Some product

No, not a blog entry about the new exfoliator I have been using this week – which has turned my face into a lady’s – a different kind of product. My first ever and possibly only ever DVD. Available today from Go Faster Stripe at a hopefully affordable price of £12, Secret Dancing is the souvenir of my 2010 Edinburgh show, filmed at Cardiff’s Masonic Hall on November 3 last year before an enthusiastic sellout audience of podcast fans who had to put up with my one-man show in support of the actual Collings & Herrin headliner. You can watch two short clips FOR FREE on the Go Faster Stripe website, which is also the only place you can buy the disc itself. I haven’t actually held one in my hands yet, but I love the simple way it’s been designed and packaged. It’s weird for me to watch it, especially in the unforgiving glare of the house lights required for filming, and to see the sweat build up around my brow, and the occasional nervous jiggle of my leg.

I know I am an impostor in the world of stand-up, but I hope this brief flirtation with my favourite form of entertainment has been if nothing else, self-aware and appreciative. I loved doing Edinburgh on my own last August, as you know, and it is testament to the idiosyncratic, cottage-industrial autonomy of Chris Evans at Go Faster Stripe that this lovely document of that adventure can even exist. I hope you like it. The extras are rather sweet: Richard’s glowing introduction and career retrospective; a poor-quality bootleg of the Edinburgh show at Bannerman’s, made by fellow Free Fringer Frog Morris; some iPhone footage of Richard and I preparing for our now-decommissioned 6 Music show in Caffe Nero and in the 6 Music office; and a terrific video by Nathan Jay for one of the tracks he allowed us to use for the Secret Dancing demonstration. (Tough luck, Mark Ronson, BAD, the Wiseguys, PM Dawn and the Sugababes: we chose not to use your music!)

The two free clips are here:

Serial killers



Torch wood

Back in Cardiff for another insanely packed, physically and emotionally draining day of comedy. Richard and I did this for the first time in January; we spent the day recording four, new, exclusive podcasts in a studio at Ty Cerdd, the Welsh Music Centre, within the magnificent bowels of the Millennium Centre for commercial CD release through Go Faster Stripe, and in the evening, bandit-moustachioed impressario Chris Evans Not That One, booked us a gig by which to pay the overheads. In January, we played the bar of the mighty St. David’s Hall. It was a ridiculous task to set ourselves: improvise, from scratch, four and a half hours of conversation around loose themes (in that case, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire (and Water) – see: Go Faster Stripe for details), then come up with a further one hour, six minutes and 35 seconds of topical improvisation before a baying, and paying, Cardiff audience. We managed it, and the results were OK – the gig was particularly enjoyable – but who but fools would attempt to recreate that magic?

We travelled down to Cardiff on Tuesday afternoon so that we would be fresh and well rested for our long day yesterday. Unfortunately, despite friendly staff, an Ikea makeover, an evil Nespresso machine in every room and good breakfast buffet items, the Cardiff Novotel decided to wake Richard up at 5.30am with a surreal alarm call that made CBeebies come on his telly*. Not a great start to the day, even with an evil cup of capsule-generated, baby-killing Nespresso to follow. (I slept well, thank you for asking, despite two Cobras at Chris’s favourite Indian restaurant, and the familiar 3am internal alarm call of the unfamiliar bed and alcohol combination.) Still, somehow, we managed to create four new podcasts, in studio conditions, on the themes hinted at by the new CD’s title, War & Peace, Crime & Punishment, which Chris hopes to have on sale within a couple of weeks.

This was my third time in this studio, with its grand piano and futuristic, Unknown Pleasures-style foam walls, as I recorded my audiobook of Where Did It All Go Right? here in 2009 (also available etc. etc.), and once again it was an occasion marked by bottles of water, occasional cups of coffee, that little table, not a whiff of wi-fi signal and men staring at us through the glass from the control room – this time, Chris, Felix and Isaac, who actually introduced himself to us as “Work Experience Boy”, as if his job had subsumed his very name – who did us the great honour of providing the occasional burst of laughter that was, unprofessionally, audible in the studio, through the glass. You’ll have to wait a couple of weeks before you can hear the results: by turns strained, serious, ridiculous, philosophical, hysterical, grumpy, quiet, loud, peaceful and warlike. This can surely be no way to make a living.

