Funny Business


Social Experiment #1: Brainwash Esther

Is it social if it’s just one person? Anyway, something my dad says has always stuck with me. Whenever he turns a light on or opens the curtains at home, he says

“Let’s get some light on the subject,”

as if he’s a coroner bending over a cadaver or the Queen blinding one of her citizens with interrogative torchlight.

Hypothesis: If I say this phrase over and over again, Esther will start saying it.

Method: For about a year, everytime I open our attic Velux blinds, I say with a flourish, “let’s get some light on the subject.” Since we have two blinds, I usually wake her up by pinging back the first one, and then as she’s reeling from the shock, I intone the motto to drive home the message.

Finally, one glorious day came about two months ago when not only did she do the blind opening ceremony herself, but she uttered the immortal words unprompted. Then I grinned too long, and she realised she had been tricked into it and stomped off downstairs to get breakfast (another small victory).

Now I have her so well trained that I only have to start it off, and she’ll complete the sentence, before cursing loudly.

“let’s get some light on the world”

Social Experiment #2: Me v Compere 

My ex-art school buddy Dave Green is now a stand-up comedian. We are the class of 07: a few of us have gone on to have glittering art careers, while most have ended up serving coffee or beer to people with glittering art careers.

Dave has done his time as one of the latter group, passing posh beverages to the likes of Stewart Lee & Tjinder Singh from Cornershop (I’m pretty starstruck at that one). Dave has a special talent for channelling social awkwardness into excruciating art or video that makes you cringe and laugh at the same time. He always was a funny guy and for the past 18 months he’s been trying to make a career out of it.

I went to see Dave on Thursday for my first ever comedy gig. By the time I got there, the compere had already singled out our group as feckless bourgeois types, nicknaming us the Art Movement and accusing friend Dane of being stoned. So, I was ripe for ribbing when I arrived a little late with my neoliberal arabian scarf & ironic bovver boy boots.

Compere “Are you an artist too?”

Me “Yes” (thinking, ‘I’m a writer but I’ll just go with it’), before adding “A piss artist.”

Compere “I make the fucking jokes, alright? What do you think of the Turner Prize?”

Now he’s got me. I have no idea who’s in it this year.

Me “I haven’t been nominated, so I don’t care”.

Compere “You’re a right lot of Yoko Onos aren’t you?”.

Crowd guffaws.

Compere “What kind of art do you do? Do you paint?”

I feel a compulsion to correct my earlier statement about being an artist not a writer, so I say-

Me “I lie-“.

But instead of the crucial next bit “-d about being an artist,” I leave it at that.

Confused but hearty laughter, as if a roomful of assumptions were being confirmed.

Compere “Bloody hell, you’re not making this easy are you? Let me introduce the next act…”

Had I won? Or had I merely accepted the part he offered me? Who knows. Whatever the case, it was awkward.

“Or do I?”

When Dave finally came on, he did us arty farties proud, combining pyschoanalysis and religion and sex jokes with a surreal deadpan.

“I’ve got tinnitus. The ringing in my ears isn’t so bad but the voices in my head keep harmonising with it”

Afterwards, over a pint in the Broadfield, Dave tells me about his phobia of sitting facing people on trains. On the way up from London he’d chosen a table seat and then been too scared to move when it filled up around him. His main problem is what to do once you’ve accidentally caught someone’s eye: how can you go back to not looking at them again…

He’s made a film about it:

The following day he left for his train home and I got this text:

“I’m sitting opposite someone”

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