Saturday, September 18, 2010

You had to be there.

Having published two comic mysteries (or so it says in that bit on the right), I have the unmitigated chutzpah to occasionally refer to myself as a professional humorist. Not a bad thing for the gravestone, mind.

But the fact is, I can only remember two marginally quick-witted things I've ever said without having to think about it first. They both take a bit of set-up (and now that I have thought about it, they're not very funny).

The first was back when I was working in Citibank's corporate headquarters. The boss's boss's secretary was a lady well past retirement age, whom I always found charming, although my female colleagues had other opinions about the extent of her affinity with Satan. It was the time when personal records were being computerized and centralized, and her advanced years clearly thwarted the programmer's expectations.

"Well, I typed in my birthdate, and it said 'invalid,'" she declared proudly, beaming. (Pronounced in-VAL-id.)

"That wasn't in-VAL-id, it was IN-valid," I shot back.

Yeah, I know. And anyway, she was slightly deaf and didn't hear me. The other time -- I was prompted by remembering that Edinburgh show, bugger, 32 years ago -- was back in England. One of my fellow performers, having completed his initial medical degree at Oxford and put in the appropriate time at a London teaching hospital -- Barts, I think -- was given his first assignment as a fully fledged doctor.

"I'm going to Bury St. Edmunds," he announced.

"Why, was St. Edmunds one of your patients?" I quipped.

Of course, to get the joke, you have to know that Bury St. Edmunds is the name of a town in Suffolk. And I also have a vague feeling that the conversation with John actually went like this.
"I'm going to Bury St. Edmunds."
"Why, was he one of your patients?"
"Was who one of my patients?"
"St. Edmunds."
"I don't have any patient called St. Edmunds. I haven't started yet."
"No, you said you were going to 'Bury' St. Edmunds."
"Well, I am."
"But I meant Bury as in put someone underground. Because he's dead. Bury . . . St. Edmunds. Get it?"
Etc. Move over, Oscar.

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