Monday, August 3, 2015

That's A Wrap

Photo by @hicksm6
We finished filming Series 3 of Modern Life Is Goodish last week.

Blimey. That was an intense few months.

There isn't an easy way of making eight hour long shows. Making the powerpoint files - I reckon there are around 3,000 slides in a series - is always going to be time consuming. In the last couple of months there have been a fair few days where I've started work at 10 in the morning and not finished work until 3 or 4 the next day... and then only to get some kip as I lie in the passenger seat of a car as we head out to a small theatre for a dry run.

But there's no getting away from the fact that making the shows work live first is the best way of making them work on TV. And putting several hundred slides together - and trying to do it well - just takes a long time. I wish I could see a shortcut through it - but there isn't one I can see that doesn't chip away at the end result in some small way.

Photo by @thatsafineidea
I wanted to let the dust settle a bit before I talked about something that I've had a lot of comments on: the ticketing for the series.

It seems that this series, more people have been turned away and a lot of people have been sending me messages full of anger and outrage at the fact that the show has been - according to them - massively oversubscribed.

I don't think that's a completely fair reflection on what's happened. I'll try and explain.

They issued the same number of tickets for all the shows this year as they did for all of the shows  last year.

This year, the most we turned away was around 80 or 90 people. But on one occasion it was only 30ish. That's still more than I'd like to see turned away. But then, last year, issuing the same number of tickets meant that on one of our four recordings (we do two shows in a night) we didn't turn anyone away and we could have squeezed a handful of extra people in.

The factor that varies so much is not the number of tickets issued. It's the number of people who turn up.

For reasons that I don't quite understand, tickets for recordings are free. They always have been. I imagine they always will be. I like the idea in principle - after all, there's an income involved in the making of the TV show that has nothing to do with any ticket revenue.

But it also creates a problem. If you get a free ticket to something and then decide that you can't be bothered on the day... well, so what? If there's football on the TV? Or your babysitter cancels? Or you find yourself in a sunny beer garden and your mate's just got a round in? Or you weigh up the idea that you might not get in anyway and so decide not to spend the money on a train fare? There are no consequences. So people ask for tickets... only to then not use them all the time.

And this happens to pretty much every TV show that has a live audience. I know of one show - a big rating, popular show that has an audience of around 400 people. It regularly issues in excess of 3000 tickets. It rarely has to turn away more than 20 people and sometimes isn't full. That's a hell of a lot of people taking tickets and then not using them. And nobody knows until the day who is and who isn't going to come along.

I suppose they could try issuing 2500 tickets for their show. But what if the 500 tickets they didn't issue were the ones that would have gone to the 500 people who would have turned up... and they ended up only issuing tickets to the 2500 who don't bother?

On Modern Life Is Goodish the audience - there are around 200 of them - are in between the cameras and me. If we end up being 50 people down it will affect all of the shots. Having a full house is essential.

How would you solve this mathematical conundrum? The one thing that I know would solve it - selling the tickets - isn't allowed. It has to be based on guesswork and previous attendance rates. Which is what it is based on. Sometimes there's no excess. Sometimes there's a relatively large excess. That's down to the randomness of human behaviour and has nothing to do with those issuing the tickets.

I wish every one who requested tickets would just turn up. But over time, I've come to accept that this just isn't the case. Sometimes 30% of people show. Sometimes it's 80%. Most of the time it's somewhere in between.

Many years ago, when I made my first TV series - The Dave Gorman Collection - a decision was made to not over-subscribe the tickets for the first recording. We were in a tiny studio that could accommodate just 100 people. My mailing list at the time was tiny. So small that I could remember many of the email addresses. Because the gigs I was doing were in smaller venues I also knew a lot of their faces. Everyone felt so certain that because all the people asking for tickets were from that mailing list, they would all come and it would end up being rude to massively oversubscribe. So we issued 110 tickets for the first recording. 50 people turned up. The other seats were eventually occupied by people who had been turned away from an oversubscribed recording of Goodness, Gracious Me. They didn't seem thrilled by the idea of watching someone they'd never heard of, doing something a bit weird rather than a series of sketches by the people they'd been excited about when they left the house that evening.

It's the 60 people who didn't turn up that night who are the problem. It would be so much better if we could issue 200 tickets for these recordings and do so in the confidence that they'd all show up. But we can't. Because they simply don't. But at every recording this series - significantly more people got in than didn't. In fact, the number of people turned away is not only smaller than the number of people getting in... it's also smaller than the number of people who are requesting tickets but not showing up. Which illustrates how unpredictable people are.

