There is an expression in French to designate the witty ripost you always seem to have when you are on your way out of the door; in other words, too late. L’esprit de l’escalier. The wit of the staircase. You might also have another form of wit. What you might call l’esprit du pas de la porte. The wit of the front doorstep. This is the wit you prepare in advance and which never turns out quite the way you wanted.
I am a great one for the wit of the front doorstep and I tried it out the other day. I went to the opening night of the Sluice Art festival. This is the alternative to the Frieze Art festival. Anyway, knowing there would be a great mass of hipster-types in the assembly, bearded gentlemen, I had an old Ken Dodd joke I wanted to place. It runs like this: “Ah! I see you are sporting a beard, sir. Beards. Very trendy these days. Very trendy. I just have one question. When you are eating shredded wheat, how do you know when you’ve finished?”
Clearly, a hilarious joke! And yet, even though I tried it on three separate occasions each time to an appropriately bearded stranger, there was scant response. On two occasions I was greeted by the ripost “what’s shredded wheat?” I ask you. Where does that leave you? How can you tell a joke without a shared humanity? Or at least a shared breakfast cereal?