A Similar Bent By Jan Needle

Nobody’s ever accused me of being a philosopher, but I can boast that people have been pondering over my sense of humour all my life, give or take the years of non-verbal communication (gurgles, etc, you know the kind of thing).

One school, led by people of a similar bent (the clever ones) find it very funny, and possibly even excellent. Others (sadly many of them women) find it generally unfunny, sometimes unfunny in the extreme, and occasionally, a damned disgrace. No names no packdrill; they know who they are.

Carl Grose as Waggie
In the day-to-day, of course, this makes very little odds (give or take the occasional bowl of spaghetti bolognaise emptied over my head – {only one occasion, to be strictly honest}), and even as a writer it’s probably done less harm than good. Only one (woman) reviewer hated Wagstaffe the Wind-Up Boy – on the amazing grounds that it was ‘mean-minded.’ I still wake up in the middle of the afternoon sometimes sweating over that.

Why, madam, why, why, why? It’s about a little boy whose parents find him so horrible that they run away from home to join a circus, and he celebrates by playing on the M62, gets squashed by a lorry (a Mercedes 16-32, from memory), and is fitted out with clockwork insides. And he still goes and saves their lives while they’re going over the Niagara Falls in a pedalo for a stunt. Mean-minded? The child’s a saint.

What’s more, lots of people think so. Apart from the sackfuls of letters I’ve had from children over the years, apparently sane adults have spent thousands of hours and quids disseminating it. First off the blocks were Kneehigh Theatre, when they did a touring version that ended up in London. It was written by one of their actor/writer/associates called Carl Grose, who had read it as a Truro comprehensive boy and claims it’s what made him want to be a writer.

It’s also been done in other theatres, and several people in television harbour dreams of raising enough loot to cartoonise it. Kath Shackleton, whose Yorkshire-based company Fettle Animation have had it on the back-burner for a couple of years, has a cup of tea with me every now and then for a little bit of plotting and dreaming. In between winning a Bafta recently for their marvellous Holocaust sequence of cartoons.

Anyway, back to my favourite subject (“The only thing that really interests me – is ME” – Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, remember?).

Jack Trevor Story: Another dubious GSOH?
My sense of humour, it is widely held, comes straight from my old mother. She’s been dead these many years, and would be highly amused, if not at all surprised, that I’ve no idea how many. The manner of her ashes-spreading ceremony would also have made her laugh her socks off. Me and my sister’s husband took the plassie urn out into the Solent in his boat, and he held the tiller while I took the lid off and received the contents in my face, hair and beard. Bloody woman must have spirited the gust up on the instant. No photo though, because I’d just taken one of Eric at the helm looking serious, and then the battery gave up, as if by magic. We both imagined we could hear her laughing.

Sample of my mother’s humour: a couple of weeks after my father died, and six months after her dog, somebody asked her: ‘Do you miss Jim, Dot?’ She smiled her mysterious smile.

‘Not as much as I miss Yogi.’

So if you thought I was being sexist about the female giggle muscle, I was not. Nor about reactions. Many ladies thought my ma was scandalous as well. Men too, I think. Jim, to name but one…

A recent comment underneath the AE blog revealed that Bill Kirton, another nautical type from the south coast of England, appears to reveal that he’s got a humour sense not unlike my own. He likes Viz, a scurrilous and quite disgusting magazine produced in Geordie-land and featuring such stalwarts as Sid the Sexist, the Fat Slags, the Drunken Bakers, George Bestial, et al.  I actually have a subscription.

The current issue features a page entitled The Male Online, which is a wonderful excoriation of that most frightening of British ‘newspapers’ with a slightly different spelling. It features such headlines as Health and Safety Stalinists to Crucify Jesus Again, and I laughed so much (as we used to say in Hampshire) ‘moi leg went rusty.’ It occurs to me that Bill and I both moved way way way up north at some time in our lives. Could it be significant, dost think?

Anyway, I’ve lost me thread a bit now, and it’s almost dinner time. One of the ladies will knock me something up, I have no doubt. I need to fortify the inner man, because I’ve just remembered – I’ve got a blog to write!


Bill Kirton said…
You, young man, are a treasure and I want to see the movie and the TV series featuring Wagstaffe. I know, as writers, we'd all love to change the world, make people better or, at the very least, make them think, but one of the best things we can do in the process is make them laugh - and you never fail to achieve that.

Just one thing, while it's true that I do enjoy the hilarious if oft-times vulgar imaginings of the Viz collective, my own humour is of the refined, sophisticated, Wildean variety which would have had my own dear, long-departed mum saying 'I suppose you think that's clever'.
Susan Price said…
I'm as baffled as you as to how Wagstaffe can be called 'mean-minded.' As for the male vs female sense of humour, I'm equally puzzled.

I've always found humour aimed mainly at a male audience makes me laugh like a drain - whereas the 'humour' in magazines aimed at women is utterly feeble and unfunny. I can only suppose that the editors of these magazines know their business and their market.

And yet, when I look around at my women friends, I find that, in general, they make and laugh at jokes just as filthy, surreal and dark as my male friends - so why isn't this reflected in their magazines? Why doesn't Woman's Own carry cartoons as funny as those in Private Eye or Viz?
Mari Biella said…
This woman certainly enjoys your sense of humour, Jan, though since I'm notoriously slow on the uptake it can take a while for jokes in general to penetrate my thick skull...
glitter noir said…
Delightful reading, Jan. Welcome to the ranks of rude rascals.
Dennis Hamley said…
It was Jan Mark who introduced me to Viz and especially Billy the Fish, who, I expect, saved his last penalty years ago and has gone to the great goalposts in the sky. That it was another Jan, whose caustic wit delighted so many lives, says quite a lot about women's humour. Most women I know would agree with you, Sue. Sneaking crafty looks at women's magazines in doctors'surgeries makes my heart sink.

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