Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Black people love to tell white people Carnival 'is over'.

No need this year chaps.

Blogging will probably be suspended till I get back from holiday next Sunday.

Friday, August 28, 2009

No more comedy for me thanks. I'm stuffed.

Would you believe it, I actually photographed that image, right here, on the train, turning my National Express fold-out seat-back table into a mobile photographic stage.

Incredible hey?


It's strange being on this train, going amazingly fast, backwards, and with free high-speed Wi-Fi, and yet still feeling impatient. That's what happens though when you spend a week yawning, dull-eyed and listless whilst the world's finest entertainers do their highly-trained best to provoke you to mirth. I've probably done all my weary smiling for the year already.

Stand-up is dominated at the moment by men who are younger than me, know my girlfriend and ignore me when they're talking to her.

Having spent some time with comedians I can reassure you that they are even more careerist and awards-fixated than advertising people.

And but it's worse, because you expect advertising people to be appalling ladder-climbers and so you're pleased when you find that, by and large, they're not. Where as you might expect comedians to be funny, principled and free-spirited, and so it's disappointing when you discover that they're all nakedly ambitious and would gladly pimp their own nephews to get on Mock the Week.

When they're off-stage what they do is review one another. And that morose look they get? They're thinking of snide things to say in 100 Best... interviews about other comedians who have been more successful than them.

In fact, like advertising or indeed most kinds of creative industry it seems like comedy is about 30% talent and 70% hustle.

I wondered whether going to the trouble and expense of getting a show together and taking it up to Edinburgh is roughly equivalent to putting a book together and finding a partner and traipsing around London with a portfolio of advertising, and whether the process has a similar effect on the survivors to sharks ratio?

Anyway, I wasn't just sitting there thinking about advertising. Tim Key, Tom Basden and Jonny Sweet (particularly Jonny Sweet), all made me laugh quite a lot - they all use projectors, some use graphs. In fact, Tom Basden's visual jokes, the ones that appear on screen, work very much like ads. It made me wonder whether the grads of the future might go into Mother with a stand-up routine rather than a portfolio. But then, if you had a decent stand-up routine, why would you want to work at a Mother anyway?

Andrew Lawrence is great if you're after a tiny sweary version of Schopenhauer. Hans Teeuwen is one of those comedians, like Rick Shapiro, who you're really glad exist whilst not actually finding funny like I'm actually laughing out loud funny.

Pornographer Ben Dover* is not at all funny, intelligent, charming or any of the things the review said he might be. He's actually a rather nasty, small-minded materialist.

K was much less surprised than I was by that information.

Performance poet Luke Wright needs therapy. Seriously.

Ha ha, I'm joking. Sort of. I only say that though, because I know that he's in the habit of Googling himself.

In fact there was a barely a comedian who didn't do some kind of 'look at this weird shit from off the internet/look at this weird shit about me on the internet' material. Again, as in advertising, it seems like looking at the internet is just much easier than thinking of your own ideas.

The festival is quite an interesting place for observing consumers who want to get themselves gratified on an hourly basis in a market that's glutted with product. The star rating system is completely absurd - everything has at least two reviews that give it at least four stars. Reviewers from small websites give shows four stars so they'll be featured on the fliers, which, in turn, becomes free publicity for their sites. When punters are in a market like this, they will read loads. They will go right up to a wall pasted with photocopied reviews in 1o point type and read them, several of them, for ten minutes.

Anyway, it seems like everyone went to Edinburgh last week. Where were you?

In other news, I have the satisfaction of having a feature in the latest edition of Jams of the World Magazine this month and simultaneously having some advertising in the Private View feature of industry toilet-rag Campaign.

Dave Trott seems to have become somewhat confused by the task at hand. Someone just needs to sit with him till he's calmed down.

They're adverts Dave. Ad-verts.

*(I can smell the keyword stats already).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shameless girlfriend-promotion

No Monday Morning Memento Mori yesterday, but rest assured, it's a problem that doesn't go away.

