Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Thigh-Slapping Hilarity

"Did you see that programme about parasites the other day?" said a bloke in the office today.

"Nah. Can't stand parasites, me," said another. "Make my skin crawl."

"I've got one piece of advice for you then, mate," put in a third. "Never get married!"

Cue hilarity. And I mean proper, thigh-slapping, tears-in-the-eyes hilarity. Not from me, obviously. I've never slapped my own thigh in my life. But the rest of the office was in uproar.

"That's right!" chortled one fellow, doubled over with mirth. "Women are the biggest parasite there is!"

I promise I'm not making this up. But as I sat there in bemusement, I wondered exactly what it was about this exchange that rendered it so woefully, miserably unfunny. The casual misogyny? Certainly not - I'm all for a bit of men-together skirt-bashing, so long as it's in the right spirit. What then? The tired, 1970s 'old ball 'n' chain' cliche? Perhaps, although I'm not the sort to take umbrage at a hackneyed stereotype just for the sake of it.

I think, in the end, it was merely the fact that the 'punchline' had been delivered with such uninhibited gusto that my modern sensibilities, marinated as they are in irony, neo-irony, post-irony and pretty much any other kind of irony you care to mention, simply couldn't process such a primordial jape. Had the line been accompanied by a knowing shrug, and appended with a self-aware comedy chuckle, all fine and dandy. Ho ho, I would have thought. That's exactly the kind of thing a gurgling moron would say. Very amusing, my friend.

All of which makes me sound very much like a simpering, posturing, pseudo-intellectual tosspot, which is annoying. But the fact remains inescapable that once you stray into the rarefied echelons of irony, there's no going back. After all, who these days could spout a Wildean bon mot without first making sure that everyone present was aware that they weren't actually trying to be witty, rather they were offering up a simple pastiche of someone else trying to be witty. Does anyone have the confidence to stand naked on the front-line of social repartee and risk the flak in return for the glory?

I suppose there must be a few. I've never met the man, but I expect Simon Callow is of that sort. Perhaps Brian Blessed too. Big, blustering chaps who, one imagines, would think nothing of standing up at a dinner party and bellowing something like, "The food looks good enough to eat, my dear!" before bursting into gales of booming laughter. A little annoying, maybe. But, I think, also refreshing. Because it's rare these days to find someone willing to be uproarious, to be entertaining, to be flamboyant. Someone who interprets the world unfettered by a layer of protective irony.

So to return to my colleagues. Shall we, in the light of this re-evaluation, recast them as merry jesters, boldly lancing the post-modern bubble of pretension, and embracing, with noble heart, the true art of the entertainer? Well, no. Let's not do that. It still wasn't funny.

If only Brian Blessed had been there.


  1. Who do you think would win a guffaw-off between Blessed and Callow?

  2. Every anecdote should end with the words "if only Brian Blessed had been there".

  3. I'll tell you why Brian Blessed wasn't there: it's because he was here: