Sunday, 30 September 2007

Broderick's Sunday Special #3: Buttons

This morning I woke up with the knowledge I'd be working in the restaurant from 10 to 5 and then gigging in Richmond at night. I shower, run the razor above the top lip and below the lower one, wax the hair, and put on jeans, a brown cowboy style shirt, and a grey jumper.

It's two hours later and I'm just stepping out for a short break to get some coffee. I buy an Americano, in a paper cup that somehow seems to leak at the bottom, sling my bag over my shoulders, and start walking back to the shop. The strap of my bag catches on something. I look down. It's caught on the pearl snap of my western-style shirt, under my jumper. I look down. Both snaps are showing prominently through my grey jumper, like oversized robot nipples. Oh, and being the closure of the breast pockets of my shirt, they're much higher than normal nipples. I hurry on, suddenly aware that the lovely old busybodies of Belsize Park have been watching me mumble irrational admonishments to myself, staring, fascinated at my chest.

What do I do? The cowboy shirt has a large coffee stain that I though I could cover up with my jumper. It's a choice between that and walking around looking like Tara Reid's boob job or the third version of the Batsuit. I suppose there's always the option of wearing just the grey jumper, in which people would see my actual nipples - which I don't mind much, only it's very cold out.

++++

It's Saturday and I'm poring desperately over the weekend papers looking for something to write about for this weeks Sunday Special. I know writer's block can be alleviated by simply writing the first sentence on the blank page or computer screen, so I put pen to page in my journal and write the two sentences you have just read.

Perhaps I'm taking this Sunday Special thing too far. I don't have a column in a newspaper or magazine, and my readership is zero (if that). But it's a personal challenge, more than anything, a motivational, if illusory set of deadlines to up my word count, help me develop my voice, just get going. I've never written or spoken about my writer's process or the act of writing as it exists for me, so this week I've started to contemplate it. Here goes: There's an awful amount of self-censorship that stops me putting pen to page for extended periods of time. It can feel like speaking through a gag; there's a desire to speak burning in your chest, but your censor stuff its cotton batting in your mouth and you resign yourself to leaving those words unsaid. I write a lot of beginnings.

When I was a kid, though, I'd write non-stop. None of it was particularly good, of course, but there was none of this hovering with pen poised wondering if the words I'd scribbled would stand up to post-structuralist criticism. I remember reading a Toni Morrison book for the first time, and then going and writing a story just saturated in the milieu of the rural American South of the 1960s. The chutzpah of a Chinese-Canadian teenage boy attempting to authentically capture the voice of a strong black woman is staggering.

Since I've started stand-up comedy, it's gotten worse. Stand-up is a random process of divine miracles, or at least, it can seem that way when the raw-materials for new 'bits' dry up. When writing goes well, it's easy to think of yourself as a genius with an endless font of uniquely witty observations on the world. When that font dries up and you've done the same set for three weeks straight, it's easy to curse a god, whom you may or may not believe in, but whom you suddenly envision as a medieval warlock in a Death Star style spaceship, finger poised over the Creativity button.

This blog was meant to help me out of the self-censorship trap, which I think is all my sporadic writer's block is. It's meant to get rid of the random chance in my comedy writing. It's helping. But then the warlock presses the button and you end up with some fluff piece about buttons looking like nipples. I didn't change my shirt, incidentally.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Nothing but surprises!


Sometimes the world can still surprise you. I've been listening to Radio 4 all day, as I do fairly often (while I'm writing, the gentle chatter makes me feel like I'm in a beautiful Viennese cafe at the turn of the century - or maybe it just keeps away the existential horror of 'what am I doing with my life?'). It's two-o-clock and I'm listening to The Archers, as I do, fairly often. For those of you who (the three of you - if that) who aren't familiar with The Archers, it's a fairly innocent radio drama about people who own farms and stuff. Mostly old people listen to it. (As well as Chinese-Canadian comedy writers and wannabe academics with short attention spans.)

But why is there a RAPE STORY on The Archers?

It's like it's Law and Order: SVU all of a sudden. This is a show played at 2 PM. I understand that they've been running it for fifty years, but... why?

