I fell out of bed laughing – Lizzie Lovell

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By Lizzie Lovell

I have never seen a dead body or a female nipple. This is what comes from living in a cul-de-sac. – Adrian Mole♥

Ever since I was a little girl, watching Morecambe and Wise with my family, I’ve loved comedy. I’ve longed for that communal bond you share with other humans when laughing together. The Liver Birds, Dad’s Army, Porridge, Fawlty Towers – I looked forward to these sitcoms every week and to rehashing them the next day in the playground. As I progressed through to the teenage years, the alternative comedy scene exploded. The Young Ones smashed onto our TV screens. Ben Elton ranted about Mrs Thatch. It was thrilling.

And while comedy was still largely a man’s world, there began to be possibilities. Until then, I’d had to make do with Miss Piggy and Pam Ayres. But I had Victoria Wood – not ‘alternative’, but mesmerising – and, now, French and Saunders. This was still a shared experience, until along came a 13¾ year old with his diary. A year older than me, a geek like me, with a yearning to be a writer, like me. Just me and Adrian curled up in bed together.

As a Generation X-er, telly was central to my cultural world but, as a quiet child, an observer, I loved reading. I was devoted to my comics, Twinkle and later, Bunty and Jinty. But it was my older brother’s funny books I coveted. He had a Goodies Annual that made me rock myself stupid with giggles. And I remember being in stitches when he read out parts of Spike Milligan’s My Part in Hitler’s Downfall. And now, finally, there was Sue Townsend bursting into my life just when I needed a laugh.

Why did she, like Victoria Wood, hit my funny bone? It was the characters. And it was the situations they put the characters into. It was a turn of phrase. The rhythm of a sentence. As Alan Bennett asked, why is an Alsatian called Tina so hilarious? It’s the incongruousness. The absurdity. The juxtaposition. It’s the carefully chosen word that works in stand-up, on telly, in a book. It’s the voice.

At eighteen, I left Devon to study at Lancaster University. I was in a minority up there, surrounded by northerners – and, without wishing to stereotype, they were funny, quick-witted, to the point. It was the sentence construction, the particular choice of word, that magic turn of phrase that struck me. That still lingers. The Alsatian called Tina.

Barbara Pym, novelist queen of the small details, understood this. Her excellent women were full of pathos but had an unrelenting wit. They were concerned with church jumble sales and ‘the burden of keeping three people in toilet paper’. A recognition of the quirks and daftness of human life and relationships. A wryness that just might bring a nod of recognition and a smile to the reader’s face. The small things that were about so much bigger things.

Never underestimate the power and importance of humour in fiction or indeed in life itself. It eases tension. It provides respite from difficult moments. And it uplifts, affirming us with the resilience of the human spirit.

We are adept, on the whole, at seeing the absurdity of life. And it is good to be reminded that comedy is not an exclusive male-only club. Women are funny too.

Lizzie Lovell was born and brought up in the West Country and now lives in an old house in the seaside town of Dawlish with its red cliffs and dodgy railway line. She has three adult children, two of them yet to fly the nest. She can be found walking in the Devon lanes with her Tibetan terriers. Or drinking gin. She also publishes fiction as Sophie Duffy. The Juniper Gin Joint by Lizzie Lovell is published in paperback, Allen & Unwin.


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