One inescapable facet of the SCA Royal Court experience is the presence of "schtick". The dictionary defines schtick as "a routine or piece of business inserted to gain a laugh or draw attention to oneself." Unfortunately, a lot of the schtick seen in SCA courts gets about as many laughs as an evening at the Improv with Carrot Top, Pauly Shore and Gallagher. Why is that?
A lot of people believe that 'repetition is the soul of wit'. That's why we make so many herald jokes here at The Quarter. It's also why we make fun of heralds so frequently, and why heralds are so often the butt of our jokes. Hey, look, I'm being witty, aren't I? Okay, no, I'm not. It's brevity that is the soul of wit, according to Shakespeare, which is why neither court schtick nor I are ever very witty. And neither are heralds.
Quite frankly, there's a lot of repetition in court schtick, and not very much brevity. So, because I'm a columnist (and therefore qualified to impose my opinions upon everyone else), here are some bits of schtick that really need to be retired.
• Anything that requires a script. Nothing terrifies a court audience more than seeing a whole group of people approach the Presence with scripts in their hands. Why? Because it means that the upcoming schtick is so long that their butts are going to fall asleep from sitting on those hard benches. If you've written so many lines that you're unable to memorize them, then maybe you should consider shortening it. By at least ninety percent.
• Private conversations. Everyone loves it when you have an inaudible conversation with the Crown. It's so exciting! Perhaps the Crown is asking your opinion of whether or not to award them the Order of the Argent Silver! Or perhaps, if your business isn't something you want to share with the populace, you could do it some other time when the rest of us aren't sitting there bored? Okay, that's not really schtick, but it really gets my lederhosen in a wad.
• "I beg a boon." For pity's sake, people, there are hundreds of thousands of words in the English language! Do you have to start every request with those four? Mix it up a little! Procure a fornicating thesaurus!
• Everyone in a group coming up to present a gift. Coronation courts are long enough, what with every group and household in the Kingdom, and some ambassadors from other realms, trying to show up everyone else by giving the Crown the most impressive pelf. (Loot, that is. Booty. Trimarian Tea.) Do we really have to wait for everyone in the Canton of Berkshire Hunt to find their individual ways out of the rows of benches, assemble at the back of Court, and then parade in? The only excuse for that sort of behavior is if you're giving so much stuff that you need that many people to carry it all. And if you're doing that, everyone else will hate you for making them look bad.
• "Punishing" someone by giving them an award. I know some might consider this treason, but sometimes the bad schtick comes from the Crown. The first time this happened, back in AS III, it was funny. The next dozen or so times, still mildly amusing. These days, whenever the Crown begins with, "You've been bad," nobody's fooled; we know the person is getting an award, just as surely as "Praiseworthy are those" indicates that some Trimarian is getting an Award of Arms).
• Fake Peerage ceremonies. Let's face it, real Peerage ceremonies are long enough. Knights have a lot of genuinely meaningful symbolism to express, Laurels want to impress us with how much research they've done on period trade-guild practices, and Pelicans — okay, Pelican ceremonies are mercifully short slam-bam-thank-youma'am affairs. White Scarves, you're not the Chivalry, no matter how much you pretend you are. Heralds, you're just as bad; none of the rest of us care that Lord Nebbish just passed his pursuivant's test. And don't even get me started on the waterbearers.
• People dressing up as animals. Once upon a time, "furries" — that is, anthropomorphic cartoon animals, as well as the people who obsess over them — stayed pretty much behind closed doors, expressing their forbidden desires only over the Internet and by putting on "fursuits" at certain fantasy conventions, but now they've started showing up in SCA courts. I'll admit, it doesn't happen frequently enough that it's gotten old yet, but I think it's best to nip this one in the bud.
• Stuffed animals. Nothing quite says "history-based educational organization that actually deserves its tax-exempt status" than people parading around with stuffed animals in their belts or baskets. It's even better to see them presented to the Crown in court, as if the King and Queen are seven-year-old children. But it gets truly disturbing if you type "plushies" into the search box at Google. If you think the furry lovers are weird, you ain't seen nothing yet.
• Guys dressing up as women. Okay, I have to be honest, this one genuinely is funny. It was funny in Shakespeare's time, it's funny today, it'll probably still be funny thousands of years from now. And the manlier the guy is, the more hilarity will ensue — a guy who usually dresses in foppish, flamboyant garb is only mildly amusing, because most people already harbor doubts about his sexuality. But put a dress on a big, beefy fighter whose flashiest garb is a clean T-tunic, and who avoids the dance floor because being in close contact with women is somehow a sissy thing to do, and people will be rolling in the aisles. And if he's visibly unhappy with his situation, the audience will be gasping for breath.
In summary, then, keep it short and sweet, avoid the tired old routines that everybody's seen a thousand times before, and make guys wear dresses.