No 41 in the series:
A Man Who Trains
"I was looking at a Victorian book of music hall jokes the other day," says Jim Trott, "and it was very interesting. It wasn't very funny, but it was very interesting. One of the jokes read simply, `Chase me, girls, for I am full of rhubarb!' Now, what does that mean?"
I don't know. Did rhubarb have a special meaning in Victorian days?
"I've no idea," says Jim Trott. "But I tell you this. It must have got a laugh at the time or they wouldn't put it in. The thing is, not only do all tag-lines and catch-phrases go out of date, they also only work when they're done by the man who's right for them. We don't know who the man was who did the rhubarb joke, so we don't laugh, because we can't hear his tone of voice."
So, when comedians come to you for training, do you suggest material that's right for their voice?
"Something like that. I mean, I couldn't give a Tim Vine joke to Ben Elton, could I? Or vice versa."
What's a Tim Vine joke?
"Basically it's a weak pun, done so charmingly that you laugh."
Can you give us an example?
"Sure. I thought of one this morning. Man gives a prostitute a twenty pound note. She gives him a fiver back. Sex change..."
What? Oh... sex change... I see.
"Yeah, well, you didn't laugh because I wasn't as winning as Tim Vine. But if you had Ben Elton doing a joke about prostitutes, he'd never do anything like that in a million years. In fact, he wouldn't do jokes about prostitutes, because he's on the side of the victim. So he'd go a bit like this..."
Jim Trott glares at me balefully, then sneers slightly. He is Ben Elton, suddenly.
"People talk about the prostitution problem, ladies 'n' gentlemen," he intones. "But the prostitution problem isn't prostitutes. It's men! It's men's base demands that make girls provide the services. Get rid of men and I think you'll find the prostitution problem has gone. Same with going out at night. A woman isn't safe out at night, they say. Can't let a woman go out in the city for fear of being attacked. Attacked by another woman? Pestered by a kerb-crawling woman driver? I think not, ladies 'n' gentlemen. Attacked by a man. Solution - keep men in at night and let women roam free..."
Jim Trott reverts to normal.
"See what I mean? That's a Ben Elton kind of approach. Same subject matter. Completely different approach. All you have to do is think yourself into someone's identity, and you can do the right material."
All right - how would someone like - well, like Eddie Izzard approach prostitution, then?
"Eddie Izzard?" says Jim Trott. "Cross-dressing and all that? Let's think..."
He thinks for a moment. Then, letting his features go soft, he says: "Now, normally I don't go through a red light area, because the glow plays havoc with my make-up, but I wandered into one the other day and this fabulous girl said to me, `Anything I can do for you, darling,' and I said, `Yes, do let me have the name of your dress-maker...' Of course, costume is very important if you're a street-walker, so I'm always surprised that the customers don't dress up too. They used to in the old days. There was even a shoe named after the sport: a brothel-creeper. Now, why did people have special shoes to go looking for prostitutes? Did they say to themselves: `Mmm, I think I'll go to a brothel tonight - oh, no I can't! My shoes are at the menders!' "
Jim Trott shakes his head.
"Haven't quite got the hang of Izzard yet. Tell you what, though..."
"Best joke about prostitution ever done was by Bernard Shaw. He was at a party once and he told this woman that everyone would agree to do anything for money, if the price was high enough. `Surely not, she said.' `Oh yes,' he said. `Well, I wouldn't,' she said. `Oh yes you would,' he said. `For instance,' he said, `would you sleep with me for... for a million pounds?' `Well,' she said, `maybe for a million I would, yes.' `Would you do it for ten shillings?' said Bernard Shaw. `Certainly not!' said the woman `What do you take me for? A prostitute?' `We've established that already,' said Bernard Shaw. `We're just trying to fix your price now!' "
And Jim Trott goes off into roars of laughter.
"That Bernard Shaw," he said. "I could have got him the Perrier Prize if I had had him as a pupil, especially him being Irish and everything..."
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