Monday 30 January 2012

Reverting back to childhood

Do you remember what you were into when you were twelve years old? Are you still into the same things?

I've discovered plenty of new things to be enthused about in the last twenty years, but I'm still very much a fan of the things that I liked then. I still like Sherlock Holmes, I still like Doctor Who, I still like Transformers, I still like comics, and I still like wrestling.

Yes, I'm not kidding about that last one. I'm a huge wrestling fan and have been since I was twelve. I'd heard about Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior and the Legion of Doom and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and it all seemed very exciting and over-the-top. When my parents got SKY for the first time, I became hooked very quickly.

It's particularly weird getting to do something new with regards to something that's become a big part of your life. It's a bit like when the new series of Doctor Who started in 2005. You kind of start a new relationship with it and it leads you to re-evaluate things a little.

With wrestling, the relationship changed firstly because I started finding out about what went on behind the scenes. It opened up a whole new avenue, as I got to learn that as big and over-the-top as things were on-screen, they were often as petty and sleazy behind the scenes. I was fascinated.

This ended up leading me to the point where I spent a while working as a Ring Announcer for British wrestling, and got to learn a load of the technical side about the shows and got to chat to a lot of wrestlers. It was a little like being a stage-hand for a magician.

But throughout the years, I had never seen Hulk Hogan live. I didn't see much of him as a kid - he was retiring when I first started watching, and he occasionally turned up for very short runs. For various reasons, I hated him with a passion as I began to learn more about the industry, but in recent years (and, not coincidentally, as he's become less relevant), I've begun to appreciate how well he does what he does.

So, strangely, it was the opportunity to see Hulk Hogan live that led to me going to the Impact! Wrestling show at Wembley Arena on Saturday. Even when my fellow London-based wrestling fan friends couldn't make it, and my girlfriend didn't fancy sitting through three hours of wrestling (and who can blame her?).

It was partially in acknowledgement to my twelve-year-old self. The idea that, twenty years later, the things I enjoyed then, I still enjoy now. Not everyone gets why I like it, and that's fine. There are even people that assume that I'm a bit weird because I like it. That's fine too.

Having never seen him, even on television, the twelve-year-old me would have done anything to see Hulk Hogan live. In the same way that I would have done anything to go and visit the set of Doctor Who, or wander around Baker Street.

I don't know if I enjoyed things on a much more simple level then, and if I constantly try to revisit that. I didn't like things in a complicated way. I didn't have any sense of embarrassment of being a fan of things. Maybe it was a more pure enjoyment. Maybe not.

But for one night, Hulk Hogan finished a night of entertainment by shamelessly pandering to the crowd. He ran in to save some goodies from being beaten up, but before he did so, he looked at the crowd. "What should I do?", he seemed to plead as he looked around questioningly. The crowd responded by roaring approval, so he pointed his finger at the baddies, then beat them all up. He went to celebrate with the guy he'd rescued (James Storm), and left him to bask in the adulation of the crowd. But Storm made clear that the crowd wanted to see Hogan. Hogan looked round, as if he was unsure. So we cheered more, and then he ripped off his shirt and posed for us all. For ten minutes straight. And we all loved it.

For one night, I regressed to being twelve years old. The only important thing was that Hulk Hogan beat up the baddies, then invited us all to celebrate with him.

And all was right with the world.

Sunday 22 January 2012

David Cameron and the British Film Industry

This is a routine I performed at Working Title Comedy at the Big Green Bookshop on January 20th. It went down well, but because it's topical, it's one I may not reuse any time too soon - so I thought I'd stick it up here.

David Cameron said the British Film Industry should concentrate on making commercial successes. Because they're obviously not managing to do so without his help.

It reminded me of a quote by the famous screenwriter William Goldman - he wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, the Princess Bride...films like that, and he said "When it comes to the movie industry, nobody knows anything", and what he meant by that was that everyone's trying to make a hit, and they're trying to, but everyone makes mistakes.

But I went back to the book where he wrote that, "Adventures in the screen trade", because I was aware that sometimes quotes leave off half of what was actually said. Like in Richard III, where the line is famously "Now is the winter of our discontent", meaning now, things are bad. But what he actually says is "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York", meaning that things were bad, but are now good. And I looked at it, and it's the same thing. William Goldman didn't say "When it comes to the movie industry, nobody knows anything. William Goldman actually says "In the movie industry, nobody knows anything...except David Cameron. He does."

