I’m getting ready to record some topical comedy. As usual it’s ‘lights, camera’ and ‘action’. Only I’m doing this during Lockdown, so the ‘lights’ are two cruddy old Ikea lamps we’ve perched on a makeshift desk in Studio A (my son’s bedroom).
The ‘camera’ is a webcam perched precariously on my laptop and the ‘action’ isn’t delivered by a floor manager, but by the watching production staff hitting their mute buttons to let me know I should probably start talking.
I even ‘went into make-up’, which in this case involved me shouting ‘Babe’, pleadingly up the stairs to my wife, ‘Can you put some of that powder on me? I’ve got to do some telly.’
Normally when I finish a Mash Report segment I step back into the studio wings, the sound of the audience and cast continuing on the other side of the curtain, my adrenaline slowly starting to normalise. However, on this occasion I wander into my kitchen and put the kettle on. It feels like I’ve fallen through a portal between entertainment and domestic life, where you could be attempting satire one minute and burning toast the next.
Like so much of life currently, delivering a comedy show during Lockdown is a peculiar experience. People have asked me how it was performing with no laughter. Suffice to say, I’ve been there before. I was surprised to find the bigger concern in the build was a lack of adrenaline. When I sit down to record something I want to feel alert and in the room. This is TV. I don’t want to feel like I’m jumping out of a plane with a good book on the go.
Whether it’s personal or professional, the increased reliance on technology has come upon us quickly. There are decisions to be made. Are you a house party or zoom guy? As far as I’m concerned, it’s ‘House Party for show, Zoom for the pro.’ Do you have everyone on the call in a gallery layout? Or do you prefer the app cutting between people based on who is talking? Maybe it’s my experience on telly, but I quite like it jumping around. Yes it’s a bit Darwinian, but having hung in there with some brilliant comics on TV, I hope I can assert myself with uncle Keith during yet another online pub quiz.
Then there’s the issue of how much effort you put into how you look. My wife and I are having a party this weekend. It’s easier for women. Apparently putting on a bra and lipstick makes them feel more human. I have not had a hair-cut for five weeks. My only option to sharpen my look is a buzz cut or putting it in a ponytail.
We’ve also started routinely singing off emails with the ubiquitous ‘stay safe’. I understand the sentiment, I want everyone I know to remain strong and healthy. However, as someone who has performed comedy in an actual warzone (I hate to bring it up, because then I have to talk about the medal etc…) it feels incongruous. I’ve seen blokes going out on foot patrol in Helmand province being told ‘Keep your head down’. It doesn’t feel particularly heroic when ‘staying safe’ mainly involves watching streaming services and wiping door handles with Dettol.
This crisis is, however, changing the way I feel about social media and not just because I’m still able to work. Of late, fake news, Brexit and the ongoing culture war had made online interactions seem like an pointless, toxic wasteland.
As lockdown seems likely to become an intermittent fact of life, social media has once again started to feel more like a blessing than a curse. Now all we need to do is tell those older male family members and broadcasters about ‘angles’ and why no-one needs to see up their nose.
Geoff is also doing a from home show with Romesh Ranganathan, dissecting new Live Action Star Wars Show the Mandalorian: