Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 8

Two sleeps till Christmas

Filming has stopped for a week. We're well over half way. And I think the film will be good. Everyone breathe out.

It's an odd process, rather like viewing lots of individual pieces of a jigsaw out of order and trying to figure out if when you put them all together you've going to end up with a picture of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, or a picture of a tennis playing lady scratching her arse. I think we're far from Arseland. (Way to damn with faint praise there Jamie.)

The cast rock. Anna Faris glows. The gags work. The paradoxes make your head spin. Everyone on set is working their arses off to make this as good as it can be.

I was being interviewed for publicity purposes, and asked to give a reason, in one line, why people should go and see the film.

I said "Because it will mess with your head. In a good way."

For my own amusement, I was trying to think of a nice analogy for the film. What I eventually came up with was this:

On one stage you have the biggest glitzy extravaganza the world has ever seen; dancing girls, elephants, fire-breathing trapeze artists, with incredible dazzling pyrotechnics and costume changes every thirty seconds. And it's too much. The performers smiles seem fixed and false, going through the motions, a needy child screaming for your attention with nothing to say. The audience is restless and they don't know why. Surely the more stuff happening on stage, the better?

On another stage you have a lone spotlit man, juggling with three balls. That's all. But the man manages to pull off incredible tricks within his self imposed limits. He could have set the balls on fire, or juggled chainsaws, but he knew that if he did it right, all he needed was balls.

All you need is balls.

If FAQATT were a stage performer, it would be this guy:

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bachelorette Video

This is partly my first attempt to embed a YouTube video, partly a plot/vibe clue to FAQATT and partly just sharing one of my favourite videos of all time; Bjork and Gondry's Bachelorette:

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 7

I've met Anna Faris on set a couple of times. She seems very nice. Expect more scandalous revelations of this nature soon. "Anna Faris in 'seems very nice' shock"

My brother and his friend came visiting the set yesterday. As he himself put it, his "film set awe" lasted the whole day.

His presence got me thinking about the origins of my story-telling drive, one of the roots of which is the practice of telling him stories when we were both children. I used to ad-lib wish fulfilment stories to him along the lines of "You're in the woods when you notice a hatchway in a tree which leads down to a secret underground base with a magic belt that turns you into a superhero. There is also a room filled with gold."

This was always great fun, the biggest thrill for me being his excitement at each fresh revelation as I came up with it. He would also suggest twists or new story elements as I went along, which I would gamely attempt to weave into the narrative.

And here I am, nearly thirty years later, gamely attempting to incorporate script notes into a screenplay and waiting for the audience's collective face to light up. Only I'm no longer sitting on a bunk bed or wearing all in one Robin Hood pyjamas.

Friday, December 08, 2006


For obvious reasons I can't go into the plot of FAQATT at this stage. This might change, but we've a long way to go before release, so let's pace ourselves. However, I do want to give some exclusive content to the literally dozens of people who are reading my blog.

I thought I could bang on a little about my influences, which will hopefully give people an idea of the zone we're playing in without giving away the shop.

Okay. Off the bat, the film is what I like to think of as "kitchen sink fantasy" (a term which I am hoping will enter into the lexicon of science fiction and fantasy lore. I am nothing if not ambitious).

My definition of "kitchen sink fantasy" is a genre story in which ordinary people find themselves in extraordinary situations, but can't stop behaving like ordinary people, for hopefully comic effect. It's the clash of the mundane concerns with the mind-blowingly otherworldly that hopefully causes the funnies.

Arthur Dent is a good example: shuffling around the Heart of Gold trying to get the computer to make him a decent cup of tea.

Which segues rather neatly into my love for The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. I first read the books and saw the television series when I was about fifteen and they took my head off. I take a guilty pleasure in the fact that FAQATT has the same amount of words in the title as THGTTG. And one more syllable.

Long titles. Gotta love 'em.

This could easily become an essay, but maybe I should end by just throwing in a list of other things I love which I feel are relevant to the film; Alan Moore, Sleuth, The Back to the Future series, Terminator 1 and 2, Philip K Dick, Frasier, The Likely Lads, Terry Pratchett, Kurt Vonnegut, 2000 a.d.

I hope that's given people something to chew over while waiting for more "real" news.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 6

I had an epiphany yesterday. The realisation that my film is being made hit me like a smack in the head. I was watching them shoot a scene on the monitor when the jolt of “Oh my God I made this up in my head and there are now dozens of people scurrying around making it real” occurred. You would assume, no doubt, that it was a pivotal moment, a vital shot that summed up the plot and/or characters. But no, it was actually a close up of some taps in a gents toilet.

Funny, that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 5

To celebrate the start of shooting, we bought the three male leads a gift each (Anna Faris wasn't due for a couple of weeks). I suggested getting them each a model Delorean from the Back to the Future series - themically bang on, and BTTF is close to a lot of people's hearts on this production, including mine.

I knew that Marc would be into it, having already proven his geek credentials. I therefore ensured that he was given the cool one that flew in the second film, with wheels that swiveled downwards. I wasn't sure how Chris would feel about his gift, but Dean I felt sure would react with bemused disinterest bordering on aggression.

I wasn't let down. When I got to his dressing room, I discovered he was using it, still in it's box, to prop the door open.

We have cast very well in this film.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

FAQATT Writer Escapes Car Crash Death

7.30 a.m. this morning on the M25: Aquaplaned into the central reservation barrier, bounced off, careered across three lanes, swerved to avoid a lorry, skidded back into the central reservation barrier where the car finally stopped.

Got out, and ran across the motorway to the hard shoulder where I did a little jig because I was still alive.

Not a scratch on me. No other vehicles involved. On set within the hour with a new found respect for life and an arrogant belief in my own charmed immortality.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Welcome to the screenwriter's blog for "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel" a farcical science fiction comedy feature film currently in production with HBO and BBC Films.

It stars Anna Faris (Scary Movie series) as a girl from the future, Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd) and Marc Wootton (Shirley Ghostman) as a couple of geeks and Dean Lennox Kelly (Shameless) as their cynical friend, who try to unravel a paradox in a British pub.

