Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Tired and Dramaturgical: Paul Savage @ Edfringe 2015

Paul Savage has spent a lot of time thinking about this show.  Mainly at 3am, whilst staring at the ceiling.  He is struggling through life without one of its most vital components... Sleep.

Tired and Emotional is on at The Dragonfly (Venue 63) at 17:30 August 8th-29th (not 18th)

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Insomnia. I’ve had chronic insomnia since my teenage years. There’s a quote from Peter Cook that he always felt like he was at a slight angle to universe. That’s what I’m trying to capture is the feeling of being in that bit between wake and sleep, where just being at 1 degree off finds you examining things in a different way. With jokes, of course.
How does this show fit with your usual productions?

I don’t think I have a usual production. I’ve done three different one hour shows. First one, Cheerful Shambles, was the best bits of five years on the circuit, assembled into rough blocks with a story running through it, purely to help me remember it. I’d actually wanted not to do it that way, I felt dramatic arcs and a storyline were contrivances and it was more important to be funny for 55 minutes. 

But, as the show coalesced in early previews a really natural flow came through it, and worked much better for it. Second show “All the jokes in the bible” was a much different beast. That involved me sitting with a bible for an hour and literally reading it word for word and making notes and seeing what sprang out. Generally, a garbled mess of weak punchlines tying it back to pop culture, which is the only way I know how to write. Then I used an atheist comedian as a sounding board to see what worked and what didn’t, finding extra lines here and there. 

I also used almost every single piece of comedic cheating (setting things to music, using a projector and a slideshow, getting people out of the audience to help, specific planned crowd work) in order to get it to work. I HATED putting that show together. I’ve cried 10 times in my adult life and two of them were in the car on the way to previewing that show (and three of them were at Pixar films. I’m complicated). I do think the finished product was good and I’ve got a publishing deal to turn it into a book, so something came of it, but it was very much like a difficult pregnancy.

This show has been written from both angles. It’s my stuff that never gets put in my club set, it’s weirder and more oddball, then I’ve tried to hone the jokes with back and forthing it between me and another comedian.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
 I’m not aiming to make them think, or feel. I’m not as emotionally manipulative as that (there’s no sad bit at the 45 minute mark, or last year’s “sad bit at the 45 minute mark”: a bit of feminism for the critics). I’m aiming to amuse them. Though, one line I think is fucking hilarious that actually happened to me gets a big “ahhh” I’m not looking for, rather than a laugh.

But, as at least three audiences I’ve overheard on the way out of the gigs have said “it’s more clever than funny” so maybe it will make you think.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?

There’s some things the on-stage character “Paul Savage” does which isn’t quite the same as the real world Paul savage does. Some bits require the inputting of artificial emotions to get through. I have a potentially risky bit about a famous person’s childhood abuse, where I set out an argument I don’t believe in and follow it to its logical conclusion. For this bit to work (and it has gone badly before) it requires love in the room for me the performer, and for me to believe that bit in its entirety til it’s finished. I did it a couple of years ago at a late night gig where I wasn’t having fun and fellow comedian Will Setchell described it as “the most  self aware pulling of a pin from a grenade, knowing it would destroy everything”. I’d like to apologise to the other comedians who all had to work harder to win back the crowd.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work -  have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I watched far too much televised 90’s observational stand up as a teenager, so all of that is in there as a base layer, a white noise. In fact, 90’s comedy in general. I think I watched every scrap of it because I liked some sitcoms so I thought I should watch all sitcoms. If you ever wondered who it was who was watching May To September, or Loved By You (the British remake of Mad About You. It starred him from Gregory’s Girl, was on ITV, and is so obscure it doesn’t even have a mention on Wikipedia, never mind it’s own page) or early John Simm vehicle Men Of The World, which had a catchy theme tune and seemingly nothing else, it was me.

As to where I fit in the tradition, it’s like those quizzes asking “which Game Of Thrones character are you?”. 99% of us are peasants, dying anonymously on someone’s sword in a battle that didn’t matter in the grand sweep of things anyway. Which sounds nihilistic, but isn’t. There’s no point making art to be remembered 100 years from now. Arthur Conan Doyle said he would be horrified if all he was remembered for was Sherlock Holmes. Too bad, buddy. Ain’t no one reading Professor Challenger. There are comedians now who are doing great work and will be forgotten, and that’s fine. My hope is that I get some “bits”. Bits where you nail the pure observation of a thing so well that people can’t see the thing without thinking of your bit on it. Stuff like Michael McIntyre’s man drawer. 

Everyone looking in such a drawer goes “ah, like the McIntyre bit”. Andy Kind has one I can’t help but think of when defrosting soup. Scott Bennett gets strangers sending him pictures of carveries. Steve harris has a line about knowing you’re old when you have a pair of trainers for the garden. I can’t help of think of that material when I see those things.

Be careful of wanting to be part of the tradition. Harry Tate invented the phrase “how’s your father?” meaning sex, as part of a music hall sketch where he kept saying it as a way of getting out of awkward questions. Almost nothing else is remembered of him today. Fun fact: he had the first ever celebrity personalised number plate: T8

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
 First: have an idea. Ideas come generally, as my friend and fellow comic Jay Handley refers to it, by “being hit in the back of the head by an idea”. WRITE THAT DOWN. Whether it’s one word, or the whole thing, make a note. The extended football chanting/ musicals/ Thomas the tank engine bit in my new show came in one huge chunk whilst I was making chocolates for a food fair. It’s about 9 minutes and 7 came out as it is now. I just wrote it down. The rest is tweaking. I meet up with a fellow comedian Rob Halden every month to bat ideas back and forth. Lots of times a joke isn’t in the right format. Half my sketches were stand up that didn’t work, and half my comics were observational comedy or tweets that didn’t work. This is because sometimes you are putting too much information onto a punchline. If you think of it as information is the weight, and punchlines are load bearing,

What do you feel the role of the critic is?  
To say something pithy in a sentence I can use on a poster. No, it’s to tell people whether they will like a thing, and impart some themes or ideas, and whether they were effective in what they set out to do. Although, I like to keep an eye out for bad critics. My favourite still is Fresh Air Radio’s review of Paul sinha from 2010. Basic rule: if the British Asian comedian doesn’t use the word “paki” in his set, it probably shouldn’t be in the review.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?

I still don’t really know what dramaturgy is, and I keep googling the same pages.

What do you do when your nights become days and your days become a re-enactment of some of the dodgier scenes from the Living Dead films?  Well, in Paul’s case you put off crying about the futility of everything to pull the jokes from the burning wreckage of your REM sleep. 

We’re always told to live our dreams – and in a way that’s exactly what Paul is doing - unintentionally.  You or I may question if something actually happened, or if we dreamt it.  That’s a luxury not afforded to Paul.

 How do you get through life when there’s no breaks, no rest even if you’re decidedly un-wicked, and your bed becomes your worst heckler?  Well… you try to shut that heckler up by pulling together the funny bits of the darkest hours and turning them in to an Edinburgh show. 

Tired and Emotional is a show about how to cope with sleepless nights, how to survive when your own waking mind is your biggest critic, and who to turn to when a Faithless lyric is your theme song.

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