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Date: 08/02/10


Have you ever heard a joke (or a clever remark) and laughed, but not been able to figure out quite where the joke is?

I have two examples: firstly, in Vivian Stanshall's legendary pieces on the gallery of grotesques at Rawlinson End, Sir Henry's butler, Scrotum, is referred to as "the wrinkled retainer".

It took me about a decade to see the joke there.

The second one comes from a 1980s routine by the American comic Emo Phillips. Talking about a woman schoolteacher, he says:

"She was, by and large....but anyway...."

I laughed at the time I heard it, and have laughed since (probably because the audience laughed - laughter tends to be contagious), but if anyone had asked me to explain the joke, I wouldn't have been able to do so.

Until yesterday afternoon, when I was standing at my back door. For some inexplicable reason that line came back to me, and suddenly I saw it, after twenty-odd years. What Phillips said contained an inaudible comma somewhere other than where I'd put it in my head:

"She was bi-, and large...."

Now I am - as the psychiatrists say - 'conflicted'. Whilst I'm very glad to have finally 'got it', I feel immeasurably dim for having taken so long.