To Be A Prince: Little Harry’s Coconut Beret

Prince Harry, eh? Naughty Prince Harry. (Pauses to picture ‘Little Harry’.) Tut tut tut.

So, while I’ve been brushing up on my image-enhancing software skills, I’ve been thinking…if the chess-board was to be modernised and the dude on the horse was to be lobbed out in favour of a prince – what would the little fella look like? A noble gent? A mischievous chancer? What is a prince? History is peppered with stories of these privileged sons of Kings. We are taught to read with storybook tales of romantic chaps who save princesses and declare wild vows of love, action heroes who go on adventures and triumph in the name of Good. But what are they, really, real princes?

Are princes men of blue-blood graced with special qualities unattainable by the common man; crown-wearing heirs to a God-given position of power? Or can they be found closer to home? A cherubic son who brings you a daisy with your soup when you’re ill. A brother who lends you his last tenner so you can buy a dress. A boyfriend who burps your name like Tarzan while dive-bombing into a Magaluf pool. Are they princes, if our hearts say they are?

Prince Harry’s antics in a Las Vegas hotel suite had everyone wittering on about what it means ‘to be a prince’. Was it disgusting and disrespectful that he was cavorting naked with girls who didn’t even have a trust fund? Or was it a breath of fresh air to see that our royals are humans with a sense of fun too?

What are princes actually supposed to do anyway? Being a prince is like waiting for a train which might not come. It’s only natural that some of them get a bit bored and play up. It’s like sitting a kid in a room of fun things and saying “don’t touch anything.”

We’ve had all sorts through the ages. Peaceful princes, spiteful princes, mad princes, jolly princes, princes who eat grass and believe they are a goat, princes who fancy their mums, princes who kill their mums, playboys, gluttons, kleptomaniacs, psychotics, loons, dandies and fools – humble, proud, bonkers, enlightened.

Assuming there is no one type of prince, no one type of person, how then do you go about being ‘prince of the people’, when the people decide that’s what princes must be nowadays? What does it actually mean? That we want to be able to take them to the pub and not have them turn their noses up at our penny-saving burping normality? If you took Prince William to a Wetherspoons he’d probably have half the punters signed up to a life of charity-work by last orders while the local drunks sang like redeemed choirboys around a broken piano. Take Prince Harry to a Wetherpoons and he’d probably down a jagerbomb, disappear into the kitchen and come out naked under an apron, shouting “Madras for all! It’s not even Curry Night, but what the hey, chaps! LOOK! I’VE STUCK SOME PESHWARI ON LITTLE HARRY LIKE A COCONUT BERET!” (Then he’d get told off for making an ostentatious gesture using tax-payers’ money. Then if he went out and got a ‘proper job’ and paid for everyone’s curry with his ‘own money’, he’d get told off for abandoning duty and following his own selfish career ambitions.)

Can the Royals ever get it right?

Perhaps the reason we find it such a problem is that there is no such thing as a prince. A prince is the son of a King – a thing men made up once upon a time. Royalty doesn’t really exist – it is not a tangible thing like being a father, or a brother, or a son; real things. It is a name men seized for themselves when they realised it might just work. They declared themselves special, used God’s name to give their claim some welly, built great intimidating castles, surrounded themselves by weapons and warriors, grabbed priority over all the good stuff and got weaker men to do the stuff they didn’t want to do. And it kind of stuck. Except now they don’t bosh us commoners on the head with a ceremonial mallet and kidnap whichever totty they want to marry. They play polo, go to functions, do safe jobs in their country’s wars, cut ribbons, quietly obey heritage, because heritage is history, because history is a story, and the story has to continue somehow. Of course sometimes they don’t know how to behave, just like we sometimes don’t know how to behave. There are no princes, just like there is no one type of person. There are good boys, and naughty boys. Sometimes we like them, and sometimes we don’t. And that is what makes history interesting. It’s all just stories… (and we like the pictures, right?)

