Comedy

‘The Evolution of Truth’ at the Royal Institution

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I chaired a couple of talks at the Royal Institution at the beginning of the month, with Evan Davis and Richard Byrne.

Here is a somewhat upside-down action shot taken from the balcony, of the three of us during the Q&A at the end of the session.

Both talks were a fascinating insight into deception. First of all Richard Byrne spoke about primates and whether they have any understanding of the deception they sometimes practice, and then Evan spoke about bullshit, what it is, and why it’s suddenly an important force in global politics.

There was a lively Q&A afterwards with lots of people interested to know what we can do about the post-truth reality we now seem to live in.

History Showoff at Fulham Palace

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I hosted a couple of History Showoff gigs at Fulham Palace last week. This was a really lovely event in an historic palace which reminded me of the architecture of Eton, where I grew up.

We had a couple of speakers per show, talking about Tudor superstitions, a Victorian forgery of a Tudor merchant’s diary and an Anne Boleyn tattoo, amongst other things. And then we retired to the bar to get hammered on mead. It was fab.

Thanks to Peter Hose for the photo and Steve Cross for the gig.

Edinburgh show: Meet in the Middle

Show posterIn three days time, Nicola Houghton and I will be heading up to the Edinburgh festival to perform our brand new show, Nicola Houghton & Rachel Wheeley: Meet in the Middle.

The Edinburgh fringe is the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. Last year there were over 50,000 performances of 3,398 shows in 300 venues all over the city and this year there will be even more.

This year, one of those 3,000 shows will be ours!

Nicola and I are neighbours with three kids each, but we’re from very different backgrounds. Nicola grew up in a working-class household on the gravy-soaked cobbles of The North, surviving thanks to raffle prizes, knitted underwear and treasures found in skips. Meanwhile I was growing up at Eton College, entirely failing to get off with Prince William and mixing with teenagers who had never seen an onion. I didn’t go to school there, because they don’t accept women. This is the story of how that panned out.

If you’re going to be in Edinburgh between the 4th and the 11th, drop into Bar Bados on Cowgate at 6pm to see what we’ve been working on! We’re hugely indebted to Steve Cross and Andrew Smith for photography and poster design respectively. Thanks to everyone who came to see our London previews. I’ll let you know how it went when I get back!

BBC New Comedy Award 2018

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I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the BBC New Comedy Award this year. My heat was at Up the Creek in Greenwich, hosted by Dane Baptiste and judged by BBC comedy producer Victoria Lloyd, Steve Bennett from Chortle and Holly Walsh.

I was excited to be in a heat with Benji Waterstones and Thanyia Moore, and met half a dozen other fantastic acts, many of whom I’ll be booking at Comedy at the Wheatsheaf before too long.

It was a really fun evening. The radio show of the heat can be found here!

Stand Up for Towel Day – we’re Belgium well doing it again!

Douglas&suitMarch 8th marks the 40th anniversary of the very first broadcast of a radio series called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Douglas Adams was inspired to write a guide to the galaxy while lying drunk in a field near Innsbruck with a copy of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Europe and looking up at the stars. Obviously it didn’t start exactly there. It must have come back to him later.

It is an absolutely extraordinary series, brought to life by the series producer, Geoffrey Perkins, with a little help from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

When Adams died in 2001, Hitchhiker fans across the world celebrated his life by carrying a towel with them for the day, after one of the show’s central tenets, “always know where your towel is.”

Since then, #towelday has been an annual celebration. In 2016, I looked around for a comedy gig to do on that night with a H2G2 theme, only to find that there wasn’t one. So in 2017, I organised one, complete with poetry, towels, copious amounts of #tea or alternatively, Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, if you’re that way inclined.

That night was a whole bunch of fun, so we’re doing it again. Do come and join us if you’d like to.

The gig is in aid of Save the Rhino International.

Adams became interested in conservation in 1985 after the Observer Magazine sent him to investigate Madagascar’s endangered Aye-aye, accompanied by zoologist Mark Carwardine.

This resulted in a radio series for the BBC and a book, both entitled Last Chance to See, in which he and Mark visited rare species including the northern white rhinos of Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Douglas Adams became a founder patron of Save the Rhino in 1994 and was a dedicated spokesperson for SRI right up until his death in 2001 at the age of 49.

At his virtual 60th birthday party there were 8 tap dancing rhinos on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsLYBF09VFA

Save the Rhino International’s top priority is to protect and increase rhino numbers and population distribution in Africa and Asia. The charity currently supports field programmes in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Indonesia.

Stand Up for Towel Day is proud to donate all our proceeds to SRI. There will be donation boxes at the gig if you would like to make an additional donation (think of it as buying your favourite rhino a gargle blaster.)

The photo is of Douglas climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit in aid of the charity.

See you on #towelday!

How to Remember a Speech

I have stood on a stage and told jokes for a little over three years now, and I think my memory has got worse. To start with I would practice my 5 minute set half a dozen times during the day, and emblazoned my set into my brain, to the point where I could see the words on the page as I said them. Whether or not this is conducive to a successful comedy performance is another question.

As time went by I found myself with less time to rehearse, plus this technique is not fool proof. There have been times when despite rehearsals I have managed to miss things, or got sections in the wrong order.

More recently I have written my set list on my hand and spend half the set gazing at the resulting black smudge, which is about as good a look as losing your place entirely.

So I decided I need a better technique. I experimented with a ‘bead and thread’ method, where the string is the thread that runs through your talk and the beads are the key moments you want to remember.

However the problem with this was that it was very difficult to remember what order the beads were in. Then I remembered something about ‘memory palaces.’

What on earth is a memory palace and how will this help me?

I prefer to think of it as a memory walk. I don’t know about you but the only palaces I’ve ever visited weren’t particularly memorable, as I only visited once. However I have vivid memories of places I visited regularly as a child. One of these will do nicely.

How to create a memory walk

This takes focus and a little bit of quiet concentration. If you’re into meditation, I would recommend doing some before you start, to quiet your head down. Memory is a brain-wide process, so the quieter your whole brain can be at the beginning, the better this is likely to go.

Write a simple shopping list, or dig out an existing set list to practice with.

  1. Remember a journey that you have taken a lot. Ideally this will have lots of interesting sights or bits of street furniture on it that you can turn into ‘stations.’ Walk the journey through in your mind a few times, noting any interesting places along the way.
  2. Break the walk down into ‘stations’, in the order that you first envisioned the walk.
  3. Move through the stations, placing an item on your set/shopping list at each one. Make the imagery as vivid as possible. If the item can interact with a place on the walk in a surprising way, so much the better.

If helpful, combine the image with a number so that you will easily be able to recall which item on your list you have got to with each station. You could place two mental images of the item at station number two, for example. Later on, six people holding item number six. Or somebody in a number 7 football shirt holding item number 7. The more imaginative you can be with this, the better.

It may also be useful to create a ‘9 station’ memory walk and a ’12 station’ memory walk, for example, so that you have completely different journeys for different set lengths/shopping lists.

Are there any other techniques that are helpful?