Monday, February 27, 2006

Me Me Me

A friend of mine told me a great true story which I’ll repeat for you here. His name is Dan and I plan to run this by him before I post it, so any errors or exaggerations I take he’s happy with:

“One day, years ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine we’ll call Sarah. She suggested we go to the pub to catch up and we spent the evening talking, from about six until ten. Well, I say we were talking, it would be more accurate to say: I listened while she talked. And talked. And talked.

read moreThere was no gap for me to interject, no questions thrown my way that would allow me to start a conversational thread of my own. It was just a deluge of words from her about her life. The only pauses occurred because I indicated by sign language that I had to go to the bar and the toilet. Soon I had become very bored and resentful.

The interminable evening finally began to wind down and although to mention my feelings went totally against my usual reserved character, I felt I just couldn’t leave without pointing out what had happened that night. As we gathered our coats and prepared to leave I said to Sarah:

“Can I just stop you there. Do you realise that you’ve spent the entire evening just talking about yourself?”

Sarah looked taken aback at this and said instinctively “No I haven’t.”

“You have.” I said. “Name one thing you’ve asked me about myself.”

Sarah thought for a second, hand over her mouth, eyes darting around in her head, before looking appalled.

“Oh my God. You’re right. You must really hate me.”

“I don’t hate you.” I replied. “I think you should just be aware of what you’re doing. How do you think it made me feel?”

Needless to say, the evening ended awkwardly and we went our separate ways with our friendship forever altered by my honesty about her behaviour.

Fast forward six years. I bump into Sarah again, who pulls me excitedly to one side with some news.

“Do you remember that night? When you pointed out how self centred I was?”

“Yes…” I replied, wondering where this was going.

“Well that night changed my life. It made me realise how selfish I was, I came to hate the person I had become so much that I changed my name. I’m now called Flower and I’ve spent the last five years doing charity work in Africa.”

I shook my head sadly and said:

“You see, it’s all still just “Me, me, me””…

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Selective Memory

Shortly before my maternal Grandmother died, I went to see her and managed to get across to her that I told jokes for a living. As her hearing and eyesight were going, this involved a little shouting. Once this fact had been established, my Gran proceeded to tell me a little story about my Grandfather, whom I had never met. It went something like this;

“Ooh, your Granddad. He used to have loads of friends round. And he’d tell a long story. And then everyone would laugh at the end.”

My Grandfather, a raconteur? How come I’d never heard this before? Well, perhaps because I’d never mentioned that I did comedy before. Perhaps if I’d mentioned to my Gran that I’d built up a success pogo stick business, she would have scoured her memory before regaling me with some anecdote about my Grandfather’s love of jumping up and down.

read moreWe all do a lot of things in our lives. We are funny and we are cruel and we are stupid and we are brave and we are desperate. I have anecdotes from my past that I could dredge up as evidence pointing to any future career you care to name, from criminal mastermind to taxidermist.

For a year or so I was a postman. I worked in customer services for five years and for the past five years I’ve been doing stand up comedy for a living. Now I’m a writer. And I’m still moving.

We like to think there is a pattern to things. That’s the truth of it. It’s comforting to think that there are signs that point to conclusions. And we like to think that we spotted the signs, early on; the spark of genius or the sullen glower of the future serial killer. Because the alternative is to say: you never can tell. We don’t know where any of us will end up or what we will become. And that thought is kind of scary, painting us as kind of rudderless with no neat story to frame our lives.

So family friends smile wisely and nod and say “You always were very funny as a child. Do you remember when…” To which I want to shout: “I’m stopping stand up. My next script’s a thriller and it’s the best thing I’ve ever written! It’s got no jokes in it. Tell me about the time I enthralled the children in the playground with a story with twists in. Go on! Tell me!”

And then, unbidden, a memory surfaces from when I did exactly that.

Fast forward hopefully many, many years; me, dead, lying in an open casket, mourners looking down at me, smiling sadly and commenting “This really doesn’t surprise me – do you remember when he was a teenager?

He really used to love to sleep.”…

Monday, February 13, 2006

Proof of a Comedy God

I was traveling on a busy commuter train heading north out of London. I was with a few friends and we were all sharing a six set of seats, chatting vaguely about this and that.

At one stop, a stranger came and sat with us.

However, I recognised the stranger as another stand up comedian, one whom I had worked with briefly months ago. Let'’s call him Joe. However, Joe gave no signs of recognising me and I had no desire to jog his memory. He was no particular friend of mine, had a circuit reputation of being a bit of a knob and thus I was happy to let the coincidence slide.

However, the God of Comedy had other plans.

read moreDuring the course of chatting with my friends, one of them, Dan, happened to mention an old joke that we're particularly fond of. The joke goes;

Q) Why did the baker have brown hands?

A) Because he kneaded a poo.

Classic schoolyard stuff. We laughed at the joke and Dan said "“Classic gag." At which point, comedian Joe'’s ears pricked up.

"What'’s this?" he asked "“What's the gag?"”

Dan looked surprised at this interruption, but duly repeated the joke to this "“stranger".

Comedian Joe thought for a second, looking very serious, and then pronounced:

"“No, it's not a very good joke. It'’s quite childish and immature. And I'll tell you why I can say that. Because I, -"

(pause for effect)

" - am a stand up comedian."”

Dan turned and looked at me with raised eyebrows. The moment hung for a second, then I replied:

"“Well, I'’m a stand up comedian as well. And I think it's a great joke."

Comedian Joe looked shocked.

"“Are you? Are you really? What's your name?"

"Jamie Mathieson." I said "“I think we've worked together before. Downstairs at the King'’s Head. You'’re (insert real name here) aren'’t you?"”

"“Yeah, yeah." replied Comedian Joe, suddenly not quite so cocky. The conversation shifted to issues of where we were working that weekend.

I was flying to Scotland for some gigs, which was a rarity but helped to increase my comedian kudos. He was heading to a gig that night on that very train. Dan asked for the name of the pub, but Comedian Joe couldn'’t remember off the top of his head and was forced to dig out his diary to check. It was one of those "“one page to a month"” desk diaries.

And here'’s the really heart-breaking part. The only day with anything written on it, the only gig for the whole month, was that very day.

As he left the train, a few stops later, I was left pondering how many times he had interrupted complete strangers with his pronouncements about the calibre of their pub jokes, or the fact that he was a stand up comedian. And I thought about how statistically unlikely our meeting had been.

And I also thought that if there's one thing the God of Comedy really hates, it's a smart-arse.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

If the world was ending, would anyone tell you?

Of course, it’s not going to appear on the news. They don’t want mass hysteria. They’ll keep up the pretence that everything is just fine and dandy up until the last possible second. Until they’ve squeezed the last cent they can out of whatever stocks they’ve invested in. Panic equals a fall in share price. Everyone knows that.

So you’ll keep hearing soothing words through airbrushed mouths until you’re distracted by the noise of rioting outside your window, strangers fighting each other for the last loaf of bread, for the last pint of milk, for the last drop of gas.

You look from the seething scrum outside your window then back to the soothing TV, then back out to the scrum. It’s like you’re getting your TV signal from some alternate world, where everything’s just fine.

Then you look at the presenter’s face. He’s smiling, sure. But the eyes look scared. A split second after the smile cracks and falls, the test card comes up. Then the power cut to end all power cuts begins, and you go rooting in the cupboard for your gun.