Tag Archives: comedy

Shortcutting… The Edinburgh Fringe

28 Aug

The world’s biggest arts festival had its last day yesterday, and it all took place in wee Edinburgh, home to authors Arthur Conan Doyle and J. K. Rowling, comedian Ronnie Corbett, and the roots of one of the nation’s favourite author/comedians: me! Yes, yours truly has heritage not only in fair Athens, as I have mentioned previously (and so can therefore lay claim to the Olympics, Maths, Philosophy, and all that jazz), but also in the Athens of the north, thanks to which I am a frequent attendee of the bizarre, crazy, glorious Edinburgh Fringe.

If you are unfamiliar with the Fringe, I shall give you the lowdown – the original Edinburgh Festival was all plays and opera and the like, reserved for the highbrow among us. But then around it grew the Fringe, where the comedians and the improvised musicals and the student sketch shows took to pubs and clubs and any rooms they could find to bring entertainment to the masses, until the Fringe became a muuuuch bigger deal than the festival. Just to give you an idea, a few clicks on the website revealed that anyone looking for a show last Saturday had around 1700 to choose from. In one day. It went on for 25 days this year. There are about 300 different venues, ranging from the tiny – one at the Gilded Balloon was called The Wee Room, whose name my dad mistook for the bathroom (and he calls himself Scottish!) – to the huge – the biggest I went to was the Pleasance Grand, which seats about 1000 people. Some venues are theatres, some are university lecture rooms, some are little basements or attics, and I even saw a show taking place on the top floor of a disused double decker bus. From my experience, there was a direct correlation between ‘size of room’ and ‘funniness’, so if you’re squeezing into a little ten-seater attic room, don’t have your hopes too high.

So, what to see? I saw about ten shows, whose size and funniness ranged quite considerably. As I’m a very kindhearted person, I won’t mention the really awful shows – they’ve already either been slated by critics, or worse, are simply unknown. But I will share with you my four favourites:

4) Morgan & West: Clockwork Miracles. This magic show was the only show I went to not professing to be a comedy, but it turned out to be a lot funnier than many I saw. Almost all of the magic tricks were un-work-out-able and like the best magicians they had great patter which made it  fun as well as confusing.

3) Pappy’s: Last Show Ever! I saw Pappy’s three years ago and this sketch show trio were as hilarious this time as they were the time before. What’s great about them is that every joke comes back later in the show, and it’s all structured very cleverly. My personal favourite sketch involved a game show called ‘I Can’t Do That’, in which contestants get through rounds based on their inability to do things, which probably doesn’t sound that funny but it was hilarious. It might seem a bit pointless me telling you to go and see an act whose last show was called ‘Last Show Ever!’, but I think it might not actually have been the last show, so keep an eye out for these guys.

2) The Boy With Tape On His Face: More Tape. This one man show involved a man with tape over his mouth and very expressive eyes getting members of the audience to join him in different games involving different everyday objects as more well-known things, e.g. tape measures as lightsabres, wind-up teeth as castanets, and there was a great cowboy-style stand-off where The Boy and an audience member both had balloons under their arms and between their legs, were armed with staplers, and had to try and burst each others’ balloons (don’t worry health and safety, they were wearing safety goggles!), all of which was highly entertaining. A good solid laugh, this one, with a good climax too.

1) Paul Merton’s Improv Chums. Despite the cheesy name, this was completely and utterly hilarious. Paul himself has a great talent for one-liners which will you in tears with laughter, while Mike McShane and Suki Webster were brilliant at creating improvised songs from nowhere, supported by Richard Vranch’s great piano playing. Richard and Lee Simpson had the art for improv too – in fact, I wouldn’t say any of them were the weakest link, which meant that every little sketch had laughs guaranteed, be it King Kong’s coronation, two penguins at a chocolate factory, or a professor explaining how he trained budgies to play hockey. And the other benefit of improv – a different show every day! Well, I’d go again…

