Another day at the comedy coalface

23 Jul

It’s been almost 250 years since William Blake saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars” on Peckham Rye, and almost 18 hours since Heather Stevens accidentally interrupted some doggers.

Hey you guys long time no rehash things that I’ve already posted on twitter and facebook!  It’s been 6 months since my last blog post! I have achieved nothing! I work in comedy! I am broke and broken!

I’ve worked in comedy for over a year and a half now and I can’t decide whether my favourite part is writing jokes, rewriting jokes or crying myself to sleep cradling a whisky bottle. Going into the comedy industry and expecting to stay of sound mind is like aggressively jumping on a landmine and expecting to stay of sound leg.

I don’t really know how this happened, much like everything else that has ever happened. When I was at school, my friend Tom used to tell me that he could see me ending up as a comedian, but I think he probably said it in the same way that you might shout to your friend that you think they should become a professional chef over the noise of all of their dinner guests vomiting and suffering from sudden and explosive diarrhoea. Tom also said to me, in biology class one time: “Heather is the perfect name for you, because heather is a rough and abrasive shrub and you have a rough and abrasive personality,” which is where my “AbrasiveShrub” moniker is stolen from. I have never had an original thought.

I am not a comedian. I work for a comedian. I work for Lewis Schaffer. I don’t really have a job title. Lewis tends to refer to me as “assistant”, “writer” or “atrocious example of a human being” depending on how terrible I’m being at my job, and most of the time I’m pretty terrible.

In December I ran into my friend Alom at another friend’s birthday party and told him that I worked for a comedian. A few months later, Lewis’s twice-weekly Free until Famous show that he’d been doing at the same place for several years moved to a new venue, and since I was going to be at the show to record it anyway I offered to stand outside the old venue beforehand to catch anyone that went there by mistake. It started raining, so I was standing outside this dubious-looking karaoke bar wearing a massively oversized green t-shirt with the words “FREE COMEDY” emblazoned on the front, holding some soggy flyers and looking very damp and vaguely homeless when Alom walked past and awkwardly said hello and now he thinks I said “I work for a comedian” in the same way that someone that cleans the offices might say “I work for Google”.

Some of the things I have to do are so straightforward that I will say, with uncharacteristic confidence and hubris, that I’m moderately okay at them: making sure emails are replied to, submitting dates to press and listings sites, recording and transcribing parts of the live shows, editing material, booking transport to and from gigs, avoiding diary clashes, registering for Edinburgh Fringe, helping put together material for this year’s show at Edinburgh Fringe, telling people reading my blog that they should buy tickets for this year’s show at Edinburgh Fringe, making sure posters and flyers are designed, doing a frickin’ parade, helping write press releases. A press release we wrote a couple of weeks ago was described as “nothing short of genius” in this week’s Independent on Sunday, which will go on my Edinburgh Fringe poster when I do my one-woman show about spending my twenties doing menial tasks for the most successful failed comedian in London in exchange for room and board, next to Charmian Hughes‘s description of me as “au pair for Lewis Schaffer’s career”.

Then there’s writing jokes for Lewis’s weekly live radio show on Resonance FM, which I am unfailingly awful at.  Most of this blog post has sat in my drafts folder since March. I am really bad at submitting things that I know aren’t good enough, which is the vast majority of what I produce. That is not compatible with live radio, because there’s a very clear and immovable deadline every week. At that point, everything has to be handed in regardless of whether I think it’s good enough or not, which makes every show an absolute ordeal for me. But it’s probably helped me, because if I hadn’t learnt to accept that if all I have is absolute dross then I’m going to have to submit absolute dross, this blog post would have stayed in my drafts folder for another four months.

If I were better at it, and if it were more lucrative, this would basically be my dream job. I work for an amazing person and I get to do some amazing things and find myself in preposterous situations. In January Lewis did a show with Jerry Sadowitz, George Galloway and Richard Dawkins and I ended up getting a free lunch with them. Conversation highlight:

Me: What’s that stuff in the crab shell?

Richard Dawkins: It is crab.

Afterwards I was standing downstairs and a stranger handed me his cloakroom ticket and told me to fetch his hat.

