[Continued from part ii]

as i said before, one thing i take really seriously in life, is humour:

‘I think that sick people in Ankh-Morpork generally go to a vet. It’s generally a better bet. There’s more pressure on a vet to get it right. People say “it was god’s will” when granny dies, but they get angry when they lose a cow.’

[Terry Pratchett, my favourite comedy author, creator of the Discworld series which you should read]

So continuing the story of my quest for funny and if anyone has made it this far, well done, because this has been lengthy stuff, but it really has shone a bit of a glimpse into a big part of my soul and psyche and just gives an idea of how i think about one aspect of life…

And in a couple of posts there is no possible way i will be able to summarise a 30 plus journey of humour-seeking, but hopefully this has given a bit of an overview with some of the best [and worst] parts.


# i used to be really good at sarcasm – no, i mean really, really good, as in hurt-you good. and i remember in high school one of our teachers mentioned that ‘Sarcasm was the lowest form of wit’ and i disagreed because i was good at it and really wanted to keep doing it. but then one day i remember answering sarcastically to some question that had been put to me [and maybe there was a build up and this was the culmination] and i remember seeing a small glimmer of hurt in the person i directed it at and that was the beginning of the realisation for me that not all humour is fun for everyone – some of the fun comes at peoples’ expense, and that is not cool. i know there will be people who think differently to me on this one and all power to you, but i really try my best not to hurt someone else [or make them feel stupid] in the process of trying to get a laugh. i imagine this is one i don’t get right a lot but i think since becoming aware of it and intenti0nal about it, i do it a lot less than i otherwise might have – i really believe that humour is not worth it if it makes someone feel bad. [because different people have different sensitivities and humour preferences this can be a very tricky one but i am at least talking about intentionally making someone else feel/look stupid for a joke]

# there was a specific moment – and i remember that i was sitting at the table in the kitchen of Highbury [the student digs our church ran back in the day] when i had this internal conversation and decision-making moment – when i realised that i am not a big fan of small talk for the sake of small talk. when we are talking about movies or certain sports then i would probably differ on those as movies in general and cricket and formula 1 back in the day i can definitely get into… but it was a time when i realised that i hung out with a bunch of people who got caught up in small talk a lot of the time… and made the decision that in those circumstances, if the options were neutral or funny, i would choose to be funny. don’t get me wrong – i love deep conversations – if we are going real and deep and trying to solve the mysteries of the world or wrestling with an aspect of Christ following or poverty or war or something like that and the conversation is genuine and people are into it, then that is probably my go to place… BUT my realisation that day at that moment was that IF we were not going deep, then i would change my setting to FUNNY [or attempt to] because i enjoyed making people smile and laugh and have a good time.

i imagine that is why in some circles, to some people [and maybe many people] i got the reputation of ‘he can never be serious’ which is not a great reputation to have when you are involved in any form of leadership or you are hoping people will invite you to be part of important things or speak at places… but it was generally the periphery people who would think that. anyone who knew me and took time to spend time with me and wanted to go deep on any conversation would have realised how ridiculous that statement was of me. but, if you only saw me in the neutral situations where it didn’t look like it was going to go deep and i resorted to trying to be funny, then i can understand how you might get that idea. and it’s also not like i am differentiating between serious=good and funny=less good because there are certainly times when funny is the right and best place to go to, but it was simply a distinction i made that linked to how intentional i was at certain times with certain people and it was quite a defining moment in my life.

# lastly, and i should maybe keep this til the end, cos we’re going to suddenly get all serious and you were hoping to read something light and fluffy, but this is such an important one for me. Rape is never funny. Ever. i know that Ricky Gervais and others think differently on this. i know a certain group of people feel like every topic and situation should be able to be joked about, because some of them are so difficult that that is the only way some people can deal with them. but i disagree strongly. more strongly than i am able to say right here. for me there are a few things that should never be joked about and rape is right at the top of the list [along with molestation, sodomy and other related issues]. because i know people who have been raped and sexually abused and it must be one of the most devastating violating experience and the idea that someone would make light of it, or even joke about it when someone who has been raped might be in the audience, is just for me one of the most awful things ever.

