Feature Film: I’m So Excited!

Still from trailer for Pedro Almodovar's film I'm So Excited

It is good of Pedro Almodovar to make it clear, right from the beginning, that we shouldn’t expect much in the way of seriousness during his most recent film, I’m So Excited! We definitely shouldn’t expect the kind of disturbing and darkly comic film he has won plaudits for in the past decade. If you’re hoping to relive the creepy thrill of The Skin I Live In or the rich tragicomedy of Volver, you’ll have to adjust your expectations – and sharpish. Instead, Almodovar takes us back to the 1980s and to the colourful, wonderfully kitsch, irreverence of early films like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Bright, jangling graphics adorn the opening credits, and provide us with the first clue that Almodovar is here to have to fun. We just have to cross our fingers and hope we will, too.

Peninsula Flight 2459 is in trouble. The chocks – no, me neither – weren’t removed before take-off (blame a high-vis-jacket-sporting Antonio Banderas, who was distracted by a baggage-truck-driving Penelope Cruz), and the landing gear has failed. Instead of flying to Mexico as intended, the plane is forced to circle Toledo, desperately waiting for a landing strip to become available. The economy-class passengers have been delivered a drug that renders them unconscious for the entire flight, so it’s left to the first-class passengers, three gay male stewards and the two pilots to fear for their lives, drink themselves silly, join the mile-high club and generally ignore every aircraft-safety rule in the book.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, Spain is also in trouble, only this time it’s not fiction. Government fraud, a mortgage crisis, swindling bankers and the worst unemployment rate in modern history make for pretty grim reading in the on-board newspapers. The metaphor is obvious, but no less important for being so: the powerful few have chosen to live it up in merry abandon rather than tackle the fast-approaching disaster; their passengers, meanwhile, sleep unknowingly, with no say in their own fates. Almodovar, an outspoken critic of Spain’s right-wing government, has declared this his “most political film” yet, and beneath the gaudy, alcohol-drenched exterior is a satirical attack on embezzling banks, the royal family and corrupt politicians.

Which all makes I’m So Excited! sound much cleverer than it actually is. In reality, the satire lacks bite, and as neat as the metaphor is, it never develops to its full potential. Of course, none of this would matter if the comedy were as funny as the zany trailer promises, or if the plot didn’t feel as thin as it does, or even if the characters were half as nuanced as Almodovar’s usual cast. As it is, though, I’m So Excited! is a mildly amusing but ultimately flimsy screwball comedy.

The problem is, nothing really happens here. Yes, there’s high jinks and more double entendres than you can actually entendre; yes, the characters bond and chat and generally get things off their chest (pun intended); and, yes, the story comes to a coherent conclusion and everybody had some fun along the way. But the plot is so basic that at times it feels as if you’re watching a ninety-minute-long music video. Bizarrely, too, only one of the character’s stories is developed outside the plane – the others are not granted these coveted on-ground shots. In a film that is nearly exclusively set on board a plane, a sub-plot needs to be very special to warrant those extra on-ground moments. These moments may be sumptuously shot and full of rich colour, but they add very little to the film.

Noticeable, too, is the lack of female characters in a film by a director known for his strong portrayal of women. Why must the stewardesses slumber in economy class for the entire flight, giving the three stewards and two pilots centre stage? And of the three female characters in first class, one is a society dominatrix, one a virgin and the other is . . . asleep. It is not just the women who are half-drawn versions of clumsy stereotypes; the rest of the cast barely function outside their categories: camp stewards, mysterious Mexican, swindling banker, womanizing actor, party-mad newly wed.

Nonetheless, Almodovar fans will still find plenty to like here. His recurring themes of sexual identity, transgression, family life and desire all feature, even if they are not developed much beyond easy laughs, and the hedonistic, farcical style is infectiously charming – you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculously camp rendition of “I’m So Excited” by the Pointer Sisters. Bright, over-the-top and outrageous, this is entertainment at its silliest, and it’s certainly fun enough.

But that’s all I’m So Excited! can be. The sparse plot, stock characters and underexploited satire clip the wings of this light-hearted comedy and prevent it from ever really taking off.




