Observational comedy, which relies so much on the shock of the familiar, is a brand of humour which works only if the audience relates to the material. It’s the kiss of death for a comedian if their material rings no bells for the expectant listeners sat in front of them.
Let me give you an example of observational comedy that worked for me at the time, introduced by a British stand-up comic a few years ago on one of his TV shows. This is the concept of the man drawer.
What’s this? Well, it’s the notion that men in particular can’t bear to throw anything away that might conceivably be of use in the future. Those odd keys which may have unlocked something or other in the past but the man’s forgotten what they were for and unconvinced are redundant? Into the man drawer they go. Batteries removed from some no longer functioning device but which may still have some juice in them? Add them to the collection.
And so it goes on: perfectly usable salvaged shoe laces, reclaimed door hinges, spare Allen keys from IKEA, a staple gun with a box of the wrong-sized staples — all candidates for the man drawer, just in case. The instinct is good: reuse, recycle, re-purpose, but also save money while saving the planet and avoid that inevitable irritation when you urgently need that thing that you only chucked out last week.
I’m not saying that women don’t have this penchant for saving otherwise extraneous material, of course they do. But the comic routine that introduced the concept of the man drawer to me was also, I realised, a perfect metaphor for my brain.
I’m an inveterate seeker after trifles, you may have noticed. And I’m not the only one: most of us are. Most bloggers I follow are, and that’s what makes me follow them.
But I’m less good at recalling those trifles when needed, if at all, the reason being I’m even worse at storing them. They’re all chucked in my man drawer of a brain. Even the phrase “inveterate seeker after trifles” is one I’m convinced is a quote I’ve picked up from somewhere, but neither Google nor my grey matter search engine can locate the source. (I may just have to claim it as my own.)
Actually, it’s more than a man drawer. My head feels like a reclamation yard. The kind you enter and random bits of statuary sit in one corner, roof tiles from a Victorian outhouse in another; marble fireplaces lie stacked up in their component pieces next to rusty palings; old railways signs, vitreous enamel advertising, cast iron door furniture and vintage stained glass from a demolished rectory are stored under cover, all opposite a miscellany of panelled wooden doors from a variety of epochs and buildings.
But can you find that precise bit of plaster moulding you spotted two years ago? And if you do find it will it not have rotted into a useless crumbling mess by now?
Yep, that’s my mental man drawer: a disorganised junkyard.
And you? Do these observations ring any bells with you too?