Nowadays lots of things work properly. They are reliable, last a long time and you can always get an identical replacement.
It’s becoming a real problem.
For comedy, I like props that are quirky, unbalanced, mis-shapen – stuff that doesn’t work properly!
I used to get quite stressed out about it. That is until a few months ago, when I was working in a school – a brand new, bang up to date contemporary “new build” school.
I needed to get into costume quickly, so after asking if I would like a tea or coffee, a teacher proudly showed me to a deluxe toilet where I could change. You needed a code to get in (for safety reasons) – so he typed it in – and in I went.
It really was a lovely room. Gleaming surfaces, modern design, energy saving equipment, everything…
Suddenly I realised I had left my waistcoat in the theatre. I popped back to get it. As I got there, the school secretary appeared with two mugs of tea for myself and my double act partner. She told me that we couldn’t leave the drinks unattended (for safety reasons). My partner had disappeared, so I had to take the drinks back to the deluxe toilet / dressing room – only to find myself locked out and not knowing the entry code.
Hot teas in hand, I took a difficult and messy journey through unpredictably opening automatic doors to find someone who gave me the toilet code. I returned to the toilet after another difficult and even more messy journey. With no hands free to type in the code, I had to type it in with my nose. The handle was at head height (for safety) so I had to turn it with my mouth, trying not to loose any teeth, or spill any more hot tea on my now slightly burnt hands.
After some awkward trial and error, viewed with disdain by passing 5 year olds, I managed to get back in – and on entering the efficiently designed (tiny) room, I set off the automatic (hyper-sensitive) hand dryer. The brand new (faulty) dryer nozzle had slipped and was facing upwards – and shocked at the sudden blast of hot air in my face, I staggered backwards towards the sink, setting off the automatic (hyper-sensitive) tap. Startled by the noise of the luxury (over-powered) water jet, I turned to be blasted with water, ricocheting off the attractively curved (particle-accelerating) sink.
With wet trousers and a show due to start in minutes I started panicking.
I tried to put down the cups of hot tea, but the sparkling clean (incredibly slippery) surfaces were all of such a delicately curved (completely impractical) design that the mugs kept slipping off. Placing the mugs on the immaculate (skiddy) floor, I went to get some toilet tissue to dry myself. The environmentally friendly (pointlessly small) tissues were dispensed one at a time, each time with a grand (embarrassingly loud) “thumpf”.
I decided to try the hand dryer again. Unable to turn the nozzle to face downwards, my only hope of drying my trousers was to take them off or stand on my hands. Anyone experienced in working in schools knows that you should never take your trousers off. So I clambered onto the toilet seat and sink and attempted to dry my trousers whilst astride the dryer. The very high technical specification meant that it would only work if you constantly waved something (exactly 20 centimetres) underneath it, so I spent a difficult few minutes balancing on the various porcelain surfaces, while waving my hand between my legs.
Suffice to say that my faith in the rubbishness of things was restored.
I am confident that while man endeavours to make things perfect, he will always make things worse – which will always make our jobs easier, which will always make us laugh.
So as you venture into the immaculate risk free future, fear not. The universe will always provide chaos to mock our attempts at order.
In tribute, here is one of my favourite depictions of the disasters of the future, Jacques Tati’s extraordinary “Playtime”.