On friday night I bore witness to a most rare and under utilised skill. A friend of mine was halfway through a telling lengthy story when he recognised he’d lost his audience. It’s a horrible feeling isn’t it but what can you do? Well, incredibly, my mate had the presence of mind to abandon the story mid- anecdote!
I had my suspicions from the outset. Any story that begins with the reassurance ‘oh this is a funny story…’ can usually be taken as proof positive that the story is, in fact, not going to be funny at all.
I used to do the same thing on my radio show from time to time, opening breaks by saying ‘now this is going to be good’. Invariably, they were the breaks that bombed. You can’t convince people they’re going to like something before they’ve seen or heard it. God knows Paramount tried with the latest Jack Reacher film. For over a month, all I’ve seen is Tom Cruise calmly beating people up everytime I click on a youtube link. I mean it’s a good trailer but no amount of youtube pre roll ads can change the fact that the film is a piece of shit.
Surely my friend’s anecdote would be more entertaining than Jack Reacher: Never Go Back though… I mean he’s no Larry David but he’s got some comic instincts.
The story began with a medical problem relating to a testicle. He waited for a reaction. None forthcoming… We meandered over to a detailed description of a game of mixed netball. No detectable link to testicle – I began to tire. He got a referral to see a Specialist… Was alcohol impairing his ability to omit the irrelevant details? Minutes passed with no punchline in sight.
At this crucial juncture, a mutual friend arrived, temporarily hijacking his story. She was quickly invited to join in before all momentum was lost. He quickly recapped what had been missed in point form. (It was so succinct, I couldn’t help but wonder why I couldn’t have been given the ‘Greatest Hits’ version).
At the complete mercy of our storyteller, location shifted from Doctors surgery to living room with seemingly no end in sight. And that’s when it happened… Without any emotion or warning, he just declared ‘oh don’t worry about it, it’s a stupid story anyway’ and abandoned his story.
I felt like a presidential turkey that had been pardoned on Thanksgiving Day.
With his acute ability to read social cues on full display, my friend aborted his lengthy story, winning my new found respect in the process. Okay it was a crap story but who amongst us can honestly say they too haven’t told a crap story? Not I. I only hope that next time I’m knee deep in a crap story that I have the presence of mind to do as my friend did and not just wade through to the end.
Do you possess the superhuman ability to abort a story? Leave a comment below…