“You’re funny,” she said. Not sounding as if she meant it, but as if, despite her misgivings, it might nevertheless turn out to be true.
“At some point,” I said, “I thought I might become a comedian.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Go on.”
“Eventually it dawned on me – I’m slow for things to dawn on me – that I didn’t just have to be funnier than most people. I had to be funnier than most funny people. To be in the 10% of the 10%, whatever that is.”
“Point zero one percent,” she said, in the same tone as before. As if my confession might just be embarassing enough to listen to without mockery. But then again, it might not. “I take it you didn’t find yourself in this magic group.”
I shrugged. “The thing that nobody ever told me,” I said, putting up my hands and turning them over, to show I wasn’t holding anything. “Is that there’s no magic involved. Things are hard to do. It takes patience and practice to do a thing rather badly, let alone well.” A sulky silence. “I never put in the work.”
“Do you regret that, not trying more?”
“I wish I’d figured all this out sooner,” I said. “But no regrets. I did other things.”
“It’s just as well,” she said. “You’re not that funny.”
I laughed. And as I did so realized how much I wanted to correct her. To say, “Don’t you see? It’s not about who you are, but about the work you put in. You become what you work at, that is all. Our culture’s pernicious obsession with genes and genius will drive us all mad in the end.”
But I could hear how tiresome that sounded even without saying it. Besides, she was right. I will ruin a half-decent joke by adding so many words after the punchline in order to—
“You’re dying to explain something, aren’t you?” she said. “There’s smoke practically coming out of your ears.”
I opened my mouth to speak but just then the lights dimmed in the theater and she shushed me.
“It’s starting,” she said.
Just as well. I leaned back in the chair and soon lost myself in that precarious dream, watching other people playing out invented lives.