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February 28th, 2014

I have fond memories of the weekly food shop. Every Friday after school we would bundle into the car and head to Sainsbury’s, where the inevitable argument over who would get to control the shopping trolley would begin. The answer was always the same, of course: mum would control the shopping trolley, but only once my sister or I had rammed it into an unsuspecting member of the public at top speed; the crutch industry has really suffered since the advent of online shopping.

Crippling injuries aside, my role in the weekly shop was quite an easy one: scour the shelves looking for items featuring characters I recognised from the telly, and throwing them into the trolley faster than my parents could spot them and put them back on the shelves; after a while, we started avoiding the VHS aisle altogether. I don’t do this anymore – not as much, anyway. It turns out you don’t add as many things to the basket when you know you have to pay for them yourself. And since Tesco discontinued their range of Thundercats ready meals, the point has become moot.

I don’t do a weekly shop nowadays; I pass through two supermarkets on my way home from work, and so am able to shop to fit my own whims, which are usually curry with a Ginster’s pasty starter; how I’ve managed to stay as svelte as I am, I shall never know. Not buying food well in advance may not be hugely economical, but it does give me a reason to get out of bed in the afternoon on my days off. I did a weekend’s shop today, because I’ve left the house for at least the last two weeks in a row, and frankly I’ve had enough of the whole ‘seeing members of the public’ thing. They’re horrendous, aren’t they? With their contented faces and complete and utter lack of morbid obesity.

Actually, I hadn’t planned to do a weekend shop; the main reason I left the house and went to the Co-Op was in order to buy some Kinder Eggs, as the Co-Op have apparently been running a month-long promotion featuring Marvel characters inside the eggs. I don’t know why I wanted them, given that this sort of thing invariably ends up in a box in my cupboard along with the talking Star Trek heads and a full set of Doctor Who trading cards from 2009, but I was very willing to buy an entire case of them if they had any in stock. In the event, they didn’t have any Marvel eggs left; just a random Disney Princesses egg, which gut instinct told me was never going to be as good. The whole thing was a bit anti-climactic, really.

Still, at least I got this blog entry out of the experience, eh?

February 27th, 2014

There’s a saying that states that all good things must eventually reach a point where the thing stops happening entirely, and that’s what has happened to my holiday. I’m not actually back in work until Monday, but the part of the holiday where I was uncomfortably close to Liverpool has come to an abrupt end, as I planned weeks in advance.

It was an uneventful final morning in Chester. I dropped by the Grosvenor Museum, where they currently have an exhibition of photographs of comedians, and for a time considered putting a photo of myself up on the wall. Then I saw the shot of Ricky Gervais in full ‘kind’ (by which I mean ‘suffering from a mental condition’) Derek mode, and decided that I might suffer by association if I did.

On my way out of the museum I saw a Roman centurion asking a group of schoolchildren, all of whom had been given helmets and shields, if they were ‘ready for war’. Efforts to teach children about the onset of puberty certainly have taken a turn since I was at school. Then again, it’s possible that this was a genuine attempt to start rebuilding the Roman empire. I don’t fancy their chances; a lot of the kids’ war-readiness seemed to be an affectation at best.

The train I took to get back into London was composed of two separate trains bolted together; I suspect the job was done in Liverpool, next to where Philip Morris is hiding all of the remaining missing Doctor Who episodes that he definitely definitely has locked away because why would Ian Levine and ‘Puqui’ lie? Anyway, this seemed to confuse one couple who wandered into my carriage (Coach L) with tickets for the other first class section in Coach E. I pointed out that Coach E was in the other half of the train, and they looked confused. Then the attendant pointed out the same thing, and they were still confused. “But how will we know which coach is which?”, the girl asked the bemused attendant. Personally, I think the alphabet is a pretty good system, but I can understand how it can be very complicated to grasp for some people.

I think the sarcasm is one of the many reasons I could never work as a train attendant. There was another man who was entirely baffled by the idea that the train was made from two smaller trains, presumably because he believes Thomas the Tank Engine is real and if two trains connected in this way the rear train would have its face buried in the front train’s backside and wouldn’t be able to see. Its eyes would probably spin round and round and steam would come out of its chimney.

And now I’m back in London where, despite the clear anti-north sentiment of this blog, I have to admit the people are just as bad, if not more so. As if to illustrate my point, it’s been announced that the city’s first ‘cat cafe’ will be opening its doors at the weekend. This is not, as I had first hoped, a chance to sample pussy and potato pie or kitten tikka masala. Instead, proving that crowdfunding is open to abuse, this Indiegogo’d establishment is just like a regular cafe, except there are cats crawling around all over the place. Lots and lots of cats.

