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- LANCASTER DEBATES THE FUTURE OF UNIVERSITIES (AND TRIES TO SELL A FEW BOOKS)
- WIDDEN’S REVIEW – PIANO QUARTET CONCERT IN THE GREAT HALL
- PENGUINS, A FIRE AND A NASTY CASE OF HYPOTHERMIA
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’
- RETURN OF THE ANGRY DUCKS
- ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST?
- ARE YOU STILL HERE?
- subtext 191 – ‘fresh from the fridge’, December 13, 2019
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- subtext 186 – ‘stumbling towards a no deal subtext’, March 1, 2019
- subtext 185 – ‘the same subtext, only louder’, February 1, 2019
- subtext 184 – ‘life’s an illusion love is a dream’, December 17, 2018
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Tag Archives: comedy
As a diligent and (short of annual leave) member of University staff I dutifully made the first-day-after-Christmas pilgrimage to our office in University House on 2nd January. Following the many complaints over previous years I arrived confident that the building would be toasty-warm. How wrong I was. Entering University House was akin to walking into a four-storey freezer.
Arriving at my desk I elected to keep my coat and scarf on. The radiator was stone cold and, as individual fan heaters were banned some time ago, I resigned myself to making the best of it. Jogging on the spot was the thing. Jogging, however, makes it very difficult to work, so after two minutes I sat down.
A short while later a polar bear, which had taken up residence during the break, appeared at the door and demanded that I surrender my coat to him. For a moment I contemplated resisting his request, but he gave me an unfriendly smile and off he went with my coat.
After fifteen minutes waiting for my PC to process essential updates my fingers were numb. I wrapped my scarf around them, but soon discovered this made typing difficult and resulted in my first email being somewhat ruder than I had intended. I was still debating what to do (send emails full of verbal garbage or risk frostbite in my fingers), when I was interrupted by voices. Poking my head around the office door I noted three penguins deep in conversation with the polar bear. There was some gesticulation with flippers and glances in my direction. I retreated to my desk and had barely begun wondering what was going on when the penguins appeared beside me.
‘We want the scarf.’
‘Your scarf, we want it. Don’t be difficult or this could get ugly.’
‘Right. Grab him lads.’
Ever been slapped by a penguin flipper? It hurts. As the penguins waddled off with the scarf a figure wrapped in furs stumped past. Followed by a sled and a miserable-looking camera crew.
‘Mmmph mmph mm bfff.’
The camera crew looked at each other, nonplussed. The fur-clad figure pulled the covering away from the lower half of his face, and Sir Ranulph Fiennes indicated the corner of the office:
‘Set the fire over there. By that Yucca. Be quick about it or we’ll freeze.’
Stolidly refusing to be distracted further I returned to my PC. By this point my legs were numb and thinking was becoming difficult. Why was Sir Ranulph Fiennes in our office? Andrea was not going to be very pleased if they started a fire next to her Yucca. Maybe I’d be warmer if I had a little lie down.
I woke in the ambulance at around midday. The crew told me it had been a close thing, hypothermia being generally bad for you. Ah. I must have been hallucinating.
‘We found your coat and scarf. Why on earth weren’t you wearing them?’ The ambulance crewman looked concerned.
‘I have no idea, but I had a very odd dream about them…’
‘Think your boss also wants to speak to you urgently about some odd scorch marks in your office.’
The moral of the story? A plea to Facilities. Next year could you turn on the heating just a little earlier? I cannot otherwise be held responsible for my actions.
A lighter note now. Your subtext correspondent was astonished to find a toilet seat in their building split in two, and even more so to find that a colleague in ISS had seen the same thing. Over decades of toilet use, neither had ever seen such a thing before. They wondered just what the scale of the problem might be, so did the only natural thing: issued an FoI request to the University asking how many toilet seats they had got through over the last few years.
In 2016, the University purchased 337 seats. In 2017, 271. In 2018, 163. University residents and visitors do appear to be getting less destructive in their sitting, but 163 is still almost one every two days.
Just who are the granite-bottomed monsters responsible for this overlooked slaughter?
Was it a deliberate joke or an unfortunate error that led Lancaster’s facilities homepage to proudly announce: ‘University invests in £11 million four-story extension to the Library’? A pun-spotting reader comments that, while it’s good to see that the library is to increase its book collection, just four more stories seems a little on the low side for an investment of £11 million.
Radio 4 listeners will be familiar with Milton Jones’ surrealist sense of humour and endless stream of one-liners. Your cultural correspondent was curious as to whether his particular style of comedy would work in an extended format – he need not have worried, as he could barely stop laughing for the whole show. Milton Jones edges sideways on the stage dressed as Great Britain, in order to give Brexit and Scottish Independence a wry sideways glance – geddit? Support act Chris Stokes offered up twenty minutes of amiable comedy to an already contented audience, with stories of everyday life – from his Black Country childhood, to the breakup of his marriage, from injured pigeons to dog walkers. Stokes is an ideal comedian to put in front of Jones’s audience – very different to Jones but likeable, inoffensive and funny.
