Why I do what I do! (On comedy performance poetry being as valid as any other type, and that kick I get when people actually laugh!)

Why I do what I do

Slain McGough Davey asked earlier this week why certain people feel compelled to make art and gave some reasons of his own, and this got me thinking about what I do and the reasons why. And then a couple of days later an article appeared in The Guardian which suggested that comedy is not seen as artistic or as worthy as more serious fare, and pointed out that it should be held in the same esteem, as the effort gone into making funny comedy is just as strenuous and as hard as so-called ‘high’ culture.

My one aim whenever I sit at a desk or stand in a rehearsal space is to make something that will make people laugh and enjoy themselves, and take them away from their normal daily concerns. Indeed, there can be no more rewarding sound than that of an audience laughing along with a poem or some humorous linking material or on-stage buffoonery.

I remember my first ever gig, in 2009. I was incredibly nervous, and I had spent the month before writing a couple of ‘humorous’ poems, which I’d typed out on big sheets of paper. I remember my hands shaking as I read the poems out, but the nervousness seemed to disappear once it became apparent that the audience was laughing at all the parts of the poems that I had thought were funny. It was a life-changing moment, because it meant that the sense of humour which I’d thought was unique to myself could be translated into laughs from an audience.

I look at the poems now and cringe, because they weren’t as fully formed or as realised as the ones that I now perform. In other words, parts of them went on and on for a bit. They were badly in need of editing, but those nuggets, those golden lines and phrases which had the audience laughing, still exist.

These days I work on poems for weeks, months at a time, before they are unleashed on an audience. In a way there’s more pressure now, because the audience expects to laugh and I have to live up to that expectation. I have a phrase I use whenever I’m writing, ‘This poem needs to be 33 percent funnier’. I don’t know where I got the figure of ’33 percent’ from, but it’s a good mantra to have at the back of my mind whenever I’m writing.

The poem really comes alive during the rehearsal process. It is at this time that I have a pen on hand, going over lines and refining them, making them funnier, adding attitude and tags to maintain the laughter, or build up the suspense only to pop it.

Regular attendees of my gigs will know that there’s always a serious undercurrent to a lot of my poetry. Indeed, comedy performance poet is the ideal manner in which to address certain subjects such as gender representation, heteronormativity and, in my most recent new slam poem, homophobic abuse. Taking the audience by the hand and guiding them through tough subject matter while making jokes, (and not punching down or being mean or unkind), and then getting a laugh or two along the way, as an immensely satisfying feeling.

It’s true that I’ve been told, only by a couple of people over the last few years, that comedy performance poetry isn’t as worthy or as well-crafted as the more serious end of the spoken word spectrum. And this is a shame, as one of those comments came from a poet who I really admire. In the context of a gig or even a slam, a poem which encourages a laugh from the audience is somehow seen as ‘cheating’, while comedy performance poems are just slung together with no artistic merit. The truth is, as any comedy performer will tell you, a lot of work goes into placing the words in the exact order to elicit that response, and a lot of work also goes into the rehearsal of those words, movement, facial expression, emphasis. If art is judged by the amount of hours that goes into its creation, then comedy performance poetry is right up there with anything else.

And because of this, I only ever perform a tiny amount of what I actually write. When it comes to being performed, my poems probably have a one in ten chance of ever making it in front of an audience. Those that don’t are prodded, poked, re-worked, or sometimes simply torn apart, the juicy, funny lines being extracted and popped into other poems.

So, why do I do what I do? For a start, it’s probably the only thing I’m halfway decent at. I can’t cook a quiche to save my life, or put a fuse in a plug, or even catch a bus on a good day without causing absolute bloody mayhem. But I can write and perform comedy poems that make an audience laugh.

And secondly, there’s no greater feeling than getting off a stage with an audience clapping and cheering because you’ve just made their evening. I remember Bristol last year, performing at the Arnolfini Theatre and then, rock and roll monster that I am, I found a late night twenty four hour Tesco and did my shopping. In the bread aisle I came across a couple of people who had been in the audience and they thanked me for making them laugh and cheering them up. And that, oh, that was probably the highlight of my year!

