First timer’s amateur competition. Insides churning. Pick up the mic, silence.
‘In my opinion, most comedy acts should come with a trigger warning. Kinda like North American High schools.’
‘I know. And sadly, at this rate, it’s always going to be a bit too soon for that joke. But seriously, I do want to be sensitive with my comedy, so before I begin – are there any rapists in the audience?’
‘Anyone? No? Statistically speaking that surprises me. But if you are a rapist and you’re too shy to say, I just want to warn you now that my material might be quite uncomfortable for you. I mean even that word… rape. It’s quite uncomfortable isn’t it? Very uncomfortable actually, profoundly uncomfortable. Rape is un-comfortable. Very very very very un-
‘Yes, well, I came dressed ready to alienate my audience.’
I gesture to my full-length bright green alien onesie. It has a hood. One great big eye. And little horns.
There are people that made me feel less like a person. But when I think about ‘Becoming Human’ I think about you. When we first met you were called Mister. You were black and white. You were a few years old. I wasn’t convinced. What if you weren’t interested in people? I picked you up out of your small wooden hutch. Your back legs tucked against my chest. Nostrils moved. Couldn’t argue with that. If you didn’t warm to us at least you’d have more space. Mister? That wasn’t right.
You were The Magical Mr. Mistoffelees.
‘The reason I decided to do this stand-up set is because I went to see a comedian recently. You know the type, white, male, allegedly funny. And in one of his jokes he made a casual reference to rape.’
God this alien suit was hot.
‘I wanted to stand up and say you strike me as an intelligent lad. Why would you make rape the butt of your joke… when there’s anal rape?’
Uncomfortable bursts of laughter.
‘Actually, what I really wanted to do was to jump up on stage, pull down his pants, cut off his cock, shove it in his mouth and say ah… you found good material hard to come by? Now you’ll just find it hard to come.’
Pulse racing, rising. Shit, here we go.
‘Instead I sat still and tried to look on the bright side. I remembered that at least there was a time when somebody felt comfortable in my body.’
That got ‘em.
You were curious, but cautious at first. We built you a big run outside and brought you into my room every day. One evening we were hit with an earthquake, 5-point-something on the Richter scale. The wooden house rocked and the bed shook. Christchurch was getting used to it by now. I looked down, realising you’d jumped from the floor onto the bed. You sat, staring at me.
‘Well hello, Mistoffelees.’
You hopped over to my leg and started humping it with all your rabbit might.
Hello to you, too.
From then on, you and I differed in what we deemed appropriate levels of intimacy. So I gifted you a long soft stuffed doorstop with the face of a pig. I wiggled Ms. Piggy around to give you the impression your affections were reciprocated. Which, in a hard-to-say way, they were. And nobody fucks a pink pig doorstop like you did, Mistoffelees.
One day, with a muffled coughing sound, your back feet kicked over your head in a backwards roly-poly, and you lay panting and twitching. Apparently, I had brought you to orgasm. I told myself it was a fair exchange for the time Hollie buried the acid under your hutch in the back garden.
You never told a soul.
The MC looked horrified. My alien tail gave a little wag.
‘I have a friend in the comedy scene, and he assured me that comedians actually do think about the emotional impact of their jokes. They weigh up who’ll be offended versus how many people will laugh. When I heard that I realised –I do a similar thing whenever I decide to go to a comedy gig.’
I cleared my throat, raised an alien hand.
‘You see, on one hand, some comedian might flippantly remind me of a time I received profound psychological damage.’
I raised the other.
‘But! On the other hand, I might, well… laugh.’
I weighed the two.
‘I call this the Trauma to Chuckle ratio, or the T to C ratio. At this point this routine could probably use a little less T and a little more C, but I am colonial British and…’
I should never do this again.
‘We love tea.’
You became a great artist of escape. Houdini would have paid to see your shows. It was more than escaping, it was disappearing. We spent frantic hours looking under cars and calling your name in the street and then you’d turn up lounging under a deck chair in the garden.