As you may have gathered from my incessant Twitter updates, I'm in Edinburgh. Partly to watch as much as stand-up in a week as is humanly possible, and partly as a member of the publicity operation for K.'s show "Laure-Anne D: She gave her all for France."

Since she's in the Five Pound Fringe, and therefore only on for a week, there isn't a chance for reviewers to come in and review and then publish in the dead tree media. So she's relying on bloggers and websites to provide the obligatory five stars that you need if you want to convince anyone to invest an hour of their life in your show. So here goes...

'Laure-Anne D: She gave her all for France' is a genre-bending tour-de-force, taking in erotica, food-based puppetry and the tour d'Eiffel. In the hands of Kamal and Smith the episodic sexual encounter format, beloved by all readers of pornography, becomes an unflinching exploration of the sticky intersections between sexuality and comedy and appetite. Their conclusion that 'if you're going to write extremely low quality misogynist pornography, people are bound to infringe your copyright for the sake of sheer devilment' is unarguable. Despite the size of their accordion, and the sound it makes, this is still definitely the best thing I've seen on the fringe this year.

***** five stars

As well as prostituting my blogging integrity I spent an hour yesterday flyering - which has to be advertising in its rawest form. Can I just say, it makes you feel horrible. I wonder if all advertisers should be made to this from time to time, just like it might be good for meat-eaters to occasionally have to kill something with their own hands before they eat it.

To distract myself from the similarities it bears to handing out an extremely unpopular free-sheet newspaper I used the opportunity to test the importance of messaging hierarchy.

"French onion-based saucy comedy"
"sexy French puppetry - it's very funny"
"Food-based sex comedy - the only show on the Fringe this year starring an onion"
"It's like 'allo 'allo, only funny and starring an onion."

I can report that none of these worked all that well.

In other news, have Williamsburg hipsters finally killed rap?

I've had a surprising amount of interest in the group blog idea (see the end of the post below). I'm away for two weeks now, but I will try and get it airborne as soon as I get back.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'What's in your fridge?' With Jeffrey Dahmer. (Or the art of shock).

Mmmm. One post a week then.

I found myself in the office at midnight last night, fully clothed and working. Not for the first time during this freelance stint either. I was one of six people on this floor; all creatives, I probably shouldn't point out.

One of the consequences of agencies with worldwide offices working with big global brands is that they seem to be able to send work around the world just ahead of the timezone, so you end up with an agency that never sleeps.

Speaking of creepy, I finished last week Brian Master's excellent biography of Jeffrey Dahmer, The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer.

True crime suffers from a bad rep as a genre, some see it a particularly nasty form of pornography. I think this is a mistake, based on a confusion. The desire to read about people who do terrible things is confused with the desire to read about terrible things.

An account of violent crimes, without context, would be pornography. It is the context that you can learn from.

Don't get me wrong. Reading about terrible things is part of it. It seems like there are certain things you can do that take you into a moral area that is as unknown as the bottom of the ocean. Once you've got a handful of warm human entrails, you may as well do the worst thing you can possibly do with them. Really. This is a unique form of experience, and worth reading about just in the spirit of reading promiscuously.

But this information is made more interesting once you know that Dahmer was an obsessive fan of Return of the Jedi.

His fridge may have contained a pickled head, but it also contained gherkins and milk that was within its best before date. The terrifying has a peculiar effect on the banal, even objects, it makes them weird.

We are more like sociopaths and killers than we are unlike sociopaths and killers. That's what makes them interesting.

Something can be utterly extreme, unreal and memorable, but still relevant, so long as there is a continuum between reality and the weird. A lot of adverts work like this.

  • People sing in the car. A dog sings in a car.
  • Commuters pass through a station. Commuters dance in a station.
  • Surfers surf in the waves. Surfers surf amongst horses.