Feel free to support the work I’m doing by leaving something in my tip jar or buying me a coffee right here https://ko-fi.com/robertgarnham

I’ve always had a thing for Deliveroo men

I’ve always had a thing for Deliveroo men

It’s a feeling I get every now and then
But I really love Deliveroo men
Like bees my hopes begin to swarm
There’s nothing like a man in uniform.

Come in I say, as I unbolt the locks,
Keep your uniform on and also that big box
Now let’s get to it and I’ll tell you what I like
Imagine you’ve an order and I am now your bike.

Whenever I see one I start to act all coy
Thinking of the vast possibilities of joy
That could be gained if he’s into that sort of thing
It’s why I’ve been hanging out around Burger King.

Speeding through the city streets he’s something of a blur
And every time I see one I wonder if they were
Open to suggestions, I hope that you don’t mind
Being partial to a delivery of quite another kind

I know I’m getting on in years and some might find me old
I’m like a pizza in a box that’s started getting cold
But just like your motto and your satisfaction guarantee
If I take more than an hour then the whole transaction’s free.

Stuck in a sleeper service corridor with some other people

Stuck in a sleeper service corridor with some other people

The corridors of the sleeper train were very narrow and I kept getting wedged.
‘The doors to the cabins are all numbered’, the attendant pointed out.
He was wearing a cap, just like he was a policeman.
‘I spilled coffee on my ticket’, I explained. ‘Right on the part where my cabin number was printed’.
‘Can I just get past?’
‘I’m trying’.
‘Just turn to the left a bit’.
‘OK’.
‘No, my left’.
‘Damn’.
He tried to squeeze through the very small gap.
‘Are you wearing CK One?’, I asked.
‘What?’
‘Nothing’.
I didn’t really need such a big backpack. The only reason I was wearing such a big backpack was because my sister had asked if I could bring over her big backpack.
‘I’ve never seen such a big backpack’, the attendant said.
The train began to move out from the grand city terminus. It did so with something of a jolt. I fell sideways and my cheek rubbed against the abrasive carpeted wall of the narrow corridor.
‘For god’s sake!’, I said.
‘What?’
‘Nothing’.
Halfway along the corridor of the next carriage we came across another attendant leading another man in a big backpack.
‘We’re going to have to back up’, my attendant said.
‘Is there anyone behind me?’
‘I can’t see, your big backpack is in the way’.
I started walking backwards.
‘Hey! Watch it!’, a young lady said.
‘Sorry, I’m a little . . .’.
‘You’re not a little anything, buster!’
‘Can you back up?’, the attendant asked.
‘I’m trying!’
‘There’s someone behind me, now’, the young lady said. The young lady who had called me ‘buster’.
‘Why can’t the other guy back up?’, I asked.
‘We’re almost at his cabin’, the other attendant pointed out. ‘He’s got his ticket but he had spilled tea on the part where his room number was printed. So he came to me and asked if I could help him find his cabin’.
‘Hey!’, the other man said, ‘I’m right here, you know?’
‘Tea, eh?’ I asked.
‘Yeah’.
‘It was coffee on mine’.
‘What?’
‘Never mind’.
‘If everyone could just back up five metres . . .’.
‘What’s that in feet?’, the young lady asked.
‘Haven’t you gone metric, yet?’, I asked.
‘What’s that?’
We back up.
‘Hey! Watch it with that backpack!’
‘It’s a big backpack’
‘I can see that! You almost took my nose off! Why has it got so many pockets and sticky-out bits? I’ve never seen a backpack with so many protuberances’.
‘Well, I don’t really . . .’.
‘And what’s happened to your cheek?’
‘It’s carpet burn’.
‘Ohhhh-kayyyy’.
We all back up a bit.
‘You know what? It’s my mistake’, the other attendant says. ‘Sorry about that’.
He and the other man with the big backpack try to turn around in the narrow confines of the corridor but now they have someone behind them, a man and a lady.
‘Hey, are we going in the right direction for the buffet car?”
‘We just need to back up a bit’.
‘Do we still need to back up, here?’ the young lady behind me asks.
‘I don’t know at the moment’.
‘The website said there would be bacon baps’, the man behind the other man with the big backpack says.
‘The website makes all kinds of promises’, the young lady behind me calls out.
‘Oh yeah? Like what?’
‘I took this train last year and went to the buffet, which they said would be open all night. And I fancied a sausage roll. The only thing they had left was lemon drizzle cake’.
‘I could just go some lemon drizzle cake right now’, the lady with the man the other side of the other man with the other big backpack says.
‘And it was expensive, too’ the young lady behind me says.
‘How much?’
‘I didn’t get much change from six quid’.g
