There was an important general election scheduled for May 2015. I wanted to do something.
My girlfriend Viv hit upon the idea of doing a YouTube series teaching people the surprisingly convoluted basics of British politics. I quickly realised how little I knew.
I'd been performing comedy for most of my 20s, and immediately knew I had to speak to Jay Foreman, a musical comedian and good friend of mine who had made Unfinished London: a somehow fascinating and funny mini-documentary about civil planning.
So I got in touch with Jay, we hashed out the general concept, got his director Paul Kendler on board, along with writer Liam Butler, and together we all wrote and created lots of episodes that I'm really proud of. We called it:
Didn't make a difference - the Conservatives won a majority and the political climate continues to lurch dangerously to the right, but even if one person learnt a bit more about British politics, it was worth it.
Also this is a good, funny and informative series of videos. That's something to be proud of.
Viv would like me to remind everyone that this was her idea, which, whilst troubling to my ego, is undeniably true.
(Click on "Songs." at the bar at the top for all the songs in one place)
From the summer of 2008 to December 2013, I spent most of my waking life writing and performing sketch comedy with these guys. We were:
The Beta Males.
For a while we were The Beta Males' Picnic (shudder), and before that, we were briefly Paper Bag Equals Yes (*SHUDDER*), but although the name and line-up fluctuated, we were mostly a combination of middle class white guys trying to make people laugh.
And we got good. We came to specialise in narrative comedy; sketches tied together by characters and location, that told a story.
It was great. It really was. We did pulpy, genre-infused b-movie nonsense that loved the tropes it mocked. We went to the Edinburgh Festival every August for 6 years (the other performers for 2 years more), we got nominated for awards, performed on BBC Radio 4, and most importantly put together many fantastic shows.
Here's the shows we did, when we did them, and some reviews. I'm really proud of this stuff. It's easy to look back fondly and forget the sweat, arguments and fatigue. But even taking that into account, these days were golden.
Edinburgh 2008: Sketchy Beast.
Not strong. "Shows promise", is probably the fairest way to describe this messy collection of sketches.
Best Review: Mentions the one woman we had in the group. She left soon after and became a very famous musician, but I'm not sure I'm allowed to say who (she's doesn't feature on the poster). 3 stars.
Edinburgh 2009: The Beta Males' Picnic.
We do a free show, before free shows were cool. It's much better. We give out free jam sandwiches to entice people in. Comedy is glamorous. Another collection of better sketches. We have cut our teeth on the London open mic comedy scene, and it shows. A bit.
Best Review: "...The brilliant Beta Males' Picnic, whose silly but smart sketch show manages to be just as clever and quipful as Idiots of Ants or Pappy's Fun Club [this was a big deal for us]. Looking the part in waistcoats too, and with a matching air of grinning eccentricity, few free acts are so charming and so prepared." The List. Four stars.
Edinburgh 2010: The Bunker.
Our breakthrough. Against the odds, we create a coherent, funny and occasionally moving narrative sketch comedy show telling the story of the last 273 people alive, 30 years after a cataclysm decimates the world above. Heavily featuring The Vengaboys' monstrous hit We Like To Party! (The Vengabus).
Best Review: “These virtual unknowns have created a superb show that outclasses many of the Fringes more established sketch troupes." Broadway Baby. Five stars.
Honourable mention: "The Picnic’s preoccupation with death and sexual deviance has finally reached a logical conclusion: the extinction of the human race." The List. Three stars.
(We also do a free show of non-narrative sketches. It goes really well.)
Edinburgh 2011: The Train Job
We delve into very heavy-handed satire about disgraced former Secretary Of State For Transport Stephen Byers, who had been outed by the media for an expenses scandal.
We do this by turning him into a disgraced bad-ass action hero (played by yours truly, because I look a little bit like him) who has to clear his name by stopping a runaway train that wants to destroy Edinburgh. By fucking it. (not a joke)
My favourite show we did. Got awarded 10 Top Amused Moose Edinburgh Shows. We get nominated for a Chortle Award for this bad boy.
Best Review: "Get your pistons pumping and have your tickets ready for inspection as you climb aboard this steel tube of satisfaction. The entire experience is an unalloyed joy. Absolutely first class." Fringe Guru. Five stars.
Notable mention: "The Beta Males have a strong show which veers towards the safe side, which could have been truly alpha comedy one with a few bolder choices." My girlfriend, reviewing my show a year before we met. Three stars.
Edinburgh 2012: The Space Race & The Beta Males' Midnight Movie Theatre
Two shows this year. Our narrative show is a bit balls. Great premise: the secret history of Britain's entry into the Space Race in the late 60s, and why no one knows about it. But the sketches weren't good enough, we temporarily lost one of our writers to drama school and it showed. Some excellent bits, but not our finest hour.
Best Review: "As a comedy quartet they are perfectly matched – and, it has to be said, remarkably bendy. Gloriously silly and endlessly entertaining, The Space Race is a showcase of sketch comedy at its best. Don’t leave town without seeing it." The Skinny. Five stars.
Most Accurate Review: "The Space Race certainly breaches the atmosphere and gets into orbit, but is not quite good enough to make that moon landing. It’s no giant leap but it gets the job done." Broadway Baby. Four stars.
Our other show, The Beta Males'Midnight Movie Theatre was a delight - a chance to put our B-movie influences front and centre and screen a joyously terrible creature feature and add William Castle-inspired live elements to mess with the audience.
The movie we picked was Gary Jones' 2000 masterpiece Spiders. We had so much fun with this. One of our number ended the show transformed into a giant spider. You do the math(s).
Best Review: "The premise is simple but executed with great panache and is truly a unique experience. The finale, especially, is phenomenal. I sincerely hope that this show is resurrected in the future and that The Beta Males continue to find fresh slants on established formulae. Other acts should take note." Broadway Baby. Four stars.
Edinburgh 2013: Superopolis
It's amazing it took a bunch of nerds like us this long. 2013's show - my final one - was set in the city of Superopolis, a city full of superheroes.
When The Golden Guard are destroyed and a mysterious substance called RetCon is playing havoc with reality, can jaded, experienced Inspector Supermann and overpowered rookie dunce Police Man discover what on super earth is going on? Well, yeah, but the journey is fun.
We've always had great, fold-out, world building flyers, but for this show we got our own mini comic books made, and they were immense.
Best Review: "The Beta Males show both a mastery of and love for their craft that is a delight to behold." Four stars. Fest.
And that was it, for me. The guys carried on with a show in 2014 called Happenstance, which was really rather good, and are all doing solo material now. They're good and funny eggs.
Don't really know why I'm mentioning all of this, tucked away in a little corner of my website. I guess it was just a very formative and enjoyable part of my life, and I wanted to put a record of it down, somewhere.
So there you go.
My final show. There were TEARS.
I am taking a play to Edinburgh, 2018.
Working title is "Courtroom Play: A Courtroom Play"
It's a fast-paced comedy drama in the vein of Legally Blonde and My Cousin Vinny, with strong influences from the Phoenix Wright videogame series.
It's gonna be good! I can't wait to see it brought to life.
In December 2015 I ran a festival in Sydney, Australia called GameFest. Strong name, I know.
It brought together everything I love about games, and encompassed:
- A day where we turned the theatre into an escape room