EDINBURGH FRINGE – BEST OF SCOTTISH COMEDY @ THE STAND 08/08

When it comes to the festival, I don’t get excited to see Scottish comics or most British ones. My eye usually wanders to the fresh stream of American comedians who are trying out their new hour before realising how unprofitable the fringe can really be. But as this year came around, I started to think this is a dangerous mindset to have. This year I’m trying to confront my own prejudices and snobbery towards comedians who perform in Scotland year round, by seeing as much home grown talent as I can.

The first place I could think to get a decent show that has good Scottish acts was at The Stand on York Place, which as Edinburgh’s most prominent comedy club has probably more integrity and common sense than most of the pop-up places at the festival. Being a variety show of sorts, ‘The Best of Scottish Comedy’ is an energising comedy show that works well because it emulates the comedy club circuit these comics have worked in for so many years. Unlike a lot of shows on the fringe which focus on a personality, a gimmick or promise of celebrity guests, BOSC is able to harness what is good about seeing Scottish comedy in a club without taking anything away from it.

The show is held in one of the stand’s festival venues, a full house that got right into it as soon as compere Ray Bradshaw hit the stage. He has an affable quality to him, something essential for a great compere. He was able to rip into the Americans, the loud drunk English and the reluctant Scots in his crowd work, without it sounding hammy or played out. When he even ripped on me, a reluctant ginger kid in the front row, he did it in such a good nature that I was surprised I liked him after it, considering how much self-loathing I feel after being chosen while working the crowd at a comedy gig. Ray was great and I’d like to see him again outside of the host role.

After Ray warmed up the audience, on came Fern Brady, a sharp tongued comedian who opened with a dig at braindead cabbies in Northern Ireland. Fern has the spark – she’s a talented performer who can take on darker material without sounding too cynical or losing laughs to offended gasps. Her jokes felt warm and kind of life affirming, even though they focused on the pros and cons of crushing her tiny boyfriend to death, or cooking eggs for a halfway house full of paedophiles. The levity of Fern’s act was definitely the highlight of the night, she never faltered to what was quite a mixed bag of an audience. She bit through the tuts and groans of the older audience members, telling them she wished she could cancel her fringe show because the 12pm slot is full of old cunts who can’t deal with the word labiaplasty. To be fair, I cringe just thinking about it.

Next up was Robin Grainger, who had a hard act to follow after Fern, but he still had a solid set. Whereas Fern saunters around the stage with the grace of a drunk stepmother, Robin has the manic energy of a kid that’s just done speed for the first time. His main bit deconstructed the pitfalls of releasing mental patients for a weekend, otherwise known as T in the Park. The glorious shamble of a festival, where he tried to perform comedy for a tent full of muddy people chewing their faces off and requesting ‘Wonderwall’. Robin’s strength was telling these weird, abstract stories and I got distracted because his jokes were so similar to my own stand-up material, forcing me to confront myself about why what I wrote wasn’t as good as his material.

The headliner for the night was Mark Nelson, who is best known from this year for making a video with his daughter about the 2017 general election. I had seen Mark before, maybe a year and half ago at the stand. He killed then, and he killed here too. His opening line about the anti-terrorism barriers on the royal mile set the irreverent tone for the rest of his set “As everyone knows, the nemesis of the terrorist is the street performer.” As he slowly sips on a pint he lays down his take on family life, where you don’t like your kids equally and you wish you could die in your sleep. His grumbles about getting on, your ballsack growing bigger and bigger don’t get tired quickly like it would for some comics, it was those down to earth observations about life that completely slayed the audience. I was sat at the front with my girlfriend who was crying with laughter at the start, and then proceed to not be able to breathe.

‘The Best of Scottish Comedy’ exceeded my expectations for Scottish comedians at the fringe this year and left me leaving with a strange, twanging feeling in my heart which I later realised was patriotic pride. As I left the gig and went home, I kept thinking about how damn good it was and how blinded I’ve been due to these insecurities about my own identity. Maybe one day I’ll be able to channel that self-loathing into something worthwhile, even comedy. I was a fool to look down on the broad spectrum of Scottish comedy, because there really is some true greatness in there.

