Wah, Wah, Wah. Someone’s Better Than Me.

Is there someone out there who is better than you at a certain thing? Does it bother you?

Well, answer me this.

I know for a fact there’s someone out there who could take you in a fight.

Why hasn’t it stopped you walking around?

Welcome to being alive. With 7 billion choices, yes, there just might be someone out there “better” than you in some category.

It’s your turn right now. You can be best at dealing with that.


Change For The Change-Resistant

I was on a train once and it went past a piece of graffiti.

It said, “Routine is the enemy of creativity.”

I thought, “That sounds great and true. I must endeavour to take it on board.”

Then I got off the train and went and did my stand-up routine.

I’m just not having a wall tell me what to do.

But seriously… If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, it’s all very well people (and walls) advising you to make a change, but the rut always comes at a time when you’re feeling least energetic and adventurous.

The low-energy quick fix for me is to change the inputs. Maybe listen to some music or spoken word you haven’t heard in ages, reconnect with who you were when you first loved it.

I prefer audio, because it puts pictures in your head. Just that little bit of work from your mind can get things going. There are some great podcasts out there, ask someone who knows you for a recommendation.

Other than that, take the pressure off, be nice to yourself and ride it out. Sorry to state the obvious, but you can’t plan spontaneity.

Lastly, if you’ve made a commitment to publish every day, the rut is just something you ride over.


Kill It!

When I was in my 20s, on a health kick, I tried running. It hurt. I tried again a few years later. It hurt again. But somehow I took it seriously and did what I could, a little bit every day.

A few (!) years on, I’m really into it. Just like I don’t need to get motivated to prepare a meal every day, I don’t need to get motivated to go running every day. If I miss it, it’s like I’m robbing myself.

It took a bit of commitment early on (when it hurt) to get this point. The key was getting out there. One foot in front of the other. I try to remember my history with running when embarking on new things.

Some days I look at a blank page and feel like not writing. Even though I know most of the things I’m proud of resulted in me slaying a blank page.

If you’re out there feeling it too, the best book I read on the subject was The War Of Art, by Steven Pressfield. In the book he calls the self-sabotage instinct “resistance”. It helps to give your enemy a name. It helps to know your enemy (“the enemy is a great teacher”).

As soon as we know we’re up against this ferocious, tenacious enemy that takes many forms (tons of really sound, logical reasons not to create, not to take a leap), we’ve got a fighting chance. I found the book useful for those hard times.

I’m trying to minimise the advice-y stuff, because I know you’re out there, on the brink of a breakthrough, and with the best will in the world, some well-meaning advice might just throw you off course!

Where your breakthrough lies, it’s not on any of the charts. Let it rip, whatever works, but I reckon it starts with getting out there, maybe for a little jog.


I Know You Have Something To Say

I was talking to a nursery school teacher once. She said that when you see little kids playing, one of the the first things you hear them say is, “That’s not fair!”

If you’re reading this and you’re 12, tell me you’re not a little confused about how adults carry on and how they tell you to carry on. If you’re 30+ and you’ve had a lifetime of bosses, tell me you don’t have any feelings on co-operation versus coercion.

Those negative comments on YouTube are a creative act*, compared to just consuming. In fact, some people are at their most artistic when they’re running things down, and that’s a shame.

We’ve got no shortage of opinions, thoughts and feelings on a wide range of topics.

There is a shortage of people who can turn those thoughts and feelings into something useful to the rest of us who live outside the thinker’s head.

You’re an expert when it comes to your own experience of life. Paint us a picture, write us a story, yes, even do us a drum solo. Let’s hear it.

*Maybe the answer to not liking things is not trolling. Maybe it’s to build a more pleasing thing. Build a better YouTube channel, write a better joke. You’re already in front of the computer!


Mmm. Apple Pie.

There’s a line from a book that keeps bubbling up in my head since I read it (a few years ago now).

It’s from Carter Beats The Devil by Glen David Gold. Carter, a magician, is being grilled by an investigator, who is trying to throw him off balance by talking about two other magicians that he’d seen doing a similar rope trick to Carter’s. Carter responds:

“There are few illusions that are truly original, it’s a matter of presentation… In other words, I didn’t invent sugar or flour, but I bake a mean apple pie.

Happy baking!


How Do We Do It? Volume! Jokes Are A Numbers Game

It took 100 million hours to build Wikipedia*. Phew. But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the 200 billion hours people spend watching TV annually.

This is according to Clay Shirky in Cognitive Surplus. He says since the 1940s, in our free time, we’ve been steadily moving from a consuming posture to a creating (and sharing) one.

I was at a comedian’s conference (I know!) once, and a promoter described a new act whose work ethic he liked (me too!). This new comedian had a day job. On the ride to and and from work (I’m guessing 30 minutes each way), this person made it their mission to write ten jokes. That’s do-able. Five on the way in, five on the way out.

Fifty jokes a week, two hundred jokes a month. An hour a day. Your leisure time is still your own when you walk through the door.

In the old days, you could write all you want, but you’d still have to wait for a gig somewhere to see what flew. Now there’s Twitter and a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t know about (I’m assuming!).

Two hundred jokes a month. Tweet your best, what, twenty? Fifty? Do the lot! It’s your life. You can interact with an audience and learn something.

Baby steps. See what works. Five jokes on the way in, five on the way out.

Also, a great thing about the internet: If you do something a bit rubbish, no-one looks. No-one’s got the time. There’s 200 billion hours of telly to catch up on!

*That’s what it took to build Wikipedia to its 2009 extent.


The Problem With Jokes

There’s a fundamental problem with jokes.

