Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Stand-Up Comedy Update - My first Show!
Comedy Performance
My day has ended brilliantly. I'll tell you the amusing story of my stand-up comedy shortly.
Yesterday my neighbours Alice and Loudon phoned to ask whether I had noticed that their garden contained a large marquee. I had to admit that I hadn't. I live several feet below my lofty neighbours, in a bungalow. I need a periscope to see over the next fence. They had invited 40 close members of the family from overseas, plus people who had been at their wedding, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. My nimble neighbours must be in their eighties. A couple of guests had dropped out to attend a funeral, obviously more fun, so my neighbours were inviting me as a standby stand-in, or sit-in. (My aunt took the view that I should not have been invited late, but I'm not like that. I'm never too proud to accept a free meal and free drinks.)
We stood on the sloping lawn sipping Pimms and champagne whilst grabbing canap├ęs and trying not to fall into the pond, tottered into the marquee, falling over the chairs, and flopped down at the table, only to lurch off again, holding dinner plates diagonally whilst sampling a buffet of couscous, chicken and various breads in strange shapes and enticing colours. I reflected that if you gave them to your GP as a Christmas present he would send you for every available test at the nearest psychiatric hospital. As soon as we were full, a waitress placed on the table lemon tart, strawberries and fruit salad, and cream, which, not having the nerve to ask for a doggy bag, since my neighbours know I have no dog, I dutifully ate. Managing to eat more than the deprived anorexic person on your right, but less than the conspicuously greedy person on your left, who is bound to have the heart attack they deserve, is as satisfying as scoring triple points at Scrabble. (I passed on the chocolate profiteroles in favour of the fruit, which was very virtuous of me. This decision was made easier by the fact that my plate was already overflowing. Inserting a spoon created a waterfall. This could easily be concealed behind an opaque fence of empty drinking glasses. Chopping cheese and trying not to snatch biscuits was the penultimate challenge, enlivened by chasing rolling grapes. Finally coffee filled up the cracks, and everybody pushed in a piece of superfluous sugary sponge cake. Just when we were ready to admit defeat and say no thanks, we were served more champagne, which we could not refuse, for toasts.)
Over the past 24 hours I'd been feeling a bit up and down with nerves about my forthcoming comedy showcase on Sunday night. I hadn't yet managed to order the essential silent vibrating timer to ensure that I finished neatly on time. Nor a video machine to film my finest hour, or, if I kept to time, my finest five minutes. A fellow Toastmaster, Warren, emailed me to say that I didn't need the timer, if I'd rehearsed my piece enough - but I hadn't! No - so I was pleased that I had an excuse to be skiving off, out with people.
There were four tables and I sat smugly on table one, the top table, opposite my neighbours, and I was telling them that tomorrow I'm doing stand-up comedy tomorrow when Alice asked me if I'd to do my comedy turn for them when they serve the coffee and cake.
I couldn't believe my luck. Number one I've a chance to rehearse before a real live audience. Number two before even doing my showcase I've got a real 'engagement' to perform - at a proper wedding-style do, catered in a marquee, to an audience of 45 guests, plus three serving staff, with no compere or warm-up or other supporting acts. Unfortunately a stand-up comedy performer is supposed to stay sober - I had already failed the first test. I rushed next door for my bag of props and returned to be waved into the centre to perform, drunk or sober.
I don't know how long I took, probably about 7 minutes, it didn't matter.
Everyone's had lots to drink and they are in a good mood, and the hostess is a sunny, laughing soul who cackles non-stop at anything even when she hasn't had anything to drink. It went something like this. I walk to the front where I can be seen, carrying my large shoulder bag and a bucket bag.