‘You know, you’re talking right over the top of us!’, I say. It’s true to say that I was getting slightly peeved at this moment.
‘How far away is the buffet?’, the other lady asked,
‘It’s a long train. It’s about half a kilometre’.
‘Oh, so all of a sudden you’ve gone metric?’ I ask.
‘Butt out of it, buster!’
‘What’s the hold up, here?’ the man with the other lady asks.
‘Backpackers’, the young lady replies.
‘I’m not a backpacker!” I say, by way of protest. ‘I’m just delivering a backpack’.
‘But you’re wearing a backpack’.
‘Yes’.
‘So you’re a backpacker’.
‘A backpacker implies someone who travels a lot with a backpack, so much so that it becomes an intrinsic part of their identity. I’m merely travelling with a backpack . . But it’s just . . You know . . A one off’.
‘Don’t get all semantic with me!’
‘I’m a backpacker’, the other man with a backpack says.
‘Oh, where have you been?’, the young lady asks.
‘All over. The Far East. Australia. Jungle. Desert. You name it’.
‘Right’, the attendant says. ‘Are we backing up, or not?”
At this point, the door next to me opened and a young lady looked out into the corridor.
‘What’s all the fuss about?’ she asked.
‘Just a traffic jam’.
‘Oo, how exciting! Mind if I film it?’
‘What for?’
‘I make YouTube videos of my travel adventures’.
‘I’d rather you didnt’, I explained.
‘I wouldn’t mind’, the other man the other side of the other man with the backpack said.
‘Me neither’, the young day behind me added.
‘Let me get my camera’.
‘I’m making a YouTube travel documentary too!’, the other man with the backpack said. ‘How crazy is that!’
‘Boom!’, the young lady in the cabin said.
‘Boom indeed’, the other man with the backpack said. ‘And I must say . . Have I seen you somewhere before?’
‘Yes, I think I’ve seen some of your videos, aren’t you Tim Travels Light?’
‘That’s me!’
‘Travels light? With that huge backpack?’ I say.
‘You’re a fine one to talk!’
‘I’m just delivering this to my sister’.
‘So you keep saying. I reckon you’re a closet backpacker’.
‘Is that a euphemism?’ the young lady behind me said.
‘Listen, can everyone just back up to the end of this carriage, where there’s a vestibule?’, the attendant asked. ‘This is becoming a health and safety issue’.
‘I’ll see you later, Tim’, the lady in the cabin says.
‘You too’.
‘We’ll meet in the buffet tonight, they’ve got a cracking array of lemon drizzle cakes’.
She slides her door closed. We all shuffle a bit backwards and it is at this moment that I realise that one of the many toggles dangling down from my big backpack has got shut in her door.
‘Can we all just move?’, the attendant says.
‘I can’t!’
‘Just take three steps . . ‘.
‘I can’t! I’m trapped in her door’.
‘Did someone mention the buffet?’ the woman with the man the other side of the man with the other backpack says.
The train rattles over some points and wobbles a bit. I stumble sideways, which puts extra strain on the toggle caught in the cabin door. The toggle suddenly pings out and, on its elasticated string, whacks me straight in the nose.
‘Bloody hell!”
‘What?’
‘My nose!’
‘Carpet burn?’, the lady behind me asked.
‘It just pinged out!’
‘What’s going on here?’ the attendant asked.
‘Hi viewers! One of the many downsides of travelling by sleeper train is the fact that you occasionally get traffic jams in the narrow corridors’, the other man with the backpack says.
He’s filming himself with his camera.
‘But what I’m absolutely stoked about – Boom! – is that World Weary Wendy is also on this very train! Catch up with us tonight in the buffet where we shall be live streaming a midnight drink. Meanwhile . . . Just look at this!”
He turns the camera around and then begins filming the rest of us.
‘For goodness sake!’ I say, putting a hand over my face.
‘This really is one of the drawbacks of travel. But at least you meet such wonderful people . . ‘.
‘Hi!’, the lady behind me says, poking her head in the gap between me and the wall. ‘It’s such an honour to meet Tim Travels Lightly!’
At this moment a chef in a white uniform carrying a dish arrives behind the lady behind me.
‘Can everyone please move up to the far end of the corridor! I’ve got a beef stew and dumplings to deliver to the next carriage!’
Everyone groans and we all begin shuffling in the opposite direction. The other man in the backpack has to walk backwards because he can’t see where he’s going.
‘I don’t see why we should have to move just because someone’s ordered their dinner!’, the other man is saying,
But at least I’m now moving in a direction that suits the way that I’m facing. I look down at my ticket one last time to see if I can make out which cabin I am meant to be in.
‘Hang on’, I say to the attendant, ‘this is the 2145, isn’t it’.