The second half of the show is a well-crafted hour plus of comedy from Jones. Scattered props and some slides on a big screen create a space in which Jones can run around. A birdhouse houses an old dial phone. A wheelie bin filled with many large flags, which Jones uses for a bit of business about nations speaking to each other. Built entirely around one-liners, there is always a punchline but it is never going to be the one you expect, and that is why Jones excels. Behind his demeanour of a very silly man is a brain that can connect words and notions in a unique way. There were times in the act where Jones makes a point of pausing so that half the people in the room can catch up with his wit.
Jones breaks up the show with some improvisation, asking the audience to come up with subjects for him to deliver lines on. Coming up with a strong, hour long set and memorizing its material is very impressive. Being able to come up with clever one-lines on the spot is remarkable. Dealing with a persistent heckler was equally impressive. The random heckles, followed by a giggled ‘I’m sorry’ from one audience member, provided a good ten minutes more material. The persistence of these interruptions was beginning to grate but Jones handled this all with ease and grace.
On the way home after the show, your correspondent tried to remember any of the brilliant one-liners and could not – testimony to his ability to combine trickery with language with a weird juxtaposition of ideas that are unlikely to ever occur to anyone else.
Dave Spikey played the Grand Theatre on the night of the first day of the industrial action. However, no mention of strikes, Brexit, Trump, or Boris in this act: the gathered throng was treated to two hours of beautifully crafted mini tales and sketches based around the story of his comedy career. Dave had been working in the NHS for 19 years as a Biomedical Scientist when in 1987 someone uttered the immortal words, ‘You’re really funny, you should be a comedian’. Only a few months later he won the national talent show ‘Stairway to the Stars’, clinching the award with a routine about a juggler on a motorbike. Thirteen years later on Friday 13th October 2000, he switched off his microscope for good and now in 2017/18 his tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of his comedy career. In the show, he looks back on his life and his journey from working class kid to Chief Biomedical Scientist to much-loved comedy performer and writer.
All of this was populated with various larger than life characters – lots of references to his work on ‘Phoenix Nights’, which produced giggles of recognition from the audience. Very little swearing and when he did it was for effect, although many stories were quite filthy in a very British innuendo fashion. For a lot of the audience the trip down his childhood memory lane evoked a degree of nostalgic pleasure. This was all delivered in a down-to-earth ‘Northern’ way, his interplay and analysis the basis for clever, laugh-after-every-line comedy. He is not only a very funny accomplished comedian, but also one of the finest raconteurs around – your cultural correspondent cried with laughter on more than one occasion.
The audience also gave your correspondent pause for thought. The packed theatre was full of white, predominantly older couples – leaving the Grand is always a slow affair but this evening seemed an even more laborious business. While not conducting a rigorous survey, your correspondent was also of the opinion that he was the only member of the audience employed by the University. Please write in to prove him wrong but this is not the first time that he has been struck by the different socio-demographic groups that attend the Dukes and the Grand, two theatres a hundred yards apart from each other.
Mark Thomas was back at the Dukes on Wednesday 29th November. After last year’s poignant, moving and very funny theatre show ‘The Red Shed’ (see subtext 156) he returned to the Dukes with more traditional stand-up fare. This time it’s just him, a microphone, a few scraps of paper and some betting odds. We are here, Thomas tells us, to work together as a group. Our job is to vote (with our cheers) for the best prediction of the future proffered by our fellow audience members pre-show.
After Brexit and Trump (and UA92), who really knows what’s going to happen next? None of us, of course. Recent events have been so unexpected we cannot be any less accurate than the experts. Don’t look to Mark Thomas, either – he’s not offering any answers here, instead he is channeling our collective cluelessness into two hours of cathartic entertainment in which we laugh, not just at the world, but at our own divergent understandings of it.
The audience were canvassed in the bar with slips of paper which invited them to guess one thing that might happen in the future, be it outlandish or predictable, and Thomas spends most of the time simply reading through them and discussing the subjects they bring up, occasionally referring to contributions from past shows. The idea is that he and the audience single out their favourite prediction by a vaguely democratic ‘biggest cheer” process. At the end of the show donations are thrown in a bucket by the door, which we are told will be placed on the winner, and if it wins, the cash will be given to a worthwhile cause.
So it’s a simple enough idea to get a bit of banter going, ad-libbed as well as scripted, although there’s plenty that Thomas would have known to expect. ‘Trump will be assassinated/impeached’, ‘there will be a UK general election within the next year’ and (big cheer for this) ‘Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister’ are all hurried through. As ever at a Mark Thomas gig, the left-leaning converted are being preached to, even though Thomas himself seems keen to engage in discussion with all comers.
Compared to the heart-stopping suspension and heart-breaking tenderness of ‘The Red Shed’, this show might seem a little slight. But he’s still Mark Thomas, which means we’re treated to the best kind of hilarious political rantings, underscored by stories about his upbringing and, in particular, his father, whose rare mix of religious devotion and fiery temperament is another telling influence on the comic. Throughout these tales Thomas proves to be an energetic and compelling raconteur, weaving narratives which take the audience along with him, offering insights into the unorthodox upbringing of a man who retains a smouldering anger at injustice.
This Lancaster audience voted for the bet that ‘EU immigrants would ‘club together’ and buy the Daily Mail’. And people as they left the theatre dutifully threw their pound coins into the bucket – Mark did not tell us what odds we would get on this particular bet!