'I'm Angela Lansbury, not the actress who's famous, but the writer and I'm infamous. As most of you know by now I live next door. My husband's not here because we are sort of separated - we have separate bedrooms - mine is in London; his is in Singapore. (ROFL.)
'The first thing I must tell you is that I'm going to lift my blouse later and show you what's underneath (ROFL) - the men will be pleased. '
(ROFL. Lots of heckling along the lines of, 'George will like that'; a gentleman stands up and asks, 'Where's the exit? I'm getting so excited I'd better leave now!')
'But don't worry, ladies, you might enjoy it too!'
(Heckler shouts, 'What's in the bag?')
'Since you asked what's in the bag, I'll show you now. First I have a little duck like the one in the pond in the garden here.' (I get out my yellow toy duck and hold it up. Then I press it and it goes 'Quack quack quack.' )
'Yes, quack, quack, quack, to you too.'
(It repeats, 'Quack, quack, quack.')
'Yes, I love you too.' (I put it back in the bag.)
(For the third and last time it says, 'Quack, quack, quack.)
(I look down at the bag.) 'Okay, ducky, that's enough!'
(I grin at the audience.) 'As I was saying, my husband and I are separated, so, to keep myself amused, I do telephone sex.'
An elderly lady in audience demands, 'What's that?' (Hoo-ha as several members of the audience on her table and the next table try to explain to her.)
I grin. 'I'll tell you later, dear - actually I'll sort of explain now - and show you.' (Stunned silence as audience turns attention to me, all agog.)
'A gentleman phones up late at night and asks what I'm wearing. Actually I'm wearing a pink polycotton nightie from British Home Stores which I bought round the corner in Oxfam. I was about to take it back there.
(Lady in the audience shouts, 'You should!' )
'I can't tell him that. It's not really exciting or erotic. So I tell him I'm wearing a black G string, with the words "I'm no Angel" on it. I think I have it in my bag and if I can find it I'll show it to you. Yes, here it is!'
(I hold it up, and turn it upside down, looking puzzled -) 'Yes, here are the words, "I'm no angel."'
(I don't have to be funny and get laughs at the end of every sentence. This is not a comedy show. All I have to do is hold their attention and be entertaining.)
'He asks if I bought it at Victoria's Secret - but actually I bought it round the corner at Morrisons supermarket.'
(Doing this locally is good because everybody knows Oxfam and Morrisons are nearby.)
(I censor the act. I've decided to drop the line about holding a green butt plug in my hand because the audience includes a lady who wanted telephone sex explained and the host's 15-year-old nephew is also in the audience.
(I also leave out the joke about going on an erotic writing course and the girl who dropped out because she was asked to write about a love affair with an animal, written from the animal's point of view! My neighbours have heard that joke before.)
'I tell the man who's phoned that I'm going to tie on the G-string and I do so. (I tie the G-string around my left wrist). Then I tell him I'm going to take it off again - like this.' (I pull it off my wrist.)
(I'm getting laughs from half the audience - oddly enough, those furthest away - which is good enough, a whole lot better than no laughs, and smiles from the others which is good enough, though not as good as having the entire audience in hysterics.)
'Now, you've seen that I had a duck and a G-string in my bag. How many of you think I have a piano in my bag? Raise your right hand if you think I have a piano in my bag. One third of you think I do. (I grin as if this is a silly question and this time it's just a joke and I've played a trick on them. Hands go up and come down again.)
'How many of you don't think I have a piano in my bag?' (Two thirds don't think so.)
(I laugh and hunt in my bag.) 'I can't find it - yes, I can!' (I hold up my 8 inch wide piano to show it.)
'When I ordered it from a catalogue, I thought it was about three feet wide, not three inches wide. But it does play.
I'll show you how it works. I press this button here and it plays "O Susanna". Would you like to join in? (Limited attempts to join in the song so I move on. I think if you want people to sing, in the same way as you do practice clapping at the start of a toastmasters evening, you must start your act by asking everyone to sing or shout something.)
'It can also play "Happy Birthday". Does anybody have a birthday? No?
'Not a single birthday today! We'll have to celebrate everybody's birthday. In Japan they celebrate everybody's birthday the same day.
(A couple of people in the audience very interested in this idea start to explain things to their neighbours, so I raise my voice to recapture attention.)
'We'll have to sing Happy Birthday to me. Or how about happy birthday to Alice! (The hostess joins in.)
'Speaking of birthdays, when I moved into this street we had a birthday party for my son. But the people two doors along on the other side of Alice had another birthday and put out balloons. So one of our guests, a little Japanese girl, went to the wrong party. At the end of the party her mother collected her and discovered she was at the wrong party - and asked for the present back! (Laughter.)
'Then they came on to our party - which had just finished!' (Should I drop this line next time?)
'Now, I think I have another piano in my bag. How many people think I have a second piano in my bag?
'Not many? You should know me by now! Of course I have another piano in my bag. Here it is!' (I hold it up and unroll it.)