Other People

Of all the irritations of the cinema, other people are the worst. A modern cinema audience will chatter, eat, obscure the view, throw litter, snore and confidently make pronouncements on the plot to all and sundry. Friends will shush friends, then giggle. There are people who I know and love and have planned to murder for 90 painful minutes on a weekend, listening to them talk back to the characters on screen, self-censored by a half-whisper, which only goes to show they know that they are doing something forbidden. It’s true: you are.

And yet. On Monday evening I finished work at 6pm and walked along the streets between St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Smithfield Market. The City is a marvel for being both the oldest and the newest area of central London: steel and glass utility crammed improbably on top of medieval foundations, with plenty of alleys, ditches, old churches and guttural names to amplify the paradox. After reaching the old City walls, I climbed the stairs at Barbican tube station and skulked along the empty walkway which runs above Beech Street. The three mighty towers of the Barbican Estate, Le Corbusier’s bastard sons—Cromwell, Shakespeare and Lauderdale—loomed rigidly above me. I felt as though I was on a film set, about to get my head kicked in by a gang of thugs, or at least discover I was being followed by the Stasi.

On this occasion I met two friends at the Barbican’s swish new cinema. When we arrived the foyer was empty. There were two girls in black shirts and skirts wearing colourful sashes with the word INFO written across them. The impressive set-up for screens 2 and 3 of the Barbican arts complex boasts everything people have come to expect from a contemporary art-house cinema: cake and coffee, bold signage, suggestively Swedish plastic furniture, digital projectors and pop-cultural references dotted ironically on the walls and in the toilets. We ate bowls of pasta in a nearby Italian café, then headed back for the £6 Monday evening screening. More people had by now arrived, of all ages and stripes. Nobody seemed entirely comfortable in the building. Its newness left us feeling a little exposed. Where should we stand? What do we do?

We had taken to our red leather seats in the polished auditorium and were waiting for the screen to boot up when one of my companions took out a bag of crunchy popcorn. Horror of horrors. Relax, I thought. This is an indie comedy starring mumblecore sensation Mark Duplass and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza: popcorn is OK. Popcorn is good.

And it was. A large part of what makes going to the cinema memorable is the added awareness that comes with sharing your experience with others. Being squashed into a room alongside ten, fifty, one-hundred strangers, is part of the process. There is no such thing as silence when you watch a film like that. In the absence of noise, there lingers the airborne buzz of expectation, the deep breaths of catharsis. With comedy, the pleasure of laughing is partly down to recognising that the lives of others must in some sense resemble your own. People choose their favourite characters, tense up to varying degrees and ooze compassion to the point that the air feels thick before the final credits. I took a handful of popcorn. Though I still relish the freedom to walk into the cinema alone whenever the instinct grabs me, I am glad that, chances are, I won’t be in there on my own.

When the film was over we agreed that it was dumb in parts but pretty decent. A pleasant way to start the week. We said our goodbyes (sad ones, my friends are moving to California this week), and I tried to find a path through the Square Mile in search of Moorgate Station, being constantly re-routed by construction fences which created little lanes and crannies, where the City of the past has been flattened by the demands of—what? Law firms? Accountants? I have no idea.

I took the Northern line south, got off at Oval, stopped to read the day’s mantra on the notice board at the top of the escalator, and headed home. I live in one of the seemingly endless series of early 20th-century tower blocks which spread all over south-east London: erected in a previous period of planned social housing, spurred on by poverty and industrialisation, fifty years before the modernist explosion following the bombs of the Second World War. I walked down a back road past the goods-in entrance of a Tesco supermarket. It was almost midnight. Two men on bikes rode around me like sharks. One lent towards me, forcing me off the pavement onto the road. But there were no cars. Unlike the dead silence of the City, here there is the restless silence of a residential area. I could no longer pretend that I was walking through a film set.




“Don’t you love farce?” The Magistrate as tragi-comic hero at the National Theatre

For an abject lesson in how to stage a classic farce, you could do a lot worse than the National Theatre’s current production of Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Magistrate. It is the set that immediately captures your attention. Designed by Katrina Lindsay, a wooden city bursts out across the stage, topped with a bow and labelled with the play’s title in scrawled handwriting, creating a chaotic, higgledy-piggledy playground-like arena in which the cast are free to explore their outrageous characters and the wealth of ridiculous scrapes they get themselves into. Those expecting subtlety or a light touch will be sorely disappointed. With performances that match the scenery in garish vivacity, it was obvious that a great deal of effort had gone into every aspect of this delightfully silly production. The play works all the better for this, and sometimes it’s nice to have all the work done for you.