It's being directed by Gareth Carrivick (Little Britain, The Smoking Room) and written by first time writer Jamie Mathieson. That would be me then.

I'll keep this at the top of the blog for new visitors but keep checking below for regular updates.

Just Here To Make Dreams Come True

While exhaustively reading every scrap of speculation on the net about FAQATT (as lazy typists everywhere are already calling the film) I came upon this snippet on Film Ick:
Jamie Mathieson is the screenwriter of Frequently Asked Questions about Time Travel, the new "three men walk into a pub"/sci-fi comedy film being produced by the beeb and HBO. Mathieson is keeping a blog, and I think it looks set to be one of the more interesting online production diaries. It's a minor - and very recently developed ambition of mine - to get a mention, and possibly link, on this blog.
See, I'm just here to make dreams come true. Picture me as a Jimmy Saville figure in a chair with a built in teasmade. (Reference to UK show from the 1980's. Do not be alarmed.)

So here's that link again. But come back soon, y'hear?

Film Publicity 2

Nature abhors a vaccuum. The internet abhors a one line pitch. If no futher lines are available, they will be spun from the ether, as in this outline of FAQATT from Insomniacmania:
Anna Farris stars as hot girl (her character hasn't got a name yet) from the future in this new British sci fi comedy.

She travels back in time to answers three social outcasts questions about time travel, after a debate about the subject is started in a pub, and then time travel adventures begin.
If I was to remove all the erroneous supposition from that, we would be left with:
Anna Farris stars as a hot girl from the future in this new British sci fi comedy. She travels back in time to three social outcasts in a pub.
One site down, fifty to go.

And while we're on the topic, I love the way everyone is focusing on the whole "social outcasts" aspect of this. Maybe in the US, being a social outcast is seen as a problem. Over here, it's a badge of honour. I mean, have you been in society lately? They're eating their dead out there, man.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 4

So. Filming is underway.

The set is a hive of activity, full of busy people with jobs to do. Apart from me, who's job, for the most part, is done. I spent a few days hovering in the background, watching various takes on monitors, chatting to the actors between set-ups before realising that I was a spare part.

I was warned I would get bored. I was warned that it was pointless to stay. I scoffed at this idea. How could I ever tire of watch things I had invented come alive? But you see ten takes of the same set of lines from various angles and you're looking for the fast forward button.

Either you spend the days biting your fingernails and whispering in the director's ear until you drive him insane and you get forcibly removed from set, or you gracefully accept your redundancy and stroll off whistling. I chose the whistling option.

However I will return to watch some juicy scenes being done. There are some corkers that I have to be there for. And I really can't moan about the level of involvement I've had upto this stage. I've been hands on for most of the rehearsals and had input to some degree or other in every aspect of the production. I know it's all in very safe hands.

We're making a movie! Whoo hoo!

I'll be in my trailer if you need me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Film Publicity

I'm chuckling to myself as I watch the ripples of publicity spread across the net. Errors being copied, reworded and becoming the new truth.

At the moment there are only two original sources; The Hollywood Reporter and Empire, but The Reporter has misspelled Marc Wootton's name as "Wootan", an error which is popping up like mushrooms elsewhere, making it quite easy to see who is simply rearranging the words from this story.

And sometimes in the reinterpretation, meaning is lost, such as Virgin Movie's assertion that "The 'Scary Movie' actress will play the role of one of three misfits who try to figure out the complexities of chronological time travel while drinking in the pub."

Come on guys. Do the maths. Or "math", if you're in the US, which is kind of appropriate as there is one less letter than there should be.

We have three blokes and one girl from the future. Which is why we name three male actors and one female. Anna is not one of the three misfit blokes.

This doesn't stop the pure speculation of filmstalker: "The story sounds a bit like a British Bill and Ted. Two guys are sitting in the pub discussing how time travel could really happen and what the issues of paradoxes are when suddenly Faris appears as a time traveller herself"

Wow. It's like he read the script. For some other film.

But a couple of sites have complemented the title, such as Cinema Blend and Slashfilm, who call it "The most interesting movie title in years"

Hooray, my first positive review!

Then they ruin it all by saying that the "plot doesn't sound as interesting as the title".

Boo! They give with one hand and they take with the other.

The moral of the story: Never read reviews. Even of the one line announcements of your films.

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

The news is out about my film;

From the The Hollywood Reporter:

"Anna Faris is toplining "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel," a farcical sci-fi comedy that also will star British comic actors Chris O'Dowd, Marc Wootan and Dean Lennox Kelly.

Gareth Carrivick is directing the movie, which will be a Picturehouse release in association with BBC Films and HBO Films.

The script, written by Jamie Mathieson, follows three social outcasts -- two geeks and a cynic -- as they attempt to navigate a time-travel conundrum in the middle of a British pub. Faris plays a girl from the future who sets the adventure in motion.

Neil Peplow and Justin Smith are producing via Dog Lamp Films Ltd.

Shooting is due to start next week in the U.K."

From Empire:

"Continuing the healthy flow of American actors heading to work in Britain, Anna Faris has agreed to star in Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, a decidedly Brit-centric geekfest.

It sees three misfits – two nerds and their sarcastic, cynical mate – trying to figure out the paradoxes and problems of chronological travel in (where else) the pub. Faris will appear as a woman from the future who sets them on the path to adventure.

Also starring in the film are three rising UK comic types – The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd, Shameless’ Dean Lennox Kelly and Shirley Ghostman’s Marc Wootton.

Working from a script by Jamie Matheson, Gareth Carrivick will start calling the shots next week."

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Screenwriter's Prayer

“God, grant me the humility to accept the notes that will help the script, the courage to fight the notes that will damage the script,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

- Jamie Mathieson (after Reinhold Niebuhr)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Skellington Love

Skellington Love

Me and the missus contemplate our ribcages making sweet xylophone music.

Death takes a break

Death takes a break

And yes, I am still picking black make-up from my eyes, thank you for asking.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 3

Once your fame cherry has been popped, you can never go back.