“I did it again, chaps! Silly Harry!”

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The Tale of Pussy Riot

I’ve never been to a pussy riot, but I’m willling to wager it’s a pretty full on experience. The clue’s in the name. Pussy Riot. WOAH. It definitely sounds like something you need a good nap before, and possibly a Red Bull to get you started. Maybe some Kleenex, or a code word for “let’s get the fuck out of here”. It conjures wild and surreal pictures. Women railing knickerless in a town square with placards saying things like “Ban the C-bomb” and “Look! No Pants! AND I HAVEN’T SHAVED!” General female craziness abounds in the brain. Ovary Raves in secret fields off the M25. Progesterone Proms – where everyone has to wear a corsage in the colour of their Favourite Emotion. The East-Anglian Labia Conference, where they all stand around the buffet table and tut at the cocktail sausages (before swallowing them whole).

It sounds, in short, like the kind of crazy-bird attention-seeking thing that usually would barely get an eyebrow raise from me (I’m vainly trying to guard against wrinkles – so something has to be pretty major for me to risk a crease that Amanda Holden would call a ravine and have botoxed immediately.)

Pussy Riot.

The Tale of Pussy Riot (ha – sounds like a Beatrix Potter book that never got published) is something that could so easily have passed me by. I wrote recently how I don’t have a telly or the internet at home, so news pervades my cotton wool cocoon with the invasiveness of a mild seabreeze. I used to be depressed by the same old stories, history repeating itself – the signs that humans never learn, or seldom learn enough. I would not have been – but now am – ashamed to admit that most of my news intake now comes via the grabbability of Tweets. If Stephen Fry tells me to read something, chances are I will. If one of the many wonderful writers I follow retweets something of interest, chances are I’ll click, and I’ll learn something. I’m not a fool – I don’t relinquish my scrutiny and believe everything I read – but I do pick up my nuggets of current affairs this way, like a magpie flying over a field of buttons.

It’s the last week alone that has made me realise my approach to news is not only highly random, but also irresponsible. I’m 32 for goodness sake. I should know what’s going on in the world. I should pay attention to what’s important. I should stop giggling every time someone says pussy.

So, on a responsible whim, I clicked on a link Salman Rushdie had retweeted, to the statements of the jailed members of the Russian punk-feminist group Pussy Riot. I took the time to read. It took a while. Those gals are quite wordy. After I had finished, I not only knew something more of the story, I knew something more about Russia, and the women who were (actually) not best represented by their vociferous band name, or even by their own actions.  I learnt these women by reading their words. And, aside from the occasional snobbish and patronising swipe at the entire population of Russia (apparently limp-brained buffoons who can’t think for themselves), they were some of the most inspiring, eloquent and intelligent words I have ever read. They were important words. They were words which lit the soul.

These girls – Maria Alyokhina, Yekatarina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – whose crime it was to get up on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow and dance around a bit (badly, like day-glo-wielding stoners at an Ovary Rave) chanting “Our Lady – Chase Putin Out” – have now had two years of their freedom, two years of their lives on this earth, gobbled by a state that wants to crush any expression which does not toe the party line, even when it results in the entire world protesting. This column is not the right place to dissect the politics of modern Russia, the boisterous union of a supposedly secular state and church – and I certainly am not the person to do it well – but this column could be a thing which plays a tiny part in granting the wish of Maria Alyokhina that their incarceration will not mean a loss of freedom:

“Nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness, when this will be heard and read by thousands of people.”

To play your tiny part, read the statements here (the second statement, by Maria is particularly engaging):

www.nplusonemag.com/pussy-riot-closing-statements

I’ve grown up a little because of this story. In fact I’d happily give my whole face over to eyebrow-raised wrinkles to give this story – this bright button in the field of so much ‘news’ – the response and respect it deserves.

I might stop giggling at the word pussy when it crops up in the news. I might even stop google-imaging other important stories – like Prince Harry’s nads. Maybe.

