03 July 2009

How to Watch the Radio

Today's Now Show has now aired and surprised me with a few of its inclusions, although to be honest, in the haze of today, I've probably forgotten about half the stuff they left out, apart from the intentionally for-the-audience's-eyes-only bits. The experience of going to the BBC Radio Theatre and watching a show (any show) live was great fun but hopefully, next time, I will be less of a n00b and will be able to enjoy the next one even more.

1. Arrive early. The tickets say that entrance to the building starts at 6.45 and entrance to the Radio Theatre begins at 7.45 for an 8 p.m. recording start time. They also cautions that having a ticket doesn't guarantee entry because they know some people don't turn up and so tend to overbook. In my days at the Nike Town Running Club, I used to run past the Radio Theatre on Portland Place as part of the home strait back to Nike Town and there would, some nights, be a big queue outside. However, S and I decided the ticketing would be rather like on an airline where being bumped off would be very, very rare and so we decided to meet for Thai on Maddox Street at six and then head to Portland Place when we were done. We got there at about 7.15 and although there were only a few people queueing, once we'd passed through the airport-style security, our tickets got stickers with the numbers 255 and 256 on, suggesting most people were already there.

Of course, not getting there super early didn't prevent us from getting in (in fact, there were a few free seats) but it did mean that a) we didn't receive the audience-participation forms where you could get the chance to have your suggestion read out on air (people were handing them in as they went into the theatre but we somehow missed out) and b) we didn't get the best seats as we were in the balcony. However, we were in the front row of the balcony and had a perfectly unobscured view of the stage (and there were a few mics within laughing distance). During a part of the show that was unaired, someone from the audience yelled out that they had queued in the sun for 90 minutes (this was referred to later on in an (unaired) bit where a joke hadn't gone brilliantly and one of the comedians said we must be regretting having queued for 90 minutes for that).

2. Positioning. When we arrived, we had to wait in the cafe for about 50 minutes until they were ready for us. This room is shaped like a very long corridor and people kept pushing past us to get nearer to the entrance to the theatre. We probably should have pushed our way along to help with the seating later. We didn't really feel like a coffee having just eaten but at least they had the tennis on. S and I used the time to prep each other on the week's news stories to try to predict which ones might come up (this was mainly him prepping me as I don't tend to hear about non-news stories unless they're really big). We agreed that in the past week, there had only been one major news story (even I had heard of Michael Jackson's death, possibly because it was just before the weekend and I do read the Grauniad on Saturdays), a fact with which Mitch Benn also agreed because his third, unaired song commemorated the fact that when he had tried to look up which "national appreciation" weeks were happening, he didn't find anything (unfortunately, the song was a bit mediocre but you can't win 'em all).

3. Preparation. Although it probably isn't always very easy to guess which question they might ask the audience to answer in a segment that is sometimes aired, reading lots of news stories (and the "and finally..." style pieces on the BBC Magazine website) might help. This week, they asked the audience to write a modern-day, 11th commandment. We (and Hugh Dennis) agreed that the best one was, "Thou shalt not covet [originally, steal] thy neighbour's WiFi" but it was only read out after the "official" end of the show and didn't have the right delivery to get used. During the recording, Hugh Dennis was separating page and pages of what I thought was his script into two piles on the floor. I realised later he was sorting out the audiences' answers into two piles: "to be read during the official recording" and "to be read to keep the audience entertained in between retakes." About 50 of these were read out and for me, seeing whether the audience (and the comedians) laughed at my line would have been better than hearing it on the radio (although it would be a bit embarrassing if everyone thought you were an idiot; someone wrote, "Thou shalt not make spelling and grammer mistake's [sic]" but then felt stupid when asked whether they had done it on purpose).

4. Be loud and be bold. This one isn't for me but it seems that apart from having your answer to the audience question read out in the final cut, the only way to actually get yourself on air in a noticeable way is to heckle or call out. Not many people did this and one woman (protesting about National Express) got her "hear, hear!" style cry included in the final edit. Luckily, I didn't hear too much (if any) of the machine gun laughter guy in the edit. As I listened to to podcast of the show, though, it did seem as though the audience were laughing a lot louder and a lot more than they usually do. I'm sure it's my imagination--maybe I just thought it sounded a little fake because I knew that some people were trying to get their laughs on the radio and so did laugh harder, louder and longer than would be appropriate. He who laughs loudest may also laugh last in order to prevent embarrassment by laughing at the wrong moment and then being mocked by the comedians.

5. Go often. At the beginning of the recording a producer came on as a pre-warm-up warm-up act, mainly to tell us to turn off our phones (or else other audience members were entitled to kill you) and pointing out fire exits, but with some "jokes" or jokey bits added in. The end product was something that was slightly less funny than one of those Orange "Don't Let a Mobile Ruin Your Film" shorts after you've seen it approximately 97 times. The real warm-up from Dennis and Punt was a lot funnier and involved a lot of physical comedy. It took me a few moments to realise this was actually a warm-up and wouldn't be included in the final edit, which is a shame. They did also explain this to the "first timers" as they put it, although it seemed that many people had come at least once before.

Next time, I will have lost my n00b status and I'm sure the experience will be even better.

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