For me, it was the first time I stood back stage in the dressing room of a comedy club, waiting to go on, only to find the headliner standing in his pants, ironing his trousers on a brown stained creaking ironing board.

The fact that he was bounding onto the stage an hour or so later with a spring in his step to rapturous applause didn't have quite the same glamour anymore. The bubble was popped, for I had seen behind the curtain to a world not of magic and wonder but of mundane and every day concerns.

Performers were not gods. Comedians had the same worries and problems as everyone else. Dressing rooms could be dirty, smelly crowded places, no different in many ways to factory locker rooms. This was just another section of the real world, with a glamorous public face, true, but a disappointingly common place underbelly.

The same was true of the first time I saw my words being performed by others: initial excitement, then irritation that the lines weren't being delivered exactly as I imagined them in my mind, then finally boredom as I saw the same lines being said ten times in a row for the benefit of coverage. The dream had lost it's sheen as it entered the world of work.

But now. To my film.

We are filming at Pinewood and we have been rehearsing at Shepperton. Pop goes that potential glamour bubble. It feels just like two factories, with all the attendant security guards, hanger like spaces and whistling caretakers with walkie talkies.

In offices on the lot, there is a growing team of artisans designing and building sets, scouting locations and planning the shoot. All based around things I made up.

I think it will be a while before that bubble pops.

And rehearsals? Ah, rehearsals. Here I did the opposite of imagining glamour. I imagined frustration, assuming that the director would direct (it is his job description after all) and that I would watch, inert and powerless on the margins, fearful of breaking the bond of trust between him and the actors, fearful of overstepping my own job description.

Instead I have been welcomed in to a wonderland of collaboration, as we all work to make the script and performance of that script as good as it can possibly be. All credit to the director, Gareth Carrivick. Only someone who is supremely confident of their own position and ability could give the actors and myself the liberty which we have enjoyed.

I mentioned to my wife that these days had probably been my best working experience as a writer so far. "Well." she said "Then what you mean is that this has been the best working experience you've ever had."

She's right.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 2

My office is situated directly over the corridor from the producers and director. We often nip in and out of each other's rooms to shoot the breeze, lark around and waste the investor's money in other interesting and inventive ways.

Earlier on today the door into my office began to open. Assuming it was another of the film staff, I shouted "I'm not decent." and then gave an orgasmic groan.

The door stopped opening and I heard a female voice say: "I'm sorry!" followed by the sound of scampering feet. I opened the door to discover no-one in the corridor.

Turns out it was one of the studio staff who I presume is now traumatised and spreading news of a writer she caught wanking. I expect a sexual harassment lawsuit any day now.

And just to be clear - it was a joke. I wasn't doing anything dodgy in there.

Obviously, whenever I wank at work I lock the door. And then watch everyone else through the keyhole, my old lad in my hand, just like everyone else.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pinewood Studios Diary 1

I am sitting in an office at Pinewood Studios as I type this, working on a film script I wrote which is currently gearing up into pre-production.

In April I was telling jokes on stage for a living. This is no longer the case. I am very happy about this new direction in my life.

The producers have instructed me to refrain from revealing anything about the production at the moment, including; title, actors, funding partners etc. Hopefully I will be able to reveal more soon, but at the moment all I can say is that it is a comedy about time travel.

Our offices are located on "007 Drive" which intersects with "Goldfinger Avenue". I had been lead to believe that the studio roads would be filled with people carrying wafer-light Grecian columns and flat boards with realistic scenery painted on, while actors dressed as Nazis and Cowboys stood around smoking. None of these things have so far happened. In fact, it feels very much like any other factory environment, with gum chewing bored fat blokes wondering around in dirty overalls. The fact that they are all wearing razor sharp bowler hats is a nice detail, however.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I believe in weird

Oh yes I do.

Consider this – I am about to go to London for the day on a train. I bump into a director I’ve not seen for five years. We chat on the train on the way down, exchange e-mail addresses and head our separate ways. Four hours later I am walking down a street in London town when I look through a window and see the same director drinking a coffee in a café. He points at me. I point at him. I enter the café and say.

“This is just wrong.”

We make predictable jokes about stalking and say goodbye again. Do you want to know what he’s currently producing? “Most Haunted” for living TV.

Three days later, I’m in London again at a friend’s party. Also at the party is a guitar playing stand up who I’ve worked with a few times. We chat a little and he leaves the party.

The next day, having stayed at the friend’s house, I hop on a train that will take me into the centre of London. I walk perhaps fifty yards along the train and pick an empty seat at random in a train full of empty seats. I look to one side to discover the guitar playing stand up from the night before sitting across the aisle.

Needless to say, I leapt upon him and staked him through the heart, cut off his head and buried it at a crossroads. It seemed the prudent thing to do.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Time To Burn Some Bridges

Before I became a writer I was a stand-up comedian. Before I did that I worked in Royal Mail Customer Services. For far too long.

When I was doing stand-up I always refrained from having a pop at my old day job in writing, partly out of fear that the comedy would prove to be a fad. It would all fall through and I would end up knocking on the door of my old boss with an embarrassed grin.

“Ooh, it’s the comedian!” he would say, meaning quite the opposite. And he would point me to my old desk, waiting for me much as I left it, with the addition of mould in my mug and a thin patina of dust and despair.

Well, the comedy didn’t fall through. I have now moved onto writing, with stand-up as the new safety net, secure in the knowledge that should the worst come to the worst I can knock on the door of my old stand-up agent with an embarrassed grin.

“Ooh, it’s the writer!” she’ll say, meaning “You failed as a writer.” as I strap on my big clown shoes one more time.

All of which meandering pre-amble means that Royal Mail Customer Services is now fair game for a right kicking. I don’t mind burning my bridges in the mail carrying customer services industry. I don’t think that decision will cause me to starve any time soon.

I’m building this up as though there is a big revelation I’ve been bottling up for years:
(“They burn the mail you know. I seen ‘em. Big piles of it. And they dance round it, chanting.”) but there isn’t, not really.

All this is, really, is me giving myself permission to tell some tales from my past. Some of which may not paint my employer in a particularly good light.

