Surely I should have learned by now that having time on my hands is never a good thing, that idle hours are never well spent. My own idle hands clicked onto ‘Reader’ and typed ‘Humour’ into the search bar. It’s been a long time since I found a new blog to follow and my latest crop of followers clearly don’t want me as one of their own, or if they do, they obviously think that I am somebody else: somebody with even the slimmest chance of making an income out of this waffle. I scanned down the page of the ‘humorous’ blogs on offer and reminded myself that dealing with crushing disappointment is all part of the human condition – at least if you are me. Firstly, I did not find a single blog that could in any way, be described as humorous, unless my grip on the English language has become even more tenuous than I feared. As far as I could see, most of them were there because they had the word ‘Humour’ as a tag. If this is the way that tags work, then I am very tempted to tag my next post ‘Get £1,000,000 of free cash by clicking on this blog.’ I see myself with thousands of new, albeit disappointed, readers.
Secondly – and I must be honest, by far the more distressing aspect of my trawl, this blog hadn’t even made the cut! Now, I realise I am no Oscar Wilde – I miss that particular qualification on so many counts – but come on, surely I should be able to get myself onto a list that is otherwise filled with ‘What is the basic fundamental of joke construction?’ and not a single ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ This is a very small pond, belly laugh-wise, and I cannot even get myself hauled out in a very broad net. I fear my goose – along with all hope of golden eggs – is cooked. I have ‘Humour’ as a category for God’s sake! What on earth do I need to do? (OK, if you’re going to be picky, I concede that including a joke or two might help.)
I have spent my life attempting to wrangle some kind of joy out of words. Most of the time the words have put up a pretty good fight. I know from very long experience that on the rare occasion I am truly happy with something I have written, a sober read-through the following day will see it hurtle towards the bin. Writing alone is the process of making a hundred jokes that nobody else gets whilst completely missing the one that everybody laughs at. There is nothing more joyful than finding that ‘killer line’ and nothing more soul destroying than seeing it die a death. There is joy to be found in writing with another discordant soul, laughing at the other person’s jokes and realising that you can add to them. Joy is in reading through an idea you had and hearing laughter exactly where you thought it might be hiding. I have laughed so much during long-ago writing sessions with the wonderful Mr Underfelt that I have feared for my health and my sanity – something I have never done in the last thirty or so years of writing alone. (Laugh, that is. I fear for my sanity on a daily basis. If I ever manage to find it, I will give it a very stern talking to.)
Solitary writing is a form of self abuse – although without quite the same sense of guilt or fear of blindness. It is all about the release. It is all about the disappointment. It is all about the ‘I’m not doing that again.’ I never think about writing: I just write. Like everybody else with an enthusiasm that dwarfs talent, I know that I will get it right one day. Like everybody else who waits for the day that they will get it right, I wait, and write.
I know that many of you are far more professional in your approach than I. On the one occasion that I wrote a novel, I meandered through the first half of the book, found the ending, went back to the beginning and then slowly drew the two together. I never had a plan, it just sort of worked itself out in a way that all of the top publishers of the day described as utter tripe. Only in sit-com did I ever have a beginning, a middle and an end in mind, because each episode is really just a single joke and the trick is just in holding the attention long enough to get there. Normally I had given up the ghost myself long before I reached the end. My dialogue just wouldn’t follow my plot. The phrase ‘It’s almost there, but…’ is the one I will have chiselled on my tombstone.
For the last three decades I have passed my time banging out this kind of fol-de-rol. Generally I start with the first line – I know what you’re thinking, but let me explain… I have a bookful of them. I write them down constantly. A million first sentences with absolutely no idea of where they are going. Often I sit down and leaf through the book until something catches my eye. Always I will have something on my mind, although I seldom know what it is, and it somehow attaches itself onto what I have written and, hand in hand, the two of them wander off towards the horizon where, if I am lucky, I catch them before they fall over the edge. Comedy is the gift of a flat earth. I can agonise all day over a single sentence, or I can find myself with a thousand words on paper and no real idea of how they got there. Either way, it makes little difference unless I can find a way to search for them that does not include the word ‘humour’. (Before you suggest it, I have tried prefixing with ‘Vain attempts at’, but I’m still not there. In fact I have just typed my name into the search bar and I still do not appear to exist. How closely this blogosphere mirrors life.)
The Devil makes work for idle hands, so the saying goes. I’ve always thought that the Devil probably had the best jokes. I wonder where he keeps them…