Maeve Higgins’s ideal . . . anecdote
Nobody wanted an Ike Turner impersonator anymore. Photograph: PA
I was in my room the other day, practising the different voices I use for men and women. One is high, sweet and just a smidgen unsure of itself, the other jagged, low and bordering on strident. Both were fantastic, but I could not decide which voice to use for which sex. This confusion confused me, so I decided instead to imagine the ideal anecdote.
You don’t know what an anecdote is, so you’re embarrassed. Hush, child, let Momma explain.
Reciting the lyrics of Belinda Carlisle’s Circle in the Sand in low, urgent tones is not an anecdote. Recalling past birthday gifts from your sisters and speculating on how much they cost is not an anecdote. Listing people you’ve slept with and what you ate afterwards is not an anecdote. Got it? Hush again, child, that was rhetorical.
Before telling your sweet ’dote, you need to decide what reaction you’re looking to elicit. Feelings of sadness, wonder, joy? How about a canny mixture of the three? I’ve got one that does just that. It starts off sad: when my career was suffering because nobody wanted an Ike Turner impersonator anymore. By some miracle (this is the wonder part) I get a new job. I start work as Marty Whelan’s chauffeur, ferrying him between Lyric FM and house parties during the week, and nightclub openings and his villa in Lusk at the weekend.
Through my wisecracking at the wheel, he spots my natural talent for show business. At this point in the anecdote, people are hanging on my every word. And that’s when I bring the joy – I tell them that Marty Whelan introduced me to his RTÉ friends and Geri Maye and Ronan Collins agreed to take turns to mentor me. Cue happy tears.
An anecdote is often about the listener. They must be patient and trust they are in safe hands, and keep their questions to themselves. Some are sceptical, jamming up the grooves of your story with their questions.
“Why would you have a baby crocodile in your dungaree pocket?”
“When did Coolio propose to you?”
I feel only pity for them and their nit-picking.
Anecdotes that start off predictable – boy meets girl – should include a twist at the end – boy gets pregnant – to truly keep the listener rapt. If you can’t exactly back up your tale, then don’t leave any time for questions.
Simply clink your slim-jim to the muddled old listener and sweep off, ready to dazzle another bored knot of people.
My ideal anecdote is a glistening seashell, polished to perfection by the tides of retelling, but not worn through. The one I’ll take with me to the prison yard and the shipwrecked raft is a kimono of a tale, one I can dress up real fancy with heels or dull down with a cardigan, depending on the audience.
It’s pure silk, impressive and light, without a trace of the sneaky little worm that spun it.