one thing i take really seriously in my life, is my humour:

“She turned me into a newt!”

[pause]

“I got better.”

[Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail]

one of my favourite lines ever!

…and there have been so many. and i know that comedy appreciation is a very personal thing and so my “incredibly funny” might be your “pass the salt” but i can’t help feeling like i used to be funny…

i remember writing the funniest story ever when i was in school – i think it was some kind of messed up fairytale or something like that and it was so incredibly brilliant, at least until one thing happened. i read it. it might have been a year later –  i feel like some significant time had passed – but i read it and it was completely awful. worst story ever. okay, maybe not, but it was up there, or down there or something.

being funny was really important to me as a young child, cos i remember this one talent evening or something at the church where i dressed up crazy [which might be why i hate dressing up] and i took my 1001 jokes book [it was blue – these things stick with you] and i tried to be funny and i was laughed at. a lot.

but in the wrong way. when i look back now it was clearly bullying – two older guys who i looked up to [one of them in particular, and his dolt of a friend] really made fun of me and made me feel like a big piece of crap and when i remember back then i see that they did it in other ways as well and actually physically bullied me a bit as well [at the time i made all kinds of excuses for it, because after all they were the cool guys i wanted to impress and be around and so it was just stuff bigger kids did] and it definitely had a profound impact on me.

i think to some extent my self confidence was shot and i secretly [in my head or heart or wherever was left undamaged] vowed to myself to not perform for people again unless i was confident i could pull it off.

THE HUMOUR OF A MISSED CRICKET CAREER

this is somewhat linked to the time, i imagine, that i started getting interested in cricket and enjoyed watching it and then decided i wanted to play and so i went to a cricket practice but i remember that on the day i was on the field and heading towards where the cricket guys were practising [this was primary school still] and then for some reason i can’t remember, i wasn’t sure exactly where to go and i was scared of getting embarrassed by ending up at the wrong place and so i gave up and went home and just never gave it a try… became one of the hugest fans ever [on my last trip to South Africa i think we made amends when i dressed up with my buddy MJ as Lord of the Rings characters and he let me be Gandalf and even ducked back outside to get my staff the security had confiscated and snuck it back inside and we made it onto tv for a decent amount of time – thankx for the free therapy, buddy] but i never officially played and actually only ever played 3 or 4 social games of it my whole life and every single time Africa[except the last time, which also brought on my MJ, had me damaging a finger before we started playing from a miscatch and then getting a giant roastie scar in the shape of Africa on my leg from sliding along the gravel trying to cut off a 4 – i didn’t] i took a Jonty Rhodes [my former hero and best fielder in the world ever, don’t even jokingly try bring up Ponting’s name] type catch… and still sometimes seriously wonder today if i wouldn’t have been a him type player if i’d had the confidence to just go to that practice. sad face.

but back to the comedy. so i started studying funny. not officially but in my mind, very intentionally i started watching what worked for other people and what didn’t and what i could do or say that would make people laugh and what didn’t and i constantly tried to work on becoming funnier [holding to that principle of i don’t want to try it unless i know it will succeed]

QUIETLY WORKING AT IT IN THE SHADOWS

i was friends in high school with a guy who went on to become one of South Africa’s more successful comedians in terms of one man shows and corporates and right now he is starring in a UK version of Aladdin alongside IQ heroine Jo Brand and getting his name dropped in virtually every review of the show as a standout performer. His name is Alan Committie and i’ve always felt that i was as funny as him at high school [i’m sure he’ll disagree, as will countless others, but i always thought so] but lacked the confidence to go on a stage and risk not being laughed at.

i really do believe that made the difference back then – i feel like Alan and i were both pretty funny, but he had the confidence and self belief to go with it and so he and a guy called Greg Hutch became the MC’s and faces-of-comedy and go-to people at our high school and i faded quietly into the background and had a largely lonely high school career as far as being at school was concerned. in fact, i was once bullied at high school [threatened?] into being in a drama play with a bunch of lazy thugs [at the time – they’re all marvelous well-adjusted people today, i’m sure] who didn’t want to do any work and so i wrote a piece-o-crap comedy for them to do and they absolutely stunk at it and it felt like a nice fine piece of revenge at the time…

i don’t know that i am as funny as Alan is – he is incredibly talented and i think it was the i’m-funnier-than-him notion in my head that i always held strongly on to when i saw a couple of his one man shows and thought he wasn’t ‘that great’ [especially the one where i threw peanuts at him or something from the audience and he eventually heckled me back] but i remember seeing him in ‘Defending the Caveman’ [which he took over from the incredibly talented Tim Plewman, who everyone raved about] having watched the original and not been as amped as everyone else… and really thinking Alan nailed it and was way better [don’t tell Tim!] but i think that was a bit of a healing piece for me to be able to see Alan after the show and genuinely be able to tell him i thought he was brilliant and then just being able to really cheer him on since then. and so cool seeing him absolutely blow audiences away over there and read amazing reviews and hear and see that he got to meet Andrew Flintoff and tell him that English cricket is pretty rubbish [not a joke!] Go Alan!

