Bearing up. Just. Must... tell... gags... Must... tell... gags...
On Humour: a po-faced, humourless exploration on the roots of comedy. I'd stop here and now if I were you
"So, what's your website about then?" - a question I hear at least three times a day from people who wouldn't know an internet if it came to their house and crapped through their letterbox.
"Oh, it's funny stuff. Stories, jokes, one-liners, you know."
"Go on then -"
"Go on - say something funny. Tell us a joke."
And that, dear reader, is the price you pay for outing yourself as "funny." Your mind goes blank, your hands start to shake, and you couldn't think of a joke if you tried. Normal Wisdom got round this phenomenon (called Manning's Syndrome in the business) by falling over and shouting "Mr Grimsdale" until you laughed out of sympathy. Just to prove it, apart from an extremely offensive knock knock joke, my humour glands remain completely empty.
Spontaneous humour is tough. Give it a go yourself and try not to look a tit. I know from bitter experience and a reputation for a certain strangeness. All my best stuff is kept in Monkhouse style spiral-bound gag-books (a bargain 1.49 from all Wilkinsons stores), trotted out, like this very piece for your delight and disgust.
No writer, humourous or otherwise, should be without a notepad and pen - trusting an idea to memory is just asking for trouble. Many is the gag lost by sleeping on it; and more than one idea-of-a-lifetime has fallen victim to overnight amnesia.
The humour muse can strike at any time (often to Mrs Duck's annoyance at three in the morning), but you ignore it at your peril. How you choose to use it, or the luck you get in finding an appreciative and (if your dead lucky, and so far I am not) paying audience is another matter entirely.
I bet that Ricky Gervais never gets asked the Question of Doom: "Go on Ricky, do a funny dance, mate." Jammy git.
Oh, and if you're asking - that knock knock gag in full:
"Go fuck yourself."
See? It sounded so much better in my head. Such is the curse of comedy.
The outsourcing of war
The recent deaths of four "independent security consultants" in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, and the subsquent burning and parading of their bodies has highlighted the increasing role of mercenaries in the Iraqi conflict. These soliders of fortune, to use the old cliche, in reality former special forces troops and commandos, can earn ten times as much as they did serving in the regular forces.
In Iraq, the largest "consultancy" belongs to Blackwater USA, which, according to International Herald Tribune, has been providing security for supply convoys, and have their own weapons, truck and helicopters. A private army for hire, in fact. And if you're just expecting there to be no more than a couple of dozen hard-cases buzzing around in a jeep, you'd be wrong: Blackwater provides some 10,000 personnel for the Iraqi operation, or approximately ten per cent of US forces in the region.
Simple maths: that's ten per cent of the man power, earning ten times as much as the regular armed forces. In salary alone, they are costing just as much as the troops working under Operation Iraqi Freedom, paid for out of American tax dollars or the every increasing national debt. And they're not just in Iraq - Afghanistan, Liberia and even directing hunt-the-Osama in Pakistan. It is a one hundred billion dollar industry.
So why employ them? The main reason is for their experience. Many are former Special Forces who have fought in previous conflicts and have specialist training in desert and urban warfare. They are exactly what the Pentagon needs, except they were too short-sighted to keep these people in the US Army and are now shelling out ten times as much for their services. But bearing in mind how much money has been frittered away by the likes of Halliburton et al, it is hardly likely to be noticed by the holders of a seemingly bottomless defence budget.
Secondly, it is by operating outside the coalition forces, outside the US Army, mercenaries are not bound by the rules of war. Where regular forces are bound to certain inconvenient treaties about respect for human rights and the asking of question before shooting, the independents are not. They are more-or-less cut loose from the military to ruthlessly stamp down on militias, gunmen, and "people looking at me in a funny way." They have no respect for prisoners of war, and are inextricably bound up in the Guantanamo fiasco.
And as such, that is why the unfortunates who were caught by an angry mob were singled out in Fallujah. It was brutal, ugly and symptomatic of man's own humanity. Yet, when your tormentors drive through your streets in their trademark top-of-the-range off-roaders, wraparound sunglasses, weapons pointed from the windows like an LA gang on a drive-by, you can see where the lynch mob was coming from, even if you find it hard to accept, forgive or even begin to understand.
An unaccountable army, working in an unaccountable war. Ironic really. It's as if somebody was in it solely to line their pockets.