I was listening today to a broadcast describing the seriousness of ‘fat shaming’ and similar cruelties in modern times. It would seem that the popularity of social media and the consequent pressure to be ‘liked’ is doing little to help. Young girls are the most common (and most obvious) targets but men are not immune.
I am not here to preach. This is more of a confession, if anything.
And so I am reminded of my old friend Joe who battled with a body which was determined to be, like him, larger than life. There is no doubt that he bore the brunt of many insults growing up as a result, and I must confess, to my great shame, being responsible perhaps, for some.
Joe was blessed, however, with a staggering intelligence and a rapier wit and these he sharpened from an early age to counter the cruelties that were pointed his way. I recall many tales he told of enacting revenge upon people who had wronged him at childhood birthday parties and the like. He was a careful planner and a patient man. Some individuals waited 20 years to get their comeuppance. On numerous occasions he had me rolling on the floor as he described the devious techniques of retribution he would employ to even score with unsuspecting victims.
I was also honoured to perform with Joe in numerous comedy sketches. Most are now gone from memory but I do clearly recall one in which we planned to have him arrive on stage swinging via a rope ‘Tarzan style’ but dressed in red tights and a blue cape as “The Man from Interact”. Due to our lack of engineering skills and poor equipment testing, the rope upon which he arrived gave way to his tremendous weight in the last 30 degrees of its arc and he arrived at my feet having slid the last 20 feet along the stage following the great crash of his landing. Despite his injuries he immediately leaped up and, unscripted, declared, “wrong fucking vine” before continuing. The audience considered it to be a high point in both choreography and dexterity.
He did get his revenge on me, though. In another jungle themed skit I was cast as the great white hunter and he as my ‘man Friday’. We strode through the jungle together as I conducted long dissertations about the strange imaginary species that we encountered along the way (with curiously similar features to the living people we were lampooning) and with Joe in silence – a double barrel shot-gun slung over his shoulder. When we came across one particularly odious creature at the end I ordered him to ‘put it out of its misery’ whereupon Joe theatrically pointed the weapon at a position not far from my feet. At this point the curtain was to have been drawn and we planned to go with a recorded explosion to simulate the execution. Roy had other ideas. The gun was loaded with two blank cartridges and Roy’s ears loaded with cotton wool. He let both barrels go about 3 inches from my head. It was not a big auditorium. The audience departed with ringing in their ears. I didn’t hear anything again for a week.
I don’t think I ever appreciated the strain that Joe was feeling. There can be no doubt that, over time, his physical health began to suffer, but also no doubt that the long-term assault on his mental health was taking its toll, despite his brave (and highly amusing) face.
At the age of about 40 he took the radical step of undertaking a surgical procedure in an attempt to bring things into some sort of control.
He died on the operating table.
So I dedicate this to Joe. He was fat. But he was always to be more beautiful than me.