COLLEGE RE-INVENTION 

so i somehow ended up at Mowbray teacher’s training college learning how to be a primary school teacher. i had wanted to do a one year mission thing with Scripture Union and my folks hadn’t been so amped and so i went to a career’s guidance counselling evening at school  and the primary school teacher spoke the best and so i ended up there [true story]

i can’t remember how it happened but i do remember it being intentional. something about not digging being shadow man at school i decided that i was going to ‘take over the college’ [it was a small college of a thousand or two students] and become ‘the funny guy’ and somehow i managed it. it didn’t help that i wasn’t too interested in the primary school teaching aspects of the college with it not being my first choice and all and i also got involved with the wrong crowd early on [not so much the drug-taking, bank-robbing, mtv-award-twerking crowd as simply a bunch of okes who had failed a year at college and weren’t so much into the academic side of things]

within the first week i ended up giving blood for the first time [which i loved and love and you should do it and stop being a wuss! giving blood saves lives!] but i also somehow ended up being in the company of i think five students of which two had failed a year and one was my friend Heidi [who i a few years ago reconnected with on Facebook which has been great] who used to faint every time she gave blood and for some reason faking a faint from giving blood in the biggest lecture of the day suddenly became this thing to be done – we were about to have a lecture called ‘Intro to teaching’ which we thought was going to be done by one particular lecturer and so thought it would be fun if we walked into his class and i pretended to faint [i forget the reasoning, i told you i’m no Alan Committie] and so we planned the whole thing and Heidi gave me fainting tips and we did a few practice runs upstairs [the lecture was downstairs] and Ricky was going to walk behind me and catch me – plan sorted.

only problem was that as we were descending the stairs [a spiral staircase] next to the tiered lecture hall where the lecture was going to take place i peeked through the window and caught site of Dr Bauer. Now Dr Bauer was the lecturer i had met in my interview to gain acceptance at the college and he seemed like a much more important person than whoever was meant to be taking the class and so suddenly i was in two minds and was asking the gang, “um so Dr Bauer is there, should i still do it? hey guys, are we still going to go through with it?” and they just kept walking and totally ignored me and so we walked into the class, turned an immediate left and started walking up the stairs to our seats when suddenly i just decided NOW OR NEVER, closed my eyes and dropped…

side note: turns out that because that was our first week of teacher’s training college, the Intro to Teaching lecture was a time where the rector [principal] and heads of all the departments came down to share their wisdom and insights with all these young, passionate, first year students eager to learn how to become the best teachers they could be…

[time passed]

there was a lot of noise [part of it caused by me as Ricky had thought i was going to bail and so wasn’t ready to catch me and so i landed heavily on the floor] and i felt myself being lifted up [still not realising all of who was in the lecture hall as i was so nervously trying to figure out do we do this or not that i never saw any of the panel of lecturers] and carried out of the room and placed on the floor and i open my eyes and am staring into the eyes of the rector [quick decision: this is now a real faint brett, you really fainted, you didn’t joke faint – that’s the guy who can kick you out of the college] and so i instantly closed my eyes, trying not to laugh… Dr Bauer in the meantime paced it upstairs to the cafeteria and comes down and starts feeding me gummy bears to try and raise my sugar levels and the rector keeps telling me to open my eyes but every time i do i see him and Ricky and Dr Bauer and Heidi and i have to close them so as not to laugh… so here is the scene – fake faint boy lying on the ground being fed gummy bears opening and closing his eyes like some kind of blinking idiot [literally!]

i never got into trouble for that and so i like to kind of think we pulled it off, although i do remember the next day or later that week or something, bumping into Dr Bauer and he said something like “I know what you did” or “So you got away with it?” or something like that and when i stammered back, “Um, what?” he changed it to refer to something else [like handing in a piece of work or something like that] but he had the kind of wink in his eye that suggested that just maybe he had figured out that the whole thing was not completely legit…

so that was my introduction to college, and i [to some extent, at least in my own mind and memory, others may have other recollections of the time] became ‘the funny guy’ erasing all the bad memories of high school and finding that attention and crowd appreciation that i had so desired.

[this story, like any other, is so multi-layered so that definitely is not the whole of it and it doesn’t make sense that someone would go from not funny and behind the scenes to funny and center of some attention just like that – i had in the last couple of years been involved in many Scripture Union holiday clubs and week-long and weekend camps as well as been involved in youth ministry in church and i think had gained a lot of confidence and ability to make people laugh at those places which perhaps provided the springboard to intentionally launch myself forwards]

there is a lot more to say and so we’ll have to have another part – there are tales of improv and preaching and summer camps, Brett Andy and Brad Fish moments and whatever it was that got me to the point of sitting down and writing a post about wishing i was funny… er… and so to be continued…

but in the meantime, two other lines from two very silly movies that i really enjoy probably way more than i should are both relating to death and go:

“Kill him a lot!”

and

“Kill him until he dies from it!”

Anyone know the movies?

[continued over here with the Improv Years]

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