What Would Debbie Allen Do?

5c810e9ebe8ffcd5ab1a0b350af11754.jpgEvery time I watched Fame and heard Debbie Allen encouragingly tell her pupils, week after week, “You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.” My first thought was – mind your friggin’ business! a) I don’t want fame, and b) only the morbidly obese sweat.’

I know that in her heart, Debbie was trying her best to offer inspiration, guidance and a good kick up the arse for her United Colors of Benetton band of misfits. However, one thing Ms Debbie never did was to tell her students that they were crap (although in hindsight, someone should have laid down that truth on those songwriters – have you listened to ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Mannequin’ lately)?. In this, Ms Debbie was living up to the age-old adage….


Never, ever critique someone’s work unless you are asked. If you start a sentence with, ‘if you want my opinion’, you are asking to loose friends, family members, or your job. If you are absolutely dying to critique something, or give advice, the best way to do this is to ask pertinent questions to allow the person on the receiving end of your meddling to find solutions for themselves. Doing it this way will also allow you to seem less patronising, giving the illusion that you don’t have all the answers (which of course you do).

You should frame the questions around the five Ws: what, when, why, who, and how (yes, I know, but ‘how’ ends in a w). Your W questions stand the best chance of being effective if they are specific. For example:

  • What the hell were you thinking when you wrote that?
  • When are you going to get a grip and learn how to write dialogue?
  • Why are you so stupid and why haven’t you listened to my advice I’ve given you? Or, Why do you think you write sh**ty dialogue like that?
  • Who in the hell do you think you are not listening to the advice I’ve given you?
  • How can I help you when you won’t help yourself and listen to the advice that I’ve given you?


The following is true story that I made up for this blog.

Back in 1980, when I was auditioning to get into New York School for Performing Arts, I met my current BFFs Doris, Coco, Bruno and Danny. Of course, I got into the school and from that point onwards, my high school experience was one big dance number. One minute we’d be eating our lunch in the canteen, and the next, from out of nowhere, a pianist would start banging out an unknown tune, to which Coco would start singing, flawlessly making up the words as she went along, while the rest of the school would join in with an unrehearsed, impromptu dance number.

In my senior year, I had been offered a spot in the Alvin Ailey dance company. In order for my acceptance to be final, I needed to graduate – which was not looking good as I had found out that Mrs Robinson, my English teacher had failed my final essay, ‘Spiderman: Fact or Fiction’ and I would not be graduating. Looking to confront Mrs Robinson, I miraculously found her at a local hospital where her husband’s was recovering from a heart attack. One thing led to another and several hours later, we found ourselves in my bed exhausted from our love-making (it was fortuitous that I had turned 18 two days beforehand). Falling into my arms Mrs Robinson, proclaimed, ‘That was out of this world! For that you get an A+, I looked lovingly into her eyes and replied, ‘But I didn’t think you even liked me’. Smiling, Mrs Robinson said, ‘I was talking about your performance during the shag. For that you get an A+….. outside that, I still think you’re a prick.’


I don’t want to be too harsh on Mrs Robinson. In her defence, she did what any good critiquer should do – she used positive language, started her critique on the strengths, and then addressed the weak and/or problems areas. But, looking back, I think that Mrs Robinson could have given a clearer indication on how on I could improve. Wouldn’t it have been better if Mrs Robinson gave me comments that didn’t leave me guessing on what she was trying to convey? Instead, I’m left with the fact that I don’t know the scale of her criticism.

To this day, I still don’t whether am I a big prick, or a little prick? I guess only time will tell.

The Craft of Writing Comedy

b609db55bd1a885c141f4d53c32a8b11.jpgI must admit, when listening to a story, I’m one of those people whose attention span and patience can be somewhat lacking. Unknowingly, my facial expressions and trademark head-nod, make it clear that I’ve stopped listening and am thinking about my evening meal, or if the Jeremy Corbin will last as the Leader.

That said, I think it’s appropriate that I use my second blog post to allow me, to help you, to help yourself to tell funnier stories.

BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WIT – William Shakespeare

Shakespeare said it, now I’m saying it – keep it simple. Most people that tell and write stories, especially ones that are meant to be funny, tell them very badly. They either give too much information, too little action, or – sins of all sins – both. So the first thing to remember is to keep it simple. I find it amazing how a child will laugh over and over again at the ‘pull my finger’ joke. Why? Not only because they are children and any opportunity to openly laugh at a toot joke won’t be missed, but because you don’t have to explain the joke. ‘Take my wife. Please!’ is another example. I know those jokes are a bit dated for most of you (or even not funny for some), but the point I’m making is that these jokes don’t overload the listener with irrelevant information. Whatever you write must be relevant to the plot. If it is relevant, determine if it will help the audience better understand the characters or situation. If it does, then determine if its inclusion is going to make the story / situation / character funny. If not, I think you know what you need to do – ditch the bitch.


 Some time ago, a colleague asked me to look at his comedy based script, as he was struggling to get it to work (i.e. to make it funny). After suggesting that he strip out all the unnecessary information that wasn’t relevant to the story, situation or character, he started to see his idea – which indeed, was very funny – come to life. However, after re-reading the script I still felt a couple of things weren’t right. The script read as if he was solely writing for the lead-up to the numerous punch-lines or gags. While that technique works for stand-up comedy, for script writing, it can make the script plot too obvious and in most cases, clichéd – which is dangerous when writing comedy. To get around this issue, my next suggestion was for him to get some friends (preferably actors) around to his place and read his script out loud. This would afford him the opportunity to check he had written the script with the necessary pace and energy. In addition, hearing his work being read by others would safeguard him against the mistake that writers so often make – having the characters speak only in the writer’s voice, rather than in the character’s voice. 

 After following my last suggestion, I received the re-written script last week. On the last reading, I’m happy to say, I was in stitches the whole time.


Art imitates life. Storytelling imitates life. Living is all about conflict. Storytelling is all about conflict. Without conflict, life would be boring. Comedy writing is storytelling, therefore comedy without conflict is just darn right un-comedic . 

Once you’ve guaranteed that you’ve only written what is relevant to the plot, and you’ve given each of the characters their own voice, your next task is to make sure there is conflict. To carry-off a longer comedy script, you’ll need several conflict situations in the story. A simple example is boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Romeo and Juliet is a prime case in point of how this works. 

Shakespeare presents conflict after conflict as to why these two should not be together – he’s Jewish, she Catholic; he has turrets, she’s the town bike; he’s a little bit country, she’s a little bit rock-n-roll. Ok, maybe this isn’t the exact plot of the play, and while Shakespeare didn’t write Romeo and Juliet as a comedy, he did have all the ingredients to do so.

That brings me on to another point about conflict – turn that sad conflict story into a funny conflict story. For example, chaos ensues at a family funeral when a man tries to expose a dark secret (‘Death at a Funeral’ – both the English version and the American re-make). Or, chaos ensues after the USA’s recently elected first female president from Alaska announces, after walking-in on her husband pleasuring himself in the family toilet, that masturbation is a form of adultery and successfully brings in laws to ban it (tragic, yet funny). 

Regardless which conflicts you choose, remember – keep it simple.


To learn the craft of writing comedy, you have to be prepared to research, research, research. There is a whole range of television sitcoms and films that will allow you to turn on, tune in, and drop out. You should be watching as many of these as possible. And not just current sitcoms or recent films. A lot of the older productions are just as funny (if not funnier) than their current counterparts. Indeed, you’ll find many of them have been remade to fit current fashions (The Longest Yard, The Nutty Professor, Father of the Bride, The Preacher’s Wife, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Lady Killers, etc). 

Don’t forget your drama film / programmes. Sad conflict stories can make for excellent comedy conflict stories. Indeed, in watching drama films or programmes you’ll learn how to tell a good story with sound dialogue, strong characters, and of course, excellent conflict situations.


 You now have enough information to aid you in keeping me and your audience riveted in your storytelling. So next time you’re telling me a story and I break into my head-nod, it will be a case where I can honestly say, “It’s not me, it’s you’. 

