Our Christmas party at the local was looming and instead of karaoke they were having open mike. I longed to be a stand up comedienne. The problem was that I just wasn’t funny. There was something about living in Speckled Trickle that knocked the funny bones right out of your body. Maybe it was the expanse of square grey houses, with black roofs that had replaced the drought worn paddocks that stretched out of sight and beyond, until they turned the beige of the newer estates, a shade that blended into the hills.
I was a dreamer who couldn’t give up but I was stuck. I didn’t dare tell my husband. He thought I had tickets on myself as it was and I was completely useless around the house. Dennis cooked and cleaned with ferocity as I practiced my flute and secretly learned jokes off by heart. We weren’t a good fit.
I knew 84 jokes which had been collected them from all over the place. Some were saved from Christmas crackers, 23 were from a joke book I’d borrowed from the library and I’d gleaned the others from conversations or from videos. The jokes I liked best were the ones like this. My grandfather died peacefully in his sleep unlike the busload of tourists he was driving along the Great Ocean Road. I think it was the shock value I liked most. But I was too shy to say any of them out loud.
It was harder for them to break into the circuit than it was for men the women said. Maybe that was just to put off newcomers. Some women are hoardy like that. The comediennes had to be hard and twice as quick as the men to even get noticed. Perhaps that’s why some of them spoke so loudly about menstruation.
I had to find another way of being funny, something that was all me. Once before I married Dennis I dated a clerk called James. His apartment was decorated with black and white posters of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. I didn’t like the posters then as they were lifeless and dwarfed the flat. But later on when I experienced some of their work I saw that comedy could be a very physical thing.
I decided to start with physical comedy and to work my way up to stand up. On the day of the party I was ready and I pulled out the red and white checked table cloth hidden in my bags. The stage was small and welcoming. I held up a small whiteboard that said in red, ‘The four stages of dating’ and then I started. First I huddled on all fours and made myself square the table cloth over me. I was recreating a dinner table on a first date so I had to be very still. People waited, someone snickered. For the second stage I stood tall, shoulders back, the cloth over me like a ghost. I was a cinema screen. A hand came out and balanced on an invisible arm rest. The other hand came out and sat next to it. It made tentative moves to touch and to stroke and by the end of the segment the two hands were clasped. At this point people were talking very loudly. For the third stage I crawled under the table cloth and moved up and down. Everything went quiet. When I peeked out at the end of the session all eyes in the pub were upon me. I stuffed the table cloth up my jumper and bent my back. Everyone could understand that part and for the first time I heard laughter. I pulled the cloth out and bowed. This was my moment. I felt very tall.
Years later when I think back to that moment I realize how kind and nurturing my friends and family were that night and how intolerant I was of them and their choices. They gave me the gift of encouragement which I’ll always treasure and pass it on to others who need it, just as they did for me.