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An Idiot’s Adventures In Gameland – Steve McNeil

27: Christmas – A Time For Reflection. And Whisky. Mostly Whisky.

Hello, dear reader. This is going to be my last article until the new year, as I’m taking an extended break from work to remind myself what my wife looks like.

Given it’s Christmas round the corner, it seemed appropriate to reflect on its relationship with gaming, and I honestly cannot remember a year where I didn’t receive a videogame. From beautifully boxed Dizzy collections on the Amstrad CPC 464, to the knock-off copies of Atari ST and Amiga games (piracy really didn’t do that era any favours), past the Super Mario All-Stars SNES package, all the way up to last year’s haul of PS4 games, Christmas has become forever interwoven with gaming.

Obviously, it’s the time where a lot of AAA-games are released, so as to maximise sales, but it’s also one of the few times in the year where you actually might have several days free, with nothing better to do than drink your way through a bottle of whisky whilst shooting American children through the internet. Just like Jesus.

Christmas is also a busy time for comedians which, despite what this column might suggest, I am, and so I’m currently whizzing round the country doing shows. Tomorrow, I’ll be at Manchester University, recreating the Oculus Rift challenge we presented on last year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, whilst at the weekend I was in Milton Keynes, attempting to get 400 people to stop checking facebook every five seconds so that they could connect their smartphones to the the cool toys Rob Sedgebeer created for our show, WiFi Wars. Sadly, you can’t come to either of these things (in fairness, one of them is in the past) but, if you do want to stare at my face in a basement, there’s still some tickets left for our Xmas Go 8-Bit, with very special guests, Susan Calman and Russell Howard – we’d love to see you there.

The final gig I’ve got in my diary is with Brendon Burns on Friday 11th December. Some of you may be aware that I had a role in his 2007 ‘Perrier’ award-winning show – a context-less clip of which inexplicably went viral earlier this year – 13.8 million views and rising – It’s an incredibly important show to me for a number of reasons and, given Christmas is a time for reflection, I thought I’d take you on a whistle-stop tour of why…

In 2007, I saw a post on the Edfringe message-board, looking for an actor to be involved in a comedian’s show each evening. I went along to meet one of the directors, Matt Holt, and he very kindly gave me the part, presumably because no-one else got in touch.

I’d initially just got involved for a bit of beer money while I was up there in another show but, seeing the success Brendon had (and richly deserved), gave me a taste for comedy and I decided it was something I’d like to have a go at myself.

Two men directed Brendon’s show that year: the aforementioned Matt, and Rohan Acharya. With their encouragement, I began to try my hand at comedy. They gave me several small roles in the ITV2 comedy series ‘Comedy Cuts’ which they were directing and producing respectively, and Matt directed a sketch comedy group I put together which, eventually, became just me and my double act partner, Sam Pamphilon.

Matt directed our first two shows, and played a huge part in defining what became our style (such as it is), then Rohan came on board as well for the third – he’s exceptional at thematic and ‘big picture’ stuff and his involvement, along with Matt’s direction, helped to get the show long-listed for the main award – although it didn’t get shortlisted, sadly, so no-one really knows. Except you lot, now, obviously.

The following year, in 2013, we began developing Go 8-Bit, a live show where comedians battled on classic videogames. Rohan, as a gamer, was really keen on the idea and, after it’s Edinburgh fringe run, picked it up as a producer to develop it for television (we’re nearly there, we hope…). The boyfriend of a regular attendee of our sketch comedy shows also approached us with some tech he thought we’d be interested in, and this eventually morphed into the spin-off show I mentioned earlier, WiFi Wars, with the actual genius, Rob Sedgebeer.

Alongside all this, someone who had seen me perform in Edinburgh asked me to take part in a workshop at the National Film and Television School, where we staged a pretend chat show so that camera operators, lighting and sound engineers and so on, could practice working on the format in a safe environment. At one of these, I met a man called David McClelland who, on hearing about Go 8-Bit, mentioned a TV channel he worked with on occasion – this was Ginx TV.

Thanks in part to regular writing and presenting work with Ginx, this March I managed to become a full-time video-gaming comedian (no, that shouldn’t be a job, I’m as surprised as you are), but the chain of events that set all that in motion was a chance encounter with a man called Matt Holt almost ten years ago. I owe him far more than I’ve ever articulated to him, so I’ll probably just email him the link to this and hope he doesn’t read it. Blokes, eh, what are they ruddy like?

I guess the message in all this, if there is one, is be pro-active and take every opportunity you get, as you never know what you might miss out on. That one email I sent to Matt back in early 2007 led to Sam Pamphilon, Rob Sedgebeer, Chris Slight, Go 8-Bit, WiFi Wars and Ginx TV, the six things I regularly exploit for financial gain instead of having a proper job. Matt – thank you.

What a heart-warming Christmas tale! Or a self-referential heap of farts. I’ve no idea; I’ve got a terrible cold. See you in 2016!


Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!


Steve xx


P.S: If you can’t bear to be without me, I’ll be posting a lesser-known Christmas song on twitter every day – just search for the hashtag #SteveMcXmas – I’ll be literally the only person using it.

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