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The Sound of One Hand Clapping | Lindsay Conn

Ok, once and for all, pictures of your animals making stupid faces are not funny. Seriously. Lesson learnt. Lindsay Conn speaks to some local comedians about the real funny business.

Turn the telly on to any channel and it won’t be long before you see a comedian turning their hand to something outwith their calling. They present chat shows, they interview pop stars, they even give you guided tours into their struggle with manic depression. Comedians have become such huge celebrity property in recent years that it is easy to forget what brought them into the public eye in the first place.

With this in mind, I ventured down to The Stand Comedy Club on Woodlands Road, to see the reality at the grassroots of the profession. The comedians I spoke to there didn’t think it was as rock ‘n’ roll as the industry darlings would have you believe.

“I think it can be quite dangerous,” says Susan Calman, when asked about the Russell Brands of the world. “It encourages people to get into comedy for the wrong reasons; they want to get on the telly or be famous, and that doesn’t happen a lot”. But it’s not all attention-seeking anymore: comedians are often called on to take roles they haven’t prepared for. As the late, great Mitch Hedberg once riffed, “When you’re in Hollywood and you’re a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. ‘All right, you’re a stand-up comedian—can you write us a script?’ That’s not fair. That’s like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I’m a really good cook, they’d say, ‘OK, you’re a cook. Can you farm?’” But even the immortal Stephen Fry had to start off by sweating out new material in front of a tough crowd.

Rather than being lured towards comedy for the promise of money and recognition, Calman entered the profession after walking away from a career that promised both. She studied law at the University of Glasgow, which led to an appointment as a corporate lawyer after graduation. “I had an epiphany on my 30th birthday, and I said to myself, do you really want to be doing this for the rest of your life?”

Tom Brogan of Glasgow-based sketch comedy troupe You Owe Me Glue has similar views on the 9 to 5 life. “Of course working in offices and constantly thinking about killing yourself is brilliant. Who wouldn’t want that life? But comedy is too much of a thrill to abandon for the daily conundrum of ‘how will I do it’ and ‘should I leave a note?’ No matter how much of an uphill struggle comedy seems, I really can’t see myself chucking it in to pursue that coveted team leader’s job at the box factory.”

Local comic Rab Brown agrees. After dropping out of a drama course at university, he decided that he missed the thrill of performance and emailed The Stand to see if he could join in on one of their Red Raw shows. Red Raw is an open mic night, which combines the uneasy stuttering of first-time comedians with more established acts trying out new material. The shows can be a baptism by fire, with a demanding crowd. Calman, who also worked up the ranks at Red Raw, confesses that she thought she was “the business” until her first ten-minute experience. “It was the worst fucking night of my life. I went home and cried for five days”.

On this note, all three comics are unanimous on their opinion of the worst audience they can experience—a silent crowd. No response from an audience will guarantee that the material being performed isn’t up to scratch. On the other end of the scale, they tell me that hecklers aren’t a problem as long as the comedian at the receiving end is skilled enough to deal with them. “But sometimes your heckler isn’t trying to put you off or be hostile—he thinks he’s helping,” explains Brogan, a Red Raw veteran. “A lot of folk reckon that shouting out and interrupting is all part of it, and most times, it’s not. The real problem with heckling is when folk just won’t take a telling and, having had their wee moment of attention, don’t know when to turn it in for the evening. Once it spills over from good humour into hostility it can ruin the atmosphere in the room and potentially bring down the whole night.”

Calman has been performing for a few years, taking the set in her stride as she does tonight. Brown is not yet such a seasoned comedian, and appears more nervous. “I’ve not yet got to the standard where I can just go out there and wing it,” Brown admits, “I’m quite methodical in it”. Experience on stage and building up material is a crucial pathway for any new comedian, in order to the reach the stage where they feel comfortable chopping and changing a set, dependent on the audience in front of them. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to a comedy audience is never as successful as responding to the crowd you are performing for.

The need for the audience to be able to relate to a comedian directs many stand-ups in the construction of their material, and a prime source of inspiration often comes from personal experience. “Audiences can tell if you’re being honest, if it fits with who you are,” says Calman, carrying on by making the point that it’s a mistake for new comedians to think that they have to conjure up a new set every time they perform—it takes time and attention in order to perfect a set. Not doing so will ensure the worst nightmare of the stand-up—‘dying’ on stage, where a comedian is met with steely silence from their audience.

