Tuesday 30 October 2018

On Being Funny

I’m almost half a century. In some ways, I am very much the same. My daughter rolls her eyes at my childish humour. Often my twenty-two year old tries not to laugh because he suffers from the misapprehension that women are not as funny as men – this may be a hangover from his father, an absurdly funny man, who is a bit of a sexist on the side. If my own husband did not make me roar with laughter, married life would not be as fun as it is. He’d likely say the same.

Humour, and ‘being funny,’ has got me through life. During primary school, I blocked out the pain by putting on skits for my class. In Standard 4 at Tennyson School in Bulawayo, my class and my old fashioned teacher: If the cap fits wear it – whatever did he mean? – watched me as I did silly voices round the fountain. To be fair to my audience I’m not sure whether my classmates were laughing in horror or just laughing. One morning on the way to school in Standard 4, I was given a ‘bloody good hiding’ in front of my family who were sitting in the car waiting for me. I had forgotten to clean my teeth. This kind of humiliation administered by a man who was not my father, while I was going through puberty, was hard to deal with.

In Standard 5 at Courtney Selous School in Harare, my friend and I wrote plays. Scarves around our heads, skits involved my friend and I discussing the price of eggs in Cockney accents over a rope on which washing hung. Another popular skit was our Aggie and Mabel act, in which we dressed up in our mother’s evening dresses and jewellery and gossiped about the garb of imaginary women. In case you haven’t gleaned, Maggie and Aggie were ‘posh.’ We didn’t know about the aspirational middle classes then, and were unlikely to have been able to communicate their state. In 1979, we only knew our lowers and uppers circa 1945 which was when most of our grandparents shipped over from the UK. The skits were a hit and on one occasion the entire school watched in the assembly hall.

This kind of showing off helped me all the way through childhood and into adulthood where it reached fruition in my writing. Until my forties, my only other comedy act apart from performing with my 90’s indie rock band was in a drag act with a friend in fashion and a bunch of queens. In my teens I was known as (how to say this without boasting?) a bit of a wit. I sound a bit of a twit saying it, but a friend from the National School of the Arts (Kim Gaylard if you must know) recently remarked on it. In my twenties, my stunning sidekick and me were known as the queens of the putdown. An ace performer, she’s still on the stage. I sharpened my tongue and then my pen into a razor. It’s doesn’t take Jordan Petersen to tell you that this was a defence mechanism. It was, is, but what’s the alternative? To lie down and weep? No. You have to rise up laughing or you are defeated.