably won’t find anywhere else: that theme is that you eat unidentified food in pitch blackness.

A tealight candle burning in the dark.
Don’t be fooled: this picture of the tip of a candle wasn’t taken at Dans le Noir, but at Squiz.

As our (blind!) waiter, Gao, led Ruth and I by touch to our table, we suddenly realised that we’d all but forgotten exactly how dark pitch blackness actually is. When you stumble over your coffee table in the dark on a morning, that’s not truly black: there’s that sliver of light coming from underneath the curtains, or the faint glow of the LED light on the stereo. Real, complete darkness is disorienting and confusing, and to sit around in it – not even able to see whether your eyes are open or closed – for hours at a time is quite remarkable.

Blackness.
Now this is more like what it looks like at Dans le Noir!

It took us a little while to learn the new skills required to survive in this environment, but Gao was incredibly helpful. We worked out mechanisms for pouring drinks, for checking whether our plates were empty, and for communicating our relative movements (being geeks, as we are, Ruth and I quickly developed a three-dimensional coordinate-based system for navigating relative to an agreed centre-point: the tip of the bottle of our mystery wine). We also learned that there’s something truly humbling about being dependent upon the aid of a blind person to do something that you’d normally be quite capable of doing alone: simple things, like finding where your glass is.

Just come out of Dans le Noir, the restaurant where you eat mystery food in the dark, and... OMG. Expected a gimmick. Expected it to be about the food. But it's not. It's about so much more than that. Would eat here again.
My tweets after coming out of Ruth and I’s remarkable experience of Dans le Noir.

But the bigger lesson that we learned was about how darkness changes the way that we operate on a social level. Ruth and I were sat alongside another couple, and – deprived of body language, the judgement of sight, and the scrutiny of eye contact – we quickly entered into a conversation that was far deeper and more real than I would have anticipated having with total strangers. It was particularly strange to see Ruth, who’s usually so shy around new people, really come out as confident and open. I theorise that (in normally-signted people) eye contact – that is, being able to see that others can see you – serves as a regulator of our willingness to be transparent. Depriving it for long enough that its lack begins to feel natural makes us more frank and honest. Strange.

Still no power at @SquizUK following yesterday's fire. Just waiting for more people to arrive so we can work out where we're working today. Decamped to a number of venues around East London. The team I've been working with and I are in the basement of a nearby cafe!
Live updates, primarily for the benefit of the people back at my usual workplace, on progress at Squiz.

Back at Squiz the following day, there was still no electricity. Credit is due to the team there, though, who quickly put in to effect their emergency plans and literally “moved office” to a handful of conference rooms and meeting spaces around Shoreditch. “Runners” were nominated to help relay messages and equipment between disparate groups of people, and virtualised networks were established across the city. I laughed when I discovered that Squiz’s old offices had been in an old fire station.

Squiz team members put their emergency plan into effect.
Team members at Squiz, in their unlit, unheated office, begin to put their emergency plan into place, picking up computers and transporting them to alternative venues.

Before long, the folks I’d been working with and I were settled into a basement meeting room in a nearby café, running a stack of Mac desktops and laptops from a monumental string of power strips, and juggling an Internet connection between the café’s WiFi and a stack of Mifi-like devices. We were able to get on with our work, and the day was saved, all thanks to some smart emergency planning. Later in the week, a generator was deployed outside the building and we were able to return to normal desks, but the quick-thinking of the management ensured that a minimum of disruption was caused in the meantime.

After a wonderful night of comedy with @BrynS, I'm back in the office (in the building that caught fire), now powered by a huge generator.
My tweet about seeing comedy with Bryn and about returning to the office (now powered by a huge generator).

Not one to waste the opportunity to make the most of being in London for a week, I spent another of my evenings out with Bryn. He and I went out to the Free Fringe Fundraiser, which – despite a notable absence of Peter Buckley Hill, who had caught a case of the then-dominating norovirus – was still a great deal of fun. It was particularly pleasing to get to see Norman Lovett in the flesh: his particular brand of surrealist anti-humour tickles me mercilessly.

So what could have been “just another business trip” turned into quite the adventure, between fires and birthdays and eating-in-the-dark and comedy. If only it hadn’t taken me two months to finish writing about it…

Edinburgh 2012 – Day Six

[spb_message color=”alert-info” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]This post turned out longer than I expected. The first part is about comedy, whisky tasting, and a museum full of money. The second part is about how we were “outed” as being in a nonmonogamous relationship, and how it went really well. Click either link to jump to that section, or just start reading to get the whole thing.[/spb_message]

Another Day Of Edinburgh

Our sixth day at Edinburgh was perhaps the booziest. Realising that we still had a significant amount of wine that we bought earlier in the week that we hadn’t yet consumed, we started early: Ruth and I poured our first glasses at a hair before 11am, to go with our breakfast.

The set of Eight Worldly Winds.
The set of Eight Worldly Winds.

