It’s Not Easy Being Ironic
Nury Vittachi on the challenge of being satirical in a straight world
stopped a friend of mine and asked: “Is this your car, sir?” The driver, a cheery man suffering from advanced irony, replied: “No, I stole it.” Bad idea. It took him two hours to convince them that he’d had congenital sarcasm all his life.
As a fellow sufferer, I concur that this is one scary disease. When applying for a United States visa, I had to fill in a form asking whether I ‘intended to commit terrorist acts’ while on US soil. It is virtually impossible for chronic irony sufferers not to answer “yes” to such a question. Luckily, I was stopped, as
my spouse no longer allows me out of the house unsupervised.
Yet it seems to me that people in general are experimental these days, taking risks on big and small scales, just to see what happens. My daughter told me about a guy who went to a high-tech burger shop and asked the order-taking computer for a cheeseburger with no meat, no bun, no pickles, no salad and no sauce. Result: it gave him a thin square slice of cheese.
The same week, a reader told me about a judge in the US who set bail for a run-of-the-mill arrestee at US$4 billion just to see what would happen. The process went through unchallenged. I’m sure court staff were mightily amused, although the man’s family probably spent a LOT of time with hands down sofa cracks looking for cash.
These reports reminded me of a story I covered as a travel journalist. The pilot of a passenger plane found an unlabelled button in the cockpit and pressed it to see what would happen. Nothing, as far as he could tell. But it sent a secret signal to his destination, Manila’s international airport, saying that hijackers had taken over the flight. The pilot landed to find the army waiting with heavy weaponry pointed at the plane.
Just a thought: maybe curious people who press random buttons for experimental reasons might not be ideal pilot material? “This is your captain speaking. Please return to your seats and put on your seatbelts because I want to try something, yeah, baby.” I once asked a famously irresponsible friend how he could take such huge risks, and he replied: “Because one day the Earth will be sucked into the Sun and humanity will disappear for ever.” It was a good answer, and one I’ve used often, although it doesn’t work on traffic police. I know that now.
The key to good sarcasm, of course, is keeping a straight face. The day before writing this, an impatient colleague pressed the lift-call button twice. I told him: “If you press it three times, it goes into hurry mode.” He gave me a suspicious glance – but pressed it a third time. Score.
Tip: If someone says, “Thanks a lot” to you, and you don’t know if they are expressing gratitude or being sarcastic, simply nod and reply with an equally ambiguous phrase: “Yeah, right.”
It is virtually impossible for chronic irony sufferers not to answer “yes” to such a question
Nury Vittachi is a Hong Kong-based author. Read his blog at Mrjam.org