But hey, they should have thought about that before they burnt all that mail. Am I right?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writely Schmitely

In my continued attempt to assist Google in it's quest for global dominance, this blog is being written on their online word-processor "Writely".

In much the same way that the first telephone conversations consisted of variations on the theme of "Wow. We're using a telephone. Freakin Sweet." this will be a writely-centric blog entry.

Wow. I'm writing on Writley. Freakin Sweet.

The feature which I'm itching to try out is the collaboration option, which basically allows other people to add to and edit a piece while you're still working on it.

Imagine that.

I am certain it would feel exactly as if invisible elves were messing with you. And we all know how disconcerting that can be.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Year 3000

I found an entry in Wikipedia which really tickled me. It's titled "A timeline of fictional future events" and is just as cool as it sounds. If you can think of a science fiction story or film that postulates an event occurring at some point in the future, it's probably on there. It's incredibly anal and just the kind of thing that Wikipedia is good for.

I thought of a few of my favourite films and books, hoping to catch it out, but no, they'd all been done. They've even got plots of computer games on there, FFS.

"But what of pop songs." I thought to myself. What about Busted's "Year 3000"?

It wasn't on there!

But it is now:

"3000 - The band Busted and their neighbour Peter arrive from January 2003 in Peter's car-based time machine and discover that not much has changed but everyone lives underwater. (Busted - Year 3000)."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Oldie but a Goodie

Professor Carnival Dunstan

Born with both sets of genitals and a tail, Carnival Dunstan took his first name from the travelling freak show that found him abandoned as a baby in turn of the century Boulogne. His second name was picked out of a hat.

Dunstan spent many of his formative years being mocked in a cage, in his job at the local post office. Disillusioned with this life, he studied long and hard, finally gaining sufficient qualifications to pursue his lifelong dream of dropping his pants for coins from passers by.

read moreDunstan took this career as far as it would go, the crowning triumph being his sell out run at the Albert Hall, where he dropped his pants night after night to a standing ovation. On one memorable occasion his audience included The Prince Regent and Fatty Arbuckle who hailed Dunstan as “A one trick pony”. High praise indeed.

Deciding to quit at the top of his game, Dunstan left show business in 1933 and turned his attention to his other love – physics. After nine years of intense study of velocity, inertia and impact damage he gained a PHD from a professor he coshed in an alley.

He then spent four years firing chickens at car windscreens before deciding to stop mucking about and do some actual science. The real thing quickly bored him though, so he went back to the chicken firing. He also collected his toenails for a time, the surviving jars of which now fetch incredible sums on e-bay, although this may be due to a misprint stating they belonged to Don Estelle.

Dunstan died in poverty and obscurity, where he remains to this day, although his estate is campaigning to have his status upgraded to “a bit poor” and “face rings a bell”.

Could This Blog Cost Me Money?

This question floated into my mind today after a conversation with my writing agent. He was concerned that some of my blog comments could put off potential writing clients. I attempted to assuage his fears only to find myself having doubts of my own. Which lead me to the very basic question: what is the purpose of this blog?

read moreEveryone writes blogs for different reasons. But for someone who puts words together for a living, the importance of the blog takes on a whole new dimension.

I have to realise that this is a shop front. Not the only one I have, granted. Scripts sent by my agent to potential clients is usually their first experience of me and my work. But then potentially they may Google my name and end up here. Which makes what I put here fairly important.

It’s would be a shame if potential clients were bowled over by my scripts but then came here only to discover a rant denying the holocaust and a picture of me with underpants on my head. So I’m going to delete both those posts immediately.

On the other hand, I don’t want this to stop being a place where I can kick back, relax and write nonsense. Surely there must be a common ground that doesn’t lose me work?

A solution that springs to mind is to create virtual Worzel Gummidge heads.

No, really, bear with me.

These would be false personalities that I could adopt - with names, histories and perhaps even mocked up photos. These alternate voices would allow me to adopt their personalities and rant in character about whatever takes their fancy. Thus granting me total deniability.

“It wasn’t me that said that, officer. It was Curly Pieman.”

And step by step, I draw ever closer to full blown multiple personality disorder. Making me a much more interesting writer.

Everybody wins.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Redesigning Judge Dredd's Helmet

Bug Eyes
Originally uploaded by mathieson_jamie.
When I doodle, I often redesign Judge Dredd's Helmet.

This is an activity that calms me greatly. I hope that by setting this example, one day redesigning Judge Dredd's helmet will become a national pastime.


Jamie Mathieson Warped
Originally uploaded by mathieson_jamie.
Here's a photo I took today of myself while browsing in the local Apple shop. It took about ten seconds to take and then e-mail to the missus.

I am surprised no-one has set up little webcam enabled "Wish-you-were-here" booths, for people to e-mail photos direct to the folks back home.

If they do, I want a cut.

Friday, July 21, 2006

What Are You Doing?

It’s tricky, this whole being a writer thing.

On one hand, I prefer telling people what I do for a living when I first meet them. Saying “I’m a stand-up comic.” used to have such an odd effect on people. They would get excited and their eyes would shine and they would start trying to be really funny themselves, as if I had started a funny competition and entered us both. And not in a sexy way.

read moreThey would also laugh at anything I said, even if all I was saying was stuff like “What time is it?” or “You’re freaking me out, I’m going over there now.”

Now, when I say “I’m a writer”, barely an eyebrow rises. Which makes for a more restful evening and on the whole, I prefer. No pressure to perform or desire to run away from randomly laughing people.

I suppose a reason for people’s low reaction to saying you’re a writer is that it’s such a catch-all term. It could mean anything, from; “I’ve got a blog that my family and two old college buddies read. Occasionally.” or “I’ve got some lyrics in a folder under my bed which I’ve never shown to anyone but which will one day, I’m sure, form the basis of a hit West End Musical. The main themes are toejam and skin tags.”

Or, as is my case, I am earning enough money from writing to pay the mortgage and eat. Which I am really pleased about.

