We're nearing the end of what I think has been universally acknowledged to be a horribly sad and scary year. One that we'll look back on with the same level of fondness as a one night stand with Jeremy Clarkson. It was foul, depressing, painful and fills you with dread about how much worse things might get if unchecked.
Which means - hooray - it's time for a little end of year wrap up. Let's see if I can, if not put a smile on your face, at least unclench your fists for a few fleeting moments. Let the link-fest begin.
I'd like to revisit a few of the things I've written or made in the past 12 months, if that's ok with you. And it seems fitting, during the time of year when, for a lot of people, mental health becomes a tougher fight than it usually is, to start with that. I wrote about my own depression here, and about one of the ways that I manage it here. If you're someone for whom these posts directly apply, then all I can say is that it's ok to prioritise self-care without feeling guilty about doing whatever you need to do to keep things together. The Samaritans can be found here.
Keeping with the cheerful tone, 2016 was the year when, basically, everyone you've ever heard of who made anything great, died. There are too many to talk about individually, but only one who I was friends with. I wrote about him here.
More and more, I started using this song as a bit of a mantra. It takes its title from a line spoken in one of my favourite films, and I would find myself saying it to myself in times of stress, sadness and desperation. So, when I was in Toronto in Summer, I had the words tattooed on me. That way, the sentiment is always with me. Brilliantly, when the director of the festival I was at heard about this, she immediately wrote it up on a big sign that hung over her desk - as you can see from the picture of it at the top of the page. Hearts in eyeballs emoji, right there.
Professionally, I had a really enjoyable and exciting year. I visited some amazing places, got to play to some fantastic audiences, made some new friends, and even got to hang out with a genuine comedy hero. Oh, and one of the amazing trips I went on ended with me commandeering a car to flee the country and literally escape probable incarceration. If you haven't already read my piece about how a gig in Beijing went massively sideways, then enjoy. I've never been happier to get on a plane than I was when I managed to slip out of that trap.
As a response to happily-frequent audience question that I get at the bar, post show - "Why aren't you doing a variety show on TV?" - the answer to which is as depressing as it is dull, I started putting more and more stuff up on my YouTube channel (Which I encourage you to subscribe to), and then I got carried away and put together entire variety show playlists from stuff I'd found buried deep. Here's the most recent one - it's 35 minutes long, and stupid fun.
Also this year I started writing to a deadline for Chortle. The original brief was that I was going to talk about the current cabaret and variety circuit, but pretty quickly that fell by the wayside, and it became a slightly more freeform series of articles on the nature of being a maker, how to stay sane, and what fun variety and circus are. Chortle seem either fine with that direction, or they just don't read what I file - either way, I'm happy with the outlet for my words. Here's are a couple more of my columns from the past year:
On failing. A lot. And learning. A little.
On the power of running away from something.
On having one thing thats yours.
My favourite moment of the year wasn't a professional one though. Me and my wife had gone to Paris to hang out with some old friends for a few days. The night we arrived, one of those friends said that a few of her musician pals were doing a little thing at a bar, and maybe we should go. We did. It was a literal backstreet bar, down an alleyway just around the corner from the Bataclan theatre, where, a few months earlier, there had been stupid, stupid tragedy. The place was packed, and cheerful, and loud, and beautiful. We squeezed into some seats by the window, and filled our table with large plates of cheese, and larger glasses of wine. A couple of days earlier, Prince had died, and when the haphazard group of musicians shuffled onto the tiny corner stage to start the show, they opened with one of his songs. I was done. Immediately, and totally. They played all night - defiantly cool and sexy and virtuosic, the lineup of the band constantly changing as people left for a break and others joined, or people switched instruments. There were enough factors in play that people would be forgiven for being sad, and dour and quiet and shy, but the power of community - a heaving bar packed with artists, drinkers, people here for expert level revelry - created a night I'll never, ever forget. Seared into my soul by love and music, and sealed there by friends and wine. The best musicians I have ever seen, at the best music venue I have ever been to, with some of the best people I know. I can't allow myself to think about that night too much, because when I do, I get sad that I'm not there now, experiencing it all again, but for the first time.
So. Music and art and friends and wine and food and small places full of people and late nights and beating hate and fear with love and new friends. Those things.