when ‘raped’ started to become a light-hearted descriptive word for ‘got the better of’ as in the context of a sporting team losing badly or someone really being taken down by an exam [and you can read my rant about that here] that frustrated me no end and i took on a couple of people [mostly in their inbox rather than their facebook wall where they said it] every time i saw it being used in that context and just challenged them on the hurt it could bring to someone who had been through that seeing the word being used so lightly [many still disagree]. ‘

i believe there has to be a line. and for me ‘raped’ is it. i also am not a fan when people joke about marriage or divorce, simply because i know how under strain marriages generally are and every little joke or side comment can act as a hammer and a chisel chipping away at the relationship and each single comment might be completely harmless in and of itself, but you start adding them up and you start even-half believing the chauvenism or belittling that usually forms part of those jokes and it can really add to everything else that already might be there below the surface. it is just not worth it and too often words are spoken without thinking. race and disability, which also tend to be easy targets, are very sensitive issues and so will probably fall next in line for me here.

i have a saying, ‘When in doubt, don’t!’ and for the most part, i try to apply that to my humour. If saying this risks hurting someone, then the possible laugh i get is really not worth it.

[and i imagine there might be a line of people standing in front of the comments section ready to share examples of where i might have gotten it wrong and to you i deeply apologise – i am talking about my heart and intention here and am aware that i have hurt people with my humour, and i am not proud of that in any way or form]


the most important thing to me in life is my faith in God which manifests in my attempts at following Jesus [who i believe was and is God] and His teachings [which, if you look at the core of them being ‘Love God, Love people’ are not quite as horrendous as the mess we christians have been able to make of them through the ages – i’m sorry! however, thankfully, that has also been the core foundation for SO MUCH GOOD that has been done in the world in terms of medicine and education and relief and so much more and so it’s a bitter sweet relationship]

so it was natural that there would be some crossover between my focus on humour and my love for God and fortunately it seemed to happen for me when someone gave me a pulpit. [to be honest i’m not a big fan of pulpits and more the metaphor of being invited to speak God things to groups of people – personally I’ll take barefoot and a stool any day].

while my desire to give stand-up comedy a go has not [yet] materialised, standing in front of a group of people in a church or at a camp, and being able to weave humour into my speaking is the closest i have gotten so far. and that has been a lot of fun.

i have a lot of respect for a guy like Mike Pilavachi who, often when he preaches, does 90% stand-up comedy material involving stories from the Bible or his own life and then finishes off with 10% of point which just nails you between the eyes and often is a lot more powerful as a preach than some people who do a forty minute exegesis.

i don’t think i’m quite there, but i do have three jokes i invented, which have helped along the way, as well as a stuffed yellow-and-white dolphin called No_bob who i often take with me to preaching gigs.

Let’s be honest – most jokes we tell and even the majority of analogies – are things we heard from someone else and are just recycling them and maybe adding a bit of a twist to them, but for the most part a lot of talk material at some stage belonged to someone else. i do that shamelessly [and openly] – if i hear a great analogy about something then i often will incorporate it into my talk and if i do the talk enough times then eventually it will start to feel like it was my analogy in the first place. fortunately, we’re in the business of getting the message across and not so much of claiming fame for whichever parts of the message felt like they were made up by me.

The ‘No_bob factor’ is an interesting one and really helps give a deeper glimpse into the type of humour that i have [which i feel is quite eclectic and ranges from Jim Carrey to Monty Python to Jack Handey to Parks and Rec and even touches on moments from Naked Gun and Bob Newhart and The Mighty Boosh and Flights of the Conchord] – for the most part i would probably lean towards British and a more subtle, dry humour but i do like a lot of bits of everything and so it is hard to tie down. BUT i do enjoy what i call ‘The Higher Grade’ joke and what that means is rather than the joke which everyone in the room finds funny, i prefer the joke that maybe only four or five people will get and especially if there is a pause for a few seconds [often when someone is explaining the joke to their neighbour] and then the laugh comes. In TheatreSports that is my favourite laugh of all.

