'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Comedian

The sundial in the garden doesn't get much use these days. Not that I'd be using it to tell the time even if we did have the sun. My great-grandfather won that sundial in a bet with a man in the pub. They bet on how long it would take a friend of theirs to realise that his house was on fire. My great-grandfather said it would take four days, and this guess turned out to be surprisingly accurate. It was an informed guess. In his younger days he had a brief stint as a volunteer fireman, and it normally took a few days before people noticed that the fire had found a way out of its pen in the fireplace. Things were more relaxed then They'd call the fire brigade and ask them to round up the fire. The firemen would have a meeting in the pub to discuss what to do about it. They almost always ended up deciding that they should go to investigate further, and they'd light pipes before leaving the pub. Sometimes they'd fall asleep while smoking and they'd start a fire in the pub. They'd leave that fire to attend to the other one first. But it didn't really matter. According to my great-grandfather, fires were more relaxed then too. Sometimes they'd fall asleep and you'd have to poke them with a poker to get them going again.

My cousin Alan once stole a wheelbarrow, just for a laugh. The owner of the wheelbarrow didn't find it very funny. Humour is entirely subjective. The owner, whose name was Edward, tried to get his dog to track down the thief, but all the dog found was his own tail.

Alan stole the wheelbarrow after a night at the pub with his friends. When he woke in the morning the joke didn't seem so funny. I've often had this experience with jokes. I once nearly ended up in hospital after laughing so much at a joke about a sausage, and on the following morning it seemed about as funny as attaching clothes pegs to my face. Drink can make a lot of things seem funny. In truth, drink was primarily responsible for my near-hospitalisation. It was also the reason why I attached so many clothes pegs to my face.

Alan tried to return the wheelbarrow after dark, but Edward caught him. Alan tried to explain that it was all just a joke, but Edward still didn't see the funny side. He threw some rotten apricots at Alan, who said, "What sort of a man keeps rotten apricots to throw at people with a superior sense of humour?"

"I've studied all the great comedians," Edward said, "and not one of them derived their humour from stealing wheelbarrows. Not even one."

"You've 'studied' the great comedians?"

"I've entertained the idea of becoming a comedian myself. I've entertained more than just ideas. Actual people too."

"What did they throw at you?"

"One woman threw her underwear at me. Another threw her gloves."

"And these were 'actual people', not just ideas?"

"I still have the underwear to prove it."

"What sort of a man would keep the underwear thrown at him by a woman he's never met before?"

"When a striker scores his first goal in the Premier League he keeps the articles in the papers."

"Yeah, but this isn't the Premier League. This is two five-a-side pub teams with twenty-stone players."

"The thrill of scoring is the same. And mine was a spectacular goal. I've been compared to Spike Milligan."

"You're nothing like Spike Milligan."

"Or Ronnie Barker."

"Ronnie Barker is nothing like Spike Milligan. You're like Ronnie Barker in the same way a rotten apricot is like a good apricot. You bear no relation whatsoever to Spike Milligan."

"How do you know? You've never seen my act."

"I've seen you. If your act bears any relation to you then I've seen more than enough."

"'Act' is the crucial word. Comedy performers are often very different people when they step onto the stage. Spike Milligan suffered from depression most of his life."

"Yeah, but he never suffered from being a tedious, talentless moron."

"You'd be amazed by how many people told me they nearly wet themselves after my last performance."

"Is that why the woman threw her underwear at you?"

"I'll be performing in the pub on Friday night. You can come along and see exactly why women throw their underwear at me."

Alan had no interest in seeing why women throw anything other than darts at him, but he did go to the pub on Friday night. He brought a bag of rotten tomatoes with him.

When Edward walked to the centre of the small stage he was wearing an anorak. He was holding a CD player and a briefcase, and he put these on the ground. He pulled up the hood of the anorak and covered his eyes with goggles. He pressed 'play' on the CD player and the audience heard 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' by Bonnie Tyler. Then he opened the briefcase, which was full of rotten apples. He started throwing these at Alan, who did his best to retaliate with the tomatoes. But Edward had the advantage of the surprise factor and the anorak, so he clearly won the battle. To make matters worse, the audience found it hilarious. They gave Edward a round of applause as Bonnie Tyler sang the words 'total eclipse of the heart' for the final time.

Alan was determined to get revenge. I know a man who never feels a need to get revenge on anyone because he believes that the robots will come along one day and right all wrongs. He always refers to them as 'the' robots, as if they were as real as The Backstreet Boys. Some people believe that God will do this job. Alan believes in God, but he thought there was no point in waiting for years for God to do a job that he could easily do himself today. This is why he stole the wheelbarrow again, and this time he knew it would still be funny on the following morning. He also stole a garden gnome, which he put into the wheelbarrow and wheeled it all over town. He boasted about his theft in the pub. He said he was going joyriding with the garden gnome.

Edward believes in a vengeful God who directs lightning towards people who drop chewing gum on the streets, and if you swear too much he'll make your trousers drop in public (Edward has seen this happen too many times for it to be a coincidence). Nevertheless, he thought there was no need to add to God's workload when he could do the job himself. He believed that a God who makes people's trousers drop would approve of the plan he came up with: throw a custard pie in Alan's face while he's boasting to all of his friends in the pub and then break the windows in his car.

The other drinkers cheered and applauded when he threw the pie in Alan's face. When the applause died down he said, "Now I'm going to break the windows in your car."

Edward left the pub, and Alan followed him out. All of the other drinkers followed Alan. Edward had a brick waiting for him outside. He picked it up and went to Alan's car. Alan begged him not to break the windows. "I'm sorry about the wheelbarrow and the garden gnome," he said. "I promise I'll return them as soon as possible."

Edward said, "I won't break the windows if you drop your trousers right now in front of everyone."

"Humiliating someone for borrowing your wheelbarrow isn't fair."

"Suit yourself."

Edward raised the brick. Alan said, "Wait. I'll do it."

He dropped his trousers. All of the on-lookers laughed, and then they applauded.

"God works in mysterious ways," Edward said.

Edward's comedy career went downhill after this. People saw him as the straight man in a double act with Alan. The only way Edward could get a laugh was by dropping his trousers, and even then it wasn't much of a laugh. It was difficult to keep finding excuses for dropping them.

The moose's head over the fireplace appreciates good comedy. He never laughs, but you can see a faint smile when Father Ted or The Simpsons is on. He's smiled faintly at plenty of unintentional comedy moments over the years, like the time one of our guests at a party sang a song about an amorous otter. The singer had a terrible voice. It was more sad than funny, until his trousers fell down as he attempted a high note.