Our first show of the day was Sam Brady and the Eight Worldly Winds, a beautiful and subtle piece of observational comedy based on the life of the comedian, a “failed Buddhist monk”, thrice married, interspersed with “mildly adapted” readings of 11th century Chinese poetry. It was sedate and relaxing, as comedy shows go, but still funny and enjoyable, and I could have happily have listened to him for longer.

JTA and Ruth head along the path to the Mus£um On The Mound.
JTA and Ruth head along the path to the Mus£um On The Mound. Don’t be fooled by the glorious sunshine: it was drizzling again only a few hours later.

We had a little while before the next item on our schedule, and we opted to divert from our original plan to waste half an hour in a bar to instead explore the Mus£um On The Mound. This museum chronicles the history of money and banking, with a special focus on Scotland, and it’s remarkably interesting. We learned about early banking computers, quality assurance processes in banknote printing, and the evolution of the Building Society. If you think that all sounds terribly dull, then screw you.

JTA mints coinage.
JTA mints coinage. The lady in front of him jumped when he struck the trussell (that’s the bit you hit), as if she somehow expected that when she told him to “hit it as hard as he could” that he’d perhaps be more gentle than that.

JTA tried his hand at striking faces onto metal disks to make his own coins in the way that coinsmiths used to before about the 16th century, and I used a remarkably modern-looking computer to issue myself a remarkably old-style life insurance certificate (covering me for everything except death by duelling, suicide, or execution by the state).

My new life insurance policy form.
My new life insurance policy form. I put my occupation down as “landowner”, because apparently “web application developer” wasn’t a valid choice 150 years ago, and put down that I’d lost an arm as a preexisting medical condition, because I felt like that field ought to be used (I hadn’t made much use of the name field, after all).

Next, we made our way back to the Whiski Rooms for our second whisky tasting session of the week (our first was on day two). This time around we were drinking Jura (10 year old and 16 year old, and Superstition – one of my favourites) and Dalmore (12, 15, and 18 year old). We learned a lot about the different production processes for each, caskings and recaskings and still shapes and all kinds of things. We also tried the Dalmore 15 with some orange chocolate that complemented one another very well, and tried our hand at identifying different refined flavours by smell, from a set of numbered vials.

JTA and I drinking one of the selection of whiskies we've been offered the chance to taste.
JTA and I drinking one of the selection of whiskies we’ve been offered the chance to taste. Fun fact for those of you reading all of the captions: American brewing laws disallow the reuse of wooden casks; this is part of the reason that second-hand bourbon casks are so popular in the Scotch whisky industry – the Scottish, always looking for a bargain – can get them cheaply.

Next up, we watched The German Comedian (exactly what it says on the tin!), followed by You Are Being Lied To, by David Mulholland. The former provided a hilariously funny (and somewhat racist, although only in a very tongue-in-cheek and mostly in a self-deprecating way) commentary on European relations, world travel, and cultural differences in a brilliant and compelling way. The latter – by a comic who was formerly a journalist for the Wall Street Journal – ran a show with a far more serious message, about how media like The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Telegraph (in particular) spin stories in a way that the kernel of truth in them is just about impossible to find. It was amusing enough, especially to hear him read, in a serious voice, genuine headlines and snippets of stories from those publications, and let us spot the bullshit.

Polyamory Comes To The Fringe

Me with a chap called Daniel, who grabbed me outside the show and asked me a string of questions about my relationship structure.
Me with a chap called Daniel, who grabbed me outside the show and asked me a string of questions about my relationship structure.

The other thing that was remarkable about these two comedians is that they both  independently asked about Ruth, JTA and I’s relationship structure. And what’s most remarkable about this is that it took so long before it happened. We’ve been here six days, at dozens of different comedy shows, and virtually always sat at the front. But today was the first day that the topic came up, and it came up twice in a row. What are the odds?

Polyamory is both your girlfriends ganging up on you.
Polyamory is both your girlfriends ganging up on you. Just when you thought it was safe to look at the Internet again, LOLCats are back.

The first comedian had asked if Ruth and JTA were a couple, and, upon getting an affirmative (which would usually be as far as the conversation would go: we’re not in the business of hijacking comedy shows with our relationships, I’d hasten to add), he asked “What’s the relationship between you two?”, gesturing to Ruth and I. So we answered. He asked for clarification a number of times, looking quite stumped and lost for words the whole period, but he was fluffy about it in general, which was nice.

The second really did just walk into it when he asked Ruth “So which of these two men are you with? Or is it both?” “Yes, both,” she replied, and, in the period of silence while the comedian was still trying to comprehend what she’d said, added, “We’re polyamorous.”

I was so very proud of her in that moment.

For me, adopting the out and proud approach of the gay community is an important part of “poly activism”: it almost feels like it’s my duty to make sure that people can see that we’re just another group of people in just another relationship, completely normal except for the fact that there are three of us instead of two. Talking openly and frankly about this stuff is the only way to normalise it and break the taboo, so I feel like my mini-activism helps all people in nonmonogamous relationships, even if just a little bit.

Ruth. I'm proud of her.
There’s the woman I love. And I’m ever-so proud of her.

Ruth, however, is more-reserved, and less-inclined to put herself in the public spotlight by putting the fact that she’s got a “bonus” partner “out there”. So to see her take the lead in saying, effectively, “Yes; I have two partners. Here they are. Yes, really. Is that okay?” – especially when she was sat sandwiched between a room full of strangers and a comedian (a very precarious place, as anybody who’s been picked on by a comic knows) – made my heart swell.

Later, a man called Daniel asked me some reasonably well-thought-out questions about “how it works”, and Ruth and JTA were approached by a woman who mentioned a similar arrangement in her own life. People in the same position are often delighted to “come out”, but only if somebody else does so first.

Had it been me that each comedian had spoken to first, instead of Ruth, I’d have certainly been as bold. But I might not have simultaneously been so frank and straightforward, so clearly-honest and approachable as Ruth managed in this, one of the most brave acts of poly-advocacy I’ve ever seen.

Nice work, Ruth.

Edinburgh 2012 – Day Five

After our attempt at a relaxing day off, which resulted in us getting pretty-much soaked and exhausted, we returned on day five of our holiday to the comedy scene for more fun and laughter.

Ruth, JTA, Matt and Hannah-Mae outside the Canons' Gait.
Ruth, JTA, Matt and Hannah-Mae outside the Canons’ Gait. Do I win a prize for being the first Abnibber to publish a photo of Matt’s new girlfriend?

After failing to get into Richard Wiseman‘s Psychobabble, which attracted a huge queue long before we got to the venue, Ruth, JTA and I instead went to RomComCon: a two-woman show telling the story of how they road-tested all of the top romantic comedy “boy meets girl” cliché situations, to see if they actually worked in real life. It was sweet, even where it wasn’t funny, and it was confidently-performed, even where it wasn’t perfectly-scripted. The mixture of media (slides, video, audience participation, and good old-fashioned storytelling) was refreshing enough to help me overlook the sometimes-stilted jumps in dialogue. I’ll admit: I cried a little, but then I sometimes do that during actual RomComs, too. Although I did have to say “Well d’uh!” when the conclusion of the presentation was that to get into a great relationship, you have to be open and honest and willing to experiment and not to give up hope that you’ll find one. You know: the kinds of things I’ve been saying for years.

Ruth & JTA in the Voodoo Rooms, waiting for Owen Niblock's "Codemaker" to start.
Ruth & JTA in the Voodoo Rooms, waiting for Owen Niblock’s “Codemaker” to start.

We met up with Matt and his new girlfriend, Hannah-Mae, who turns out to be a lovely, friendly, and dryly-sarcastic young woman who makes a wonderful match for our Matt. Then, after a drink together, parted ways to see different shows; promising to meet up again later in the day.

"Codemaker" Owen Niblock presents Google Image Search pictures that come up when the search engine is presented with a picture of his wife.
“Codemaker” Owen Niblock presents Google Image Search pictures that come up when the search engine is presented with a picture of his wife. The audience member who’s half-standing didn’t laugh throughout the entire performance: this might not have been the right show for him.

We watched Owen Niblock‘s Codemaker, and were pleased to discover that it was everything that Computer Programmer Extraordinaire (which we saw on day two) failed to be. Codemaker was genuinely geeky (Owen would put up code segments and then explain why they were interesting), funny (everything from the five-months-a-year beard story to his relationship Service Level Agreement with his wife was fabulously-crafted), and moving. In some ways I’m sad that he isn’t attracting a larger audience – we three represented about a quarter to a fifth of those in attendance, at the end – but on the other hand, his computer-centric humour (full of graphs and pictures of old computers) is rather niche and perhaps wouldn’t appeal to the mainstream. Highly recommended to the geeks among you, though!

Ruth discovers a police box and is inordinately excited.
Ruth discovers a police box on the way back to the flat and is inordinately excited. Apparently she’d somehow managed to never see one before.

Back at the flat, we drank gin and played Ca$h ‘n’ Gun$ with Matt and Hannah-Mae. JTA won three consecutive games, the jammy sod, despite the efforts of the rest of us (Matt or I with a hand grenade, Ruth or I as The Kid, or even Hannah-Mae once she had a gun in each hand), and all the way along every single time insisted that he was losing. Sneaky bugger.

Hannah-Mae, Matt, JTA and I with Richard Wiseman.
Hannah-Mae, Matt, JTA and I with Richard Wiseman. JTA was aware that a photo was going to be taken at some point, but was distracted by talking to another comedian, off-camera.

We all reconvened at the afternoon repeat of Richard Wiseman’s show, where he demonstrated (in a very fun and engaging way) a series of psychological, mathematical, and slight-of-hand tricks behind the “mind-reading” and illusion effects used by various professional entertainers. I’ve clearly studied this stuff far too much, because I didn’t end up learning anything new, but I did enjoy his patter and the way he makes his material interesting, and it’s well-worth a look. Later, Ruth and I would try to develop a mathematical formula for the smallest possible sum totals possible for integer magic squares of a given order (Wiseman’s final trick involved the high-speed construction of a perfect magic square to a sum total provided by a member of the audience: a simple problem: if anybody wants me to demonstrate how it’s done, it’s quite fun).