It's an imperfect system. But when 280 people turn up. That's not because the ticketing people issued 80 tickets too many. On another night, they could issue 80 tickets less and end up with a theatre with only 120 people in it. There isn't a way of knowing who will and who won't show in advance. If there was - we'd issue 200 tickets to the right people.

Oddly, one of the people who sent a very angry email about not getting in to one of the Series 3 recordings did have tickets for one of the shows in Series 2 also. But they didn't turn up that time. In their head, we were supposed to issue two more tickets for the series 2 recording because we should have predicted they weren't coming... but issue  two less tickets for the series 3 recording because we should have predicted they were.

None of us likes to see people turned away. But insisting that we should have known how many people would show up and therefore could have done something about it in advance just doesn't add up. One thing we do do is ensure that anyone turned away on the day is offered a guaranteed seat at a future recording. But do you know what - some of the people who request that, then don't show up for that... and so the prediction game remains as difficult as it ever was.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sprint Finish

We're three quarters of the way through the recordings for series 3 of Modern Life Is Goodish. Two more shows to go.

Doing two shows in a night sure as hell makes it feel like it's whizzing by. We've turned out six hours of fresh stand-up in the last three months. Blimey. Now there's a sprint finish to get the final two sorted for the end of July.

I really enjoyed the last two shows. Especially the final week of preparation. That's because that final week mostly happens on stage and that's the fun bit. Doing a dry run on stage one night, re-writing it the next day and then doing it again and so on and so on is perhaps the most enjoyable part of this job.

You find out infinitely more about how to handle material by running it with real audiences than you ever could do by staring at it on the page or by any number of meetings etc. My way of not-staring-at-it-on-the-page is to, um... not put it on the page in the first place. I find scripting stuff in advance takes something away from the material. For me, it's almost always best to take an idea on stage, rather than some words. The words that fall out as you try and explain things to people are often better than whatever you would have written because you're not imagining an audience - you're there with them and can sense how much they've taken in, whether the first part of an idea has settled in the room or not etc. Writing stuff out in advance turns it into a test of memory rather than an exercise in communication. I want people to attend a show, not a rehearsal. I'm sure that watching a rough-around-the-edges show is better than watching a polished rehearsal.

Writing it down means you create something that feels like the "correct" version. Which is a very rigid way of dealing with something that hasn't yet been tested. I figure that if my focus is on saying it the right way that involves closing my mind to other possibilities that feel better in the moment.

Lawks, I'm navel gazing today. Sorry.
A few related bits and pieces.
1: We recorded two episodes of the show last Sunday. That's Sunday the 28th of June. These were our fifth and sixth shows of the run, although that's not necessarily the order in which they'll be shown. We start the recordings around 6.30pm, but the audience normally starts filing in at around 6 which means I have to have the final version of the powerpoint loaded on the laptop before then. I only mention this because last Sunday something happened at 5.24pm that changed the endings to one of the stories I was telling. So I was screen grabbing something and adding a couple of new slides to the presentation about five minutes before we opened the doors to the audience. This is why I love making the show in this way. It's home made. I make the powerpoints myself. There's no "sorry the graphics department have gone home" to deal with. And because we never lock in on a definitive it-must-be-like-this version of the show, we can make changes five minutes before the recording starts. It's much more exciting making TV like that. 

You'll notice I haven't said what it was that happened. That's because I don't want to post any spoilers for the series. I guarantee that when it's on the telly there'll be some people thinking, "I bet that didn't really happen on the day of the show" in part because people expect telly - not live telly, at any rate - to be planned out in advance and inflexible.  But it did. It really did.

2: As the series is nearing the end of production, that means I'm also nearing the end of this run of Screen Guild gigs - there's one more, next Friday at the Hackney Picture House - and three more dry runs for the series too. All of which are at Norden Farm, Maidenhead towards the end of the month.

3: I've been so busy on the series, I failed to notice that yesterday was publication day for the Too Much Information paperback. But it was.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tinder Night Garden

I've spent the last week or so wondering whether I should mention this or not. What the hell, here goes.

I received an email from someone who - for good reason - would rather not be identified here. She's in her 30s. She's single. She live in London. She uses Tinder.

If you don't know what Tinder is, well, according to Wikipedia it's a "location-based social discovery application that facilitates communication between mutually interested users." I'm not sure that's made it much clearer. It's a dating app. It shows you pictures of people you might be interested in on your phone. Because it's on your phone it knows where you are and so it sort of knows that they're close to you. You swipe the picture one way if you're interested in them and the other way if you're not and if a mutual attraction is discovered then it allows you to get in touch with one another.

