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Me and Clouseau

04/12/02 12:00AM By Willem Lange

(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been reflecting on his failure as a comedian, and has decided to leave the funny business to his idol, Inspector Clouseau of the Paris Sureté.

(Lange) How does Peter Sellers do it? He dismounts from a pair of parallel bars and lands in a stairwell – and it's funny! He gets a red-hot medieval mace stuck on his hand and, trying to get it off, smashes a grand piano into rubble. "You idiot!" the housekeeper cries. "That's a priceless Steinway!"

"Not any more." How does he do that? Groucho, W.C. Fields, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges – they're all fine. But when you're feeling blue, nothing else does it like the bumbling Inspector from the Sureté. When he picks up the cigarette lighter shaped like an automatic pistol, the anticipation alone is exquisite. How does he do it?

Simple. I think that most of us suspect that we're more comic than serious. And of all the comedians, he's the one most like us. He fancies himself suave, perceptive, and sexy. Like us, he's not. But he hasn't the slightest inkling of that. So he plows ahead, unwitting – remember the assassins stalking him at Oktoberfest? Who could suffer from a head cold while watching that? Especially when he finally gets the girl and can't get his shirt and tie off.

I've been thinking of him this week. I've been reading my old journals and recalling past embarrassments that, if Clouseau had been involved, would have been hilarious. My friend Baird and I come around a bend in a river a long way from anywhere and can see right away that the rapid ahead of us is going to get us. Somewhere between here and the big pool at the bottom, we're going to take a swim, and the longer we can put it off, the better.

Now, if for Baird and me you substituted Clouseau and his valet Cato, this would be hilarious. But instead of laughing, I'm composing my last words, in case Baird survives me. A few minutes later, drying out on the bank, I noticed that even now nobody's laughing. What I should have done, instead of making up my last words, was scream the way Clouseau does whenever he knows he's about to die. We are far too serious.

There've been other episodes like that in my life. Like the time when in a mood of beery bonhomie I hugged a very pregnant woman sitting in a rickety old rocker, and the chair disintegrated into a million pieces – as did the evening. Or the time a lovely young lady showed up at a dinner party in a dress of aluminum foil. I don't know why I asked, "Let's see if it's fireproof." I thought later, if Clouseau had done that, everybody would have laughed his socks off. But they sure didn't do that. Through the wisps of floating aluminum ash and the vision of Valerie in a sooty slip, all you could hear were gasps of horror. I made up my mind then not to try comedy any more. I don't have the knack for it.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.
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