 

“Go girls! Buy you a pint when you get out.”

The Making of the Spin Cycle Canon: 50 Shades of Grey

I have a dirty confession. You know that ‘rudey’ book that everyone’s been banging on about (and to)? I read a bit. Yes – after weeks of ignoring the existence of 50 Shades of Grey – of not knowing the author’s name or anything about the ‘plot’ – I finally caved. A friend had a copy on them that had been thrust at them by their sister with the furtive urgent words “Read. It. Now.” and before I knew it I was turning to the first page of the best-selling book in British History, slavering with morbid curiosity. The Best-Selling Book. In British History. By an Unknown Author.

I had palpitations. (Pre-meat sweats?) Could I do it to myself? There was something in supporting the success of E L James’ already legendary tome that made me feel dirty, and I hadn’t even got to any of the fruity bits…

Before I go any further, I will state this plainly now: I am a bit of a book snob. I didn’t want to like the book that everyone is talking about. I suspected its meteoric fame had little to do with its quality. I made assumptions about the writing being poor. I hated the fact that of all the beautiful literature the English language can boast, the number one position had been taken (roughly, like a maiden in a haystack) by something which had been responsible for coining the term ‘Mummy Porn’. What? What is that? The literary equivalent of rubbing yourself up against the washing machine on spin cycle? (Oh. Yes.)

Here was the nation of Austen, Wodehouse, McEwan (a random clutch of accepted greats) – now throwing a new writer around on its shoulders – a lady openly admitting it was just a lot of words giving voice to her midlife crisis and unsated fantasies. It didn’t even have any wizards in it, like that other behemoth that divided the snobs from the mass consumers. At least Harry Potter looked at big themes – good, evil, redemption, mortality – and made poor picked-on ginger kids able to hold their russet heads up proudly. THE WEASLEYS ARE THE COOLEST KIDS IN THE WHOLE OF HOGWARTS. THEY’RE GINGER AND THEY’RE POOR, SO SUCK IT YOU BIG BULLIES. 50 Shades was promising nothing of this philanthropic work, and even seemed to have taken the representation of strong females back a few steps. Was I really about to do this?

In I went. As it were.

And I almost wet my pants (though not in the way most women seemed to be…)

I can’t quote the lines which made me fall about because The Echo won’t let me, but let’s just say there are some real delights in there if you choose to wade through the turgid oestrogen. Some real clunkers.

Given the fact that E L James is probably swathed in silk somewhere deep in the Arab Emirates right now picking out which desert she wants to build her new 20 storey shoe-rack on, I doubt she much cares about my reports on her prose. She’s doing alright, the poor rich cowbag. So I can say this: the fact that she has reached the top of the list is an absolute abomination in the heritage of beautiful words. The raping of a craft. BUT. It is wonderful news for the book industry. Because it means people are still buying books – still want to get lost in actual pages, still want to make paper go crinkly in the bath, still are sighing at the power of the written word. Like women sighed (and still sigh) at Charlotte Bronte’s Mr Rochester or Austen’s Mr Darcy. Like women sighed (and still sigh) at Darcy and Cleaver in Bridget Jones. Women are really digging this mysterious Mr Grey and his predilections.

Despite my personal tastes, and the fact I will never ever read any more of the saga unfolding like a cheap new shirt between uber-rich dirtbag Christian Grey and the formerly-virginal hard-buttocked Anastasia Steele – I am glad of anything which turns books and publishing into one of the biggest and most compelling stories in the media. I am glad that people are desperately riffling through pages before they get to work, their eyes racing along the lines of someone’s imagination. Reading is reading, and books are important, and must never be lost to technology or illiteracy. That intoxicating hunger you feel when you’re barely able to talk to others or do basic tasks because your nose is stuck in the sweet-smelling thighs of a book is a joy I wish everyone felt every day, and I congratulate E L James for creating it in others. I’m a bit jealous, frankly.