Thom Tuck wants to be where the people are. He wants to see... wants to see them, dancing.
Thom Tuck wants to be where the people are. He wants to see… wants to see them, dancing. Walking around on those… what’s what word again? Seriously: what’s that word again?

Finally, we all went to see Thom Tuck again. Matt, JTA and I had seen him earlier in the week, but we’d insisted that Hannah-Mae and Ruth get the chance to see his fantastic show, too (as well as giving ourselves an excuse to see it again ourselves, of course). He wasn’t quite so impressive the second time around, but it was great to see that his knowledge of straight-to-DVD Disney movies really is just-about as encyclopaedic as he claims, when we gave us new material we hadn’t heard on his previous show (and omitted some that we had), as well as adapting to suggestions of films shouted out by the audience. Straight-To-DVD remains for me a chilling and hilarious show and perhaps the most-enjoyable thing I’ve ever seen on the Fringe.

Edinburgh 2012 – Day Four

For our fourth day at the Edinburgh Fringe, Ruth, JTA and I decided to take a little break from the rushing-around-to-comedy-shows game and get out and see the sights. Ruth had somehow acquired a somewhat romantic idea of nearby Leith: that it would be full of quays and boats and suchlike, and not – as we would come to discover instead – full of rain and a foul-smelling burst sewer pipe.

Self-important seagull sits solemnly, soaked, surveying South.
Self-important seagull sits solemnly, soaked, surveying South.

We started with breakfast from Snax Cafe, under Matt‘s recommendation, which turned out to be a good one, as this tiny greasy spoon/takeaway turns out to serve a fantastic selection of fried foods ready-to-eat at great prices. I opted for a fried egg sandwich, with which I quickly made a mess of my t-shirt and shorts when I accidentally spilt the yolk all over myself.

Ruth and JTA trudge through the wet suburban streets of Leith.
Ruth and JTA trudge through the wet suburban streets of Leith.

A combination of the weather quickly turning against us, Leith being significantly further away than it first appeared on a map, and the three of us still being remarkably tired since the previous day turned this expedition into a far more arduous affair than we had initially expected. By the time we’d reached the pretty little boats and bars of the waterfront, we were damp (admittedly, we’d all but JTA underdressed for the excursion: his overcoat helped protect him, but it had the side-effect of making him look like a flasher, his bare legs poking out from under it).

Ruth and Dan playing Scrabble[TM] in a pub in Leith.
Ruth and I playing Scrabble[TM] in a pub in Leith.
We escaped from the weather just as it began to get sunnier again, into a pub called the Teuchter’s Landing, which Ruth had discovered earlier during her research into the area. There, we drank beer and played some of the boardgames made available by the pub: Scrabble™ (at which I scored abysmally low, for which I partially blame rotten luck on draw after draw: my final hand – representative of my fortunes – was R-R-R-L-L-U-O; my starting hand contained only one consonant), the Who Wants To Be A Millionare boardgame (which took a significant amount of sorting to put it back into a working order, and in which we had to work around some missing pieces), and a few hands of Knockout Whist (with the most static-electricity-inducing deck of cards I’ve ever encountered: almost impossible to deal without giving each player four or five cards at the same time).

(Veggie) haggis stovie (in a mug), a bowl of oatcakes, and a pint of beer.
(Veggie) haggis stovie (in a mug), a bowl of oatcakes, and a pint of beer. Is there a better lunch? The shiny white thing is my new phone: oh yeah, I have a new phone. the old one broke. I should probably do a blog post about that rather than just mentioning it in the caption of a picture of an unrelated post, shouldn’t I? I’ll try to remember to do so.

The food was good, though: we lunched upon freshly-made haggis stovies, served in mugs, with chunky chips (in further mugs) and oatcakes. And when we were done, and set out into the world again to explore the waterfront… that’s when it began raining again, even harder than before. Fucking marvellous.

JTA and Dan by the waterside in Leith.
JTA and I by the waterside in Leith. For some reason, at this point, a whole queue of Three Rings clients decided to phone me (about unrelated things), in a row, so in most of the photos I seem to be on the telephone.

By the time we’d worked our way around the docks, we were damp and tired, so we found a bus to take us back to Princes’ Street, cut across to a cheesemonger in Grassmarket to stock up on delicious cheeses, and then returned to the flat for a quick nap, because we were all pretty pooped.

Ruth aims a harpoon.
Ruth aims a harpoon. I’m not sure what she’s hoping to hit from here: it’s too rainy for whales. Whales hate the rain, right? Everybody knows that.

Later, we went out for another helping of Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians. Being Tuesday – the day before Buckers’ day off – and close to the end of the Fringe, he was clearly exhausted, and kept digressing from the usual (awesome) shite to random stream-of-consciousness new shite. Still all funny, and some enjoyable guests.

