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So the Adelaide Fringe website has a new toy this year. The Bank SA Talk Fringe section has a leader board for social media popularity. It tells you which shows have been spread the most over Facebook and Twitter and gives you the top 100 of these triumphant little legends. What a delightful feat of information technology that is surely a boon to the festival. Right? Wrong.
First off, famous people get the edge. Acts that have a television or radio profile are kings and queens of this leader board. Plus, many have an agency machine behind them generating copious amounts of paid publicity. Hey, good on them. Who doesn’t want a successful career? I certainly understand that having a profile is part of doing well in this showbiz game. I do alright out of my own TV credits and social media hustle, so why am I biting the hand that feeds me?
Because I believe this social media leader board is not doing what it was intended to do. It should be showcasing a qualitative public response to a broader range of acts. What it is doing is just reminding everyone who already has a pre-existing profile. I keep hearing the phrase “spirit of the fringe” lobbed around like it’s the mantra of a revolution. Well if so, my dear fringe friends, I’m going to put it out there that this social media leader board takes the spirit of the fringe and farts it out a technological anus.
Is it not more in the “spirit of the fringe” to reward good shows instead of savvy social media? The most astonishing part is that Talk Fringe already does this quite well with the review section. Anyone can review a show. Awesome! I’ve read some of the most elated responses to fringe shows I’ve never heard of. It puts the focus on the art over rewarding the fact you’ve got wide publicity.
My next point on this leader board is that the system can be cheated. I’m not accusing anyone. But it certainly is suspicious when acts with no commercial profile all of a sudden rocket up the charts. To prove my point I staged a little experiment to see if I could play the system. I found a website that offered 12 000 retweets for $5. Another that offered 1300 Facebook likes for $5. An insane amount of social media currency, for a quarter of the average ticket price. Look at my event page now. It looks like my show has gone gangbusters all because I gave $10 to web nerds.
I’m behind the wheel of my housemate’s white Subaru station wagon. I do a head check as I indicate my way into the left lane and push back up to 100kpm. Including me, the car holds four comedians bound for a gig in Leongatha. My knowledge extends to it being a small dairy town about 135km South East of Melbourne. I’ve never been to a dairy town before. I can only imagine it to be a lush green countryside with a handful of streets. Everyone there will drive Mr Whippy vans with pecarino cheese wheels for tires. The trees will be made of chocolate with little hobbit like creatures on ladders picking Twix Bars from their branches. When I get thirsty I will just drink from the strawberry milkshake fountain in the town square. I’ll be disappointed with anything less.
Earlier this afternoon I caught the train from the city to where my housemate was, to borrow the car, to drive back into the city, to collect two of the comedians performing, to then pick up the headliner from his house back where I was when I picked up the car in the first place. Comedians are to logistics what logisticians are to writing jokes: capable but uninterested. As the sun casts a scarlet light over the M1, the road trip feels well worth the hassle already. Discussions about comedy, who we like and don’t like, jokes, impressions, stories and musings all get tossed around like teenagers chucking popcorn. An inherent kinship seems to exist between comics. I remember back to my US road trip; I felt comfortable in any town where I could find a comedy club. There’s a certain camaraderie shared in this pursuit of being funny. Comedians know that any of us can die a comedy death on stage at any time. Yet we all embrace the prospect willingly. We’re just like the samurai but instead of swords we have humorous observations about our genitals.
I pull into the servo. It looks like a mini space station as dozens of cars cruise up to the pumps. It’s here I have a moment to think while I wait in line to pay for the petrol. The others get something to eat from the village of fast food joints. I’m fresh to comedy, I think to myself. Three years is still rookie level. My press releases always make me sound me more exciting than I really am…. it’s as if I write them myself. In the car I had a subtle neurosis to say funny things and be a cool guy around the others. The headliner has been doing comedy for 20 years so I want his stamp of approval. I hear myself saying things to him like “hey I should open for you when you do shows” and “you write poetry? I teach poetry” in a joking way but from a painfully serious place. What a dick I can be. I want to be a fun person to be around. So then I spend the whole time thinking “is what I just said fun? oh god I hope I’m fun”. Then my ambition emerges and I say stupid things. I hope that goes away. Then again, saying “hey Jay Leno, I’m going to write for you one day” ended with me writing for him the next day. There’s a fine line between having moxie and just being irritating. I don’t know where it is. The headliner signs an autograph on our way back to the car. Do I want that to be me one day? Yeah, I think I do.