Oh god... they've just used the words 'she was asking for it...'

Oh my god...

(hides under desk)

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Palimpsest

I had a wonderful gig on Monday night at Free Beer Show in Oxford, a legendary institution of the Edinburgh Festival in its 'term-time' home. If there are any readers out there in Oxfordshire (out of my readership of three of course - if that), please try to go, it's Monday nights, a really fun night with fantastic headliners. I got to open for Al Pitcher, who you can check out on YouTube and is very funny.

I was really happy and buzzed about how the whole thing went, so the next day I decided to treat myself and go see a matinee at the cinema. I'm an unapologetic film buff, with very little in the way of discerning taste, or taste at all, so I packed a sandwich (no kidding, I'm not paying £3.90 for a hot dog) and a newspaper (to read during the commercials at the beginning), and off I went to the Finchley Road VUE to watch:

DEATH PROOF.


You've probably heard all the talk about how this movie sucks, etc, and it doesn't, really. It wasn't great, but anyone who denies that there isn't a primitive, innate thrill in watching a car chase in which a stuntwoman hangs, freely, off the bonnet of a car is a low-down dirty liar. Yet, it is one of the great questions of our time whether or not Quentin Tarantino is an immature hack whose movies are too long, or a post-modern genius. I think it's a beautiful thing when pop-culture enters into such dialogue - audiences engaging with it on a number of different levels. Is it exploitative, is it entertaining, is it empowering? Is it intellectually stimulating - the sudden switch of tone, genre and visual style halfway through seems to belong to a theatrical tradition that includes Brecht's verfremdungseffekte and Sarah Kane's Blasted. And am I a total dickhead for bringing up Brecht and Grindhouse in the same sentence?

To borrow a usage from Germaine Greer, Death Proof has been physically altered once through transaction with an audience, transforming from a single, generic tribute to a standalone film that is in itself an experimental double-bill. Thus, as an artwork it is a palimpsest - a place of dialogue between artist and viewer. The word originally refers to a parchment that has been erased and written over, and Germaine Greer uses it to refer to the phenomenon of graffiti - tagging and re-tagging. But while I'm probably being to wankily analytically about a stupid movie I watched at one in the afternoon yesterday, the mental equivalent of stuffing your mouth full of maple syrup and bacon, just to make myself feel better about waking up late and being totally unproductive - the palimpsest lives on, a wonderful concept that goes a long way to helping us understand artworks (in galleries or otherwise) in a post-modern culture.

++++

There's an actor in Death Proof named Sydney Poitier. Not Sidney Poitier, mind you, star of In The Heat of the Night and To Sir, With Love. But a young, black actress, and Sidney Poitier's daughter. How confusing! It catches you off guard when the credits roll and you see "Jungle Julie" was played by Mister Tibbs. I didn't even know he had a daughter. I just sat there, thinking: 'Did Sidney Poitier have a sex change?... ... and travel back in time?'

++++

I'm going to put a list of links on here - if there are any readers more than three that want to be on there, comment and include a link.

I've been reading this comic a lot this week: Least I Could Do and listening to this amazing podcast about the art of stand-up comedy: Behind the Bricks.

So I'll leave you on this Wednesday morning and get back to work now. Here's this:

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Broderick's Sunday Special #2: Global and Domestic Capitalism

Or: Cressida, and other middle-class baby names.

Amazingly, I've dredged up an unforeseen amount of follow-through and, rather unexpectedly (to myself, not to my two - if that - readers who'd be expecting it), I'm back with another Sunday column.

My favourite pleasure on Saturdays is 'Writers Rooms,' a column in the Guardian Review. I suppose its aim is to show how different and individual the creative spaces of our most beloved authors are, but in fact, all it's really taught me is that from Ian Rankin to Colm Toibin, serious writing can't be done unless you're sat at a pine desk in the attic studio of your mansion in Highgate.

