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Friday short story time: "Panel Beating"

NaNo is over, my essay is submitted and so, this week at least, I managed to go to my writing group on Monday and bash out a new story for this website. 

Hope you like it, it guest stars Angus Deayton which is… unusual for my material. Apologies if this makes it inaccessible for our American readers.

Panel Beating

By Nick Bryan

Joel Bradley got drunk at home, one weekend after listening to his family going ten rounds with each other about nothing. Nothing was their topic, and nothing was his degree of engagement. Nothing nothing nothing.

They said horrible things about each other whilst smiling, taking the laughter of the others as permission to get even worse. Because that meant they’d scored the most points. Wittiest put-down, best effort to stay on topic despite the efforts of others to derail them, best amusing commentary on the television. All with a smile.

Joel had been watching TV a lot that day, mostly because he wanted to not be listening to those people, and always seemed to end up back on a panel game. Four to six comedians, usually white male, behind a split desk, trying to be funniest on some vague topic, until the end, when they were awarded points based on an invisible scale.

It was after his third beer that he realised the air around him was one big panel game. And the fourth or fifth before he decided that he was the host.

After all, he was the aloof presence, trying not to get sucked into the insults. Because once the host gets involved in the abuse, the game is over – that was what happened to Angus Deayton on Have I Got News For You. His private life became the butt of all the jokes, and suddenly he wasn’t right for the job anymore.

So, for the benefit of this game, Joel was Old-School Angus. Pre-coke Angus. Aloof Angus, still at the height of his arch powers.

‘Hey, you guys got any more sausage?’

‘Don’t you have enough sausage to be getting on with, Mags?’

Joel shook his head and awarded them very few points. The sausage/penis comparison was old hat, after all. Then again, it did get a raucous laugh from the drunker members of the audience. Maybe he had misread the gig. He wanted this to be Have I Got News For You, but in reality it was Mock The Week.

And the TV said: ‘And here we can see that little Archie is one of the most intelligent robots ever created.’

And one of Joel’s cousins said: ‘Not to mention one of the most camp!’

The host wasn’t sure where to go with that. Was the robot mincing a little as it walked? Perhaps. But did that joke have slightly homophobic overtones? Or are you still allowed to acknowledge campness without yourself being homophobic?

Joel wasn’t sure. He gave them a few points to acknowledge the amusing nature of the observation, but kept a few back to make sure he didn’t seem to be encouraging prejudice. But was he splitting hairs too much to be an efficient host? Had Angus worried about this sort of thing?

Man. It looked way easier on TV. Then again, he’d heard those shows were heavily edited between recording and broadcast. Were there deleted sequences where the host ran off stage to consult broadcasting standards? Or was he just not decisive enough for the gig?

‘So I guess what I’m saying is that if Mags really loved the kids she keeps banging on about so damn much, she wouldn’t let herself get distracted by every passing…’

‘Okay, come on….’

‘Shut up, Anne. If Mags really meant it, she wouldn’t go chasing after every guy she meets with a working penis. And you know perfectly well that she asks about that when she meets them. “Hi there! How are you? Do you like to drink heavily in front of children? Is it at least eight inches long?” For god’s sake, it’s just…’

And, finally, Auntie Jill collapsed, overcome with emotion towards Mags, who had stepped out of the room to use the toilet. If he’d had a few more balls, Joel thought, he ought to have stepped in and busted her for repetition of the word “meets”. Or for content far too explicit for a primetime audience.

Or, if all else fails, because it really wasn’t that funny. At all.

So, did that work, or was I just steadily whipping a poor, defenseless metaphor to death over the course of 700 words? Opinions welcome in the comments below, or email me if your thoughts are shameful. Copyright Nick Bryan 2011, please do not steal, etc.


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