I delivered a Ted Talk! (Poem)

Ted Talk

Welcome to my Ted Talk
(My clicker isn’t working)
Welcome to my Ted Talk
(My clicker isn’t working)

How are we going to solve
Various big big things?
Three golden rules!
(Shame about my clicker)

Coming in to the coffee shop
I’m the bastard looking for
A power socket
Charging up my laptop
Charging up my laptop
Charging power to power my
Power point presentation
I have the power!

If I do this
(:::::::::::::;;;:;;)
You’ve just witnessed me doing it
And that’s an example of
POSITIVE THINKING!
Three golden rules!

1. Achieve the continuous
2. Apply it like a haberdasher
3. Can be split into twenty four subheadings

(This clicker is not working!)

If I put my hand in my pocket
And wander around
It makes me look more relaxed!!!

You’ve got to understand
That people
Always make
The wrong decisions.

Welcome to my Ted Talk!
Smug!
Life hacks!
(Fourteen different subheadings)

You can usually work out EXACTLY where
The bus will stop
And this will save you
TIME and ENERGY

There are eight different things I learned
SMUG BASTARD
When I lost my luggage while backpacking
(This clicker is just not working)

If I do this
(;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;)
It’s an example of sonic dissonance.

Madam, when did you last knowingly
Have spaghetti?

MY BOAT SANK!
And I didn’t even get slightly wet
My life is charged with a new purpose
I learned twelve new things!
Twelve new LIFE HACKS
LIFE HACKS
LIFE HACKS
LIFE SUCKS!

(This clicker is getting on my tits)

1. Technology
2. Murdering people is generally frowned on.
3. The power of positive thinking!
4. This clicker this clicker this clicker this clicker
5. I know six people called Ted and they all talk

Power point presentation validate it
Power point presentation validate jr
Let’s just validate if shall we?
This is an aha moment

Take on me!

You!
You fiend!
You bastard!

It’s a unifies mental model, Mrs McGough
It’s visual interaction.
It’s.
The.
Same.
As.
Every.
Damn.
Ted.
Talk.

This clicker
Definitely
Is not working.

Thank you.

I can’t remember which arrondisement it was

Here’s a silly poem about going to Paris and having a miserable time and trying to break up with someone but you can’t because the metro is too noisy, and by the way, I’m using a salad spinner to mimic the sound of the metro. Apart from that, normal poem.

Little Ostend

In 1940, a flotilla of Belgian fishing craft crossed the Channel, a perilous journey under the circumstances, in boats piled high with furniture, food and belongings. Their families were on board, too. Having spent the 1930s fishing alongside Brixham folk, and with warm memories of Brixham and its harbour, it seemed a natural place to come and seek shelter when the Nazis marched into their home town. They arrived in the middle of the night and the town welcomed them, opening the shops and baking bread, and bringing water down to the quay to help the arrivals. The Belgians became a part of Brixham everyday life during the war, and when the war ended, they left in a fleet of double decker buses from Bolton Cross, the whole town coming out to wave them off.

Some of them stayed behind as wives, husbands, lovers.