We arrive in Leongatha. I can’t see the strawberry milkshake fountain but they do have a Network Video. So that’s good. We meet one of the organisers of the gig and check out the hall where the show will take place. I tinker with the piano at the side of stage. One of the comics jabs at me for showing off. Typical. A brief stroll of the town takes us to the local cinema. It’s cute, kind of tucked away into a strip of shops opposite the Safeway. Outside we’re introduced to group of local girls dressed up for a night out. “You coming to the comedy?” we ask. “Yeah nah we’re go’n to the Espy”. One is wearing a bright red dress designed like it was copied from a Barbie catalogue. It sits high enough to expose her thigh tattoos. She has a nose ring and is smoking a cigarette from the tips of her fingers. Another girl joins the group. “I got a traveller” she grins. I observe that a traveller is a can of UDL in a paper bag. I love this moment. Five young women, all canvasses of humanity painted with cheap dresses, tacky tattoos, studded high heels and nasal accents that refer to more than one person as “youse”. I want to have sex with one them but I don’t want my city friends to know about it. It’s this self-consciousness that usually makes me end up home alone writing blogs.
The gig is okay. Not a massive turn out and the crowd isn’t giving us comics the rolling belly laughs our egos starve for. They seem to be having a great time though. Backstage I can barely breath as the headliner tells me his favourite pub jokes. It’s amazing that there are two worlds existing in that moment: the MC on stage trying to stir some excitement in the audience with well crafted routines; and three comedians behind the wall clutching their guts with laughter over “a man walking into a bar” and fart noises. The show ends and we mingle with the locals for a bit. I have a chat to the blokes selling drinks from the kitchen area. All look to be in their late forties. Their skin is a speckled brown that only comes from years of rural work under a hole in the ozone layer. I feel some kind of nostalgic affection for them. All those songs and poems I learned in primary school about being “true blue” come to mind. When I ask what they’re up to for Australia Day tomorrow, one puts his hands on his hip “up early to milk the cows”. Bless. I wonder if he knows that skinny-jean-wearing hipsters a hundred kilometres away send their cafe lattes back if its not hot enough for their liking. I hope he doesn’t.
We collect our money, say our thanks and hit the road. Maybe I should visit the country more.
(Photo by Jillian Sipkins)
When I was five I did an Elvis impersonation at a school performance. Hair gel, wobbly legs, the whole bit. I wasn’t asked to. I just wanted to. At lunch times I’d practice the dance moves behind the church with a portable tape recorder… other kids played with their friends.
It was my 26th birthday on Tuesday. For so many years I’ve avoided celebrating them. When I was ten my mum opened my bedroom door to my gleeful exclamation “It’s my birthday!”. Even now I can still visualise her face sinking as she said “Oh shit. I forgot, sorry.” In that moment a small crack formed in my birthday spirit. The crack only became deeper as each successive year brought its own pile of “sorry I can’t make it” texts and empty dance floors. One year I made Mum cry because I refused to come home and cut the cake the family had made for me. I know, I know. I’m a monster. By that point my birthdays had only made me feel isolated, so I no longer wanted to participate in them.
This year I was booked to host a comedy night on my dreaded day of birth. I shot up the stairs at The Imperial Hotel to a crowd of friends, family and randoms there to see the show. I was greeted with hugs and presents. My favourite was a set of lightsaber chopsticks. Not because I like geeky things, they’ll most likely end up in a draw unused, but because I didn’t expect that person to get me anything. The last comedian of the night even got the crowd to sing me happy birthday. The room booker organised candles for me on a donut to blow out. The same old birthday things. Yet they felt different that night. Before arriving I had been in my room practicing the Elvis impersonation. I hadn’t done it since grade one, it was just meant to be a joke about how silly I was as a kid. When I took the stage with Blue Suede Shoes, though, it was like I’d been given my childhood back for a minute. This is what I’ve always done: work on something by myself in an attempt to win people’s affection. I must be growing up or something because I realised I don’t need to “win” people’s affection. I already have it… even if it comes in the form of a Krispy Kreme birthday donut and impractical Star Wars cutlery.