One evening my flatmate Chris tried to get the better of you. He’d read that if you lie a bunny on its back and stroke its nose it will fall into hypnosis. After much indignant squirming, there you laid on his lap, legs in the air, strangely subdued for minutes. A week later Chris was stretched out on the lounge floor, stroking you behind the ears. You turned around abruptly, lifted your tail, and sprayed putrid mustard-yellow urine into Chris’s face.
It was amazing.
The space between the audience and I stretched to a void.
‘I went for an assessment with an old English psychiatrist. He looked at me very seriously and said in a posh voice, “You are struggling to adjust to the things that have happened to you. I would suggest that you have some kind of adjustment disorder”.’
‘And I felt like saying ‘alright, mate the next time my entire sense of self and reality are ripped from underneath me in a tidal wave of mind-shattering post-traumatic stress, I will attempt to adjust to it in a more orderly manner’.’
You had a way with cats. I often come home to find different neighbourhood cats sitting with you in the garden. Tabbies, Gingers, even a Snowy White One. Sometimes they would look at me like I had interrupted something. On two occasions I found them curled up next to you in your hutch. Sick, homeless, or maybe just craving your company. Part of a mouse was left neatly at your hutch door once. An exchange for lodgings? Or were you doing dealings of a darker sort? I wouldn’t put it past you Mistoffelees.
Your philosophies intrigued me. You sat where the sun first caught the grass in the morning, lay in stillness as stars moved over you beyond the street lamps. As sounds of the earth murmured beneath the houses and roads.
Your philosophies intrigued me. Of mind, of matter, of movement… You sat where the sun first caught the grass in the morning, lay in stillness as stars moved over you beyond the street lamps. As sounds of the earth murmured beneath the houses and roads. Delving into the art of being. Deep knowledge, reaching beyond itself and into the world. Epistemically untethered. Knowing what we spend a lifetime learning; how to express yourself. When curious, you investigated. When you wanted affection, you sought it. When I annoyed you, you stomped, flicked your heels at me and hopped away. Books upon books upon books are written and sold trying to help people know what you came into the world understanding. Unflinchingly and unfailingly you, yourself, in every moment.
Free to answer other questions.
A young man with a moustache approached me after the show. He told me he enjoyed my set, apart from the bit where I ‘d mentioned hypothetically chopping off a penis. He didn’t like that. That bit had made him uncomfortable. I smiled, snuggling further back into my alien suit.
The joke didn’t stop there. Two weeks later I sat with two police officers, getting ready to make an official statement against Michael. The policeman smiled kindly, and said,
‘Just tell us as much as you can, and I might go back and probe you for more details.’
My alien self and I laughed aloud. We laughed again after biking home from the police station and walking into the kitchen, to find Harry and Rupert had returned, triumphant, from a game of golf. The little alien in me laughed, darkly at the contrast.
Misogyny is packed into every script like a punchline.
We’re just waiting to be let in on the joke.
Mistoffelees I’m waiting for the words. To tell them what you came to mean to me. But the words aren’t coming. Nothing in the world could write you off.
Those long dark evenings in my room, just you and me. Hidden from the rest of the house, from people. Away from the bravado I throw between the world and I. From the bitterness and distrust that keeps me to and from myself. I’m sick of ‘becoming human’ Mistoffelees. I hate feeling it, I hate not feeling it. I hate being in my body, and I hate resisting my body. Finding comfort in discomfort, safety in danger and being trapped in escapism. And I fucking hate being told to ‘be’ in my body by those who haven’t been chased from theirs. I’m sick of our shit Mistoffelees. Becoming human. It’s all I try to do; all I keep myself from doing. I suppose that’s a human thing. It’s very unbecoming.
In the Earth’s Dark Comedy, if inequality is the set-up, the climate crisis is the payoff. The barrel of laughs.
The rolling gag.