Little Ostend

Send us your Belgians!
Not the usual rallying cry.
From Ostend they came,
Families and furniture piled
In a foreign fishing fleet
Welcomed by the town
In the middle of the night.

Shops were opened,
Bakeries into business,
Water taken to the quay
For these fisher refugees,
Whose home towns were
Quivering under the Nazi march,
And all was hopeless.

Over a thousand souls
A part of Brixham life,
In the shops and pubs and clubs,
Belgians whose knowledge
Of trawling methods was gladly accepted,
Belgians who became friends, and lovers,
And husbands and wives.

They served in cafes,
And schooled their children,
And plied their craft on trawlers,
Brixham, this Little Ostend,
This welcoming town
Proving that when humanity is at its worst,
It can also be at its best.

Take heed fellow humans,
That goodness will always prevail
And a heart will aim to share its warmth.
A town reaching out its fingers to another
Whose soul is in peril,
A trawler in a storm ,
The loving curve of the breakwater.

The Sea Monster

This story is absolutely one hundred percent true.

The Sea Monster

Playing cards below deck.
Jack’s got a good hand,
You can see it in his eyes.
Freddie’s in the galley and he’s
Clanging pots, the radio’s playing.

And all the time the engine’s throbbing,
Skipper Steve is in the wheelhouse,
He’s been doing this longer
Than anyone can remember.
The new guy looks a bit green.

It’s a squally night, said on a sea which heaves
Like the belly of a monk with trapped wind.
Our lonely vessel, the Unsinkable 2,
Was being tossed a-hither as if Mother Nature was
A bored teenager, and we were nought but a
Can of Pepsi
Idly thrown from hand to hand.

Of a sudden there came a crash and a splash and the
Slimy scaly suckered limb
Of a giant octopus
Smashed through the starboard porthole
And flailed around inside the bunks and sleeping quarters
Of the Unsinkable 2,
As tough Trawlermen gasped and flung themselves around,
Another scaly tentacle crashed through the door
And prodded and probed some more.
We were doomed!

At that moment our fearless captain, brave and courageous
Steve,
Clambered down from the wheelhouse,
Cried
Take off your shirts, lads! And line tight in a row!
That this briney beast may feel you with its accursed tentacles
And assume it to be the teeth of its natural predator,
The giant whale!
A natural reflex will cause it to retreat
Back to its ocean lair!

So we did as he bidded, each one of us
Bare chested and quivering as the tentacles slithered
Along our sweat soaked chests,
Then watched aghast as it let out a shiver
And just like Captain Steve had said,

Retreated back to the deep through the door and the porthole,
That we remained undefeated.

And jubilant cries rang out, never before did trawlermen
Jibber and tremble, their eyes lit with a sudden intensity,
That life may so quickly be plucked from them.
At that moment there came a ferocious knock on the starboard
Porthole
And with dread we saw the octopus there once more,
Watched dumbfounded as it
Reached in and left
The biggest toothbrush you’ve ever seen.

Poet in Residence on a Beam Trawler

POET IN RESIDENCE ON A BEAM TRAWLER

Cod, halibut, mackerel, rainbow mullets,
Brown turges, narrow-eyes loomheads,
Grand flappers, suspended marlin,
Norwegian screamers, ribbon-tailed Kenneths,
Sole, turbot, plaice, haddock,
Bulbous flatfish, flounder, spasm ray,
Honey roasted dogfish, the common eel,
To name but twenty species of fish.
And scampi, that’s twenty one.

And me? I think I’m gonna spew,
This old rusty tub flung round like
That Danish weather girl in the
Last series of Strictly,
Last night I honked up in my
Left welly
And only remembered this morning
When I put it on.

The trawlermen here have all got nicknames.
Stinky Sam is our captain,
I’d follow him to the ends of the earth, I would!
And Stinky James, our cook,
And Stinky Jim, who looks after the engine,
And Stinky Bill and Stinky Keith,
Who gut the fish.
These are the nicknames
That I’ve given them.

I was so cold last night
That my nipples went really big.
I had a weird dream
That I was stroking a caterpillar.
And in the morning Stinky Keith said,
‘Gosh, my moustache feels really smooth’.