I like cats as much as the next person, assuming the next person is a reasonable human being who appreciates that cats are cute but doesn’t feel a need to forward endless emails featuring pictures of them. But when I think about my favourite cafes and restaurants, do you know what the one thing is that they all have in common? Not a single one of them serves dishes which come with a free hairball on the side.

FUCK YOU KITTY THIS IS HUMAN FOOD

The bottom line is this: It’s unhygienic, it’s a nuisance for humans and cats alike, and can someone get me a reservation for the place so I can go in and stwoke their fuwwy little bellies?

I’m so alone.

February 26th, 2014

There are many things I enjoy about staying in a bed and breakfast: the novelty of it, the fact I can do a poo with the toilet door wide open, the cleanliness, the tea-making facilities, and of course the cooked breakfast every morning. What I am less fond of, however (Aside from the two flights of stairs to get to my room), is the apparent obligation for the residents to greet one another upon arriving for the morning meal. It’s bad enough that I’ve dragged myself down two flights of stairs before 9am during my week off; the very last thing I want to do is have to be sociable into the bargain. Hell, most of the time I don’t even greet my housemates unless I really feel I have to.

And the fact that they don’t actually want a full conversation almost makes it worse. If they were engaging me in order to find out why I’m here (I’ve been telling people I’m filming a cameo in Hollyoaks) then I would still hate it, but it would at least give me an opportunity to talk about myself for a bit. Instead, the fact that there is no ensuing conversation shows the whole thing up for the sham that it is.

Something else I hate about staying in a bed and breakfast is the whole room cleaning thing; it’s like being trapped inside a passive-aggressive time loop. It doesn’t matter how much of a mess I make of the room before heading out for the day; when I return in the evening the sheets will be made, my laptop will be on the bedside table rather than the chair, and the water in the toilet will be clear again. Every time I make a mess, it’s un-made by the time I get home. It’s infuriating. And a little insulting; I’m pretty sure the coat hanger currently on the back of the door was not there this morning. I didn’t put up with this nonsense when my mum tried it fifteen years ago, and I refuse to put up with it now. Unfortunately, it’s too late for me to enact my revenge, as I’m leaving tomorrow and anything I do to annoy the cleaner will incur charges. But next time, Gadget… Next time.

This morning I visited Port Sunlight, a model village between Chester and Liverpool. But the big kind of model village, not the little one. It was nice. Picturesque, and eerily quiet. It’s the sort of place I’d like to retire to, if I thought retirement was ever a likely option. Admittedly it’s also the sort of village people like Stephen King write horror novels about; the sort of place where you get arrested if your lawn grows above a certain height, and where a Council of Elders meet in the graveyard every Friday night and burn black people. But it’s a very pretty village, and that’s the important thing… Isn’t it? The racism is bad, though.

This evening, I went out for an Italian meal, and made the mistake of taking the owner of the B&B’s restaurant recommendation. Clearly a lot of hoteliers are receiving backhanders from the restaurant, as it was very busy when I arrived, and I was told that I could only have my table for an hour. I agreed, partly because I spent the afternoon watching the women on the Jeremy Kyle Show and thinking ‘Yeah, I probably would’, and so my will to live, let alone find another restaurant, was at a low; but mostly because I relished the thought of a Man vs Food speed-eating challenge.

Unfortunately for all concerned (Mainly myself), I ordered a lasagne which was hotter than the sun, and burned my mouth attempting to finish it in time. You never see that on Man vs Food, do you? Adam Richman waiting for ten minutes for the thing to cool down before he digs in. I suppose it’s possible that they don’t cook the food properly, but that wouldn’t be setting a very healthy example, would it?

After that disaster, I was told that I could stay for dessert as long as I moved to a different table, and so I threw a bit of a strop (by which I mean I apologetically told the man I’d have liked to know sooner that I didn’t need to rush) and ended up getting dessert at a different, and as it turns out considerably emptier, restaurant. Immediately I felt a big wave of guilt come over me; going to one restaurant for dinner and another for dessert is a bit like having sex with one girl and then going to a different girl for a cuddle afterwards; the girl knows that you’ve obviously slept with someone else, not least because you still smell a bit of semen (This was an honest mistake; I confused the tissue I was using for blowing my nose with the tissue I had used for the aftermath of an epic four-minute masturbation session when filling my pockets to leave the house).

