Q & A with James Jeffrey – Author of My Family and Other Animus
James Jeffrey on humour, the necessity of friendship and his delightful children.
James Jeffrey is a columnist and sketch writer for The Australian. In My Family and Other Animus, Jeffrey builds on his previous Home Truths column to create an ode to family life, in all its glorious mess and chaos. It explores the the educational experience of instability as it guided Jeffrey through life, marriage and parenthood. He himself has two children, with his wife in Sydney.
MUP talks with James about his humour, his friendship with Mark Colvin and his experiences as a father.
Q–Is it easy being funny? Where does your sense of humour come from?
Is it easy? I have no idea! Humour does tend to be my natural response to a lot of situations, but as I'm constantly reminded, there's no such thing as a universal sense of humour. Just because I find something funny doesn't mean someone else will. That said, I do love laughing and finding the funny side of things, or more often than not, being struck again by the absurdity that surrounds us.
I know my father would have liked me to credit him with my sense of humour, and he's certainly responsible for some of it. But a lot of it is the result of the usual stuff: the way I grew up, the stuff I experienced, the comedy I was exposed to growing up, the books I read. All that and, frankly, a little dose of school bullying doesn't go atray when it comes to developing wit.
Q–What's your opinion on using humour to get through tough times?
It is essential.
Q–Divorce and seperation are never fun, especially when you're growing up. What is the advice you could/would have given your 8-year-old-self?
You will get through this intact. And you won't be afraid to love.
Q–One of the most heartening chapters in my family and other animus is a reflection on your friendship with Mark Colvin. It shows how a friendship endures in spite of hardship. Why was Mark Colvin the greatest human ever?
Mark Colvin was the full package. He was warm, engaging, wildly funny, utterly serious, a great talker, a wonderful listener. He had breadth, he had depth, he had wonderfully shameless shallows. He had so much of the human experience wrapped up in one person. He endured so much without self-pity, so he was forever adjusting your sense of perspective. He had a voice like velvet and a laugh like thunder. He had, as another friend of his noted, an uncanny ability to make you feel like his favourite. He was the person you wanted to write for, the person you wanted to tell things to. And he was the person you just loved hearing from. I'm still waiting for him to ring and hear that "Hello, mate".
Q–A language barrier, being an immigrant in Australia, other mitigating circumstances in growing up... Do you think hindsight wears rose-coloured glasses? Was it all training in resilience, or could you have done without the hardships?
I don't think it's a case of rose-coloured glasses. The passage of time just – slowly and surely – improves the prescription on your lenses. All that happened played a part in shaping me. I wouldn't change a thing.
Q–Have you made peace with your childhood?
I have. At last.
Q–What is the proudest you have ever felt as a father?
The moment I realised my children were not just delightful, but that they had grown into excellent human beings.