My Morning of Ricky Gervais and Naked Wood People…

Does nudity cause melancholy or does melancholy lead to nudity?
I wondered this as I looked at the flesh of the lounge sat naked women of photography Gregory Crewdson’s latest exhibition, Cathedral of the PInes.
It had been an odd morning. I had spent it in a recording studio with Ricky Gervais and he barely squawked at all. For those unaware of the back story, there was a time when I became a hybrid stress ball/toy for the popular, award winning Office star. As admirers of his work know, he is a keen fan of embarrassment and, when not dramatising in front of the cameras for comedic purposes, he tries to infuse all those around him with it. When we did a 100 date tour together, each day offered new ways that he would try to make my life irritating, goading others to adorn me with make up, hang me upside down from clothes rails or bury me in sofas with grapes forced into my eyes. It was not normal. When not physically manhandling me, he would sing songs from the Muppets as if lengthily interpreted by John Cage or just make a high pitched noise like a seagull.
I warily walked up the stairs to the studio, suspicious of traps. There were none. A short burst of boisterous excitement, then we were all serious as the recording began. It was almost monkish.
I was hoping that when Richard Dawkins joined us, all that repressed id insanity would explode out and Ricky would squeal “AHHHH RICHARD” before cawing and yelping like a distressed gannet.
Richard would then explain why Ricky had evolved this behaviour.
500 metres down the road from the studio, I was reasonably certain there were no traps, and decided to pop into The Photographers’ Gallery to see the Gregory Crewdson exhibition.
I don’t remember when I first became aware of his work, either a Sunday newspaper supplement or a small exhibition in an American gallery. I think the first image I saw was the woman floating in her flooded kitchen like a suburban Ophelia. It adorns the front of his collection Twilight.

Each photograph is a play.
Each set up is like a film.
Crewdson’s photographs are the antithesis of Vivian Maier, the nanny who was discovered to have taken hundreds of thousands of photographs, almost illicitly, snapping away with an instinctual and rapid eye. Each location he uses is like a set, carefully dressed and lit, the actors of each scene never left to their own devices. To compare him to Edward Hopper is inescapable. His photographs have predominantly suburban settings where the sweat stained white collar worker looks on at or looks away from their reality. Some stories are more complex than others.
Some photographs seem to be moments caught between events happening or after them. Many of his performers are in contemplation and what they see brings no joy.
The naked pregnant woman looks out of the door that’s ajar.
The naked tattooed woman stands in the street as a her naked partner sits in the camper van.
We see the view from the window of three rescue workers walking across an icy lake, the window frame obscuring the detail that will reveal the incident they have been called to.
It may be wrong, but I have started to find some of these photographs funny. Too much contemplative melancholy in the pines over three floors can teeter towards the absurd.
The sad woman in her underwear standing outside the decaying phone booth in the woods started to make me smile.
Some scenes are caught between interpretation between death bed scenarios or slobbish and lethargic parents.
It seems that many more woman like to be nude in the lounge during Massachusetts’ winter months than men. The heating bills must be through the roof. There are also some entertainingly barren outside toilets.
Each photograph is as beautifully composed as the last, though I wonder what would happen to his photographs if anyone ever seemed to be happy in them.
Now is your time to experiment. Stand nude in your front room and see how it changes your mood, the choice of open or closed blinds is yours.

I am off on tour with my art/science/mental hubbub show from next week – Leeds, Hull, Nottingham, Barnard Castle, Salford and 43 or so more. Details here.

Ricky’s Sirius Radio series starts soon.

The Infinite Monkey Cage book should be in the shops in the next few weeks.

The Gregory Crewdson exhibition is at The Photographers’ Gallery for a few more weeks.

