The Hero’s Journey
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
I have a gig tonight.
A stand-up comedy gig. The gig is in a place near Derby. To be more specific, Belper. To be less specific, England. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? Probably more exciting than what you’re doing with your pathetic little life.
Nah sorry, I don’t mean that. That was mean. I hear things are actually going pretty well for you at the moment. Apparently, you’ve got a job in admin now, is that right? Anyway, sounds good. The only reason I called you pathetic is because I’m nervous for my gig.
Here’s the problem: I don’t have any material. None whatsoever. Well, none that will work anyway. So in many ways I’m just as pathetic as you are. Or we’re both equally unpathetic. You know what I’m tryna say anyway.
But I’m proper shitting myself. I’m looking at the jokes I have written in my laptop now and I can guarantee none of them will work. They’re all a bit outdated. A new craze has taken hold of the stand-up circuit recently, and it’s scary for a dinosaur like me. It started spreading in that long hot summer of March 2018. While everyone else was out playing swingball in the sweltering heat, the tastemakers of the comedy industry were plotting the next fad. Now it seems everyone has to have a “Train Bit”.
These days, if you go to any comedy club in England or Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland (man I wish there was a name for that grouping!) then you’re guaranteed to see a twenty-something floppy-haired comedian in skinny jeans telling you about the scrapes they got into on their train to the gig.
All the new young comics have good train stories. Especially male ones. It’s the new “my girlfriend won’t give me a blowjob”. They come on, say, “The funniest thing happened to me on the way here tonight,” and then proceed to blow the roof off the gig with tales of ticket mishaps and funny conversations with strangers.
It’s brilliant stuff. Audiences love it.
But for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it’s done. I have jokes about being unattractive, being sad, Greggs, Belgium, Harry Redknapp, the fact that orphans are annoying – basically all the old comedy classics. But now, almost overnight, they’ve become irrelevant. And I can’t seem to come up with anything train-related.
The good news is: I’m on a train right now. Belper bound. And I’m hoping that if I keep a look out then something funny might happen. That way I can have a good gig and also give you an entertaining read. It must be so fucking boring for you doing that admin job all day. What is it, just like data entry?
Ah, tell me later.
So. I’m sat down. On a seat. Not funny so far, I’ll admit that. I’m on one of those seats with the table. Where there’re like 4 seats around it and plugs and… Who am I kidding? You went to school, you know the ways of the world; I don’t need to explain a train-table to you.
Btw is the job like full-time? Like do you still have time for creative pursuits? It’s just been so long since we’ve spoken it would be nice to catch up. If that’s still something you’re up for?
Okay, I’m gonna try and stop addressing you directly now.
There’s a married couple opposite me, both reading the Metro. I presume they’re married because they’re wearing wedding rings, but maybe there’s more to it. Maybe they’re role-playing. Maybe they’re posing as a married couple as part of some huge bank-heist plot. You can never really know people’s backstories. But also, they tell me they’re married.
“Thanks for the info,” I say, non-sarcastically.
It’s a man and a woman. At least I presume they’re a man and a woman. Gender is fluid; maybe they’re both women, or both men, or both non-binary. Writing about strangers is a minefield. How can you know anything?
Luckily, they also tell me their genders.
They say (in unison): “Young man, we want you to know that, gender-wise, we identify exactly as you’d expect us to.”
I’m not sure how they know I’m a man, but let me tell you now: they’re bang on. Still, I’m getting a weird vibe from them.
These guys are swingers, is my first thought. I really fancy a curry, is my second thought. Often my second thought is unrelated to the situation I’m in. It’s so hard to stay in the present. How am I ever gonna get a girlfriend when I’ve got such bad posture? Is my third thought. I need to reply to these swingers, is my fourth thought. Back on track.
“I’m not interested in having sex with you,” I say.
There’s a silence, and then they both pick up copies of the Metro. I hate having to let down swingers. I don’t really know what to do now. Maybe it could be funny if I started speaking to them again. A lot of the best “train bits” are when the comedian tells the audience about a conversation they had on the train. I can do that.
“Excuse me guys,” I say.
They put down their copies of the Metro.
“How’s it going?” I say.
“What?” The man says.
“How’s it going?” I say, again.
They both stare at me awkwardly.
I didn’t think this through, I think to myself.
I look at my feet. I hate how bad I am at talking to strangers – it makes me feel invisible.
I may not be a people-person but I’m still a person, people!
We were always good at conversations weren’t we. Remember? Before you got your admin job and stopped speaking to me. If you’ve lost my number then that’s fine. It’s 07469969019. Just give me a call after work or something.
Right anyway, someone else has just come and sat next to us. It’s another man. This man is middle-aged and also a bit fat but I doubt that’s relevant. I don’t really know how to write well yet, so I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to describe the people in my blog. I could go into more detail about this guy, but middle-aged and fat is probably enough for you to get a mental image. I’ve just realised I haven’t described what the married couple look like either. They’re also middle-aged and carrying a bit of irrelevant weight.
The man and the married couple have started speaking to each other and they’re getting on like a house on fire. He’s doing much better than I was. I got on with them like a house not on fire. Like a normal house. People need flames in their conversation.
I am like a conversational fire-extinguisher…
…I really really fancy a curry…
This is going terribly. There’s 40 minutes until the train gets to Belper and I still don’t have any material. I know if you were here instead of in that stupid office then it wouldn’t be like this. You’d notice something funny and I’d riff on it and with our chemistry we’d flesh it out into something amazing. I miss doing comedy with you.