As to what I am writing about, well, at the moment, I can’t tell you. I’d love to spill the beans on everything; every pointless meeting, every ridiculous studio note, every actor who turns out to be a nice guy, or a knob.

But that kind of thing simply isn’t done in this business. At least, not if you want to stay in it.

So broadly, here’s what’s currently happening;

1) Rewrites on my own comedy film script about time travel. Which is on course to become a proper film.
2) A teenage sex comedy – a rewrite of someone else’s script.
3) A fantasy thriller television series of mine is being optioned by a major broadcaster.
4) I’m also writing a spec script of my own of comedy sketches. Which not even my agent has seen.

Bask in my cuspdom! This time next year I’ll be eating caviar out of ladyboy’s navels.

As opposed to Pot Noodle. Which is what I am currently eating out of ladyboy’s navels.

That is all.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Baker Street Facade

Baker Street North, London
Originally uploaded by focalplane.
Last week I visited Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes. Literally a few doors down from 221b there is some massive construction work underway. By the looks of it, they are attempting to preserve a grand old frontage, while constructing a totally new building behind it.

It struck me how ironic this was, considering that Sherlock Holmes was a master of deducing inner truths based upon outer clues. It also struck me as a nice metaphor for today’s surface obsessed society.

Then, thankfully, my internal editor kicked in and I realised that both observations were trite, pompous and contrived. I gave myself a good smack and went about my business.

Jesus Joke Payback

I happened to have a drink with stand-up Dan Antopolski the other night where I told him the following story:

When I first began trying to do stand up in 1996 I had a beard and long hair and thus began every set with a Jesus joke. It was a good joke, almost guaranteed to work and I soon came to depend upon it to set the laughs rolling.

This was all well and good until one fateful night at a gig at the Dry Dock in Leeds. My opening Jesus joke, my banker, my comedy jewel, - got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a titter. And I died on my arse.

read moreI couldn’t understand it. Until someone pointed out to me that the crowd were all regulars. And that last week there had been an act on with a beard and long hair – doing an opening joke where he alluded to looking like Jesus. That act’s name was Dan Antopolski.

That was 1998. And the other night, I found myself explaining to Dan how eight years previously he had been responsible for me getting a shave and a haircut and writing a new opening joke.

We laughed at the idea and drank some more wine. Talk began to move onto other things, but I wasn’t done. I reached into my rucksack and produced a clear plastic bag containing a darkish lump.

“What’s that?” said Dan, his smile looking a little uncertain.

“It’s my old hair and beard.” I said. “I kept it, just in case I ever ran into you.”

Dan looked confused as I handed him the bag. The hair was mottled green with a little mould, nothing too severe. It was eight years old, after all.

“What’s this? What do you mean?” said Dan.

“You’re going to eat it.” I said. “And I’m going to watch you.”

Dan blinked. I didn’t. Neither of us were smiling now.

“Is this a joke?” said Dan. He looked hopeful.

“What do you think?” I said, head cocked.

I handed him the salt.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Shaven Headed Bubble Seller

In the town centre of Nottingham today I saw a man selling plastic “bubble makers”, which caused huge foot-wide bubbles to form in the air.

Bubbles are whimsical beautiful things. Part of their appeal is their essential pointlessness. Their only reason for existing is aesthetic delight.

All of which made the shaven headed bubble seller seem a little incongruous as he had the manner of a man more at home kicking someone’s head in behind a nightclub. Indeed, the sullen brutal expression on his face suggested that he was imagining exactly that, as he pumped out bubble after bubble with all the joy of someone feeding their scrotum into a mincer.

read moreI have noticed this phenomenon before. As a rule of thumb, the more whimsical and childish the item for sale, the more scowling and hard looking the seller.

Perhaps there is an element of overcompensation at work, to overcome a fear of being thought of as “soft”. Thus, a man selling knives or nunchuckas will feel no threat to his masculinity and happily smile at his customers, stroke passing kittens and reminisce about favourite ballet steps from his youth, while a man selling dancing pink dolls will feel compelled to carry a severed head in his other hand which he will chew on from time to time.

Also today, and also on the theme of bubbles, I visited an installation by the clever people at Architects of Air. I can thoroughly recommend it. It’s effectively a big inflatable series of rooms, lit wonderfully with ambient sound from hidden speakers. I sat inside pondering – is it like being in a womb, a gut, an alien spaceship or simply a bouncy castle with illusions of grandeur? My lofty musings were brought back down to earth as I spotted a vacant looking staff member following children around with a trigger spray bottle of detergent.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Joke T Shirt

I saw a person the other day wearing a t-shirt with a joke on the front. I smiled and then laughed to myself. And because I wanted to reward them, in a small way, for wearing such a funny t-shirt I looked up into their face, raised my eyebrows and shook my head while smiling. They looked back at me with the blank slightly pissed off look of someone who has totally forgotten they are wearing a funny t-shirt.

I felt betrayed and foolish.

( For those who feel annoyed that I didn’t mention exactly what the joke on the front of the t-shirt was, you should realise that this is totally irrelevant. If you like, you can pretend it was a t-shirt bearing your favourite joke. Go on, go crazy. Unless, of course, your favourite joke is racialist or sexualist.

Bumming jokes are fine though. )

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Combination Lock

I’ll tell you what it feels like. It feels like I’ve been trying to crack a combination lock for years. And the combination lock in question isn’t a dial or a little keypad. Oh no, this baby’s big. Full sized keyboard big. The amount of potential combinations I could enter is staggering.

And I’ve been tapping in codes for a long time: endless permutations of letters, strings sometimes thousands of digits long. And sometimes these random combinations might accidentally cough up actual words. They might resemble sentences, or even full stories.

But don’t let that fool you. They’re just codes. Any pattern is an illusion. Any narrative you think you see exists only in your mind. It’s all just code.

read moreAnd I’ve been at this for years. Tapping away at my keyboard. Discarding old approaches, leaping upon new methods with fevered intensity. Mutating, adapting, editing, refining, trying to second guess the lock builders. Punching in code string after code string.