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Loss of superiority is not less of equality…

Most privileged people don’t think they are privileged.
Everyone thinks they are struggling. It’s probably true, being human with a knowledge of finite existence and an exaggerated, and frankly unnecessary, awareness of other people’s awareness of you does funny things to the mind. We may all be struggling, but it doesn’t mean we all have an equal number of obstacles to face. It can be easy to mock safe spaces if you have lived in one all your life, I know I have. It doesn’t mean people haven’t had a go at me, but that is because of what came out of my mouth, not based on how I came out of the womb. I worked on this for one of my Edinburgh shows, but it never made it in. It should almost have the rhythm of a poem, but I am quite new to all this.

Nobody notices the privilege of nobody noticing you…


I went to check my privilege

the other day

it took longer than I thought

it didn’t seem quite fair

that I had to do it myself

isn’t there someone smaller to do it for me?

but I persevered.

I sweated through my advantages,

wondered how the other half lived.

It’s a big half.


I suppose they’ll blame me

just because of my superiority.

Sat alone in the pub,

no one came to flirt with me

despite my singularity

No one thought, “I know what he wants!”

Unless they were thinking…

“He wishes this pub was a bookshop too”

And I do.

No one thinks “he’s lonely” and…

if they do…

they’ll leave

the grey face man

hand on pint

nose in book

leave him to his solitude

no “cheer up”

no “might never happen”

which is good

because I know it will

that’s many worlds theory for you

not even a “what are you reading?”

Which is a pity

it’s a very good book

(Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians)

and I’d be happy to recommend.

No small talk

with a hope for sex talk,

safe in the corner

for the lone drinking man.

Solitude is not a presumed cry for attention

a hand on a knee

a messy flash dream

a double duvet fantasy

I have time to check my privilege because

My oddities are brain deep

not on skin show

I Can Hide My self under my knitwear.

No Yarmulke

No Turban

No Bindi

No Breasts

(Well, perhaps slight breast, I have let myself go a little bit)

pinkish in a pinkish world

and so…

I am allowed to be…

a little weird

for I am not attached to any other eccentricity

“we’re all allowed one weird”

that’s what Alice told me

and being pale

and middle class

and male

I can choose my weird to be quite simply

that I am a little weird


Alice is a woman

So she’s weird down from the start

and then, on top of that

her thoughts have a habit

of tilting towards weirdness

and she will not keep them in

she turns them into things

that makes her double weird

too weird for some


My cardigan is a little tight around the top

but no one thinks, “dressing for attention”

Just “silly bugger put it on the hot wash”

when hand in hand with my wife

I never thought of a sudden boot

or a car shouted abuse

boarding the train

I didn’t sense bodies tightening

with fear, suspicion or sense of threat

despite my powerful librarian build.

I rarely read tattoos that have a message

for “someone like me”

The store detective doesn’t bother to take out his brain pen

to make a mental note of me

No food worries as a child

Though pineapple on the gammon was a chore.

I checked my privilege the other day

and it took so long

which seems so unfair

but I stayed strong

it’s the white middle class man’s burden

but i try

and I try

and I try

to smile through it .


The wine helps.

touring my show Pragmatic Insanity from September





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Stars Lift Fug (shallow me)