Actually, I might write some mummy porn myself so I can buy a new MacBook. How about some suffragette erotica? Who’s up for Emily Spankhurst tied to the school railings? Anyone?

Ordinary Gods

As someone who has opted not to have a telly or internet at home it’s been quite tricky to keep abreast of the Olympics. From time to time while walking my dog I hear the occasional rousing group squeal coming from a nearby house – or that strange slow ascending “ooooaaarrrr” that humans do naturally in a moment of tension, which either ends in a victorious roar or a disappointed groan. I imagine a band of lithe athletes in white PE shorts running in slow-motion over a finishing line to the Chariots of Fire theme tune. I imagine stoic tears and fist-pumping galore on those wonky boxes that winners and runners get made to stand on. I imagine Michael Caine handing out a gold medal and saying “Nice one, me old mucker. Fancy a pint?” I imagine the Queen – streaking naked through a badminton hall with a string of bejewelled corgis waddling behind her. Bulldogs in Burberry. Wedgwood plates of cucumber sandwiches being passed round the crowds. Twiggy with red white and blue pom-poms. Freddie Mercury rising from a bunting-lined Branston Pickle-sponsored coffin to sing We Are The Champions.

I imagine a lot of what I imagine is not anything like the truth. Although from what I heard about the opening ceremony I wouldn’t be surprised at hearing any of this had taken place. Ok, maybe raising Freddy Mercury from the dead would raise an eyebrow of disbelief, but the budget was pretty huge so who knows – maybe the art of cryogenics got perfected for the occasion. Though they could’ve saved money by having a giant vodka luge in the shape of Princess Diana so people could actually drink her tears. An Olympic Lourdes, but instead of a peaceful French pastoral scene with Ave Maria, it would have been drunken Brits wailing in Stratford. Elton John could have worn novelty tennis ball glasses and changed the lyrics to Candle In The Wind again. To something about jock-straps. “And it seems to me you lived your life like a banana in my pants…” The world would’ve loved that.

When I’ve not been imagining all this nonsense I have been absorbing the actual Olympic news by osmosis – hearing of our many Great British glories via that rather old-fashioned medium – people’s mouths. Everywhere, people are talking about the events they’ve watched, the bits they’ve been able to watch when work hasn’t got in the way. (Bosses are probably legally obliged to provide Olympic Catch-Up breaks.) Friends who don’t ‘even like sport’ regale me for a good long while about some bird who won something that blokes are usually good at. Yes! WOMEN! WINNING AT SPORT! People talk about it constantly. The whole country has turned into one big over-the-washing-line gossip. People rejoice in the drama – the tension, the highs and lows of teams and individuals, the twists and turns of human stories unfolding live in front of the whole world – sport as a metaphor for life’s assorted battles being played out for everyone to identify with. Modern modest people imbued with classical god qualities – strength, agility, valour, honour, grace. We get to share it – the whole world, all at the same time. And what’s more, we get to join in more than ever before.

If you go onto Twitter the stream is clogged with staccato commentaries of live sporting events – people cheering on (or rather, typing about) brand new heroes who have been forged in history just a few seconds before. We’ve developed all these mediums to express ourselves, to share things through. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TV & web news; instantaneous stories. Perhaps it’s my step away from technology – my not having internet (other than on my phone) or a television, that has made me observe more acutely how much everyone has come to rely on it. And it will never go backwards, it will keep on developing, we’ll keep finding new ways to do the things we can’t naturally do. Perhaps it’s why we so love our heroes – our Dianas, our Olympiads, our ordinary gods – because they are the human embodiment of what is possible. The things we could in theory all do, but in likelihood will not. We like to see these people doing it for us – and what a fine array of ways we have invented to do it. We can watch them, we can almost touch the gods.

It’s like the world has lost its true dimensions. It’s bigger – more diverse – because we fill it with endlessly growing science, but it’s smaller because we can traverse it in no time at all, sometimes as quickly as pressing ‘send’. Is the world becoming manageable?Anything is possible. The Brits are proving that. By winning for once. So people tell me. Repeatedly.

