I love to laugh!

How often do you laugh? I mean, seriously laugh? It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world – and, as the song goes – “I love to laugh, long and loud and clear; the more I laugh, the more I fill with glee, and the more the glee, the more I’m a merrier me”!

My husband and I have never stopped being able to make each other laugh. The other day, we laughed till the tears rolled down our cheeks. And our stomachs ached. And our faces hurt. I have no idea what we were laughing at but boy, does that do my heart good! So I thought I’d share a few things with you that make me laugh. Or just smile.

A few days ago, I tried out a new gym class: chi ball. I’d heard – from the instructor – just how amazing it was, and he told me, as he flapped his hand forward, that I’d “simply love it! It’s divine.”

So I booked to do a chi ball class before my usual Pilates class. I arrived to a studio “filled” with three other people. We all got out our mats, sat on them and waited for the instructor, who is notoriously late for everything. The door flew open and in rushed the instructor, three limbs flapping at a rate of knots; the fourth one dragging behind in melodramatic tardiness.

He was already speaking – in broad Glaswegian – before he came in the door. To us, I mean. “Yes, you do see me limping I banged my knee on the fridge because they’re doing some work in our flat and everything in the kitchen is all over the flat and the fridge is in the passage so I walked into it because it’s just in the way and my knee’s so sore I can hardly move it and on the tube I was trying to avoid anyone bumping me and so I stood like this and I couldn’t bring the chi balls because they’re too heavy and they would weigh me down and put pressure on my knee because it’s so sore how are you?”

After the second word, two of the three other women in the room stopped listening and started giggling. They looked at each other, and giggled behind their hands, and slapped each other and giggled. I thought the performance was amusing, but not so giggle-worthy. When the words stopped, one of the women said to the instructor, “Ah, is this not yoga?” He told them yoga was in the studio next door, so they up and went next door, leaving the two of us to enjoy a chi ball class with no chi balls and an injured instructor. A chi ball class not.

Our instructor – who is a lovely man – then suggested we do a mixture of tai chi, chi gong, yoga and pilates, so the two of us set up shop next to each other and launched into a musical mystery tour of ancient truths and butterfly arms. A few minutes into the routine, we all looked hopefully across the room as two more people entered. Turned out they were just there to take the extra mats.

We touched the sun, we posed like warriors and we reached around the world. All the time with butterfly arms. It was a hilarious class when I reflect back on it – it was flipping hard work trying to change the world with butterfly arms. I’ll give it a bash again next week. Let’s hope the fridge has moved by then.

I’ve told you quite a lot about the fun I have commuting to central London by bus. I have discovered that the earlier I leave, the more likely I am to share the bus with a truckload, sorry a busload, of schoolchildren. They are an interesting breed. The boys and girls sit separately, totally separately, and they get off at separate stops even though they go to the same school. I guess early adolescence is the time to avoid the opposite sex, even though all they want to do, really, is spend time together.

One day last week, as the boys headed off down the stairs at their designated stop, one of them looked around at the top of the stairs and, surveying the mass of commuter heads in his view, shouted, “Bye bye all you funny bus people!” I guess he must have lost a bet.

We had a successful outing – thank the Lord! – to our favourite comedy club recently. Stephen Merchant, who co-wrote The Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais and who appeared in both series, headlined at our local comedy club. Stephen is off on a tour of the UK later this year, followed by one or two tester dates in the USA. He wanted to try out his new material, and what better place to do that than a small, intimate comedy club in south London?

We found seats just behind the band, who play between the acts. They were a great buffer until the acts came on stage, and then they all disappeared, leaving us, well, exposed. Thank goodness no-one picked on us!

Stephen Merchant is very very funny. His tour is called “Hello Ladies” as, he explained, he is looking for a “Mrs”. He’s on the search for someone who wants a little of “this”, he says, as he points up and down his body. He looked at a woman in the front row and said, “I know what you’re thinking. Six foot seven. That’s a lot of Stephen.”

His humour is delightfully self-deprecating, and he wove his stories around the sorry tale of his singleness and his inept attempts at romance. Despite the fact that he has two Baftas. He also talked – with many many hilarious diversions – of how he once came to being kicked out of a wedding reception. He told us how great it was to be on tour as a solo stand-up comedian: “Yes, best that way. Don’t have to pay any royalties to [air speech marks] you-know-who!”

