I’m going to let you in on a secret. A secret, so secret in nature, many are unaware of their secret knowledge of said secret. In circles that Comedians mix in (though these days the trend is to mix in dodecahedrons) many talk of this elusive frontier of comedic material. With the Melbourne International Comedy Festival fast approaching, the chatter only increases and revolves around one topic- Socks. You see many, many performers throughout the ages have attempted to devote their entire act to the subject of the humble sock. Not just one joke or bit, but their whole entire act! The sock has long been the Everest of comedy material. If “What’s the deal with aeroplane cat food” is base camp, then “How many Holeproof Explorer’s does it take to change a lightbulb” is indeed the pinnacle. It is believed Charlie Chaplin was attempting to become the Comedy equivalent of Sir Edmund Hilary, working on a silent physical sketch piece involving a Gypsy, a bag of eggplants and a trusty pair of Opera socks. He died attempting to realise this dream, and is now most remembered for inspiring Hitler’s facial fashion (some also say his ideology) rather than his ‘Silence of the Sock’.
But why the sock? What is it so appealing to, yet so hard for, skilled parishioners of punchlines to master the topic of the polyester podiatric protector? Attempts have been made across all forms of comedy. You only have to attend one of the major comedy festivals around the world each year to see brave souls, attempt to incorporate the classic staple of foot fashion into a 55 minute bullion of comedy gold.
All who’ve attempted to tackle the topic failed, and failed miserably. Ask anybody in the know about the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe show “Standing on the Anklets of Giants” and they will no doubt make the sign of the cross whilst dabbing you with garlic paste. Have you ever heard of Clarke Undercut? No - exactly! He was 1 part Cleese, 1 part Gervais and 2 parts Portuguese (His mother was from Lisbon), and the hottest comedy writer/performer on French Canadian TV. A day after his sitcom pilot “Who wears the Socks?” was aired in May 1987, he disappeared forever, and the subject of the sock claimed yet another comedy victim.
Barry Humphries is widely believed to be the only living person to have danced the Ha Ha with hosiery and lived to tell the tale. In a Student revue during his Melbourne Uni days, Humphries played the part of a Sock Steward in a Department store. The papers at the time remarked on his “cutting edge improvisations” and “both risqué and unique laugh lines”. Although many audiences found his improvised witticisms on the nature of the sock refreshing, the Directors apparently instructed Humphries to stick to his pantyhose patter and only improvise on the broader and safer topic of haberdashery.
So it seems that the Australian wit is best situated to bundle the sock into laughter. Will it be this years Comedy Festival? Who knows? Maybe we be taken to strange new comedy places and return with a pair of odd socks and a spatula, or perhaps one of the hot, new somebody’s of the comedy festival will sow the seeds of hope with a well crafted social comment on socks in dating. Either way, many acts will try their socky best…and most likely fail.