Tape 122: Filming Live Comedy Differently (Part II)
Thinking About Who's Watching
Mea culpa. Mea culpa. (This means “My apologies” in French). It has come to my attention that last week I used this newsletter to announce EGGBOX, a night of comedy short film screenings and script readings I’m organising at King’s Place in early December, and failed to actually specify in the body of the email what the date and time for the event would be. True, there was a clickable link (just as there is up there), which took you to the event page with more information, but it was foolish of me to not make those details, which are admittedly pretty crucial, more immediately apparent. Was this whole thing a deliberate mistake to justify being able to bring it up two weeks in a row in order to maximise eyes on the event, and hopefully sell more tickets? I’m afraid to say I am not that clever, although it is a thrilling side-effect of my idiocy. So, for clarity - I am organising an evening of comedy film screenings and script readings on FRIDAY THE 10TH OF DECEMBER at King’s Place at 8PM!!! Here’s a picture with a date on it so I now have no excuse for mentioning it again next week:
With that embarrassment aside, it’s time to move on to the subject of this week’s Tape.
Filming Live Comedy Differently (Part II)
Several months ago, I wrote in this newsletter about the day of comedy show recordings I organised in the summer with indie production label Go Faster Stripe, where we recorded my shows Blink and Joz Norris Is Dead. Long Live Mr Fruit Salad. alongside John-Luke Roberts’ A World Just Like Our Own, But… and Sean Morley & Ben Alborough’s Terry Wogan Screams. In it I talked about my ambition to adopt a slightly different approach to filming live comedy to that pursued by most other comedy specials. I thought I’d revisit that Tape and follow it up with a “Part II” on where my thoughts are at regarding all this a few months down the line.
As of this week, I’ve now seen the work-in-progress edits of Blink, and it’s very exciting and I can’t wait to share it with the world. But watching it also reminded me of the initial intention behind the day of recordings - to make something that felt like more than just a recording of something that happened in a room. At the moment, it feels to me like that’s what the recording of Blink is - it captures the events as they occurred. The recording and editing are great, the energy is really fun, but somehow it doesn’t feel the way I want it to ideally. One of my favourite things about the reviews and responses to that show last year was the sense that people watching it often felt they couldn’t quite put their finger on where the show was going, or what it was going to do next. There were rugpulls and changes of direction in it that audiences found really baffling and thrilling and exciting. We sort of designed it as much as a theatrical spectacle as a conventional character comedy show - one of our intentions in the development of it was to make a show that looked and felt like a smashed mirror - and I loved the sensation performing it of audiences submitting to the rollercoaster of it and enjoying the peeling back of its layers.
When I watch the recording, I’m conscious of the fact that I’m basically watching footage of myself standing onstage and saying stuff, and that hard-to-pin-down otherness that so excited me about that show isn’t quite baked into the viewing experience yet. For some reason, I don’t have the same feelings watching back old recordings of Mr Fruit Salad (although I’ve yet to see the edit of the Moth Club performance). That show was designed much more as a series of anarchic stand-up routines performed by a paper-thin character, so a live recording that captures the energy and spontaneity of that live experience feels like it’s enough to communicate what I love about the show. But with Blink, there were atmospheres and textures and things that felt tangible in the room that don’t feel as tangible to me in a recording.
Don’t get me wrong, it still feels like a weird show (evidence above). And there are specific moments within it that do feel thrilling and different and unnerving, thanks to my having discussed them in advance with Chris at Go Faster Stripe so that he’s already been able to work them into the first draft of the edit. My interactions with Ben Target have been captured brilliantly, in a way that suggests all the themes of voyeurism and watching yourself being watched that I was exploring in the show, and the show’s biggest, most theatrical moment has been filmed in a way that gives it buckets of atmosphere. I think if I were to put out the recording as it is, it would be perfectly enjoyable and people would like it. But somehow I feel like I’d be abandoning the promise I made both to myself and to my audience when I set out to record it. I feel in my bones that underneath the nuts and bolts of this first edit there’s something truly exciting to be made - something that fulfils my ambitions of going beyond a regular comedy special recording and becomes more of a collector’s item, for people really interested in filming live comedy in unusual ways.