Stephen Merchant is a delightful and very funny man. If you get the chance to see him perform, jump at it; you won’t be sorry you did. He is one half of The Office genius and he’s certainly a very talented half. I can imagine the energy that flowed between him and “you-know-who”, both when they worked at BBC Radio together and then when they worked on all their killer series together.

My blog will be silent for the next few weeks as we fly home to be with our family for a couple of major big birthday celebrations. To say that I’m sick with excitement would be a major understatement. I look forward to sharing the adventures with you on our return but, for now, I’m smiling and waving you all au revoir. With butterfly arms. Always with butterfly arms.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Shockingly surprising

I’m a bit of a sucker for surprises. So when I got my weekly email from the comedy club in Greenwich last week, announcing that the Sunday Special had a “top secret megastar” for top billing last Sunday, I couldn’t resist. They even went on to say “we can’t reveal who it is, but you won’t want to miss this”!

I absolutely love surprises. Not really surprises like when someone jumps out from behind a door to give you a fright and then laughs their head off because you’ve just jumped out of your skin. That would be a shock more than a surprise. Fun surprises are more my thing.

Like the time a few years ago when I had a few surprises rolled into one: firstly, I was given two tickets to a Women’s Day concert at one of Cape Town’s most popular theatres. I invited a friend to go along with me, and we enjoyed a few hours of the most unbelievable talent that I didn’t even know existed in Cape Town. Poets, rappers, rock bands, jazz singers, story tellers, soul singers and opera singers appeared on the stage and wowed us in the most amazing way. Audience members had no access to a programme; the show just unfolded, one beautiful surprise after another.

As the show neared its end, the compere came out on to the stage and thanked everyone for being there. She thanked the artists for performing, invited people to come and meet them after the show, and thanked everyone once again. As she was about to leave the stage, she said,
“Oh, and I have one more surprise for you. She’s in South Africa doing some work with a charity that she supports, and we managed to convince her to come along and entertain you tonight. She’s all the way from Manchester, England, where her group MPeople had massive success. Ladies – put your hands together for Heather Small!”

And on to the stage walked one of my favourite singers; a tiny, pint-sized dynamo, blasting forth “Moving on Up”. She sang “Search for the Hero” and “Proud” and many of her new hits, and I was literally beside myself. After an embarrassment of talent, the evening closed with this final, perfect surprise.

If you’re a regular follower of my blog, or indeed if you know me, you will know that I digress. Easily. So back to the start of this post…

We went to the comedy club in Greenwich last Sunday night to enjoy not only the line-up of up-and-coming young comedians, but to wait – in delicious anticipation – to see who the headline act would be. We imagined Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Michael McIntyre …. just who would this megastar be?

There’s nothing quite like live comedy, and it makes for such a fun evening. The opening acts were a delight. They are always young, up-and-coming comedians cutting their teeth on a smallish, London audience. A young guy in a “jumper” opened the show with a really charming set of observational humour. He talked about everyday things like chairs and jumping castles, and how, when you get to that certain point in your relationship, one of you always has to pretend to be dead just to get a reaction.

Another young stand-up came on to the stage next, and, although he was nervous and didn’t seem too sure of himself, he kept us amused – even if it was just because we were waiting for him to be really funny. The third act was (and there always has to be one in any line-up) a manic singer/comedian. He was pretty funny, though – and his closing song about panda bears just being polar bears in bad relationships was bizarrely amusing – and he continued the work of warming the crowd up. (Some audience members were doing that perfectly well by themselves, as they devoured jug after massive jug of lager.)

The wait then began for the “top secret megastar”. Our 15 minute wait became half an hour, then 45 minutes (“traffic” was the excuse for the superstar’s tardiness) and then the MC returned to the stage to hold the crowd while we waited for Mr Man-of-the-Moment. He said it was an MC’s nightmare to hold the floor when the headline act’s eta is as yet unknown. He did well, though, and his time was made easier by – long story – downing three pints of lager on the trot, to the audience’s chanting. The moment then arrived that Mr Megastar was about to arrive and we were told to “put your hands together for Mr MEGASTAR”!

First up, we’d never heard of him. (Sorry, east London.) Secondly, he was a megastar? Thirdly, he was really not funny… he was trying out new material for a tour he’s embarking on later in the year, so he read from his notes, scribbled notes on the paper and seemed a tad distracted. It must have been the “traffic”.

