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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Fifteen minutes of not much fame: My first YouTube video.


A few days before Christmas I went wandering around my old stomping ground of Muswell Hill. I bumped into my former Head of Year in the bookshop. He didn't remember me until I cited my parents.  "Oh yes! The leggy Venezuelan and the comedian who plays two recorders up his nose." Turns out my parents are significantly more memorable than I am. This has nothing much to do with the story, by the way, it just entertained me.

Having failed quite spectacularly to buy any Christmas presents, I met my dad for a coffee, where we discussed the woes of the season. I explained how the more shops I went in to, the less inclined I was to get sucked in to the commercial frenzy. Everything seemed cunningly designed to make us all spend money we didn't really have on items people wouldn't really want. Bah Humbug. Dad had a related story that really made me laugh. He'd bought a slightly bulky gift for his girlfriend and had "hidden" it in a plastic bag behind the sofa, giving her clear instructions not to peek. A day or so later she texted him the following:

U kno that present? I havnt looked but if it is a slow cooker i don't want it.

Why she suspected him of buying her a slow cooker I am not sure, but my father is renowned for slightly unusual presents. The year I went to university - where I would be living in a dorm with no kitchen facilities - he bought me a pastry cook book... Go figure. He hadn't bought his girlfriend a slow cooker on this occasion, (it was actually a lamp), but her message really tickled me.

An unwanted slow cooker is returned to the shop.

That evening, around 10pm, I thought there might be a poem in there somewhere. About slow cookers, unwanted Christmas presents, and all the things we get that we really don't want or need. I started scribbling, and an hour or so later I had something I was fairly pleased with.

I was just about to type it up and send it to dad when I had another idea. Mum suggested some time ago that a good blog challenge would be to post my first video on YouTube. I thought this was a great idea, but had been unable to think of something I could do that was worth posting. Unfortunately, I never did learn advanced pastry making.  What if I recorded myself performing the poem?

I have always loved poetry, but it was only very recently, at an amazing Amanda Palmer gig, that I had my first taste of the art of spoken word, in the form of Scroobius Pip. I loved it. The rhythm and music of it. The passion and power of the rising voice. I went home inspired.

I am a completely tuneless singer. I find this very frustrating, as I'm utterly convinced that the world has thus been deprived of a once-in-a-lifetime pop idol. Or something. The point is that I am a frustrated performer and that, for a frustrated performer like me, spoken word seemed a potential alternative to the off-key caterwauling that regularly takes place in my shower. No one wants to hear that.

By 1am the next morning, I had polished the poem, more-or-less learned it, and had filmed myself approximately sixteen times. Most of these takes stop somewhere in the middle with an elegantly poetic: "S**T BUG**R BO***CKS" as I forget what line comes next. I wanted desperately to go fast, because I could hear the rhythm of the poem pounding in my head, but my mouth worked faster than my brain and I kept getting lost. I finally managed an almost perfect take, but the light was bad, my hair was all over the place and I basically looked a bit like a tired poet zombie.




My dreams that night were filled with visions of mountains of unwanted presents and I woke up with the poem scrolling infuriatingly around my brain. That morning, I did something quite pathetic: I pulled a Christmas cracker with myself. And no, that is not a euphemism. I wanted the hat, you see? For a prop. I was getting seriously professional.

I started filming again, this time avec hat, clean hair, and a more carefully chosen background. It was difficult to keep each take feeling fresh and spontaneous. The writing of the poem was easy in comparison with capturing the performance the way I wanted it. As so often happens with my creative endeavours, the more I worked on it, the worse it seemed to become. Eventually I stopped and decided that what I had would do. The performance was a little slower than I was hearing it in my head, but I hoped it was engaging enough to keep people watching.

Another hour or so of faffing and occasional expletives and I'd managed to add a title and end sequence to the poem, and upload it to my very own YouTube channel. I posted the link online, sat back and waited to go viral.



A little over a month later, this is what I have learned: I am in no way as entertaining as any of the following:

Gangnam Style OK, fair enough.
A slow loris that loves being tickled This is a truly awesome video, so I can't complain.
A cat that fails to jump over a baby gate I've watched this at least fifteen times myself.
7.5 minutes of paint drying/watching a slug crawl on a box  Seriously!? How can I be less entertaining than a slug on a box? This video had 77,112 views at time of writing this post. Come on, people. Go back to work! Or at least be more discerning in your choice of entertainment...

I, alas, have attracted a paltry 306 views, far less than I had hoped for.

Looking slightly concerned at my view count.

It's taken me more than a month to sit down and write up this experience because I've been secretly hoping that my view count would suddenly rocket up.  It hasn't, because it's not Christmas anymore and also because, well, my poem is just not as funny as a slow loris that likes to be tickled. It's just not. In fact, I realise that  the tone in which I performed it is a bit too hyper-realistic. I suspect it might make people feel slightly uncomfortable, because I seem so bitter. This is actually testament to my acting skills, since I have to say that I am generally spoiled rotten as far as presents are concerned. This poem is nothing to do with personal disappointment. It's meant to be a joke, but I am too earnest. It's a lesson learned, for next time.

I've also learned that I love reciting my poems aloud. I want to do more, and get better. I want to learn to build a rhythm, rise to a crescendo, tell a story in verse. I think it's the closest I'll ever come to singing, to experiencing that transfer of emotion from voice to ear to heart. I may not quite have mastered making people laugh, but I have a feeling I can get there, with more practice, more patience, and by going to see other performance poets in action.

Worthwhile success takes time. It takes patience, It takes knock-backs. You have to film yourself over and over, and then wake up and do it again in the morning. You have to post one film, and then another, and another, and another, and still, no one might notice you. BUT if you're good at what you do, and take pains to get better, things might just happen.Take this blog. It's had over 9,000 views. 9,000!!! That might be small fry in comparison to many other blogs out there, but to me it seems a huge and magical number. One day, maybe 9000 people will have watched a video I made, or read a story I wrote. But if not, well, it doesn't really matter. Because the point is that I created something. I found the ingredients, mixed them, tasted them, made them the best I could. And, since it turns out they're not going to ignite all by themselves, I've shoved them in the slow cooker.

Eighteen down, twelve to go...


p.p.s. Buy less stuff!