Packing up at 5.30 there was no time for a jacuzzi at the Novotel, and barely time for one evil, developing-world-destroying Nespresso capsule, as I had to run through Secret Dancing in my room, a show I have not performed since August 21 and will never perform again, or at least that’s the mercurial plan. The talented Nathan Jay had created some music tracks for us to play out where there would normally be tracks by BAD, the Wiseguys, Mark Ronson and the Sugababes, as we can’t afford to licence existing music. I practised to these in front of the hotel mirror. By 7.30 Richard and I were skulking in the kitchen at the Masonic Hall, our dressing room for the night, having wandered, wide-eyed, through the lobby, past portraits of important looking middle-aged men in embroidered aprons, some actual middle-aged men in their civvies, and a stairlift to help elderly or infirm Masons up to their secret chambers. This was a weird place to do a comedy gig, and the room booked had a huge, impressive domed roof, but we made it our own, by constantly referring to it, and to The Da Vinci Code.

And here’s the portrait of the Queen, whom the Masons really like, who watched us from the back wall throughout:

Secret Dancing went well, and I remembered what order it all went in, although it was a weird experience after mostly doing it in a dark bunker in Edinburgh; despite being a seasoned stand-up, I have never done a gig that was being filmed for future DVD release and thus all the house lights were up and I could see the whites of even the back row’s eyes as they either laughed or didn’t laugh, or, in the case of Richard, who sat at the back, seemed to doze off, dreaming of CBeebies, unless he was playing a game on his iPhone, which would be business as usual. Have a look at the Torchwood-loving, Strictly-denying Cardiff nerds we spent two hours looking at:

Here’s me, Secretly Dancing, or at least talking about Secretly Dancing, or indeed Secretly Milking (my carefully timed one-hour Edinburgh show lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, as I must admit I savoured this last performance of it):

And here’s us, in our Masonic thrones (which did have strange symbols carved into their high backs):

Anyway, the audio podcast itself, Number 138, is available to download here. Thanks to the Masonic Hall, Chris Evans Not That One, Gerald, Felix, Sue and all the crew, all of my Secret Dancers, anyone we picked on, especially Jeff and Bec, Rasputin and London Irish II, and to Phil Jones, Mike Griffiths, and PennyWisePeter for the bootleg photos. It was a long night, and a long day, but all the better for being in a city that has been so kind to us while raining on us at the same time.

*Mr Richard Herring now accepts that he may actually have left his telly on, and that CBeebies may have just started broadcasting at 5.30am, but we may never know. Either way, just in case, he’s not suing the Novotel chain, or George Clooney.

Last chance to see

On November 3, 2010, I will be performing Secret Dancing for the final time. If you are in or near Cardiff, you can come and see it – tickets are available exclusively through Go Faster Stripe here – and many of you are booked to do so already, without realising what a historic night you will be part of. Richard and I are doing a day’s recording in Cardiff for our second podcast CD, provisionally entitled War, Peace, Crime and Punishment (hopefully available in time for Christmas), and a live podcast gig in the evening. But Chris-Evans-not-that-one had the harebrained idea of doing Secret Dancing as the support act and filming it for a future Go Faster Stripe DVD. This seemed too good to pass up, and Richard has magnanimously handed over the whole of the first half to me.

We hope that this will be a nice surprise for all those who have already purchased a ticket. I have performed Secret Dancing, the full show, 19 times, 16 of those in Edinburgh. Like Stewart Lee says in his book, it feels like a good idea to draw a line under what was an experiment, and by committing it to disc, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I’ve had a lot of fun, but I am not a stand-up comedian, and although I was keen to pursue this one, just to find out if I could perform my own solo show at the Fringe, I still feel something of a fraud, and have not paid my dues, and I cannot realistically spend every evening doing so like professional comedians do, so it would be insulting if I continue to jump the queue and “dabble”. I have loads of writing work to do anyway, so performing the show one last time, in a city that has been very kind to it before [see: pic, taken at St David’s Hall last time Richard and I were in town], seems poetic and apt. I hope we get as many enthusiastic volunteers at the end – we’ll have to see whether the modest camera crew will encourage or discourage volunteers!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to it, and I hope that my decision to lay the show to rest will make Cardiff more of an “event”. It will certainly be a packed day.

We think our gig in Bristol is sold out, but worth checking, if you’re in the vicinity. I won’t be doing Secret Dancing there, as Richard and I will be sharing our pre-interval duties, and I’ll only have 20 minutes to play with. I might do the Mitfords if that seems like a popular option. If not, I’ll do an excerpt from Secret Dancing, the bit about moving to Surrey.

In other Go Faster Stripe news, my audiobook, Where Did It All Go Right?, has been reduced in price to £10, so if you haven’t bought it yet, now might be a good time. I’ve had some really nice responses to it, and people ask me if the other books will come out as audiobooks, to which the answer is: it really depends if we sell enough of these, which we haven’t yet. It’s clearly a niche product. We probably should have done it as MP3s, which would have meant less discs, and less packaging, although for my first and possibly only audiobook, I’m rather pleased with the way this one feels. It’s a beautiful item. Anyway, plug over.