London is a strange town. If you live in a village (or at least, when I did) you know all your neighbours, at least by sight and to say hello to, but in the big city these basic relationships break down sometimes. We were invited to Christmas drinks by the couple who live six doors down from us tonight and realised that we had never even really clocked each other in the nearly 11 years that I have lived here (they have been here for 35 years). The husband looked slightly familiar so maybe I had passed him in the street a couple of times, but I didn't recognise the wife and she had no idea what I looked like or that I had been here for so long. This might be partly down to me as I have kept myself to myself (especially when I first arrived in this street and felt lonely and displaced), but I suppose they must have as well.
I can understand the impetus not to befriend one's neighbours (given that it's a line I have taken pretty much all the time I have lived in London) - just because someone lives near you does not mean that you will get on with them and if you actively don't like them then they will be hard to escape. Yet on the other hand it's good to have someone on hand who you trust to feed your cats or look out for burglars when you're away or just take in parcels for you when you're out. Yet on the third hand you also have to be available to perform all those services for them. Maybe it is better on balance to shut yourself away in your cocoon and never acknowledge the existence of anyone else.
I certainly felt like bailing out at the last minute, but my wife, who is far more sensible than me, insisted we at least pop in to say hello and I was glad that we did at least make contact with people who I've lived my life so close to (without impacting on each other in any way) for so long. But to be honest I don't think I could pick more than five people who live in my (reasonably) long street out at an identity parade. And I must have walked past all of them at some point in the last decade. Maybe I am unobservant or maybe our society is broken or maybe we're just all too busy with our own stupid lives to worry about our neighbours.
Anyway it only took us 11 years to make a small connection and I might check up on them in 11 years time. Or alternatively I could pop round every day trying to cadge sugar or asking for a cup of tea or just coming in, sitting in their lounge and watching their TV without saying anything to them.
We didn't stay late and went home to watch a TV programme about Psychopaths. I wondered if I might be a psychopath, but my fear of doing anything risky and my lack of desire to stitch up my friends to further my own career and the fact that I have never murdered a prostitute and taken his or her eyes as a trophy led me to think that I probably wasn't. But if I was a really good psychopath wouldn't I have faked it so that I didn't have psychopathic tendencies? Wouldn't I have even fooled myself into thinking I was a nice guy by having some rescue kittens and doing a lot of secret work for charity and deliberately sabotaging my own career? Maybe. According to the Psychopath Test, I am only 30% psychopathic and I can't see how a limited multiple choice quiz could get that wrong (though my wife did ask me the questions, so obviously my answers might all be lies - especially the one about whether I'd cheat on a partner if I thought I wouldn't get found out).
I am pretty sure there are a few psychopaths in my business - comedians didn't register in their top five professions for psychopathy, but surely only because there aren't enough of us to be statistically significant. Whilst I don't like bungee jumping and got nervous being on Pointless, I can stand on stage in front of 3000 people without breaking a sweat and I think my life and opinions are worth expressing and documenting. But I think I have empathy and limited ambition, which is not true of everyone in this job. I listened to Andrew Maxwell on the Comedians' Comedian Podcast in the gym this afternoon and was impressed with his description of the shallowness of some comedians who are driven by the desire to succeed and the void within them that will never be filled however successful they are. He argued that his own personal happiness meant he didn't have that and nothing awful had happened to him as a kid that he had to fight against to fill the emptiness. It's powerful and incisive stuff and whilst I am sure we all have our moments where we berate our own lack of comparative success, I think that many of those with the drive to make it have something dark pushing them onwards. Only to discover that nothing makes the darkness go away. Which ones are psychopaths? I can't tell you for sure, but I bet you that out there somewhere in the world there is a comedian with some bodies in his basement.
I have to say that Stuart Goldsmith does an excellent job of coralling Maxwell, a man who always wants to tell a story and go for the gag (which he also does in this podcast) and who starts the thing a bit distracted and out of sorts, but by the end it's really interesting and incisive stuff about comedy. These are all good. If you're interested in the mechanics of comedy and what madness drives comedians then do have a listen to them.