When You’re In Your Scholarly Room…

I am soon to face one of my first enforced retirements, the ensuing decades will have many, but this is one of my favourite jobs. I am to become surplus to requirement, a savage axing due to the relentless march of a child’s developing intellect. My book at bedtime work will be no more. A short time ago, Roald Dahl was irretrievable beyond guesswork around what the illustrations of Quentin Blake portrayed. Then, the letters on the page started to take shape, this was no longer impenetrable code that only an adult’s superior mind could translate. The delight of reading about old women with “a puckered up mouth like a dog’s bottom” was accessible to him on his own. The act of reading simple phrases about a town mouse and a country mouse did not require a scrunched up face and overt concentration. After the first colour coded reading stages, there is a burst of momentum, the scales drop from the eyes, and all the books of the world will soon be available and comprehensible.
How my wife must wish this skill had been mastered during the Thomas the Tank Engine phase, oh how she loathed reading of machiavellian trucks and diesel engines.

How joyful it is to see all the family individually immersed at night-time, eyes wide with fascination and excitement as the minds of authors sketch out and fill in new worlds for us. In each brain, a different drama.

If we swapped books, we would still not have the same character’s faces, rooms and gizmos, the same words creating different landscapes and sideshows. What face will I draw for the greasy, halitosis exhaling headteacher? What will the portraits of each page be when my son gets around to reading Ubik (and he will, his father will rule with a rod of iron, just briefly, at some point in our family book tower).

On holiday, a phrase I have guilt in writing due to some image of being work obsessed that I feel duty bound to project, I read for pleasure. I always read for pleasure, but there is often a secondary task of filleting the book for information required for some show I want to create, or a hurried education in a subject we are going to investigate on The Infinite Monkey Cage (series 10 finished, but Christmas special in December). My reasons for reading The Shock of The Fall, The Man in the High Castle and Post Everything (Luke Haines second memoir of frustration, inebriation and composition) were entertainment, I didn’t even have to hold a pencil and a marker pen as I turned the pages (though I did, just in case).
I’d rather read about life than have to live it, though I try to do both.
My son, so recently on books that be summed as “Run, Jim, Run. Catch, Tim, Catch. Jump, Sally, Jump”, now benevolently tires his eyes with David Walliams’ books of demon dentists and boys in dresses. I would tell you more, but he doesn’t let me read over his shoulder.

There’s more to life than books you know…

The worst horror story? Surely it must be owl eyed Burgess Meredith, ready to read the books of the world in a post apocalyptic world, and then… his glasses falling to the ground and shattering (The Twilight Zone, was that a Rod Serling story?)

There are myths that warn of curiosity and education, punishments for Prometheus, serpents forced to crawl on their belly for fruit persuasion, if you really want to be a Wild One like Brando, be a rebel with a library card (late openings may differ).

TV lays it all out for you, sit back, disengage, reading is an activity. (and with 20% of your energy being used up by your brain, maybe it is slimming too).

off on tour as usual – west country, east country, north country and all over, starting in Croydon. Details HERE

new 3 hour long DVD of nonsense HERE

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Hush, hush, my lens is cracking…and other selfish genes

I am tired enough to be having one of those imagined “Falling Down” days. In this episode, the occupants of seats B10 and B11 on the 12.57 from Paddington are looking at me with petrified eyes as I stand over them, screaming like a BBC reporter looking at a scientologist spin doctor, “use some fucking headphones if you want to watch Cloudy with motherfucking Meatballs on the train”. Astonishingly, I will be the one deemed to be insane, not the selfish, thoughtless pricks crying with fear. In reality, I say nothing. Unable to concentrate on my book, I have repellent scenarios running through my head, in some I am witty, in others, I am Leatherface. My pet peeve, though it is a pet that must kept in a cellar with a steel leash around its neck, is people’s failure to imagine anyone but themselves. Littering, use of DVD players without headphones on public transport, repeated, boastful swearing or misogynistic sexual anecdotes on carriages where children are clearly on board, all fit into my swollen venn diagram of passive outdoor aggression that makes me aggressive and disappointed.