It was in trying to join in with the whole thing from my Luddite haze that I stumbled on a link to an article in The New Statesman about sexism in sport. It quoted Lizzie Armitstead (silver medalist in the women’s road race) as saying “Sexism is a big issue in women’s sport – salary, media coverage, general things you have to cope with in your career. If you focus too much on that you get disheartened.”

The article went on to remind us that not one woman was nominated for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011.
It informed us that the BBC gives more coverage to darts alone than all of the female sports events put together.
That between January 2010 and August 2011, men’s sport received 61.1 per cent of commercial sponsorship, and women got (wait for it) half a per cent. Half! I started to get a bit feisty & indignant.

Stella Creasey, MP for Walthamstow, thought that not only is the treatment of women in sport unfair, but that the coverage too is highly questionable. She questioned the beeb about it & had this to say: “The idea people don’t want to watch women’s sport has been blown apart by the audiences for our Olympians – whether on the football or hockey pitch, in the Velodrome, the swimming pool, indoors or on the track, Britain’s female sporting talent is big news. I just hope the Games will finally win the case many of us have been trying to highlight with broadcasters, to change their ways.”

Let’s hope that all this pomp & pride in our athletes pushes the hard work of women to the forefront. For even I realise that in all my imaginings of strength and glory I was picturing…men. Men racing, fighting, soaring. Men winning. Probably because I have been conditioned by years of seeing it on the telly. Surely the intelligent portion of the media has a responsibility to use its power to represent these women who also work hard all year round, slogging at their sport. They’re not just actresses who have been hired in to make the Olympics a bit prettier. Perhaps the budget should, instead of being pumped into a theatrical opening ceremony advertising our country as a holiday destination, have been pumped into promoting and supporting the future endeavours all the surprise heroines that might struggle to be remembered in a year’s time. The men, after all, will probably be in Nike ads. Smiling on billboards from behind a Gilette razor. Woodenly enjoying cameos in a Hollyoaks gym. And the women? Teaching PE? I hope I’m wrong.

Perhaps I’ll give in and get a telly. Perhaps in the next Olympics I’ll see our ordinary gods in action. Perhaps i’ll see that the brand giants Nike are staying true to the origins of their name by backing the goddesses of Victory. I hope I see that the victory smiles of the goddesses aren’t in defiance at a battle with a persistently unequal media, but in defiance at whatever personal battles drive them to win. Those are the stories which really inspire, not the wheezing dogged cling-ons to the barnacled bastions of sexism.

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The Funny Thing About Rape…

It was once my guilty pleasure to become friends with a man who said he’d like to wipe my fake tan off with his spunk.

This man was a comedian called Jim Jefferies, and I deserved it. I had just heckled him (I don’t remember what with, probably just a polite hello as he came on) and he decided on that particular occasion to respond by telling me that he’d like to take my make-up off with something less socially acceptable than Johnson’s Baby Lotion. I suppressed my inner grammar-school feminist, stomped on the part of my imagination that hoped his cock would burst next time he went for a wee, and I…roared with laughter. I roared because it was unexpected, it was gratuitous and vibrant and evocative, it conjured a surreal image, and because Jim Jefferies is very funny. I deserved it because I had piped up during a comedy performance in an environment that is famous for its celebration of freedom of expression by people who, frankly, are a bit mad to get up on stage to try and engender laughter from strangers using only the contents of their brains in the first place. Despite my laughter, some part of my cerebral reflex wanted to respond with a haughty “Actually, JIM, I am not wearing fake tan. If you look more closely you will see I am actually alarmingly pale, and feel no need to conform to cosmetic obligations thrust upon women by a uniformly cynical image-led media.” Why didn’t I? Because I’m not a complete douchebag, that’s why. And he was being funny. I even, shock horror, sort of fancied him. Even though he wanted to wipe his boy-fluid on my face to shut me up. Maybe even because. That’s weird, but what can you do.