Expectation is a problem with the Edinburgh Fringe.
What do the audience think they are coming to?
This has not been a problem with my excitable show about art, but has been with Pragmatic Insanity.
As so many comedians state at the beginning of their shows, “you have to come up with a title and a theme for the brochure before you have started writing.”
I didn’t know exactly what the Rorschach Test show would be when I proposed it, but I had many leads from the notes I had taken in the all the art galleries I have been around.
Pragmatic Insanity was always a trickier. It was meant to be a relaxed return to stand up in a small room but has been far more of a trial. For some, it is too erratic. Unfortunately, in the process of writing it, some themes have become dominant, so it almost has the illusion of having a theme before that is cruelly snatched away from the audience.
At first, it was going to be a grumpier show inspired by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Philip K Dick’s line, “sometimes it is an appropriate reaction to reality to go insane” (also echoed in the work of RD Laing).
It’s ended up being about love, death, hope, kindness and celebrity narrowboat TV. The stuff about living in a simulation, entropy, music and Hawking radiation have had to be put in the folder, not to be taken out until I start touring the much longer version.
This is the first stand up show I have done with so little science in it. There’s probably 5 minutes, but that’s it. To those who haven’t seen much of my stand up before, they may be quite confused by the level of impulsive thoughts made into sound vibrations.
It is definitely a show that will benefit from being 100 minutes rather than 63 minutes.
The room may well be too small for the booming idiocy of my endeavour. I try not to scare them, but… (most of the time I love doing the show, but I do talk too fast)
After a luke cold review on Chortle yesterday that briefly pushed me into a mopey fug, I went off to drink with Joanna Neary, Gavin Webster and Michael Legge. Then, we went to see The Doug Anthony AllStars. I first saw then in 1987, they were daring, impulsive, lark singing adrenaline. At one of their many gigs I attended, they asked audience members, maybe “demanded” would be more appropriate, to take to the stage and stage-dive. I was drunk and not paying attention. A last minute decision meant by the time I got in stage, that section was pretty much over with, I leapt anyway and landed on my head. Soft-boiled from cheap cider, nothing cracked.
Their show is very different now. Richard Fidler is replaced by Flacco, the Keaton-faced absurdist, and Tim is now sat in wheelchair due to MS. The energy is different, the sharp joy is still intact, with a viciously gleeful slaughtering of niceties. Four people walked out. IDIOTS. DAAS clearly still have it whatever it has become in the interim.
Two four star reviews shooed away the last toxic wisps of the fug.
I am having a lovely time performing the art show and will miss it, as I won’t be touring it until 2018.
After today’s show, I spoke to someone who had worked with Rauschenberg, Philip Glass and Merce Cunningham. He told me to put more Cunningham and Glass in the performance and said what a delightful man Rauschenberg was. Creating this new show, something different for me, and trying out poetry with Phill Jupitus have been my major gains from the festival.
Pragmatic Insanity goes on the road in 7 weeks. Today, I found the notes of everything I thought I could fit in to an hour. I am misguided my what can fit into time, I blame Brian Cox for telling me time may be fictional.

My excitable art show will be on tour in 2018, my Insanity show goes on tour next month.

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Things to love and share … and beheadings

Week One has now begun, the past of week zero is forgotten.
None of it happened.
Do not allot any to your memory.
I started Monday well.
Date scone and coffee by 9.
Waiting for the clock to chime and be allowed into the Museum of Modern Art by 9.57.
Enjoyed some British realist art.
I particularly took to this work by John Luke.

And this by James McIntosh Patrick.


Walking towards the Grassmarket, I stopped in a secondhand bookshop to hear a man try to haggle with the proprietor over a £3 book. He then proceeded to tell her the ins and outs of the Bed and Breakfast he is staying in – they’ve stopped doing full cooked – and of all the people in the area who have been felled by strokes. The owner was jovial, but disappointed that she had only made £4 today. So I bought a book about Man Ray and one on how women artists have tackled Pandora’s Box. She was up to £14 now.

First gig – poetry with Porky the Poet . I read my “I am 48 and alive” poem, one about the 1980s and one about no longer having to stop to buy fudge when on holiday as my mother has died.

The Fudge in the window
was spur for a memory.
Cut Cubes behind glass
Wasps dipping & licking.
No need to go in now
I can leave the shop be.

Last time we bought some,
They slumped in that paper bag
to the left of your chair
lumping back to single candy mass
in the sunlight.
Never Forgetful over sweet treats
You barely touched them now,
Still there when you were gone.

No purchase needed
I’ll browse a while anyway
Maybe a quarter of clotted cream
Shame to leave empty-handed

What window will remind anyone of me
If all the bookshops are gone by then?
Oxfam? Iced buns?
Or maybe just a skip with a cardigan in.

Then, off to my art show. I love doing this. I feel spent by the end of it as you should when attempting to concentrate on every detail and do stupid voices too.
I was a little slack with the time between shows, planning my trip to PJ Harvey with Michael Legge.
On the way to my show, I bought a new shirt, remembering that I am sweat drips and smell after the hour of confined caterwauling. I keep moving things around in the show, cutting more out of it and still overrunning. I am looking forward to touring it around the UK in its full form.

