Waiter, waiter, there's a lie in my soup
Does Bono watch Graham Norton on a Friday night, perhaps flicking over from the Late Late when the disease-of-the-week slot starts?
If he watched it last week he will have heard, from an Irish member of the audience, a story he’s already familiar with. It went something like this: a guy and his girlfriend go to a fancy Dublin restaurant. They spy Bono and a friend at a table opposite. When Bono nips to the toilet, they ask his friend if he’ll take a picture of them with Bono when he returns. Friend takes picture. They later ask for the bill. The waiter tells them it has already been covered. “Did Bono pay for our meal?” they ask. “No, his friend Bruce Springsteen paid for it.”
Cue laughter from star guests and audience. Cue many viewers enjoying this fun encounter. Cue other viewers shouting at the telly that it did not happen.
The Bono-and-Bruce restaurant story has become one of the most repeated urban myths of recent years. The details can alter – it might happen in Copenhagen, London, a variety of Dublin restaurants (most commonly Chapter One); sometimes it’s an autograph rather than a photograph – but the punchline is always the same: they didn’t recognise Bruce Springsteen!
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the man who appeared on Graham Norton is not the ground zero of this amazing anecdote that has spread far and wide.
The origin is uncertain: online there are references to it as far back as 2009 at least, and it appeared in Hugh O’Donoghue’s 2010 book Urban Legends Heard in Ireland. The most recent edition of The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends uses it as an example of positive celebrity lore.
Bono is the central character in more negative urban myths, such as one that tells of him standing on stage, clapping his hands slowly while pronouncing: “Every time I clap my hands a child dies in Africa.” During a pause a wag in the crowd calls out, “Well, stop clapping your bloody hands.”
This is a mutation of a Bono-free Jimmy Carr joke, based on a real Make Poverty History campaign. It gained legs when the Daily Telegraph printed the Bono version as fact in 2006, and it still pops up occasionally in pieces that give the U2 singer a dig for tax double standards.
Why did it grow? Because people are keen to suspend belief for a story that feeds off the perception that Bono is a self-righteous prat who could do with having a notch or two taken off his heel lifts. The Bono-Bruce story also flourishes because, if told in sincere friend-of-a-friend fashion, it can sound just on the right side of plausible.
Both, though, are in essence jokes: a set-up and a punchline, at odds with how most such Irish celebrity stories usually go. They tend not to be funny. And the joke is seldom on the teller.
In Ireland the most prevalent tend to be those that take on a particular nastiness; rumours that have run around and around until they’ve taken on a dark certainty that blackens the subject’s name.
You’ll all know one. You’ll probably know a few. They are effectively slices of malicious gossip, but they often come framed in the “I know the garda/ nurse” context of urban myth. In several cases the subjects have had to publicly dispel fictional stories that have got out of hand.
Among the most pervasive urban myth of the late 1990s and early 2000s, for instance, was the Ronan Keating/Brian Kennedy/lovers/row/car crash, the kernel of which Kennedy and Keating have each been forced to dismiss more than once. Yes, I know you know the garda . . .
Those myths have stickiness because in a country in which everyone is connected, it’s easier to accept it when someone says, “It really did happen to a friend of mine. Or a friend of that friend, anyway.”
In the villages of twitching curtains, where secrets genuinely were hidden from view, and rumour filled the void, the greater focus put on a celebrity or sportsperson leads to greater rumours. And in the gap between the people and the establishment, you’ll always hear the words, “Sure, everybody knows it’s true; they just won’t print it.”
Anyway, the next time Bono is interviewed, maybe someone will ask him for his version of the restaurant story. Everyone has a Bono story. He’ll surely have a few himself.