By Tony Deyal
“I tried to steal spaghetti from the shop, but the female guard saw me and I couldn’t get pasta.” This was the winning one-liner by Masai Graham (who in “real life” works with severely autistic young adults), at the recent Edinburgh festival fringe. He won last year, 2019, with, “I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.” In 2016, the day before he suffered a mild heart attack, Graham claimed victory with, “My dad suggested I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart.”
Every August, for three weeks glorious weeks, the city of Edinburgh, recognised since the 15th century as the capital of Scotland, welcomes “an explosion of creative energy from around the globe.” The organisers boast that “artists and performers take to hundreds of stages all over the city to present shows for every taste.” My taste is for one-liners and every year I am on the online fringe of the fringe to see who won.
Second place this year went to Mark Simmons for “Did you know, if you get pregnant in the Amazon, it’s next day delivery.” It is better than, “What does Jeff Bezos do before going to bed?” He puts his payjamazon. One that is tougher is, “Jeff Bezos worked long, difficult hours for little pay to fulfill his lifelong dream…of making other people work long, difficult hours for little pay.”
But back to the fringe. Third and sixth this year was Olaf Falafel who had won in 2019 with, “Actors who can cure my lisp? I’m pretty sure Anne Hathaway but I’m going to ask Colin Firth.” This year his two entries were,“My attempts to combine nitrous oxide and Oxo cubes made me a laughing stock” and “I spent the whole morning building a time machine, so that’s four hours of my life that I’m definitely getting back.” There were some other good ones in the top-ten, one by Will Mars,“I hate funerals- I’m not a mourning person.”
There was the top woman in the list, Hannah Fairweather, whose one-liner was what some of us would describe as “homeyslide”, “By my age, my parents had a house and a family and to be fair to me, so do I, but it is the same house and it is the same family.” The other woman in the top-ten, Sophie Duker, came 9th with “Don’t knock threesomes. Having a threesome is like hiring an intern to do all the jobs you hate.” In terms of her placement, you winsome or you lose some.
Laughing at one-liners, and always trying to come up with a few myself, made me wonder why one-liners are so popular that there is even a day, January 21, in their honour. National Today (nationaltoday.com) sees the best of the bunch as “those that left us stunned, momentarily confused, or rolling on the floor laughing with tears in our eyes” and points out that the first piece of comedy was written over 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece. I am sure it was not this one, “Who is the most attractive Greek mythological figure?” I don’t know about you, but Medusa always made me solid as a rock. Or the one I get in response when I try my Medusa line, “Your humour is like a Greek Temple. In ruins.” However, I can’t ever stop the flow of one-liners, even from Greek’s natural enemies, the Trojans. It is my Achilles’ heel.
Wikipedia describes a “one-liner” as a joke which is consise, meaningful and delivered in a single line, for example, “Throwing acid is wrong. In some people’s eyes.” (Jimmy Carr). Burt Reynolds, as self-denigrating as the rest of us who are into one-liners, joked, “My movies were the kind shown in prisons and airplanes because nobody can leave.” The one I like is by British standup comedian,Tim Vine, “Crime in multi-story car parks is wrong on so many different levels.”
On a list of what are said to be probably the best one-liner jokes (boredpanda.com) is the knockout, “Will glass coffins be a success? Remains to be seen.” Others include, “The man who invented knock-knock jokes should get a no bell prize.”; “The problem isn’t that obesity runs in your family. It’s that no one runs in your family.”; “I hate Russian dolls, they’re so full of themselves.”; and “Most people are shocked when they find out how bad I am as an electrician.” There are a few I like even more- “I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory. All I did was take a day off.”; “I’ve just written a song about tortillas; actually, it’s more of a rap.”; and, “A perfectionist walked into a bar… Apparently, the bar wasn’t set high enough.” Did you like them? The four most beautiful words in the English language are, “I told you so.”
By now some of you might be asking where I am going with this. I consider one-liners an art form and after a few weeks of moving, and another few days of leaving the house we lived in better than we found it, I badly needed a few laughs. Better yet, I may need to force myself to come up with at least one of my own as a way of restoring my equilibrium.
So let’s go first with the big guns of one-liners. Steve Martin- “I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks.” Chris Rock, whose one-liners tend to have a sting or two in their tails, “I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss is trying to say? ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would, but its against the law’.” Frankie Boyle, “Trump’s nothing like Hitler. There’s no way he could write a book.” Joe Lycett, “Life is like a box of chocolates. It doesn’t last long if you’re fat.” Stewart Francis, “My therapist says I have a preoccupation with vengeance. We’ll see about that!”
One of my early attempts at a one-liner “squared” caused some of my Barbadian friends to square off with me. I wrote that in driving around Barbados I saw places like St Lawrence Gap, Prescod’s Bottom, Bottom Bay and Mottley Lands. I wondered why Mottley only had Lands but not a Gap or a Bottom. I thought then it might have been a political issue and definitely not something I should touch. I now see it differently. While other Caribbean leaders start at the top and then very quickly bottom out, PM Mottley is at the top and rising much higher than Mount Hillaby. With her limitless and total commitment to her country and her people, if they ever decide to name a mountain after her it would be “Mount Never-rest.”
*Tony Deyal was last heard trying out his latest one liner, “When I heard that Jamaica had a curling team, I thought it was hairsay.”