Controversy has arisen over the inclusion of original musical numbers in this production, particularly from Michael Billington in a review for the Guardian, who remarked that it indicates a lack of trust in the script. However, I felt the songs, performed for the most part by a riotous chorus of pinstriped pantaloons and ruffled dresses, are never permitted to intrude on the main plot. Despite the seeming similarities, The Magistrate differs from a full-blown musical, such as Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, because the songs don’t drive the action. Instead they simply reinforce points, whilst also providing a neat sideline in social commentary. This is particularly the case with my favourite of the songs, “The Mystery of the Age”, which deals with the role of women and the restrictions placed upon them in Victorian England. The songs also help to ease the transition from one elaborate set to another, along with the chorus members who frequently come close to toppling into the staging mechanism beneath the Olivier stage. This production certainly shows a much more inventive and effective use of chorus members than that in Alan Bennett’s People, simultaneously being performed downstairs in the Lyttelton. The chorus here is more of the Greek variety than anything else, foreshadowing the play’s events and popping up now and then to clarify and comment on what we in the audience see.

They are, fittingly, the first people we see on stage, introducing us to a world of double meanings and misinterpretation, warning of “the little lies that get you into trouble” and promising to reveal what goes on behind the “closed doors” of the Victorian middle-class. This song is reprised at the end of the first act, hammering home this message.

The blunt approach to subtext doesn’t stop there, as the audience is consistently reminded of the root cause for everyone’s confusion: a lie told by the magistrate’s wife Agatha about her age and, more humorously, her son’s. Jokes are mercilessly signposted and reiterated, and everyone has a catchphrase or physical tic as the basis of their characterisation. Somehow, committed performances from the entire cast prevent this endless repetition from becoming tiresome. I’m not ashamed to say I laughed throughout at the skilfully-delivered punchlines and reactions on display. Acclaimed American actor John Lithgow is the production’s big-name draw as the titular character. Equally of note is Olivier-winner Nancy Carroll, who seamlessly switches between dignified grace and a roar of indignance.

Lithgow’s anxious attempts to both avoid temptation and deal with the its consequences remind me strangely of Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman. A professional man trying to keep his family intact under immense pressure, the magistrate seemed almost a tragic hero, whose fatal flaws were very much in evidence when his stepson—McGuire’s sinisterly precocious Cis—runs rings around him, dragging him into no end of trouble. Mercifully, there is no time given for an examination of this potentially dark side in Pinero’s plot. The magistrate remains a tragi-comic hero, while the slapstick and colourful characters keep coming. Even the smallest roles are juicy caricatures. The cast appears to relish the over-the-top stereotypes and the make great use of the opportunities for physical comedy inherent in the script.

The women in the cast bustle across a series of storybook page scenarios (their movement enhanced by their skirts), teetering on a set that looks like it is about to fall in on itself at any moment, mirroring the unstable facades of the characters themselves. There are wonky pieces of furniture and crooked doors in abundance, all adding to a gleefully slanted take on Victorian London, and a sneaky (possibly inaccurate) Christmas tree to really pump up the festive cheer. All in all, The Magistrate is just the ticket for a night at the theatre around the holiday season—there was even a light dusting of snow to disguise the tape used to mark out the boundaries of the set. At the end, after a good old-fashioned knees-up from the cast, the curtain call is given over to a tongue-in-cheek song that warns us all never to become the sort of person who gets “pilloried in farces at the National.” I’ll do my best, but no promises . . .

The Magistrate is on at The National Theatre in London until 10 February. It will be broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world on  17 January at 7pm. Find your nearest venue.

 




Laughing at Ourselves: On The Oh Fuck Moment and John Cooper Clarke

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand,” said Mark Twain. As if laughter is a strong wind that knocks over even the most robust people.

Humour has many guises. But a thing is funny when, in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening, it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. George Orwell said, “If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack.” Whatever destroys dignity and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny – and the bigger the fall, the bigger the joke.

