And on the seventh day, there was no more laughter

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The Independent Culture
YESTERDAY MORNING at about 7.50, the man on Radio 4's Today said, "Now it's time for Thought for the Day..."

I don't know about you, but 7.50am seems a bit early in the day to me to start having thoughts. I immediately leapt across the room in an effort to locate the radio, operate the off switch and cut off Thought for the Day in its prime, but I was too late. A clergyman had come on the air. Not only had a clergyman come on the air, but he had said: "Well, it's National Laughter Week this week, and you may be surprised to hear this, but Jesus Christ did crack a few jokes as well, you know..."

It was at that point that I got to the off switch. But it was too late. The clergyman's merciless introduction had already given risen to several of my own Thoughts. Here they are, in no particular order:

1 Who exactly is it who nominates these weeks?

2 Who on earth thinks we need a Laughter Week?

3 Who on earth thinks that anyone is going to behave any differently because we have a National Laughter Week?

4 Whatever happened to that sketch which my friend Alan and I wrote about the stand-up vicar?

I was musing over these Thoughts for the Day (which are, in fact, all questions) as I shaved, and the answer to the first one came to me in a flash. The Church. It's the Church that started the idea of special weeks. It started the idea of National Renunciation Month, for instance. Only it didn't call it that; it called it Lent. Then they invented National Pre-Christmas Panic Month, and called it Advent, and National No Meat Friday, and so on. What else is Easter but National Death and Resurrection Weekend? The people who organise National Laughter Week and Red Nose Day and National No Car Day are only following on a long way behind the Catholic Church. So I suppose it was only fair that a clergyman should come on Radio 4 and lend his authority to National Laughter Week.

(As to who nominates the weeks, it would be foolish even to inquire. No doubt there is a quango sitting there doing it, and convinced that it is doing important work, just as there is a committee sitting there making sure that rude words do not appear on British vehicle number plates, another one deciding what pictures should go on the next British stamps, another one getting towns twinned, another one dreaming up ways of making British cars more expensive, and so on. They all think they are doing good work, bless them. Don't wake them up.)

Being in the humorous trade myself, I find the idea of National Laughter Week a little odd. Every week is National Laughter Week for me. If at the end of the week one little, old retired neurologist in Eastbourne has chuckled over something I have written, had a heart attack and keeled over, then I am happy. But you wouldn't know from my face that I am happy. Like all people employed, however loosely, in the humour trade, I am morose to the outward world, perpetually obsessed by the vicious way in which real life constantly comes up with things we never thought of inventing, and people back away at the sight of my scowl.

(What people need is a National Gloom Week, perhaps. Well, perhaps not people. Perhaps just me. A week in which it would be considered quite normal to go round snarling slightly, sighing heavily at mealtimes, shaking fists at motorists and telling shop assistants that whether or not you have a nice day is up to you, and will they please keep their nose out of your business? At the end of a week of licit melancholy, how refreshed you would feel for the ensuing 51 dismal weeks of cheering up!)

I have not, for many years, obeyed the injunction of any day or week, apart from This Is Your Last Chance To Get Your Tax Sorted Out Week, which I am delighted to see is here again. Nor for many years have I located the sketch which my friend Alan and I once started, in which a trendy vicar delivered a sermon in the shape of a stand-up comic monologue. The idea was that we would take ideas from the Bible and turn them into music- hall formulae. "Anyway, there was this prodigal son and he went into a pub, right? Prodigal? I'll say he was prodigal! He was so prodigal that..."

We never got much further than that. We got the formulae, but it was the punch lines that floored us. The only joke we ever completed, as I remember, went like this:

"Esau was a hairy man. Hairy? You didn't know what hair was till you saw Esau! He was the hairiest thing in the whole of the Old Testament! Blimey - even the Red Sea had a parting!"

This has been National Bible Gag Week. I thank you. And now a little hymn, a little hymn entitled...