I read a few things about the Fringe Lager Trophy, it seems that nominees and winners were all worthy, it looked like one of the most interesting lists for some time and, though I haven’t seen his act, everything I read about John Kearns work intrigues me.
I love and hate the Edinburgh fringe. Each year, the actual fringe element seems to become healthier and healthier, the free fringe grows and has lost most, if not all, of its leper status. There is a camaraderie and support amongst a variety of fringe performers that is delightful and plays against the stereotype of the self-obsessed, “crush all in my path”, young, hungry Jimmy Carr image of stand up comedians. I am not as zealous as Michael Legge in my loathing of compliments retweeted, though I worry for our sanity when authors and performers retweet someone saying that they seemed quite nice. I can understand the retweeting of a review when hawking wares, but RTing any semblance of a complimentary comment troubles me. I am easily troubled, a perplexed scowl is my face at rest.

What disappoints me is the flaw that does show up the selfishness of the performer, the eagerness to spread all personal praise, the failure of some to ever bother to use their social media outlets to plug their friends and other comedians. Some do this out of fear – “what if I plug someone and, in the act of that plugging, a reader chooses their show over mine?”
Others may just secretly hate all other comedians and know that, the possible success of others creates such a sense of agony that it would be far more preferable to bask in all those selling worse than you. Instead, you could experience the joy of “accidentally” putting your foot in it, “I saw that Guardian review, I don’t know how they missed the point, everyone I know who has seen your show says it is great”.

The rest may have merely got caught inside a mirrorball where no one else exists, how can they recommend another show when there are no others. There can be only one. There is only one.
There are many comics who plug others, maybe it has just been bad timing that my visits to social media kept coinciding with stand ups adept at self promotion and ignorant of promotion of others. Maybe they see no reason to plug for free when they have spent 3 grand on a PR person for a month. It reminds me of a paranoid writer who gained much work from people recommending him, he was both good and also did a fabulous face of misery that suggested he was down to his last pair of viable underpants before being sent to the workhouse. We eventually found out that he had loads of writing jobs, but kept them secret, for fear that if we knew of these other opportunities, we might snaffle them from him. It became apparent that, despite all the altruism he had relied on, he was selfish, and so, an evolutionary lesson was learnt, and we stopped picking the nits from his back.

I don’t know how many viable pairs of underpants he has now, but I hear his spine his itchy.

I am off touring again – Leicester, Croydon, London, Aldershot, manchester up first, then all the rest. details HERE

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Psychosomatic Sad Clown Syndrome?

one of my blog posts that is just notes really, typed spare thoughts (and possible repetitions from previous blog posts) – Yup, I do the hard sell.

Are comedians misanthropes, miserablists or depressives anymore than other occupations? Since the suicide of Robin Williams, I have been mulling over that popular image of the clowns weeping off their stage make up, the echo of the laughter of the crowd still bouncing about the canvas as they sink into silence, or booze, or both.

Is this a portrait that an audience enjoy imagining, a punishment for the people who dare to make people laugh. Does envy make some keen to presume misery is the essence of a stand up. There is the much told tale of a clown visiting a doctor in the hope of having something prescribed for their misery, and being told they should go and see Grimaldi, the punchline is, “but doctor, I am Grimaldi”. Oh, the desperate romance of the laughmaker who cannot laugh.

There is a draw in being seen to be bleak, it can add depth. Life is absurd, and it’s finite, what is the point of being happy? Constantly, being drawn to the bleak side can be alluring, just as poets may be drawn to drink in the hope that the intoxication may make them rhyme like Dylan Thomas, or the music journalist is drawn to hard drugs and jacuzzis in the belief it will release the Hunter S Thompson that lies tethered within.

Most stand ups I hang around with are, if not normal by the standards of being suitably, commutingly, nightclubby normal, normal-ish. There may be an exaggeration in their moods, but that comes from the extremes of the “working” day and night. I have to put working in inverted commas as, if you really deem that stand up is work like work is for many people who actually work, you are doing it wrongly or shouldn’t be doing it at all. It may be a grind at times, it may even be a bore, but it should not be a clock in, when will the day end so I can have fun scenario that others face. It shouldn’t have the same possibility of groundhog day repetition or quite the same loops of squabbles and feuds over correct use of personal mugs.

