Monday, November 13, 2017

NEW TOUR: With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint

This is happening next year...

Tickets are on general sale from Friday... but they go on pre-sale from 9am tomorrow, Tuesday 14th via SeeTickets.com, then on Wednesday at 9am they go on presale via Ticketmaster.co.uk and on Thursday morning you'll also be able to get them from tickets.amazon.co.uk

And yes, I know 'pre-sale' is a silly phrase but I don't know what else to call it.

Anyway, live shows are far and away the most fun part of what I do and it's been too long since the last tour so I'm chomping at the bit to get on with this one. I hope to see you there...

*UPDATE*
Hello... I'm editing this post to explain that the poster has been changed. The original had some errors on it - for which I apologise. It seems that one venue has a refurb scheduled that won't be finished as early as they anticipated so they've changed a date... and it seems another venue was making arrangements while looking at their 2019 diary by mistake! These things happen. I apologise for the confusion caused... oh, and I also have all the correct dates on the live dates page of my site.

Friday, November 3, 2017

If you want to win some Mockbusters...

As a brand new series of Modern Life Is Goodish is underway, I've been asked if I'll be reviving my competitions for my mailing list... and yes, as and when there's something to give away, I will. If I can, I use things from an episode that's already gone out - that way, the prize doesn't act as a spoiler for what's coming up.

Which is why the prize for this week is going to be this assortment of terrible mockbuster cartoons.
 

(If you haven't seen the first episode of the new series then the full horror of this, um, prize won't make a lot of sense to you, but, of course, it's always very easy to catch up with the show using UKTVPlay)

To be in with a chance of winning these - and who wouldn't want to own them - you need to be on my mailing list. I'll email a reminder for the new episode on Tuesday along with a question about that night's show. All the people who send an email to a secret address with the right answer go in the hat. One (un)lucky person will win the DVDs. Simple.

In other news... I filmed an episode of Pointless over a year ago... and it's being shown on Saturday. I was paired up with one of my comic heroes, John Shuttleworth and, well, I'm not allowed to tell you how we did...

By the way, it's okay, I think everyone involved in the show already gets the irony in the title Pointless Celebrities. It's on Saturday at 6pm. On BBC1.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Modern Life Is Goodish Day, Everyone



Series 5 starts tonight. 10pm. On Dave. 
And there'll be a new episode every Tuesday for 8 weeks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Series 5 Starts Next Week...



And look... we only went and got the brilliant Cassetteboy to make us a trail...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Hello. Long time, no see.

I thought it was worth posting something here because I had dozens of people getting in touch with me yesterday about the same thing - largely on Twitter - and I didn't find the limits of Twitter very helpful as a way of responding...

It started when the announcement was made for the "Funniest Joke Of The Fringe" award.

The award is sponsored by the TV channel, Dave and the joke that, scooped the top prize - because as we all know, scooping is how top prizes are won - was as follows:

"I'm not a fan of the new pound coin, but then I hate all change" and it's attributed to a comic called Ken Cheng.

A lot of people were immediately scathing about the selection - with the comedy website Chortle writing,
"The choice is likely to inflame accusations of unoriginality for a gag that has done the rounds on Twitter. Cheng himself tweeted it as long ago as March 21, 2014, when news of the design first broke, but he was still beaten to it by many people."

I doubt there is anyone attending the Fringe who really thinks that is the funniest thing being said on a stage throughout the thousands of comedy shows being performed at the world's largest arts festival. What's more, I'd lay good money that it's nowhere near the funniest joke in Ken Cheng's show either.

Stand up is a more nuanced art form than that. You almost certainly can't extract the words that lead up to the biggest laugh in any given show, type them up and present them as a one-liner that will work well on the page.

I think that's true, even for those comics whose stock in trade is one-liners. Even then, the jokes aren't discrete units of comedy that can be assembled in any order, each standing or falling purely on its own merits. There's always more going on than that.

And it seems unfair for people to pick on Ken Cheng for telling the joke when we're unaware of the context in which he tells it.  Ken Cheng is a relative newcomer, but at least two of the other jokes in the top ten list - both told by very experienced (and brilliant) comics - are every bit as old as that one, if not older. (One of them was even in my original set when I was starting out at 19, but I soon dropped it when I realised it was a thought that had been had by hundreds of people before me.)

The truth is of course that the short list of "best jokes" aren't the best jokes at all. Not at the fringe and not even in the shows from which they've been culled. If you compiled a list of the things-that-made-people-laugh-the-longest-and-loudest-at-the-fringe-this-year it wouldn't make any sense in print and would have to be book ended with countless but-it's-the-way-she-tells-it and you-had-to-be-there and but-of-course-it-won't-make-sense-because-you-didn't-see-the-first-fifteen-minutes-where-he-set-up-this-idea codicils. So instead you get a list of these-are-the-only-things-we-could-extract-that-are-understandable-as-jokes-in-isolation-when-put-in-print-but-it's-destined-to-get-a-lot-of-coverage-and-that-works-well-for-all-concerned-okay?

