'Don't say anything funny' -- Cecilia Peartree

I recently took part in a podcast created by Ben Bruce in a new series called 'Criminally Inspired', available via Spotify but we recorded it on Zoom. We ran through more or less my entire writing career in three-quarters of an hour, trying to work out between us what my sources of inspiration were. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, which ranged from my first 'book', written in pencil in a notebook almost as soon as I'd learnt to write, through the children's plays my son and I co-wrote for our local youth drama group, to my current relentless production line of lightweight mysteries.

Once the podcast was released it took me a while to make myself listen to it, but when I did I was surprised to find how much I had laughed during the recording, particularly when I recalled some of the drama group efforts - an example being the point at which my son had to fling himself into the wings as King Neptune, do a quick change out of his blue robes and silky white (fake) beard, cast aside his trident and reappear on stage as forlorn castaway Ken Rifle. Yes, I confess it, we had freely adapted Treasure Island for that year's Christmas show.

Hearing myself laugh on the podcast reminded me how annoying some people have found me and my tendency to make fun of myself and others over the years. When I had a day job in an art gallery, it happened that some of us had to re-organise a collection of prints, drawings and photographs so that the items were easy to retrieve once stored in a hi-tech system. One of my colleagues and I were then asked to give a presentation at an international conference in Germany about the technology we used, our retrieval system and the history behind it, which wasn't as boring as it sounds! However the colleague had to drop out almost at the last minute so I merged the two parts of the presentation together and delivered both of them. The only piece of advice he gave me before I left for Germany was 'Don't say anything funny.'

I felt quite indignant about this as I never actually tried to say anything funny on these occasions, though I had to admit people sometimes laughed, especially when I mentioned any problems/disasters we had experienced along the way. Anyway, this time I tried harder not to be at all amusing, particularly as there was an extremely serious speaker from the British Museum ahead of me on the programme. However, the audience laughed quite a bit, and the first person I spoke to afterwards commented,
'I really enjoyed your presentation - it was so funny.'


Incidentally, my father, a chemistry lecturer, and my brother, a museum curator, were both humorous when they spoke in public, and during my family history research I came across a reference in newspaper archives to my father's grandfather having made an 'amusing speech' to a gathering of farmers in a small town in Perthshire, so perhaps it's all in the genes and I really can't help it!

The Herzog August library - our stately conference venue

The Wolf of Wolfenb├╝ttel


Susan Price said…
'Don't say anything funny' is ridiculous advice to a speaker!
Standard advice, I believe, is, 'Start with a joke,' and 'Make them laugh straight away.'
The audience that laughs with you, stays with you.
Carry on saying funny things, Cecilia! Most of us are desperate for a laugh.
Yes, I always prefer people to laugh when I'm speaking in public - it usually suggests they are taking some notice!

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