And last month Zach Galifianakis came to see Lewis’s show at the Leicester Square Theatre, and it was amazing to see a global comedy megastar still find time to support live stand-up by performing for Zach Galifianakis.

Because I work for a comedian, a lot of people ask me whether I want to end up on the stage too. The answer is always no, because I am incapable of making eye contact and adequate conversation with one person, let alone plural person. I have been running Oxford Skeptics in the Pub for over two years now, and have still failed to introduce any of the speakers because I am debilitatingly shy. Which is why when I was asked if I would co-host Winchester Science Festival on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th July with Neil Denny of Little Atoms fame, I said yes.

I’m not sure what I was thinking. I initially said no but was berated by my friends. Also, as soon as I’d turned it down I felt like I’d done something stupid, because it was such a ludicrous thing for someone like me to be invited to do that it seemed unlikely I’d have a similar opportunity again. I don’t understand why I’ve been asked to do it. I’ve been to Winchester Science Festival every year, and every year it is absolutely wonderful, and every year the line-ups are consistently brilliant, and every year there is literally no point where a 23-year-old has a nervous breakdown on stage, which might be what the organisers felt like they’d been missing.

When I did eventually say yes, my intention was to introduce every speaker at Oxford Skeptics in the Pub between then and now so that I’d at least have some limited experience of doing words at people by the time the festival came around. But every month I’d get to the pub and every month I’d lose my nerve. It’s hard to explain the level of fear that the prospect of talking to a crowd draws from me, because I even get anxious every time I go out and see people that I know. There aren’t even three days left between now and the festival and I don’t know what to do because I genuinely can’t see any way that I’m going to pull it off and even if I make it to the stage I’m probably just going to go on fire.

Luckily for you guys, Neil Denny is brilliant and an actual proper professional doer of things, and so is Simon Watt, who is hosting the talks on Friday 25th, so the festival is still going to be amazing. Friday’s day tickets are sold out, but there’s a bunch of free stuff going on, and there are some day tickets left for Saturday and Sunday, and you should buy them because the line-up is fantastic – speakers like Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Helen Czerski and Lucy Rogers – and there’s a chance that you will also get to see me go on fire.

I have to go and prepare now by spending the next three days curling into a ball and crying.

New year, new me!

1 Jan

HAHA ONLY JOKING looking forward to making exactly the same mistakes I’ve made every other year.

Hey happy new year everyone can’t believe it’s 2013 already! Can’t wait to tell everyone I haven’t seen them since last year so they’ll think I’m really funny and want to be my friend.

I was watching the Christmas episode of Would I Lie to You about 12 hours after I’d written my previous post and Barry Cryer was talking about how he had been in hospital over Christmas because of his eczema and he said “happy eczemas” so I text my friend Alex complaining that now it looked like I’d stolen my terrible pun from a really popular TV show and he told me not to worry because it’s been done loads of times before so PHEW YOU GUYS glad I’m just super unoriginal rather than a thief!

What’s the most appalling gift you gave this year? I bought Cards Against Humanity (UK Edition) for one of my brothers. It’s a party game where one player draws a black card – a statement with a missing word, or a question – and reads it out. Every other player then chooses one of their white cards to fill in the blank, and the person with the funniest answer wins. Here’s an example:

Cards Against Humanity

Actually grandma let’s play charades.

My little sister came home at 1.30AM today after a New Year’s Eve party at her friend’s house and she was drunk. I could tell that she was drunk because of the way she said “I am drunk.” I’d never seen her drunk before so it was really weird. She’s 21 now but because she’s my little sister I still think of her as like 12 which is why I forgot to share the eggnog on Christmas Day.



I haven’t made any resolutions this year. Mostly because I just forgot. My friend Martin says that I need to do some gigs or some writing before the end of 2014 or he will set fire to me and that is the kind of resolution that I’d like to make – avoiding going on fire, and also writing or saying some words or something – but realistically I think that it won’t happen and I’ll end up going on fire yet again.

I give the friends I mention in my blog posts names so it’s harder for you to figure out that I’ve made them up.

It’s beginning to look a lot like eczemas.

25 Dec

Someone found my blog on Sunday by searching “i need help i have no clue what i’m doing and no dogs”.