At this stage, you might be thinking there's no reason why I ought to feel compelled to offer an opinion either way. But it gets more complicated (for me) because a version of the winning joke had been in one my TV shows. The shows that are broadcast by Dave. The channel that gave Ken the prize.

It was in Series 2, episode 8 as it goes.  We're currently working on Series 5 - so it's more than 3 years old. But by sheer coincidence it happened to be the episode that was repeated last night... on the same day as the announcement.

Now this raises the obvious question: why were you telling a joke in your show if you know it's unoriginal and don't think it's very good?

Good question. I'll explain.

Here's the thing. In that episode there was a found poem about the new one pound coin. I road test all the material. That found poem always went over well. Found poems basically work best when the people writing the below-the-lines comments are pompous. It's an exercise in pointing out how seriously they take themselves by taking them even more seriously in jest. So people expressing outrage and upset about a topic that ought to generate none are perfect.

And I like it best when the end results contains comments both for and against because it helps underline that none of the opinions are mine. (You'd be amazed at how many times people write to express their upset at something I said in a found poem believing it to be my heartfelt opinion).

But in setting the poem up, I often need to give a precis of the topic. I need to explain why people might be for or against. I need to provide that tiny bit of context that will make people understand where these things have been found.

In this case I needed to express the idea that some people were upset about the new pound coin because they don't like it when things change in life. And the simplest expression of that thought is simply, "of course some people are upset about the new pound coin because they fear change."

Like I say, before we get to the recording of the show, I run it in over several live shows to try and find the best way through the material. And this simple thought - necessary to make the found poem work - was something of a road block. There basically wasn't a way of saying it that didn't lead to some form of negative judgement.

If you say it in a straightforward way, without a pause before the word 'because' then some people  still hear the joke and some of your audience think you've told a bad joke badly. If you put the pause in and acknowledge that it's a joke the whole audience thinks you've told a not-very-original-joke. If you rephrase it and say, "of course some people don't like it because they don't like it when things are different" some people think, "why are you going round the houses?" and other people think, "oh, you've missed a joke there, you should have said, 'some people fear change'..." and so on and so on.

Basically the joke is so obvious that some of the audience will think of it whether or not it is spoken aloud. And so even its absence casts a shadow over proceedings. And yet the singular meaning - that some people don't like things changing - needs to be expressed to make the next section work.

Our solution was to acknowledge the sentence for what it was. And so the show started with a warning that later on I would be telling an accidental, but unavoidable joke involving the words 'fear change', that I shouldn't be judged for it etc etc... and then, 20 or 30 minutes later, when it came in to play, I'd be able to play with the audience's reaction, whatever it happened to be.

But of course I don't expect everyone to have a 100% recollection of the show and the way in which every word was said. And so a lot of people who had seen the show had a vague recollection that I'd once said something about the new pound coin and the fear of change and then they read the story about the prize and suddenly I was receiving dozens of tweets from nice people saying things like this...


and also this...

And plenty of others like it.

At which point the 140 character limit makes it tricky to explain.  Because what I want to say is, "yes you heard something similar on my show, but you've forgotten the fact that I was sort of disowning it because it's not my joke it's one of those jokes that everyone thought of but I had a good reason for saying it, but at the same time please don't think I'm being really judgemental about the person who won the prize because I don't know the context in which it sits in his show but I do know that every joke in the list has been taken out of context in some way but people are happy to receive positive PR during a very competitive festival so let's not rain on his parade."

In acknowledging that the joke had appeared in the show, some people thought I was claiming it as mine and wanted to tell me that it was a shit joke I shouldn't be proud of. In explaining that I knew the joke was unoriginal and had been in the show in that context, I appeared to be critical of Ken Cheng. Which I don't think is fair either. Good luck to him.

Also: it's only a bloody joke.

By the way, if you want to watch the show, it's on UKTV Play as are the 28 other episodes from series 1 to 4.



Friday, March 3, 2017

A Yahoo Spokesperson Speaks

If you're not sure what this is about, it's probably worth reading yesterday's blogpost... and possibly the long post before that one...

But here's Yahoo's response. I've screen grabbed it from the email so that I make sure I maintain the context.



It doesn't specifically answer any of the questions I raised yesterday but, at face value, it looks like exactly the right thing to say. They agree that these ads shouldn't be there. And they're telling us that they do take steps to stop it. Regularly.

It's just a shame that those steps don't seem to, y'know, actually succeed in stopping them...

Let me give you an example. On February 9th, I sent an email to Michael Todd and Gavin Patterson at BT with a screen grab of this ad:

The business name for the ad has been squeezed on the page, but it was businesscasestudies. The title for the ad is How Bannatyne Got Rich and the tag line is Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets.

