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Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right…

by on August 4, 2013

Yes, it is a song ( as well you know) not just an overt political commentary. This week is something rare and strange, it is a request blog. Actually, I’m doing this to try and pretend that I’m a proper writer for once, who can turn his hand ( or keyboard, or whatever) to any subject on demand. Except squid.

When I’m not being a proper writer – which is most of the time, frankly – I like crafting bad jokes. I think that I’m in a long tradition there. The ancient world (a period of history that has always fascinated me) was full of clowns. These days the term is often used in a derogatory way to imply that someone is a bit of an idiot. Probably right, in my case. But for the Greeks and Romans, clowns were a popular and sometimes expensive form of entertainer. Some achieved fame and wealth by visiting wealthy patrons at their dinner parties and entertaining them with a stream of jokes, conjuring tricks, juggling and so on. Living on their wits, by their wit. I think the nearest modern equivalent would be having Russell Brand or Michael McIntyre to dinner. It might cost you a bit, but you just know you’d have a good laugh. Others earned a living by following funerals and taking the mickey out of the deceased. It was part of the undertaker’s duties to arrange for the clowns to follow the cortege. That’s something we might not be comfortable with these days, but in Rome (where funerals could last longer than most people’s bladder capacity and boredom thresholds could cope with) some light entertainment was de riguer. Personally I quite like the idea of someone following my coffin telling rude stories about me and cracking jokes with the mourner.

Anyway. As a child, I was never convinced by circus clowns. By the time I was a teenager, I was too old to go to such places: and anyway the number of cicuses (circusi?) had declined. But I could understand the basis of slapstick humour. Humiliation. Making someone look entirely, totally stupid. from the first caveman to slip on some ice and fall on his backside – probably in front of the Raquel Welch cave girl lookalike he fancied – it is probably the lowest common demoninator of humour. satire is really only doing the same thing, just in words.

Now this causes me a problem with my writing. Politicians are fair game, if an easy target. But I do like to use some slapstick humour in my work, not least because it’s a reliable way to get a laugh. The hard part for me is that I’ve come to like my characters, even to love them although I know it is truly a one way emotional street. Most of them can’t stand me. I suppose it’s no wonder really. I have dumped characters into mud. Had them sprayed with slurry. Dropped them head first into toilets. Forced them into treadmills. They have fallen in the water, been chased by everything I can dream up after a light night supper of cheese and merlot… but never badly hurt.

Words are easier. Word play I adore. Double entendres, misunderstandings…I’ve always been fascinated by English. What other language can fasten so many meanings to one word? Bow, for example. Count how many different things that might be. Now Japanese uses inflection to denote tense, often subject and plurals: but we aren’t that sophisticated. plus it’s hard to write inflections. I have endless fun making characters use words that I can have another character interpret wrongly.

I believe that in ancient times there was actually a list of gags, a sort of bumper joke book, that was handed down in the best clown families. Wouldn’t it be great to find it, and read that? Who said I’ve done that one already… That proves how old that gag is too. A couple of thousand years by my reckoning. Young for some of my jokes.

And here is a final joke for you this week. Last year, for a laugh on a friend’s birthday, I wrote a short zombie story. (he’s a zombie writer himself, you see.) This year that story has just won a flash fiction competition organised by the Northampton Literary Group, and netted me a cash prize. For once, I’m the one laughing.

Oh go on then.
here’s a link.


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  1. Wow! That’s more than I’ve netted in 3 years on! Nice job.



  2. Huge congratulations on a well deserved win, Will! Great job mate. šŸ˜€

  3. Congrats Will, well deserved. Old Journalist tradition, don’t throw anything away and never use anything only once šŸ™‚

  4. Well done, Will! I am in awe.

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