“Hey, you know when there’s utter silence just after you’ve said, ‘you know when…'”

On advice, I have reinstated the ‘this may well contain poor punctuation, grammar, and reasoning’ warning.

When a good observational comedian says, “you know when (place human behaviour here)”, the whole pub room, theatre, or arena laugh. They have had their mass foibles held  up in the spotlight. They can delight in their ridiculousness and be assuaged by the knowledge they are not alone. “You do that,” the woman nudges her partner sharply in the ribs and howls again. Both derided, massively popular, and not as easy as it might seem when you watch those at the top of their game. It is not just noticing a thing, it is the crafting of the image, and then taking it somewhere beyond pointing it out. To me, bad observational comedy is saying, “didn’t immersion heaters take a while in the 1970s”.

Laugh. Onto something else. Watching Dave Allen or Billy Connolly or Victoria Wood, there is a delight in the attention to detail, the drawing of a picture that goes beyond luring out a minor memory frilled up as nostalgia. More recently, Rhod Gilbert has created fabulous fury theatre as he strips down the mundane to the point of ridiculousness. 

But sometimes I wonder about the ones who aren’t really laughing. The ones who are putting on a front, but inside they are thinking, “but I don’t do that…”. Maybe it’s only 3% of the audience. My problem is, they are the 3% of the audience that interest me. 

It’s a poor career decision, but I am intrigued by the less certain observations. The thoughts that might be covered up, the behaviour too presumably eccentric to admit amongst others. 

Though it wasn’t my intention, the last few warm ups my next tour have become increasingly personal in revealing the paranoia and peculiarity in my head, and I have been interested to see they have, or some of the have, been more common than I may have thought. I won’t give away what I’ve been asking the audience, I don’t want to provide the spoiler for my own show. I enjoy seeing the slowness of hands going up. There are the people who put their hand up and then change their mind halfway to the elbow straightening. Then there are those who won’t admit to their foibles until a few hands at the front have gone up. 

Most of us want to fit in, few want to be the shunned loner forced to live outside the city limits in a den made of moss and discarded beard hair, but we also want to have a feeling of individuality. There I go again, maybe I am wrong, maybe there are many who are quite comfortable to be assimilated and require no eccentricity. 

Tonight I asked if anyone sometimes sang songs in a language of their own making. After my afternoon Darwin talk, I find myself walking to Cambridge station and singing in some nonsense language of a mythical undersea Eastern european kingdom, Party Fears Two by The Associates. No one put their hand up. Maybe I described the concept poorly. I refuse to believe I am unique when it comes to imagined language warbling.

There is also the fear in a stand up scenario that this is some trap. When Kenny admits to such singing, I say, “do you really do that? ‘cos I never have, and neither has anyone else in this room”. Then we chant, “not one of US! Not one of US!” as Kenny cowers, collapses and awakes to find himself a chicken lady in Gibsonville. 

I once asked the audience in Old Rope how many of them had, within the last 6 months and erroneously, imagined that some lump, bump, gland or sore was the sign that their death was around the corner. 

No one.

Afterwards, three different women came up to me and said, “my boyfriend/husband is such a liar. He should have put his hand up. He’s always quizzing me about some spot or patch. ‘what do you think this lump is?’

‘it’s your Adam’s apple’

‘so you’re sure it’s not neck canker?’”

Sometimes, an audience member will approach me after a gig and say, “what a relief. I thought I was the only one that did that.”

I think it might be a relief for me too. 

As creatures with a fear of social judgement, we can keep things in. While outwardly  gregarious, inside even the most seemingly confident can be nervous, jittery misshapes. The swagger might cover it up, as the drinks help submerge the overly self conscious mind, but an inner prefect patrols to make sure only the safest of sentences, the most certain of topics, the surest of attitudes leave the throat. 


A few warm ups left and then I am off to Falmouth, Salford, London, Nottingham, Sheffield, Birmingham, Norwich and many more. Details HERE 

My new DVD, three hours of blah blah blah on all manner of things, is out now. Trailer HERE 

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9 Responses to “Hey, you know when there’s utter silence just after you’ve said, ‘you know when…'”

  1. While reading this I kept thinking of the Leonard Cohen song line about cracks being where the light shines through. Brilliant post.

  2. I’m reminded of the brilliant Life Of Brian scene where the crowd chant in unison “we are all individuals” and then a lone voice says “I’m not” in a wonderfully oxymoronic reversal of logic. 🙂

  3. Ben says:

    Not in made up languages but when I’m alone I do sing weird little songs. Mostly about wanting to be a pussycat…

  4. Brett says:

    I sing in made up languages and chatter aloud in them. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who does these sorts of things.

  5. My gramps used to sing in his own made up language. When he passed and we memorialized him, us cousins tried to remember the words.

  6. John says:

    Do you mean, like, a proper language? Proper lexicon and grammar and stuff? Or just gibberish?

    When I think “made-up language”, I think of the former, and the idea of singing in one you were making up on the spot sounds like an alien and impressive feat… maybe that’s why nobody was putting their hand up!

  7. Hearten Soul says:

    Singing in made-up languages sounds rather like singing in tongues – which even in more charismatic churches is perhaps less common than it once was. I’ve only occasionally heard it in a service – maybe my more spiritual friends are regular singers in tongues but they don’t talk about it…

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