There are a few who are in therapy, some drink a bit, many are in states of childhood even beyond middle age, but who isn’t now, we live in an age of toys. It is the exaggeration of moods that can make diary entries, twitter updates, blog posts, seem like nervous breakdowns when they can often just be that extreme reaction to a sudden moment of audience judgement or failure to elucidate an idea on stage how you had imagined it.

Many comedians are in psychoanalysis, but they are doing it themselves, sat by the automated toilet on a bustling, crisp fragrant, Virgin train. We need to try be interesting to interest people, so maybe the scab picking is a little overzealous. If you don’t make it bleed, maybe you won’t find the routine that lies within. (urgh, that image is unpleasant, sorry)

Each experience has to be squeezed and pinched for potential use on stage. The comic knows something has gone awry when life is occurring and you have become so disengaged from it that you no longer have enough interest in it to try and turn it into your work. When my flat flooded with sewage, my second thought was, so how does this become something to say to an audience? “Is it a one liner, a routine, or a full length show?”, he wondered aloud, as the water board attempted to claim that shit covering the floor and walls was rain water. You know, that shitty rain with toilet paper in that sometimes falls in Autumn. John Kettley used to warn you about.

I am not sure what personality flaw is required to desire the approbation of strangers nightly.

Tony Hancock is the great doomed Grimaldi of the post war period. His appearance on Face to Face and morose nature is still picked over now, but I remember Galton and Simpson, his great writers, saying their main memory was of the way he would roll around on the floor, laughing at his favourite jokes in the script.

As I wrote before, I think stand up is the disease and the cure. Perish the thought, but we may be less fascinating than we had hoped. For many afflicted with depression, there is not the ironic counterpoint that they make people laugh in theatres.

The stand up bit is easy, it is the rest of the day, the bits that aren’t about stand up, writing or general showing off that are tricky. It is the humdrum and necessary human bits that make things really difficult. Sometimes it is easier to do a routine about opening milk than it is to open milk. (I have no idea why I wrote that, I have little difficulty opening milk and have never had a routine about it).

Sometimes, it is easier to perform a routine about the problems of existing than it is to exist… (that will do it, bit pretentious maybe…END)

I am off around the UK and beyond for Autumn and Winter tour – London, Manchester, Nottingham, Belfast, Aldershot, Dublin, Cardiff and on and on. Norway soon, US and Australia dates for 2015 should be up soon. Dates etc HERE

New 3 hour DVD HERE

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I love stand up comedy (even when I hate it) – the disease of comedy

I am diseased. There is no way out. I was diseased when I was young, probably from the first time I saw Rik Mayall on TV. There was no other option but stand up. After my youthful desire to be a zookeeper vanished in a puff of elephant dung, I always knew I wanted to be a writer and/or performer. It didn’t look promising. I had the minor role of a weasel in the school production of Wind in the Willows, and my acting abilities were hampered by my self-awareness creating a rigidity. I realised I must resort to playing myself, or myself as the lunatic hidden within. I have now spent half my life being a stand up comedian.

During Edinburgh fringe and tours, I can scrutinise the failures and half-cocked shows, so now I am near the end of this run, I dare to be positive.

Whenever people ask what I would have done if I wasn’t a stand up, I may make up something like,”oh, maybe a teacher”, but really, I have no idea what I might have been because I lack the imagination to think beyond being a stand up. I am fortunate. I am one of those people who really knew what they wanted to do. The downside is, if you fail to achieve that, you are screwed. You live the rest of your life as some supervisor or other, knowing that you failed to be what you wanted to be.

I am no household name, but I am able to do shows about what I want to talk about and sell enough tickets to live happily and comfortably. There are moments of intense shame, solitary madness, intense self examination as you lie in a cheap hotel listening to the arguments that leads to hollered sex that leads to argument in the room next door.
And it can promote selfishness and an atrophy of empathy, but these are not the necessity of the disease.