With this in mind, I set off to the Round House to watch The Oh Fuck Moment, an interactive comedic and poetic piece of theatre which explores what happens in the moment just before we fall off our dignified perch. Chris Thorpe ushered us into a mock boardroom where his partner, Hannah Walker, was on hand dishing out cups of tea. We took our place at the table, faced with a chaotic mess of post-it notes, pens and paper. Hannah then launched into an anecdote about her former office life and the fuck ups that ensued. We immediately started laughing. Between the two of them they slammed poetry and anecdotes about the ridiculous situations people find themselves trapped in on a daily basis.

“When shooting stray dogs from the abandoned nuclear plant, do not pick up pebbles to take home as souvenirs for they may be contaminated with radioactive material and therefore dangerous to you and your family.”

Chaos is clearly the norm, order the exception. They asked us to write down (and eventually share) a moment from our own history of fuck ups: when you put your cat in the wheelie bin, when you pressed ‘Send’ on that email and realised you’d invited your boss around for sex, the time you got drunk and snogged your girlfriend’s sister – all the moments we can’t take back, for which no apology will ever be enough.

Hannah and Chris’ poetic anecdotes are spliced with dark human error. These “Oh Fuck moments” go beyond humour to a commentary on human behaviour. We cringed on hearing the story of a young man who was found dead on his living room floor, outstretched towards his phone. He had bled to death; he had been bleeding for three hours before he thought to reach out for the phone, and then it was too late.

We work backwards through the sequence of events: past the blood-stained tea towel on his sofa – as he had sat down to watch TV, and past the mess in the kitchen – as he made himself a snack, to that moment in the bathroom when he thought it was a good idea to pleasure himself by inserting the top end of his hockey stick up his anus while balancing against the wall in front of the sink mirror. “Oh Fuck” would have come to him just after he slipped and impaled himself on the hockey stick. This resulted in major, life-threatening internal bleeding, and yet he waited for three hours before he attempted to call for help. What was going through his mind whilst he carried on watching TV for an hour? What was he thinking as, bleeding to death, he made himself a sandwich instead of calling an ambulance?

In a plethora of such moments, Chris and Hannah exposed these embarrassments and the ridicule we suffer (if not publicly then within our inner narrative), slap it on a light plate – tweezers at the ready – and declare quite seriously, “We are not perfect beings capable of fuck ups, but fuck ups sometimes capable of perfection.” The chaos of life is more natural than contrived order, one which we often punish ourselves for disrupting – or one that punishes us into silence, too scared to admit our foolishness. We constantly fear being the butt of a joke; words can cut like Spanish knives if you’re on the wrong side of a witty critique.

“Now, as I understand it, the bards were feared,” said British comic book writer Alan Moore once in an interview with Engine Comics. “They were respected, but more than that they were feared. If you’d pissed off some witch, then what’s she gonna do: Your hens are gonna lay funny, your milk’s gonna go sour – no big deal. You piss off a bard, forget about putting a curse on you, he might put a satire on you. And if he was a skilful bard, he puts a satire on you; it destroys you in the eyes of your community. It shows you up as ridiculous, lame, worthless, in the eyes of your community, in the eyes of your family, in the eyes of your children, in the eyes of yourself, and if it’s a particularly good bard, and he’s written a particularly good satire, then 300 years after you’re dead, people are still gonna be laughing at what a twat you were.”

Often referred to as “The Bard of Salford”, old punk poet John Cooper Clarke looks something like a crow and an aged Rolling Stone. Having once performed on the same bill as The Sex Pistols, The Fall and Joy Division, Clarke now cracks jokes to an audience of largely middle-class, middle-aged couples who were possibly once punks themselves. I saw him recently at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival in London. Despite his age, his energy and mischief were boundless as he launched into some poems and a fast-paced, satirical blend of humour and social commentary on stage.

“Two-tone stretch nylon yellow stripes on navy blue
I got a brand new track suit
I got the old one too”

What Clarke finds most amusing is laughing at his own stories and at the Goth-rebel caricature he has become, and we in the audience tittered along as he rolled from gag to poem to anecdote. He and his contemporary Linton Kwesi Johnson influenced a generation of younger poets and dub artists involved in a revival of popular poetry in Britain, though he seems to focus more on the ridiculous today.