And then we slept. A lot.

Edinburgh 2012 – Day Three

On the third day of our Edinburgh Fringe Festival Holiday, Ruth, JTA and I… saw more Free Fringe comedy. Are you spotting a theme, here?

Matt R with Helen Arney of Domestic Science, explaining why he's drawn a silicon lattice onto an iced bun.
Matt R with Helen Arney of Domestic Science, explaining why he’s drawn a silicon lattice onto an iced bun.

First up was Domestic Science, with “real life – for now – partners” Helen Arney and Rob Wells. This pair brought science to life, opening by re-enacting an event from one of their first dates when they discovered that turmeric contains curcumin, a pH indicator, and demonstrating how this can be used (by first dying noodles with turmeric, and then dipping them into acidic and alkaline solutions to observe their colour change). Later, they’d go on to perform audience-participation demonstrations of gravitational wobbles (as a mechanism to detect extrasolar planets), AM radiowave reflection off the ionosphere, and more. They also used us as a live experiment, having us listen to jokes written by comedians of different genders (but recorded in both male and female voices) and rate them, in order to see if the gender can be determined by the listener. All in all, a really enjoyable first show for the day.

Helen Arney retweets my message "New day, new #EdFringe shows. Starting with @DomesticScience. Looks like there'll be a test at the end", adding "Congrats! You passed!"
Helen’s response to my tweet that there must be going to be a test, after finding a sheet of paper with numbers on it, on my seat (it later turned out to be for the engendered-joke study).

Ruth and I took our lunch in David Bann’s vegetarian restaurant, here in Edinburgh, which was delicious, although I probably should have stopped at two courses and not also had desert, as I then spent most of the afternoon waddling around like a fat penguin. I can particularly recommend the aubergine, chick pea and cashew koftas.

David Bann, Edinburgh.
David Bann, Edinburgh.

Next up, we went to see Yianni‘s new show, Numb and Number. We’d first seen Yianni in 2006 (we had him take a photo of us with Peter Buckley Hill), and he was even more brilliant now than he  was back then. In this new show, he talks about autism, numbers, and rainbows, in exactly the right order (any other order would be wrong, right?). Poor JTA was picked on and tricked into coming across as racist, but in the most hilarious possible way.

Matt R and JTA enjoy a quick after-dinner whisky, before it's time to go out for more comedy.
Matt R and JTA enjoy a quick after-dinner whisky, before it’s time to go out for more comedy.

You might remember that yesterday, Matt was invited on stage to separate currency for magicians Young & Strange? Well: coincidentally, Yianni asked Matt what was significant about the sum £88.88, and quick as a flash Matt responded that it was the sum of all of the denominations of currency (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £5, £10, £20, £50). He denies it, but I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t have been able to pull off this trick if he hadn’t have been reminded of this just the previous day.

We retreated to the flat for a haggis dinner and a round of whisky before heading out again. My stomach was already bloated from my huge lunch, and I’m not sure that a large dinner really agreed with it: I almost required help to roll me up the street to the next show.

Phill Jupitus leaps around in front of JTA.
Phill Jupitus leaps around in front of JTA. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t quick enough to catch him in the dim light of the Canon’s Gait basement, so you’ll probably have to take my word for it that it’s him.

We finished our day with Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians, still probably our go-to Free Fringe show. This evening, his line-up featured Phill Jupitus of Never Mind The Buzzcocks fame, who talked about the week that he met a Beatle and two Rolling Stones, leaving the audience laughing themselves to tears. Also in the line-up was Wil Hodgson, a heavily-tattooed former wrestler with a shaved head, who talked mostly about his hobbies of collecting My Little Pony toys. He won JTA over, I think, when he finished his set shouting “Fuck Laughing Horse!”

And then, at last, it was time for bed.

Edinburgh 2012 – Day Two

Our second day at the Edinburgh Fringe brought new opportunities for fun and merriment. Once we finally dragged ourselves from our beds.

A view of Arthur's Seat, over the rooftops, from my bedroom window.
A view of Arthur’s Seat, over the rooftops, from my bedroom window.

First up, we insisted that Matt joined us in watching the show of Young & Strange, a talented pair of magicians we first saw earlier this year, at the Oxford Fringe. Their act wasn’t quite so magical on a second viewing, and some of their tricks wear thin on the closer-inspection made possible by the tiny venue and the orientation of the lights, but they’re still remarkable showmen and real masters of their craft. Matt was invited on stage to assist with a trick involving separating all of the different denominations of currency into twelve numbered envelopes (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £5, £10, £20, £50). I tell you this because it’ll be relevant in a subsequent blog post. Seriously.

Matt R joins Sam Strange on stage to assist him with a magic trick.
Matt R joins Sam Strange on stage to assist him with a magic trick.