This week Joshua Ferris' studio, lovingly photographed by Eamonn McCabe and verbally extolled by Ferris himself, was featured. Despite the fact that I cannot name even one of his books, I'm convinced that until I too have a Bloc Rhodia No. 38 pad imported from France upon which to scrawl my prose, I shall never write another word. What I mean to say is that greed, envy and shopping-lust, while fairly natural impulses, are not, at heart, productive ones. Imagine if this lust for beautiful tools of the trade extended to, say, firefighters. I'm not much of a believer in self-interested capitalism; I've read my Naomi Klein, yes, but my reasons are simpler - many people are total dinks and their interests are stupid. Self-interest mainly manifests itself in outdoing others.

As I've mentioned before, I work in North London, in a restaurant. There are some amazing blogs about the restaurant industry (Waiter Rant and Well Done Fillet are my favourites), and I'm not going to try and ape them, since my own experience is markedly different. However, I can write about the poisonous sense of entitlement that permeates a wealthy area, such as the one I work in.

++++

I'm taking an order over the phone from a well-spoken but ridiculously impolite woman: 'THIRTY MINUTES!' she screeches, incredulously, 'but sushi is just raw fish!' (Correct, lady, but it isn't trawled up in the fishermen's nets sliced, deboned, resting on a bed of rice with a ribbon of nori, unfortunately). Finishing with her order, I ask:

'Can I have your name, please?'

'Aphra.'

Aphra Behn, of course, is the important, early and somewhat obscure playwright of The Rover and The Feigned Courtesans. It's an unusual name, lovely and literate, and very characteristic of Hampstead.

'Aphra. A-P-H-R-A?'

'Yes, that's right.'

'Like the playwright.'

'Who?'

Stifling a scream, I bang the mouthpiece of the phone against my forehead.

'What's that noise?' comes Aphra's voice from the other end. 'Who's this playwright Aphra?'

For the next five minutes I explain all I know about Aphra Behn to the oblivious woman, while the chefs make her order of cucumber maki and tempura.

++++

I think this story encapsulates the combination of money and cultural bankruptcy of Hampstead and surrounding areas. Everything's wonderfully tasteful, but at the same time, horribly gauche. Perhaps that's unfair, but I have seen women carrying Anya Hindmarch 'I'm Not A Plastic Bag' shopping bags getting behind the wheel of 4x4s without a trace of irony. I've seen mothers screaming at daughters with eating disorders or problems with food to 'just fucking eat something!' right in front of me, which is vulgar (not to mention unhelpful, if the girl has a real problem). I've seen city boys, with their multi-million pound bonuses, pronounce Miso and Edamame 'My-so' and 'Enda Maim,' with swaggering confidence. I've seen American expats ask what prawns are. You think you know what I've seen? You don't know what I've seen.

There's a family in Hampstead that seems to be naming its chldren after characters from Shakespeare. There's been Cressida, Jessica and Imogen. I'm not a religious man, but I will say 1000 prayers for the day they name a baby girl Lucy - for Lucretia. (Lucretia, of course, being the eponymous heroine of Shakespeare's poem 'The Rape of Lucretia'). Now that's giving your kid a good start in life!

As a consequence, perhaps, of people earning more money than ever, is an openness with which people now discuss money. Since when has it been acceptable to outright ask about wages or rent? When patrons at the restaurant find out I'm a stand-up comedian, the first thing they'll say, after 'Tell me a joke,' (fuck off - 'You ever hear the one about the coked up city-boy douchebag and the sushi waiter who broke up his family?'), is 'How much do you make doing that?' I'd retaliate by asking how much their Christmas bonus was if I wasn't so convinced they'd tell me.

++++

I'm riding my bicycle through Euston, and I pull into a the courtyard of a largish office complex to lock up my bike. A ponytailed guy in a military jacket and stylish shoes walks up to me.

'Excuse me!' he says, 'How much did you pay for your bike?'

I'm taken aback, somewhat.

'Uh...' I say, stalling. Do I lie, and say a lower price, to save face with the frugal types? Or do I go higher to impress with my purchasing power? I tell the truth. '£300.'

'THREE-HUNDRED POUNDS!' he sputters. The conversation takes an awkward turn, and I'm still not certain if he's impressed by my thrift or my extravagance.

