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9. if the light is off, then it isn't on

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Before Taylor Swift entered my life and my heart, I was a huge Spice Girls fan. ‘SPICE’ was the first CD I ever owned; a reject gift passed on to me one fateful Christmas when my cousin decided he didn’t want it. I would go on to spend years putting my blonde ringlets in pigtails until one day, I eventually put my dreams of being Emma Bunton in the corner, and made my very first album purchase - ‘Metamorphosis’ by Hilary Duff. Just like Hilary, I was going through some changes of my own - my hair was no longer blonde and I started to enjoy and relate to her no-nonsense lyrics like “if the light is off, then it isn’t on” - I remember thinking to myself “damn, Hils, that’s so true”.

There were two main reasons I connected with ‘Metamorphosis’ and simultaneously decided I was done with ‘SPICE’. The first reason was because Hilary taught 12 year old me a lesson I needed to learn - listening to her album of banger after absolute banger made it clear to me that she had the confidence to see other people’s opinions of her as none of her business - and at the time, I thought that was pretty rad. At school, in music class, my peers and I were required to do a show-and-tell type presentation about our favourite musician and I chose to talk about Hilary Duff. We were expected to discuss the main themes and messages of our album of choice. I talked about how I liked that she expressed the idea that you have no control over what people think of you, and if they happen to get you wrong - then it’s their problem and not yours. I concluded my speech by quoting Hilary herself with the line “I’m not about being analysed, like it’s some kind of test”, and received the worst grade of my entire academic career.

In my humble opinion, Hilary also didn’t get the results she deserved - ‘Rolling Stone’ foolishly only gave the record 3 stars and described Hilary’s songs as “heavily focus grouped” but personally I would have given the record 2 more stars, and questioned what exactly is so wrong with a focus group if their resulting work manages to help tell the demographic exactly what they need to hear while also teaching them how to spell a 13 letter word that was not a part of their existing vocabulary. If you don’t agree with my interpretation of the lyrical content of this outstanding album, please remember I was 12 years old and you are arguing with a child. At 12 years old, I think my analysis was spot on and this album expressed everything I was thinking and feeling, especially on one particular afternoon, when I had heard some other peoples particularly cruel opinions of me and proceeded to lie on my bed in my childhood bedroom violently sobbing while belting out “if you see a single tear, it isn’t gonna happen here”.

In the corner of my bedroom was a trash can into which I had rather dramatically just thrown ‘SPICE’. I was mad at all of the four girl group members who had sang words at me that I no longer believed in. I realised the Spice Girls had nothing on Hilary - because that day I had learnt, for the first time in my life, that the Spice Girls were actually full of shit, and friendships do, in fact, end.

Friendship break ups happen, and as they always say, sometimes friends are just people who haven’t become strangers yet. Some friendship breakups are a big deal and it’s not about simply growing up or growing apart, and these have been my biggest heartbreaks. I think friendship break ups can be far more devastating than romantic ones for many reasons, but primarily because monogamy isn’t generally a part of friendship. Yeah yeah, it’s 2021, and not all romantic relationships are monogamous, but all of mine have been and I can only speak from my experience - seriously, I am completely void of empathy. I personally am a fan of monogamy in romance for a few reasons with the main one being that ending a monogamous relationship is much easier from a strictly administrative standpoint.

There are so many reasons you can give that will be unlikely to be disputed at any relationship exit interview, and I've always been fine handing out and being handed a P45 in romantic encounters. I’ve been the one to both say and hear things like “I’ve met someone else”, “I am focussing on my career right now”, or the classic “I just want to be friends”.

It’s rather difficult to give a friend a similar demotion - you can’t exactly say “you’re great, I just think we are better as strangers!”. You’re allowed to have loads of friends so ditching one generally takes something pretty dramatic especially if you opt for going cold turkey instead of a simple phasing out approach. In some instances, romantic exes might actually be speaking their god-honest truth when they claim “it’s not you, it’s me” - but if a friend dumps you, it’s unlikely and I’m sorry to break it to you, but call yourself Penn Badgley, because, baby, it is you.