To finish this post, I thought you might enjoy what have been voted the ten best jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe 2012, as voted by Dave:

1. Stewart Francis – “You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.”

2. Tim Vine – “Last night me and my girlfriend watched three DVDs back to back. Luckily I was the one facing the telly. ”

3. Will Marsh – “I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister.”

4. Rob Beckett – “You know you’re working class when your TV is bigger than your book case.”

5. Chris Turner – “I’m good friends with 25 letters of the alphabet … I don’t know why.”

6. Tim Vine – “I took part in the sun tanning Olympics – I just got Bronze.”

7. George Ryegold – “Pornography is often frowned upon, but that’s only because I’m concentrating.”

8. Stewart Francis – “I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together. Riveting!”

9. Lou Sanders – “I waited an hour for my starter so I complained: ‘It’s not rocket salad.”

10. Nish Kumar – “My mum’s so pessimistic, that if there was an Olympics for pessimism … she wouldn’t fancy her chances.”

I always think the second one’s the best.

Keep shortcutting,


P.S. I know I haven’t blogged in aaaages – yeah sorry about that, but I’m back now eh 🙂


Shortcutting… Romantic Comedies

9 Jun

I am currently watching The Holiday (Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black) and it has occurred to me that there is a very specific formula for the Rom Com, so specific in fact that you actually don’t need to watch it, or not at least beyond the first five minutes. Allow me to save you some time:

Right, so judging by the cast list, you should be able to establish the romantic leads. Normally there will be two, but sometimes, as in The Holiday, there are multiple pairings to be made. (I haven’t actually watched Love Actually – I know: massive crime! – but as far as I can gather from that gift-wrapped photo montage on the front, there are several tangled little stories to follow.) This complicates things slightly: it will take a couple more minutes of watching before you can work out who is going to end up with who. But never fear, it should soon become obvious enough.

If you need help figuring it out, there are a few things you can use to point you in the right direction. Firstly, the couple-to-be either start their relationship hating each other (see The ProposalClueless (ish), Did You Hear About the Morgans?) and then grow to love each other, or begin as really good friends (Valentine’s DayNo Strings AttachedWhen Harry Met Sally) and then grow to love each other. In both of these situations, there are often other potential love interests who brutally break the hearts of the romantic leads,   bringing the romantic leads closer, until they eventually realize their undying love for each other (The Holiday, Valentine’s Day). 

Another possibility is that they have to be together for some reason despite not liking each other (The Proposal – she’ll get deported otherwise, Did You Hear About the Morgans? – witness protection programme, The Bounty Hunter – he has to track her down for jumping bail, What Happens in Vegas – they get married one drunken night in Vegas, Life as We Know It – they are named guardians to an orphaned child) and this forces them to get to know each other and realize their undying love for each other.

There’s also a whole lot of used-to-be-in-love-but-it-didn’t-work-out-but-we-actually-still-love-each-other (Did You Hear About The Morgans?, The Bounty Hunter, 17 Again, Crazy Stupid Love).

One final plot possibility is  that there’s no pretence of them not being in love from the start, but there are all sorts of obstacles and difficulties in the way that make you unsure whether they’ll make it (The Holiday, Notting Hill).

Finally, all of the above have a climactic moment where it looks like they’ve really broken up this time! (often due to some massive secret being revealed that one of them had kept throughout the film but we knew about) but then one of them does some sweet, goofy gesture that makes it all okay (see in particular Hugh Grant films e.g. Notting Hill, Music and Lyrics, About a Boy).

I hope this saves you time watching the aforementioned films: you should now not only be able to predict with certainty the last five minutes from the first five minutes of these films, but also bluff your way through a plot synopsis of a Rom Com you haven’t seen…

Keep Shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Making Friends

12 May

Hello and welcome to my new blog about simplifying everything that is time-consuming and tedious, or just a little bit tricky. If you’re looking to do everything the easy way, then look no further…

As this is my first post, and we are therefore meeting for the first time, I have decided to make my first post a guide to making friends, that most complex of arts which can often take weeks, months, or even years to complete. Here’s my guide to making friends in a matter of minutes (I can’t promise it’ll last – I leave that part up to you).

