VIDEO LINK INTRO OF A DELIGHTFUL STORYBOOK, OPENING UP TO REVEAL THE WORDS ‘TALES OF ST PANCRAS BEAR’. LIGHTS UP. A DISHEVELLED, ANTHROPOMORPHISED TEDDY BEAR ENTERS STAGE RIGHT HOLDING A CRUMPLED SHOPPING BAG CONTAINING TAT AND A ‘BOOK’
ST PANCRAS: ‘ello kids. Remember me? It’s your old friend, St. Pancras Bear. Don’t know who I am? Well, I’m not surprised. Bet you know who Paddington Bear is though don’t you?! […] You want to hear a story about Paddington Bear? One sunny day two bears made their way to popular London train stations in the hope of being taken in by a nice family. One of them set off to Paddington station, got taken home by the Browns, managed to secure himself a lucrative book deal, and became the nation’s darling. The other bear [INDICATES HIMSELF] went to St. Pancras Station and was forced to make the best of a bad situation by becoming an independent procurement specialist in the area of urban pockets.
[HE COUGHS VIOLENTLY, GIVES AN AUDIENCE MEMBER HIS BAG TO HOLD, THEN SNATCHES IT BACK]
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wish people well, [SHOUTS] I’m a well-wisher. But the question is, does Paddington deserve the luck he had? […] Who’s the real bear behind the duffle coat? Because you have a right to know just who it is featuring in the bedtime stories of your darling, fat, little children. You want to know the sordid truth about your precious Paddington? Well, he brazenly admits on his own website – that’s right, he’s got a website! It’s pretty good actually – that in order to get to England he ‘stowed away’ on a ship’s lifeboat. Illegal immigrant. Not only that but Paddington is not even his real name, it’s Pastuso! And most shocking of all, Paddington describes himself as originating from ‘darkest Peru’. Racist. [SITS CENTRE STAGE] So Paddington is a racist, illegal immigrant who is living in England under an assumed name. “What other dark secrets might he be harboring, St. Pancras?,” you ask. Well, ever wondered just how Pudsey Bear got that eye patch? Well, he never talks about it. Or anything, in fact. Very troubling. Traces of marmalade found in the wound apparently, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions….
– Extract from St Pancras Bear, by The Dead Secrets, first performed 2013
The disgruntled St Pancras Bear, who feels hard done by the success of his contemporary, Paddington Bear, tries to vilify Paddington by making him the untrustworthy ‘other’ in as many ways as he possibly can.1 The analysis and break down could very easily go on. It’s also just a part of a funny sketch. Comedy is a powerful tool. It can ridicule, deride, degrade and dismiss, and it is important to recognize when a damaging route is taken in comedy. It can also uplift, encourage, and highlight the shared human experience. That is crucial.
All forms of art are capable of transcending the physical by touching the individual on an emotional level and crossing boundaries and differences. There are, of course, aspects of all art, and comedy specifically, where a person’s enjoyment can (and on occasion should) be affected by his or her understanding of language, culture and shared social experiences, all key influences in the migrant experience.
You could argue, perhaps, that although you might enjoy Monty Python’s well-known ‘The Four Yorkshire Men’ sketch, where they compare and try to out-do each other with the social and financial deprivation of their youth, you do not fully understand it without having an awareness of the socio-economic and cultural context. There would be truth in this. But if you enjoy it for whatever reason (quality of performance, your own interpretation of the joke, your understanding of it within your own social or cultural perspective), does it always matter?
The joy of laughter is a shared global human experience. We may all find different things funny, but we all (well, most of us, anyway…) find things funny. Much comedy is universal. Non-verbal physical humour, for example, can in a single moment communicate a ludicrous but shared human experience (the pratfall, the farcical entrance/exit, the run in with a lamp post). There is a reason why quiet but physical characters have often been the most internationally loved and understood, such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean.
A lot of talk about migration is focused (rightly) on the individual experience, and the many differences to be considered (culture, movement, status) when looking at a migrant’s journey. But it’s important, I think, to also remember the shared human experiences and the moments where these can be found. Although much can be said, validly and importantly, about power struggles, perspective and context in comedy, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that a genuine smile or laugh will always be universal. This goes a long a way toward eliminating ideas of ‘us and them’, migrant and non-migrant, and any other divisions – if only for the moment it takes to giggle or heartily guffaw.
1 Something done to great humorous effect by the creator of Paddington Bear himself, Michael Bond, in his book Paddington Here and Now (2008) where Paddington has to decide where ‘home’ really is, based on his immigration status.