Falling Down Stairs

Twenty years ago, something happened to me.

27 February 2020 | 5 Minutes

I was walking between West End and Dutton Park in Brisbane, Queensland, late one night, and I observed a man emerging from a house. He was so inebriated it was almost comical. He wobbled so drastically I thought he would fall over and stay down the rest of the evening. Then I saw him lift a bicycle from the ground…

I was so stunned I couldn’t intervene in time. He swung his leg over the bike and immediately started to pedal – straight down a flight of approximately thirty concrete steps. He fell off near the top and bounced and rolled like a rag doll all the way to the bottom. Sometimes the bike was on top of him, sometimes beneath — all the way down.

When the crashing finally ended at the bottom of the hill, I ran down the steps behind him, suspecting he was dead or needing an ambulance. But before I could get to him, he was back on his feet! He stood, like he was waking up from a dream, climbed straight back onto his bike, and rode away!

If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed a person could survive a tumble like that. He didn’t even make a single noise all the way down…

Over the past twenty years, hardly a week has gone by in which I haven’t given the bloke a bit of thought. When he woke up the next day, covered in scratches and bruises, did he remember? Or is he living his life with the false assumption that one night, long ago, he somehow upset a somewhat feral possum, an event so apparently traumatic that his mind has elected to block it, forever?

And ever since — at least once a week! – I think about this. He haunts my memory!

I’ll be out with friends, or in the middle of a meeting – here, on the far side of the world! – and then I remember. And I fall into a sudden, involuntary silence. I just stare away into the middle distance and then those haplessly flailing limbs go rolling down concrete stairs…

And I really hope he’s out there doing well, because I seem to have felt worried about him for quite a long time. Most of all, I hope his life has become sober and reflective – if not ideally dull and uneventful, because that man has used up most of his luck already.

My point is – look, I don’t know…

I’ve been writing a science-fiction novel about a fiendishly tricky pandimensional bobcat. It’s difficult for me to tell if it’s going to be as comedic as the Blue Bandicoot series; those books probably had a joke or two on most pages.

I’m slightly torn about this, but I feel I need to write a book for people who are somewhat serious-minded, without being accused of ‘well, this new book is not as funny as the other books, hurr durr..’

It reminds me that there are indeed people who don’t have a sense of humour. We don’t like to talk about them in society, but they’re real and out there. You probably know a few, especially if you’ve heard anybody start a sentence like this:

“Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a great sense of humour, but…”

For some odd reason, the people who have the least ability to recognise humour always have the most to say about what or who is ‘not funny’.

They’re curiously censorious. One quality of genuinely funny people, however, is that they tend not to gatekeep or lecture others about this strange matter of ‘that which makes us laugh’. I think this is because any joke that falls flat makes them cringe, instead of feeling triumphant. They empathise with the comedian. I would rather talk about anything but a comedy that fell flat.

But the fact is, some people do legitimately struggle to understand humour; because they’re serious, and that’s all right – provided they’re not trying to blend-in by pretending, like serial-killers, or demanding piety from everyone around them. I have serious friends, and they can be cool.

However, there are people who do have something of a sense of humour, just – not about themselves. And if you dare suggest that they – or whatever faction they’ve aligned themselves with – might be a little silly, then out come the knives!

These folk never learned that being able to laugh at oneself can offer incredible immunity. It’s a bulletproof jacket. People can’t make you feel bad when you can just laugh it off. And, actually, I don’t think people talk about this fact enough; being easily offended, or taking everything to heart, just makes our lives – which are already hard enough – needlessly harder.

The second issue is that being able to laugh at oneself can sometimes offer an opportunity for one-upmanship. Remember Steve Martin in Roxanne? His response to being insulted in one scene was to offer twenty better insults, directed at himself. A point worth noting, considering he got to make out with Daryl Hannah afterwards.

On the other hand, I write satire. I rock boats. Satire need not be funny – there’s some good satire that isn’t humorous – but some part of me wants to write some novels that are less peppered with jokes. For the benefit of the two categories of people whom I described above.

You know, the people without a sense of humour (often unsuspecting of the fact) and, much worse, those who do, but can’t laugh at themselves.

There is a third category, though I can barely bring myself to mention them. I can tolerate the first two, but the third – they’re the worst of a bad batch. Appalling people. And I like practically everybody, but these people? Well, suffice to say they have no shame. Yes, you know who exactly who I’m talking about.

Category Three: people who think it’s funny when someone falls down stairs.

Mic drop, hope you’re all doing well. Until next time!

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