If you didn’t know I was a comedian – and let’s face it, it’s hard to tell from my work – I can tell you most, if not all my major life events have somehow contained episodes leading to hilarious consequences: my first wedding featured Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, which the organist appeared to be playing with his organ (SPLAT, SPLAT, SPLAT-SPLAAAATTT), resulting in loud sniggering from the assembled throng (and me) as I walked down the ailse; there was my second wedding, when the car delivering me to the ceremony had to approach the venue in reverse: not many brides arrive at their nuptials to the romantic tones of BEEP BEEP – THIS CAR IS REVERSING, BEEP BEEP – THIS CAR IS REVERSING; and then there was getting stuck in the lift on a hospital trolley with my newly-born baby at my breast, it subsequently taking a humungous amount of time before we were rescued (very lucky we’re not still there since my son is now 6′ tall).
A life in comedy appears literally to mean just that. (I’ve always said it’s a good job I don’t write tragedy).
My mother died last week. It was very peaceful, in her sleep, my stepfather discovering her body when he awoke late in the morning. He called my brother, who left work and travelled to the house, and together they dealt with the immediate formalities: the doctor to confirm death, the coroner, and the synagogue to request collection of her body. Only it was Friday, and by the time they spoke to the Jewish funeral directors, they were about to knock off as it was getting dark – they don’t work on the Sabbath.
“Keep her in bed,” they told my step-father breezily, “We’ll collect her on Sunday morning for the funeral.”
“I’m not sleeping in bed next to her body!” my stepfather exclaimed.
“Is there anyone there with you?” came the repost.
My step-father informed them his stepson was present, along with his son.
“Oh, good,” the funeral director said. “Ask them to move her onto the floor. See you Sunday.”
They didn’t move her onto the floor, dear reader, but called a non-Jewish undertaker to collect her and keep her until the Jewish undertakers (who had undertaken not to take anyone on a Friday afternoon) could pick her up after the Sabbath.
Sunday. Funeral. My brother and I arrive at the grounds, greet family and friends, and after a short service gather by the grave for the burial. One of the grave-diggers starts chatting to me, and offers to hold my bag when I have to shovel earth onto the coffin. We return to the small chapel for final prayers. As we’re leaving the building the grave-digger is waiting for me.
“If you need anything else, just call the main number and ask for Mark,” he says, looking into my eyes, smiling.
Back at the house for the post-burial nosh-up, I help myself to a tot of whisky, which is standing on the drinks table, next to another positively groaning with food. One of a trio of old women, two of whom I’ve never seen before in my life, barks at me: “Glass of wine!” I look down at myself: yes, I’m dressed in black, though unaccountably there’s no frilly white apron. Instead of hitting her, I sigh, pour wine halfway up the glass and hand it to her.
“That’s a lot of wine!” she complains. I kick her in the shin.*
Having been awake since 2.30am, travelled up to and across London from Brighton, and had not very much to eat for two days, I help myself to a couple of pieces of salmon, which have signalled to me they’re just longing to leap into my mouth.
“You shouldn’t be eating!” one of crones admonishes, “You should wait for the mourners!”
“It’s a matter of respect!” cries another of the Ugly Sisters.
I sweetly reply I AM a mourner, it was my mother’s funeral, and it occurs to me I’m paying for half the food they’ve not only feasted their beady eyes on, but niftily nabbed the chairs closest in proximity to. I’m fairly sated now, but grab a few pieces of herring, just to make them kvetch some more, and then I tip a bowl of chopped liver over their heads.**
I make my way to the other end of the room to sit on the low chairs we occupy when we’re sitting shiva, and espy the first Ugly Sister piling a plate with the food I’m not meant to be eating. (I’m sure it was the half I’m paying for and not my brother’s half). Not noticing much respect going on there, unless it’s respect for how much food you can get on a plate before it reaches the ceiling.
There then follows a bizarre conversation with a woman who asks questions, before cutting in when you’ve half-answered them, only with the wrong assumption every time. Example:-
“Do you like living in Brighton?”
“Yes, I love it. It’s very…”
“Oh. What did you work on at the BBC?”
“A lot of different series. I worked on…”
“The Sooty Show”
And on it went.
Finally, finally, the day’s over. I’ve had no sleep, I’ve buried my mother, I’ve been told to fuck off by a family member for mentioning my mother’s demise on social media, I’ve been admonished by women I don’t know, in the house where I grew up, for eating food I’m paying for, I’ve been chatted up by a gravedigger. If that isn’t comedy, I don’t know what is.
I get home and sleep for eleven hours.
So long mother, and thanks for all the fish.***
*This may be fantasy
**This may be fantasy
***This may be fishery