I went to great lengths to talk about how I wished I’d gone to that place for my starter and main as well. I don’t know if that made it better or worse. The reality is that the chocolate cake, whilst nice, was a bit dry, and their meals were a bit pretentious-sounding (by which I mean they were written in foreign) and expensive. But I still felt quite awkward about the whole thing. Which is why the moral of this story is that you should dispense with other parties entirely and just go home and do it yourself.

Which is the closest I’ve come to learning anything this week to far, even though it’s clearly bollocks.

February 25th, 2014

First off, Sheridan Smith still hasn’t responded to my Tinder-based assurance that ‘I would’ from yesterday. I’m presuming she’s just been too busy being famous-ish to log on and swipe right in order to begin our romance. Truth be told, it’s probably a blessing in disguise; I don’t get the impression that she’s my type, but at the same time I’m not getting any younger and this may be my best chance of bagging a Doctor Who companion (She was mentioned in the Paul McGann internet thing, so it totally counts) outside of Matthew Waterhouse.

Today was zoo day. I can’t tell you that I saw ‘lions and tigers and bears, oh my,’ because I didn’t. I saw three lions, two tigers and zero bears, because it was raining when I got to that bit and bears are pussies. I would list all of the other animals I saw, but I have friends who are already convinced I have a spectrum disorder as it is; I think this would just give them ammunition. Basically, think up all of the animals you would normally see in a zoo, and then add a load of chavvy mums to the mix. That’s pretty much everything I saw.

According to the people who write for the Chester Zoo website, Chester Zoo is ‘Britain’s number 1 zoo’. I’d like to know the criteria for this, because I think Paignton Zoo is loads better. This is mainly because it has baboons, whose bottoms are huge and swollen. I saw a macaque with an erect penis trying to mount lots of women macaques at Chester, but it’s just not the same. The other thing that set Paignton apart from Chester for me was the fact that the majority of the animals didn’t look like their lives had lost all hope and/or meaning.

It’s possible that I’m unfairly ascribing human characteristics to non-human beings, but most of the animals I saw today looked just a bit fed up with being gawped at by northerners and a few Welsh. I saw at least two of them testing the walls of their enclosures for weaknesses in an attempt to escape, just like the raptors in Jurassic Park. I don’t know if an okapi could kill Samuel L Jackson, though; it would probably just wound him a bit. The male lion was being particularly vocal when I went past, and not in a “Suck my cock, I’m a motherfucking lion” way; this was more of a “Look, can you all just go away please?” sort of a roar. I know this, because I had a similar reaction myself by the day’s end.

I’m not against zoos; I think that, done well, they can be lovely to visit and give the animals a decent quality of life. And I’m not even saying that Chester isn’t a good zoo; some of the enclosures weren’t the biggest I’ve seen, but they weren’t cramped either. But a lot of the animals I saw today seemed to be lacking any joie de vivre. Maybe they should get some French ones in to show them how it’s done.

The only animals I saw who looked genuinely happy to be there were the meerkats, who I suspect were putting on a brave face in light of the several cries of ‘Simples!’ I heard, and the elephants. This initially struck me as odd, because usually the elephants are the sad ones. Then I realised that the elephants were probably just happy that the other animals were miserable. It’s like the famous saying goes: Elephants are bastards.

February 24th, 2014

I am on holiday in Chester and Egon Spengler is dead. I’m not saying this in order to imply any sort of connection between these two apparently unrelated events; I’m just aware that it’s been a while since I blogged, so some of you may not be in the habit of reading the things I write that are longer than 140 characters. Therefore I’ve started the entry with a precis of what I imagine will probably be its contents. You can stop reading now if you wish, although you will miss a moderately amusing anecdote about me saying a hilarious thing to a man in a restaurant and him giving me a disdainful look. Actually, that’s pretty much the whole story; I may not bother telling it now.

So to start with the thing more of you will probably care about, Harold Ramis is dead. I’m usually scornful of the internet’s reaction whenever a famous person dies, on account of everyone treating the celebrity as though they were a dearly departed loved one, but the news of Ramis’ death did knock me for six a bit, and I’m manly enough to admit that I shed a tear – no doubt adding some poignancy to the tableau of the overweight man sitting on his own in an empty restaurant, but more on that later.

Harold Ramis was a hugely talented actor, writer and director, responsible for such films as Stripes, Caddyshack and of course Groundhog Day. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s his contributions to the Ghostbusters franchise that were such a major part of my childhood. The character of Egon Spengler was a completely unashamed nerd, collecting spores, moulds and fungus and being utterly oblivious to any romantic overtures coming his way. In other hands, the character could have been a horrific caricature. But Ramis played Egon with such unflappable straightness that not only did you buy into the character, but you fell just slightly in love with him too.

