Back Story

There are very few worthwhile autobiographies. One that is actually quite fun ist „Back Story“ by the columnist/ gameshow-host and -guest/ comedian David Mitchell. Here a few quotes that should test, if your sense of humor is along his lines. Afterwards a video of his „Soapbox“, which I also highly recommend.

On his mothers interior behaviour:

My mother often leaves unattended scented candles on top of the television which has, in my view, nearly caused a fire on dozens of occasions. My use of the word ‘nearly’ is open to criticism here because it has never actually caused a fire and I’ve never had to visit my parents at the I Told You So Burns and Smoke Inhalation Clinic.

Everyone’s still going to church every week apart from my mother, who’s a Christian Scientist and goes somewhere different (Why does our family always have to do something weird, I used to grumble. It was the same when they bought me that odd brand of disc drive for my BBC Micro which my dad said was better, but I just wanted the one everyone else was getting), and my dad, whose religion is ‘Ask your mother’.

On lobsters

I am not saying lobsters are evil. The fact that they are hard, cold, spiny and viciously armed, rather than large-eyed and soft-furred, is not, I realise, a moral failing. It is arbitrary, maybe even prejudiced, that humans tend to lavish affection on fellow warm-blooded mammals and quite right that those who choose to keep spiders, snakes and scorpions as pets should not be run out of town as twisted perverts but respected as animal-lovers.

On his brother and abortion:

Unlike most best men, I can take the story of the groom right back to the beginning. Well, almost. I’m not going to start discussing my parents’ love life of the early ’80s. That never goes well on occasions such as these. But I do remember when I was told, at the age of seven, that I was soon going to have a little brother or sister.

I think my parents were concerned about what my reaction would be because they presented the news as if it was an event entirely designed to please me. ‘You know how you like having friends round to play? And you get annoyed that that can’t happen more often?’ they said. ‘Well, soon there’ll be someone for you to play with all the time!’

I was good at maths. I did a quick calculation. This sibling, I reasoned, was still some months away and I was getting older all the time. So, when this new person was nought, I would be seven and a half. When I was nine, he would be one and a half. ‘Someone for me to play with?!’ I exclaimed to my parents. ‘I don’t play with people who are six! People who are eight don’t play with me! How long will it be before he can talk?’ ‘A year and a half,’ ventured my mother. A year and a half?! That was more time than I could imagine. And presumably, even then, my one-and-a-half-year-old brother wouldn’t exactly be a sophisticated conversationalist. It appeared that my parents’ well-meaning ‘get David a friend to play with’ scheme was hopelessly ill thought-through. ‘Is there any way it can be stopped?’ I asked. I must be one of the few best men ever to have toasted the marriage of a man he initially advocated aborting.

And, on a more abstract level, about slapstick

Slapstick on its own is never more than fleetingly amusing. To really get the belly laughs, it has to be surrounded by character. This is why Peter Sellers is a genius and Norman Wisdom is not. Wisdom falls beautifully, with acrobatic comic skill, but his characters always look like they’re going to fall. They are ready and willing to slip, tumble and crack their skulls to get laughs. Sellers, particularly as Clouseau, has dignity. He comes across as someone who would be mortified to be involved in even the most low-key of pratfalls. Despite his long history of accidents and clumsiness, his expectation is still, inexplicably, that he will meet every new situation with unruffled savoir-faire. It is making that unlikely attitude so plausible and likeable that is the mark of a brilliant comic actor. So when Clouseau falls face first into his hostess’s tits, or puts his hand into a wedding cake to steady himself or has his trousers blown off by a bomb, we believe that he is mortified. It’s not the physical but the emotional pain that really makes us laugh. It’s not about how Sellers falls, it’s about how he gets up.

The Carnival

Whatever carnival performers do (which is whinge about hamstring injuries and touch their parents for cash, I imagine; we may be a country that can cope with fancy dress, but the concept of ‘carnival’ is beyond us and I suspect that British carnival acts are the preserve of those intellectually sloppy but counter-culturally inclined children of the middle classes too lazy to train as homeopaths and too prudish for burlesque).

And finally, he is spot on about grooming.

It annoys me to be living in an era where one of the few traditional male attributes that I naturally possess – an aversion to grooming, pampering and perfume – is no longer valued.

Indeed, for transparent marketing reasons, it’s positively discouraged. My attitude that hair should be neatly cut, washed in shampoo but not conditioned or gunked up with ‘product’ is almost frowned upon now, as if displaying a want of personal hygiene. Answering the question ‘How would you like to smell?’ by saying ‘I’d rather I didn’t’ is also no longer acceptable.

It’s not playing the game. Men are expected to put some cash into the cosmetic pot too – it’s seen as almost un-feminist not to. What a uniquely capitalist response to that gender inequality: women have been forced by convention for generations – millennia – to spend money on expensive clothes and agonising shoes, to daub themselves with reality-concealing slap, to smell expensively inhuman, to self-mutilate in pursuit of eternal youth; and this, quite rightly, has come to be deemed unfair. But how do we end this hell? We make men do it too. Well done everyone.