Thursday, 23 August 2012

Flatpunchline - Friday Flash




Zimmer frames are not funny. He challenged any of his erstwhile peers to make them so, on stage in front of a thousand people in the auditorium. Without resorting to some lame pratfall clown routine. Not that any of his peers could rise to the arthritically thrown down gauntlet. Since he had outlived the lot. Seen them all die for that final time both on and offstage. Whatever the manner of their exit stage left, the final curtain had come down on them all.

Ceding the ground to all those Young Turk comedians. With their 'Observational' comedy, Jesus Wept and then hopefully rather than turning the other cheek heckled them and maybe threw a pint glass for good measure. 'Have you ever noticed how all supermarket trolleys seem to have three wheels pointing in one direction and a fourth in the complete opposite?' The only thing cutting edge about that gag, is it makes the audience want to slit their wrists. A joke about how many gears an Italian tank has on the other hand... Observational comedy was so damn cosy and self-congratulatory. The comedian going, 'look at me, aren't I clever for noticing this everyday thing' and the audience recognising it and sharing in some sort of community with the comic. Yet there is no joke to be in on together. Just a bland, unremarkable statement of fact. You want an observation about everyday life? Ageing is a bastard. See, not funny at all. The punchline is "four" by the way, "all of them reverse"...

Tears of a clown? Don't you believe it for one second. There's none more competitive than a bunch of gagmeisters. Funnymen take their rivalry extremely seriously. There may be no disputing which name is the headline act, but those on the bill below will contest whose stage entrance garnered the loudest cheer, who was called for the most or longest encores, each with an imaginary clap-o-meter in their head to back up their claim. We all punch the air and bellow a satisfied "yes!" when it's our one liner or punchline that goes into a script when you're sat around with nine other comic writers sat with thunder on their faces that their witticism didn't make the cut. I'm glad all those other fuckers are dead. Proves my burning desire to live and share with the world was stronger than theirs. Lightweights of comedy all.

See that's what these young comics lack. A bit of fire in their bellies. Tough clubs full of miners just re-emerged from the Pit, wanting only to slake a thirst, not listen to some dinner-jacketed dickey-bowed smart-arse talking about what they've got waiting for them at home in the form of their wife or mother-in-law. This lot go to University and fall straight into a television contract. The best comedy is splenetic. Bile spat across the room that picks people from being slumped over their drink and shakes them silly. 'Oh my aching sides' rather than tickling their ribs. It's called a punchline for godssakes, a blow to the guts that takes the wind out of you, not a pat on the back.

See us comedians knew our humour was a buffer between us and the world. Instinctively we felt the world wasn't set up right and we needed to tilt it off its everyday axis. But we weren't entirely clear what it was that needed lancing. Well we do now. It's bleedin' Death isn't it? Death always has the last laugh. If only we could factor that into our hilarity from the outset. But then we probably wouldn't be wisecracking anymore. Wiser and more cracked in the head probably.

Good comedy is the gauze and iodine liberally applied to help drain the pus of a raw wound. To own it, defang and deplete its crippling power. Only eventually death's grinning visage can't be deflected anymore. The infirmities of the body tear the gauze away and expose it once again to putrescence. Laughter as the best medicine until your failing body builds up total immunity to it. Your bile congeals inside you into gallstones.

The man regards his zimmer frame. If he were more august with the spoken word, he could make like a character out of a Samuel Beckett play and bend down inside his frame and act as if it were a cage or a prison. Instead it confers the illusion of mobility. Him the tortoise in his metal shell here. He grips the handbar with one shaking hand as it has to support his evanescent weight, while with the other he leans over to pick up his walking stick that he no longer uses. He brandishes the stick above him, with a shooting agony in his shoulder as the stick raises above the horizontal. With the heavy rubber tip of the stick, he taps the shade over the central light of his room and sends it swinging. The bulb is too weak to give him the spotlight trail after him that he craves.

Ah to hell with it. They may all be sat there pissing themselves before he even enters the room, their hearing aids squealing with feedback, but there's still an audience in his old people's home to be entertained goddamnit. He would slay them tonight... 


20 comments:

Tony Noland said...

Once a comic, always a comic. A life in comedy is great practice for staring death in the face.

Deanna Schrayer said...

"Good comedy is the gauze and iodine liberally applied to help drain the pus of a raw wound." So aptly put Marc.
I've heard comedians are quite a depressed lot, and that shines through here.
LOVE that you used the word 'evanescent' - one of my favorites, and the use of 'august' is great too.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Fabulous. Love it.

Helen said...

Looks like he'll have the last laugh! Loved this line, so visual "his peers could rise to the arthritically thrown down gauntlet. "

John Wiswell said...

My brother is a stand-up comedian. Wonder if I can get his read on this piece for you. Certainly they sound competitive, though he's generally had warm stories of his fellow acts.

Steve Green said...

The old man still has the performer pulsing through his old veins, good for him.

I really like the slant on the truths and realities of his profession, and the gritty way it is portrayed.

ganymeder said...

Hey, you know, for a story about comics it's not that funny... :D

Nicely done. I liked the ending, about the old people's home, a lot.

Aaron said...

Your sentence structure is fantastic in this piece. Poetry about comedy, with a bit of acidic edge. Great work.

Cindy Vaskova said...

A comedian till the very end - battling reallity. But you have served us the truth about this buisness of laughs and sometimes terrible jokes. Well done.

gailaldwin said...

Sounds like comedy is the crutch - will writing be that for me and others here? I only wish old people's homes offered a stage to share skills and talents. Thank you for writing this - it's really made me think.

Rebecca Emin said...

This is superb. I could almost taste the bitterness in the narrative, it was that well written. But also, at the end, the determination.

What a great character.

Larry Kollar said...

You have to respect someone who stands up, joints popping, back muscles aching, and refuses to give in to the pain. This character will, I'm sure, make Death crack a smile before collecting that soul. Great portrayal.

Katherine Hajer said...

I don't know -- there's got to be at least one joke about a Zimmer frame out there. There's enough jokes about adult diapers, after all.

I have some friends who doe sketch and stand-up comedy, and this character is so close to their personalities it's a bit scary. Nice job!

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Katherine, I tried believe me! I googled Zimmer Frame & jokes, but nada!

Danielle La Paglia said...

That was awesome, Marc. His passionate anger for his profession and his inability to let it go. Once a man has no purpose, all is lost. He won't go quietly when Death knocks on his door.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

This reminds me of the movie Punchline with Tom Hanks and Sally Field. But set in a retirement home. Nice one.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I think this is more a searing critique of modern 'comedy' than it is the ageing process, but perhaps I'm just sick of comedians becoming new TV stars...

Richard Bon said...

Pissing themselves before he even enters the room ... that's hilarious, so clever. I liked the commentary on observational comedy too. Excellent piece and I feel like a feature film could be made about this gentleman.

Li said...

Really? No Zimmer frame/walker jokes? I knew I'd find a niche to fill one day. Unless you have something in the works, of course. :-) You certainly have a way of creating fascinating characters and bringing them to life.

ganymeder said...

I really enjoyed this oddly insightful story. :D