Back in the eighties, Stephen Spielberg made a run of three of the biggest movies made at that point in time. Jaws, ET, Indiana Jones....then he made 1941, which was a complete flop. If only he'd spoken to David Cameron before making that film, and he'd have said "No, Stephen, know your limits and make Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Michael Cimino made The Deer Hunter for the studio United Artists, one of the oldest, most respected film studios in the world, and he followed it up with one of the most expensive films of all time, Heaven's Gate, which ended up being terrible. Left with no options, United Artists gave it a huge, expensive promotion campaign to try and
recoup their massive losses...if it wasn't a hit, the studio would go under, but try what they made no money, and thousands of people lost their jobs.

If only they had called David Cameron. He would have said "Michael, I respect your intention to fulfil your artistic calling, but this film needs a very special dog."

John Travolta, in the mid nineties was in the worst career period of his life. He'd just finished making "Look Who's Talking Now"...(the dogs were talking)...and things were going badly enough that he was grateful for the work. Then, he bumped into David Cameron, who said to him "Have you seen Reservoir Dogs? You should get in touch with the director. Sure thing there, mate". And the two of them remained friends for years, and Travolta had a second spring....and then they fell out and we got Battlefield Earth.

If only he'd continued to listen to David Cameron.

We can presumably look forward to films like "Four Weddings and a Terminator", "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Predator", "Don't look now, but Justin Bieber is right over there" and "Corialanus 2 - The Dark of the Moon".

The British Film industry has responded in kind to David Cameron, and they've said "What David Cameron needs to do is to just make more jobs and just fix the economy. Rather than tell us that we need to make more commercial films while his government kills off the UK Film Council and blocks a Pinewood Studios extension.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Real Life Simulations

The first of them were basic in form. They can't have been any more than about twenty pixels. They had limited functionality and limited needs. They lived in data memories and fed on commands.

Everybody was told that these things had been invented. As if they were somehow ours to do with as we pleased. And every time they evolved, we were told that the programming had become more complex. Because, obviously, we were making enormous technological leaps forward every single year. And we all believed it, possibly because we wanted to believe it.

My first one was simple enough to catch and fit on a keyring. An LCD display and three buttons. When I was younger, I had sea monkeys, and because they seemed to be a kind of powder, I believed that they'd been made, not simply reanimated on contact with water.

I was never good at feeding them. Not when they swam around in the water, or when I just had to press a button. They had a volume control that, now, seems like an exercise in cruelty. All we did was stop them screaming from hunger. And then we reanimated them with a battery and made them go through it again.

As they evolved, we found more complex ways of keeping them captured. Restricting the data they fed on to CDs and transferring them to files which could be opened and closed at will. We could feed them so many more commands and give them what seemed like a happier life.

I stopped feeding one once, just to see what would happen. He looked out at the screen, slowly becoming less mobile and begging me to help. I'd just override his commands, confusing him. I watched him, over the hours, starve to death. And then I laughed with my friends about it.

If you asked me, I'd swear I didn't know that they could feel pain. But deep down, I knew. I knew and I laughed with my friends about how it turned green and died.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Professor Dalson: Lord of Hell

It was a Friday when Professor Bill Dalson died. He was surrounded by his family, and confirmed his atheism to the last.

He woke up surrounded by fire and brimstone. A demon poked him with a pitchfork.

"Come on," the demon said. "No rest for the wicked."

The Professor sat up, looked around, and then put his head back down on the hot floor.

"No." He replied.

The demon regarded him for a moment, before stabbing him (really quite hard this time) with the pitchfork.

"I said 'come on'", the demon said. "You don't get a choice in the matter."

"It isn't about choice," Dalson said. "There isn't an afterlife, so I can't be here."

"But you are here," the demon said. "I know you are. I can see you."

"That's just anecdotal evidence", the Professor said.

The demon tried prodding, poking and stabbing him with the pitchfork a bit further, but Dalson continued to ignore the demon. Eventually, realising he could do no more, the demon went straight to Satan himself.

After some explaining (which, and let's be honest here, did not go well for the demon, who was trying to do the right thing, but that's Hell for you), Satan arranged for Professor Dalson to be carried directly to him, and his eyes held open with thorns.

"Now," Satan said, "You can no longer deny what is directly in front of your face. After all, any kind of science that atheism is a part of means that you should change your belief based on evidence and experience."

"You make a good point," Professor Dalson said, "but how do I know that this is not a dream?"

"Because this is Hell."

"How do I know I'm not dreaming Hell and, indeed, you?" the Professor responded.

"Well," Satan said, growing more annoyed, "how do you I know that I haven't dreamed you?"

"That's my point," said the Professor.

Satan conceded that he had him there, and signed over ownership of Hell to Professor Dalson before retiring to a life of solitude.

And that's how Professor Dalson became the Lord of Hell and how Hell started to run night classes in classic literature.