In one of the great scenes in GoodFellas Henry Hill, Tommy DeVito, Tony Stacks, Frankie Carbone and a few others are sat round the table in The Bamboo Lounge, drinking. Tommy is recounting getting a beat down administered to him by the feds and has the rest of the table in stitches. He finishes his story and Henry, in between hysterics, tells him what a funny guy he is.
What you mean I’m funny?
In the blinking of an eye the mood switches.
Funny how? What’s funny about it? Am I a clown? I make you laugh?
Am I hear to fucken amuse you?
It’s just the way you tell the story, Henry protests. It’s…. funny.
It’s just the way you tell the story.
I had the uncomfortable realisation a few years back that my delivery did not match my content. I wanted to be Tommy, the guy at the table in the middle of it all, with the crew on tenterhooks, hanging off my every word. But it wasn’t happening for me. I had good stories, but my delivery was featherweight. Anecdotes that should’ve brought the house down were floundering mid-sentence, the stress was wrong, the punchlines misplaced, and around me the attention waned.
Maybe it’s just not my medium, I thought lying in the dark one night staring up at the ceiling. I’m no comedian. Deal with it. But strangely enough I also noticed some of my funniest friends couldn’t write if their lives depended on it. And I felt my mood lighten. So if I wrote it down, I thought, I did have delivery.
Below is my best story. Since I can’t tell it all that well, I figured I’d write the hell out of it.
Some time back in the noughties my brother and I found ourselves on Shaftesbury Avenue a little bit past midnight, having just been to a gig in the West End, waiting for the night bus to take us home from Piccadilly. Just by the bus stop, opposite the old Trocadero which is now a fancy cinema, stands one of those late night pizza takeaway outlets.
Both peckish and with no bus in sight, my brother thought it’d be a touch to get a pizza for the ride home. By the time we’d paid the number 19 was upon us, and pizza box in hand, we headed up to the top deck to soak in the panoramic backdrop of a twinkling London night as we gorged.
We made quick work of the first two slices as the Routemaster trundled along Piccadilly and down the hill towards Hyde Park Corner. It was a hot summer night and I opened one of the small windows to let some air in, weary of stinking out the top deck with the smell of pepperoni. After the third slice our greed showed signs of waning, and by the time we reached the Kings Road our stomachs were signalling that all down there was tip-top, and maybe even in danger of tipping over.
Chelsea’s main artery lay empty. As the night bus rattled down it ramping up to speeds it could only have dreamt of whilst paralysed in daytime traffic, a last lonely slice of tepid double pepperoni lay languishing in the corner of the box, and my brother offered it to me. I’m done, I said. What happened next follows such a strange turn of events that it needs to be broken down into stages and relayed in the present tense.
T U R N o f E V E N T S
1. Displaying a logic that to this day I struggle to comprehend, my brother gathers up the slice of pizza, and showing a snap of the wrist familiar only to ardent frisbee enthusiasts, launches it out of the window of the moving bus.
2. I follow the trajectory of the pizza backwards as it flies through the night sky away from us, pulled downwards all the while by its gravity.
3. A man is standing by a lamp post just outside the big Marks & Spencer.
4. The pizza’s odyssey through the night sky comes to an end and finds a resting place, slapping hard against it, sticking to it.
5. That resting place is the man’s face.
6. Signals begin to forge a path from my retina along my optic nerve in the direction of my visual cortex, and the realisation of what exactly has just happened begins to dawn on me.
You know those high-speed trains that scare the life out of you as they careen through train stations with no intention of stopping. Imagine if laughter was said-station. And if laughter was such a station, then watching a man getting slapped in the face by a slice of pizza thrown from the window of a moving bus was that high-speed train. This juggernaut wasn’t stopping at laughter. It was never going to stop there. Whatever was going on in my brain, laughter was an insufficient way of processing what had just taken place.
7. In a split second I went from perception to computation, leapfrogging laughter like evolution had never cared to dream it up, and something else happened, something deeper and more meaningful.
8. I shat myself.
10. Then and there, sitting on top of that night bus on that balmy evening of late summer, as a tide of heat began to move across the seat under me, my life took a strange turn.
My brother, who had been oblivious to the world since launching the pizza out of the window only seconds before, looked at the expression on my face and asked me what the hell was up. I don’t remember what I replied. I remember the feeling that washed over me as the smell of pepperoni on the top-deck was usurped by a different one. I remember the last four stops on the route 19 taking ten lifetimes. I remember the five minute walk back from the bus-stop that became a fifteen minute improvised shuffle. I remember tears in the shower, binning my favourite Y-fronts, I remember going to bed with the light on. I left a part of me behind on that bus.
I want to be clear. There’s the expression I pissed myself laughing or at a stretch that was so funny I shat my pants. But what happened didn’t happen because I laughed so hard. There was no laughter. The pizza hit the guy in the face, my eyes opened very wide for a split-second as I harnessed all the visual information I could, and I straight-up soiled myself. No sound came out of my mouth.
I want to speak to a doctor about this. Can things be so funny that your central nervous system encounters system overload, and you lose control of your insides so totally that your only recourse is to shit yourself. Evolution has a reason for everything.
There it is. That’s the story.
I have one about cycling into the Regent’s canal not on purpose, but the night bus story tops canal-gate. If I practiced the hell out of it maybe I’d be able to tell it incredibly, I’d be Tommy in the Bamboo Lounge, the life and soul of the room. But I figure you either have it or you don’t. Practicing it to death would probably make it come across forced anyhow, so I’ll leave it written.
I’ll be fine, I tell myself. I’ll sit back in the corner, one of the guys, listening and laughing as the cat with all the stories holds court, and in the pause that follows the last laugh I’ll think to myself hey I have one of those, maybe I’ll even tell it one day. But not right now. Not this minute. I’ll keep it for me, for my ears only. The greatest story never told.