He picked on audience members and insulted them. He said pretty tacky stuff to a bunch of young girls near the front, made a comment about the weight of a young guy near us and then he spotted my husband. He asked him his age, and when he heard my husband’s age to be a year on the far side of a half-century, he proceeded to made “old” jokes at my husband’s expense. They would have been funny if my husband had been 100, or even 75, but for a healthy, bright, professional, it was just plain rude.

He said, “Have you heard of BBC Three, sir? It’s a radio station for YOUNG people. It’s really good – but maybe you guys should have your own station called, I don’t know, BBC Seventy Three. Where they play all the stuff for young people, just loud. With reminders to pay your gas bills. I don’t know, would that appeal to you, sir?”

We thought he had written a set of jokes for an “old person” and saw my silver-haired husband and tried to make the old jokes fit.  However, he lost us as he waded his way through heavy-handed comedy and we bided our time until the show finished and we could wend our way back home to a safe, insult-free place.

You know I mentioned the difference between a surprise and a fright? Mr Megastar was more fright than surprise, and he wasn’t even funny. Not even for a minute. From now on we’ll be wary of surprise megastars – I’ll just have to hide behind the door when I see the word “surprise” – and focus on the new up-and-coming young comedians. At least you can be sure of a good laugh.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Comedy and errors

I remember a joke from a hundred years ago, when I was a child. It went, “What goes hahaha-bonk?” The answer, which had me laughing like a drain, was, “A guy laughing his head off.” We’ve done a fair bit of that, lately, and I wish we could have done more.

I spent a day in Liverpool last week. I went there for work and, apart from seeing (from the outside) the Beatles Experience Museum and spying the shining waters of the Mersey, I could have been in any city in the world. I’d love to go back and spend more than twenty minutes exploring the city.

I travelled with three colleagues to a meeting in Liverpool, and we really had a lovely and useful day. We stopped at Crewe to change trains on the way up, and we decided to go and buy some sustenance for the continued journey. We stood and waited for about 20 minutes to get served at a station cafe  and eventually abandoned our would-be purchases and ran. It’s not like we had a train to catch, or anything.

I spotted a well-known UK comedian in that station cafe. I am pretty sure he’s still there today, waiting for his sandwich. He’ll gather good material doing that.

On my return from Liverpool, we went to have supper with some friends. They invited us, after supper, to go with them to a comedy night at their local community centre. “Apparently it’s really fab,” our friend told us.

We got to the community centre, knowing little about what lay ahead and even less about where on earth we’d find a place to sit. We eventually benefited from the kindness of a stranger bearing chairs, and sat and waited for the show to begin.

The first half of the show was a Whose Line is it Anyway? kind of deal. Four comedians – I’m not sure if they were professional comedians, but they sure were funny – took improvisation and improbable scenarios to a whole new level. They would glean ideas and suggestions from the audience, and work off each other to great and hilarious effect. They shared the telling of an improbably-titled story at the random, pointed command of one of their colleagues. The story rambled and roamed in all directions as each one took the mic. It was clear they worked together often, as they played off each other so crisply and intuitively.

My favourite was the monologue of the Latvian cat-juggler, kindly interpreted into English by his fellow comedian. The disconnect between the body-language expressed as the Latvian cat-juggler spoke and the words that emerged in English, was just cryingly hilarious. The interpreter said, “All of which leads me to my favourite Latvian folk song that I am now going to sing to you.” Too funny.

We laughed ourselves silly in that first hour. There was then an interval, and we waited in anticipation for the second half to begin. The MC introduced the next act and when he couldn’t think of any more descriptive words to say about him, than to say “he’s a real ****er”, I thought we might be in for trouble. Enter the manic, un-funny clown, with his physical, slapstick and hysterical (in the true sense of the word) act. We sat wide-mouthed and hopeful that he would actually become funny, but it didn’t happen. Not even once.

When we got home, I Googled him to see if I could find out if he was for real or not. Turns out he has the dubious accolade of having been the first person, live on TV (in Germany’s Got Talent, no less) to have placed a firecracker in an unmentionable orifice (of his own) and set it alight. I think you get what I mean. He must have laughed his *****cks off.

Sunshine signing off for today!

London Makes You Laugh

I think I am in love with Greenwich. I keep finding more reasons to adore the area, and last night was no exception. We went to Up the Creek, a comedy club, for an evening of brilliant, stand-up comedy. Two more tickets for our red box, and another excuse to enthuse about the area where time begins.