If I balance out the grey moments and the excessive introspection, not only could I not do anything else, I don’t want to do anything else. It is freest artform for there is, the only thing that hampers you is your fear of shame. You can release whatever you know is in your head and some things you had no idea were lurking there. The older I become, the more I think I love stand up. What a relief to reach middle age and not regret my youthful stupidity at going into this world. There were certainly glitches and long periods of time where I thought I should really think about doing something else, those times when you forget why you went into it in the first place. There will be gigs to come, maybe the one I am about to do, where I work off defeated and rue the day I didn’t become a small town solicitor dealing with smalltime divorces (actually, I’ve never rued that day, I am lying now), but that fog will drift away. To keep myself sane-ish, I am taking another act with me for my next tour to curtail the opportunities the voices in my head have to natter. The cliche of the sad clown staring at his decaying face in the multi bulbed mirror will be vanquished by conversations with Grace Petrie.

Are comedians more morose than other people, anyone whose career is introspcetion may have a greater predilection for spying their own potential misery. On the other side, you can turn your misery and worries into material, while others might have all their woes pent up, the comedian can unleash them and have them laughed at.
“ha ha my woes and fears, see how I have made you laughable and preposterous”
It can be a feast of dopamine for the brain.

Last night, my penultimate evening at the Edinburgh festival, I had a wild night of mind frippery and exercise.

First, my solo show on the mind. I talk fast, very fast, but I know roughly what I am doing hopefully, it almost has structure, well, by the standards of my other shows…perhaps.
Then, I went to ACMS, here Michael Legge and I “remixed” our A Your Adorable song with some clowning, screaming and stupidity. I then played the part of Tom O Connor if he was Fall Obsessed and voiced by something akin to Stewart Lee. Michael read out the fallen of Endor.
We walked across town to scream and jump and pretend to the ghost of Lenny Bruce and Daphne and Celeste in our angry show. Each night is more preposterous than the last, some of the audience genuinely think we are ill and on the cusp (or the midst) of a nervous breakdown. Michael made everyone do a version of the Hokey Cokey in a made up language while I stood in the corner like the final scene of The Blair Witch Project. (on the last night we tried to get everyone to sing The Revolutionary Biscuits of Italy in a language of their own making) Then, back to where I had been doing ACMS to do Setlist, a show where you take to the stage to perform your best set, the one you use to headline, the only trick being, you have never seen any of the subject matter before and must create routines out of phrases such as “Platonic Deep Throat Thursday” and “Death Row Third Wheel”.
I ended up talking about how John Wayne Gacy was electrocuted using an electric chair powered by a clown’s tricycle.
Finally, across town again for Cheaper than Therapy. I am late and I see Michael Legge on stage impersonating me. I curse him loudly, then scream about mass media failures while my glasses steam up. Afterwards, Eddie Pepitone and I were going to continue the theme of “comedy as therapy” with an audience podcast led by Christian Talbot. In the interval, we find out that Robin Williams has killed himself. Eddie knew him, and the podcast talks of him before we discuss releasing our demons as jokes and other hoopla.

That was my day, now that is artistic freedom, whether you like it or not.

I am touring forever (must end January) UK tour goes from Croydon to Newcastle via Cardiff and Belfast. Details HERE

My most recent DVD is HERE

Edinburgh shows I recommend include Gavin Webster, Josie Long, Nick Doody, Nathaniel Metcalfe, John Luke Roberts, Danielle Ward, Jess Fosteskew, ACMS, Set List, Sara Pascoe, Homicidal Pacifist, Matthew Perret, Catriona Knox, Jess Fosteskew, Barbara Nice, Eddie Pepitone…

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The Desperate Trek To Good Morning, Vietnam – The Allure of Robin Williams

Unfortunately, I have started drinking again, so this post about Robin Williams may well be precarious. It is 3am.

Just a few months ago, I wrote about what Rik Mayall meant to me and why I became a stand up comedian. How morose and unpleasant to find myself thinking about the death of Robin Williams now. Robin Williams was the first American stand up comedian I adored.

My introduction, as it was for most people, was Mork and Mindy. Around the age of 14 or 15, I bought the LP of Wow, Reality What A Concept. I listened to it over and over again, there is much that tonight, I found out I can still recite almost perfectly. The Three Mile Island Shakespeare and the Kindergarten for the Stars (“Sammy Davis Jr Jr”) are almost intact in my mind. I think I may have ripped off his “let me show you inside a comedians’s mind” schtick, and this was the first time I heard reference to the id, something I still bang on about now.