“Comedy is very much about turning up,” agrees Brogan. “Yes, you need to be funny, but putting the hours in is equally important. That may mean spending time in cars alongside blowhards and folk you have nothing in common with. It’ll mean a lot of long, lonely bus journeys and getting home at ridiculous hours. But when a daft thought that occurred to you when you were watching the telly one night makes a room full of people laugh, you’ll know if it’s all worth it.”

“Part of the joy of this is that if I was still a lawyer, I’d still be in an office,” says Calman. “With comedy, you travel around the country and you meet people. It’s an exciting way of life”. Surely the fast pace is another of the “wrong reasons” to get into comedy that she alluded to earlier? Calman disagrees. “Comedy can be absolutely horrible sometimes, very lonely, travelling around the place all the time,” she says, “but no matter how bad it gets, it’s still the first time I’ve ever truly been myself in my life.”

The Difficult Second Album Syndrome | Pete Myall

spring2008secondIn an industry built almost entirely out of lies, illusion and fabrication, the Difficult Second Album is perhaps not the greatest lie of all, but probably the least questioned. A band will appear from nowhere with some sharp threads and a couple of great tunes, and find a nation of rabid fans ready to lap them up. Their first album arrives, to considerable acclaim, and they tour, tour, tour. A couple of years down the line, though, things don’t seem to be going quite so well for them. There’s arguments in the studio, nothing seems to be going right, and when they release their next album, it sells a quarter of the copies of the first and is peppered with two-star reviews. A few months later, the band get quietly dropped from their label and resign themselves to lives writing advertising jingles. The Difficult Second Album strikes again. It’s quite sad, if you’re in the habit of feeling sorry for idiots.

A Detailed List of My Every Failure | Pete Myall

If, as seems increasingly likely, the world is actually a giant metaphysical sitcom created so God has something to enjoy when He’s relaxing at home after a hard day working on other, more plausible, realities (I mean, come on, He knocked it off in seven days! Where’s the pride, man?), then I’m in absolutely no doubt what my role would be. The klutz. The doofus. The well-meaning idiot who somehow manages to entangle himself in ridiculous situations and, while trying to extricate himself, somehow manages to make things exponentially worse. If you ever see me dangling from a hot air balloon, buck naked, covered in maple syrup, caught from my ankle by a string of bunting, rest assured that I was probably just trying to make some toast or something, before things got out of hand.

Take, for example, the sleepwalking incident. I mean, seriously. Who actually sleepwalks, outside of small-town America every Friday at six only on ABC1?

Well, okay. Sleepwalking doesn’t really describe what happened. Sleepwalking was merely the medium. My sleeping mind used sleepwalking like an artist uses a pen to create something truly dark, depraved, and, well, fucking embarrassing. Thanks, mind.

I was staying with my friend Mary (names have been changed to protect the innocent victims of this disgusting and unprovoked attack) for a few days, in her flatmate John’s bed. That night, however, our mutual friend Alex and his lady-friend Laura ended up staying over, so they took John’s bed and I stayed with Mary. At some point in the night, without really waking up, I got up, went to the toilet, washed my hands and went back to bed.

The bed I’d been staying in for the last week. John’s bed.

I woke up when I discovered that the bed that I was trying to get into was full of people. I found myself three inches away from Laura’s face.

I quickly summed up my feelings about the situation. “AAAAAAAAAARGH!” I noted.

Laura indicated her similar displeasure with the situation. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH GETTHEFUCKOFFME!” she responded. I rolled over, fell off the bed and neatly snapped my little toe on the floor. For the next week or so, I walked round with perhaps the most ridiculous limp that you’ve ever seen. And when anyone asked what happened, all I could say was “You know, I’m actually not sure”. Because what else could I have said? “Funny story, actually—I broke it falling off a bed when the girl I was straddling woke up and started screaming”?

And you can just imagine it, can’t you. God, on His sofa, feet up on His coffee table, slapping His thigh and saying “Oh, that Pete. What a dunderhead! What will he get up to next?”