The internet is filled with those of us who grew up during the 1980s whilst carrying the nerd gene, and in Egon Spengler Harold Ramis created someone we could look up to; this is a significant and special loss. That said, presumably the children of today will be expressing similar sentiments in sixty years or so when Jim Parsons passes away. Or the guy who plays Wolowitz.

So, did I mention I’m writing this from a hotel in Chester. How did that happen, I don’t hear you ask on account of both your disinterest and the fact that this is a largely one-way written medium? Having agonised over where to go on holiday this week, I had a dream in which I decided to go to Chester. I don’t usually pay much heed to things I do in dreams on account of me being a rational person, but it’s got a zoo, so that should kill one day at least. I’m not sure there’s much in Chester to keep my interest for the other full day I’m here, so I’ll probably just go to the zoo again. It’s either that or take the bus to Liverpool. Whichever one I choose, I’m observing wild animals – Right, guys?

I’ve been in Chester for half a day, and it’s quite a nice city, if small. Apparently none of the shops here are good enough to warrant a second floor, because above each shop is a different shop. And they have a branch of Central Perk, which is exactly like Central Perk from Friends, except it’s smaller, and there are video screens playing episodes of Friends non-stop, and it’s in Chester.

I don’t think they understand my humour here, though. I went for dinner this evening in a restaurant recommended by my friend Cathryn, and I was the only person in the restaurant for the whole time I was there. As I was getting up to leave, having left a smaller tip than I would’ve liked (but don’t worry – it turns out the staff still get paid anyway), a second customer, also a man on his own, was being seen to his table. A hilarious joke came into my head, so when I walked past him I said:

“They operate a strict one in, one out policy!”

I’m still laughing about it now. Unfortunately, the man just looked at me as though I had dropped my trousers and placed my testicles in his dinner. Which I couldn’t even do, as he hadn’t ordered yet. I have decided I am never going to do standup comedy in Chester. They don’t deserve me.

At the moment, I’m doubting that my dream telling me to come here was in any way prophetic or indicative of a larger destiny (Although my room’s on the top floor of this hotel, so there’s a good chance I might have a heart attack climbing the stairs), but I’ve gone and said yes to all of the local Tinder users aged 25-41, just in case one of them likes me. Although this morning the actress Sheridan Smith popped up on my Tinder and I said yes to her, so it’s only a matter of time before she reciprocates and we can begin our new life together.

And if she asks me what I thought of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, I’ll probably just lie.

July 31st, 2013

Blimey. That escalated, didn’t it?

Back in February, I decided that, after nearly three years of doing stand-up, I’d put on a solo show. I opted for a three-night run at the Camden Fringe, figuring that if it was rubbish and nobody came then at least I wouldn’t have lost that much money or dignity. At the very best, I hoped for maybe 20 audience members per night (all of whom I’d know) and a non-committal three-star review if I was extraordinarily lucky.

It’s now the end of July, and I’ve just finished the third of three completely sold out shows, having garnered a very positive three-star review and two ridiculously good four-star reviews (here and here). I’d say my audience was about half people I knew (and their friends) and half complete strangers, and I had a lot of fun performing the show on all three nights, with different bits and ad libs coming up each time. The show felt like it was getting better and flowing nicely; in many ways, it’s a shame I’m not doing some more nights! This won’t be the last time I’ll be performing this show, though; already one promoter has asked about putting it on, and it is my hope there’ll be others.

Really though, I’m just completely bowled over, flattered and humbled by the attention the show has got, and want to thank everyone who’s supported me, whether you’re one of the 305 people who ‘Liked’ the tickets page on Facebook, the many people who have left me good luck/well done comments on Facebook/Twitter, and all of those people who wanted to see the show but not enough to buy a ticket in advance – don’t worry guys, you’ll get your chance!

I’d like to thank Miriam at One Green Firework, and Michelle and Zena at the Camden Fringe. I’d also like to say a massive thank you to my two techies, Ian Hawkins and Rufus Penzance, neither of whom I would’ve been able to do the show properly without. They’re both really funny men in their own right; go and see them live – you won’t regret it. And thanks to Diane Goodwin, who took my photos, and Aidan Goatley, who designed the flyers – without them I probably wouldn’t have had the audiences I did.

And of course, I’d really like to thank each and every one of my friends who came along to see the show at some point over the three nights. Below is what I hope is a comprehensive list, but in reality I’ve probably left off a really important name or two by mistake. Rest assured that even if you’re not on my list, you’re in my thoughts.

