Any stand-up comedian has at one point or another heard crickets on stage. That one joke that falls completely flat and leaves you desperately trying to cover it with a follow up before everyone realises that you were trying to be funny. Alternatively you can always search for the black pit nearby to drop into and let the world swallow you whole. How cosy. But it’s not just stand-ups that feel this, although admittedly their livelihood depends on avoiding it. Each of us has said or done something to make others laugh. When you leap into the pile of leaves like an excited child and you hear everyone laugh, it’s an accomplishment. But If they instead all stare at you with judging eyes, then it’s not quite so fun to be in the spotlight. But the common thing to anyone’s experience is that bellowing silence. The quiet of judgement or misunderstanding of others that makes you curl up like a peachy raison and socially perish. But there’s a worse fate to the flat joke that few people realise. The counter that emphasises just how ridiculous you are.
Many politicians suffer this. When they try to stir their public, silence is not the worst they could fear. From news in the United States, a republican politician by the name of Ted Cruz lost most people’s trust and experienced this at rallies. No matter what he said, whether it was joke or not, was smacked down by the crowd’s chant; ‘lying ted’. Not an angry chant so much as a ridiculing one. In the U.K, the leader of the liberal party Nick Clegg got this a lot after he helped betray all the promises his party made back in 2010 and the wave of ridicule to whatever he said was beyond stopping. There’s also an escaped London zoo gibbon wearing a blond wig called Boris Johnson who I’m sure must have felt this his entire life. Now I too join their ranks. No sweet silence or blissful crickets to meet me when my rhetoric fails. I instead am faced with Congo.
Elodie when I first met her had a peculiar way of language study. French is her native language but she is equally confident in both English and Japanese (much to my own jealousy). However this is due to a special technique. When I speak foreign languages I often make mistakes like other non native speakers, in which case I pause to correct myself or look up the correction in private. Elodie however, often decides that proper grammar and pronunciation could be ‘improved’ on and will regularly invent her own idioms and vocabulary whenever she draws a blank. She did this so much in fact that we could no longer keep pretending that she was merely adding new words to the English language but rather she was creating her own. I will refer to this language as the abomination ‘Elodish’. The new-found language became very popular amongst Yokohama students and a point incomprehension for me (that would easily be solved with a power drill to my temple). One evening in the library, she was discussing the popularity of Elodish and much to my disdain, ways in which it could be developed. She even went as far as saying that Elodish would one day be spoken across the world. Before the arrogant bizarreness of it all became too much, I needed to deliver a sarcastic joke on that line.
“I don’t know Elodie. I think the only place that language will be spoken is in the Congo”
Hysterical, right? Now, I know you’re clutching your sides in pain as you’re laughing but take care on where you are. Try to stifle your laughter if you’re currently on a busy train and if you’re with friends, tell the joke gently so that they don’t spill drinks or hurt themselves in their merriment. It’s obviously a profound joke. However, my company of friends didn’t quite understand it at first so I was forced to explain, ruining any chance of it ever being funny for them.
“You know, because of the apes in the Congo jungle”
“Because of the scientific research there. Proving Darwin right”
“…Elodish will be spoken by Darwin in the Congo? What?” Elodie asked
“No! By the apes there”
“What?”. Elodie looked to Kara, the other native English speaker for help, who looked just as lost as she was.
“You really don’t know about this? It’s really big news. There’s currently a lot of scientific scrutiny into the apes that live in the Congo right now because they’ve started displaying human behavioural traits. Mostly the use of tools and forms of communication between each other. For example, in order to cross rivers, they use sticks to judge how deep the water is and test how far they can wade. It’s more advanced than the ways other animals have used tools. This information is potentially very revealing as it’s been suggested that they are displaying signs of how human beings had evolved from apes. Perhaps it was in this way that the human race gradually began to stand up straight and go on to invent the wheel. Perhaps Darwin can be proved irrevocably right by observing another creature approach greater complexity”
The others looked at each other to see if anybody got the joke yet.
“What has Elodish got to do with this sorry?”
“Because this research is focussed on evolution and one of the defining attributes of human evolution was the development of language. But it started out really simply before it became sophisticated. So if these apes are displaying early signs of human evolution or development, then their form of communication will be incredibly simple and basic. A language that’s barely a language at all. In other words, they’ll speak Elodish….I’m making a joke about how terrible Elodie’s made-up language is”.
At long last there are exclaims of understanding around the table.
“Wow, your joke totally failed Poncho” Elodie delightfully tells me.
“It’s a ‘Congo joke’” Kara explained with a laugh, “a joke that nobody gets at all!”.
Unfortunately for me, this coined phrase stuck. If I ever made a joke that nobody laughed at, I’d suffer an almighty chorus of ‘Congo!’ from my friends. They’d yell it at me to remind and ridicule me just how cryptic I sometimes sound. You see, with silence I would have had an opportunity to recover a poor line or bad joke by talking on and pretending that everything was normal. That becomes impossible if you keep hearing ‘Congo’ yelled at you instead. This would be fine if it was used in exactly the same context; I don’t make so many jokes and usually they’re understood (you know, just like every other average human being that tries to be funny. It is normal!). But for some reason, ‘Congo’ became an acceptable reply to any of my minor sarcastic comments (that make perfect sense by the way).
“I would have gone to the beach with you. But I was just more interested in this milkshake…” I said in reply to a particularly stupid question.
“Congo!” they cry at me.
“What do you mean ‘Congo’? Surely you understand that?”
“Yeah but I didn’t laugh. So it’s a ‘Congo’”.
The criteria for this put-down extended even further, to the point where jokes were no longer necessary to incite it.
“Is that a ‘Congo’?” Elodie asked, wavering between keeping quiet and warning the others to join in.
“I wasn’t telling a joke! I was just asking if you’ve ever been fit enough to run up a flight of stairs without panting or swearing. I suspect not, knowing you”.
This single word has become the bane of my life and there’s no way of escaping it. it’s a tragic outcome really. Obviously my sarcastic comments are both amusing and make complete sense; I just have the misfortune to be surrounded by those who can’t (or won’t) understand them.