Months before I donned an alien suit for a comedy gig, I was clinging to the top of a 50-metre crane to hang a banner about resisting climate denial.
Months before I donned an alien suit for a comedy gig, I was clinging to the top of a 50-metre crane to hang a banner about resisting climate denial. My team mate Verena hung in a harness blocking the ladder, and I was politely asking an angry workman not to break her leg. He shouted at me that he was a BIG guy and to get the FUCK out of his way. When I did not, his fist came up to meet my back.
The little alien in me smiled, and snuggled further back into her human suit.
We climbed to the top and Verena and Nick abseiled off the crane’s arm to deploy the banner. Then someone swung the arm of the crane around. When it goes beyond a joke, it pays to keep your sense of humour. So I chuckled, as my human cloak of cognition burned into smoke. As the dams burst. A flood tide of nerves, detached, adrift. Inked contours of mental maps bled and streamed.
An alien laughing at someone else’s planet.
Perhaps the existential danger of climate change is not in the future but the past. Maybe the tender human parts of us that would see crisis averted are already dead and gone. I wouldn’t have been up that crane in a fractured state of mind if someone had not taught me to wear my body as a suit instead of living her. Systemic inequalities and dehumanising traumas build the necessary comedic tension, and the climate crisis is the punchline that releases it in fits of hysteria. Because the joke is literally on everyone.
Alienate our humanity and we burn out. And we drown in floods.
When the cops finally showed up, one leaned in close.
‘You’ve made these workmen angry. You realise you’ll be responsible for domestic violence tonight?’
Verena didn’t miss a beat.
‘Domestic violence also goes up when we lose the rugby.’
The cop gasped and cried,
‘Don’t bring rugby into this!’
Now, there is a joke.
And all I want to do is laugh.
Rocket, the terrier cross from next door, was standing over your still body, your fur in her mouth. I practically threw her over the gate into our neighbour’s arms, tears streaming down my face. I picked you up and ran into the house, pleading. Not now, please not now.
I laid you gently on the carpet. You got up, shook yourself off, hopped into the corner and calmly washed your face. How? How Mistoffelees? You utter magician. You badass Zen-legendary genius.
I love you. So much.
One winter night we sat together on the floor of my room and I read to you from one of the Dark Mountain books. ‘Speaking in Tongues’ by Patricia Robertson. Words don’t make a world of sense, but you lay next to me, and we shared our languages. I listened to you listening. I talked about a time that wasn’t ours, you sat deep in the time that was. As I read, you offered the occasional stomp.
And I treasured the sound of your stomp deep, deep in my mind. It sounds there still.
Final frontier. The mic was warm in my grip.
‘Just adjusting is difficult though isn’t it? Particularly with my male friends, I can’t empathise with their righteous anger anymore. A mate of mine, Jono, was telling me about his drive to work along the motorway. A car from the Nurse Maud hospice was right on his tail the whole way. When he got to work, he called The Nurse Maud company, furious, to complain about their employee’s driving. I said to Jono, ‘I can’t believe it, you called the hospice?’ And he was like ‘Fuck yeah Siana nobody gets up my ass and gets away with it!’’
Alien hand over alien mouth.
‘I only wish I could say the same.’
The lights were bright in my eyes. Stand-up comedy is no joke.
But… with your chin resting on my foot, I was there with you in a way I’m not with others, not even myself. Especially not myself. I fell. Fell down, down, down into us. And was caught. By you. A black and white anchor in a world storm tossed and awash. You let me let myself exist. Never in my life have I trusted, like that.
You are magical, Mr. Mistoffelees.
On the blue carpet, we lay nose to nose. Then forehead to forehead. And you showed me the difference between the human me and the story of me. I let myself stretch out beyond my head to hold you inside me. The snuffles of your nose, the little chomps of your teeth. They happened in us. Your breaths breathed me. We were together. Here, in a sea of purple-black. You let me share your world. A world of sense. Earth swallowed us whole.
And we were very, very much alive.