THANK YOU:

Gary, Tom, Dan, Michael (twice!), Teresa, Jen, Richard, Will, Scott, Tariq, Ramsey, Mary, Ben, Marianne, Tim, Wilz, T’ai, Ed, Jenny, Steve, Gemma, Robin, Nick, Tom, Dean, Oli, Adam, Nick, Dunk, Anthony, Walshy, Jackson (who tried), Matt, Dave, Kelly, Russell, Sue, Lauren, Carley, Andy, Ben, Rhys, Adam, Paul, Barry, Dave, Adele, Siobhan, Andy, Gary, Matthew, Llinos, Cara, Blake, Michelle and Philip.

And of course, thank you to any of your friends you dragged along with you. If any of you do fancy helping smooth the post-show comedown with some nice ego-boosting words, Everything Theatre’s Big Audience Project is letting people submit audience reviews of the shows they’ve seen. But really, the fact you came to see the show is boost enough. It’s good to have friends.

Like I say – if you didn’t see the show, there will be other opportunities. I don’t yet know when, or where, but I’d be mad to never do it again. I’m going to be spending the next few weeks relaxing and going to the Edinburgh Fringe to watch a bunch of lovely shows, as well as watching fantastic Camden Fringe shows like Richard’s, Rob’s and Iszi’s. And then I’ll be regrouping to work out what my next move should be. If you’re a top agent or TV producer reading this, do feel free to get in touch so I don’t have to.

Once again – stunned and incredibly moved by the goodwill I’ve had this week. Have a good summer, everyone.

Pete

July 21st, 2013

Marvel have announced that the name of their next Avengers movie is going to be… The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The more astute (by which I mean geeky) among you will have noticed that this bears an uncanny resemblance to the title of this year’s big Marvel crossover, Age of Ultron. You may even be sat there thinking ‘I should read this Age of Ultron, to prepare myself for the next film’.

DON’T.

Age of Ultron by Brian Michael Bendis is a sprawling, confused mess of a book, not helped by the fact that it was delayed for two years, leading to all sorts of continuity issues. But more than that, it’s just not a fun or interesting story. There’s one passable issue which pairs up Wolverine and Sue Storm in the Savage Land, but other than that it’s a slow, faintly depressing and by-the-numbers experience that will just leave you wishing you’d done something better to pass the time.

But more importantly:

AGE OF ULTRON THE BOOK WILL BEAR LITTLE OR NO RESEMBLANCE TO AGE OF ULTRON THE FILM.

Far be it for me to suggest that this is in any way a cynical marketing ploy by Marvel to boost sales of a poorly-reviewed crossover event, but Joss Whedon’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron will have very little to do with Brian Michael Bendis’s Age of Ultron, bar the antagonist and a few shared characters. It can’t have. And here’s five reasons why:

1) Half of the characters don’t belong to Marvel.

Wolverine, Sue Storm and Spider-Man all play crucial roles in the Age of Ultron story. But with Wolverine and Sue belonging to Fox, and Spider-Man still nestled in the warm bosom of Sony, you can bet they won’t be coming out to play – particularly given the current acrimony between Marvel and Fox over the use of Quicksilver in both Avengers 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

2) Most of the other characters haven’t been introduced yet.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that Age of Ultron relies heavily on the idea that Ultron has been plaguing the Avengers for decades by the beginning of the story, many of the story’s protagonists are also yet to make an appearance in the Marvel movie universe: Luke Cage, Vision, She-Hulk and, most importantly of all, Dr Henry Pym. Pym is the nexus point around which the entire story revolves, and the few high points of Age of Ultron stem from an emotional investment in his character – one which will require more than his share of 100 minutes of screen time.

3) It’s not a good second Avengers movie.

The Avengers (or Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, if you’re unable to distinguish between Robert Downey Jr and Patrick Macnee) was about bringing together a disparate group of superheroes and forcing them to work as a team; it’s only in the film’s final act that we got to see the Avengers in action. Certainly a sequel should test the team’s resolve – perhaps by having heart-and-soul Tony Stark create the titular artificial intelligence himself? – but Age of Ultron shows a team ripped apart at the seams. Thor is dead from the outset, while Cap and Tony are broken men. Even if, say, Cap and Black Widow took the place of Wolverine and Sue (There are many reasons why this wouldn’t work, story-wise), it’s just not a team story; it’s the story of a few isolated characters trying to save an already-decimated world, and as such would be a wholly inappropriate follow-up to The Avengers.

4) Most of Age of Ultron didn’t happen.