PJ Harvey and band were magnificent.
Another act of shamanism.
A vast encore.
Most of the audience were so enraptured they didn’t keep taking photos and instagramming them, they actually watched the fucking gig.
Michael went to the after show, but I had already agreed to see big, stupid, sweary burlesque magic act Peter and Bambi. Proper silly, proper magic, sometimes a bit rude.


Today, not up early enough for art, but up early enough to remember there is life outside the fringe and Brian Cox and I have to deliver a Monkey cage book by the end of the month.
I wrote something about space.
Jupitus poetry again, then art show, then watched John Luke Roberts, then ran to watch Nick Revell, then went to check Elvis Shakespeare is still open on Leith Walk, my other show, and then Laura Davis.
Now wine and coleslaw, then back to town for ACMS.
I was in the row by Tim and Paul from Doug Anthony AllStars . I talked to them a bit (before the show, not during.). I probably made a dick of myself.
I am taking Michael to Doug Anthony Allstars tomorrow for his birthday treat.

I would recommend everything I have seen.
Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette has left a mark upon me. A man came up to me in a pub in Cowgate.
“Sorry to bother you, I am a comedy fan.”
(oh good, he wants to talk about ME).
But no, he just wants to talk about Nanette, and he is right to do so. He is still trying to figure it all out. His wife was so affected by it, she started to cry in another show she was watching some hours later.

Gavin Webster is one of the most underrated acts in the UK. He is like Viz. Not because he is from Newcastle, but because behind the big stupid voices and daftness is a stiletto sharp examination of class and culture in Britain. It can go unnoticed, but he is far cleverer than many people seem to realise. Alexei Sayle agrees.

Mae Martin tells her story with a deceptive simplicity, a naturalism that is hard to find and some dreams of Bette Midler that should be adapted by David Lynch.

Caroline Mabey is properly silly, filled with wide-eyed chutzpah and the best sort of nonsense. If you are lucky, you will get cake too.

John Luke Roberts has changed so much since he went to the Great Big School of Clowning in Calais. He plays Geoffrey Chaucer with an inventiveness of preposterous language that made Stanley Unwin such a treat. He plays many other things too. Possibly the most gags per minute so far.

Nick Revell’s storytelling is dense with ideas, a tale of cats and AI, it is witty with lightly worn Wittgenstein too.

Laura Davis covers compulsive suicidal ideation, tram fingers, misogyny and curses and much else in a laid-back style which almost masks the energy of her intentions. Some brilliant lines that would be mined for shock value by comedians seeking the “dark and edgy” moniker, but she is much smarter than that, so her ideas play in the mind for longer.

Peter and Bambi, Asher Treleaven (book club alumni) and Gypsy Wood, is a very good show to end the day, great clumsy spectacle, silly dancing and veiled antagonism.

Five more days to see as much as I can, perform as much as I can and write that darn book.


all done now – on top of those shows, I have seen Doug Anthony Allstars who you must see too. This is Not Culturally Significant was one of the most remarkable theatrical performances I have ever seen. Blues! was a wonderful history of the Blues and Ensonglopedia is a great kids show with an alphabetical guide to scientific ideas performed by a multi-instrumentalist. I finished the Fringe with The Elvis Dead. If you are an Elvis fan or a fan of Evil Dead 2 you should love this, if you are a fan of both you will adore it.

Michael Legge has had 4 star reviews across the board, too.

I am taking a break now then off on UK tour. Dates HERE.







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Day Four part two – Pirate Jokes and Gin

…and the day continued.

