The loneliness of the short distance columnist, A K Grant

5 Days in Las Vegas
Raybon Kan,
Daphne Brasell Associates Press, $29.95


I must confess to a personal grievance in relation to this book, a collection of pieces, mostly from the Dominion or the Listener, by the gifted young Wellington humourous or satirical, (or both, depending on his mood at the time), journalist, Raybon Kan. It opens with a characteristically generous, not to say fulsome foreword by Tom Scott, praising the author not only to the skies but well towards some reasonably proximate galaxies. It exceeds in generosity and fullness of spirit the foreword that Tom wrote to my own collection of Listener pieces, The Bedside Grant, back in 1985, (not by much, but I am an expert in Scott forewords). However, I scored a Scott front and back cover, so I guess honours are even.

Not that I would wish to cavil, carp, roach, dace or perch, (which is the odd word out? yes, you got it, ‘dace’ because it is the only word with a ‘d’ in it), at Tom’s generous praise of Raybon. Mr Kan, as we in the humour industry call him, out of respect and for fear that we might otherwise be kidnapped by triads, whatever they are, (they sound like something out of a Stephen Spielberg movie), is a genuinely funny writer. He is also sharp, witty, pointed and verbally inventive, all of which are subsumed in, but occasionally bulge out from like hernias, the word ‘funny’. The collection, as indicated above, consists for the most part of columns written for the Listener or television reviews written for the Dominion. In the nature of things the Listener pieces tend to hold up better than the TV reviews, simply because their subject matter is less ephemeral. In the nature of things a review, however witty, of a show you have forgotten was over screened, suffers because its content has disappeared, like the carapace of a lobster from which all the white flesh has been removed. Which is not to say that you can’t still enjoy the jokes; merely that they have to be admired for their own sake.’ Some would say that is the only reason for admiring jokes at all, but they tend to be tastier while fresh.

As I said, the columns tend to hold up better than the TV reviews. They are usually based on a good strong idea, the implications of which are then teased out through a series of excellent jokes. Raybon Kan does not always solve the eternal problem of the short-distance, or for that matter long-distance columnist, which is the starting off of a column with a solid and funny idea, and then finding yourself nearing the end of the column with no particular place to go. This does not necessarily matter all that much: it is always better have a beginning, a middle and no end than a beginning, an end and no middle. But, as with knitting and plaiting rope, it is nice if the strands can be twisted together at the end.

Raybon Kan’s style is worth commenting on: he writes, as it were, straight from the ‘hip’. He has a natural and easy command of current argot and deploys it to great effect. His is not the language of the street, but of the lively middle classes with an ear cocked to the street. And it is those same lively middle classes especially the Wellington lively middle classes, who, I suspect, constitute, the bulk of his readership. This book is likely to sell better in Wadestown and Thorndon than in Te Atatu, St Albans or Mosgiel.

When someone writes as well as Raybon Kan, it doesn’t much matter who they are influenced by: whenever I was asked who I was influenced by I would always reply, with a mixture of pride and humility, ‘Robert Benchley’ (the greatest master in my opinion, of the short column in English since St Bede, not that St Bede wrote short columns in English but you have got to start somewhere). Raybon Kan is clearly influenced by the prose works of Woody Allen. In one of his pieces he has a line about computers which ‘had developed the imaginations to converse (and give compliments and small gifts)…’ That is pure Allen especially the masterly placement of the word ‘small’.

Some things never change. In one of his pieces, Raybon makes a joke about an Iraqui called Aziz, who was ‘so immoveable they called him Aziz Wheriz’. I myself made an ‘Aziz Wheriz’ joke in the back bar of the Dominion Hotel in Gloucester Street, Christchurch, in 1976, in relation to a then touring Pakistani cricket team. This merely proves that each generation has to redraft great jokes to suit its own times.


A K Grant, sometimes known as ‘The Christchurch Robert Benchley’, is a humourist and writer.


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