One of the best things about Marvel’s movie universe has been watching it build, with the very real sense that all of these films are set in a shared world. After five years (and counting) it’s a world and a cast of characters to which we’ve become rather attached. It is unfortunate, then, that nine of Age of Ultron‘s ten issues are spent in timelines that, by the end of the story, are rendered null and void. Age of Ultron’s reset switch is played more cleverly than some I could mention, and no doubt there will be real consequences for some of the characters further down the line, but it still is ultimately a reset switch. This isn’t quite so bad in the comics universe, where any consequences can be explored fully, but as a filmic device it’s practically suicidal, leaving the audience thinking “Well what was the point of that, then?”.

5) Marvel doesn’t release adaptations.

Granted, this could change following next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but Marvel’s cinematic outings have at best only ever been loosely inspired by comic book story arcs. The closest we’ve come so far to an adaptation is Iron Man 3, which contained a number of elements from the Extremis arc from the comics, but at their core the two stories were markedly different tales. More to the point, you don’t hire a writer/director as talented as Joss Whedon, fling a handful of comics across the table at him and bark “Make this!”; he’ll be bringing his own ideas to the table, and I’m excited to see what they are.

So if you weren’t impressed with the Age of Ultron comics, don’t panic. And if you haven’t read them but would still like to, then by all means do; although the series is flawed, there are some nice character moments and some interesting questions raised. But bear in mind that, when the Avengers finally face off against Ultron in 2015, it’s highly likely to be something clever, exciting – and entirely unlike anything the comics have already done.

 

July 2nd, 2013

It’s been some months since I posted around these parts. But now I’m taking part in something called Project Create 2013, which sees myself and some of my friends challenged to create something – anything – every day for the 31 days of July. I’m performing a Camden Fringe show at the Camden Head on 29th, 30th and 31st July, so in many ways this is a bloody stupid thing for me to be doing. I’m also filming a pilot for a possible TV show later this week. These are both things that I possibly should have blogged about already, but haven’t. Really though, what I’m trying to say is that my Project Create entries are likely to get more tenuous as the month goes on, culminating in a blurry photo of my runny faeces on the 31st. 

If you want to see what everyone else has been up to, look up #ProjectCreate2013 on Twitter. In the meantime, here’s my entry for today, in which I talk about a comic dear to my heart…

Wolverine has never been my favourite X-Man. He’s gruff, charmless and the kind of man who uses his claws first and asks questions later. In fact, until recently, if you’d asked me to compile a list of my five favourite X-Men, it’s pretty likely that he wouldn’t have had a look in. Which makes it all the more baffling that, of the dozen or so comics I regularly read, the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest for me on a regular basis is Marvel’s Wolverine and the X-Men (or, as all the cool kids are calling it, WatXM).

WatXM has been running since 2011; in the wake of Marvel’s Schism event in which Cyclops revealed that behind the twattish exterior was an even bigger inner twat just waiting to get out (long story), Wolverine took a faction of mutants away from their island home (longer story) and returned to New York, the spiritual home of anyone with a spandex budget in the Marvel universe, to set up the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, with Wolverine as its headmaster.

Wolverine is the last character you’d expect to be the highest authority in an educational institute, and that’s one of the reasons why WatXM works so brilliantly. Wolverine doesn’t know the first thing about running a school, and so not only are the stakes higher when something threatens the school’s future than they were when, say, the unflappable Professor X was in charge, but it also means there’s a rich seam of comedy to be had from Wolverine’s role as the straight man trying to keep some sort of composure while everyone around him seems to know more than he does. It’s a classic comedic setup, and writer Jason Aaron mines it beautifully.

In fact, even without Wolverine this is probably one of the funniest comics currently on sale. Aaron has assembled a dream faculty for the school, which includes Beast (My favourite of the X-Men) a post-Whedon Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Rogue, Gambit and (latterly) Storm. It’s a full complement of contrasting characters, and even something as mundane as a staff meeting sparkles under Aaron’s hand. It’s like a Bendis book, but one in which the snappy dialogue doesn’t come at the expense of homogenising the characters.

And then, of course, there’s Doop.

Former member of X-Statix Doop appears on the staff’s roster with no clear role, occasionally being seen sleeping in front of a class of students or sleeping in the staff room… Until Issue 17, in which it’s revealed that Doop is the school’s secret protector, seeing off all manner of threats and performing any number of undignified sexual acts in order to keep the school open. It’s rare that a comic makes me laugh out loud, but this one had me practically howling.

