It took me a very long time to realise it’s possible to be a serious (dedicated, life-committed), writer/artist/creative person and also to be funny, humorous, light-hearted (some of the time, at least). This doesn’t seem such an astonishing discovery, but for years I was Very Serious, and the flip side of this was to be Very Dubious about anything flippant or joky creeping into my writing. Of course, this was a reflection of my general mode of being-in-the-world, which was mostly feeling out of place, alienated, gloom-ridden, unhappy with myself. You can make your own diagnosis. So it was quite a revelation, the first time I ever read in public, at the 121 Centre in Brixton, to hear the audience laughing. And I don’t mean nervous or embarrassed tittering, it was genuine, warm laughter in response to words I had written. I shouldn’t have been so surprised, given that the story was called ‘The Joke Biscuit’, and concerned a Serious Austrian, Gottfried, and his short-lived friendship with a young London couple, of near equal Seriousness and Pretentiousness. One half of that young London couple was a thinly-disguised version of me, so I had in effect taken the mickey out of myself, but it was still years before I properly woke up to the fact that sometimes I can be rather funny and that that is Okay. I’m a very slow developer.
Now I can recognise the buried humour in those deadly dark Birthday Party and Nick Cave songs I listened to endlessly. And there’s a gorgeous bleak humour in so much of Samuel Beckett’s writing—but I still don’t like to see his work played for laughs. An audience guffawing at Beckett is a step too far in my book.
To laugh out loud, even better to make someone you love laugh out loud, is a great tonic. One of life’s simple pleasures. As far as my writing is concerned, on the whole I still favour darker themes and moody overtones, but every now and then, despite myself, I slip in a funny line or two. Who knows, by the time I’m 90, I might be doing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe.
That’s a joke, by the way.