How Grindr Changed My Life

1f66abf941d9b024628471168c9bc4ae.jpgFACEBOOK (verb and noun): Facebooking (present), Facebooked (past), Facebooker (noun)

TWITTER (verb and noun): Tweeting (present), Tweeted (past), Twatter (noun)

As most of you well know, I’m a huge fan (some would say obsessed) of Facebook and Twitter. These sites allow me to keep in touch with both my disparate group of friends in London, and those farther afield. Gone are the old skool days where I would have to send out a group email or text my friends and family to let them know of the good news going on in my life (I just pooped) ; the bad news (I didn’t poop) ; the important news (I pooped again) and the not so important news (I hope to poop today) – this would be tedious for all involved. With Facebook and Twitter I can, within in minutes, update the world on my movements (bowel or otherwise) with the click of a button. In addition, these sites allow me to keep updated with the friends that I grew up with – who’s gotten fat, divorced or is in prison (no, I’m not bitter that I didn’t go to my high school prom), and rekindle relationships with people I have not seen in a very long time.

That said, while the social networking sites continue to hold my favour, the dating website have left me frustrated and exhausted.


You spend hours, upon hours setting up a profile, trying to write something that will illicit a response from your future ex-partner. If you’re a straight male, the idea is to be witty, but not too witty as to come across as gay. And if you’re gay, the idea is to be witty, but not too witty as to come across as uber gay. Men want to give the impression that they are macho, but not too macho; confident, but not cocky; desperate, but not too desperate, rich, and well, rich. Women need to come across as being sexy without being trampy; girlie, but not needy; understand the offside rule; and most important of all, have major boobage (a profile pic showing-off her major boobage would help immensely).

To give you a taster, here are some real profiles that my in-depth, ‘journalistic’ research uncovered:

  • ‘Fat, flatulent, over 40, cigar-smoking redneck seeks sexy woman with big hair to cook, clean, and pick up unemployment checks.’
  • ‘I am a single 5’9 plumber looking for my soul mate and any jobs in the neighbourhood. I have my own car and will take care of emergencies; dating, plumbing or otherwise’
  • ‘Are you looking for a fun loving, beautiful woman with her act together? Well, good luck!’
  • ‘I am an independent woman and don’t need a man to support me, although the ability to do so would be nice.’
  • ‘Yes, I have nice breasts.’


The next task that will take you hours is choosing a good profile pic. Trawling through hundreds upon hundreds of profiles, I noticed a couple of things:

# 1 – Unless you’re Tyson Beckford, do not include a picture of yourself without your shirt on. I mean look at that loser below, all that flab hanging about. I wouldn’t give him the time of day. Geez dude, put your shirt back on and try hitting the gym.


# 2 – Never trust anyone that smiles in their profile pic. It means they’re either up to no good, or psychotic – or both. And defintely never trust anyone that smiles with their shirt off.


# 3 – If you’re a straight male and you don’t want to look gay, put up a pic with you wearing sunglasses. This trick will help put the ‘cho’ back into your macho.



# 4 – Ladies, there is no such thing as too much make up. When in doubt, put more on.



Now that your profile is complete and you’ve sent out some messages to potentials, all you need to do is sit back and wait for all that love interest to come flooding back. So you wait… And you wait… And you wait some more… Some advice – if you’re going to do internet dating, you will need to be thick-skinned. Rejection is going to be your new drinking buddy. You may have the perfect profile, but that doesn’t mean the responses will come rolling in. In fact, most of your messages won’t be responded to. And with those that do respond, you will have to weed out the ones that want to chat forever and never meet you; the ones that want to know what you’re into (and they don’t mean your hobbies), or how big you are (and they don’t mean your personality); the ones that want to ‘swap pics’; the married ones; the ones who want to know if you believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour and died for our sins (at least let’s have a shag before asking that question).


Grindr didn’t change my life, I did. Last week I took the bull-by-the-horns and decided to leave the virtual dating world and close all my dating accounts. One by one, with a glass of wine at the ready, summoning all the inner force I could, on each account I clicked ‘delete account’ ending years and years of addictive behaviour. With seven profiles closed and one last one to go, I get a message from a 33 year hottie, living very far away, saying, ‘very sexy’. I sat back, looked at the message and thought for a while. Knowing I had no choice, I replied, ‘Blush’. And like any addict I told myself, ‘tomorrow is the day you quit for sure.’