Later, we watched the incredibly disappointing Computer Programmer Extraordinaire, by comedian Raph Shirley. For all of his good ideas (and he certainly had enough of them to fill a  15 minute set, but 45 minutes seemed like far too long), his delivery was sorely lacking. Maybe we went in expecting something that we wouldn’t get – his “geeky” computer programmer persona didn’t really cut it for those of us who were genuine geeky computer programmers in the audience – but even if we put that aside, there weren’t enough laughs in the show to have been worth the time it took to “get there”, even at no cost.

Whisky and cheese tasting at The Whiski Rooms.
Whisky and cheese tasting at The Whiski Rooms.

Ruth, JTA and I then disappeared off to Whiski Rooms for a “Whisky & Cheese Tasting” event. This was really quite enjoyable, and I was surprised to be able to, under a little guidance (and with the inclination to pay particular attention to the subtler facets of what I was drinking), find entirely new flavours even in whiskies with which I was already familiar. Pairing whiskies with cheeses was also a new experience for me, and – even for somebody like me, who enjoys cheese in moderation but doesn’t have the palate for the full spectrum of cheeses – provided some fascinating opportunities to find new flavours.*

JTA and I have had quite a lot of whisky in the last hour or so.
JTA and I have had quite a lot of whisky in the last hour or so.

This – coupled with the drinks we’d already had and those we had later – left us rather tipsy. Although thankfully still nowhere near as drunk as Claire was, here in Edinburgh, when six years ago she did the most embarrassing thing in the world.

Matt, JTA and I at Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians.
Matt, JTA and I at Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians.

Finally, we reconvened with Matt for a dose of Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians. I don’t remember his name, but I was particularly impressed with the dry, deadpan delivery of the dutch comedian. If it comes back to me, I’ll come back and write his name in here: ____________________. Look, I’ve left a nice long gap and everything.

* For anybody who’s interested, the whiskies we tried (and the cheeses they were paired with) were: Tobermory 10 with Keens Cheddar; Jura Superstition with Old Smokey; Bruichladdich 10 with Adrahan; and Bowmore 12 with Dunsyre Blue.

Edinburgh 2012 – Day One (was: On The Fringe)

As I indicated when I made a map of Free Fringe venues the other week: Ruth, JTA and I are this week back in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival.

JTA and I on Preston train station (platform 4), waiting for the train to Edinburgh.
JTA and I on Preston train station (platform 4), waiting for the train to Edinburgh. We drove as far as Preston, briefly visited my family, and then took the train the rest of the way, in an example of perhaps the most-eccentric “Park & Ride” concept ever.

This is the first time we’ve been up here together since 2007, a year in which we watched a lot less comedy than we’d intended but did end up coming home and having to explain that somewhere along the way that Ruth, JTA, Claire and I had transformed from two couples into four couples in a complicated but fun polyamorous way. Later, I compiled some of the reactions we’d had to that news, in case you’re feeling nostalgic and want to see.

The flat we're renting towers above most of the surrounding buildings.
The flat we’re renting towers above most of the surrounding buildings. It’s reasonably quiet for its very-central location, but it makes up for this by having a narrow spiral staircase and no elevator…

Wasting no time, we arrived, hooked up with Matt R (who’s also up here for the Fringe), and went off to our first show: Peter Buckley Hill, of course, with his new the repeat of his 1994 show, titled “It’s Shite, Not Sh*te”. Buckers was on form again, of course, and we laughed and sang along with all of his classic shite.

Matt, JTA and Ruth in the front row at a Peter Buckley Hill show.
Matt, JTA and Ruth in the front row at a Peter Buckley Hill show (although, admittedly, not the one that I just mentioned but one in which the photo came out better…).

Later, Matt and I caught Tesco Chainsaw Massacre, a comedy piece billed as “spoken word”, which had some funny and clever ideas but could perhaps do with a little refinement, and a remarkably wonderful queer performance poet named Sophia Blackwell, from whom I later bought two books.

A quick booze-up break back at the flat.
A quick booze-up break back at the flat, and then we’re on the move once more…

We were rejoined by JTA for Thom Tuck‘s Free Fringe show, Straight To DVD. This… was simply spectacular. Perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen at the Edinburgh Fringe, Thom’s encyclopaedic analysis of straight-to-DVD Disney movies (interspersed with tales of his sad and tragic love life) is one of the best things that I’ve ever seen at the Fringe.

So yeah: that was Day One for us at the Edinburgh Fringe. An epic start to the holiday.

Edinburgh Free Fringe 2012 Venue Map

After a few years break, I’m once again heading up to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. As on previous ocassions, I expect to spend a lot of time enjoying Peter Buckley Hill‘s Free Fringe, which is just about the best thing to happen to the Fringe ever. And this time, I’m going to be better-prepared than ever. I’ve made a map.

Map of the 2012 Free Fringe.
You can be better-prepared, too, because my PBH Edinburgh Free Fringe Map 2012 is here for you, as well.

Sharing is caring, so I’ve made the map available to you, too. Click on the picture to see the map. Because it’s in Google Maps it ought to work on your mobile phone. If you’ve got GPS then you can get lost in Edinburgh in high-tech ways you never before thought possible. Click on any given venue for a web address where you can find a list of events that are occurring at that venue.

Or if you’re really nerdy, you can download the KML and go geocaching-for-comedy. Just me? Okay then…

Update: you can now view the map on the frontpage of the Free Fringe website, too.

Space Cowboy

If you’re not following Castle, yet, you should be. I can’t believe that I’ve not recommended this more loudly by now, but seriously, this show is awesome. And I’m not just saying that because the episode I watched most-recently was the single best bit of Whedonverse fan service outside of the Whedonverse. And would be great even if it wasn’t.

Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle as Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds. This show just got meta. Click on the image for animated version.

The ten second-summary for those of you with short attention spans: Nathan Fillion (of Buffy/Firefly/Dr. Horrible fame) plays Richard Castle, a crime fiction writer who’s drafted into helping the NYPD on a murder case. He then continues to hang around (thanks to his connections with the mayor and the chief of police) with detective Kate Beckett – played by Stana Katic (she was in Quantum of Solace, but we remember her most-fondly from the third Librarian film) – in an effort to use her as the inspiration of his next fictional crime fighter, Nicky Heat. Its cleverly-spun mysteries will appeal to mystery lovers and its comedic elements – generally quite dry but sometimes verging on the silly – prevent the show from being “just another crime drama.”

CTRL-ALT-DEL comic from 28th Feb 2011

The third season’s broadcasting right now (and you can also watch it on Hulu, assuming that you’re in the USA or you know how to Google for how to “watch Hulu without a proxy or VPN”), and the first two seasons are available on DVD. You’ve got my recommendation; now go try it.

Leslie Nielsen was admitted to hospital earlier this month

You: To Hospital? What is it?

Me: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

Sad to say, he died yesterday. The world has lost a fantastic actor and comedian.

Just a short post, here: the wedding this weekend was amazing, but I’ll be writing about that at a later point, once I’ve caught up on all the work and email I’ve neglected over the last week or so.

How Not To Watch Comedy

We failed quite miserably to see any live comedy yesterday (although the day before was good). I blame the wine.

Y’see, we thought: you know what would be nice before we go out this afternoon? A quick bottle or two of wine.

Six bottles of wine later, the plan to go and watch some shows somehow mutated into a different plan – and I use the word “plan” in it’s loosest possible interpretation – involving:

– Board games
– Partial nudity
– Talking bollocks
– Chatting to an ex-bodybuilder who got hit by a car and now runs a kebaberie
– Swimming
– Saunaing
– Watching films

Today we’re all sleepy and confused.

Edinburgh Fringe

Well, we made it to Edinburgh. After scooping up (well, not literally, although that could have been funny) Ruth and JTA from Maulds Meaburn we zipped off up the motorway and soon were completely lost in Edinburgh. Now I don’t want to point a finger of blame here, but I’ll say this: if Ruth’s contribution to finding the flat we’re staying in wasn’t a hand drawn map with only three road names and a “here be dragons”note in the corner, we might have found it a little easier. Thankfully the GPS unit in my mobile phone was able to show us the correct route, despite a few early hiccups in it not sufficiently distinguishing between a bridge and a junction, leading to dialogue like this:

Dan (staring at phone): Turn left.
Claire: At the roundabout ahead?
Dan: No, now! Oh, you’ve missed it.
Claire: We’re on a bridge, Dan.

Anyway, we somehow finally reached the flat. It’s a little less spacious that last year’s, and a little further away from the city centre, but it’s nice and it has a garage to put the car in.

[pause in typing to have sex]

We’ve been to a handful of shows yesterday and the night of the day before. We’re basically following the formula we settled on last year of Peter Buckley Hill’s Free Fringe all the way. We’re also taking every opportunity to evangelise against this year’s new rival, the Laughing Horse Free Festival. You ever seen an argument between advocates of different Free Software licenses? Same thing, really: we feel that Laughing Horse is providing the Wrong Thing [TM] to it’s comics. Anyway, that’s a debate for when I’m not blogging from my phone.

It’s nice to spend time with Ruth and JTA, anyway, because I always forget how much I end up missing them in Aber.

Oh, and I AM checking my friends’ blogs, too, but posting comments is challenging, so: congratulations to Paul on his new upcoming job, to Andy for getting Radio One airplay (wish I’d heard it!), and to Faye for finally learning to take time off. And to those of you who’ve commented on my recent posts or e-mailed me: thanks, I’ll reply eventually!

Suppose it’s time I got up and had a shower.

A Flurry Of Comedic Activity

Wow, my previous post caused a sudden surge of comments. They’re all very sweet. Rather than answer them all individually in the form of more comments, I’ll selectively re-print them here in the form of a dialogue. Well, more like a septilogue, or something. Whatever.