You will open hundreds of fridges in your life, but you will remember the one that had a human head in it.

UPDATE: Something weird is happening to my blog. I can't really explain it, but it's like I'm doing an impression of myself.

For instance, a while ago, I might have written the above in a parody of Dave Trott, where as now, it takes me a week to write and it's more or less the best I can do, my own self. There's so many advertising bloggers out there, looking for some sort of analogy or insight, that you're basically bound to end up writing about Jeffrey Dahmer - that's the satirical angle.

I may as well tell you now that I'm thinking of stopping writing this blog and starting a group one, with a broader editorial policy, in about a month's time. The idea would be to create an online magazine that would entertain advertising creatives, and other people, whilst they're at work. It will definitely feature video, illustration and writing. If you're any good at any of those things, and that's something you're interested in being a part of, do get in touch on the electronical mail.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Morning Memento Mori

GC took time out from his glamorous advertising schedule this morning to fail his driving theory test, transforming every single car between here and Southwark into an accusation of personal failure.

An opportune moment to remember, then, that despite having been something of an all time low 2,934 people managed to get themselves killed on Britain's roads last year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who could have made this?

Could it be the same people who made this:

Who were the same people who made this:

Which raises the question: are they taking the piss? And does it matter any more?


As part of the birthday celebrations GC undertook the epic journey by car, boat, train and catamaran from W12 to the O2 to watch the 'Walking with Dinosaurs Arena Spectacular'.

As you can see from the picture, from Section 42 Block 111 it was almost as much fun as watching someone else playing with several plastic dinosaurs in a sandpit.

This was an instance par excellence of what DFW called a Spect-Op; futuristic marketing speak for a 'spectatorship opportunity'. He wrote a beautiful story about this idea called 'Mr Squishy' - it's the best short story about modern marketing there is, I suggest you read it.

Some people can achieve a state of self-forgetting by being around large numbers of people all doing the same thing. I am immune to this sensation - it just makes me feel worthless.

It's basically an affront to my ego.

It's just one of the reasons I hate football.

Anyway, I think DFW had this image of the modern man being most himself when part of a large group watching something. We've got this real sense of entitlement when it comes to being entertained. Boredom and loneliness being the bain of modern gratified existence.

His last book, The Pale King, set in an IRS office, was an investigation of boredom. Let's just hope it's more fun to read than it was to write.

The creators of the Walking with Dinosaurs Arena Spectacular had plumped very firmly for an asteroid-based lizard holocaust scenario. Even so, the dinosaurs were top of the food chain for 160 million years, which frankly shits all over the 200,000 years homo sapiens have been shuffling about worrying about things. The world has been a cruel place for much longer than it's been anything like an Orange advert.

Commenter EmJ, whom I suspect of being a socialist, and also Welsh (ok, I know she's Welsh), links to this very interesting article in the New Scientist about the role of advertising in the horrors to come.

I've always been keen on the idea that since advertising has got us into this mess, it should be advertising that gets us out. After all, it's far more effective when it comes to influencing behaviour than governments have ever been.

I wonder what that would do for the industry's self-esteem, if communicating with people in such a way that they really would change their behaviour became essential for the survival of the human race.

'Save the world, become a copywriter.'

I'd buy that.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Don't Panic

I was a very wakeful child. This along with my propensity for arson, lying, my bone collection and the habit of introducing myself to strangers using an assumed name, caused my parents some concern.

To treat my insomnia they'd leave a tape recorder playing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in my room at night. Tape recorders in those days would turn over automatically, ad infinitum. This was when I was 5 or 6.

Having listened to it several thousand times I can sort of re-read it now, mentally, at leisure. I imagine if I was mountaineering and fell down an ice chasm I would hear it in my head as I died.

And that would be annoying for me, because it’s a fairly geeky book, full of set-up gags and people with names like 'Zaphod Beeblebrox', 'Slarty Bartfast' and 'Ford Prefect'. It does have some wonderful ideas in it though.

