Developing the ‘Angry Boater’ live show is the first time I’ve tried to create something out of nothing since my 20’s. It’s been a bit scary but I don’t regret it. The payoff for the slog is that I’m having fun.
I’ve flyered every boat from Kensal Green to Limehouse & Hackney to Tottenham… twice and hustled to get media support and online interest. Posters are displayed wherever I could get them up too. Mostly, I rely on word of mouth. The graft of keeping the show alive never stops.
Above all else, my eye is on the quality of the show. Why work hard to attract an audience if – when they come – what they experience is not as good as it could be? On any given night, London has hundreds of live entertainment options on offer. We’re all ridiculously over stimulated by the efforts others make to have us commit to what they are offering. The way I see it is that if someone has chosen to give their up some of their time to see me, it’s a huge complement. Somehow, I have passed through their filters and – for that night – made it to the number 1 position on their priority list. For a performer, especially one without a TV profile like myself, that is a huge complement. In return, I have a responsibility to deliver the best show that I have in me.
The first thing audience members usually say to me afterwards is that they are surprised by how calm & amenable I am onstage. They were expecting me to be terrifying. I chose the name, however, in order to challenge the perception that boating is all about peace, tranquility and relaxation. As all boaters know, that only applies to a few days every August.
The title also refers to my Stage 2 hypertension, a state which boating both helps & hinders.
My final reason for liking the name is that so many people deny that they get angry. It’s an emotion which – for some – has shame & humiliation attached to it. Whether we express it aggressively, passively or inwardly, all of us, however, have moments of rage. Rather than deny its power, I share John Lydon’s take that it’s an energy – a powerful force to be embraced & celebrated.
If you’ve been to the show, you’ll know that I take my blood pressure during the first half. So far, the lowest onstage reading was last week – still a whopping 152/102. The anticipation that I might have a heart attack before the end of the night always adds to the sense of occasion.
My first 4 shows were at Lee Hurst’s Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green, an amazing space that, although too big for my needs, was a great opportunity to experiment with the material & structure.
Whilst I was flyering boats on the Regents Canal for those first shows, I stumbled across The Barge House in Haggerston where I am now based every Tuesday. It’s a much more intimate space where I no longer have the unachievable challenge & accompanying stress of needing/ wanting/finding an audience of 300. Even though it’s still changing from week to week, the show has a consistency to it now. I’m proud of it. Artistically, it’s my favourite thing I’ve done.
Every audience (so far) has been lovely. A healthy mix of boaters and the curious seem to find me every week. Several other comedians have come along too. I’m frequently performing the show in front of a comic who is far better known than I am.
The back story of the show is about finding my place in the world. I’m a Jew who started off as an outsider by being sent to a Christian School. Boaters are a community of outsiders so, from that perspective, living amongst boaters is one of the rare experiences I’ve had of “belonging.”
The expectation that I’ll be shouting and out of control for 2 hours has led me to consider changing the name. I’m toying with a line from the show – ‘Jews Don’t Live on Boats’ – something my father says in response to the 12 year old me telling him I want to do that when I’m older.
A few memories that stand out from the past few weeks:
A woman came along in February who had been born on a narrowboat (although she had not been back on one since).
I tell an X rated story in the 2nd half about the strained relationship between boaters and some residents on Noel Rd, Islington. A couple of weeks ago, one of the Noel Road residents was in the audience (he was very pro boating).
During a routine on boat names, I ask the boaters in attendance what theirs are called and play around with whatever comes up. There was one person who lived on one called “BOAT” and another moored in Brentford who hated that the lettering of his boat’s name was in ‘comic sans.’ If that was you, please email me and remind me of your boat’s name. I’ve forgotten.
I try not to focus on obvious areas in the show. A lot of people, for example, expect the show to be heavily focussed on toilets but I hardly mention them.
My storytelling style makes it easy to add new bits whenever something interesting happens. The other week, for example, I had an awkward run in with a council litter picker when I put my empty milk carton into a park bin, an incident that is now a feature of the show. There’s definitely an element of therapy going on.
There are only 2 shows left in this current run. Tues, March 10th & 17th. Tickets are £7 online and are available at http://www.angryboater.com
Joel – March 6th, 2015
There are boaters’ bins in London but what do you do if there isn’t one near your boat?
Before I moved from a flat to a boat, I had my own bin. I used to be someone.
This story doesn’t paint me in a particularly good light. I look worse when you consider that I was moored very near a boaters’ bin. I could have taken my little Sainsbury’s bag of rubbish there but…. I wasn’t going that way … and it was raining. Not for the first time, my empty milk carton, banana skin and Galaxy caramel wrappers got dropped into a park bin.
100 feet ahead of me was a council cleaner.
As I walked towards him, I was aware that he was watching me.
“What was in that bag?” he asked, as I passed him.
“Erm, what bag?”
