Coles Express attracts all types of oddbods. Myself, for example, or the customer that comes in to work at the same time every Saturday morning to buy a copy of the West Australian, a coffee and a cheese and ham sandwich. He is an older gentleman with a bad combover and worse teeth. If I had to guess, I’d say he used to work in sales.
We’re friends now, and that is all well and good, but he has used my affability and general good naturedness to try out his sub-standard comedic material on me. Not a range of material, mind you – that would be far too obvious. Just the same joke, repeated over and over again. He delivers it with the confidence of a comedy circuit veteran. And I, defender of the downtrodden, listen with the patience of a saint.
“What would I like?” he said, unprompted, the first time I served him. He waved the receipt I was holding aside and leaned in conspiratorially. At this angle, I could see the full extent of his magnificent combover, several single strands of hair struggling to do the work of thousands. Dear God, I thought, please let it not be a coat made out of my skin.
“What I’d like,” he continued, leaning in further, “is just two simple things.” Sweet mercy, he wants my scalp, too, I thought, hand moving toward the panic button. “I’d like Angelina Jolie,” he said, finally, circling the picture of her on the front of the paper. “Her and the winning lottery ticket.”
There is something beautifully symbiotic about our present relationship. I gift him the segue he never knew he needed and he, with a little training, has learnt to respond on cue.
“And is it a bag you’d like today?” I might say, to which he’ll reply “no, but what I would like…” After he’s said the punchline we both laugh. The way two corpses would, I imagine, if you moved their mouths up and down. “I’ll take the ticket and you can keep Angelina,” I say, rolling his paper up into a tight bundle. I have also said, “hmm, yes please,” or “you keep ange, I’ll take Brad,” or “wouldn’t that be nice,” because I VALUE VARIETY. Then he tells me to look after myself and I wave him goodbye and send him out into the world to torment others with his tired, half-baked gags.
Recycling humour is a crime. You can do as many knock knocks or why did the chicken cross the roads or pubward-bound priests, jews and irishmens as you’d like. That’s fine. That is a straight up joke, and is allowed to be told as many times as it continues to bring you success. The other stuff, the stuff that appears to be off the cuff should never be used twice, because you’re essentially peddling a lie. The lie that you are funny at any given time of the day. Telling a “joke” well only requires a good memory and a dash of charisma. Being funny is something else altogether.
Do as I say, not as I do. Since working at the petrol station, I’ve barely used any fresh material. All my stuff is about as stale as John Farnham’s last tour. Of the several gags I’ve roadtested, three have emerged victorious. Not because of any artistic merit on their part, but because they’re almost guaranteed a cheap laugh. And a cheap laugh, in my book, is better than no laugh at all.
The first works best on your “loyalty card” demographic. Comprised mostly of middle-aged mums and old ladies, this group lives to collect rewards points, and heaven help anyone that stands in their way. Due to absentmindedness or early onset dementia one of them will occasionally hand me a Woolworths Rewards card instead of a Flybuys card (a trifling offence, were it not to have been committed on this particular shift).
Performances differ based on the age and perceived jocularity of the person, but my general routine is to stare at the card for a few seconds as though it were a soiled piece of toilet paper and then motion to the door. “Get out,” I’ll say, or “please leave immediately before I call security.” If I feel like they’re up for an even edgier brand of humour, I might add that Woolworths is owned by the Illuminati or that the deli department don’t wash their hands after using the loo. Most women find this hilarious, but one terrified lady scurried out of the store clutching her purse to her chest.
The second gag is of a more puerile nature and is wildly successful with tradies and the occasional foreigner. For it to work, I require someone who’s so busting to use the loo that they’re no longer thinking straight. (I’ve convinced myself that the joke wouldn’t work under any other condition, but perhaps I have too much faith in humanity.)
Before I give my chosen patsy the toilet key, I ask
whether they’re planning on doing ‘ones’ or ‘twos.’ One plumber I served
couldn’t decide which category he fell in. “I thiiiink it’s ones,” he said,
scrunching his nose up and looking at the ceiling. Then he thought about it a
little harder, and added, “sorry, no, it might be a two.”
I said “sir, this toilet is only for people doing number ones,” and he started to leave. On days like that, I would work for free.
The last one, and this is by far the least amusing, is to request ID from middle aged men when they ask me for cigarettes or rolling tobacco. It’s a dad joke, but that’s my target demographic. For obvious reasons this joke requires a victim who is old enough for the joke to make sense but not so old (and this bit’s crucial) that the joke is offensive.
This point eluded my co-worker who, having
witnessed my success, decided that he’d give it a crack himself. Rather than
sticking to the memo, though, he chose as his first victim a woman so ancient she
was probably on two pensions.
“I’ll need to see your ID please,” my co-worker said, when she asked for a pack of Marlboro Golds. He winked at me as if to say I’ve got this, and I winked back in a way that said you definitely don’t but, by all means, continue.
“Excuse me?” the woman said, raising one prehistoric eyebrow. Hers was a face that had seen things; among them, the invention of the steam train. If he’d had any sense, he would’ve aborted the mission immediately.
“I said, ah…” he was unsteady now, sensing a change in his fortunes. “I’d like, uh,” he stammered, “I’d like to see your ID.” The woman stared at him for a few seconds, then started rifling through her wallet, shaking her head and muttering something inaudible but undoubtedly obscene. “Because I’m not sure you’re old enough,” he whispered, finally, more to himself than anyone else.
I’ll be seeing my favourite one trick pony tomorrow – the guy that wants for only two simple things in life (neither of them dental hygiene). In my mind, he reserves Friday night for practicing his lines, ensuring that everything goes to plan the following morning. “Just Angelina Jolie,” he’ll say, chuckling to himself, and waxing into place what remains of his hair.
Perhaps I’ll tell him a joke of my own this time – ask him to ask me for cigarettes or request the toilet key and then hit him with the comedy gold. Or, I might just take a long hard look at myself in the shiny orb of his scalp and wonder whether we’re all that different, he and I.