“In a cybernetic fit of rage
She pissed off to another age
She lives in 1999
With her new boyfriend – a blob of slime
Each time I see her translucent face
I remember the monster from outer space”

His jokes were obvious and silly, read out between witchlike cackles and huge slurps of a martini. In a rich Mancunian accent, Clarke took the piss out of “ponces”, the “prim”, anyone who needs a knock down – “He makes love like a footballer! He dribbles before he shoots!” – and most notably, himself.

At the core of humour is human error. Good gags and big mistakes have always been documented, often eclipsing triumphs and successes. George Orwell points out in England Your England that when it comes to war poetry, there is no poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo: “The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction.” Perfecting the moment that a mistake is made is what clowns must learn at clown school. As the mouth turns down and the shoulders cave inwards, up rises the lost order, the unknown. It is always the space between confidence and fear that makes an audience shake with laughter.




Part 2: The Road to Edinburgh

Whenever we meet someone new, we ask two stock questions in order to identify them:

1. What’s your name?
2. What do you do?

If you ever meet me, particularly after a few glasses of wine, let me apologise in advance for the rather long-winded response that may greet you: “I am a comedian, writer, director, producer, casting director, designer, editor, presenter, teacher, entrepreneur, advertiser, publicist…” The list goes on. Don’t believe me? You should see the number of email accounts I possess, and indeed, the number of passwords I don’t. But for simplicity’s sake, just call me a modern-day polymath, and prepare to quake at the mime I attempt for that!

But wait, don’t stop reading yet. Let me assure you, I don’t have an ego quite the same size as that list; I don’t take on all these jobs simply because I want to, but simply because I have to in order to get the job I want. In a day an age where the division of labour entitles the modern man to a far shorter job title, the same can’t be said for the entertainment business – unless, of course, you somehow landed right in the honey pot.

I came upon this industry as a young twenty-something. I had neither financial security nor family connections, but I was determined to navigate the unchartered and haphazard sea of showbiz, even if it meant doing it blindly because of the lack of rules or structure to entry. I thought, I’m the girl who got into Cambridge five times.(*) Surely I can crack this.

I barged into agents’ offices, offering appalling amounts of gifts in the hope of being remembered – a crate of clementines being my greatest offering. Still, the only agent I managed to charm was an 80-year-old who couldn’t even work a phone (which, on hindsight, couldn’t have done anything for my street cred). I was taken in by her copious collection of signed pictures of Judy Garland, only to discover that she was simply an avid fan of the American star and had never actually represented her.

I called in favours when and where I could, cobbled together show reels, photo portfolios and CVs. I produced my own showcase evenings, commissioned writer friends to create scripts with me as the star, and developed a phantom email persona who would stay up till midnight mass emailing casting directors.

And I pretended.

I talked my way into Spotlight, the search engine for professional actors, assuring them that my role as an extra in the 2005 Virgin holiday commercial was far more central than it might first be perceived.

I pretended I lived in Bristol to get my first paid job, and although I nearly jeopardised my first performance (thanks to a delayed train), I managed to maintain the pretense throughout. The directors never knew better.

Still, I was impatient. I wanted success immediately. There was one behemoth I had yet to conquer: Edinburgh Festival, the world’s largest arts festival.

In 2006, I found a willing comedy partner and set about writing a show for us. After numerous rewrites, I produced a sketch called “Magpie”, a title which had nothing to do with what it was about, or meant to be about: “seven lost lives, unravelling on one park bench.” It was a show, I am now proud to say, that absolutely lacked any structure, coherence or narrative – a tautological, poorly written first-timer’s attempt at being funny.

During the four-week festival, my co-star and I were either politely ignored by the critics, or completely panned. The Stage judged the material “weak” but said that I was “a confident, talented and quirky comedian, who could sideline as a Britney Spears lookalike.” While my peers made waves on the comedy circuit (Simon Bird and Joe Thomas were cast in The Inbetweeners off their show, “The Meeting”), I was faced with a lonely audience of four. Still, I buried my pride and braved the Royal Mile with a bountiful supply of flyers, kept going by my father’s dedicated texting service of daily inspirational quotes. One of them said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Then with the words of Thomas Edison ringing in my head, and much to my co-star’s disgust, I threw away the script I had written and started improvising, determined to make the audience laugh. Not surprisingly, our partnership didn’t last. I returned to London, financially far lighter than even Buddha would advise, but also more certain that this was what I wanted to do.

Interestingly, even though my show was, for all intents and purposes, a total box office flop, my peers began to respond to me differently, asking me for favours and even advice!

Someone asked me to fill in for a voiceover opposite Kevin Eldon, the British comedian and star of Brass Eye, and he being a lovely lad, told me to write to his agents, Earache. Luckily, they were looking for a voice like mine and I was signed immediately.

Then there was the friend who left me a frantic, scratchy voicemail, asking me to help out with her “pass the parcel” event at the V&A. Because I never say no to anything, I turned up, anticipating a child’s birthday party. Instead, I was faced with over 500 trendily dressed adults fully expecting a hilarious stand-up to host a giant take on the childhood game. I downed a pack of Haribo (which I’d brought with me as an incentive for five-year-olds) and pretended again that I knew what I was doing. Maybe when you pretend enough, it becomes real.

It all snowballed from there. Suddenly, I was Clementine wade, the “comedy presenter”, a “compère”.

Yes, I tell my share of white lies along the way to curry more work, and the most audacious of them – that I worked for BBC Online (don’t sue me!) – allowed me to roam freely backstage at the 2011 Comedy Awards interviewing A-list celebs. At the same time, there comes a point when you have to stop and just be yourself. I spent far too long looking up to other comedians and trying to be like them, but in my meandering career I’ve learnt that to get anywhere, you have to stick your head above the parapet, create your own work, in your own voice, on the issues that matter to you. The best actors and comedians aren’t the ones who can do the best accents impersonating someone else; they are the ones who can perform and communicate uniquely as themselves.

As Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Even though my first attempt at Edinburgh didn’t bring about critical acclaim, it did put me on the map. I’m not sure where exactly, but somewhere!

*Footnote:
Well, I started at Homerton College, reading English and Drama alongside Education Studies. Still, I was aware that Homerton wasn’t one of the “classical” colleges (it used to be a teacher training college), and so with the hubris of youth, I deemed it unworthy of my intellectual prowess – I had, after all, just been awarded the highest grade in Sociology in the country. I went undercover, writing, petitioning and begging the admission secretaries to secretly slip me into the new round of Cambridge college interviews. Within a week, I had lined up eleven interviews, and to my delight, received five offers. Of course, my trick was soon discovered and I was left only with Corpus Christi applauding my efforts: they’d kindly decided to regard my actions as “entrepreneurial”. Pembroke just thought it was “disgracefully irreverent” of me.



Part 1: A Portrait of the Comedian as a Young Girl

Litro Note: In line with our upcoming #116 Humour issue, instalments of Clementine’s World will appear in instalments over the next month.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Clementine.
Clementine who?
Clementine Wade.
…Is that the joke?
Um, no?

Sorry about that.

However, hello, my name is indeed Clementine and I am, amongst other things and contrary to the above evidence, a comedian. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with Litro readers the trials and tribulations of producing, writing, directing and starring in a scarily mammoth Edinburgh comedy show. Before unleashing my diatribe of angst though, the folks at Litro thought it would be wise for me to introduce myself.

I was born to Sir Alan (Lord Sugar just doesn’t have the same ring) on 24 March 1983 (not like him) at an artfully chosen Hampstead hospital – a decision that, despite adding an extra 20 miles to a fraught journey, ensured Mrs Wade’s progeny a classy passport.

I wasn’t early and I wasn’t late. Much to my annoyance there was no drama in my birth, and indeed, as the years have proven, I wasn’t adopted either. Most of my childhood could be categorised as magnificently uneventful, something which I have been trying to rectify ever since.

At primary school, as a bucked Anthea Turner doppelganger, I wasn’t academic in the slightest. Reading was an enigma, writing proved treacherous, and being almost totally deaf, I spent my days cutting up clothes, talking to myself and creating my own stories. Unlike my sister, I couldn’t show off my perfectly executed novella – god, I couldn’t even spell my own name – and as my baby looks slowly faded (you are reading the words of the cutest North London baby 1986) and my tendency towards tie-dyed cycling shorts pervaded, I realised I had only one thing to fall back on: making people laugh.