'Uh, yeah. But it's middle of the road... they go down to £169 and up to nearly 1000.'

'Yeah, wow. Because my mate's in China, and he says you can get one of these folding bikes for £30 there! He's going to bring me back one.'

Now, my bike is a very reliable Dahon Vitesse, American made, and beautiful to ride. £30 for a bike implies a lot of slave labour and shoddy workmanship, an oversized Transformers toy glued to a wheelchair. With London traffic, I wouldn't really trust anything that might fold up under me on the Marylebone flyover.

'Just a word of advice, you get what you pay for. I wouldn't want to ride around on a 30 quid bike in London. The ride won't be very nice. There're a lot of hills, and the traffic's very heavy. A really cheap bike isn't safe.'

'Ah, don't worry, mate,' he says, 'thanks for the advice, but I'm mostly going to be carrying it around on the Tube. Have a nice day!'

He leaves me to ponder the depressing logic of this statement as he walks away. I stare at the £45 reinforced cable lock in my hands. With any luck the ground would swallow me whole.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

I hate Martin Amis more than anyone else in the entire world. Here's why.

He's just such a retard! Everything he's ever written and everything he's ever done and everything about him just totally sucks. He also posed for the cover of his book of 'essays' (I use the term tentatively, because to qualify as an essay, a piece of writing generally can't be written in excrement), The War Against Cliche, trying to look like Ewan MacGregor in the Trainspotting poster. What an ass.

I'm not alone in my loathing of Martin Amis. Here's a few quotes from a Guardian article a few months ago: "If the media refer to Martin Amis as 'Britain's greatest living author' once more," wrote Kathy Love from south London, "I shall kill myself. The fact that such a misconception exists at all is enough to make most people with a passion for books want to emigrate to Uruguay immediately. Please save my life and don't do it again."

She follows: "I have never enjoyed a Martin Amis book. Most of them I have flung across the room unfinished. I hate his self-conscious literary style, his pathetic posturing. More importantly, he has nothing to say. Greatness in a writer can only be awarded posthumously. Let them snuff it first, I say. Then we'll decide."

Well said, Kathy from South London.

I would now like to share some extracts from Martin Amis' novels, and let you be the judge.

from The Rachel Papers, Vintage, 1973, 240 pages.

"Rachel was filing some papers. 'Oh my goodness!' said Rachel, 'it's nearly three-of-the-clock and I shall never finish filing my papers!' Then, Charles Highway entered the room, placing his fists on his hips like a bird drinking water. 'My name is Charles and I am the narrator. I enjoy metaphors, but am not sure how to use them.'
'Hello,' said Rachel, 'my name is Rachel and these are my papers.'
'Well,' roared Charles, 'GET BACK TO WORK BITCH!!!!'
'Oh goodness!' replied Rachel, who was of the weaker sex, 'that loud outburst shall have Julie Burchill, amongst many others, accusing you of misogyny, while at the same time increasing your sales among immature Oxford undergraduates who have never seen boobs.'
'Meh, whaddya gonna do.' There is a pause, pregnant, as if with puppies. The puppies represent drama. 'Wait... isn't this whole book meant to be in first person? That's what it says on Amazon.'
'Yes, how strange. It's almost as if the author of this blog post has never read this book, nor ever will...'"


from Yellow Dog, Vintage, 2003, 352 pages.

"There once was this dog. Then some paint fell on teh dg and it got all yelo. Teh End. By Martin Amis."
(This is followed by 351 pages, mostly blank, some with photographs of him carrying sacks of money to the bank, others with pencil sketches by the author of his own genitals)

Incidentally, while I haven't read The Rachel Papers I can hands down say that Yellow Dog is the worst book I've ever read, and that's quite an admission, seeing as I pretty much covered the entire Goosebumps canon by R.L. Stine in my childhood. I've also giggled my way through writing this entire post. As Charlie Brooker recently wrote: 'sweary tastelessness is a celebration of life, as soaring and majestic as a gospel choir in full flow, and no amount of tedious squeamishness can alter that.'

