Sep 30, 2014 People
Jamie Whyte, comedian, April 1, 2060.
The first great comedian of the 21st century, Jamie Whyte, is dead at 94, asphyxiated in a television stunt. “From the moment he took his first step, we could see something wasn’t right,” a spokesperson for FOXTV1 said. “But honestly, who would have thought there was anyone in the world who couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time?”
Comedy was not his first life. He was a management consultant, a foreign currency trader, a philosophy lecturer at Cambridge.
On his Wikipedia entry it was written, possibly by Jamie Whyte, that Jamie Whyte’s books and articles set out to “expose shoddy reasoning, especially by politicians”.
But as middle age grew near, like a moth to a flame, like a drone to unsuspecting civilians, Whyte found himself pulled towards New Zealand and its shabby, shoddy politics.
He would run for office, he decided. His platform would be the sheer majesty of his mind.
“Articulate, persuasive, urbane.” He chanted the words to himself as he drove to cafes where smiling reporters lay in wait. But in vain. The magic words would vanish, and the journalists would find others. “Patrician. Out of touch. Batshit crazy.”
His political stance as leader of the libertarian-spirited Act party could be most generously described as rarefied. Maori were legally privileged “just as the aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France”. Fiji, after three decades of coups, was a model for ending race laws in New Zealand. Incest was not his thing, but he could not find a philosophical basis on which to position himself 40 feet away from it.
As vigorous as his exposure of shoddy reasoning by politicians was, it was not enough to revive the fortunes of his once-mighty party. He presented himself as a politician with convictions but, sadly for Whyte, Act had already offered voters just a few too many of those.
Now he discovered the truth that history repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce.
Television current affairs, always hungry for the bizarre, continued to call on him for his political profundities. Without anyone really noticing, his appearances gradually began to take on the form of satire. Before long he found himself at an open mic night at the Comedy Club in Auckland’s Queen St.
“All he had to do was recite his philosophy, deadpan, with pauses for effect,” his manager Te Radar recalls, “and the crowd would fall about laughing. As we went on, the pauses got longer and longer because, honestly, people would just wet themselves.”
As the crowds grew, so did the philosophical purity of his act. Before long, he was delivering the entire performance naked from a bathtub.
The bathtub gave him time for much contemplation. Unfortunately, that led to a sideline as an inventor and entrepreneur. For 30 years, his inventions lost him money as fast as he made it.
He invented a square kiwifruit. He invented a pillow with an arm that hugged you. He invented a coffee that one could make straight away — “instant, as it were” — using just hot water and no barista.
The most ill-fated one came to him in the kitchen. “I was standing there making mayonnaise,” he said, “and I thought: I need three hands here. One to hold the bowl, one to hold the whisk and one to pour in the oil.” Thus was born the Super Bowl — a bowl with a square slot in its base that slid onto a square peg in the middle of your kitchen bench.
“All you had to do was replace your kitchen bench,” he would say, shaking his head slowly in incredulity, “and as ever, people were just too timid. They completely and utterly failed to see the genius of it.”
Illustration by Daron Parton.