The Stand 2 is getting a little hot for a cardigan, but I feel there is little choice. I may seek a thinner cardigan on the way past the department store tomorrow.
It was a slightly odd show. Thursday was probably the strongest and that was the first time I had ever done the show in its entirety, or rather, the first time I did it until I had to stop as I had run out of time. Today it had a quieter reception. Perhaps I am concentrating too much on what I think I am meant to say to fit as much of the show in as I can and not enough just performing and showing off. To hell with the written down intentions.
It is the smallest room I have ever played on the Fringe and maybe my lunatic theatrics are a little overbearing (as well as dampening the front row with occasional spittle spray).
I will loosen up tomorrow, I may even add that third poem I have threatened.
Sodden at the end of my show, I met with Michael Legge and we strode like Victorian entomologists through the streets to see Caroline Mabey’s show. It is silly and big and great fun.
Then, there was the mistake.
Having typed mere hours before, “drinking is no longer an option”, the rules of the fringe Choose Your Own adventure game. And as I went to buy Caroline a vodka and Michael a pint, soda water with a piece of lime rind was what was no longer an option.
I had Set List in two hours. I never drink before Set List. You require your wits. A series of odd phrases are, one by one, projected on a screen and the comedian must busk a routine, pretending it is their regular set list, the sort of collection of words they would write on the back of their hand.
I drank a pint of Vegan craft ale, then I had a gin. On reaching the venue, the previous show was overrunning. This was not a good sign because the booze needs to still be swilling near the edges, not be fully absorbed. It can slow you down.
Error number 2, I agreed to go on first. It is at least two years since the last time I did it. First is not good. You want to watch a few of the other acts, get your brain creating ideas for their suggestions.
Too late.
I went on.
Not hyped enough.
First three, my brain worked for.
I think they were ‘Oedipus App’,’Witchcraft Benefits’ and “why I admire serial killers”.
Then, I got stumped. The gin had gone in too deep.
The final one, Trump Tramp Stamp, fuck, nothing.
I floundered. Talked my way out. The end.
Now, my mind is filled with suggestions.
Too late mind, shut up.
On the way home, I bumped into the hecklers who had been thrown out during Daniel Sloss’s routine. They told me pirate jokes then released me.
“A pirate goes to doctor’s. He has some small tumours on his arm. The doctor says, “they’re benign”. And the pirate replies, “No, I counted and there be ten.”
Thank you and goodnight.

My shows are HERE and HERE and then on UK tour from Salford to Dartmouth and beyond.

Part one of this blog is HERE.

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Day 4 – Saner than Yesterday…maybe

Drinking is no longer an option.
In 2011, I did four shows a day. Usually, that would end up being five or six because I’d say yes to a variety of oddities. At 9am, I would wake up with a start. My body would briefly sigh, “not again, it’s impossible.” Then, I would shower, gather some science books and rush to start the first show of the day. At 11pm, I would walk off the stage of a tin-foiled lined room, sup the sweat from my lip and chin, and drink three pints of Guinness and have a couple of Whiskies. Repeat until fungus and dust.
In the last three days, I have drunk one bottle of wine, one bottle of beer and a pint of lager.
I need to concentrate.
Neither of my shows are hard-wired in my head, they probably never will be as they are changing every day.
My life has a pattern.
The last twelve minutes of dreams are rewrites and possibilities.
I wake up hoping it is late enough in the morning that it is no longer dawn.
My first thoughts, an extension of dreams, “are what will I do with my shows today?”.
Will I have the energy to do that?
Today, I allowed myself to read something that was not in any way connected to the show.
I know, cocky.
It was Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians, the writing is dense, rich, addictive poetry with a rhythm of hypervigilant thought.
I check my rucksack for VGA convertor, notebooks and my Penguin book of 100 Artists’ Manifestos. I still put Salvador Dali’s Diary of a Genius in my bag though I have failed to read from his historical essay On the Art of Farting every day so far.
I sit in Coffee Project and think about scenes from Hal Hartley’s Amateur while adding and taking away from my keynote presentation and eating a date scone.
I walk across The Meadows early enough to have time to browse in one charity shop.
Only one…maybe two.
I chat to the venue staff who tell me about New Zealand art.
Plug in. Wait. Hope to hear chatter and footfall.
Listen to Nick Cave’s We Know Who U R.
Wonder if my mind will work.
Increasingly, performance feels like possession.
I have grown more intense, manic, committed and ridiculous with age, not less.
Show done.
Someone offers a badge.
Someone recommends a painting of the Virgin Mary knitting.
A coffee.
Maybe a cake shared.
75% of the time (current statistics), I do not beat myself up about the show.
I am walking four hours a day.
Back to my fringe residence lent to me by kind people.
I sit sock-less AND cardigan-less.
I write this blog post and eat soup and oatcakes.
Looking forward, I will read my notes for the evening show.
Put on clean socks.
Walk to Stand 2.
Listen to Nick Cave’s Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry and Savages’ The Answer.
Fear the time writing this post may have eaten into when I should have been thinking about the show.
I am on.
Three hour break before Set List at Gilded Balloon.
Seek a show.
Drink one and half glasses of wine.
Dream of tomorrow’s show.