Let me give you an example. We play a game called ‘Accent Rollercoaster’ in which the actors play out a scene and at different points the MC will call out different accents [provided by the audience before the game begins] and the same story will carry on, but the accent will change. An easy laugh that everyone gets is anytime the accent changes to ‘Xhosa’ and one of the actors says ‘Eish’ or it changes to Russian and someone asks for or mentions ‘vodka’ – instant laugh, but an easy one. And satisfying because it’s a laugh, but what i prefer even above that is a subtle pun or a misdirection where you lead the audience to a really obvious place and then don’t go there. For example, when you are singing a song and you rhyme heavily through out the song and the last two lines you set up the most obvious rhyme:

They were looking for a pilot so they grabbed a poor baboon

then they stuck him in the spaceship and they sent him to the…

The next word is ‘moon’ right? And if i sing ‘moon’ the audience will be impressed because i just made up a silly song and made it rhyme all on the spot, but for me in that moment i will generally go for the misdirection, put huge emphasis on the first rhyming word and then go for the twist, as in:

They were looking for a pilot so they grabbed a poor babOON

then they stuck him in the spaceship and they sent him to the Space Station…

For me it is a cleverer laugh. Possibly the best example of that [and REALLY hard to do but I’ve got it once or twice] is in that game, ‘Jonathan’s Lisp’ i mentioned before where all of one consonant in a scene has become another consonant… if you are really quick and clever and able to think fast while still concentrating on the scene that is happening around you, then there is the possibility of saying a sentence that makes sense both with the old letter and the new letter… and you really have to see it to understand how ridiculously amazing it is when it works but say for example all ‘B’s have become ‘C’s and you are doing a murder mystery and as the detective you announce that:

Aha, I have solved the mystery by looking at all the blues [clues]. The murderer killed him with a Cat [bat].

It actually worked twice in that sentence, but the ridiculousness of killing someone with a cat and then as the audience there is that moment when you are realising, ‘wait all C’s are B’s’ so he actually meant ‘killed him with a bat’ and it’s a double whammy. That is what i mean when i talk to higher grade humour. For me misdirection and a double joke are up there. And because it is so complex, you might find that everyone laughs at the sentence, but a few seconds later you get the people who saw the double joke and there will be the follow up laugh. That for me is priceless.

Introducing No_bob [because he doesn’t!]

Which brings us back to the ‘No_bob’ factor – the original reason i started taking No_bob to talks with me was partly cos i thought it was a cool gimmick, but largely and more intentionally it was as an reaction to the idea of ‘the big man of God speaker on the stage with power and authority’ – i never wanted to become that [see your typical tv evangelist for a great bad example of what i’m referring to]and so i thought to myself, well if i arrive on stage carrying a stuffed toy dolphin, then if anyone in the audience is challenged or changed by anything i say, they are going to attribute it to God rather than ‘that weirdo with the dolphin’ and so this is a way of helping keep the focus off me. The great thing about introducing No_bob is that generally the most i get out of it is a groan [occasionally a laugh and more so as I’ve added the word ‘bob’ to the explanation, where before i used to just say ‘i call him that because he doesn’t’ and a lot of people didn’t make the connection] and then later [the second time i speak or a future occasion] he has become this celebrity dolphin and that is when it kicks in – for most of the first times of using him, i just get weird looks but i’m in it for the long haul and so i continue – i feel like the introduction of a stuffed dolphin at the start of a Christian talk also helps people relax a bit and be open to what might follow.

And it is a true story – i won No_bob on the pier at Brighton by throwing yellow balls into holes and my wooden dolphin ‘swam’ faster than all the other ones and so i won him. I wanted to call him ‘Bob’ because i really liked the name [based on a Rowan Atkinson ‘Blackadder’ sketch where a girl is pretending to be a boy in Victorian England because girls aren’t allowed to work and Blackadder meets ‘him’ and asks his name:

[Blackadder]: What’s your name, boy?

[girl]: Kate.

[Blackadder]: Isn’t that a bit of a… girl’s name?

[girl] It’s er, um, short… for Bob.

Brilliant. But there seemed to be a lot of people or things being named ‘Bob’ at the time so i decided to switch it up a little and because my dolphin is made of material, i realised that if you threw him in an ocean he would not ‘bob’ but sink and so ‘No_bob’ was christened.