At least I have a dog.

Hey you guys it’s 4.30am on Christmas Day! Merry Christmas you guys!

I am writing a blog post at 4.30am on Christmas Day because I was awake until 7am yesterday and then slept until early afternoon and now my body clock is messed up. I was awake until 7am yesterday because I was at a party all night having sex with a succession of attractive and charming young men. Also by at a party all night having sex with a succession of attractive and charming young men I mean in bed at my mum’s house trying to claw my skin off because I have a deeply uncomfortable and unsightly skin condition that flared up within hours of me arriving home for Christmas LOL I will die alone.

I want to go to sleep because my brother will get up super early and wake everyone up so that he can open his presents and play with his new toys.

My brother is 36 years old.

He doesn't even live here. Last Christmas he commuted dressed like this.

He doesn’t even live here. Last Christmas he commuted dressed like this.

I finished all of my Christmas wrapping a few hours ago. Also by “I” I mean “my mum”. Except for her presents. I wrapped those.

And did a really professional job.

Instead of getting a job I am thinking of starting an online business that will provide services in gift-wrapping and professional, bespoke, artistic greeting card design. Here is the professional, bespoke, artistic greeting card that I designed for my sister’s 21st birthday. As you can see, it includes both her single interest – giraffes – and the number 21.

In your eye, Hallmark.

Now it’s 6am because I paused mid-post to have a discussion with my friend Rob over facebook chat about whether he’d had a dream about going downstairs and drinking some orange juice or had actually gone downstairs and drank some orange juice.

Might add a tagline to my blog:

“Every post more disappointing than the last.”

Attack of the Can’ts.

30 Nov

“A condition of the College’s permission [to return to study at Oxford] is that you seek out counselling or a similar strategy to address your confidence difficulties.”

Sounds like something I’ll be really bad at.

HAHA IT IS A JOKE but also a real thing that my tutor has said in a letter to me hey everyone this is my first post of 2013 happy 2013 everyone!

I was due to be back in Oxford way back in January but I am still not back in Oxford so then it was supposed to be next January but it’s looking like it won’t be next January either because I am incapable of success. At first I thought that meant that I couldn’t go back ever, but my tutor sent me a letter saying that I can go back later as long as I stop whining about how terrible I am at everything or something I might be paraphrasing it’s hard to remember there were so many words.

Someone I met at a comedy club who’s trying to help me get a proper job said that I should start updating my blog again because it’s “basically [my] CV” so I’ve decided to start my first post of the year by signposting my fragile mind and also this post about why I’m unemployable.

Speaking of reasons you should never give me a job, on Tuesday my friend said I was a sociopath (can’t really empathise with that perspective AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA LAUGH THROUGH THE TEARS) and it reminded me of this conversation with a stranger on a bus:

Them: “Have you seen the film Seven Psychopaths?”
Me: “No. What’s that?”
Them: “One of the characters has a hat like yours.”
Me: “What character?”
Them: “The psychopath.”


Speaking of reasons you should never travel with me on a bus, a few hours ago I was on a bus and stuff started falling out of a sleeping man’s bag onto the floor and I was worried he’d not realise and leave without it so I got up and put it back in and stood his bag up so nothing else would fall out and he woke up and saw me with my hands on his bag and was really angry and I apologised so profusely even I’m convinced I was trying to mug him why am I like this?

Speaking of shoehorning totally incongruous things I’ve already posted on facebook and twitter into my blog because I’ve forgotten how to write, my sister took me to West Midlands Safari Park for my birthday two months ago here are some things what I saw!

A flamboyant donkey

A flamboyant donkey

An angry flamingo.

An angry flamingo.

Aslan's mum.

Aslan’s mum.

A woolly mammoth.

A woolly mammoth.

Some naughty ducks in their prison uniforms.

Some naughty ducks in their prison uniforms.

A market.

A market.

A unicorn.

A unicorn.

A narwhal.

A narwhal.

Bye I have to go now and attempt to stem this inexhaustible tide of job offers that’s just started rolling in.

The Ghost of Christmas Disappointment.

30 Dec

Carphone Warehouse? More like Carphone Shithouse!