At the start of 2005, things were looking good for me - all was well, I had healthy relationships, career on track, mortgage repayments under control. I was part of a little group of friends - a delightful little trio. Two thirds of the group were called Hannah, because none of our generation of parents had any individuality and our group consisted of me - who went by Han, Hannah - the obvious alpha Hannah of the group who got to keep her full name, and a girl called Harriet.

I spoke to Hannah and Harriet on the landline after school most days. It didn’t make a lot of sense to do so - we were 12 year olds who had spent all day together, so we didn’t have much more to say. I spent most of our phone calls searching for things to say and then rather formally asking my friends if they had anything else to say. Most days the phone calls were brief, and all that was discussed were our respective bus journeys home.

One day I told them about how I heard the popular girls on my bus talking about my older cousin who went to the boys school. They were talking about how cute he was and I told them he was my cousin (in order to acquire some street cred) but they didn’t believe me. I thought they didn’t believe me because we look completely different but they said I couldn’t possibly be cool enough to be his cousin, so I phoned him from the bus to prove I was telling the truth. He answered and pretended we had never met.

Another day I told Harriet and Hannah about how one of the popular girls asked me if I even knew what a blow job is, and I said “duh of course I do, I get them at the hairdresser all the time” because I thought they were talking about blow outs. They laughed at me and said “ewww you do not get them at the hairdresser!” and I thought they were laughing because blow outs were pretty extravagant for 12 year olds with no social calendar, so I said “um yeah I do but only on special occasions”.

One particular phone call with Harriet had no mention of stories from our respective bus journeys as Hannah didn’t join the call and I was worried. Hannah had been very off with me that day at school and I thought she was upset with me. It was strange that she didn’t join the call. I asked Harriet if she knew why Hannah wasn’t joining us today or if Hannah had said anything to her, because I thought Hannah was upset with me and I had no idea why. I thought I could try and resolve the situation - if I had done something I wanted to know what it was so I could fix it. Harriet said she didn’t know why Hannah wasn’t speaking to us on the call and hadn’t noticed anything at school. I said “ok it’s probably nothing, do you have anything else to say?”. She didn’t, so we hung up.

The following day I went into school. It was the morning that led to the afternoon of crying alone in my room. I walked into my classroom and sat at my desk. As she did every day, Hannah sat in the assigned seat beside me, but that day, when I sat down, she adjusted her posture so her back was turned to me. Harriet sat down on my other side and started glaring at me. A girl called Millie shook her head in disgust.

Just like you might be thinking now, I thought “who the fuck is Millie?”. I had never spoken to Millie before, she was in my class but we didn’t talk so I didn’t know why she was providing non verbal cues as her two cents in this rather confusing scenario. I was very confused. I asked Millie what her problem was, and she said “you literally know what you did”. Reader, I literally did not.

Millie, who was involved for heaven only knows what reason, carried on to inform me that I had phoned Harriet the night before and told her that “Hannah was a bitch” and “I hated her”. I told Millie I had done no such thing and she told me that actually Harriet said I had and actually Harriet would never lie. I told Millie that Harriet was lying because I didn’t call Hannah a bitch or say I hated her.

Millie, who I now like to refer to as Schrodinger’s nosy little bitch, carried on to apply absolutely no logic and said “I didn’t say you were lying, I said Harriet never lies”. This made absolutely no sense. If Harriet was telling the truth, then it had to follow that I was lying. If I was telling the truth, it had to follow that Harriet was lying. Both statements could not be true as they contradicted each other - I told her that it was simple logic and she lacked critical thinking skills. I told her to just think about it sensibly for one second - if the light is off, then it isn’t on. I thought if Millie couldn’t do the math, she should get out of the equation.

You might be wondering why I decided to write about this seemingly insignificant drama from 15 years ago now - and the reason for this is twofold. The first reason is because it felt about time for this sort of blog entry - normally when writers are out of ideas, generally around the 10th episode mark, they write a flashback episode that really didn’t need to be made. It’s the one that everyone skips when binge watching, and the one that even the writers know is not their best work, but they’ve included it because they made a commitment to create content and they claim that it is important to help you understand the characters and why they are the way that they are.

