Sometimes I believe there is nobody in the world as funny as teenage girls.
I suppose I would say that, because I was one. But while we were busy selling ourselves short, doing ourselves down and generally stunting our own brilliance with terrible body image, bad shoes and slavish self-deprecation, there is one area in which my school crew and I never really doubted ourselves. We were unshakeably, 100% confident that we were hilarious.
We were so sure of our own comic genius that we kept comprehensive records — The Quote Book, our quippy bible, was a notebook where we wrote down every pun and gag and platitude before we forgot them in the face of a quadratic equation. Some of the quotes made it onto t-shirts in fabric pen, into birthday cards, and much later into bridesmaid speeches and hen party folklore. The whole lot were typed up by me during the sixth form holidays in an act of selfless historical preservation, and also because I still had nobody to snog.
The second was the purple book, which acted like a more freeform collective journal of thoughts, doodles, news updates and occasionally poetry. Passed around casually like a baby in a commune, it witnessed the highs, like the time we suspected our coach driver of getting it on with the tour guide on our year 10 French residential holiday, and the lows, like the time in Food Tech that we had to eat a boiled scone. I think we vaguely believed that one day, the purple book might get chosen to go into a time capsule as a perfect archive of witty zeitgeist (one 2002 entry was a passionate list of all the band names in the world that would have been better than ‘Girls Aloud’). Or maybe, um, published. You see? Unshakeable confidence.
We thought we were funny out loud as well as on paper. Too loud, really, for a chip shop or a public train carriage at 3:45 on a weekday afternoon. If Worthing council had issued ASBOs for shrieking we’d have been front of the queue, a pack of banterous banshees in navy skirts and red hats. But in our heads, we were charming. In my head, we still were.
I’ve written before about the magical bond of an all-girls education. The idea of no boys meaning ‘no hormonal distractions!’ is obviously bollocks — great big, homophobic, gender-binary gonads — but I still think the oestrogen hotbed does something curious to the brain. It warms it and stretches it like silly putty; ‘silly’ being the optimum word. It makes you bold and ridiculous. You speak in riddles and code; you laugh until you piss yourselves behind the modern languages block; you write stupid songs about a fictional love affair between Kimberley Clarke and Armitage Shanks. Or we did, anyway. Maybe it also happens in women’s prisons? There must be studies, but my internet is currently down so you’ll have to google on your own dime.
I think we become scared to be silly, later on. In the same way you get scared to go ice skating as an adult in case you fall over and break every bone in your body, we get conversationally cautious. These days my brain feels simultaneously brittle like chalk, and slow like treacle. Maybe it’s stress, or lack of sleep. Screen exposure, digital over-stimulation. Mercury in the tuna. The patriarchy, grinding me down. I can still write funny, just about, when I have many hours and thesaurus.com to play with, but I’m not verbally springy like I used to be. Sometimes I can almost feel the joke plodding on down my synapses towards my mouth, clutching its dodgy back and muttering “I’m coming, hold up” while the conversation shrugs and walks on.
Even Twitter, which used to be such a delicious breeding ground for fantasy and daftness (I still get misty-eyed about the time a pissed Andrew Lincoln live tweeted his barbecue, or the time Caitlin Moran led everyone on an imaginary day trip to Paris) has become the thing you hide from, not seek comfort in, when you can’t quite face the world anymore. We’re all satirists now, and hardened cynics. Our humour has an important job to do; it needs to be sharpened for battle with the bigots and despots, not used to make up ditties about toilet manufacturers in love.
And that’s all noble and wonderful, but I think we need the silliness too. I miss making up stupid names and funny words, for the pure lols of it. That luxury of time and energy to spend building an elaborate fantasy life, just to make your mates laugh until until someone snotted Capri-Sun through their nose (although some might say we still have elaborate fantasy lives, only now they’re called Instagram). A time before it had even occurred to us that women wouldn’t be regarded as every bit as blindingly, pant-wettingly funny as men.
So let’s keep our silly muscles supple, and not get too scared of falling to take a leap into the ridiculous. Lord, grant us the comedic confidence of a group of teenage girls left to their own devices. And please give teenage girls that confidence in basically everything else.
This essay was originally published in the email newsletter Schmancy!, by Lauren Bravo and Daisy Buchanan. Sign up here.