John was telling jokes before dinosaurs roamed the planet. Aunts and uncles dared not darken his doorway unless armed with ample anecdotes. He’d listen, learn and practice, ready to regale to anyone who would listen. John was a funny child according to his first-year peers, who flung footballs at him and laughed, but hadn’t ever heard his jokes.
John also loved American football. His dad had searched high and low to find a school with a team. They celebrated when The Heath Post-primary accepted him, but John had yet to be picked for the team
When a school talent contest was advertised, John grabbed his chance to make his classmates like him. He devised a routine that was tight and funny and could barely sleep the night before, repeating his jokes and practicing his punchlines. In his confirmation suit, brilliant white shirt and blue spotted dickie bow, he stepped onto the stage. The audience tittered but he wasn’t nervous until he spied Miss Snitch, a right biology teacher, flanked by his first-year football friends.
Miss Snitch hated John and that wasn’t as maybe. “I despise all first-years,” she had told him. “But I particularly dislike you.”
John looked down at his polished shoes. The room spun but he took a deep breath and delivered the best performance of his life. He finished on his best joke and held his breath. The audience were on their… seats. You could hear a pin drop. In slow motion, he exited stage left bewitched, bothered and bewildered, just like the song of the next contestant.
All day, John couldn’t figure out what happened.
“Hey buddy, you’re shocking quiet. What’s wrong?” his dad asked at dinner that night.
John told him about his comedy and stood to deliver his routine but after two jokes his dad’s face froze in horror. It transpired that John was a juvenile shock jock, more suited to a workingman’s club than a school. John had no idea he was so rude or offensive.
The following day, when John arrived at school, one student stood and applauded his courage, followed by another and another. He grew two feet (although he already had two feet) and became super-popular. Then he woke up and had to face reality. John apologised to his teachers, his classmates, the janitor and life went on as before.
The next September, John’s best friend Mikey changed schools and changed John’s life. They laughed until they cried on the bus and in the yard, and John’s peers found someone else to amuse them.
John never made the team but neither did he lose his love of football. Nowadays, you’ll find him officiating all over Europe, looking out for the odd ones, the square pegs in round holes, those left on the sideline. The funny kids.
“Come on, buddy,” he’ll call to them, “you can help me out. Do you know any jokes?”