(Heckler shouts, 'Have you got a third piano?')
'No, sorry.'
(Heckler - 'You ought to have a third piano!' )
'Next time. I do have two more electric pianos next door. Too big to fit in my bag.'
'I'll show you how this one works. I press this button and it plays the Turkish dance. I can dance for you. (I gallop right and left.)
'I have just one more thing to tell you. I have wonderful neighbours and they used to have lovely cats, and they also have foxes, which cause no trouble though they do make a noise at night, doing, er, what foxes do at night! (Laughter.)
'I'm glad my neighbours didn't have dogs, not that I don't like dogs, I like dogs, but sometimes they get rather too friendly. They have a great sense of smell, and when I go round to friends, their dog puts his nose up my skirt and starts sniffing. And I say to the owner, "Please call your dog off." And he says, "But he likes you; he's only being friendly." And I say, "He's being much too friendly. I don't know what he wants, but he's not getting it!"
Thank you, good night.'
(I smiled and nodded and walked away but a heckler called, 'You said you were going to lift your blouse!'
(I turned back.) 'Oh, yes. I must show you. English people like this, but some Argentineans and foreigners don't. I can't think why.'
(I lift my blouse. From my bra straps, attached at the back by two safety pins, I have the George's Cross on the England flag with the word ENGLAND.)
'England! Thank you and goodnight.'
(Laughter and applause.)
(Later I realised that the England flag was upside down. Somebody told me that it didn't matter because everybody recognised it anyway. I'll have it right tomorrow, after my 'dress rehearsal'. And if I ever do that again I've had time to think about it, so maybe I can devise some funny comment about flags upside down being a distress signal. Any suggestions?)

Afterwards the son of the neighbours proposed a toast to his parents but he simply said their names. One of the guests said that wasn't enough and he was going to give an impromptu speech. (I could have done the same but I'd just done a comedy turn which exhausted my energy and I'd hogged the limelight enough.) He said that hosts were great and the caterers were great and the entertainer, Angela, was great - but don't give up the day job!'
He got a laugh from that and I was not thrilled. However, several people told me I did well. And when he left he said, 'Very good - super.'
Alice proposed a toast to the guests at her table and told us not to stand up (one person had a stick). But one of the guests said we should stand up. I said, ' Those who can stand, stand, and those who can't stand it, stay sitting.' That got a laugh.
The hosts' daughter Claire who lives in London told somebody who came to collect one of the guests that he missed my act and she asked me to bring out my pianos to show him. (She had assumed that the pianos were only capable of playing recorded tunes and didn't realise they are both playable.)
Having done a 'performance' before my showcase makes me feel much less stressed about tomorrow. And immensely satisfied and one-up on the world - like taking O levels a year early.
It's also good to have made my mark locally to people who live in my street. I have now established my reputation as a performer.
Good. Good. Good. Goody, goody, goody.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Impromptu Speech Success Recipes

Angela's Advice
How to talk about a subject you know nothing about
If you are going to the AGM and you hold a post, you should have an account of what you have done - especially if you are an accountant. An accountant is expected to be able to quote figures of profit and loss, statistics, no muttering, "Um, I have to check". Similarly, those of use called to speak on a subject we know nothing about have to speak confidently. 

A politician may face such a challenge from hecklers.  he starts to speak about a subject he knows, something con-controversial. Then a speaker calls out a question on a subject which he knows nothing about or doesn't want to talk about. "Hey - what about the workers!" Maybe that's why hecklers are sometimes ejected.

Plan Speeches On Frequent Themes
In Toastmasters we practice at speaking confidently without notes, by being called up to speak after a subject is announced, usually with no indication of the subject. Sometimes we are told the theme of the evening in advance.

Let's suppose you are asked to speak about a subject you know nothing about, which in my case would be finance or football or skiing.

Outsiders Such As Non Skiers
You are an outsider. Some of the audience may be outsiders. One trick is to talk about how outsiders cope. This could be serious. It could be funny. It could be both. And it often makes an orginal speech.

For example, what do Jews do at Christmas? Where do skiers go in summer? What do football fans do on World Cup night - and what do non football fans do?

Angela Lansbury, ACG, CL, member of Harrovians and HOD Toastmasters International clubs in London and Braddell Heights Advanced club in Singapore.

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