And sometimes I think I’ve cracked it. The lock clicks promisingly, maybe moves a little. A little light leaks out. Then the lock corrects, whirs and ticks, closing tight again with a pneumatic sigh.

But I carry on. I don’t what else to do. All my other skills and interests have withered and fallen away. I only know the keyboard. And the lock.

And eventually there comes a point when I have forgotten that there is even a lock. I have forgotten why I am even here. All I hear is my fingers on the keyboard and all I can see are the code strings marching across the screen in front of me.

And slowly, my focus shifts. I begin to see beauty in the code strings where before I had seen simply utility. I start to realise that there are ways to make the code even more beautiful, without losing any of it’s functionality. The accidental words and characters and stories which I had previously endured as a necessary evil now become my focus.

The code ceases to be the means to an end. The code is no longer the journey. The code is now the destination. I soon reach the point where I can think of no better way to spend my life creating infinitely more intricate and elegant code strings.

I am so absorbed in my new purpose it is some time before I realise that I am now bathed in light from the open lock.

I grin and keep typing.

Monday, June 19, 2006


What genre is real life?


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rumours and Falsehood

Even though officially I am no longer a stand up comic, I am still in fairly regular contact with a few other acts from the circuit. One of them happened to mention a couple of months ago that he had heard another act swear blind that the reason I had stopped doing stand up was because I was making a film and “was now a millionaire”.

This got me thinking.

read moreThe stand up circuit is a notoriously bitchy place and loves rumours, especially concerning the hubris and downfall of others. I decided to craft a few rumours of my own about my current situation.

I then contacted four different comedians and gave them one rumour each to spread. I also gave them a little background to the jape and said that they should feel free to ad lib additional details at leisure.

Here are the four rumours;

1) I wrote a film script which came very close to being made into a film. I was so convinced that it would go ahead that I put my house up as security and left the circuit.

However, the film fell through, I lost my house and am now living back with my parents. I also can't return to the circuit as I sold my routine on e-bay and have got to write a fresh twenty.

2) The script I wrote contains a lot of people’s material from the circuit, which is why I can never return to stand-up.In addition, on my last gig I smashed my vibrating watch with a hammer on stage at Jongleurs Birmingham, but I didn't clear this with anyone and a bit of glass went into someone's drink. As a result, Jongleurs are being sued and have banned me from appearing at any Jongleurs venue ever again.

3) The film script is essentially a backstage expose of the circuit, with thinly veiled references to well known characters. For this reason, obviously I had to leave the circuit.

4) The film script story is merely a cover. I am now doing porn.

Having sown the rumour seeds, I sat back waiting for them to cross pollinate. What bizarre misheard hybrids would emerge? Which one would dominate? What would happen when two conflicting rumours were voiced in the same dressing room?

I recently got my one and only report back. One of my agents was in a dressing room and began to disseminate his cluster bomb of bullshit, when the act listening stopped him dead and said in a bored voice:

“Oh yeah, Jamie Mathieson. He wants lots of rumours spread about himself doesn’t he?”

Saturday, April 15, 2006

"That's Not Your Joke"

This is a story that dates from way back when. I was still at the "try-out spot" stage, which is stand-up terminology for doing five minutes of unpaid performance in the hope that it will lead to that far off dream of paid work. It was either 1996 or 1997.

So anyway, I went to the Edinburgh Festival, amongst other things a trade fair for comedians. I was treating it mainly as a holiday with my partner, with the vague plan of perhaps getting some try out spots while up there.

read moreAnd Lo, a try out spot did appear. It was at somewhere called the Bear Pit in the local university campus. The audience there has something of a well deserved reputation for chewing up comedians and spitting them out. At the time I knew none of this, of course. All I knew was that I had a try out spot. Hooray.

We had already booked tickets for a few proper stand up shows that day, including the great Rich Hall which left me very little leeway. We would have to watch this show then I would rush to the Uni.

All this was very much on my mind as we entered the Rich Hall gig, took the only free table, which was right at the front (did I mention I was new to this stand up lark?) and proceeded to become the focus of Rich Hall’s attention.

"Well you’re a miserable soul, there at the front. Why aren’t you smiling?" he asked me at one point.

"Because I’m here to analyse your jokes and performance technique, not laugh. And I’ve got a gig on after this which is playing on my mind."

- is what I should have said.

I didn’t, of course. I don’t remember my actual responses but they were all fairly lame. And of course, I didn’t dare mention I was a trainee stand up.

The banter back and forth continued, as myself and the missus sweated in the laser beam of his attention, when for some reason the issue of parents came up. I remembered that I already had a joke on that very topic and saw a chance to crowbar a bit of my material into the act and perhaps redeem us.

"My Mum’s a born-again Christian and my Dad’s an atheist." I said, which Rich repeated to the audience. I was primed and ready to hit him with my punchline, which was "My Dad doesn’t believe in my Mum." when Rich Hall activated his lightning brain.

"So, huh, what" said Rich Hall "Your Dad doesn’t believe in your Mum?"

Cue laughter and applause from the audience and sagging and sighing from me.

"Yeah. Something like that."

So, the Rich Hall gig over, I rushed to The Bear Pit. And had a lovely time. Mainly I think due to the fact that the act on before me died on his arse. Which I referred to, along the lines of "Well, I can only hope that you love me as much as you loved him." This kind of worked and I really won them over.

The young guy running the night, all clipboard and big can headphones seemed very impressed, so much so that he asked if I could come back for a repeat performance the very next night.

"But won’t it be the same crowd?" I asked.

"No, no." he reassured me. "Different punters every night."

So I returned the next night and ran through the same jokes that had wowed the room the night before. And got a sullen disappointed silence from virtually the same crowd. I later discovered that they all had memberships and were there every night during the festival. They didn’t boo me off, partly I think out of respect for how well I had done the night before.

Dying, drowning, searching for a lifeline, I remembered the material about my parents.

I began: "My Mum’s a born-again Christian and my Dad’s an atheist."

