Brains, money and the art of mime

A survey reveals that brainy humans are no more wealthy than the average meathead. That doesn’t surprise me. In my experience, these intellectual types don’t know much about turning a buck. A lot of them teach in universities, where they clog up their mental circuits with endless verbiage or mathematical puzzles. That kind of book learning is fine in its place, but it doesn’t bring the pig to market. It won’t get you far in the jungle either. Quoting Socrates never saved anyone from a charging hippo.

The ape that puts on airs is ruthlessly cut down to size by his comrades. I recall the case of a chimpanzee who spent a year in the home of a professor of philosophy. When he returned to his tribe, he started using highbrow words like “paradigm” and “ontological”, which caused the other chimps to frown at him with puckered lips. He crossed the line at the annual simian convention. We were having a debate about the snake menace when he put up his hand and said:

“Rather than seeking a general method of repelling snakes, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to devise ad hoc remedies for each species?”

His use of Latin caused the entire conference to erupt in derision. His fellow chimpanzees screeched with contempt; the gorillas hooted with laughter; the monkeys wet themselves with glee. Even the parrots in the trees started flapping and squawking. The poor chap never managed to live it down. For daring to say “ad hoc”, that chimp was thenceforth known as “Sad Cock”. His shame was so intense that he disguised himself as a baboon.

I’ve got nothing against humans with academic credentials – my friend Dr Whipsnade is clear proof that a man can prosper in spite of his qualifications. But if you want to make your fortune in the hairless primate community, you’ve got to bring your goods to the masses. “Bums on seats” is the name of the game. The bums are obviously plentiful and rarely reject a product because it’s too vulgar or garish.

Back in my circus days, I once did a double-act with a mime artist called Nigel. This lad took his art very seriously, modelling himself on Marcel Marceau. He was initially reluctant to perform with a gorilla, but I convinced him that he wouldn’t have to compromise his methods. I suggested that he follow me around the ring, copying my every gesture and movement, thereby proving to the world that a human could ape an ape.

We began the season together and I must admit I was impressed by the boy’s work. I couldn’t see what he was doing behind me, but his antics always got plenty of laughs. Then an unscripted incident occurred during one of our performances. He was chasing me around the ring when a toffee bar got stuck to my foot. I instinctively stopped and shook my leg to get rid of it, but unfortunately my heel smacked young Nigel on the chin. The audience thought it was hilarious and laughed like lunatics as he lay there twitching on the ground. I revived him with a bucket of cold water and helped him to his feet. We took our bow together to a thunderous ovation.

After the show had ended, everyone thought we should incorporate the foot-punch into our act, but Nigel protested, complaining that it was slapstick rather than mime. “What would Marcel Marceau say?” he moaned.

The ringmaster walked up to him said: “Marcel Marceau can eat snails! We’re running a business here, not an appreciation society for arty-farty Frenchmen!”

The ringmaster was a tactless bully and an arse of the highest calibre, but I couldn’t fault him on the fundamental economics. In the society of the naked ape, you either play to the gallery or live like a pauper.

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