...but embarrassment: AA Gill
I once had to judge Tatler’s humorous-writing competition. It was a deadpan thing, like watching painters die — the most effortfully chronic collection of constipated whimsy, punning slapstick and tomfoolery. I learnt a useful lesson: the opposite of comedy is not tragedy, but embarrassment. The horrible rictus of trapped punch lines and strained setups. After a weekend of reading the Christmas-cracker dross and after-dinner aperçus, I sent in a memo of resignation, saying I couldn’t stand it any more, that I’d rather be forced to live a life as a metal Mozart street mime in a shopping centre on Moss Side than read another Day-Glo line.
I’d always imagined that the worst thing that could happen would be to be buried alive; but I realised it would be to be buried alive with whoever came second in the Tatler humorous-writing competition. I had to laugh: my resignation letter won.