So introducing No_bob became a staple to a lot of my talks… and then there were my three made-up jokes [which, i remind you, is rare, cos most often we just steal other peoples’ much better jokes]:

# The first one is my fake testimony, which i know works well with older [middle-aged and above] audiences and yet i keep falling into the trap of telling it to younger audiences and getting pity looks or groans. But older people tend to laugh at more stuff and so this works well in church audiences and bigger crowds:

I was born into and raised by a family of lions. [in fact that is usually the moment that gets a laugh for some reason and so sometimes i will add a ‘it could happen – we all read Jungle Book – which is maybe why it doesn’t work so well for younger audiences, who haven’t!] Then one day i became a christian and God took away my pride! [drum roll]

# The second joke is my ‘The tie joke’ which i am ever so proud of as i came up with it in matric [grade 12] and it generally goes down really well, especially when people know me a little, and has gotten the biggest laughs [and sometimes groans and often a mixture of the two] and it has morphed and grown and evolved through time and i can’t tell it here because it is a visual gag and i usually save it for the last talk on a weekend camp where i have built up a bit of a rapport with the audience. But i made it up and it is quite funny [often, especially the bits i have added in] and other people have copied it and performed it which is the absolute compliment for a joke.

# The third one is my bilingual joke which only works for a very small audience who understand [or have some understanding of] both Afrikaans and French [you know, that huge set of people] but i will try it on you anyways and the bonus is that it is a Knock Knock joke that is genuinely fun or funny [as most of them aren’t, although three are!]

So you have to respond in Afrikaans [maybe Dutch?]

Me: Klop Klop

You: Wie’s daar? [Who is there]

Me: Cellar 

You: Celler wie? [Say this out loud and the French understanding of you will get it]

I think i enjoy that one just cos it’s more nice than funny. It’s just such an aaaahhhhhhhhh joke.

I did recently invent a fourth joke which i think was quite funny, but for the life of me i can’t remember at all what it was, so i am going to have to stick with three unless it comes back.

So armed with my three made-up jokes, my No_bob intro and then often one of the smurf joke [which involves stutter smurf and so is one of those do i or don’t i jokes although everyone i have met who stutters absolutely loves it], the meat hanging from the ceiling[more groan than laugh – the steaks/stakes are too high – so pretty lame pun but works on the young] or my dog “true story” joke [ ‘i,m going to have to put your dog down’ – ‘you’re going to put my dog down just because he’s cross-eyed? –  ‘No sir, he’s just getting really heavy’] which can go either way but i don’t tell it so much any more since i made some people cry the one time by being so convincing in the first half of the telling of the joke [and then they got mad with me] i usually have a good entry point into a message.

my messages tend to be more 10% humour up front and then 90% seriousish with humour moments scattered along the way as i do the thing i think i am more gifted at, which is reading the crowd and improvising humour lines or adding to moments and happenings that present themselves. so generally people end up being entertained but also challenged or convicted or encouraged if all goes well.

i really do think the difference between actual stand-up and my preaching which many might describe as stand-up-esque is the fact that with the preaching i have a base idea of the story i am trying to tell whereas i have not been able to figure that out as far as the stand-up is concerned.

and i am still not done… this is starting to feel like a bit of an autobiography and i imagine the length of it has lost a lot of people, but i am enjoying writing about this stuff, and perhaps glimpsing into my own soul, and so i will see it to its end, which i really do imagine will be the next part – i think we only have silly videos, one liners and trying to get a Valerie laugh to go…

but thanks for reading, if you have, i appreciate it.

[the truth about the fame of No_bob, who had a song written about him by a really popular band back in the day called Serving Suggestion which audiences loved, is that on two occasions i went to speak somewhere and i was introduced and maybe 5 to 15 people clapped or registered some kind of ‘oh, Brett Anderson, i’ve heard of him’ response [in a room of well over 150 people] and then i got up to speak and as i pulled No_bob out of my pocked a third or more of the room erupted in applause – that’s when you know!]

‘Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.’ [Terry Pratchett]