Later on that night, I ran into another comedian (who shall remain Josh Thomas) at a bar. He rustled through the small bag of presents I was carrying. He pulled out the lightsaber chopsticks, a psychology book, a Japanese anime wristband and the rest. “These are horrible gifts. I’d hate to get them from my friends” he said with the candid charm that makes it seem so easy for him to be famous. This made me grin. I guess one man’s trash is another man’s reminder that he doesn’t have to feel isolated any more.
Thanks for all the well wishes.
I’m taking a quick break from writing jokes to send Jay Leno about penis pump prices in America. It’s quite a living I’ve etched out for myself here. I’m sitting under the dome at the State Library of Victoria musing. I could have continued my studies in psychology and kept working as a behavioural therapist. Instead, I’m hopping on planes in and out of Hollywood to make sure the world hears my dick jokes. How noble of me.
Thinking back to two weeks ago when I was standing in front of the 900-year-old Buddhist temple of Angkor Wat, I remember my eyes welling up upon sighting the vast stone wonder. All I ever wanted to do as a kid was travel and create. It’s happening.
Though the thought of intrepid adventure usually grants me a gentle grin, I’m having a blue day. I feel unsettled and lost in the sporadic lifestyle of a traveling entertainer. The first problem is that I can’t go back to my apartment to sleep in my own bed. I rented out my room while I was away and I’m about to leave again. It seemed logical to let the tenant stay until I’m back from my next trip. So I’m crashing at my parents’ place while they’re on holiday. This doesn’t feel like home either. My younger sister invaded my childhood room a few years back. Now it feels like my memories of growing up there were stripped away along with the old wall paint. Even Melbourne feels distant despite me being back for a few days now. The city has hummed along in my absence without even stopping to ask where I was. Streets are just streets. Buildings are just buildings. I can’t seem to find a place that anchors me to a sense of home right now.
This and being broken up with upon my return have left me to reassess my life choices.
Being away can do two things to a relationship: make you realise how much you value it or strain it to the point of disrepair. I’m trying to decide if I want to keep putting my relationships to that test. My broad shouldered friend, Bart, told me that if it doesn’t work out with a woman after only being away a month, then it probably wasn’t right anyway. I agree. I think. Well, not really. I fear my transient presence could be dampening my ability to connect with people. I don’t know for sure. Staying in one place doesn’t guarantee that you build more stable relationships but I suspect that it helps. Coupled with losing a sense of belonging in my home town, the loss of an intimate connection is enough to bring me pause.
The answer won’t be clear to me for a while, perhaps. I can only keep checking in with myself to consider life’s priorities. But as I look back over at my phone to re-read the headline “The US Overspent Millions on Penis Pumps” I think, oh well, at least I’ll always have dick jokes.
My toothbrush sits in a plastic case with a smiley face on it in a Sydney hotel. I will never see it again. At 6pm tonight I had a flight booked to leave for Melbourne tomorrow. At 6:13pm I had changed it to a flight to leave tonight. I’m in a cab right now trying to process my bold decision to all of a sudden abandon my friends, my Sydney Festival ticket and my beloved toothbrush case.
You see, a month ago I left a woman I care about in Melbourne to travel the world doing stand-up. We hadn’t been seeing each other that long. It felt good though. It was the first time I had been so comfortable with someone I felt I didn’t have to change anything about myself. In the past I’ve been with people that made me feel odd or even guilty for my personally. With her, all I feel is happy.
While keeping in touch via the wonders of a cheap South Asian SIM card, I still felt close to her. I smiled through the screen while in Siem Reap and receive a picture of her drinking orange juice at Christmas. I’d call just to hear about her day and I cared about how it was. The distance was tough but we connected.
For the last week of my trip I’ve been in Sydney. I performed a couple of gigs but mainly came to support my friends in their debut Sydney Festival show, Band of Magician. I wrote parts of the show and consulted the guys here and there. Two of my best friends are performing in it and I was keen to be there for them as they have for me. All week they have been flat out with rehearsal and promo. I’ve pitched in where I can but mostly I’ve been ready to see their opening night so I can head back home to Melbourne.
