Recently my car radio broke and I couldn’t fix it. It happened when my car battery was replaced. The radio just stopped.
Now, I drive a lot, and when I do I listen to the radio. News mainly, and talk-back. For years I’ve been an avid listener, and when I’m near a TV or not driving, an avid watcher and reader of current affairs.
It’s all part of being a comedian and MC; there’s material ready to be plucked from the jaws of day to day life. Good material. For years I’ve been proud of my right to claim my newspapers, radio and TV as tax deductions.
And every time I’ve had a chance to see and listen to news, I’ve done it with the zeal of an addict.
So, when my car radio stopped working a few months ago, it was a spooky moment. What on earth would I do with my time? I drive a lot, about 30, 000 k every year. To gigs in the country, and to visit friends and colleagues in the city (now that I live in the outer suburbs as it’s all I could afford to buy on my performer wage). And when I drive long distance, the radio’s like a buddy, chattering away and filling my time amidst the same green and brown monotony of the West Australian bush.
And every hour there’s always a little chance the news will offer something new: a footy scandal, a political gaff, a bureaucratic bungle, some commercial DJ humiliating a vulnerable listener. And all these titbits are easy to turn into a routine; just take what we’ve all heard and extrapolate it into some what if scenario, or simply repeat what’s been done or said and celebrate the inanity or stupidity of another gem of parochial culture or right wing belligerence. Usually gets a laugh, particularly if it’s just happened that day. And if you can throw in a pun, all the better. For example, when I heard recently that the government were going to impose pot restrictions on WA crayfishermen, my response was simple and immediate: What! Pot restrictions! That’s a bit unfair. I know quite a few crayfisherman and they can’t get out of bed without at least five bucket bongs!
Ok, so it’s not Lenny Bruce or even Lenny Henry, but it works. Does the job. And as an MC that’s all you need sometimes.
So I tried to fix the radio, even took it to the manufacturer – Ford – who gave me a pin number and said, “Wait til it says ‘code’ on the display and put in this pin number.’ I duly wrote the pin number on my dash board, and when ‘code’ came up rather than ‘error’ I pulled over with excited expectation, entered the code and…..nothing. Back to ‘error’. And that’s how it’s been for the last three months.
And you know what? I’m Ok about it. In fact I’m happy. Like all drugs, news and current affairs have downsides, big ones. There’s a whole lot of stories that are not just unfunny, they’re horrible. I won’t list them, you know what I’m talking about.
Now, it’s generally believed that we have the ability to filter the gruesome stuff out, like we can traffic noise or cicadas. Part of or our brain says, “Switch that off and turn this up.” But I’m not so sure it all goes away, and on the radio it’s there, it’s said and it’s heard. With the TV you can walk out of the room, switch off, make a cuppa. With the newspaper you can go to another column or another page. With the car radio I used to just sit through it and wait for a better story. I must have heard thousands of reports about slaughter, abuse, torture and abhorrence happening who knows where. But it’s Ok, I zoned out. Or did I?
I don’t know. What I do know is that I was sitting in traffic one day, after a few weeks of no car radio, and I thought to myself, 'This is alright, just sitting here looking around, doing nothing.’
It then occurred to me that there are probably many moments when doing nothing is a whole lot better than doing something…or having something, talking to someone, taking something, making things, setting something up for later on, being someone, wanting something.