Jim & I became friends soon after – we bumped into each other occasionally on the circuit and he made me laugh. He’s actually a bit of a puppy dog despite the jizz-smearing; we had nice chats. It was a couple of years later when I went to see one of his shows in Melbourne that he blew my socks off with a routine about a paedophile scout-master. It was vile, it was graphic, it was seemingly disrespectful to everyone – kids, parents, scout-masters, paedophiles, kids who were scouts and might one day be parents and/or paedophiles. But I almost wet my pants, because it was funny. And somewhere in that shameless laughter was that delicious seductive burn that we all feel when we laugh and it feels a bit wrong. Later on in his show Jim revealed that it was a true story, and that he himself had been a victim of this woggle-wearing nonce. All the people who had been squirming in their seats with either discomfort or disgust suddenly sat still. Ooh. This stage-pacing misanthropist seemingly without any warmth or regard for people’s feelings had earned his right to tell such ‘jokes’, because it was his story to tell, and his treatment of it – turning it from a thorny part of his history to that most mysterious ineffable thing ‘humour’ – was not only justified, but brave, and quite possibly even cathartic for anyone else who had shared a similar experience. Despite its harshness, it had a human warmth somewhere at its core.

Last week an American comedian named Daniel Tosh got filmed dealing with a heckler and it went viral pretty ruddy quickly. This ‘heckler’ was a woman who commented on a joke of his not being funny. This particular joke of his was about rape. He responded to her comment by saying something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be funny if you got raped right now. Wouldn’t it be funny if everyone got up and started raping you right now?” Cue: a lot of fuss, and Daniel Tosh having to make a very public apology. I have googled the comedy of Mr Tosh and he is not my cup of tea. From the few clips I watched I found him a bit too generic ‘All American collegiate’ for my taste – a fraternity initiation rites instigator who knows how to talk his way out of trouble. Perhaps further delving into his online gems would prove more illuminating but I can’t be arsed. However, no matter how charmless his retort may have been, I don’t think he should be lambasted for daring to joke about rape. It is quite obvious the poor dear panicked live on stage and the first thing his average mind threw up as a come-back to this woman daring to question his comedic prowess was a childish “Get raped”. It had all the sophistication of a wedgie. Done with all the force of a kid calling another kid a poo-poo-head. Unfortunately for a lot of women, a mention of an aggressive act is tantamount to intent or future capability. Especially if that mention is in front of a mostly-testosterone-fuelled comedy club and fortified with laughter. The chances are a lot of women would feel small, offended, singled-out, foolish, nervous, possibly even physically intimidated. Just like I could have felt intimidated by Jim telling me he wanted to give me a spunk facial. Luckily for me, I didn’t. I think I’m a bit numb to comedy clangers now. But I would be an idiot if I denied other women’s right to respond in such a way.

The thing with going to comedy is that psychologically it’s a bit like inviting someone to throw stones at your stuff and seeing if anything gets broken. In fact, any consumption of an art or medium (good or bad) opens you up, makes you vulnerable. Your senses observe it, you take it in; it has an effect. A personal example of this. A few years ago my Dad committed suicide, and all of a sudden, references to suicide were everywhere, and for a good long while they felt deeply personal and horrendously unfunny. A casual joke “God – if I have to listen to Mavis drone on about her petunias anymore I am going to kill myself” – the kind of casual reference to wanting to end it all that we all say from time to time – was enough to make my insides feel like they’d been sliced with salt-laced swords. It hurt. I felt affronted, sad, insulted, singled-out for pain. The references seemed to be everywhere, for years. Even more oblique references hurt. Like when I found out “kick the bucket” stemmed from hangings – and people’s casual use of it for general death made me both livid with its incorrect usage and deeply tearful because I still ached over it all. Suicide was everywhere all of a sudden. But then, after a while, it started to fade. Time worked its magic. It stopped hurting as much. I even started to find aspects of it funny. Because Laughter is second-cousin to Survival. Now I bloody love a good suicide joke. A good one really resonates. Just the other day I was struck by the hilariousness of the pointlessness of my father’s inquest. We had to wait months for what was essentially a five minute meeting to announce he had died by hanging. No shit, Sherlock. Was it the fact he was found hanging from a doorframe by a noose that led you to such a surprising conclusion? By that point he’d been cremated and we’d sort of figured it out ourselves that he wasn’t coming back, probably because of the big old noosey-death thing. I laughed – genuinely, loudly – at the absurdity. Because every now and then I find it funny. Certain things about it. I laugh because I need to. I laugh because I’m not dead; laughter is one of the purest acts of grasping life.

