New Times,
New Thinking.

18 January 2007

The dangers of looking and laughing

Be careful when you laugh in public, warns the comedian

By Richard Herring

“What are you fucking looking it?”

Five words that you never want to hear directed at you. This is why Londoners walk around with our eyes averted as if we were living in the City of the Gods; why we pretend to read John Grisham books on the tube; why we would never know if our capital had been taken over by giant lizard people, provided they all wore the same shoes as us.

There have been two occasions when I’ve been asked what I am fucking looking at. The first occurred in the summer of 1991. I was enjoying an alfresco pint with friends. A woman I was hoping to have sex with made a crap joke about Rene Descartes, and I pretended to find it amusing.

As I say, I was hoping to have sex with her. As I laughed I threw back my head in what I took to be an alluring manner. I happened to catch the eye of a gigantic drunk man who was in the process of slamming his fist into the face of his smaller, but equally drunk, companion.
“What are you fucking looking at?” he slurred.

There is no way to answer this question and remain undamaged, but I was young and so stupidly gave the worst wrong answer, “Nothing.”

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“You think it’s funny, me hitting my pal?” he continued, walking towards me, as this person that he was so friendly with was slumping unconscious to the floor.

“No, I was laughing at something my friend said,” the register of my voice rising from baritone to falsetto in just one sentence.

“Because I don’t think it’s funny,” he growled, ignoring my protests which were, in any case, now in so high a voice that they could only be heard by bats. And the bats didn’t care about my excuses. They just wanted a fight.

I hoped this furious alcoholic would listen to reason, but within seconds I was on the floor and being kicked in the temple by his large boot. Somehow my companions managed to stop the assault and I got away with light injuries. The woman who told the rubbish joke felt so guilty that we ended up having sex that very night. Or maybe that was just what I dreamt whilst I was in my coma. I don’t recommend it as a dating technique.

The second time I was asked what I was fucking looking at came just this week. I was walking down the street alone. I happened to have a vaguely amusing thought of a similar standard to the Descartes joke, and even though I wasn’t trying to have sex with myself, I gave a wry smile. Unfortunately, I still felt the need to do a coquettish glance to the side, just as two men in beer stained football shirts were passing. My glance caught one of them square in his face, which was already twisted with some unspeakable inner torment.
“Whaeryoufugginlookinah?” came the inevitable question.

Although I was tempted to reply “A ginger-haired man with a red face and a drink problem”, the years had made me more streetwise and I carried on walking, at exactly the same pace, eyes back to the floor, saying absolutely nothing (for fear of attracting those agitator bats).

Fortunately this time the man was so drunk that he had already forgotten why he was complaining before the words had passed his lips. Though my heart was beating fast, my head remained unkicked and I slept alone that night.

I suppose the moral of these stories is that wry humour is a dangerous thing and should only be laughed at by the sexually desperate.

Alternatively if you’re looking for someone to fight then just try the audience at any Rory Bremner gig.

If you laughed at that last joke and caught anyone’s eye, you’re in big trouble.

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