One of the best ideas in it is that a race of superbeings (in fact, mice) create a computer called Deep Thought, in order to answer the question of the meaning of life. The computer goes to work. Thousands of years later it emerges from its deliberation to announce, to the great-great-great-great-great grandchildren of its original programmers, that it has arrived at an answer to the question of the meaning of life.

The answer, it says, is 42.

The silence is broken by a veritable fusillade of forehead slapping as the scientists realise the error their hapless ancestors have made. In their utterly results-orientated scientific way they'd failed to ask Deep Thought something really important. Namely, what the question that the answer to question of the meaning of life answered was.

Chastened, they begin, with Deep Thought’s help, to design a new computer. This computer is called The Earth.

The assumption then, is that the planet we inhabit is a massive organic computer designed to generate questions and not answers, with human beings and other lifeforms in place of electric currents and microchips.

I've always really liked this idea, so when I saw the news last week that scientists have developed a bacterial computer that uses DNA to answer complex questions at astonishing speed it got me thinking.

I like advertising, I like working in advertising, but I sometimes I find it overwhelmingly futile.

So we advertise things, so companies can sell things, so an economy can keep running at an unnaturally high speed, so we can sell more things, money can circulate and everyone can have the things that we sell that constitute the modern idea of comfort and happiness, which is in fact a fiction that we've created to sell more things.

(I'm sure even doctors get a similar species of feeling sometimes. 'I keep making people better but they all get sick and die in the end', but where as if you saw a doctor at the bar looking all haggard and introspective and saying he was engaged in a pointless activity you might be inclined to clap him on the shoulder and say, 'what you do is a good thing and a fundamental service to humanity', if you saw an adman doing the same thing you might look him in the eye and say, 'yes, yes, this is the chance you've been waiting for to do that TEFL course and move to Chad. Do it now, today, here's the money, please go.')

So I've got sort of attached to the idea that futility is in fact the point of advertising. That if it is not meant to waste money it is an absurdly badly designed industry, where as, if the purpose of it is to waste money, to some more mysterious end, then it does its job beautifully. I've written about this here and here, if you're interested.

Writing on advertising has also made me realise that there are distinct creative trends that supersede one another in much the same way they do in art and science. In Scientology they would call these different ways of doing things technologies:

The importance of application in Scientology comes from the fact that L. Ron Hubbard developed as part of the religion an actual technology that enables one to use his discoveries to better oneself and others. Technology means the methods of application of the principles of something, as opposed to mere knowledge of the thing itself.

(from the Scientology website)

The conclusion (which is starting to feel a bit manic) that I'm coming to, is that perhaps advertising does not support industry, but that industry supports advertising.

Advertising is art powered by capitalism.
All art is religious art.
Advertising is a religious activity.

UPDATE: In weird bit of random synchronicity it turns out Pan MacMillan are reissuing The Hitchhiker's Guide books with fancy new sticker covers, causing Bomber! Magazine to k-nick the title of this post. Almost but not quite infinitely improbable, as Douglas Adams might have written.

When I was a lad adverts were ... furry

Monday, August 03, 2009

Monday Mori Memento Mori

The chances of being killed and eaten by a cannibal are so small as to be virtually infinitesimal. If that's just not good enough for you, I suggest the good people at the Cannibal Cafe forum may be able to help.

But who knows, after this post, the comments section might become a global meeting point for consensual cannibals from all over the world. After all, a sizeable proportion of my googlehits come from people searching for the words 'arsehole', 'bukkake' and 'kate moss famous vagina', or sometimes even her 'virjina'.

Most of them end up squinting at a very gloomy picture of M Denton esq. glinting in the dark at the Creative Circle book launch and, no doubt, speculating hopefully about what that is he's holding.

This week may be less insane, in which case I will post some of the ideas I've been having recently about Scientology and advertising. Ironically, they are also insane.