 

 

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SCOTLAND.MPEG

I’m pretty sure neither Sam or me had any real ideas when we made this. He just picked up a bat and started saying dumb shit. There’s maybe another couple things like this in the editing pipeline, as YouTube is a fan of quantity, not quality. I can not describe what this has done to me psychologically. I have started to feel patriotic in places where I felt no patriotism before. I can confidently say that I’m immune from the ‘500 miles’ effect having lived by Easter road for a couple years, but Glasvegas…a band I used to have such disdain for because they ruined a perfectly good slang term for Glasgow…I’ve been singing that ‘Daddy’s gone’ song for a couple days now and not ironically. I used to think they were just another overproduced band from the overpopulated indie scene of the mid 2000s, I even made fun of the sad nature of it being a daddy issues song. But now I’m listening to it and enjoying it, and even thinking that the guy did an amazing job on the production. The accent being super weegie doesn’t even scratch me, or make me cringe like so many ‘Scottish cringe’ red flags have done so before. What is happening to me? Just a couple months ago I was telling Scotland fans at the six nations how much Scotland never did for me, how much I wanted as a kid to leave and start again somewhere else, somewhere that wasn’t here. Now I’m listening to old Glasvegas songs and actually liking my home country? Be warned : this could be the end of my only shred of personality folks. Check back near New Years Day to see if I’ve got an opinion on the latest ‘Only an Excuse’.

THE CARSON BLAZKOWICZ SHOW (PILOT)

O, Carson what have we done to deserve such majestic fuckery? Let me present the pilot episode of ‘The Carson Blazkowicz Show’. This is our submission into ‘Test Card’, a talent scheme by the Edinburgh TV Festival. I chanced upon an advert at this otherwise dull careers festival and went to see the boys afterwords who agreed to film this with me. It was this, or a completely scripted show which i don’t think we could have done on a budget of nothing. The result is what you see here, a weird talk show using the format as a way to push forward surreal comedy sketches. However, doing this has given us a little insight on what direction to take it from here. I hope that you enjoy this programme, and that you think it’s a good idea for us to continue making them. Otherwise, i’ll have to go back to trying to making Harry Potter fanfiction come alive in front of the greenscreen.

NIGHTMARE CHALLENGE – EPISODE 1#

Nightmare Challenge is a podcast about things gave us nightmares and still do to this day. When I was a child, everything they showed me on television induced me into a state of paralysis, I couldn’t turn away because there was only 4 channels and only one with any kids telly on. To this day, I can’t stomach the body of work made by Ragdoll Productions. I’m sure you all have things that give you an unsettling feeling in the recesses of your damp, dank mind. Perhaps it was an episode of ‘Boy Meets World’ that just went TOO far? Or perhaps it was a game on the Amiga that everyone told you was ‘mega haunted’.

On this podcast we explore some of the things that made us want to piss our drawers with irrational fear. Surely these things were made with the consideration of their audience of weak children with developing minds, whose ability to draw fear from nothing is at maximum capacity. The mind of a child is a fragile, broken thing, and I don’t know what I would do if I had to go through it all again. Maybe read a book or something. This episode features our co-host Sam Mackeddie, whose own fears include morality tales from the 1930’s and everyone’s favorite ‘Roy Chubby Brown’, a man who on the surface appears to be offensive – but his jokes don’t make enough sense to offend anyone.

MISTY BUSINESS

Misty Business is a documentary I made for University after they deemed my pitch for a doc about squatting in a Spanish hotel ‘so lame’. The title comes from Father John Misty, an artist who I have yet to ever listen to. But I always liked his name, and i thought it appropriate in the misty, empty place Scotland can be sometimes.

I’ve got to really thank all the people who appear in it, and Andy Donaldson (wecamefromwolves) who kept me company when i was cold and alone in Dundee filming at a bar i’d never been to before. Fun Fact : the barmaid at that place was the most unhelpful, unpleasant people I’ve tried to speak to in a bar. I was the only person in that whole bar, and she clearly didn’t like that she had to serve a customer and not chat with the chef for another 30 minutes about getting neck tattoos. Not that i have anything against neck tats…I just like getting served pints without getting sneered at.

Emily Atkinson who is a delightful singer also graciously let me film her soundcheck, which led to her becoming one of my favorite performers. I had seen her once before, but in the year that had passed she had significantly stepped her game up. It was mind-blowing, and now i’m a huge fan. You can find her stuff here.

I will be working on a follow up in the year to come, having already filmed a couple of interviews which would be perfect for it. I had to cut a lot of stuff out of this one for time constraints so it’d be good if i can get it to be around a half hour or so. I’ll get some people in it to totally trash the original doc.

GRAVE SHITTER – MUSIC VIDEO

This is a strange one. I had written a script to make a short film about two brothers, one who loved his dear deceased father and the other who knew about some damning details about him, leading him to defecating on his grave. The film would have ramped up into a piece about blackmail, as the shitty brother starts getting threatening messages about being a shitter.

