They say comedy is tragedy plus time. I’m not so sure. Tragedy was when my hair started to fall out and in the ten years since, the laughs (like my hair) have been thin on the ground. There’s nothing funny about having to apply so much factor 50 that the top of my head that looks like a loose-bowelled sparrow just nailed me. Nothing hilarious about getting caught in a winter hailstone shower, the frozen pellets bouncing off my crown like evil, alien popcorn.
Of course, what is funny, is when it happens to someone else. Tragedy is when I accidentally bite my tongue. Comedy is when one of my neighbours has their tongue cut in half by a threshing machine – even writing this sentence, I find myself chuckling like a demented Bond villain or Vladimir Putin while impaling gays out the back of the Kremlin.
Stupidity is always amazingly funny. Believe me, I know. Not only because I am a world champion idiot, who only last week sprayed kitchen-cleaner on my laptop keyboard, repeatedly, eagerly, like a man who has eaten too many dishwasher tablets and has suddenly forgotten about Cause and Effect.
My daughters are perpetually amused by my antics. No surprise then that they took to my favorite film, The Big Lebowski, with relative ease. And why not? At some level they recognise the stupidity of the film’s protagonist, Jeffery ”The Dude” Lebowski and his buddy Walter Sobchak. They recognise the Polish ancestry of this duo and watching The Dude shambling around in ever-decreasing circles, they are no doubt reminded of their father and my attempts to navigate the mysteries of Polish life such as; why do Polish shops never have enough change in the till, even if you only give them a twenty zloty note? And why in a nation where every citizen eats their own weight in bread daily, don’t they cover their sandwiches with a second slice?
Just like The Dude and his eternally befuddled colleagues, my Irish and English friends here (Brian, Spud, Nick, Matt, Ross) are trying to find answers. This is why we set up The Polish Podcast, a bi-monthly excursion into the absurdity of Polish life. Take one of our regular segments, Prawda czy Gowno Prawda? Where Matt Siegal describes an event which may or may not have happened and we have to guess if it’s true or false? Last month he told of going to a shooting range in Katowice where he noticed a man carrying a teddy bear with a giant red heart emblazoned on its chest. The man then attached the teddy to one of the targets and picked out an M16 assualt rifle – Prawda czy Gowno Prawda? Did this really happen?
You’ll be happy to know I picked the right answer. The essential decency of the Polish character is well-known to me. Equally well-known is how deranged the average Pole is, and I wasn’t surprised when Matt revealed the answer to be Prawda… The Podcast is full of such gems illuminating life in Central Europe’s sixth best country. Our caustic eye falls on all aspects of Polish life, rating local restaurants, bars and even public toilets with the Katowice railway station cubicles currently getting rave reviews from Brian Folan, The Poland Podcast’s resident toilet-guru.
We even plan to take our brand of Irish stand-up comedy to a live setting, with Brian and I embarking on a tour of Krakow, Katowice and Gliwice in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. Brian has never attempted stand-up in front of a Polish audience before and he’ll soon learn what it’s like to crack a joke about JP2 and have the audience collectively bare their teeth and snarl like some multi-headed creature straight out of Mordor. Wherever I perform, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Dublin – Poles won’t laugh about the Pope. They absolutely refuse to. What’s so funny about our Pope, they wonder?
Maybe not funny, but it’s very liberating saying something nobody in a particular society will say. Liberation. Not funny, but it makes you very happy.