The story behind the story, ‘Dead Comedians’ by Simon Cluett
Picture the scene. It’s the late 1970s and a young, fresh-faced whippersnapper in flannel jim-jams has just brushed his toothy pegs and is all ready for beddy-byes. He stifles a yawn as he pads into a garishly decorated front room. For the sake of argument let’s call this sleepy-eyed tyke “Simon”, for t’was me. I’m eight years old but instead of saying nighty-night to my Mum and Dad I’m transfixed by the strange man on the telly. I’d seen Star Wars the previous year but not even the scum and villainy of Mos Eisley space port had prepared me for this tubby man with piggy eyes and a dicky bow tie.
He stood there, leaning against a mic stand, saying not very nice things about Irish people, Jewish people, Pakistani people and his mother-in-law. The audience were laughing like drains and my parents were laughing like drains. Not just chortling or chuckling but full-on, side-splitting belly laughs. It turned out the not very nice things he was saying were in fact ‘jokes’. Now, up until this point, my idea of a joke involved informing the doctor you felt like a pair of curtains. Whether or not being told to “pull yourself together” by a qualified medical expert is a satisfactory diagnosis for such delusional behaviour is a question for another time.
My parents weren’t racist or homophobic but in those days it was OK to laugh at jokes about people from different ethnic backgrounds, or who had different religious beliefs or were your mother-in-law. There weren’t any liberal snowflakes around to huff and tut and fire off disapproving Tweets. Casually racist sitcoms like Love Thy Neighbour and Mind Your Language occupied prime-time slots and the only representation of gay men were the likes of dear old John Inman and Larry Grayson. They were talented and funny but it didn’t occur to me that their particular brand of humour could be viewed as caricatured or reinforcing an offensive stereotype. I remember being taken to see Jim “Nick Nick” Davidson at a local theatre. Much of his act involved the antics of a black man named “Chalky White” so the less said about that whole experience the better.
This little stroll down memory lane provides some context for my story in Twisted 50 Volume 2. It paints, in broad strokes, a picture of a different world to the one we live in today. Not that the world we live in today is the dictionary definition of tolerant or stable, but hey-ho.
If it hadn’t been for those so-called jokes it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write a darkly comic tale about a suicidal stand-up who finds himself the focus of an intervention by a procession of dead comedians. It gave me an opportunity to don rose-tinted spectacles and doff my proverbial cap to some of my favourite (and not so favourite) comedy turns from the last five or six decades.
Is it a genuine haunting or the delusions of a fractured mind? To be honest, I’m not sure. What I can say is the image that kick-started the whole shebang came from a dream, or rather a nightmare, involving a certain tubby, piggy-eyed man in a dicky-bow tie. For the sake of argument, let’s call him “Bernard”.
Twisted50 vol 2