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Broderick's Sunday Special #1

Hello there. Welcome to the first ever edition of Broderick Chow's Sunday Special. Let me explain first of all, the impetus behind this new weekly column. I am in mourning. Yesterday, it seems, the great Jon Ronson has quit his weekly column for the Guardian, on the demand of his young son. Jon Ronson's column was really all I lived for, however, I do respect his decision not to embarrass his family further, and salute him. Mr Ronson, enjoy your freedom. Jon Ronson, despite not really being a comedian, has been an invaluable inspiration to my stand-up - I'll miss reading you on Saturday mornings.

Thus, I presumtuously take up his mantle. Each Sunday on www.brodacious.co.uk, usually uploaded to the internet on the company computer at the sushi restaurant I am in the employ of, I'll try my hand at the 300 word column. (300? I didn't actually count). Also, I'm a very lazy blogger, and a deadline is good for me. Plus, column sounds far better than blog doesn't it - despite the fact that I have a readership of two (if that) and am unlikely to be recognized on the street as Mr Ronson is, unless it's from people wanting DVDs (I keep telling you, I don't have any!)

++++

I was booked in to do a set at an all-day comedy marathon in Kentish Town yesterday. I set off towards Kentish Town after work on foot, down a charming street that my friend Laura refers to as 'The Hell Mouth,' but most people call Prince of Wales Road. Ten minutes into my journey, I notice myself limping. Well, not limping, exactly, but walking 'street.'

'What is this,' I think to myself. 'Why am I doing this stereotypically black walk? It's borderline racist, basically.'

Now I'm worried... If I'm doing this walk like a kind of forcefield because I'm walking through a bad area, doesn't that make me a poser as well as a borderline racist? By this point,however, Kentish Town Road is in my field of vision, so I keep limping along. A mousy-looking woman with a rucksack gives me a wide berth as she passes me.

I'm in the venue and walking through the crowded bar towards the upstairs room where the comedy is happening, when a woman, you know the type, forties, ten gin and tonics in her, actually bows to me as I pass, and says 'Hai!'

'Well, I never!' I think. 'I can't let that go! That was racist, wasn't it? She just bowed to me, because I'm Asian!' It catches me off guard - I don't suffer much racial abuse, because, well, I'm very good looking and beauty is intimidating. 'Well!' I think, 'I mustn't talk the talk if I can't walk the walk,(or something). I'm going to do it, I'm not going to walk on by, I'm going to say something.'

'Excuse me,' I say to her, 'What was that?'

'What was what?' she replies, eyes rolling loosely, like a sock puppet.

Stammering, and losing my nerve, I say 'You just, you just bowed to me!'

'Why would I bow to you?'

'I don't know... uh... because...' I lose my nerve. 'Oh, nothing.'

'Well, it's obviously something. What?'

'Well, you bowed, and you said "Hai!" It's just... a bit... well, racist!'

'I wasn't bowing to you! Why would I do that? You're obviously not Japanese! I was just bending down and saying 'Hi' to my friend.'

I look around for some kind of dwarf or small child who might be her friend, but find none.

'Awww, are you feeling a bit sensitive tonight?'

'Yes,' I reply. And she hugs me. The fumes burn my eyes.

Later, while waiting to go on stage, I'm talking to a Finnish comedian I know. He's a bit tipsy and doesn't remember my name. Finally he gets it. I'm a bit hurt. 'I remember your name!' I say, 'And your name is really complicated!'

'Well,' he says,'There can be only one legend.' The conversation lulls. 'What would you say to that, if I were a heckler, and you were on stage? Let's try it - "There can only be one legend."'

Not missing a beat, I say, like a bully on Degrassi High, 'Yeah, totally. 'The Legend of The Fat Stupid Finnish Comedian! Ah ha ha ha ha!'

He goes quiet, and looks at his feet for awhile. 'That was, that was a good one,' he says. 'Let's go have a drink.'

'Ok,' I say, following him to the bar.

'By the way,' he says, 'let us get this straight. If you ever call me fat again, I will kill you.' Sliding his finger across his throat like a straight-razor, he says 'Sayonara.'