I went big (aka local) in 1989, cast as the Ugly Bug, the lead, in Class 4’s summer blockbuster. I swaggered my way to success, covered in leaves I’d forced my poor mother to sew onto a lilo.

Disaster loomed, however, when I was rejected from the Royal Ballet School (my father mistook a penchant for flannel wielding for talent), and I was packed off to a convent. Undaunted, I remained true to the belief that I was descended from Charlie Chaplin, and continued to hone my craft as the class clown.

The year 1997 was another cornerstone in the life and times of C. Wade. The St Martha Sixth Form Production usually took the form of a Bible story, but that year, mutiny was in the air – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was chosen, the lead actress was expelled, and my sister came to the rescue, proffering a quick re-cast: her 14-year-old sibling, who wielded a head brace, would take up arms as the inimitable Mr Collins.

Despite a heavy degree of articulated spitting, I was, by popular agreement, the only choice, and thus in one fell swoop, I successfully turned Jane Austen’s greatest love story into a farce. As far as big breaks go, this was a rather nonchalant affair, with only a small mention in the The Barnet Reporter. But it determined my fate: I was to be a comedian, come hell or high water.

Over the next few years, my “talent” was placed on hold, while I dabbled with being a born again Christian, giving out party rings and exclaiming, “God will fill your hole!” It was only when I got to Cambridge that I really started performing comedy and realised how serious a business it was. I watched and learnt from my peers, artfully snatching up agents. Despite appalling first efforts, my terrible writing got better.

Since graduating, I’ve become aware that the entertainment industry is not one you can go into; it’s one you have to create. So, I have been producing my own work. Sure, I’ve worked in TV, radio and film and will soon appear in the Objective Productions pilot comedy Private Eye with Stephen Fry for Channel 4. And sure, as a presenter, I’m in demand to host and emcee the best in live events throughout the capital. But ultimately, the stuff that has got me anywhere, the stuff I am most proud of, is and has been that of my own making – which is why I’m creating two comedy shows – Back to School and Back to School Disco – for this year’s Edinburgh Festival, but more on that later. In the meantime, here’s a video of me getting dressed on the Tube:

They say it takes 10,000 hours of concerted effort to make an overnight success. I’m hoping I’ve clocked up 99,998.

Back to School will run 1-26 August at 4-5:30pm; extra shows at 1:30-3pm, Fri-Sun. Book tickets here.

Back to School Disco is on 3-25 August, every Fri & Sat from 10pm-1am. Book here.

There is a preview event on 18 July at Aura Mayfair. You must buy your tickets in advance here and you must turn up in school uniform.




The Anti-Slam London: Anti Valentine Special

anti slamIf you Google ‘anti slam’ you get a bunch of information about a pretentious-sounding poetry movement which took place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan a few years ago. Happily this event is absolutely nothing like that. The inspired idea behind this particular type of anti slam is a simple one: bring together a group of talented performance poets, and then challenge them to write and perform the worst poem they can possibly come up with. A jury then confers, and the lowest score wins.

The concept was dreamt up by a bunch of (presumably quite drunk) slam poets in a bar in Berlin back in 2009, and like-minded events have since been popping up all over the place. London’s first taste of the so-bad-it’s-good was last autumn – sample couplet: ‘oh sensitive soul that’s hurt by images of people who suffer / It irks me, like a YouTube video which won’t buffer’. The whole thing went down so well that the brains behind it all have decided to host another one this coming Valentine’s Day at Artch in Bethnal Green, East London.

Separating the chaff from the wheat this time around are literary types Shane Solanki, John Paul O’Neill and Comfort Cydelle. If past events are anything to go by, the victor may be decided by volume of audience laughter alone…

The Anti-Slam London: Anti Valentine Special is being held the Artch arts venue on the 14th of February. Tickets are £5 and doors open from 7:30pm. A sister event will be taking place in Berlin on the same date. You can find out more by visiting their Facebook page here.

Euan Monaghan