At which point a voice rings out, loud and clear from the balcony:

"That’s not your joke."...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

B. and Dunn

When I was about nineteen I had a very brief stint working as a barman at a real ale pub. The place prided itself on selling a wide variety of specialist beers both bottled and on draft and had a constantly changing list on a blackboard of guest beers with bizarre names such as “Bishop’s Fancy” and “Dragon’s Breath” etc.

I was a terrible barman, not least due to my piss poor mental arithmetic. It was also my first job dealing with the general public. I spent most of my time behind the bar in a sweaty panic.

On one particular night the bar was heaving and I was working with another barman doing my best to serve the punters as fast as possible.

I approached one man, who requested a “B. and Dunn”. I had never heard of this brewery before but this was not unusual, given the variety of odd beers we served. I duly searched the fridge that stocked bottled imports, checked the guest beers blackboard and all the taps. I even asked the other barman if he had heard of it. No joy. Finally, defeated, I returned to the customer to get him to repeat his order.

“I’m being done.” he repeated with a frown.

Monday, April 03, 2006

I Have Retired

It’s done. I am no longer a stand up comedian.

My last gig was on April 1st 2006 on stage at Jongleurs Birmingham.

I did twenty minutes of gags, then informed the audience that I was retiring. I explained that the watch I was wearing had a silent vibrating alarm and was very common amongst comedians, making it a very good symbol of my stand up career.

I then took out a large hammer, put the watch on the stage, and smashed it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sick Train

A few weeks ago I got drunk with a mate in London and we then caught the last train home at some time after midnight. The train was full of people in various stages of intoxication, including one man who felt the pressing need to vomit onto the floor causing most of the people in our carriage to rapidly move along to the next carriage, which presumably didn’t smell of puke.

read moreHaving recently had a really bad vomiting bug, I felt surprisingly indifferent to sitting in a carriage that smelt of sick. I suppose I’m still in that grace period after extreme illness where I feel that as long as I’m not the one throwing up, all is right in the world. My mate didn’t have a problem with it either. I don’t know why. I didn’t ask him.

So we were sitting there, my mate and I, in a carriage that stank of puke, when the train stopped at another station and a new fella got into our carriage, sitting opposite us. He frowned and sniffed as soon as he sat down and we volunteered the information that someone had indeed thrown up. We pointed along the carriage to the puddle.

This new man then volunteered the information that he was busting for a piss. He’d tried to go at the last station but there just wasn’t time.

“You could piss on the sick.” said my mate, with drunkard’s logic.

“Can I?” said the man “Can I piss on the sick?” he asked us with an earnestness that was quite endearing, as if we owned the carriage and could indeed grant him permission. He also said it without any trace of humour whatsoever.

This struck us as quite the funniest thing we had heard in a long time.

We laughed and pointed out that we didn’t own the carriage, it was a free world, and if he wanted to piss on the sick, who were we to stop him?

I then wondered what would happen if he did piss on the sick. Would it be noticed by whatever poor sod had the job of cleaning it up in the morning?

“’Ere, Mavis. I think someone’s pissed on this sick.”

We laughed and repeated the phrase “Can I piss on the sick?” so many times over the next hour that it ceased to have any meaning, which in itself became funny. Making our stumbling walk home from the train station through sub zero temperatures much more manageable.

And for those of you who hate loose ends and were wondering;

In the end, he didn’t.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Me Me Me

A friend of mine told me a great true story which I’ll repeat for you here. His name is Dan and I plan to run this by him before I post it, so any errors or exaggerations I take he’s happy with:

“One day, years ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine we’ll call Sarah. She suggested we go to the pub to catch up and we spent the evening talking, from about six until ten. Well, I say we were talking, it would be more accurate to say: I listened while she talked. And talked. And talked.

read moreThere was no gap for me to interject, no questions thrown my way that would allow me to start a conversational thread of my own. It was just a deluge of words from her about her life. The only pauses occurred because I indicated by sign language that I had to go to the bar and the toilet. Soon I had become very bored and resentful.

The interminable evening finally began to wind down and although to mention my feelings went totally against my usual reserved character, I felt I just couldn’t leave without pointing out what had happened that night. As we gathered our coats and prepared to leave I said to Sarah:

“Can I just stop you there. Do you realise that you’ve spent the entire evening just talking about yourself?”

Sarah looked taken aback at this and said instinctively “No I haven’t.”

“You have.” I said. “Name one thing you’ve asked me about myself.”

Sarah thought for a second, hand over her mouth, eyes darting around in her head, before looking appalled.

“Oh my God. You’re right. You must really hate me.”

“I don’t hate you.” I replied. “I think you should just be aware of what you’re doing. How do you think it made me feel?”

Needless to say, the evening ended awkwardly and we went our separate ways with our friendship forever altered by my honesty about her behaviour.

Fast forward six years. I bump into Sarah again, who pulls me excitedly to one side with some news.

“Do you remember that night? When you pointed out how self centred I was?”

“Yes…” I replied, wondering where this was going.

“Well that night changed my life. It made me realise how selfish I was, I came to hate the person I had become so much that I changed my name. I’m now called Flower and I’ve spent the last five years doing charity work in Africa.”

I shook my head sadly and said:

“You see, it’s all still just “Me, me, me””…

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Selective Memory

Shortly before my maternal Grandmother died, I went to see her and managed to get across to her that I told jokes for a living. As her hearing and eyesight were going, this involved a little shouting. Once this fact had been established, my Gran proceeded to tell me a little story about my Grandfather, whom I had never met. It went something like this;

“Ooh, your Granddad. He used to have loads of friends round. And he’d tell a long story. And then everyone would laugh at the end.”

My Grandfather, a raconteur? How come I’d never heard this before? Well, perhaps because I’d never mentioned that I did comedy before. Perhaps if I’d mentioned to my Gran that I’d built up a success pogo stick business, she would have scoured her memory before regaling me with some anecdote about my Grandfather’s love of jumping up and down.

read moreWe all do a lot of things in our lives. We are funny and we are cruel and we are stupid and we are brave and we are desperate. I have anecdotes from my past that I could dredge up as evidence pointing to any future career you care to name, from criminal mastermind to taxidermist.