Way back in June I bought a phone from Carphone Warehouse and it was faulty and a few weeks ago I decided that I should probably do something about the fact that I’d been sold a broken mobile phone like half a year ago, so I took it in to one of their repair centres. And they looked at it for 2 minutes, formatted it and gave it back to me saying it was fixed and then I took it back the next day being all like “hey this is still broken” and they were like “oh yeah haha actually it is broken here is a steam-powered contraption from the 19th century that’s never heard of the internet for you to use while we take 17 years to fix the broken phone that we sold you you’re welcome.”

And then some other stuff. I was going to write a whole post about my broken phone and how much I struggled to cope with its basic replacement because of how spoilt I’ve clearly become and how surprised I was by my dependence on my smartphone, but I got bored halfway through. Imagine if proper writers did that:
“‘Harry – yer a wizard.’
There was a silence inside the hut. Only the sea and the whistling wind could be heard.
‘I’m a what?’ gasped Harry and then some other stuff happened and Harry beat a bunch of baddies and everything was fine come on guys there’s a cupboard full of alcohol here it’s Christmas jeez.”

Christmas! It’s too late for a Christmas post now. Here are the ones from the past two years: last year and the year before that.

I’m not sure it’s really too late to write a Christmas post, I just don’t have anything interesting to say. I don’t have anything interesting to say because I haven’t really been outdoors for a while. I’ve been spending most of my time reading about dead fish and looking at pictures of dead fish in an effort to salvage my degree. There’s a type of fish called the remora that has a dorsal fin modified into a sucker so that it can hitch rides on other fish and also do awesome Klingon impressions at parties:

It’s not going very well. The degree-salvaging. I’m not sure I’m going back to Oxford next month. I’m probably not. Not in the capacity that I was supposed to be, at least. But that’s another thing I need to figure out how to write about. I’ll probably move back there in the new year with the aim of resuming my degree at a later date but it’s all a bit of a mess really.

I am a disappointment to everyone apart from myself. But the good news is that I’m hopefully on track to graduate before my 40th birthday. HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!

The laziest blog post what I ever done wrote.

14 Nov

I’ve resorted to just writing down things that strangers say to me on the phone now because I haven’t been outdoors since 2003.

“Hi Heather, I’m calling from the World Wildlife Fund. Thanks so much for your donation like 700 years ago or something when you were ambushed that one time by an intimidatingly enthusiastic gap year student. Could you sponsor a tiger for just £12 per month?”

“Look I’m really sorry but I don’t have an income right now so that’s not really prudent. I’m unemployed and haven’t signed on.”

“Oh that’s fine Heather, totally understand. How about for just £10 per month?”

“Mate really I appreciate what you’re doing but I’ve got no money coming in right now. Can’t do it.”

“I understand what you’re saying Heather. £8 per month?”

“Yeah, look tigers are ace but I really can’t commit to anything right now. Sorry to waste your time.”

“Okay Heather, I’ve listened to everything you’ve said and you’ve made some really good points. How about £24 next month?”

“I don’t think this is working out.”

The greatest threat to rational thinking and scientific progress is Heather Stevens.

6 Nov

I didn’t even know Jimmy Savile was dead.


On Saturday I spent more time than time itself writing an email for the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub mailing list and then hit send and when I looked at the email that it had sent out to 500 people it was definitely not the email I wanted it to send out to 500 people. It was the antithesis of the email I wanted it to send out to 500 people. It was the email that I wanted it to send out to precisely no people. And so, having realised that 500 people had been emailed with something that I didn’t want them to be emailed with, I decided that I should write a blog post about how I’ve taken over the running of Oxford Skeptics in the Pub and I have no idea what I’m doing and I’ll probably have accidentally annihilated atheism within the year because OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS I AM SUCH A KLUTZ WHAT AM I LIKE?

Like most things that happen, I don’t really understand how this happened. Last year nerd-hero Andy Lewis, co-founder of Oxford Skeptics in the Pub, said that he was looking for people to help out with the group. And I figured that it would be cool to be one of those people that does something in their spare time other than Internet and crying, so I said I’d be up for helping. I don’t really know how I thought I’d be able to help, aside from “in a really minor, undemanding and inconsequential way”. Looking pensive and drinking beer in a more authoritative manner than usual or something. But then I got a message from Andy being all like “Hi I’m about to have a baby organise the next meeting please thanks” and so I was all like “well this is unexpected” and now 12 months on I spend one day per month on the verge of mental collapse and heart failure for the good of science and reason.

