Thursday, July 3, 2008

Trevor Marmalade - Any Danger

I wrote a couple of posts ago about the Merv Hughes cricket book "My Life and Other funny stories" from the early 90s, which apart from Allan Borders rather over the top foreword about how Merv had successfully captured the true essence of life on the road, Jack Kerouac style (rather than written a book about how one night he swam in a sewerage system) ended up having several rather sad and painful moments interspersed through the gags. If comedy is really a man falling into a sewer and dying, that book was a literal metaphor for comedy. I wrote that Merv had traded a girlfriend for the friendship of Tom Moody and used it as my point of reference, but I don't think I properly expanded on the notion that in Australia, a large number of "funny" books, books where the writer is obviously telling funny stories, particularly about sport, end up being laced with a sense of pathos and weariness, a quite bizarre mix - in the midst of, say, Tossers antics on the end of season trip, these books can often go into a strange tangent about how lonely it can be getting to the top of your profession or how seeing a stripper in Thailand accentuated how far away from the embers of a crumbling relationship Sportsman X was - pain and humour go together in these books (the classic example is, two pages before the sewer story, for no reason, Merv recounts a poignant tale about seeing begging children in the streets of India, and how it moved him).

Although this is a generalisation, I don't find that pathos in "funny" American sports books which seem to be all about cracking gags like the writer is Tom Arnold. Australian sports books never use the ! key to tell you something is funny. British funny sports books rely on improbable situations that may or may not be true (the classic is Football It's a Funny Old Game by Saint and Greavsie, which is just a book full of tale tales and outright lies). Although it's not strictly a sports book, Trevor Marmalade, Australian stand up comedian, brought out his book "Any Danger", which is a travel book pretty much about sport. Marmalade made his living at the time making jokes from "behind the bar" on TVs AFL "Footy Show" - in 1998, the show was probably at it's peak, and 10 years later, it's probably gone past it's sell by date, as, possibly, has Marmalade.

As an example of the stocking filler genre of sports books though, and how we do things in Australia, this is as good as it gets. Every story told in the book, no matter how funny in planning, is just...dark. Every single chapter in the book (especially the sports sections) recant how Marmalade, in his laconic Australian everyman persona, viewed a crazy event. For instance, warming up the crowd with Russell Gilbert at a Rugby game, or how he ended up racing and losing to another of my fake girlfriends Kath Harby at the Celebrity Grand Prix. Funny stories. But the tangents are really strange and awkward. To give you two examples - one of Marmalades famous incidents was when he went to a town called Tumut on Hey Hey It's Saturday and almost got his head punched in for disparaging the town on live TV. Funny story, but in the middle is 6 (6!) awkward paragraphs on how his girlfriend had to calm him down and de-stress him on long trips and how angry he used to get when times were tough. It's wonderfully human writing, but it's not exactly side splitting stuff. It's...odd.

The chapter on North Melbourne winning the flag in 1996, and Marmalades recollections of his team triumphing is almost straight journalism, in fact it's one of the most jarring chapters in a "funny" sports book I've ever read. There's absolutely no part of this chapter that you could call "a funny story" - Marmalade rues bagging out one of the players and thinks that player will never forgive him. One of the other players hurts his knee and keeps going. There's a long discussion on the club almost going out of business. The team bus is eerie and quiet on the way out of the ground after the game. The club CEO wishes Marmalades late father was at the game, and they both cry and hug. Then he hugs someone who didn't even play and cries again. I tried and tried to find a joke in this whole chapter and the nearest I could get was a story about Glen Archer having a cigarette. It's actually quite interesting in a way, but this is a funny book apparently. In an American book, this chapter would be "Hey! We won! OWNED THEM!" and been over the top. In Australia, our funny football stories revolve around a bloke having a smoke and the Prime Minister having a party pie at the game.

Maybe Dad on Xmas day would have a chuckle over the BBQ about Marmalades antics, but like Mervs book, what started out as "Let's get some funny stories from this bloke" actually ended up being something else, proper joined up writing around the jokes, and quite properly sad and eerie. And maybe that's the point - like Xmas, these books start off with a lot of potential for good cheer and humour, then descend into fatigue, ennui, and a realisation that optimism can only lead to disappointment, hope can only lead to despair, and a Premiership is about regret as much as cheer.

And believe me, you don't get that from Jimmy Greaves telling a story about Dave McKay...

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