At least I think that's what it is. I'm a married man. I got married in 2010. Tinder was born in 2012. I have no first hand understanding of what it is and how it works. The closest I've come to it before now was at a dinner party a year or two ago when a group of us crowded around a friend's phone as she showed us what it looked like and we all chuckled at quite how many men had chosen profile pictures that featured them and dolphins. A lot of men seem to choose dolphin pictures.

I imagine people put quite a lot of thought into choosing their profile picture. That picture is what people will judge you on. Will they swipe right (good) or will they swipe left (bad)? It all depends on whether they like the look of you or not. So you'd probably want it to be you-at-your-best, right? In any case, you'd certainly want it to be you.

Wouldn't you?

Well, apparently not. Because, as my anonymous correspondent reveals, someone somewhere is using a picture of me.
"Is this you?" asks anonymous, to which the answer is yes.
"And if it is you, is it, um, actually you?" To which the answer is no.


It really isn't.

I mean it is my face. But it's not me.

I suppose on some level I ought to be flattered by Ed's choices. (Of course, I know there's no reason to assume that a man who isn't using his own face would use his own name, but for ease, let's call him, Ed).

I'm not really sure what Ed hopes to gain by using my photo on Tinder.

I'm guessing he (or she) isn't trying to set up actual dates and that it's got more to do with sending spam or somesuch but even so, on some level, it ought to be flattering that someone thought it would make a passable profile picture.

Especially for someone listed as 32.

As I write this, I'm 44. I was, I think, 40 when that picture was taken.

As far as I'm aware the only place it's been used is in the Independent where it accompanied an interview I did while promoting the first series of Modern Life Is Goodish.  Even though someone is clearly up to no good, the fact that they're taking 8 years off me while they're at it makes me feel just a tiny bit happy.

Sort of.
But probably not so happy that I'm happy for Ed to continue with his lie. So I'm trying to track Ed down. (If I can do so, it might make its way into series three.)

If you're in London. On Tinder. And female. And you happen to find a man called Ed who looks suspiciously like me, could you please let me know? Please don't swipe right. I mean, obviously, you'll have a strong, natural urge to do so - who wouldn't - but without knowing what he's up to, I don't want to be responsible for anyone making contact with him in any way. Especially on a platform I have no real understanding of.

But if you do find him, could you let me know where you were and - if Tinder tells you this sort of stuff - how far away from you he was supposed to be? I promise I won't share your name and details with anyone. You can send me an email via my website, or find me on Twitter or on the slightly-harder-to-navigate, facebook.

But you can't contact me on Tinder. I'm not on Tinder.

Right. I'm going to post this. Cue the "yeah, yeah, we believe you!" replies!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Screen Guild Gigs...

So far, the dates for this fourth season of Screen Guild shows have been released one by one. This hasn't been because we were holding any information back, it's because there are only so many dates that work for me and it wasn't immediately clear that they worked for any one venue. (Which is why the first two have been in different places.)

But that's all been sorted out now, so we have the dates for the rest of the season. The final three shows will all be at the Hackney Picture House - the lovely venue that hosted all of the third season of shows.

So the dates for the remaining three shows are:
Saturday, May 16th,
Friday, June 12th
Friday, July 10th.
You can get tickets for any of them here.

For the unfamiliar, these are shows that I host while introducing four guest acts. The Screen Guild is my new material playground - the place where I get to experiment with new ideas and work up material. Without it, there wouldn't have been anything to tour these last few years and nothing to make Modern Life Is Goodish out of.

There's a page on my site devoted to the shows, so if you want a fuller explanation as to what it is, why it is and why it's where it is, this is the link to clink.

Incidentally, we're making series three of Modern Life Is Goodish right now - two episodes filmed, six to go - and that means there are also a few other live shows happening, always in the week before each recording... oh, and then the Straight To The Point* (*The Powerpoint) tour continues later this year - and early next. Details for everything live can be found on the Live Dates page.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Austerity & All That.

My parents were very keen on the idea of savings. If I or my brothers wanted some new toy or what-have-you, we were told to save up some money and buy it. Occasionally it would be, "if you can save half, we'll pay the rest". Whatever it was, we were raised on the idea that you can't have everything straight away. It's a message that's still kind of hard wired into me.