My shows are HERE. And will be on UK tour from September.

Go see Hannah Gadsby, George Egg, Gavin Webster, Ensongclopedia of Science, Mark Thompson’s Spectacular Science Show, Sarah Bennetto, Barry Crimmins, Sarah Kendall etc etc etc etc etc

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There’s a Cinema at the end of the road …

It is Friday night, and I am walking in the rain to my temporary home after a date night with myself alone.
There’s a cinema at the end of the road, you might find a film to fall in love with, but…
I went to see England is Mine in my perpetual Morrissey cosplay of cardigan and faded face.
I was meant to be going with Michael Legge, but he was in bed, tired to the point of poorly, playing the Morrissey cosplay beyond my own ambitions. “And what are you coming as?” “Someone who fails to turn up.” “Bravo. you win.”
The movie is well performed, well shot and busy with shadows and reflections of the Morrissey lyrics and thoughts. This may be its problem. Morrissey has already turned so much of youthful boredom into art with Johnnny Marr, that there is no further art to be made from it. Do we need to see him bullied by the waltzers when we already have Rusholme Ruffians?
Do we need to see him poetically hectoring DSS employees or his dullard boss when we have Frankly, Mr Shankly?
My judgment may be shoddy as I am in the vale of my own ego manufactured by Edinburgh fringe panic and perpetual hasty mental rewrites of my own shows, so don’t let me put you off.
This is a film to play lyric bingo, from the long opening shot of a “river the colour of lead” and onto the Cemetry Gates and London.
But how I loved the blu tacked snipped newspaper bedroom walls and the adored vinyl throughout and the rarity of seeing any window that had light hampered by net curtains.
I hope there is a sequel set in 2019, set entirely in Morrissey’s LA bedroom, an indie Krapp’s Last Tape.
This is the problem, with so many tantalising sharp nudges towards the notebooks whose biro marks would become some of the greatest pop poetry of the 1980s, I was perpetually reminded that I wanted to hear those songs RIGHT Now.
And the film now has me sat alone with a small glass of red, listening to Hatful of Hollow.
I am not sure if I would have liked the film to more boring or less boring.
Did I want Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Mike Leigh’s Bleak Moments?
Is the misanthropy of the callow youth made less alluring knowing that the final destination is not the five years of The Smiths but cheering on Nigel Farage from the Hollywood hills?
Jack Lowden’s Morrissey is very good, never loveable, and perhaps not charming enough, but then he is Steven, Morrissey is what exists for the stage and the spotlight.
Morrissey is the star, Steven is the toast eating moper.
I wouldn’t deter you from England is Mine, but ask for crumpets not popcorn.

Meanwhile, I have also seen Gavin Webster’s show at Stand 2 and it is very good. It is a show of big, preposterous cartoons but is also a very astute look at British culture if you want it to be. Gavin is comic who is not given the due he deserves.

My Edinburgh Fringe shows continue for nine days HERE and HERE. I am also off on a UK tour next month – Barnard Castle, Salford, Reading, Colchester, York, Hull and beyond

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