It’s become a slight cliché by now, most comedians will say it. ‘I decided to be funny as a defense mechanism’ [see George Eman Vaillant‘s (1977) categorization, defences form a continuum related to their psychoanalytical developmental level. Level IV – mature defences (i.e. humour, sublimation, suppression, altruism, anticipation)]. I do think it’s true, it was my way of surviving when I was made fun of. I didn’t necessarily make a conscious effort to do anything of the sort, but over time confidence grew. I was given the chance to stand up to a few people and in turn some of those people realised that I wasn’t really that square. (It also helped that I ditched my lame Reebok bag for a trendy nike string bag).
My decisions to be funny were not always made by myself. Take one normal Thursday afternoon for example. We had a supply teacher. Now for those of you who do not understand the concept of a supply teacher, allow me to explain. When your normal teacher is ill or unable to attend a lesson, the school sends in a substitute who’s job is to not cry as long as possible in an atmosphere of children who’s sole purpose is to make your life as difficult as possible. They will throw things at you, shout at you, tell you fake names, create reproductions of the second world war (using both sides of the classroom and various pieces of stationery as bombs) have a picnic, run around, and generally have the time of their lives. Which is not what school is for!
Artist's impression of a chaotic classroom.
On this particular occasion, some of the ringleaders of our class decided it would be funny if they forced me to pretend to be deaf. One boy even promised to give me £1 if I went ahead with it. That was the clincher for me, all I needed to do now was convince this supply that I had no use of my ears.
For some reason the fact that I was deaf, in my mind automatically meant that I should also act in a mentally handicapped way. I begun by rocking back and forth on my chair, I put my head at a 45 degree angle and begin to rapidly hit the desk, hard, over and over again. Then came the touch that made the routine so infamous – the loud wail. I wish that this could be put across in a better way, but there is no way I can reproduce that ear piercing noise. You see I was at that classic stage in puberty when the voice was midway between being the voice of a young boy, to the low voice of a man. Thus all I needed to do was put my vocal chords in a position where it was in-between those two voices, thus it would interchangeably sway between the two; creating a rather haunting, unignorable yell. It diverted any attention from potential work. I was the centre of attention; the whole class had some entertainment, and the teacher had a crisis on her hands. There was a child who was unable to control his vocal chords and she couldn’t tell him to shut up because not only was he deaf but by the looks of it he was mentally ill.
I became an overnight legend. Which for a good while was fantastic. I was respected by my class and for at least a week was very popular.
My problems came when a few days later we had another supply teacher. This time the teacher was not from the agency, he was the head of the maths department. Once again, because he didn’t know our class, I was egged on to do the deaf thing again. It slowly dawned on me that if we ever had a supply teacher, I would never have the chance to do any work and that I had no choice as to whether I should do the deaf act. This was my job, for the rest of my secondary educational life. My performance this time could have gone horribly wrong, but this time it was even better.
Someone had brought in a mini voice recorder. Cleverly, before they gave me it they recorded a few useful messages on it, that I was to play to the teacher. The main one which I played over and over again was ‘I need my care-worker!’. This teacher oozed condescension, he got down to my level and put his thumbs up, winked and said ‘okay’, then smiled. This was an amazing experience; I got to feel what it was like to be treated like an absolute idiot even though I simply had a (supposedly) mental difficulty. It was also great that the maths teacher had made a fool of himself in such a way.
So things went on like this, I was a legend and every single supply teacher we got, the act came out. It was taken the wrong way many times. Once we had a particularly feisty German teacher, who assumed I was making fun of her. She lined the whole class up at the front of the class and at one point shouted in my face for at least five minutes (only to end her rant by telling me I had beautiful eyes.)
However as Nelly Furtado so poigniantly put it, All Good Things (Come to an End). One teacher ended up asking our head of year (H.O.Y.) about the deaf child in the class she had taught. One day I was sitting in class and in walks the H.O.Y. himself. He stands at the front of the class, with a particularly furious look on his face.
WHOEVER’S DOING THE DEAF ACT, NEEDS TO STOP. NOW. IT’S WASTING MY TIME, IT’S WASTING YOUR LEARNING TIME AND IT’S WASTING THE SCHOOL’S RESOURCES. END IT. OR I WILL BE SPEAKING TO PARENTS.
From that day on I did not dare do such a thing again. It was suggested to me a couple of times that I should bring him back from the dead; I decided against it.
But I had made a discovery, sometimes I could be funny & sometimes I could be accepted! Being like that was a lot more fun than getting picked on. So for the next two years I sought laughter and popularity. I wonder where that took me?