The Smallest Radiator In The World

But when, as an adult, I was able to buy a flat my parents didn't tell me that I was making a terrible mistake and that I shouldn't get into that much debt. They didn't tell me that I should save up all the money first and that only then should I be able to buy a property. A mortgage isn't the kind of debt I was raised to be scared of. It's the kind of debt I was raised to aspire to.

But it is a kind of debt.

I was thinking about this on my way in to work this morning. Because one of the things I keep hearing in this election campaign is about the various parties' plans to eliminate the deficit. And when I hear the phrase it sounds like common sense. Because debt is bad. Just like my parents taught me.

But then not all debt is bad. A mortgage - one you can afford, at least - is sensible debt. It makes more sense to live somewhere and pay for it while you're doing so, than it does to go without.

And it feels like Great Britain is doing quite a lot of going-without at the moment. And the excuse for all these austerity measures - all this cruelty - is that these cuts are necessary. These are tough decisions that nobody wants to make. It's time to tighten our belts. Etc etc.We must eliminate the deficit.

But isn't that, y'know, a load of bollocks? It seems to me that we really shouldn't be trying to eliminate the deficit. In fact, I'm pretty sure we ought to have a deficit. If we're paying for things that will exist for generations, the cost of those things should spread across the generations. Especially when the alternative is to go without. Great Britain ought to have a mortgage. And spending money on educating people and keeping them healthy seems like the best way of ensuring that future generations will be able to keep up the payments.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Oh The Dates, They Are A-Changing

I'm afraid the first thirteen shows of the next leg of the tour are going to have to be moved. I know how annoying some people will find it and I can only apologise and hope that you'll agree with me that it's for a very good reason.

I've only got myself to blame. I broke the first rule of showbiz which, as everyone knows, is to never have sex with your wife nine months before a bunch of tour dates. Sorry.

Or in other words. I'm going to be a Dad. Woo hoo! (Woo hoo always looks sarcastic. I don't mean it to be.)

Knowing exactly when a new human is going to announce themselves to the world is tricky. But there is no way on earth that I'm not being there. So the choice we were facing for the tour was to either
1)  carry on as planned and almost certainly have to cancel a show or two or more on the day or at very short notice.
2) make a decision now to move a few dates.

It seems to me that doing it at short notice would be far more chaotic. At that time, people would have booked trains and hotels and so on. Finding replacement dates that work would have been harder too. Rightly or wrongly this seemed like the less disruptive course of action as it gives everyone a sensible amount of notice.

The dates that are moving were for shows that fell between the 4th and 22nd of October. We were able to reschedule one of them to November but the rest are in January. I am of course very grateful to all the venues that have taken this so well and worked with us to find the best replacement dates they can.

The new tour dates for the tour extension, now look like this - the ones that have been moved are against a different background colour.
23 - JERSEY Opera House
25 - CHELTENHAM Everyman Theatre
28 - POOLE The Lighthouse
29 - SALISBURY City Hall
30 - WATFORD Colosseum
31 - READING Hexagon

1 - NEWCASTLE Theatre Royal
5 - WIMBORNE Tivoli Theatre
6 - DURHAM Gala Theatre
7 - MOTHERWELL Concert Hall
8 - LANCASTER Grand Theatre
11 - CRAWLEY Hawth Theatre
12 - SWINDON Wyvern Theatre
13 - YEOVIL Octagon Theatre
14- COVENTRY Warwick Arts Centre
15 - SALFORD The Lowry
18 - CHELMSFORD Civic Theatre
19 - NOTTINGHAM Playhouse
20 - NORTHAMPTON Royal & Derngate Theatre
22 - DUNFERMLINE Alhambra Theatre
26 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall
27 - CAMARTHEN Lyric Theatre
28 - CARDIFF St David's Hall
29 - WOLVERHAMPTON  - Wulfrun Hall

18/19/20 - NORWICH The Playhouse
22 - HEREFORD - The Courtyard Theatre
23 - CORNWALL - Hall for Cornwall
24 - EXETER - Corn Exchange
26 - SHREWSBURY - Theatre Severn
27 - BROXBOURNE - Civic Theatre
28 - ALDERSHOT - Princes Theatre
29 - CHATHAM - Central Theatre
30 - CROYDON - Fairfield Halls
31 - HAYES - Beck Theatre

If you'd bought a ticket to one of the reorganised dates and still want to come along, the people to contact are whoever you bought your ticket from, whether that's the venue or an agency or... well no, that about covers it. Hopefully, they'll be in touch with you any way.

I really am sorry to be letting people down like this. But of course I'm also being absolutely head over heels about the reason behind it.