the other night I watched a Big Issue vendor try to flog his last three magazines for the night. As people walked by he would say, “Only three to go! It’s my birthday, and I’m hopping on one leg!”
He was hopping on one leg.
He didn’t sell any whilst I was watching, so I don’t know how successful this was as a sales strategy. But it really made me think about what appeals to people. It wasn’t enough that it was (or wasn’t) his birthday, or that he was so close to finishing a successful day – some instinct led him to add an absurd element to his show.
There’s a little bit of the performing monkey in there, for sure: Give people a show they can see – something more than just a magazine that they’re paying for.
But it was more than that, too. What he was reaching for is what comics reach for – to touch that irrational part of us that is charmed by silliness. I’m sure there are people who study humour and how exactly it works. I heard once that jokes work on the premise that people will be amused by having the stupidity of the species pointed out to them.
Still, I’m sure we’ve all had those moments when we are perfectly rational one moment, then something slips in the next, and unlocks a wellspring of hilarity. (Case in point: I once woke laughing from a dream. That dream still makes me want to giggle uncontrollably. There were too many teaspoons on Earth, so they had started putting them in a big pile on the moon.)
A quirky, eccentric heroine is one of the romantic archetypes. My hero tends to tie himself in knots outdoing his own eccentricities. Watching the Big Issue vendor gave me insight into just why this might be: I am following the same instinct that led him to hop on one leg.