We set out to the graveyard to film our scenes, but i had left the tripod back at the flat. Not wanting to waste the day, we filmed a home-video style piece that could be turned into…something. I had this riff lying around that i had no other ideas for other than the chorus being “fuck…you” over and over – and we decided to turn sam’s antics into a music video.

The result is what it is. I liked the VHS effect, but i should have kept the 3:4 aspect ratio. I had fun editing it, it distinctly reminded me of our first youtube video some 11 years back Danger, Danger High Voltage! in that it’s a video with Sam doing silly and random shit set to music. It’s probably something he gets a kick out of, because he always suggests to make one. I think the way forward is to edit like a DJ Douggpound song.

I understand it’s not for everyone. My brother was the first person i showed it to and he did not think it was funny. He thought it was kind of sad. After he said that i kind of realised that the setting is not altogether appropiate. He also hates MDE which Sam forced us to watch before we filmed this.

Until i met Hector, and he said he and Aiden had made the same journey up to Dean Graveyard and spent a couple hours drinking in there like teens. So it’s not just me that is still hanging in graveyards at the age of twenty six. I hope i can repurpose the film I wrote into something else. We are filming a pilot for a talk show soon (with no budget) and hopefully we can use some of the scenes in that. Like this poker scene where they’re all betting on this hentai doujinshi.

Fuck you, Theresa May

I think it might be pretty clear from this video that i don’t like Theresa May. I don’t, nor do i like any of the English Tories, but this was only meant to be a joke. I had this footage of the leaders of the political parties on a table football game, and started to think “oh i could do a short funny thing with these and then the punchline would be theresa may fucked up in calling this election” but as i started to write the song it started to get less silly and more angsty. I did a couple rewrites of the lyrics while sitting on the toilet, and that’s where i do my angriest writing. It turned out kind of funny to me, because she seems like such a laughable, fragile figure who also is a dangerous reactionary. The problem with conservatives is that their views on what the right thing to do for society or the country rarely hold up under the pressure of real life situations. I thought the dumbest thing she said in her campaign was about the terror attacks “Enough is enough.” I had this image of all these radicalised terrorists putting their guns and knives away and shrugging because this woman told them to. The reasons for terror attacks are not always clear, but to then blame something huge and free as the internet for the rise in attacks is ridiculous. The current government doesn’t understand the internet, it scares them. But if you were to schedule it like a drug, you’re only going to put everyone at further risk.

I can’t talk about them for too much because i just get angry. I was happy to see Corbyn finally given the praise he has always deserved and overcome the stabs in the back that the Blairites gave him. It’s why labour has made a comeback in Scotland, they don’t support Scottish labour, because they all seem like a bunch of entitled cunts that can’t be told ‘no’, it’s people like Corbyn they like, somebody who isn’t a stuffy little prick looking down at their constituents.

(Isn’t it weird though how specifically scottish labour are more unlikable than the regular brand? Why did it evolve like that? Just before the election nadia met a bunch of them using a conference room at work and they were treating people like they were on the caste system)

Tim Farron, who cares really. He brought Lib Dem back from the brink, and Clegg got ejected. They fucked up though. They really fucked it with that coalition.

Nicola Sturgeon, we love you. I mean, you’re the best. Whenever somebody criticizes the SNP, they are just mad jealous. I think.

The weird one in the bunch is Ruth Davidson, leader of Scottish Conservative. She always seemed like a walking paradox to me, proud LGBT, remain supporter, – is constantly getting these things dangled in front of her like keys. She doesn’t seem bad, but i still don’t get what to be a scottish conservative is about. It means you like the UK, sure. You don’t like independence, okay. But that was their entire platform this election – just “FUCK THE SNP”. I like the SNP, a lot. Sure they’re maybe a little slow on some things, but you can’t blame them, they’re Scottish. They’re just a bunch of dirty urchin children who grew into those suits.

Ruth Davidson doesn’t really have anything that annoys me, but i feel bad for her. It’s like she seems a little powerless through all this and you don’t really ever get to see what she cares about, why she got into it all. She’s the one tory that i still got sympathy for. but at the same time, i don’t understand how anyone can like the Tories without being an insufferable cunt. I’ve still to meet somebody that was conservative that wasn’t deeply unpleasant to be around.