I’m not saying I am totally immune to the pain a joke can cause. If a thoughtless cretin makes a bad suicide joke I am naturally more apt to fantasise about punching them full in the face than I am to chuckle with recognition – but each and every time I hear something which misses the mark of taste or intelligence, I know that it is imperative that they are entitled to say it. All sorts of people in all sorts of times and places have struggled for the right for us all to have the freedom to occasionally be offensive unfunny pricks. The freedom to say abominable stuff is just as important as the freedom to say beautiful stuff – never forgetting that there is no one empirical judge of any of it.

Context, in comedy as in all things, is everything. Jim Jeffries in his hour-long show has the time to take you on a journey through a construction of jokes during which are revealed back-stories or more developed points. You buy your ticket to see him specifically, you take a risk if you have not seen him before, you sit, you watch, and you make your mind up, you laugh, or don’t. But at a standard comedy club with a mixed bill you are signing up for an eclectic sack of performers you might not know and you might not like. The performers are doing shortened sets, in which they might crack out a tight script of tried and tested favourites, or have a loose plan of which material to stick to, or – more dangerously – just go out and improvise. Some jokes work, some don’t. Some need build-up, some need a twinkle in the eye. Sometimes comedians have an off night and don’t tell a joke properly; they are, after all, humans, doing jobs. (A lot of them, incidentally, are dire at it.) Neither can the audience be wholly accounted for. An ad hoc gathering of strangers. Some might be tetchy from a bad day or steeped in sadness and trying to plough on by doing something ‘normal’. Life bashes up against life and it doesn’t always fit harmoniously.

Daniel Tosh had no desire to make the woman feel threatened, he may not even had any real desire to see her put in her place as a member of the ‘lesser sex’. He just flicked through a not-terribly-well-stocked survival kit and pulled out something which sounded a bit shit. It wasn’t funny. Even the men laughing in the clip are only doing it because of some base reflex, some juvenile synapse in their brain which went “Ha! He joked about rape to a lady and because it’s something you don’t hear often, we’re going to laugh.” There probably wasn’t a glimmer of any misogyny in the room. I bet you Daniel Tosh went home to his girlfriend and felt like a total schmuck. He probably told her about it and she probably listened and just gave him ‘a look’ and a sympathy pat. That’s if Daniel Tosh has got a girlfriend. He might just have gone home for a lacklustre wank which finished limp and dry as he stared into a fridge of perfectly lined up bottles of Bud. Later, he may even have been inspired to write some better jokes so the whole darn mess will never happen again. Taken his jokes to a comedy club, tried them out, saw if the number of people who thought they were funny outweighed those who did not and decided to keep trying them. Sometimes jokes, like life, are also about keeping on trying; honing something until it is right.

In a comedy club, you might not get the beautifully crafted. You might not even get funny. But you will get a live performance, from someone with a pulse, a trier, because you chose to go out and hear people’s spontaneous thoughts instead of sitting in front of a screen of pre-prepared pre-edited pretty stuff signed off by a TV company solicitor. If you talk to the people on stage, they can talk back, and it might not be ‘nice’. But life isn’t nice, and it doesn’t apologise when it gets stuff wrong either.