Making Material

Scatman Dan (earlier): Can I produce enough original material by Sunday to make my act long enough to be worth performing?
Heather: Judging by the size of your notebook – yes. I find things always take longer than I think they will.
Scatman Dan: Yeah; but you’ve seen some of the contents of the notebook. I mean, there’s a quarter page dedicated to the investigation of whether the following joke is actually funny (spoiler: it isn’t): “Three gay guys go into a closet. One comes out.” Sheer quantity doesn’t actually make you funny in itself.
Tom Davies: [Yeah, but] don’t be afraid to try new things on an audience.
Scatman Dan: I’m not, usually, but somehow this time I feel like I should at least have something that promises to tickle them. On the other hand, there’ll be three other guys to try to promise that, so perhaps I should be a little more adventurous.

Scatman Dan (earlier): How much of my previous material is acceptable for re-use?
Heather: None of it. I’d be quite disappointed if I came along and you were reverting to stuff we’ve laughed at before.
Scatman Dan: That’s what I was afraid of.
Heather: Actually, if there was a particular thing and you can work one hell of a callback, that’s ok to repeat.
Scatman Dan:
That’s a far more positive answer.
Matt In The Hat: Play it by ear. If you don’t recognise the audience or if you happen to be in the neighbourhood of one of your ‘older’ jokes then use it.
Scatman Dan: Good advice.

Scatman Dan (earlier): Is any of this stuff even funny?
Heather: Yes.
Scatman Dan: Yeah, I know. Like I said, I know this stuff is semi-irrational.

A Lonely Sense of Humour

Scatman Dan (earlier): Why do people keep trying to help me?
Heather: I keep “trying to help you” because I want to steal your reject jokes, and to palm off all my tasteless ones on to you to make funny.
Scatman Dan: Fair play (and I do appreciate your – and anybody’s – help… usually). To clarify: I don’t mind help, but sometimes I really don’t want it. I tried to explain this to Claire the other week – most of the things I end up recording or making a note of for later aren’t even remotely funny. They’re recorded because they might lead to something funny, but if I think too hard about them while they’re unfunny I never get motivated to find the joke in them again. That’s just me being odd.
Matt In The Hat: People will keep trying to help you because you’re doing stand-up comedy. Since everyone is funny at some point some people get the impression that they are an authroity on it. Some people are writers who want you to perform their material. Others are making conversation. What I always found frustrating was that somebody would tell me something that didn’t fit my style and I’d have to smile and nod. I imagine with an absurdist route you’ll be doing that a lot.
Scatman Dan: Excellently put. And you’re very right.

Scatman Dan (earlier): I have a very unusual sense of humour, which doesn’t really translate very well to anybody else. For example, here are several of the funniest things I have ever thought about: [gives three examples]
Tom Davies: I particularly like the thing about lettuce. Punning is possibly the most underappreciated of the comedy arts.
The Pacifist: I did find the lettuce thing amusing. Far too much stand-up nowadays seems to focus on satirical observations or sarcastic… it would be a pleasant change to have puns, surrealism and huge, huge tangents…
JenBanks (via IRC): Lettuce of the Alphabet is hilarious.
Scatman Dan: What do you know; I’m not the only one.

Scatman Dan (earlier): If you come along and see me on Sunday, that’s what you’ll be seeing – the patently bizarre.
Tom Davies: Don’t shy away from absurditiy (or things that Dan finds funny).
Heather: I like absurdity. I like laughing. You’ll kick ass. I’ll buy you a drink afterwards.
Scatman Dan: That’s a promising start.
Matt In The Hat: As I’m sure you know, the absurdist route can be a great one for one-liners. You mis-pronounce soemthing and then turn it into a joke or you just randomly stop in the middle of a set to throw in a one-liner.
Scatman Dan buzzes and does a little dance.

The Curious Things That People Say

Becky: Oh shit, what the smeg’s that word I use… the one were you put your head in some chick’s cleavege? You know what I mean.. now THAT was funny.
Scatman Dan: Mmm… embezzling. But is it more or less funny than The Feather Game? Y’know, sometimes I think that we’re the only people in the world who’d appreciate reverse engineering of a trifle. And I wrote an entire page on that.

Jon: Video the event. It would be nice to see.
Scatman Dan: Not sure I can manage that, but we’ll see. Or wait until I’m funnier. All of the best comedians in the world are over 30, which means I can only get better, yet.

Closing Words

Scatman Dan: That you to everybody who commented, but that there were so many comments of reassurance demonstrates that I didn’t write my previous post very well. I tried, with phrases like “the following semi-irrational concerns“, “I’d been quite frankly shitting myself, until tonight“, and “Thankfully I’ve found a cross-over”, to indicate that since last night, everything’s a lot better. Everything’s slotted into place quite nicely. Claire was revising, so I sat down with some complete strangers and a couple of pints and discussed funny things and then wrote a whole heap of material which’ll kill. Nonetheless, thank you all for your varied votes of confidence; hopefully I’ll show you I’ve earned it come the weekend.

My previous post was supposed to be uplifting, but it evidently came out kind-of bland, just like this one would if I ended it here, inconclusively.