Oh, the banter!
This morning I was laughingly called
A barnacle-encrusted puke-soaked
Impertinent half-witted buttock,
And I said,
‘Nice to hear from you too, Mum.’

Out on deck,
Hauling in a big load with Stinky Jim.
‘Do trawlers often sink?’, I yelled,
Above the clatter of the engine.
He replied, ‘usually only the once’.

Gutting fish with Stinky Bill,
He’s seen it all, has Stinky Bill
Looks one way, then the other,
And says,
‘Sonny Jim,
Have you ever been sexually aroused
By a walru…’.
I said ‘no.’

And a giant octopus stole my cheese sandwich
And a sperm whale
Tried to mate with us
And I was winked at
By a squid
And I’d never seen so many crabs!
And our captain was out on deck
With a jumping rope
Jumping up and down
I suppose that’s why they call him
The Skipper.

And the sea got rough
And I spent the whole afternoon
Being tossed
As the trawler rose up
Through swell and wave
And the skies spat rain
They were ever so brave
This lonely tub
On the wide wide sea
Perhaps this was the wrong moment
To tell Stinky Pete
That he would make my life complete.

He slapped me
With a gurnard.

Yay!

‘Yay’ is the title of my new book, to be published by Burning Eye, and my new solo show, both of which are due to come out in the Spring of 2021. I’ve been working on both of these projects for a couple of years and I thought I would explain what I’ve been up to.

‘Yay’ will be a collection of upbeat poems, most of which tell a story or deal with a very specific place. Some of them are a little bit silly, some of them are somewhat life affirming, some of them are downright weird! And all of them are comedic in tone. The whole collection has been designed to make you laugh or smile.

The collection was devised a couple of years ago when it seemed that the world couldn’t get any more depressing. Naturally, after I started working on the project, it then suddenly did! The book contains poems from In the Glare of the Neon Yak, and Spout, my two solo shows, as well as material from my new upcoming show which will accompany the book.

The show will be called ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’. It was written in the first few months of this year and I have begun the process of trying to learn the thing. Indeed, I have been working with a director, the wonderful Dr Maggie Irving, with some funding from Torbay Culture, and she has been instructing me in the art of mime, movement and body expression. Unlike my previous shows, ‘Yay! : The Search for Happiness’ will have no props at all, just myself and a microphone. So in other words, I need all the help I can get! The reason for this is simply that I wont have to lug bags and boxes of props all over the country.

I’m still working on the collection. At the moment I’m in the process of deciding which poems will definitely be included. And of course, new ones keep arriving. It’s a very exciting time at the moment!

I’m looking forward to getting the book and the show out there into the world. Fingers crossed, of course, that there will be a fringe circuit next year. But if not, I’ll find a way to bring Yay! to your town.

Solo skipper

As a part of the ongoing Squidbox project, I spent an enjoyable half hour or so on a trawler in the harbour owned by a wonderful chap called Tristan, who told me all about his job as a solo skipper on the smallest boat in the Brixham fleet.

Solo skipper

Just for a moment, when you’re out there
With the sun and the gulls and the sea,
If you have time, you let out a sigh
And think,
‘I am my own boss, master of my destiny.
I have grabbed the day and made it mine!’

I may be a solo skipper,
A crew of one on the smallest boat in the fleet,
But I’m part of something larger,
A passion that is in my blood and in the souls
Of everyone in this town whose livelihoods
And dreams are at one with the tides.

It doesn’t really matter what I catch
So long as it’s got eyes and an arsehole,
It’s caught by me, from sea to shore and sold by me,
A lonely dot on the wild wide sea,
From net to quay,
Yes, master of my destiny!

Through winter squalls and the squawk of gulls
To the slap of waves on the bow and the hull,
Through summer sun and autumn fogs
To the warm embrace of this rock-clung port,
This sixty year-old sturdy machine
Purrs and throbs like a living thing.

When tides are rough and times are tough
And the day is an ache and you’ve had enough,
Tomorrow will be different,
The sea less belligerent,
And though I’m always vigilant I’ll feel that sweetness
Deep inside enmeshed in belief
And the usual, eternal pride.