Think of music. There’s no “getting” a song. No nice, that’s that, move on. You can hear a song that moves you thousands of times before you need to give it a rest.

When you love a piece of music, the affair goes on and on until one of you changes. The song’s permanent, so the relationship only changes when you change. Even then, you’re probably still wed for life.

That old Adam And The Ants song doesn’t move you in the same way as when you were eight, but it’s a touchstone. You’ve got history. It’s a family member that knows you better than your own family.

Think of jokes. A vital element of a joke is surprise (see here about that). Once you’ve heard the punchline, that vital element is gone. You can still enjoy introducing someone else to that feeling you got when you first heard the joke, but for you, the thrill is gone. As a thing that’s supposed to do a thing, it’s stopped doing that thing.

Tom Stade and Rich Hall got around this problem with two routines. And I think it’s because they’re like music. In case you haven’t got time to click, I’ll outline them.

One of them is Tom Stade’s “Meat Van” routine. Tom talks about being in Bilston (it’s already funny) and a man shows up to sell meat from the back of a van. The salesman has a style half-way between carnival barker and Martin Luther King, Jr.

If this routine was a song, the verses would be the meat van guy introducing each cut of meat (verse one: “I got a rump roast…”, verse two: “I got eighteen pork chops…”).

The choruses would be: “Do you know what I’m going to do with this [insert name of cut of meat]..? I’m gonna put it on the scale!”

In songs, after the second chorus, people get used to the pattern. Time for a guitar solo. The guitar solo in this routine is when Tom says: “I got a bag full of faggots”. He moves away from the main theme tune to riff on the bag of faggots. It’s a blistering guitar solo.

Rich Hall’s Tom Cruise Bit is equally beautiful. He describes the formula for making a Tom Cruise film (“He’s a cocktail maker. Pretty good cocktail maker, too. Then he has a crisis of confidence. Can’t make cocktails anymore. Then he meets a good-looking woman, talks him into being a better cocktail maker. End of film!”).

Then he says the whole thing again, but substitutes “cocktail maker” for “race car driver”, then he does it with “jet pilot” – On and on, each time funnier than the last, as the predictability of Tom Cruise films is roasted.

This one’s more like a ballad. We’re thinking: “Where’s he going to go in the next verse?” Rich finally pulls out a surprise ending to make it work as a joke joke.

My guess is, because these routines are such beautiful creations, Rich and Tom didn’t set out to solve the problem of how to make a replayable joke. They just showed up to work, beavered away, and one day were proud parents.

Maybe it’s because these jokes are like music, I’ve actually enjoyed listening to them just now with the same intensity as I did when I first heard them.

It’s just a pet theory of mine, I don’t know what it means, but I thought I’d share it with you.

Ps. If you’re having a crisis of confidence, just check out the thumbs down on these YouTube clips. They’re both about as good as art can possibly get, but there’s still someone out there not smiling. Trying to please everyone is just not a worthwhile mission.


The Case For Writing (And Being Weird About It)

These days, attention is a privilege that has to be earned and respected. We’ve got no shortage of stuff (articles, songs, stand-up videos…) anymore. The new scarcity is attention.

But that’s a good thing. More and more people are departing from the mainstream every day because it’s just not creating things relevant to us as unicycling, lampshade-knitting, Slovakian folk music-loving planking enthusiasts.

When there were five TV channels (I’m in the UK, if you’re just tuning in), and two-ish radio stations doing programmed speech, the producers had to come up with average stuff, because they needed to capture the attention of everyone (or as close as possible) to make it work. Now there are infinite channels, publishing can be as varied as there are are people on the planet.

That’s why I’m so gung-ho with the “go for it!”. More is actually more again. Nobody’s getting crowded out, there’s infinite shelf-space – and that also means there’s a strong incentive to make your output weird and relevant (to someone!), because of the attention scarcity.

So write. And yes, maybe for the sake of it. Because I also think that we don’t know what’s rattling around inside us until we give ourselves a real deadline to publish and be damned. (That’s what yesterday’s post was about).

Probably sounds like mumbo jumbo, but I remember reading and loving an interview with Tom Waits, where he said he thought of songs as having a life of their own, and it was his job to make them come and visit him (“Yeah, that guy was pretty cool, let’s blow down there and say ‘hi’ again…”)

It’s easy to walk away from a blank page. You can quite legitimately claim you’re not in the right frame of mind to write. Yep. Agreed. You are definitely not in the right frame of mind to write.

But what do we do every day? We show up to our work whether we’re in the mood or not. The question, “Am I in the right frame of mind for going to work today?” doesn’t figure into it. We’re there like a bear.

If we can do that for an activity we don’t necessarily love, it must be possible to do it for things we’re passionate about. The only thing holding us back is page fright.

In my experience of fear, the idea is not to make it go away but to understand that the uncomfortable sensation is just there trying to protect you.

…And now here it is again, protecting you from negative internet feedback, or a lukewarm critical reception, or a joke not hitting – with the same ferocity that it would protect you from an attacking grizzly. Fear has no finesse. You can’t educate it. You just have to be in the same room as fear and plough on regardless.

If you make an irreversible decision to publish at a certain time, that crunch point makes you get your house in order re fear quite effectively.

Yes, what you publish (in your novel, on your blog, on your podcast, to your stand-up audience) might be less than perfect, but that’s great! Now you know what you would’ve said if you were perfect. Now you can refine it. The act of forcing yourself to publish made that happen. If you reflect and repeat, it gets better.

So I think writing for its own sake still has value – plus there’s an underserved audience of unicycling, lampshade-knitting, Slovakian folk music-loving planking enthusiasts out there that need you!