I remember being in the basement of HMV Oxford Street in 1987 and hearing Robin Williams over the speakers. What the hell was this new recording? I was told it was for a film, Good Morning, Vietnam, that wouldn’t be out for sometime. I bought it immediately. (when I went to university I, probably quite tediously, used to do my recitations of those monologues. My other obsession was trying to perfect the way Bill Murray tripped over a step in Scrooged).

His 8 minute routine on The Prince’s Trust Gala of 1987 became my template of what I would attempt to replicate when I tried to be a comedian in my late teens. Williams’ guest appearance on Wogan to promote Good Morning, Vietnam was one of my most worn out betamax tapes. When I travelled around the US in 1988, I was desperate to catch the movie, but every goddamn town I arrived in had stopped showing it the day before. Finally, when I reached Portland, staying in a hotel that mainly dealt in hourly rates, I saw the film. I adored it. Williams showed me the freedom and excitement of stand up, that incredibly energy, that showing off with aplomb and delight. In Seattle, I bought The Robin Williams Scrapbook in a secondhand store, I still have it now. Anytime I stayed in a place with a video recorder, I rented another VHS, whether it was his Live at the Met or Mork and Mindy episodes.

I remember the night when I was told Robin Williams had turned up, by chance, at the London Comedy Store and done 30 minutes. My friends and I had debated going to the Comedy Store that night but gone off somewhere else. I went into shock that I had missed such a thing, and sat motionless, every now and again getting up to pace around furious and confused. I could not believed I had missed this comedy behemoth.
He was vital, he was vivid.

We grow old and our teenage obsessions dull into a memory of “sorta liking someone”, but my 18 year old mind worshipped Robin Williams. He is amongst a very small band of comedians that I can thank, or blame, for what I do and what I am now.

The energy and passion he had was a lesson I learnt from, and still do. Here was a man who did not entertain as a job, he did what he did because he had to. Seeing the outpouring from his fans, it seems all the more tragic he died (or so reports say now) from a suicide brought on by depression. It is a reminder of the insidious nature of the foibles of the mind, that the reality seen by a depressive sees no hope.

He was a comedy hero. That moment he leapt out on the stage of the Met, leaping like Nureyev, basking in the adulation, then shooting his mouth off at 200 miles an hour, I even wanted Hawaiian shirts like him. How desperate I was to see his Waiting for Godot with Steve Martin.

I got older, and forgot that obsession. I forgot the importance. Stupidly, it is only with his death, that the full force of his influence comes back.

(footnote – I have just remembered how much I adore The Fisher King, how could I forget that)

I am to be found at http://www.robinince.com for all tour rubbish or on twitter at @robinince

I will write something better tomorrow.

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The Mickey Rooneys of Fury

Last night, I felt the warm glow of nostalgia abuse. Walking from Edinburgh College of Art, some excitable beer brain soaked young men in the casual shirts of hopeful mating giddily struck walls and skipped threateningly. “Four eyes!”, shouted one. The others greeted his imagination with acclaim. I walked on. I think they were annoyed that my face had remained stoical. I heard some further shouts, but they got lost in the remaining echoes of the Tattoo bagpipes.
“Four eyes!” I think T’Pau were number one the last time I had that thrown at me. I did have Buddy Holly occasionally on a nineties Night Bus. Now I just get, “the old man from Up halfway through the photo album” from Michael Legge.

I think the Pointless Anger show is pretty good. It is certainly not slick. Michael and I try to create something ridiculous, occasionally worrying, and hopefully funny. We have had a peculiar time in our venue this year. The Wee Red Bar is a lovely place, if a little warm. Festooned with posters of alternative music events, hints of The Pastels, The Vaselines and Andy Kershaw, it is like a student bar when student bars were student bars not nightclubs. Its redness is Mean Streets with a hint of Moira Shearer.
It is the sort of room we like to do our stupid show in.
But 50% of the nights, it is being received quite coldly. I don’t know if two men leaping on stage, jumping about in a hyperkinetic fashion, while singing Daphne and Celeste puts people immediately into a state of denial. I think my teen years of studying Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty may be paying off.
Last night, as Michael Legge held the packing case we use to collect the free fringe donations, a man looked at him and said, “that was shite”.