“You know what bag! What was in it? The orange bag you put in that bin over there!”
Like The Terminator, at the speed of lightening, a huge list of responses rolled through my brain. The first one to make the shortlist was, “Your mum’s pants.” I repressed it, instead opting for sarcasm.
“GOLD,” I exclaimed!
“Where do you live?” he said.
I lost my temper, a bit. Fear & defense.
“I’m not telling you where I live! Where do YOU live?”
He squinted his eyes. “Are you one of those boaters?”
“You could get in a lot of trouble for asking things like that,” I said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re a boatist?” I said, “This is boatism.”
I took my phone out and took his photo.
“Well, I can do that too, “ he said.
He took his phone out and tried to figure out how to operate the camera. After 30 seconds, he gave up and put his device back into his orange boiler suit.
“Btw, congratulations,” I said.
“Escaping from Syria.”
“What was in that bag?” he said, again.
“If you really want to know, it was rubbish I picked up along the towpath. I’m actually one of those rare people who goes out of his way to make your job a little easier!”
I sounded so earnest that I almost believed my own lie.
If you want to know how this panned out – and hear many more stories of boating madness – come along to my live show – ‘Angry Boater Live.’ It’s on for the next 3 Tuesday nights (March 3, 10 & 17) at The Bargehouse near Haggerston Overground. Runs from 8 pm to 9.40 pm. Advanced tickets £7 or £10 cash on the door.
Review of the Feb 24th performance here:
Joel – March 1st, 2015
As we all know, if you want to scare off a gang of criminals, the best way is to dress up as a PE teacher.
Fear of crime is a constant undercurrent when you live on a boat – especially in London. In fact, if you’re thinking of bringing a boat to London and are not here yet, think again. Crime is a guaranteed daily occurrence.
We all know about the East London gangs systematically working their way up & down Victoria Park – breaking into boats, terrorizing the occupants, storing generators & sacks of coal in their extra-baggy hoody pockets. If the boat is unoccupied, one of the more notorious gangs – the whacky baccy Hackney fuckees – will leave your taps running & fill up your toilet. It’s their USP. Gangs these days are very savvy when it comes to marketing.
As crimes against boaters continue to soar, possible solutions have been discussed at secret meetings around our towpaths. Something needs to be done. It’s time to strike back.
The day that my Operation Whistleblower defense pack was delivered to me was the day I threw my Boater’s Taser into the canal (before you try to get one, they are no longer available from Midland Chandlers – but check in the secret cabin at the Excel Boat Show).
My whistle was accompanied by a yellow card. It’s in front of me now.
On the front is a drawing of a chubby-fingered boater, holding the whistle in his mouth. He is on the verge of a heart attack. This is because he is sucking on the whistle instead of blowing it – a mistake we’ve all made. It raises the question of whether boaters should take a course before being left to run amok with such specialized kit.
The reverse of the card has several wise pointers on how to keep safe & make the best of the whistle.
Don’t play with your whistle. (also a euphemism for female masturbation).
Have a torch handy ….. for when it’s dark.
It’s almost as impressive as something I read on the same subject just before Xmas. Following a spate of burglaries on elderly people at home, a local paper was advising residents of how they could protect themselves.
One section read as follows:
If someone rings the doorbell unexpectedly, before answering, shout loudly, “It’s alright Fred, I’ll get it.” This will make the caller think that somebody else is with you. If you don’t like the name Fred, use another name that you prefer.”
Boaters’ whistles will be amongst the many topics I’ll be turning my attentions to in ‘Angry Boater Live’. The shows start in a few days at Lee Hurst’s Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green. More info – including a link for cheap tickets – below.
Joel – January 4th, 2015
The 2nd part of my conversation with Phil focuses on the challenges of taking on the Comedy Bunker – its highs & lows & plenty of name-dropping
The guest on this episode is the guy who bought The Comedy Bunker from me in 2011 – Phil Smith. This is the first of a two parter where Phil ponders the challenges of taking over from my 16 years as Captain of that ship. We also speak candidly about his pre-comedy life as an alcoholic and how – overnight – he stopped drinking.
The guest on this episode is curator of the newest addition to London’s cultural scene ‘The Sir Charlie Darwin Movie Battle’ (Only the Best Survive!) – Eric Schachter. It’s a no holds barred, live talent show for new cinema which happens at The Backyard Bar & Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. The next session takes place on Wed, Oct 15th. http://www.sircharliedarwin.com for details and booking info.
Comedian, Paul Chowdhry – star of ‘Stand Up For the Week’ & ‘Whats’s Happening White People?’ – takes a break from his ‘PC’s World’ tour to discuss his comedy & lack of affection for all things boaty.
John Ellis discusses The Stranglers, superfans, his music, band politics, Adam Ant, The Stranglers, Pete Hamill, meltdowns and his time with the greatest band of all time – The Stranglers. He sings a bit too.