In the past few days communication with the aforementioned woman became distant. We were calling and messaging the same amount and saying the same things but for some reason the words felt vacant. Four weeks of strong feelings all of a sudden didn’t feel so certain and I sensed we shared this sentiment when I called her tonight. “I feel different” we agreed. In the end, we decided we’d meet up tomorrow but not make any promises. The call ended at 6:00pm. At 6:01 I was on the phone to Virgin Australia telling them to change my flight to tonight. I wasn’t thinking. I was acting on impulse. I don’t know what Chrissy at Virgin, who took my call, heard in my voice but she waved the flight change fee. It’s a shame you can’t hug someone over the phone… if you could, I probably wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Rushing back into the theatre I told the boys I would be leaving before the show started. They understood.
I consider myself a rational person. At first I wondered if this decision was me being more emotional than rational. Maybe it’s both. I don’t want to feel that I could have done more for the relationship, so the most rational decision I could make is to do everything I can.
Back at the hotel I threw everything around my suitcase into my suitcase, called a cab and got out of there. I forgot my toothbrush. Right now I’m about to be dropped off at the terminal to run to my flight. She knows I’m coming. I messaged and she called straight away. She says she can’t promise that she’ll meet me when I get back.
So I don’t know what lies ahead of me in Melbourne. All I know is that I’m doing everything I should be doing and that brings me my only sense of calm. It’s going to be a long flight.
I’m sitting at gate 7-10 at Perth airport, ready to get out of this town. Airports are my prime places to be grumpy. They’re so often a cesspool of illogical procedure and redundant protocol. It breeds the worst in people and I’m not immune. I’m sitting at this multi-purpose gate, labelled with what seems to be a temporary hand-made sign while the airport construction expands the place into further inefficiency.
To begin with, I made the mistake of misreading my flight itinerary. My New Year’s resolution is to double check everything. I mean everything. The amount of text messages and emails I send that end up needing an embarrassed apology is well beyond my lifetime quota. I’m sure you’re now looking for a spelling error or something in this post just so you can comment with a snarky remark in the vein of “ah ha”. Fuck you. Sorry. The air here is thick with infuriation. I misread the terminal I was meant to be at and Perth likes to keep its terminals lightyears apart. I arrived early enough to redeem myself but it’s these small surges of stress that snowball into a pulsing rage. Airports are the best at this.
The above may seem a trivial matter but humans are fallible. I’m sure I’m not the first, and will not be last, to make this so called terminal mistake. Let’s say this happens daily at Perth Airport. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to do something like change the email format so that the terminal number of departure isn’t so close to the terminal number of the arrival? Doing so would take time and money; two things businesses are seldom willing to waste on “general wellbeing” and “minimised human error”. It’s unfair, and unkind, to leave people to deal with their inevitable faults instead of creating a more accommodating system.
Some may argue it’s drab to complain about such things. Others may argue it’s all my fault and I’m trying to shirk the responsibility. I agree both sentiments in some regards but my point is this: better systems create a better world. The implications of creating something good in one place can resonate in many ways into the global picture. Here’s another example: if supermarkets worked better, there would be less waste and more food going to those who need it. A friend of mind is a dumpster diver and has collected thousands of dollars worth of groceries that were well within their expiry date. The only reason they get tossed is because a fresher shipment arrives before stock is sold out and customers prefer the new stuff. “Well then, Simon. What brilliant system have you come up with to solve this problem and save the world?” None. I’m at an airport and I’m grumpy. My brain is set to complain, not innovate. Plus, it’s not my job to know the intricacies of supermarket or airport functionality. I’ve taken on the role of pointing it out for others to solve. Fingers crossed.
I wrote another paragraph about people lining up at the gate way before they need to, pushing each other and being a general pack of animals all just to get their seats a few seconds earlier than everyone else. I didn’t enjoy reading over it so I thought I’d spare you my indulgence of whinging. You’ve flown. You get it. I wouldn’t hesitate to assume you can come up with a pamphlet filled with your own observations of shitty airports breeding shitty behaviour. It’s worth speaking out about these things, I think. Write a letter. Tap out a blog. Maybe someone who reads it will be in a position to create a better system one day. That way we can all live in harmony and save dolphins or something. I don’t know. Looking around at all these tired, pushy passengers I would hope a better system might make us all a bit happier and I’d say that’s reason enough to try.