Death of the Postbox | Aidan Cook

spring2008postboxAs the post drops through the letterbox, something catches your eye. Among all the junk mail and the long-overdue bill reminders, one envelope stands out. Not just any envelope, but a thick cream envelope with your name in a lovely handwritten script. Barely containing your excitement, you rip open the envelope and take out three heavy pages of handwritten delight. A personal letter handwritten just for you…

Daytripper

spring2008daytripper7:15am: alarm goes off.
7:30am: get out of bed; prepare to get historic.

Every April, Historic Scotland kick off the tourist season by making all their properties free of admission for a day or two. This is great opportunity for big families and the lucky unaware visitor to get their history on. But it’s also a chance for skint students to completely abuse some hospitality. Did someone say ‘free’?

YES/NO

Blik

Commitment-phobic? Check. Fancy a bit of that, a bit of this? Check. Move around a lot? Check. Require a taste for fine interior design? Check. How’s your wall looking these days? Ikea-beige? Then you may be interested in Blik and their self-adhesive surface graphics. Chose your own graphics and create a custom wall (and thus, room). Best of all, you’re able to peel them off with no damage to the walls when you leave, so your landlord need never know. It ain’t wallpaper if you call it Blik. www.whatisblik.com

Denihilism

When throwing around ideas in GUM meetings, we often disagree on what has been deemed in or out. Someone will bring up a movement or trend they think is in, only for someone else to declare that it’s been out, and so on all night long. But, of course, this is the realm of the red-topped, monosyllabic gawk-mags, where things can be arbitrarily in or out without any evidence of reason, fact, or sense. Liquid eyeliner: in! Phosphorus: out! External radicalism: in! It’s so hard to keep up with what is in and out that your best chance is to assume that what was once out is now in, and vice versa. Your most central beliefs, everything that you stand for, are out, and everything that you hate and despise is so in right now. Try it. It’s weirdly liberating. We’re calling it denihilism, and it is so totally out.

Fire

After a 10,000-year romance, it seems mankind has lost its taste for fire. Fireplaces are a quaint ornament in many Glasgow flats, now bricked up or used as a makeshift bookcase. Even Bonfire Night is no longer celebrated with bonfires, but rather with fireworks—fire dressed in lurid colours and forced to dance for our viewing pleasure. The only fire most city-folk get to gaze upon is the puny tealight at your local curry joint. The constant, stable light of a candle is like a slap in the face to its ancestor, the central hearth which gave our ancestors life and whose flickering roar formed the only nighttime entertainment in the days before Lost. No longer do we feast by a fireplace as big as a bus, as found in any self-respecting medieval castle. Now we panic at the merest spark in the grill, and neds are the only people allowed to start bonfires, usually in other people’s cars. Let’s reclaim fire. GUM doesn’t know exactly how, but as of now, we are definitely pro-fire.

Balloons

What? Are we, like, 5? Well, no, we just think that balloons are the ultimate survival tool. Never mind the Bank of England, balloons are the easiest way to control inflation. What’s more, you can use them to generate static electricity which will be oh so useful when the oil runs out.

George W. Bush

It is possible that George Bush was not the greatest president in the history of the USA. That’s a possibility. It is also possible that he has crippled his country with a hilariously massive national debt, led it into unwinnable wars fought with a combination of barefaced capitalism and insane colonialism, and made militant Puritanism the hottest philosophy of the day. But, you’ve got to admit, for us out here in Europe, it’s been fun. The most apt metaphor for the last eight years in America has been Major TJ ‘King’ Kong, riding a nuclear bomb dropped from a B-52 Stratofortress, waving his cowboy hat around his head, a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’ to the end of the world. Here’s to four—no! Eight!—more years of that. And before you say that it’s banned in the American constitution, do you really think it’s the first unconstitutional thing W’s ever done? Motherfucker’s got the thing printed on his presidential toilet paper.

No:

Trendy Tasers

You know, it’s often hard to pass hundreds of potentially fatal volts through someone’s body if you’re worried about important stuff like colour co-ordination and fashion trends. Which is why we sure are glad the TaserC2 has been released. Not only is it handy enough to fit into your handbag, it comes in a range of styles and colours. Choose titanium if you want to feel like a sophisticated business woman shooting baddies on the streets of New York; pink for a coy, little-girl lost approach to street violence; and, of course, leopard print if you’re the sexy siren who’s not to be messed with. A novel—and stylish—approach to combating violence in society. Wait a sec… why did we put this in the No section?