They’re talking about politics now. Or football, I’m not sure. I heard the word Brexit but the man from the married couple has started going on about a game England played against Nigeria a couple of months ago. He’s livid because apparently the Nigeria top sold out in England.
“In England,” he says. “Just shows you how many of them are here.”
Phew. They’re not swingers. They’re just racists.
I breathe a sigh of relief and also carbon dioxide.
Wait a second, racism is worse!
I suck the relief and the carbon dioxide back up.
But actually, maybe this is my chance. I can take on these racists and get a story out of it for my gig. If it all goes well, it’ll launch my career. I’ll go on stage, start off with some of my usual stuff about being unattractive, then tell them about this silly racist couple. After that, I’ll use my anecdote to make a wider point about the structural barriers that are in the way of racial equality. If there’s one thing people love and find funny, it’s systemic racial oppression being tackled by someone who’s young and white. And I’m wearing skinny jeans. Everything is shaping up.
How to go about it though?
I’ll intellectually dominate them using all the big words I learned when I was at university.
“Alumni,” I say.
“Safe-space, paradigm, Erasmus, power-structures, ketamine.”
The couple are unmoved by my intellect. I decide to change tack and dumb it down for them.
“Listen, ya dummies. We should build bridges, not walls. Capiche?”
They just say nothing. In fact, they look at me as if I’m the weird one. Goddamit. I need to get something from these people.
“So, where y’all getting off?” I say in a Texan accent, trying to mix it up.
No one replies. Again. It seems like this racist couple aren’t gonna give me a funny story after all. Maybe nothing will. It’s so frustrating. I just want something to happen, something to talk about. Do you remember this feeling?
I slump back in my chair, defeated, and then… BOOM!
The train veers off the track. My heartbeat starts to rise rapidly as the sound of things falling apart beneath us is accompanied by screaming. This is it – as the train careens into the adjacent trees, I feel momentarily weightless, the gravity of the situation the only thing holding me in place. I’m about to come face-to-face with mortality. My search for a humorous anecdote has taken the darkest of turns, all along my life was a black comedy and this is the punchline.
Nah, I’m kidding. Of course that’s not happening. But I can sense this train journey will become interesting very soon. I have a feeling.
A hand taps me on the shoulder.
I turn around and behold the most beautiful female human I’ve ever seen in my life. She just has one of those faces. You know one of those faces? That people have? Yeah – she has one of them. Definite plus point for me. I’ve met a few faceless girls in my time and they’re difficult to connect with. This girl has it all – eyes, ears, a nose, cheeks. She has lovely cheeks. Her cheeks are so smooth I want to politely ask permission to kiss them. Oh and her hair. Don’t get me started on her hair. Blonde, flowing locks resting atop her big massive magumbos. I’m mesmerised.
She possesses a beauty so powerful it could end all war, all racism, and the ongoing debate over whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit. Throw your guns, racial bigotry and snacks away lads – and check out this smoking hot chick.
Nah I’m lying again. It’s just the ticket guy. And he’s all mardy that instead of showing him my ticket I’m typing this. But you see, I just want something to tell you, and to tell the audience later. Even if I have to lie, at least it might make the audience laugh and make my life seem interesting. Then maybe you’ll quit your job in admin and do comedy again and all the regret I feel about pushing you away will disappear.
Our friendship always gave me good material, even though you hated that I used it. Is that why you went? Did I mine too much from our friendship? It’s just so hard to get a good joke together without using other people.
I get up off my seat, stand up tall, and decide to take matters into my own hands.
“Ahem,” I say.
The people in the carriage pause and begin to look at me.
“Guys, I’ve not been completely honest with you today. I know I’ve presented myself here as just like one of you guys, and ordinary citizen looking for small-talk. But I’m actually a stand-up comedian in desperate need of some train-based material. And I thought by talking to you guys, I could manufacture that myself. But I can now see how wrong I was to approach things like that. So can one of you please please please answer this simple question: What is funny about this train journey?”
Confused murmurs spread throughout the carriage. People’s faces saying: what is funny about this train? It’s a question that is deceptively simple yet deeply perplexing; tears can be heard coming from children and adults alike as they try to wrap their heads around it.
The enormity of it all hits me. I stand there paralysed, the moment seems to last an eternity, stretching out longer than a commercially successful but artistically bankrupt American TV series. I’m Lost.
Suddenly a man shouts something out that breaks my stupor:
“Sit down you twat,” he says.
The whole carriage bursts into laughter.
I look around and see the sheer joy on people’s faces as they react to the man’s outburst; some stifling laughter, others completely going for it. The racist couple are giggling like gender-fluid schoolchildren. Everyone is looking in my direction.
And now I realise: the funny thing on the train is ME.
I’m the joke. I’ve spent this whole journey looking for something to supply me with answers but all along it was inside of me. Can you believe it? I don’t need a “train bit” or conversational skills or a curry or someone with big massive magumbos – I just need to be my silly little self, that’s what makes people happy. That’s what makes me happy. This is what you were trying to tell me. You used to hate me doing stand-up and blogs about you. You told me I needed to be myself. And that’s so clear to me now. Whenever I’m myself, good things happen. When I’m scared and doubt myself, and lose the positivity that naturally resides within, things go wrong. I’ve been afraid for too long – the real me is positive and brave and wants to share what I have with the world.
“Twat,” the man repeats.
More laughter ensues. I feel accepted. I feel warm. I have a purpose. I know how to go forward with my life.
And I promise, no more blogs about you.
Anyway, that’s about it.
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