Am I a Clown Pt 1





In one of the great scenes in GoodFellas Henry Hill, Tommy DeVito, Tony Stacks, Frankie Carbone and a few others are sat round the table in The Bamboo Lounge, drinking. Tommy is recounting getting a beat down administered to him by the feds and has the rest of the table in stitches. He finishes his story and Henry, in between hysterics, tells him what a funny guy he is.



What you mean i'm funny?



In the blinking of an eye the mood switches.






Funny how? What's funny about it? Am I a clown? I make you laugh? Am I hear to fucken amuse you?



It's just the way you tell the story, Henry protests. It's.... funny.



*



It's just the way you tell the story.



Some time back in the noughties my brother and i found ourselves on Shaftesbury Avenue a little bit past midnight, having just been to a gig in the West End, waiting for the night bus to take us home from Piccadilly. Just by the bus stop, opposite the old Trocadero which is now a fancy cinema, stands one of those late night pizza takeaway outlets. With no bus in sight and both peckish my brother thought it'd be a touch to get a pizza for the ride home. By the time we'd paid the number 19 was upon us, and pizza box in hand, we headed up to the top deck to soak in the panoramic backdrop of a twinkling London night as we gorged.






We made quick work of the first two slices as the Routemaster trundled along Piccadilly and down the hill towards Hyde Park Corner. It was a hot summer night and i opened one of the small windows to let some air in, weary of stinking out the top deck with the smell of pepperoni. After the third slice our greed showed signs of waning, and by the time we reached the Kings Road our stomachs were signalling that all down there was tip-top, and maybe even in danger of tipping over.


Chelsea's main artery lay empty. As the night bus rattled down it ramping up to speeds it could only have dreamt of whilst paralysed in daytime traffic, a last lonely slice of tepid double pepperoni lay languishing in the corner of the box, and my brother offered it to me. I'm done, i said. What happened next follows such a strange turn of events that it needs to be broken down into stages and relayed in the present tense.






T U R N  o f  E V E N T S


1. Displaying a logic that to this day i struggle to comprehend, my brother gathers up the slice of pizza, and showing a snap of the wrist familiar only to ardent frisbee enthusiasts, launches it out of the window of the moving bus.


2. I follow the trajectory of the pizza backwards as it flies through the night sky away from us, pulled downwards all the while by its gravity.


3. A man is standing by a lamp post just outside the big Marks & Spencer.


4. The pizza's odyssey through the night sky comes to an end and finds a resting place, slapping hard against it, sticking to it.


5. That resting place is the man's face.


6. Signals begin to forge a path from my retina along my optic nerve in the direction of my visual cortex, and the realisation of what exactly has just happened begins to dawn on me.


*


You know those high-speed trains that scare the life out of you as they careen through train stations with no intention of stopping, breaking the sound barrier as they go. Imagine if laughter was said-station. And if laughter was such a station, then watching a man getting slapped in the face by a slice of pizza thrown from the window of a moving bus was that high-speed train. This juggernaut wasn't stopping at laughter. It was never going to stop there. Whatever was going on in my brain, laughter was an insufficient way of processing what had just taken place. 



*



7. In a split second i went from perception to computation, leapfrogging laughter like evolution had never cared to dream it up, and something else happened, something deeper and more meaningful.


8. I shat myself.






9. Aggressively.


10. Then and there, sitting on top of that night bus on that balmy evening of late summer, as a tide of heat began to move across the seat under me, my life took a strange turn.


My brother, who had been oblivious to the world since launching the pizza out of the window only seconds before, looked at the expression on my face and asked me what the hell was up. I don't remember what i replied. I remember the feeling that washed over me as the smell of pepperoni on the top-deck was usurped by a different one. I remember the last four stops on the route 19 taking ten lifetimes. I remember the five minute walk back from the bus-stop that became a fifteen minute improvised shuffle. I remember tears in the shower, binning my favourite Y-fronts, i remember going to bed with the light on. I left a part of me behind on that bus.





I want to be very clear. There's the expression i pissed myself laughing or at a stretch that was so funny i shat myself. But what happened didn't happen because i laughed so hard. There was no laughter. The pizza hit the guy in the face, my eyes opened very wide for a split-second as i harnessed all the visual information i could, and i straight-up soiled myself. No sound came out of my mouth.


I want to speak to a doctor about this. Can things be so funny that your central nervous system encounters system overload, and you lose control of your insides so totally that your only recourse is to shit yourself. Evolution has a reason for everything. 


*


That's my best story. 



I have another one about cycling into the Regent's canal without meaning to, but i think the night bus pizza story tops canal-gate. The reason i told it at such length is because it's a case-study. A precursor to some things i want to say about the distinction between content and delivery. Because the thing is, i can't tell that story half as well as i can write it. Content vs delivery. Sometimes content is so good that delivery is secondary. But rarely i think. This is the first part of an investigation into story-telling, the power of oratory, how maybe what we say doesn't matter as much as how we say it.



Nabokov, the guy who wrote Lolita, once said...






I think like a genius, i write like a distinguished author, and i speak like a child.



*



Hot on the heels of this will be part 2, where i talk about story-telling traditions, stand-up comedy, history's greatest orators, and i wonder if you can actually tell anybody anything if you only say it in the right way. In the words of Henry Hill sitting there in The Bamboo Lounge, cold-sweating, protesting his innocence and the best of his intentions to Tommy DeVito...





It's just the way you tell the story.





2 comments:

  1. I once tried to impress a boy by farting loudly. Instead I sharted. It wasn't funny. He didn't notice; I had to drive home to change my bombachas.

    Yours was an extreme physiological reaction to an undeniably hilarious event.

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  2. I want to set the story straight. It was a Pizza Hut pizza. It was half the pizza I threw out of the window, that hit the guy. We never went to Picadilly circus, or a gig. Also, Mingo was wearing white Tommy Hilfiger trousers, and the poo got near the ankle fold. Also, there was a lot of laughter

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