I’ve been longing to see some real, live stand-up comedy in London. I saw Ricky Gervais at Wembley last year, and he was fabulous, but such a huge venue loses the personal feel and cringe-worthiness of a dark, intimate venue just up the road. Last night we took the ten minute bus ride, joined the queue to get our tickets and to get a “glow-in-the-dark” X drawn on to the back of our hands, and then went into the darkened, red-seated cavern that is Up the Creek.

I was fascinated with the temporary tattoo on my hand. I tried to look at it through cupped hands, creating my own kind of darkness, but it didn’t work. I also meant to ask my husband if they also drew a “Y” on the back of his hand, but I guess they didn’t have to be chromosomally correct.

We took our seats three rows from the front. Seating wasn’t booked, and we noticed that the front rows were conspicuously empty until some latecomers had no choice but to sit directly in the firing line of the comic guns.

There was a wait of about an hour before the comedy began. We heard the guy behind us – he was from up north somewhere – tell his friends, at least three times, just how f***ing brilliant the headline act was. He told his friends he’d seen him once before where he performed for two hours on the trot.

“I tell you, he was f***ing brilliant. We were creased up.”

Ah, that delightful English gift of understatement.

After an hour, compere Dan Atkinson took the stage. Dressed in a suit, with an impossibly foppish fringe, he proceeded to take the mickey out of anyone within spitting distance of the stage. He engaged ruthlessly with audience members, bringing his quick, acerbic wit to every encounter.

He introduced the first act: a comedy sketch trio who call themselves The Pappy’s (sic). They were incredibly corny, but so corny we found ourselves laughing despite ourselves. An example: a job interview sketch, where the interviewee couldn’t think how to answer the questions he was being asked. He called out for his imagination, which arrived in the form of fellow comedian, dressed in a shower cap, dressing gown, bizarre funnel hanging from his nose and jumping – very badly – on a pogo stick. I rest my case.

Dan came back to pick on a few more unsuspecting patrons. He chose to engage with one newly front-rowed patron who had had a riveting Sunday: she’d made bread. White bread.

After a few jibes at what he thought the patrons from Croydon would make of that, he introduced Act Number Two: a delightful, young, gorgeous and – as I’ve seen him described – fresh-faced Scottish comedian by the name of Iain Stirling. He had us at the accent, but he was also really funny. He delivered a bunch of clever gags, poked wicked fun at the Scottish, and batted off some stupid comments from the snotty patrons sitting in front of us.

Next up, after a further audience battering from Dan, was Nick Helm, a frenetic and engagingly pessimistic and self-deprecating comedian who really made us laugh. The self-acclaimed “human car crash of light entertainment”, he started off by picking on a meek and, clearly, boring young guy in the front row and yelling at him at the top of his voice: “DO YOU LIKE COMEDY? DO YOU LIKE COMEDY? DO YOU LIKE COMEDY?”

In a style reminiscent of George Carlin, he delivered a number of brilliant one-liners, recited a gin-fuelled love poem and sang us a delightful song written to a female friend of his about her good-looking boyfriend who makes her “look fat”. The song ended with a plea to her to consider going out with him, because “look how good you’d look next to me”.

Dan came on for the final time to introduce the headline act, and the reason we’d booked to go to this show: Micky Flanagan. The room went ballistic as the brilliant Cockney comedian took the stage and shared his unique, down-to-earth brand of humour that has gained him popularity all around the UK. Describing himself as “proper proper workin’ class”, he grew up in the East End of London.

“Before the gentrification of the area that brought rich people into the East End, we would walk the streets dreaming of Essex,” he said.

His father, he said, was a casual criminal, his mother considered alphabet spaghetti a luxury, and he said his nan (grandmother) used to take him “daan the pub” to teach him how to take the p*** out of people.

“If they can’t hear us, we’re not doin’ them no ‘arm,” she’d say to him.

Without resorting to humour that is crude or vulgar, he kept us laughing for the full hour. His gags are aimed largely at himself, British culture and his own working class roots. He performed at last month’s Royal Variety Show in London – check it out here, you’ll see what I mean.

He engaged with a few front rowers in a gentle and un-mocking way and managed to bat off – graciously – the increasingly annoying punters sitting in front of us. I don’t think, however, he called them annoying punters.

We walked to the bus stop, replete with humour, well creased-up from laughing and so glad to have discovered another treasure on our doorstep in Greenwich. We’ll be back there for sure.

Sunshine signing off for today!