Ahead of the first meeting that I ran, Andy had been pretty firm about the fact that I ought to do the MC duties myself. “Put your stamp on it,” he said. Turns out my stamp looks a lot like an ageing child cowering in a corner a long way from the microphone and trying not to have a seizure, 1990 issue. I’d started out with good intentions. Alex Gabriel got in touch when he heard that Oxford Skeptics in the Pub was going to be relaunched, and I’d asked him to come along in case I bottled it because I knew that he’d put on similar events in the past, but I was pretty keen on not bottling it. I’d written some jokes on the train to Oxford that I was going to do at people and everything. I was feeling pretty good about the meeting. I mean, I felt sick and hadn’t been able to eat anything that day because of how disproportionately nervous I was, I was in a weird, numb funk because my grandmother had just died and it hadn’t really sunk in, and I was inordinately tired because I’d spent the previous weekend attempting to be helpful at the inaugural Winchester Science Festival and all available hours since at work to deflect my thoughts from familial death, but apart from all of that I was feeling pretty goddamn excellent. I got a text from Alex saying he’d managed to pick up the new PA system that my friend Philip had taken delivery of because the organiser of Oxford Skeptics in the Pub lives 90 miles away from Oxford and didn’t really think very hard before taking on such a geographically-specific role, and felt at least marginally reassured that everything was on track.

When I got to Oxford, it was about half an hour before shops were due to close. This was important. I didn’t realise this was important until 25 minutes later when Alex and I opened the box of the brand new PA system and found that it wasn’t designed for UK plug sockets. I responded by shutting down all thought processes except for the one necessary to set Marche Funèbre as my new internal soundtrack, but Alex responded by suggesting that I go to the shops to buy an adaptor so I went to the shops to buy an adaptor. The first two shops that I tried were closed, and a shop assistant at the third was locking the door but let me in to buy an adaptor out of pity because I had the look of someone that had shut down all thought processes except for the one necessary to set Marche Funèbre as their internal soundtrack. I took it back to the venue and Alex finished setting up the PA system whilst I paced uselessly and looked agitated and decided that all of my jokes were terrible and Alex should do the MC duties whilst I sat at the back of the room and tried not to break anything.

And it went really well. Mark Henderson, the speaker, was fantastic and extraordinarily forgiving, the room was packed, people bought a bunch of books and I wasn’t sick on anyone. And the unnecessarily kind Chris Richardson, who’d driven down from Tamworth, gave me a lift 90 miles home to South Derbyshire at the end of the night so that I could go to my grandmother’s funeral the next day, where I was also not sick on anyone.

There have been two events since that first one, and in both cases I started with similarly good intentions that predictably evaporated. I’m just not sure that I’m capable of standing in front of a room full of people and talking at them. I’m so meek. I’m so meek I’m not sure people even realise I run the group. Last month I was walking up to the room where we hold our talks and I saw a couple of people approaching some way behind me, so I stopped to hold the door open for them – in “Look at the Birdie”, a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, there’s a guy who’s described as “standing on the edge of the mainstream of life, smiling and saying, “Pardon me,” “After you,” and “No, thank you”” and that character is totally me apart from the bit where he kills his wife with a tiny spaceship – and when they caught up they thanked me and asked if I was new to Oxford Skeptics in the Pub as they’d not seen me before and I’m not sure what I said in reply because my voice can only be detected by hyperacutic dogs.

It’s going all right. I think it’s going all right. All of the speakers have been fantastic, and if you get chance to see any of them – Mark Henderson, Alom Shaha and Liz Lutgendorff – then frickin’ do. Our next talk is tomorrow and it is Professor Stephen Curry and it will be great and you should come so that you can learn about viruses and stuff and then watch an unemployed 22-year-old that used to have prospects trip over wires and accidentally set fire to things.

Andy, I am so sorry.


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