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The Pass-It-On Wisdom of Axl Rose

A wise man just told me that a wise man once told him that a wise man once said “I don’t worry because worry’s a waste of my time”.

This wise man was Axl Rose of the mega-group Guns N Roses, and he should know. You can’t wail like that in a bandanna for a whole minute at the end of Sweet Child O’ Mine without knowing a thing or two about life. That wailing is loaded with lessons. It’s like Dylan’s harmonica, or Whitney’s warbles. Their life is caught up in there like bubbles in a glass of champers.

I don’t normally look to the tarnished pearls of wisdom from Rock’s hall of fame for a guiding hand, I’m more a sort of ‘smile benignly along to Mama Cass’ sort of girl, but lately I’ve been worrying. I’ve never been much of a worrier, I’ve always been one of these sorts who looks at dark clouds like they’ll soon rain down cute little droplets that will make the flowers grow. I’d tread in fox poo and instead of screeching “DEATH TO VERMIN” like a warrior in the street, I’d smile and remember a book called The Midnight Fox I loved as a kid. I’d probably think the poo was cute. Sweet little vulpine plop-plop. But things happen in life which make you start thinking “Er, hang on a minute, Life – that felt a little bit like you roughed me up there.” You get serious. You start to worry. Perhaps it’s growing up. Perhaps it’s knowing you have less time than you had before to get stuff right. That you’re in a constant state of ‘having less time’. There’s never a plateau you reach where you think “Right. This is the perfect mix of existential panic & objective positivity, ever. I am like Sartre on happy pills. I think I’ll kick back & know that I know the most I can know. Sorted. Now, someone make me a mojito.”

I found myself last week stomping around in a huff, getting annoyed with people who dared to slow me down in the street by having a limp, people who took too long to pay in shop queues, barking out my replies instead of using a friendly tone. I had a lot going on last week, and obviously I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t get a bit grumpy from time to time. But it was as I found my face frowning as I walked along, actually crinkled in irritability – not even for any particular specific reason, just the badge of my default mood that day – and I stopped walking, and I told myself off. (In my head – I’m not one of those Tennants Super dudes who shouts at themselves outside Tesco. Not yet.)

I told myself off, not because I was feeling irritable – that is permissible, it is natural. I told myself off for allowing the irritability to affect how I was approaching people, and for letting it infuse my whole day with a general black air. I was not having a bad week. I was not doing something I hated. I was not planning my Nan’s funeral like one of my dearest friends was. I was merely busy. Busy running a comedy festival. That’s supposed to be fun, right? I got to see nice people, and laugh, and put up bunting, and see my comedy chum Terry Alderton do sillies. That’s fun. So I told myself off. Because allowing worry to swirl around you on the inside, and take over your demeanour on the outside, without pulling yourself up on it is a slippery slope. If you start letting the small stuff become big stuff, the big stuff gets bigger, and you eventually stop spotting that this is what you have let yourself become. We have a choice.

As if I needed a footnote to this realisation, I apologised to a friend for being a bit clipped, and he said ‘Keep smiling and bathe in these words of wisdom someone gave me once when I was feeling upset – “I don’t worry because worry’s a waste of my time.”’

I knew he was right. I thought of my trivial issues. I thought of the person I’d like to be in my life, and the person I might become if I let my frowns go unchecked. I thought of my friend who was sad because of his Nan, and the fact his Nan didn’t have any time anymore. It was the first time I felt enlightened by a quote from one of Hard Rock’s nutjobs. I hummed the only Guns N Roses song I know – the karaoke favourite Sweet Child o Mine, and I remembered the last time I sang it – which oddly enough was in Melbourne, with Terry and our dear karaoke-addict friend Tim Vine. (Who has seriously got a real problem if anyone knows of a Sing-a-long Therapist.) It seemed like the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me then, because it tied up memories, and friends from different parts of my life, and the old me, and the new me, and the importance of still having time, and not wasting it. And I stopped frowning and just got on with it, and had fun.