Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Crash Course in Evolutionary Psychology

From my blog "Darwin on the Fringe":

In four days the Edinburgh Fringe previews commence and I’m not ready! A few hours ago I did my first full rehearsal of the Rap Guide to Human Nature with a director friend and it was chaotic as hell, not the material but the structure (okay, the material was a bit chaotic too). What happened?

I conceived of doing a new comedy rap show about Evolutionary Psychology (EP) at last year’s Fringe, while I was in the midst of performing The Rap Guide to Evolution daily at the Gilded Balloon. Actually it wasn’t my idea; David Buss suggested it to me. He’s the professor who wrote the EP textbook that’s used in most college courses on the subject, and apparently someone gave him a copy of my Evolution CD which prompted him to write me this endearing email message (verbatim): “This is one of the coolist [sic] things I've ever heard! I've passed it on to all of my evolutionary psychology colleagues. You should consider doing one exclusively on EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY! So many cool topics to cover. If interested, I'd like to send you a copy of my Evolutionary Psychology text.” I probably shouldn’t make fun of him for misspelling ‘coolest’ in an email, since I’m prone to such gaffs myself, but I just thought it was funny considering the number of books and peer-reviewed journal articles he’s published. Call me a geek but I was proud to have induced a geek-out in such an alpha geek.

So anyway, send me his textbook is exactly what he did, by mail after the Fringe, and I have spent roughly the past ten months working my way through it and about a dozen other books on the subject. Why? Because if you’re presumptuous enough to try to say something of merit on the subject of human nature, you’d better do your homework. But how much homework? Well, that depends on how much time you think you’ll need to write the show. Research for too long and you end up with a pile of notes and nothing coherent to say. Research too little and what you end up saying is either wrong or inane. It’s like an intellectual game of chicken: who will swerve first, me or the Fringe? Of course I swerved first, but the Fringe is a punishing deadline. You don’t just have to swerve first, you have to swerve well enough in advance to regain your balance and mount a steady assault.

So I started writing the Human Nature text about six weeks ago, and finished it about two weeks ago. But if I’ve been finished for two weeks, why am I still in such a shambles when it comes to the live performance, why haven’t I sharpened it to a razor edge yet? Because of the strange niche I inhabit, the niche of rap comedy theatre, in that order. For the past six weeks while writing the show I’ve been crashing on the sofa of one of Britain’s most talented hip-hop producers, Jamie aka “Mr. Simmonds”, recording and editing music daily, and the day before yesterday we finally put the finishing touches on the album version of The Rap Guide to Human Nature.

Unfortunately, having a new full-length CD (that sounds awesome by the way) is not a triumph either Jamie or I can savor, because no sooner did we finish the master than our gaze shifted from the myopic chiseling process required to craft a quality recording to the broader horizon of the looming fringe, where we will be on stage daily performing the material. Swerve!

Getting things into shape for our first performance on Wednesday is going to be manic, but either way the record is dope. However shambolic the live show turns out to be, that’s how dope the CD is. Every critic who points out a flaw in the show, every audience member who scratches their head in bewilderment at something incoherent I babble about on stage, I’m going to picture each of them nodding their heads to those luscious beats and think “it was worth it”. That’s the beauty of hip-hop, the head-nodding doubles as appreciation and affirmation, regardless of the question (danger!).

Actually, that’s how I’m going to console myself when adversity rears its petty head, but in the meantime Jamie and I will spend the next four days rehearsing like convicts with a chance to sing for their freedom. And here’s the best part. You can download the CD right now, for free (or rather, name your price). Do it! If you like it, you can picture me making a fool of myself on stage next week and think, “it was worth it”. If you don’t like it, well, then you probably wouldn’t like the live show anyway. Warning: it's not for the faint-hearted or faint-minded!

Okay, here it is:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010



I'd like to introduce you to my newest offspring: "Rapconteur". The album follows on from the Rap Canterbury Tales, and includes five new rap adaptations of great literature, oral epics mostly, but also some newer pieces, and some that I simply stumbled onto. The album was recorded and scored by Brighton-based producer Mr. Simmonds (aka Jamie), who is a fountain of musical inspiration, and who will also be performing with me at the Fringe.

Rapconteur contains hip-hop storytelling adaptations of the Epic of Gilgamesh (the world's oldest written narrative), Kalevala (Finland's national epic), Beowulf (the masterwork of Old English), The Merchant's Tale (from the Canterbury Tales), and the wild-card of the bunch, an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven that I wrote when I was seventeen and have now set to Jamie's amazing music. In the spirit of sharing, and as a weary acknowledgment of the changing face of the music industry, I am offering Rapconteur as a free download on a pay-what-you-like plan. The album represents months of musical and lyrical composition from Jamie and I, so if you enjoy it please do contribute. Click here to get it.

As for me, I have been in the thick of it working on my other (!) new show/CD, The Rap Guide to Human Nature, which will also be released soon as a full-length record. Last night I put the final vocals down at 4:30 in the morning, finished editing them, and headed straight to Heathrow airport for a quick jaunt home, so I am now writing from lovely Vancouver! This is a brief visit for a friend's wedding and for a preview show in Nelson, then it's back to the fray, with the Edinburgh Fringe kicking off in precisely two weeks. I will be performing both shows every day (except Mondays) for the duration of the Fringe, an epic challenge for an epic set of stories.

Here's a link to the Edinburgh listing, but since Rapconteur is on the Free Fringe you can't buy tickets, first come first served!

More to come...