The Comic Man by Jerome K Jerome

Story type: Essay

He follows the hero all over the world. This is rough on the hero.

What makes him so gone on the hero is that when they were boys together the hero used to knock him down and kick him. The comic man remembers this with a glow of pride when he is grown up, and it makes him love the hero and determine to devote his life to him.

He is a man of humble station–the comic man. The village blacksmith or a peddler. You never see a rich or aristocratic comic man on the stage. You can have your choice on the stage; you can be funny and of lowly origin, or you can be well-to-do and without any sense of humor. Peers and policemen are the people most utterly devoid of humor on the stage.

The chief duty of the comic man’s life is to make love to servant-girls, and they slap his face; but it does not discourage him; he seems to be more smitten by them than ever.

The comic man is happy under any fate, and he says funny things at funerals and when the bailiffs are in the house or the hero is waiting to be hanged.

This sort of man is rather trying in real life. In real life such a man would probably be slaughtered to death and buried at an early period of his career, but on the stage they put up with him.

He is very good, is the comic man. He can’t bear villainy. To thwart villainy is his life’s ambition, and in this noble object fortune backs him up grandly. Bad people come and commit their murders and thefts right under his nose, so that he can denounce them in the last act.

They never see him there, standing close beside them, while they are performing these fearful crimes.

It is marvelous how short-sighted people on the stage are. We always thought that the young lady in real life was moderately good at not seeing folks she did not want to when they were standing straight in front of her, but her affliction in this direction is as nothing compared with that of her brothers and sisters on the stage.

These unfortunate people come into rooms where there are crowds of people about–people that it is most important that they should see, and owing to not seeing whom they get themselves into fearful trouble, and they never notice any of them. They talk to somebody opposite, and they can’t see a third person that is standing bang between the two of them.

You might fancy they wore blinkers.

Then, again, their hearing is so terribly weak. It really ought to be seen to. People talk and chatter at the very top of their voices close behind them, and they never hear a word–don’t know anybody’s there, even. After it has been going on for half an hour, and the people “up stage” have made themselves hoarse with shouting, and somebody has been boisterously murdered and all the furniture upset, then the people “down stage” “think they hear a noise.”

The comic man always rows with his wife if he is married or with his sweetheart if he is not married. They quarrel all day long. It must be a trying life, you would think, but they appear to like it.

How the comic man lives and supports his wife (she looks as if it wanted something to support her, too) and family is always a mystery to us. As we have said, he is not a rich man and he never seems to earn any money. Sometimes he keeps a shop, and in the way he manages business it must be an expensive thing to keep, for he never charges anybody for anything, he is so generous. All his customers seem to be people more or less in trouble, and he can’t find it in his heart to ask them to pay for their goods under such distressing circumstances.

He stuffs their basket full with twice as much as they came to buy, pushes their money back into their hands, and wipes away a tear.

Why doesn’t a comic man come and set up a grocery store in our neighborhood?

When the shop does not prove sufficiently profitable (as under the above-explained method sometimes happens to be the case) the comic man’s wife seeks to add to the income by taking in lodgers. This is a bad move on her part, for it always ends in the lodgers taking her in. The hero and heroine, who seem to have been waiting for something of the sort, immediately come and take possession of the whole house.

Of course the comic man could not think of charging for mere board and lodging the man who knocked him down when they were boys together! Besides, was not the heroine (now the hero’s wife) the sweetest and the blithest girl in all the village of Deepdale? (They must have been a gloomy band, the others!) How can any one with a human heart beneath his bosom suggest that people like that should pay for their rest and washing? The comic man is shocked at his wife for even thinking of such a thing, and the end of it is that Mr. and Mrs. Hero live there for the rest of the play rent free; coals, soap, candles, and hair-oil for the child being provided for them on the same terms.

The hero raises vague and feeble objections to this arrangement now and again. He says he will not hear of such a thing, that he will stay no longer to be a burden upon these honest folk, but will go forth unto the roadside and there starve. The comic man has awful work with him, but wins at last and persuades the noble fellow to stop on and give the place another trial.

When, a morning or so after witnessing one of these beautiful scenes, our own landlady knocks at our door and creates a disturbance over a paltry matter of three or four weeks’ rent, and says she’ll have her money or out we go that very day, and drifts slowly away down toward the kitchen, abusing us in a rising voice as she descends, then we think of these things and grow sad.

It is the example of the people round him that makes the comic man so generous. Everybody is generous on the stage. They are giving away their purses all day long; that is the regulation “tip” on the stage–one’s purse. The moment you hear a tale of woe, you grab it out of your pocket, slap it in to the woe-er’s palm, grip his hand, dash away a tear, and exit; you don’t even leave yourself a ‘bus fare home. You walk back quickly and get another purse.

Middle-class people and others on the stage who are short of purses have to content themselves with throwing about rolls of bank-notes and tipping servants with five-pound checks. Very stingy people on the stage have been known to be so cussed mean as to give away mere sovereigns.

But they are generally only villains or lords that descend to this sort of thing. Respectable stage folk never offer anything less than a purse.

The recipient is very grateful on receiving the purse (he never looks inside) and thinks that Heaven ought to reward the donor. They get a lot of work out of Heaven on the stage. Heaven does all the odd jobs for them that they don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of doing for themselves. Heaven’s chief duty on the stage is to see to the repayment of all those sums of money that are given or lent to the good people. It is generally requested to do this to the tune of a “thousand-fold”–an exorbitant rate when you come to think of it.

Heaven is also expected to take care that the villain gets properly cursed, and to fill up its spare time by bringing misfortune upon the local landlord. It has to avenge everybody and to help all the good people whenever they are in trouble. And they keep it going in this direction.

And when the hero leaves for prison Heaven has to take care of his wife and child till he comes out; and if this isn’t a handful for it, we don’t know what would be!

Heaven on the stage is always on the side of the hero and heroine and against the police.

Occasionally, of late years, the comic man has been a bad man, but you can’t hate him for it. What if he does ruin the hero and rob the heroine and help to murder the good old man? He does it all in such a genial, light-hearted spirit that it is not in one’s heart to feel angry with him. It is the way in which a thing is done that makes all the difference.

Besides, he can always round on his pal, the serious villain, at the end, and that makes it all right.

The comic man is not a sportsman. If he goes out shooting, we know that when he returns we shall hear that he has shot the dog. If he takes his girl out on the river he upsets her (literally we mean). The comic man never goes out for a day’s pleasure without coming home a wreck.

If he merely goes to tea with his girl at her mother’s, he swallows a muffin and chokes himself.

The comic man is not happy in his married life, nor does it seem to us that he goes the right way to be so. He calls his wife “his old Dutch clock,” “the old geyser,” and such like terms of endearment, and addresses her with such remarks as “Ah, you old cat,” “You ugly old nutmeg grater,” “You orangamatang, you!” etc., etc.

Well, you know that is not the way to make things pleasant about a house.

Still, with all his faults we like the comic man. He is not always in trouble and he does not make long speeches.

Let us bless him.

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