THE BUTCHER

The streets of Glasgow’s west end are full of unbearable hipsters and intense alcoholics. It’s only appropriate that we chose it as the location of our film The Butcher which is about an intolerable douche and his high school chum, who may or may not have homicidal tendencies. It features all the great locations of the city, like Anderston Crane…and the G12 union bar. This one was shot by the great Sam Rose, who is currently working on his pet project Death Police with conspirator Sam Mackeddie. More on that later. For now, enjoy the second part of the “tradesmen” trilogy, produced by the sumbarino brothers and Rose productions.

The best video games of 2016

Do you remember a simpler time when videogames were our only form of escapism? It’s the first thing in my memory where choice became a big deal. I understand TV is escapism, and so playing with your imagination, but these usually had outside influences that I had no control over. My life as a baby and then as a curious toddler was built on decisions with no input of my own. Then, something magical happened. Somebody placed me in front of an Amiga with a box full of floppy disks with unlimited potential. I could move Guybrush Threepwood where ever i wanted to! Sometimes, I was even able to solve a puzzle! I was in control of my life, finally. I still however was afraid of the monitor after I turned it off. I would speed out of the room like a little scared kitten. Where do the videogames go after the screen turns off. Do they come to life?

Today, I am only ever slightly afraid of my television. Years of therapy and many upgrades in game console have led me to the stage where I no longer freak out when it turns off. But that is a rare occurrence, as most of my time is spent playing through a library of great videogames. Here are the best of the best we played last year. This is still relevant, as the only new game we played this year is Breath of the Wild, (which is a very good title and has become so close to my heart)

5. Final Fantasy XV

After 10 years of waiting, was it finally worth it? I suppose yes, yes it was. It was certainly different from what I expected, with little prompt from the game to dig deeper into the story and instead letting you roam free with your handsome buddies. The fight system is a little clunky, but fun and the changes in gameplay from Episode Duscae were welcome. The behemoth mission in Duscae is such a pain in the ass, whereas i really enjoyed it in XV. The game is still surprising me with all it’s little secrets and side missions, which don’t really seem to get boring. There’s also a new game plus, a ton of dlc coming which should bring me back after a vacation away from Noct and his pals. Perhaps because of the addition of a Japanese language option, (thank god they had this) I also started to like Prompto, which every news publication actively told me not to. I like him a lot. You were all too cynical about this prettyboy character.

4. Dark Souls III

I am a big Dark Souls fan. The first game changed my perspective of gaming forever, encouraging me to seek challenge and despair wherever I can find it when playing games. Since then, it’s been a yearly tradition to pick up the next installment of whatever FROM SOFTWARE have been working on. Dark Souls III seems to be a hybrid of what worked in Bloodborne, and what people missed in DSII, a good thing for those who felt the second game in the series was a tad dissapointing. It became again the most cherished game on the console for a while, where a half hour play session would turn into 8 or more, invading and betraying my way through the world. The best part about the game is that you always feel that you could be better, could get stronger if you really wanted to. Cameos from previous games made this one feel all the more like a love letter to fans. Still, it doesn’t match the original’s same sense of wonder, the first time you exit the Undead asylum and enter Lordran. I hope whatever FROM have got planned next is going to blow us away even more.

3. Dragon Quest Builders

I always wanted to get into Minecraft, but I couldn’t ever get into it. All I would do was dig down to the centre of the earth and then the sad sweet music would play and I would feel like some little spec of dust in a hole where nobody could find me. I never played a Dragon Quest game before, and this action rpg-block crafter hybrid seemed to be the best place to start. It’s got great music, surprisingly fun gameplay and crafting elements, the fight system is simple but effective, building stuff is fun, exploring is a treat. It has had me hooked since release.

2. Enter the Gungeon

This game was purchased on a whim, but it’s easily the one i’ve spent the most time playing. Enter the Gungeon combines roguelike elements with a Bullet Hell shooter, something I never knew I wanted. The intensity of Bullet Hell schmups is hard not to admire, but stupidly hard to master. I never could really get the hang of them. Could I get the hang of Gungeon? Yes and No. I haven’t beaten it, although I have sunk probably 150 hours into the game. Everytime you play, it’s the first time, with small unlocks here and there. The first boss took so long to beat, I got that feeling of doubt like the first time I played Dark Souls. “Maybe this game is too hard for me.” But no, you have to push on further! If Dark Souls taught me anything, it’s that you never let a game beat you prematurely. Then you start getting through the first, second, third stages, with no problems! The same sense of accomplishment fills you when you start to craft mastery of a game after so much torment. However, I still haven’t beaten it, nor am I close. I did get up to a penultimate boss on the weekend with a friend (who has beaten it) in co-op, but we died. They just released a new (free!) update with new bosses and guns etc, so there is absolutely no reason for me to stop playing this one. I love this game.

1. Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon looked too weird at first glance, I’ve never been into tabletop D’n’D sessions or old school numbers games. I got it on sale because of it’s gleaming reviews and was still a little skeptical. But this one works so well, it’s the first time where statistics and random elements become actively thrilling. There’s such a great, punishing combat system where slight errors in judgement can lead to the wiping out of your adventuring party, and there it comes, permadeath of some of your favorite adventures. But shit happens, and you got to send in more weary travelers the next day, who may be successful or might share the same fate. So many people, freak out under the pressure and become erratic, leading to your doom. But occasionally something magically happens, and the pressure brings out a heroic quality in an adventurer, sparking a torch of hope in your dread filled heart. The aesthetics, music and voice acting make this game all the more addictive. Like with Dark Souls, the bleak narrative of the game starts to speak to you like a drug. You start to feel the darkness, and you enjoy it. A special shoutout to Wayne June, the lead voice actor of the game, whose amazing gravely voice has helped create a truly intense experience.

YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO: HAND HABIT’S WILDLY IDLE (HUMBLE BEFORE THE VOID)

Every few years or so, an album comes along that fills you with that warm feeling of awe, reminding us of the soul changing effect that well-constructed guitar music can have on the human heart.

Hand Habit’s debut LP, Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) is magnificent at capturing a feeling more than a sound, taking you to those lost summer days floating barely above the water, a hidden enigma that captures everything important about American guitar music.

Meg Duffy, the singer and guitarist behind Hand Habits has been recording and touring with Mega Bog and the Kevin Morby band, but her own efforts are much more an intimate, bedroom affair. Recorded in her living room in her Upstate New York hometown and at her current L.A home, Wildly Idle captures the beauty and tenderness in jangly guitar music that other bands don’t even come close to.

Duffy tells us that she has always gravitated to the more warm sounding frequencies than the tinny high ends. “I think the guitar I play really helped me figure that out. It’s a lone star strat with a humbucker, and the bridge pickup is very bass-y and warm. I only have one guitar, so it’s what I started with and with my vocals, making this record made me realize just rolling a bit of the high end off makes me feel more comfortable with hearing my own voice.”

The lo-fi qualities of a bedroom recording have their own specific charm, but Duffy’s album is so well orchestrated you would have thought it was recorded in a vacuum where melancholic surfers go to die. “I did everything on ProTools with less than a handful of microphones. The amp I was using started to die halfway through tracking so I ended up going DI for most of the guitars. I owe the final touches to Ged Gengras who mixed and mastered the record.” It was recorded mostly by herself except for a few guest performers including Avi Buffalo, Kevan Lareau and Sheridan Riley.

Wildly Idle releases today
Wildly Idle releases today

She says she is incredibly proud of the album, and rightfully so. Wildly Idle’s track “Actress” overwhelms you with Duffy’s songwriting ability, a folky-Paisley Underground song about running away to pretend to be something else that showcases her stunning vocals.

The stand out track is “All the While” which hooks you from the opening lyrics that instantly transport you to the Californian desert where she lives. “Hold me like a child/You made me out to be/And bring me to the Wild West/Where you can set me free.”

The themes Duffy wanted to convey through the songs were “being comfortable with space, with distance, with yourself in general. I’m very into comfort and moving through emotions.” Her creative rituals reflect this explorative approach to life as she spends time “Isolating myself, making myself vulnerable to new emotions and humans, taking a lot of baths and the ‘digital detox’, also going back to this book on reharmonization I have that I barely understand.”

Outside of music she says she would like to pursue fashion and carpentry as artistic pursuits, citing the fact that at the moment she has nowhere to put her clothes aside from a suitcase. If you want to catch her live, she may be embarking on a tour in Europe this April as well as opening for Kevin Morby in June, which definitely will be one of the best gigs to catch this summer.

Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void) Releases on February 10, 2017 from Woodist Records, also available on Bandcamp & itunes

postscript opinions: This album struck a chord with me because it’s fresh sound, rhythmic songs and semi-clean guitars were something I felt so desperate to hear, and hadn’t even realised it. I had turned my back on guitar music for the most part, looking for new vistas in the depths of electronic music, but what I had been looking for was right in front of me the whole time. Wildly Idle was almost a spiritual experience to me, like drinking a pot of Ayachusa and walking into the woodlands, fighting with your emotions but not in a sad way. It truly is a great album.