Not that Wolverine and the X-Men is all gags and giggles, mind; it’s also a dramatic, heartfelt and action-packed book. Although the elder mutants are what will draw a lot of fans in, the student body is filled with compelling characters such as Genesis, who is destined to become mutant big bad Apocalypse but wouldn’t hurt a fly; or Quentin Quire, the Omega-level genius who spends much of his time butting heads with Wolverine and the faculty and is only just beginning to realise that he might actually care about some of his fellow students. Or the tragic and touching romance between tainted innocent Idie and rebel Broodling Broo. One of the things that the book does best is portray the troubled and conflicted nature of being a teenager, with other people’s expectations and preconceptions battling against your own personality as it struggles to assert itself.

But above all, Wolverine and the X-Men is fun. In an age where Spider-Man is actually Doctor Octopus, the Avengers are busy with very serious and universe-ending threats and DC still publishes comics, it’s nice to have a comic which retains a sense of joy alongside its action and adventure. If ever you’re thinking ‘I’d like to read an X-Men comic, but don’t have a clue where to begin’, you could do a lot worse than pick up Volume 1 of Wolverine and the X-Men.

April 2nd, 2013

Sometimes, you have to travel down the wrong road in order to realise that it is the wrong road. Fortunately, sometimes you don’t have to travel very far…

When I came away from Edinburgh in 2012, a return this year was very much on the cards, perhaps with a full show of my own. This is the case for 100% of open mic comedians who visit the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and as resolutions go it tends to be as unlikely to be seen through as it is ill-conceived in the first place. As autumn became winter and post-Fringe depression transitioned to actual regular depression, the financial and creative realities of the situation became obvious; doing an Edinburgh show in 2013 would be a silly idea, and I should probably skip the Festival entirely in order to save up for 2014.

I did then go on to audition for a package show; it seemed like the sort of thing I should be going for, rather than risking imposing a full hour of myself on an unsuspecting public and earning a solitary star and a misleading poster quote from wereviewanyfringe.blogspot.co.uk. I was up against some very talented individuals and didn’t make it through, but I was philosophical about it; this was, if nothing else, a sign that I really should save the money and stay at home this year after all. The decision was made.

It was a decision I made at 10:30 this morning. By midday, not only had I booked five nights in an Edinburgh hotel for August, but I’d persuaded several of my Twitter friends to do so as well. To quote Oscar Wilde, ‘The only thing worse than going to the Edinburgh Fringe is not going to the Edinburgh Fringe. And being locked up in Reading just because you had bum sex with a man. Seriously, dude, what was that about?”.

This will be my fourth Edinburgh Fringe in as many years; truthfully, I find it hard now to envisage an August where I don’t go up there for any length of time. But for me, it’s not about being a performer; I was a comedy devotee long before I started doing stand-up, and I hope I will be for a long time I inevitably give up. Although plenty of comedy happens in London, I rarely drag myself out to it, either because I’ve got a gig of my own with an inevitably less talented line-up of comics, because I can’t afford to go and see it, or simply because I can’t be bothered to traipse into Central London after a full day at work.

With the Edinburgh Fringe, there are no excuses; the comedy shows are on all day, every day (Apart from the one Monday I always seem to make part of my trip, when half the acts decide to have a little holiday). Some might say this is relentless; I say it is ideal. Although not for six days solid like last year; that was stupid and I slightly grew to resent comedians by the end of it. This year I am going for four full days and two less full days. This is probably still too much.

Of course, the big problem with going to Edinburgh as a low-level performer just going to watch shows is that I will inevitably have the following conversation four or five times a day with tired acts:

ACT: Hi, Pete! How’re you? I didn’t realise you were up here! Are you doing a show?

PETE: I’m good, thanks! No show – just seeing as many shows as I can cram in. How’s yours going?

ACT: Good, good… Some nights are better than others (Translation: I’m exhausted, this was a fucking terrible idea and I want to die).

PETE: Yes, I suppose so!

ACT (joking, but not actually joking): So, are you coming to see my show?

PETE: We’ll see! I’ve got a few spare slots later in the week, so I might well come along… (Translation: Not a chance, mate. You barely have five minutes of material I can sit through; for you to think you can stretch that to an hour is an arrogant and unpleasant notion, and you fully deserved your 140-character panning from @studentsreviewthefringe. You’re a pleasant enough person to chat to, but I would seriously rather stick pins in my eyes than watch you try to drag laughs out of an audience for an hour)

(Awkward silence)

PETE: Well, good luck with it anyway! Might see you around!

ACT: You too!