I think the maxim for the recording of Blink will be that I don’t want the viewer to watch it and think “Cool, what a great recording of a gig I didn’t attend.” I want them to think “Wow, what a great film that’s been made for me.” I know that Sean and Ben were hoping to do the same with Terry Wogan Screams - the actual events that were recorded live were only half of the creative process, with much of the essence of the show to be figured out in the edit. So I’ve been brainstorming various ways of baking that weirdness into the edit itself, of identifying specific sequences that can be made to feel a certain way in order to communicate not just what happened in that room on that day, but also the quality of the imaginative space the show occupies. I want the viewer to never quite be sure what’s happening next, so that when the rugpulls and switches occur, they feel genuinely exciting and bizarre, rather than just being things that someone on a stage is doing, which is how they feel to me at the moment. There are dream sequences and nightmare sequences that I want to feel genuinely otherworldly, there are moments of paranoia and despair that I want to feel as if the very fabric of what people are watching is threatening to be torn apart, there are moments of bombast and pomp that I want to feel gloriously, tackily over-the-top.
I’m pretty excited about the opportunities available to transform the recording into so much more than just a comedy special - I’ve written before about the power of the edit as a creative process in its own right, and I think I might have found another project where the same philosophy holds true. Like the podcast I was talking about in that earlier Tape (which I am still working on, I promise, I’m just waiting on funding so I can get it finished!), I’d probably have a decent enough project on my hands if I simply released the recordings of exactly what happened. But I also know in my gut that that decent product would be less than what it could be, and that if I follow my instincts I could make something really special that people really love. So watch this space!
As for how long it’ll take, I hope it won’t be ridiculous, unlike that podcast, which I realise is taking forever - apologies for that. So much of the messiest, fiddliest, trickiest stuff has already been addressed masterfully by Chris, so what we’re left with is a working edit that’s ripe for various tricks and bells and whistles to be added to it. As I said, the recording of Mr Fruit Salad is a much simpler affair that probably can just be a recording of what happened in the room without losing too much of the show’s essence. So I hope I might be able to release that show very soon, maybe even before the end of the year or early in 2024. And with any luck, if this final stage of the process goes smoothly, Blink will follow not far behind.
As ever, I’d love to hear how any of this intersects with your own creative projects! How much do you tinker with or tweak projects after they’ve been recorded? Do you prefer to give things to your audience exactly as they happened, and simply let the recreation of the live experience be enough, or do you think there’s value in reworking and rediscovering a project in the edit to make it into something slightly different from what it was in a live incarnation? Does it vary from project to project? I’d love to hear all your thoughts!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most - The moment in Phil Ellis’s Excellent Comedy Show (which has two more performances at Soho Theatre tonight and tomorrow!) when Phil has a go at improvised rap. Or maybe the moment where Phil has a go at making TikTok sketches. It’s just such a funny show.
Book Of The Week - Adam and Hannah had the excellent idea of giving out secret surprise books and records as gifts/favours at their wedding, and my lucky dip present was the script of Pulp Fiction, so I’ve just finished reading that. Depressing to learn that Marsellus Wallace is only one year older than me.
Album Of The Week - Folk Roots, New Routes by Shirley Collins & Davy Graham. I only really discovered Shirley Collins this year thanks to her updated version of “Hares On The Mountain” from her new album, which was used as the theme tune to Bridget Christie’s The Change. So I’ve gone back and listened to this classic album of hers and Graham’s, which was a cornerstone of the British folk explosion in the 60s. You can see a lot of the seeds of John Martyn and Fairport Convention in it, it’s lovely.
Film Of The Week - Cat Person. This has mostly been slated, which I’m surprised by as I thought it was great. Admittedly, I’d not read the original short story before going in, and it seems like most people’s issues with it are the completely new ending the film adds. Having subsequently learned where the story ends, I can see that the film’s finale is a bit sensationalist and over-the-top, but I thought the whole film did a great job of exploring the discomfort of modern dating. Really enjoyed it.
That’s all for this week! As ever, let me know what you thought, and if you enjoy this newsletter enough to send it on to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care and catch you all next time,
PS Went to a Bonfire Night funfair and found out my new phone has a cool night-time camera:
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