For a year or so I was a postman. I worked in customer services for five years and for the past five years I’ve been doing stand up comedy for a living. Now I’m a writer. And I’m still moving.

We like to think there is a pattern to things. That’s the truth of it. It’s comforting to think that there are signs that point to conclusions. And we like to think that we spotted the signs, early on; the spark of genius or the sullen glower of the future serial killer. Because the alternative is to say: you never can tell. We don’t know where any of us will end up or what we will become. And that thought is kind of scary, painting us as kind of rudderless with no neat story to frame our lives.

So family friends smile wisely and nod and say “You always were very funny as a child. Do you remember when…” To which I want to shout: “I’m stopping stand up. My next script’s a thriller and it’s the best thing I’ve ever written! It’s got no jokes in it. Tell me about the time I enthralled the children in the playground with a story with twists in. Go on! Tell me!”

And then, unbidden, a memory surfaces from when I did exactly that.

Fast forward hopefully many, many years; me, dead, lying in an open casket, mourners looking down at me, smiling sadly and commenting “This really doesn’t surprise me – do you remember when he was a teenager?

He really used to love to sleep.”…

Monday, February 13, 2006

Proof of a Comedy God

I was traveling on a busy commuter train heading north out of London. I was with a few friends and we were all sharing a six set of seats, chatting vaguely about this and that.

At one stop, a stranger came and sat with us.

However, I recognised the stranger as another stand up comedian, one whom I had worked with briefly months ago. Let'’s call him Joe. However, Joe gave no signs of recognising me and I had no desire to jog his memory. He was no particular friend of mine, had a circuit reputation of being a bit of a knob and thus I was happy to let the coincidence slide.

However, the God of Comedy had other plans.

read moreDuring the course of chatting with my friends, one of them, Dan, happened to mention an old joke that we're particularly fond of. The joke goes;

Q) Why did the baker have brown hands?

A) Because he kneaded a poo.

Classic schoolyard stuff. We laughed at the joke and Dan said "“Classic gag." At which point, comedian Joe'’s ears pricked up.

"What'’s this?" he asked "“What's the gag?"”

Dan looked surprised at this interruption, but duly repeated the joke to this "“stranger".

Comedian Joe thought for a second, looking very serious, and then pronounced:

"“No, it's not a very good joke. It'’s quite childish and immature. And I'll tell you why I can say that. Because I, -"

(pause for effect)

" - am a stand up comedian."”

Dan turned and looked at me with raised eyebrows. The moment hung for a second, then I replied:

"“Well, I'’m a stand up comedian as well. And I think it's a great joke."

Comedian Joe looked shocked.

"“Are you? Are you really? What's your name?"

"Jamie Mathieson." I said "“I think we've worked together before. Downstairs at the King'’s Head. You'’re (insert real name here) aren'’t you?"”

"“Yeah, yeah." replied Comedian Joe, suddenly not quite so cocky. The conversation shifted to issues of where we were working that weekend.

I was flying to Scotland for some gigs, which was a rarity but helped to increase my comedian kudos. He was heading to a gig that night on that very train. Dan asked for the name of the pub, but Comedian Joe couldn'’t remember off the top of his head and was forced to dig out his diary to check. It was one of those "“one page to a month"” desk diaries.

And here'’s the really heart-breaking part. The only day with anything written on it, the only gig for the whole month, was that very day.

As he left the train, a few stops later, I was left pondering how many times he had interrupted complete strangers with his pronouncements about the calibre of their pub jokes, or the fact that he was a stand up comedian. And I thought about how statistically unlikely our meeting had been.

And I also thought that if there's one thing the God of Comedy really hates, it's a smart-arse.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

If the world was ending, would anyone tell you?

Of course, it’s not going to appear on the news. They don’t want mass hysteria. They’ll keep up the pretence that everything is just fine and dandy up until the last possible second. Until they’ve squeezed the last cent they can out of whatever stocks they’ve invested in. Panic equals a fall in share price. Everyone knows that.

So you’ll keep hearing soothing words through airbrushed mouths until you’re distracted by the noise of rioting outside your window, strangers fighting each other for the last loaf of bread, for the last pint of milk, for the last drop of gas.

You look from the seething scrum outside your window then back to the soothing TV, then back out to the scrum. It’s like you’re getting your TV signal from some alternate world, where everything’s just fine.

Then you look at the presenter’s face. He’s smiling, sure. But the eyes look scared. A split second after the smile cracks and falls, the test card comes up. Then the power cut to end all power cuts begins, and you go rooting in the cupboard for your gun.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Beans Monologue

I overheard a monologue the other day that went something like this:

“Crosse and Blackwell, right, well they also make beans. I bought four tins, because they were on special offer, two for one. Well, I put them all in the same carrier bag and I was walking home and it split! I was chasing a tin of beans as it rolled down the road.

I think what I’ll do next time is put two in one bag, two in another, and then double bag ‘em.

read moreHave you seen those bags for life? When they’re not really for life. They don’t last that long. But at least the handles don’t stretch.”

Alan Bennett eat your heart out.

Listening to this man drone on, neither needing, or receiving any encouragement or response from his sole listener, I tried to isolate what it was about this monologue that I found so fascinating.

I came to the conclusion that he had no internal editor. Whereas you or I might have had similar experiences or thoughts, we would perhaps stop short of considering them worthy of sharing with friends and family or indeed strangers at bus stops.

This man had no such filter in place. There was no inner voice asking pertinent questions, such as; “Is this remotely interesting to anyone but me?” “Is this just tedious minutiae?” and “What does minutiae mean anyway?”

It’s a great trick for writing characters unlike yourself. Just mentally remove a few mental editors or filters and let yourself go.

I like observing quirks like that.

Another classic trait I occasionally encounter is the misguided belief that just because a particular person is obsessively interested in a particular topic, everyone else would be too, if only they were fully briefed on the joys of said topic.

The first time I encountered this trait, the topic was genealogy, but it happens a lot with religion, partly because the idea of preaching is built in. And they figure they’re doing you a favour as they’re saving your soul.

From tins of baked beans to the human soul in under four hundred words.