I think Michael was a little taken aback, but managed a comeback with a derogatory air.
It wasn’t shite, though it might have been unexpected. We are an end of the pier Gilbert and George after a nervous breakdown making a cruise ship comeback on a boat sailing to Reykjavik. We are led by the id.
Why would you stay watching a show you hated when you haven’t even paid money and the door is so close?

We are Mickey Rooneys. I could tell from Michael’s ghastly posture and itchiness that he would have happily left the stage at anytime. I, too, fought the urge to say, “well, this isn’t working out, let’s call it a day”, but we decided to punish them by going on and on. So we punished ourselves too, we wanted to leave, but we stayed and screamed and danced. That’ll show them.

I have four more shows of my mind unraveling HERE and Five more of my mind unravelled (with Michael Legge) HERE

I am then on tour from Newcastle to Exeter, Sheffield to Croydon, Manchester to Cardiff and on HERE

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All Will Be Back to Abormal after These Breakdowns

What is so wrong with silence?

People sometimes complain of pubs that they say are, “like a morgue”, and immediately want to go there. I like morgue pubs. I like pubs whose walls repel “theme”, where a low rumble of conversation or the tut as a newspaper page is turned are the loudest noises to be heard. I do not wish to be somewhere where the soundtrack of my day has been chosen by head office. I was leaning near a mannequin in Exeter, waiting while my wife judged some tops, and a song played for 13.67 billion years with seemingly one line. It was in the genre of dance, but no one was dancing. While looking at cut price cardigans further down the street, I saw that the shop had a DJ. He wore a hat and played things with many BPMs (is this still the official measurement of beats?).

Today, as I drank black coffee and stared at things, the repeated refrain of “You’ll move yourself to death” (or similar) disturbed me. I have never chosen a pub or coffee bar based on the soundtrack. I will listen to the music in my own head if I may. We can all have a hint of Charles Bonnett syndrome if we put the effort in.

I fell from the heights of my teetotalism last night, and now I am disappointed. I found the beer disconcerting.I drank two pints of something Belgian, and then cursed how quickly the limitations of my mind became clear to me. This morning, I felt a vague melancholy and limb ache, all psychosomatic I am sure (so much is, until the day it is real and we drop). I think I fill my days with so much that there is no room for deviations into booze.
After recording part 2 of the Self Help documentary, I hurried to The Stand. I showed off at Gavin Webster and Tony Jameson in the dressing room (I recommend both their shows), and admitted that I knew I may screw up my show today. The Groundhog day of the fringe sees much the same, but details that can change. In the early days, the show is rough and excitable as you work out what it is, then it can gain some sort of shape (but always with room for tangents), then it can have a middle period where familiarity brings confusion and a mired mind. I thought that would be today, and it was.

Was I too intense? I can be very intense, I know that there may occasionally be a thin line between entertainment and being trapped with a madman forcing Kool-Aid on you. I fear I was a little too Jim Jones today. I blame the Belgian Beer molecules blocking my synapses. Now I will reboot, and the final four days should be back to abnormal.

I am beginning to see some of the young buck performers unraveling. Edinburgh Fringe is a place of expectations. It is the most intense and pre-imagined place in the comics’ calendar. It is where all dreams have been imagined, even the pessimist has had an optimistic dream of adoration and praise and full houses. Then, in the damp tunnel that was used to board up lepers and sickly unwanted children, but is now Venue 865, the people don’t come. The ones who do are confused, and your lungs start to rattle with a disease that has been hiding in the masonry since 1597. The end of August seems like an illusion that will never become reality. Flight is starting to beat fight in your mind’s choices. It is horrible to watch, like the Oregon waitress who drives to Vegas once a year with all her tips to win big, and who is impoverished in Caesar’s Palace before nightfall.
Every communication that comes from outside the fringe seems like gobbledegook, there is no other world, just Cowgate and the blanket you have rented for £2000. It is at times like these that it is hard to say the worst years can lead to the best ideas, but they just might.

I have four more shows of my mind unraveling HERE and Five more of my mind unravelled (with Michael Legge) HERE

I am then on tour from Newcastle to Exeter, Sheffield to Croydon, Manchester to Cardiff and on HERE

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