Amy Winehouse

I don’t have a problem with her getting wrecked and doing stupid shit: if going out in the middle of the night and buying 300 ice pops is a sign of a life falling apart, then every single person reading this should just go and check themselves into rehab right now, because we’d all do exactly the same thing if we were as stupid rich as she is. No, my problem is: if she takes as much cocaine as she apparently does, how come she makes such boring music? Seriously, how is that even possible?

Wind

It ruins umbrellas, it gets cold through even the thickest coats, and it makes the rain go upwards and right into your nose. Everyone hates it.

Biofuel

Wholesale panic about ecological disaster means land that used to have food grown on it now fills petrol tanks. Add to that actual ecological disasters and the price of grain has started to rocket upwards. We can probably live without as many sandwiches, but what if the price of beer goes up?

Gadget Envy

The amalgamation of Christmas and generous parents has resulted in every other person carrying a piece of technology that Inspector Gadget would happily give his super-bendy extending legs for. Everywhere you look people are whipping out their iPhones (or cheaper, less cream-inducing alternatives) to conference call their mates on where to meet for lunch while texting 15 people simultaneously. The sheer technological splendour of such devices makes your phone look like Margaret Thatcher’s dirty pants. But we gadget-paupers can take heart in the fact that our phones probably won’t murder us in our beds or tell our flatmate it was us who ate the last chocolate mini-roll .There’s something seriously sinister about a device that can do so much and yet isn’t actually human. Get out of our heads, iPhone! We deny you! Ah, screw it, lend us £300.

Power Cows

What would happen if there came a new, unstoppable plague that basically wipes out humanity overnight? Some argue that packs of starved, ownerless dogs would rule the cities. Some think the next evolutionary step is for chimps to emerge from the jungle. But when you think about it, the real heirs to the throne are much less exciting. Centuries of selective cow breeding, and now “designer cow” cloning, is all well and good when under strict scientific supervision: the labcoats can select for size and quality of meat, while killing off the deranged bovines that inbreeding inevitably creates. But what happens when the scientists disappear and the Schwarzeneggerian Belgian Blue bulls start breeding with the Holstein cows that grow at a rate of 8 pounds per day? Humongous, fast-growing, disease-proof, dangerously psychotic, and perfectly lean, delicious Powercows, that’s what. The future is lame.

The Wheels on the Bus

spring2008bus1We’ve all used them at some point in our lives. The cold seats, the leaking roof, the graffiti on the walls not to mention with the added joy of sitting beside complete strangers and their quirky little ways always make them an interesting, if not enjoyable, experience.. They even struggle to protect you from the rain, wind, sleet (and whatever else is thrown at you in Glasgow these days). It’s all part and parcel of the experience. Camera in one hand, notebook in the other, I decided to hit the streets to find out more about the people that frequent our trusty bus-stops.

Fashion: The Graduates

spring2008fashion1The fashion of tomorrow starts today. Just look beyond the banality of the high street, and cast your attention to the up-and-comings of the fashion world: fresh and innovative designers to emerge from Glasgow School of Art’s Masters of Textiles Design. It’s a course that has a formidable reputation for releasing the likes of Eley Kishimoto, Matthew Williamson, Julien Macdonald, and Jonathon Saunders, to the fashion world. So let me introduce you to the new generation: Florence To, Shona Douglas, Lori Mitchell, and Emmi Lahtinan.

Skin Deep? | Jessica McBride

spring2008missscotland1I’ve got beauty pageant fatigue, or more precisely, Miss Scotland fatigue. My preconceptions of beauty queens, and the general populous as a whole cause me to think that beauty pageants wrongly attempt to represent the ‘ideal’ woman and figure of beauty. Surely a competition that promotes young women as mere one-dimensional characters, where their sole requirement is to be judged by their appearance and decorum and ranked accordingly is shamefully outmoded, and well, sexist? Why do these girls hold themselves up as (seemingly) dim-witted Barbie dolls, presenting themselves as role models?

Sex Vandals | Adrian Maldonado

What drives one to leave their mark on public property? What inner forces are so strong that a person cannot help but express them for all to see? Well, according to a scientific study of bathroom wall graffiti undertaken by GUM, the driving force is usually thoughts of sex. Who knew.