I don’t know if I ever will come to Edinburgh as a fully-fledged act. Last year, I took part in the delightful Quiz in My Pants for a five-day run, and although I enjoyed myself immensely, it felt like a bit of a millstone around my neck; there were shows that I just couldn’t go and see because of my commitment to quizzing in my pants. If Comedian Pete decided to do a show every day of the Fringe (Except that Monday), would Comedy Fan Pete really be content to stand around and watch an hour of mediocre observations about geeks every day for a month, or would he punch Comedian Pete’s lights out and go off to watch Pappy’s instead?

Obviously it is the first one. But Pappy’s are pretty great too.

As it is, I don’t know what shows I’ll be seeing this year; at the time of writing, the Edinburgh Fringe website lists just 19 comedy shows, which is a little down from the 1,400+ shows there were last year and should make timetabling a lot easier. What can possibly go wrong?

Ealing is a strange and often dangerous place to live, with many colourful characters lining the streets. By that, I mean there’s a tramp with an eyepatch who sometimes gets on the same bus as me. But this evening I was introduced to a new character in the lineup: Twiglets Man. I was in my local Sainsbury’s (Local), looking to buy something sweet to help take my mind off the fact that I return to work tomorrow, when I saw a man go up to one of the many roaming members of staff and enquire:

“Where do you keep the Twiglets now?”

I can sympathise; every six months or so, some well-paid business analyst attempts to justify their salary by suggesting that perhaps the supermarket would sell more custard cream biscuits if they moved them from the top of aisle 3 to the middle of aisle 4, thus prompting a store-wide reshuffle that leaves every customer who comes in for the next few weeks scratching their head and wandering up and down the aisles searching for that coveted pot of Nutella. And sales of custard creams remain steady, because the custard cream remains a fundamentally uninteresting biscuit.

The employee stared at Twiglets Man blankly, as though he had asked a difficult physics question. Twiglets Man tried to elaborate on the exotic product he was trying to locate, explaining that they were usually kept with the crisps, and come in a tin. “Ohh, you mean Pringles?” asked the employee, and Twiglets Man started to look irate, repeating his request for Twiglets. The employee called one of his colleagues over and asked him if he’d moved the Twiglets. Employee 2 also responded with a blank stare, although had one over on Employee 1 in that he at least wanted to learn; “Twiglets?”, he asked. It seems that Twiglets are yet to break Ealing in any major sort of way; perhaps they should take out an advert in the Ealing Gazette.

Twiglets Man, unafraid to be a trailblazer, tried a different tack with Employee 2, explaining that they were crispy sticks dipped in Marmite. I’ve always been a bit sceptical about this; I’m a big fan of Marmite, but I’m wildly indifferent towards Twiglets. Surely if it were as simple as dipping some sticks in Marmite I’d be equally enthusiastic about Twiglets? While I stood pondering this and attempting to remain inconspicuous, Employee 2 pointed at the breadsticks next to him and asked if those were Twiglets. Many points for an enquiring mind, but many more deducted for the follow-through. Having both tried to help Twiglets Man, the two powerless employees sort of shrugged each other’s shoulders and wandered off.

Twiglets Man was not going to let it lie, though; he went up to the big Staff Only door next to the crisps section, pushed it open and asked the first employee he laid eyes on about Twiglets:

“Do you know where the Twiglets are? I’ve been buying them in here every day and now they’ve moved.”

EVERY DAY. Hopefully this will have satisfied those of you reading this entry thinking ‘Why’s he calling him Twiglets Man? It’s just a man who happened to want to buy some Twiglets; it’s not his defining personality trait or anything’. This is a man with a 60-a-day Twiglet habit. Or perhaps his desperate need betrayed some more complex reason? What if he was building a sticky Twiglet sculpture? Or what if his wife only allowed him to sleep with her if it in some way involved licking Twiglets off of her naked body? Whatever the reason, Twiglets Man wasn’t telling.

He was insistent on getting his Twiglets, though; he’d already been round the crisps section several times – I’d watched him do so – and there were clearly no Twiglets to be found. But it didn’t seem like he was going to accept this until he’d asked every employee in the store and got someone from Sainsbury’s Head Office to investigate the Twiglets issue. Eventually a security guard, having noticed the discussion, wandered over and put an end to the whole sorry affair, telling Employee 3:

“We’ve stopped doing Twiglets now; I checked after he came in yesterday.”

At this, Twiglets man scowled off into the night, in search of those ever-elusive sour snacks. I hope one day he finds them again.

 

‘I know his journey ends never,

His Twiglet Trek will go on forever.’

- Gene Roddenberry