From Jester To King LXI
By Simon Barget
Would you believe my father used to help me out with my sketches? Well I was probably just a boy then but still. I say this because I can hardly believe it myself, it’s just coming back to me. He was living alone in this motel room close by our house. And he had all his little things arranged just as he wanted them, a fastidious new man in charge of his existence, all his notebooks and paper, his pens and his record player, and all his suitcases and god forbade anyone who went close let alone touched them. I remember the furniture, this old black aluminium-framed arm-chair he always sat in or stood against. And I went round this time, all full of excitement, because I thought a lot of my Dad at the time, -- yes there was a time!—and I had this idea for something where he’d do the voices, he was good at voices and I wasn’t really, and I wasn’t intending to do something in the vein of Robin Williams, but as I pressed record on my little brown Dictaphone I remember how impressed I was, I mean he was transformed and it had everything this voice, it had rhythm, the snap-back and the drawl and the depth, and it had the right cadence and tone, it had the speed and the zaniness, the goofiness, I remember how just so easy it was for my father to switch into character, I was blown away by the speed of the transformation, which made it all the more disappointing that just as we got something down, just as I’m thinking that me and him can work together and produce something substantial, I begin to see he was winding down to stop, as if I should understand that a few minutes is enough, and then he did stop, and I was pretty much devastated because I knew that if I tried to persuade him to go on, he’d use it as one of the numerous opportunities to rub in my face how good he was and how I wasn’t up to scratch, which is exactly what he ended up doing, and I could feel my stomach drop, my excitement vanish, I could feel the disappointment and the depression invading and taking me over as I tried to grapple with the dual shock of the truth of me not being good enough, which is what I was trying to overcome even through him, and the death of our burgeoning skit.
You see the idea for me was for him to start and then for me to chip in when I got up my confidence. That was the sad thing; back then I never believed I could start off anything myself. And when I got him to start, it was so good and I felt so inspired and just needed a few more words to spring out from him, as I really started to get to grips with the character and the mood and then I’d have something really good, something really worth recording. I mean I knew I needed him and couldn’t go it alone. And now I remember this wasn’t even the first time. He’d helped me years before and what he’d done was simply amazing — I can hardly believe I’m talking about my father here — and I’ve still got it on tape. And the voice he was doing the second time was from back then, it was part of this character that we’d already created, and this was a follow-up. The character was my idea, the story too, I mean the story wasn’t set but was just supposed to develop naturally and inevitably from the character, and I’d thought out all the traits and the idiosyncrasies of this character and my father had merely performed it. Which is why I’d come back to him. But this time he was older, and it was as if he didn’t have the energy for it, and this seemed to coincide with him trying to make the point that I wasn’t able to do it myself, and so I wonder now whether he just did it the first time out of this sense of protecting me and helping me, because I’d convinced myself that it had been more of a collaboration, that I had somehow been instrumental in awakening his powers, but his reluctance and low energy and disinterest on this occasion seemed to suggest otherwise.
I cannot tell you how defeated I was, I was so deflated, I recognise that feeling today whenever I get excited about something and think it’s going to work out and then I just get let down, people let you down, and it was like that but a hundred times worse. What do you do with that feeling?
Then my sister Cheryl happened to come by. She came by just as my father was telling me that it was enough for the day, waving me down in his inimitable way. And so I was very surprised, it was completely unexpected, when she started having a go at my father for doing so, having a go at him for giving up, and she must have heard a bit of the skit, and I must have contributed something, because she berated my father for always giving up and told him that I was the one who really had the ability, not him, and I think she was intimating that I didn’t believe in myself enough and that if I did I wouldn’t have to feel beholden to my father, but I remember reeling with this shock and trying to grapple with the possibility that I could actually go it alone, which I’d never contemplated, it felt like walking into a black hole, and all I’d thought about myself and my father went up in the air, and perhaps this was a turning point, because it had always been the starting off bit that I struggled with, the getting into a character, it felt off and a bit wrong to go from being the very set ‘me’ to being an other, which we all knew was a fake, and there was my sister saying that I was actually better at it than my father, well now I don’t give a second thought to a voice or a character, I just do it, I don’t need anyone’s permission, I don’t need to go cap in hand to my father or anyone and wait until they’ve got the energy or stop when it wanes, yep that is the worst feeling to be beholden to someone, and I’ve really not collaborated with anyone since, and you know what thank god I don’t have to.