Pre-meeting Preparation

Sometimes, you are lucky enough to know you are about to meet someone – a friend of a friend for example, or a new colleague – giving you time to prepare a little in advance. In the past, this would be of little use, but we are in the 21st century my friends, and there is a glorious, wonderful thing known as the social network. And what with the anonymity of the internet, there is the perfect opportunity to do a little digging. For friends of friends, head to Facebook – you should be able to glean a little info on your potential friend through their likes, mutual friends and so on. There are of course some strange folk who deny access to their personal information to anyone who is not their friend (can’t think why), in which case, I’m afraid, there is little you can do (although watch this space for Shortcutting… Computer Hacking). For future colleagues head to Linked In, and if these sources fail you Twitter is very stalker-friendly – it positively welcomes ‘followers’.

Having learnt all you can about your potential friend, pursue anything that interests you. Listen to their favourite band, maybe even watch their favourite t.v. show, but make sure the ‘common interests’ you create are plausible – I would advise against faking an interest in cognitive neuroscience unless you’re really desperate. And one final piece of pre-meeting prep – comedy. Everyone loves a funny person, so perhaps take the time to prepare a few jokes related to your ‘common interests’ – while spontaneity is better, if your on-the-spot jokes tend to be met with tumbleweed, a quick search on Google is bound to provide you with a few sharp quips. Right, now you’re ready for the meeting.

The Meeting

So now for the big day. Let’s start with pre-planned meetings. Start the conversation with some light chatter about your reason for meeting, be it your mutual friend, your mutual employer, or whatever else the situation may be, ensuring to come across as humorous but approachable. Sarcasm is a dangerous area is it can often be misinterpreted during first meetings, so I would generally advise against it. Allow the conversation to flow, but stay alert of any opportunities to mention one of your ‘common interests’ – don’t force it in, but try to make it seem natural. And probably stick to only one or two things – there’s a fine line between a couple of uncanny coincidences and a creepy, stalker-like similarity.

Okay, hold that thought for a moment while we reach this point with the unplanned meetings. There are a large number of possible situations here – you’re both on the same course for something, or maybe you’re meeting at a party. A good way to start a conversation is with a comment on the situation such as  ‘She’s going to have a headache tomorrow’. Humour is not obligatory but advisable where possible. This ought to lead to more discussion of the situation, and try to maintain some sort of conversation.

Right, now both meetings are at more or less the same point. There are just a few steps left. Firstly, humour, humour, humour. A topical joke is guaranteed to make the potential friend warm to you, and a shared laugh is a great bonding experience. Having said that, if you don’t seem to be on the same wavelength humour-wise, don’t keep trying, or the potential friend could be left feeling alienated and uncomfortable. Secondly, ‘lose’ your phone, and ask them if you can borrow their phone to call your phone to find it again (I’ll explain later). Finally, allow the conversation to die down naturally, and don’t force it to go on longer if it reaches a natural end.

Post-meeting Follow-up

Leave approximately 24 hours before follow-up, to avoid seeming clingy. Depending on how well you think the previous day’s meeting went, you might consider adding them on Facebook/ Linked In (although only if they actually mentioned their name to you – don’t want them thinking you’re some kind of stalker!). Regardless of this, go on your phone and look at your call history. There should be a missed call from an unrecognized number – your potential friend’s phone, from when you ‘lost’ your phone! Text the number with a message along the lines of  ‘Who is this? :)’. When they reply with their name etc., you can then reply back with ‘Oh yeah lol, how u?’, hence starting a new conversation. Don’t come on too strong, but if the opportunity arises, you may even be able to arrange another meet-up!

Et voila, you have a new friend, no gradual progression over months and months necessary!

Keep shortcutting…