My habit of saying really inappropriate or moronic things is about as old as my ability to talk. I have what I suspect is an insecurity-fuelled need to be funny in any given social situation, and I also tend to believe that no subject should be off-limits. Not everyone shares that belief, though, and I’m not always great at judging people’s sensibilities. I’ve made more than my share of jokes that have offended or annoyed people, or — worse — have just not been laughed at. I also have a brain that is an absolute bastard and will not let me forget a single misjudged joke or embarrassing comment.
When I was nine and at school, my teacher used to have us play a game called Lucky Seven. The idea was, before morning break time, she would ask seven questions and the seven people who got them right were allowed out of class five minutes early. I can’t remember how many times I got the questions right — might have been zero, might have been a hundred. I have absolutely no idea. But what I do remember is the time my teacher asked, ‘What is the name of Derby County’s stadium?’ and I shot my hand up and shouted, ‘Wembley!’
It was The Baseball Ground.
I knew it was The Baseball Ground. I had been to The Baseball Ground. I was a Derby County Fan. I said Wembley.
Nobody laughed, nobody commented on it — they just moved on with the game and forgot it ever happened.
I’m now thirty-three and I’m still mortified to this day. MORTIFIED. In my head, the rest of the kids who were in that class still wake up on a weekday morning and they shuffle into the bathroom and splash water on their faces. They brush their teeth, and as the foam builds up around their mouth they look in the mirror, laugh, splutter, and say, ‘Wembley!’
These days, my affliction comes out mostly in the pub when I’ve had a few drinks (or on the train). But that’s not to say that it doesn’t — or hasn’t already been known to — occur in more embarrassing situations.
About six years ago, I interviewed Ernie Hudson. Lovely chap. We spoke about his role in the television show Oz — one of the inspirations behind David Simon’s brilliant The Wire — which ran from 1997 – 2003, the comedy classic Ghostbusters, and the cult classic The Crow.
While talking about the latter, I raised the potentially upsetting subject of Brandon Lee — the star of the movie, who died during filming. Due to some accident or oversight during preparation for an earlier scene, a dummy cartridge was unknowingly lodged in the barrel of a .44 Magnum, which was to be fired at Lee later. During that later scene, a blank round was used. Blanks use a live powder charge and primer, which was sufficient to drive the previously-lodged bullet out of the barrel with almost the same force as if a live round had been fired.
Lee was taken to hospital where surgeons worked on him for several hours before he eventually died from the wound. He was twenty-eight.
I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for anyone working on that movie. It was apparent during my interview with Hudson that he was still saddened by the tragedy.
It was very difficult. It was difficult for everybody. It was one of those things where you make movies and you — you want them to look dangerous and difficult and scary and all that, but in reality they’re pretty benign. Nobody gets hurt. When somebody actually dies on a movie that you’re on, it’s just very hard to come to terms with that. Brandon was a great, great guy and I knew him for about eight years before we did the movie and, erm — it was just very, very difficult.
We chatted about the movie for a little while longer, before I decided to change the topic of conversation to something a little lighter. Here’s how I did that:
I would probably be shot if I didn’t ask at least a few questions about Ghostbusters.
Did you catch it? Did you catch my tiny faux pas? No? Okay, well, what I said was that I would BE SHOT if I didn’t ask some questions about an eighties comedy. SHOT. I would be SHOT! Minutes after Hudson had been talking about a tragedy, which had seen his friend of eight years accidentally shot to death, I said —
The thing is, I didn’t even realise I’d done it. I wasn’t trying to be funny, it was just the group of words that my brain gave me to change the subject. It wasn’t until a friend and I were watching the video back a couple of days later that he said, ‘Ummmmmmmmmmm…’
I’m a moron.