The ad was also being served on Yahoo's home page etc.

If someone clicked on the ad they were taken to a URL that starts: http://eurowatch.money/gb/duncanwh.php

I've removed some digits from the end of that URL so that it no longer works - I don't want to send anyone there - but here's a screen grab of the page it lands on.

If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you should be able to read the text.

Or you could not bother and just trust me that it is  transparently untrue.

You know the sort of thing. There's a secret system. It always beats the market. You can't lose. And anyone can use it.

And Duncan Bannatyne's found out about it. And one of his friend's has accidentally revealed it. The way you do. And now there have been loads of national TV and newspaper articles about it - you know, you've seen them! Haven't you?

No wonder the establishment is running scared that everyone will find out about it. I mean, it won't be long before everyone's a millionaire.

Anyway... the important detail is that BT knew about this ad on February 9th.

On March 1st I sent Michael and Gavin another email. And this time I also included Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo). The email included a screen grab of this ad that was on Yahoo's home page that day.
That's an ad from businesscasestudies for How Bannatyne Got Rich with the tag line: Learn more about Duncan's investment secrets. The URL it pointed to started with http://eurowatch.money/gb/duncanwh.php

That's the same ad. With the same wording. Using the same company name. And pointing to the same website.

I also emailed them on March 2nd. Because it was still showing up that day.

I emailed them again this morning. Because it's still showing up today. Same picture. Same words. Same ad.

But it's okay, because we have their statement. So we know that they regularly take action to block ads in violation of their policies, as well as bad actors who work to circumvent their human and automated controls.

It's just that they haven't done so on this advertiser in the 22 days since they first became aware of them.

That's 22 days in which this deceptive and misleading ad appears to have been accepted by Yahoo. But let's not be misled by that evidence of fact. Their statement is more important than the facts before my eyes. The statement makes it perfectly clear: ads like this are unacceptable. It's just that it is, as I type, still accepted.

So that's that sorted.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

At what point does it become okay to say that British Telecom and Yahoo are knowingly profiting from fraud?

If you are against fraud but then find out that you're unwittingly profiting from it... and you could take steps to sever your connection to that fraud immediately... but you choose not to do so... and days - even weeks later - you're still profiting from that fraud... well then, at some point, isn't it fair to reach the conclusion that you're just, y’know, knowingly profiting from fraud?

And if that's the case, in what way are you, y'know, against fraud?

Marissa Mayer May 2014 (cropped)
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who profit from fraud
Photo used under CC licence.
Attrib: By Yahoo from Sunnyvale, California, USA
Gavin Patterson at Chatham House 2016
Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT, who profit from fraud.
Photo used under CC licence, attribution: By Chatham House






















At this point, I guess I ought to say that this blog post probably won't make a lot of sense unless you've read my post from a couple of days ago. It's long so I recommend making a cup of tea before you start, but it details how I frequently see BT and Yahoo carrying ads for fraud on their networks and how those ads continue to appear on their networks, often for days after they're reported.

By the way, when I say "fraud" I don't mean "things I don't like" or "products that I think don't work, grrr" I mean actual, criminal, steal-your-money, fraud.

Sometimes, weeks after they've acknowledged an ad is fraudulent, identical ads leading to the very same websites will still be appearing on their networks.

This seems to me to be negligent on their behalf. And as I've been corresponding with the two companies about it since July last year - and with particular frequency throughout February - I don't really see how either entity could claim to be ignorant of their role in enabling these scams to prosper.

This morning, I emailed Michael Todd (Executive Level Technical Complaints, BT), Gavin Patterson (CEO, BT) and Charles Stewart (PR Manager, Public Policy, Yahoo) the following few questions:

Question 1: Every time you run one of these ads, you expose your customers to the risk of fraud. Are ads subject to any kind of editorial review before they are accepted on to your network?

Question 2: If ads are subject to editorial review - how did these ads pass? Even allowing for human error, initially - how is it that ads you have been made aware of, continue to get through?

Question 3: It is now abundantly clear that, even after a month of pushing, Yahoo is a) unable to remove ads quickly and b) unable or unwilling to adequately block ads. In which case, do you agree that continuing to run ads through this system means you are now aware that fraudulent ads can and will get through and won't be removed promptly, exposing your customers to harm?

Question 4: BT's CEO has made it very clear that BT people should turn down business when it would force the company to compromise their principles. Does this compromise your principles? Or is there an acceptable amount of fraud that you are happy to expose your customers to?

They seem kind of shy of answering straight questions and have previously expressed a desire for me to not publicise the contents of our interactions thus far... but I don't think these are complicated questions - and I don't think there's anything here for companies of this scale to shy away from.

If they come back to me, I'll let you know what they say.