What our children allow us to be

We open on an interior. The banality is key. We will later find out that this chap is a professor, a leader in his field but the bromidic quality that the opening shot presents allows the comedy to shine. The map on the wall; the books; the blue shirt and red tie combo; the fact he is central and straight on. It is nondescript. It all works. Back right is a black door. Jet black, but through it will come such light.

We are moments into the clip as the first genuine star appears. Our talking men have been but foreground distractions. With the confidence and swagger of someone who’s about to make an internet sensation of themselves, in comes the eldest child. Her gait and joviality are perfectly observed. She presents a happiness her father could only dream of. With elbows out and a merry tune in her head, this little lady looks set for at least 20 million Youtube views. Bespectacled, brandishing a toothbrush (obviously) and clad in mustard yellow, this little genius is keen to undo all her father’s integrity. Within seconds, she is at his elbow. Again, this is lovely. Anywhere else in the room would prohibit the pathetic attempts he makes to manhandle her. Bosh, a big forearm to the face and then a no-look push. She rides both effortlessly. A strong hand to the chest comes with the subtitles of “get out of the f**king room” but this little princess is, crucially, going nowhere. She comes to rest just right of shot, against the previously mentioned books, and, with the toothbrush popped in her mouth, sets about destroying her father’s career with consummate ease.

What the..? Is that a..? It is. Shit, this is good. A baby in a baby walker. Exactly who we need. Pixar would have picked this. Our heroine has a sidekick; comedy is better in pairs. Bobbing through the door, indeed pushing his or her way into international Facebook recognition, is the second child. The fact that the baby has to force their way in is neat. We love the determination in those little legs. And, of course, it allows a tiny beat in the doorway. You need to herald your arrival with a pause in the entrance, something that looks accidental. Norman Wisdom would have struggled to get through that doorway. So too does our baby walker baby.

Our fall guy is falling, and he’s strapped in. His eyes close as he hears the clamour behind him. The mouth drops and his chest softens. There is nowhere for him to go other than a meek apology and a weak smile. He is now just a passenger in a car he was hoping to drive. Importantly, he doesn’t look back. This would break the device; he mustn’t join in with the antics behind him. That is not his role. He needs to stay face on so we can fully delight in his world falling apart. And, of course, he can also use the rearview mirror Skype provides by way of the little window in the bottom left of his screen. He stops talking, unable to hold his concentration, internalising the struggle, allowing us all to feast on what is happening at the back of the stage, hoping, for the love of God, that help is on its way.

And then, perhaps the piece de resistance, the magnum opus: in slides the mother. And the slide is genius. Exactly how she needs to enter the room. It carries an unmistakable silent panic but also a comedic grace. Not only does she slide but she dips, trying to keep out of shot. Unlike the other cast members, she doesn’t want the camera to find her. Having sized up the task mid-slide, she hits the floor appreciative of the tricky operation she has to exact. Two hostiles; both need removing; minimum casualty: marine grade extraction. She disappears behind her husband allowing just an arm to come out and whip the toddler off its feet. Again, the precision here is brilliant. The child is distracted with the toothbrush and doesn’t see the snag coming. Her arm is the equivalent of the hooked cane around the neck of a failing music hall act. This piece owes so much to so many.

The mother manages to whisper some sort of direction to her children, a brief admonishment perhaps, but her job is only half done. Cleverly, as though a stagehand has helped, the door has closed. She begins to back out of the room, keeping low, but her path will not be straightforward. All of these small moments make a whole. She has to open the door and then drag her children out. The baby walker is awkward. It is just about the size of the doorway and has four wheels that want to go in opposite directions. It would be relatively simple if there was no panic, but there is. Panic makes you try and pull both children through the same narrow space. And, of course, the eldest child has adopted a well-trusted technique. Comedic and parental law governs that she should not come easily. Disappointed to leave, and seemingly powerless to her mother’s demands, she has become a dead weight. This stunt is a delightful nod in the direction of all parents. Operating children in such fashion will chime every progenitor’s bell. There is no mother or father who hasn’t agitatedly manhandled their child’s limp body across a floor and out through an exit because they were not where they should be. Great comedy needs pathos, and here it is. There is no one in shot for whom we don’t feel pity.

The final flurry of this miniscule masterpiece is impeccably observed. Having managed to get the two children (and baby walker) out, there is a pause, and then our mother returns to shut the door. This is essential. Any farce (and this, in microcosm, has borrowed all that genre’s beautiful timing) needs the door shut. Cleese would shut the door; it resets the original scene. We need to leave things as we found them; cyclical comedy is the most pleasurable. Still on her knees, she swings it closed and, as if representing the wind on which this whole performance has alluringly sailed, the map on the wall billows. Not only does this portray a breath exhaled but, magically, the ripple symbolises the way this clip will make its way across the world. It is allegorical perfection.

Our stooge continues to talk, about what, we care not. His steadfastness has been a crucial ingredient in one minute’s entertainment unlikely to find too many rivals. Whatever this started as, the result is wonderful. Comedy doesn’t often come along so well packaged. And, soberingly, it serves as a timely reminder. That despite our best efforts, we are only what our children allow us to be.

Sam Roberts © 2017. (Text only). All Rights Reserved


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