For this reason, this blog entry could be viewed as my hero (or villain) origin story (depending on what you think of me). This is because this particular incident of being told I did something that I didn’t do, and of therefore being told that I was someone I am not, was a pivotal moment that led to me writing the very first joke I ever wrote. Harriet receives all credit (or all blame) for what I have become, as she was my very first muse -the very first person I ever wrote a joke about.

I recently found the joke I wrote about Harriet in a very old diary, and I will share it with you - but before I do, I must give you a little context. Harriet had a famous father who had been in the papers in New Zealand (where I lived at the time) for having enjoyed many a scandalous affair. Obviously this wasn’t an ideal situ for Harriet, and until she started to deliberately ruin my life, she had my deepest sympathies. However, when she started taking her anger out on me, it wasn’t an ideal situ for me, and she immediately lost all my sympathy. I knew I didn’t deserve to be the punching bag for her to project her own shit onto me, so for the very first time in my life, I opened my diary and did what I now do every single time I am sad or mad - I wrote a joke.

I kept my diary to myself and the jokes I wrote were only ever intended for personal consumption, because, in those days, I had integrity. Unfortunately, in the almost two decades since, I have become increasingly exhausted with the cruel world we live in, meaning I no longer have the same amount of integrity - so going forward I am happy to make each and every part of my early work public if anyone wishes to pay me to do so. In 2005, however, joke writing was a strictly personal and cathartic exercise, it was about the ~art, and for my eyes only - it wasn’t like I was planning a roast battle with children in the playground - although now that I think of it, I reckon that would’ve been sick, and I might try to pitch that idea to someone. I would definitely make sure my very first joke is included in the pilot, which as I promised to tell you, was:

“The only people who have had more doors opened by Harriet’s Dad than Harriet herself, are the women he puts into cabs in the morning."

Before you start picking this joke apart and noting that it isn’t nice to make fun of a child for coming from a broken home, I would like to point out that I was also a child and not at my peak of maturity yet, and my parents loved each other. I never told this silly one liner to Harriet, or to anyone else for that matter, until today, 15 years later, as I am telling you and the 10 other people who read this blog.

Harriet was the first person I ever wrote a joke about, and doing so made me feel better - I had felt like the narrative had been taken away from me, someone else was writing my story and saying I had done things I hadn’t done, so being able to express myself in my own words offered me a sense of control. Since then, I continued to write jokes about every person I encountered who caused me anything from a minor grievance to heartbreak, and I have kept all of these in my private handwritten burn books of which there are many in a box in my parents home. I always thought this was a normal response but I have spoken to other comics and no one else has ever admitted to doing this, and some have said “Hannah that’s fucked up” - which is slightly alarming because, if you are unaware, comedians are a particularly fucked up group of folk.

In my defence, all the jokes I wrote throughout my adolescence were never shared and this was because they were never intended as a way to make Harriet or anyone else who had upset me feel worse - they were simply a way to make me feel better.

That being said, I also think that my very first joke highlights that I was very well read on what was being reported in the tabloids, had quite a solid understanding of nepotism for my age, and was able to work with joke structure and topical joke writing - so panel shows please hmu!!!

The second reason I have decided to write about this in my blog today is because - as I am sure it is readily and increasingly apparent - I never really move on from anything that ever happens to me. When I was 12, Hannah believed Harriet over me, making our trio a twosome, and me terribly sad. I dug out my 15 year old diary this week because I was reminded of my old school pals recently when something remarkably similar happened in my life - someone told a lie about me and other people believed the lie instead of me.

Once again, unfortunately, this made me terribly sad. And, once again, unfortunately, I felt the need to write some jokes. Fortunately, I have already learnt that I don’t need to prove who I am to anyone and other peoples opinions are none of my business - so I have decided I won‘t be sharing these personal jokes. At least not today.


P.S. please enjoy this tragic photo of me in a Hilary Duff t shirt that says “born to be a rock chick” styled with a nike golf visor.

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