When not on stage whipping the crowd into a frenzy of “This might be the ideal time to go for a piss”, I can be found trawling op shops for reasonably priced hipster accoutrement. If I’m not in either of those places, odds are, I’m at my Clark Kent day job of working in a café. That’s right, the time honoured position of creative types who have yet to make it big or failed to realise they will never make it big.
Seeing as most of my comedy is based on things I want to punch, working in a café has made my knuckles red raw with new material. Admittedly, that has less to do with the job itself and everything to do with the patrons. I live and work in Brighton. For those of you who attended public school, Brighton is an affluent suburb in a perpetual state of mid-life crisis. If you’re not watching old men craning their necks to make sure everyone sees their fuel injected penises, you’ll see executive botox mums push space-age strollers containing the biological result of whatever eggs were left.
Every day these jewellery clad skeletons trundle into my café and challenge every notion I’ve had about money buying happiness. It obviously doesn’t. Most skeletons look like they’re smiling. Even Skeletor had a comical grin and he was an evil bad ass. The ones in my café have sour faces like they’re perpetually stuck in the fog of a stranger’s fart.
You would think a life of privilege would leave you with nothing to complain about. Not so, they love complaining. Complaining has replaced Polo as the sport of the wealthy elite. I think the only time they glimpse something akin to happiness is when they are harping on about first world problems. I’m amazed when I hear people bitching about something being good, but not amazing. ‘That is the watermark of wealth. When you complain about not having much to complain about. How very Meta.
There are, of course, some customers that make the day worthwhile. Around the corner from work is a centre for developmentally disabled people. Each day the staff ring in their coffee order and send someone with Down syndrome to pick it up. I know they’re trying to teach them independence, but it does have a sort of human St. Bernard type vibe to it. Still, they are easily my favourite customers.
In direct contrast to 99% of the other clientele, they are polite, friendly, and genuinely warm. They too challenge my notions about happiness. My Down syndrome customers have a joyful disposition born from simply not giving a shit. They don’t stress about their appearance. Where you and I would shun the bum-bag as a tacky accessory befitting of German tourists and guys who are really getting into steroids, they see it for what it is. A functional hands-free device allowing the wearer to become a well organised human/kangaroo hybrid.
Why aren’t we all wearing bum-bags? They’re clearly brilliant, and ever so slightly patriotic, but we worry far too much about what others will think. That’s why the majority of my customers seem so dour. They desperately care how their fellow neighbours perceive them. Are they driving the right car? Does the bling on their knuckles sparkle with the souls of enough dead Africans? They are prisoners of their own vanity. Aren’t we all?
My beautiful Down syndrome customers have a level of freedom most of us will never know. My favourite customer came into the café wearing his usual overly tight Superman t-shirt, greeted us all with a huge grin and a bright hello, and then did something that completely astounded me. He farted. Just like that. He expelled a problematic gas, smiled the smile of a job well done, and went about his day.
Incredible. I had no idea what a sheep to society I was until that moment. I’ve vainly tried to convince myself I don’t care what others think, but it’s never once crossed my mind to fart when I needed to fart. How simple! How revolutionary! How many first dates have I been on with a bloated colon of polite agony? Disney tells you to be yourself, but Aladdin never sat on the magic carpet with Jasmine, biting his bottom lip while squeaking out the symptom of a poo. He should have, it’s who he is. An oozing, belching, wheezing, dripping human.
There is a beautiful freedom in not caring what people think of you. It’s a trait that can take decades for a comedian to achieve. That’s where I think working in a café has given me a slight edge. If I can bear the humiliation of a name badge on a faux chef uniform, then the awkward silence of a failed joke is like a warm summer breeze. That and if things are going south, whip out some fart material – that stuff kills every time.
Simon Keck is a comedian and writer who supports himself through the use of his legs and currently resides in Melbourne where he lives with his actions.