The Reflected Clown Winked Back

The train from Northampton was quiet. It was late and I had one of the four carriages to myself. The only thing that disturbed me was a second long buzz that sounded like a hybrid of unleashed electricity and the flapping of a beetles wings against its own hard shell. A brief sense of a William Burroughs nightmare or some shadows from a forgotten Spanish film, but in my state of sobriety with a mind unclouded, nothing to fear just something to tweet. Somewhere near Wolverton, I thought of the Northampton clown and imagined seeing its face reflected in any window I looked into, fortunately the book I was reading was engrossing enough that there was no need to take my nose from it.

At Milton Keynes, some young people got on, one boy and two girls. I kept on reading about discordianism, but reckoned they would be late teens, studying at college or maybe some sort of apprentice work. The boy had that energy in language and they had that energy in laughing that suggested a few drinks drunk at a time when a few drinks drunk on a weeknight had a sense of rebellion, before it would later become a necessity and a mean average Thursday habit. He was obviously enjoying a sense that he had an audience, that sense of showing off which barely masks the hope of fulfilled desire. 

A few nights before, I was walking behind some young and jolly friday drunks. They were reviewing the night and it had been good. One of them had kissed Sarah, this had sounded as if it was something that he had been hoping might happen for a few fridays now. His friend reminded her that she had been sick, and they agreed that this made them admire her more. Apparently, in the midst of the embrace, she excused herself, turned around, vomited, the returned to the clinch and smooch. As they analysed it all, there was the joy of comradery, brotherhood and the first victory.

I am not an eavesdropper, these words were not thrown lightly, but propelled through the air with the uninhibited force that those last few flaming shots and that final pint imbue you with. I try to blank out these conversations, but once I can’t ignore them anymore, I become embroiled in the narrative. 

Back to the Thursday night train from Northampton, and the boy is holding court. He is telling jokes that he’s found on the internet or read in Nuts or been told by a racist Uncle. 

Some are holocaust jokes, a few jokes on the “how do you know if a Lesbian/black/Jew/Gay etc has done a thing” variety. There are points when I think, has the time come to get up and say, “I think that’s enough of that” and I am weighing up the pros and cons of intervention. They are all so old, yellowed in so many pubs, and I also start to notice that I am not sure if any of them even really get the jokes. The boy’s laugh after the telling of them has that “eh eh, it’s a joke do you get it?” hollowness as if even he doesn’t really know what it means, but when his uncle told it everyone else was laughing, so it must be a joke. The women laugh, but increasingly they say “what?” and “I don’t get that one”.

He tells a joke that is something to do with a Jewish man going into ASDA, putting his penis on a counter and blah blah blah rollback. I missed the intermediate words, but obviously it was a circumcision gag. The boy laughs, stops, then laughs again to make up for the silence from the other two. She doesn’t get this one at all. She gets the ASDA reference, she knows about rollback, but she doesn’t see what that has to do with Jewish genitalia. Over some minutes, it is explained that Jewish men are circumcised. This remains a confusing idea, but eventually she sees the relationship between rollback and the penis in question. There is a brief silence. he goes on to the internet to find more jokes and reads them out. They are going off the idea of jokes now. He looks at a shelter at Leighton Buzzard. “What a rubbish shelter, it’s just two poles and that white thing”. One of the girls explains it’s not a shelter, it is a sign. This confusion between a shelter and a railway sign has brought back the levity that the genital conundrum had briefly extinguished. 

I think about the soulless nature of the jokes. When jokes are just words in a shape that should lead to a pavlovian response while the mind inside, if allowed a thought thinks, “but I don’t get that”. It reminds me to keep working harder. It reminds me that the best kinds of jokes aren’t always just a joke.


I am no tour doing my sort of long, jumping about and hollering jokes. I am off to Manchester, Bristol, Radlett, Isle of Wight, Sheffield and many more. Also doing two more shows with Brian Cox at Hammersmith Apollo, details for all those things HERE

 Happiness Through Science DVDS HERE


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1 Response to The Reflected Clown Winked Back

  1. Karl Drobnic says:

    I once heard Buddy Hackett at a seminar on stand-up comedy. He said that on average he worked on a joke for a year before using it in his act. He was a true wordsmith comedian. He worked on jokes right down to details like whether a delivery worked better with a guttural or a fricative at a particular point and rewrote accordingly. Hollow comedy trolling for forced laughter is always sad to encounter.

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