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Mensa or Densa? A choice of IQ groups.

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Egeria Densa aka the Brazilian Waterweed plant

Egeria Densa aka Brazilian Waterweed

In my blog just before Christmas, I quoted nine questions posed in the British Mensa ‘Special Interest Group’ newsletter called What If?

In doing so, of course, I breached their copyright and, as penance, I have now given them thirteen new questions which they might choose one from. My questions are:

– What if you always knew the results of your own actions on others?

– What if it were impossible to tell the sex of another human being?

– What if we knew exactly what had happened in history and not what we thought had happened?

– What if we only had one eye and saw everything in 2D?

– What if Henry VIII had never married?

– What if we shed our heads every seven years and they re-grew?

– What if we could manipulate molecules so we could make the walls, floors and ceilings/roofs of our houses whatever we wanted them to be?

– What if humour did not exist?

– What if Margaret Thatcher had been born a man?

– What if Jesus had not been crucified?

– What if homo sapiens had decided to live in the sea and not on land?

– What if everyone had a 3D printer in their home and you could print everything from cars to paperclips by going online and downloading a program into your printer?

– What if an organisation called Densa recruited people only with IQs in the bottom 2%?

I thought of the ‘Densa’ question by, basically, ripping-off someone I met in 1981 who had had the idea of creating a ‘Densa’ organisation for people who wanted to consider themselves stupid. At that time, I was a researcher on the children’s TV show Tiswas and we had thought of incorporating Densa or Densans into the show. We never did. It was the British nation’s loss.

The guy who ran Densa in 1981 was one Nigel Ffookes. I think he used to advertise for members in Private Eye magazine but never managed to get the organisation off the ground. If anyone knows where he is now or what became of him, I’d be interested to know.

I also found out this morning that there used to be an unofficial ‘Densa’ group within Mensa – they had badges made which they wore upside down so they could read what their badges said.

Densa organisations are not thin on the ground. I have heard of several since 1981, but Wikipedia (always to be trusted on such things) claims the original idea dates from 1974. The current Wikipedia entry (liable to change at a moment’s notice) reads:

* * *

Densa was originally a fictional association created in parody of Mensa International. Rather than belonging to the smartest 2% of the population (the criteria for membership eligibility for Mensa), members of Densa must be in the stupidest 98%...

The concept of an organization for the mentally dense originated in Boston & Outskirts Mensa Bulletin (BOMB), August, 1974, in A-Bomb-inable Puzzle II by John D. Coons. The puzzle involved “the Boston chapter of Densa, the low IQ society”. Subsequent issues had additional puzzles with gags about the group and were widely reprinted by the bulletins of other Mensa groups, before the concept of a low IQ group gained wider circulation in the 1970s, with other people creating quizzes, etc.

A humor book called The Densa Quiz: The Official & Complete Dq Test of the International Densa Society was written in 1983 by Stephen Price and J. Webster Shields.

* * *

I have always thought there was mileage in a Densa organisation and I suspect the name, widely used over almost 40 years, is not copyrightable. Any prospective members, please let me know…

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When people ask that British breaking-the-ice question: “What do you do?”

On Wednesday night, BBC2 will screen the first in a new series of that extraordinary TV comedy Rab C Nesbitt, written and created by Ian Pattison.

Last week, I asked Ian if there was something he would rather do instead of another series of Rab C Nesbitt.

“Instead of?” he replied. “Why not ‘in addition to?’ I’ve now finished writing my fourth novel and have written a screenplay based on my third. My novels, of course, don’t sell. I advised the publisher of my last book to put Ian Rankin’s name on the jacket on the basis that IR would never notice my sidled addition to his oeuvre as his stuff takes up all the shelves in Waterstone’s and most of the cafeteria.”

I suspect most fans who watch Rab C Nesbitt do not think of Ian primarily as a novelist. And most people who admire his novels do not think of him primarily as a TV comedy scriptwriter.

Pretty much throughout my life, Whenever people ask that first perennial British breaking-the-ice question, “What do you do?” I have immediately got into trouble, because I have never really known the correct answer.

Sometimes I say, “I have bummed around a lot,” which is probably closer to the truth than anything.

I suspect as a percentage, more than anything, I have probably sat in darkened rooms editing trailers and marketing/sales tapes. But, when I have said that, people have thought I was/am a videotape editor, which I never have been – too technical for me – I was called writer or producer or director or whatever the union or company felt like at the time – or whatever I wanted to make up for a nameless job – and, once you get into mentioning “I do on-air promotions”, you open a whole can of befuddled misunderstanding.

“Do people do that?” is a common response.

So, over the years, different people have thought I do different things, real or imagined, depending on what I happened to have been doing – or what they thought I was doing – at the exact moment I first met them.

TV research is one. Editor of books is another. Manager of comedians is one that always amuses me.

This sprang to mind on Friday, when I saw comedian Owen O’Neill ‘storm the room’ as the saying goes at the always excellent monthly Pull The Other One in Peckham.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy, I suspect, see him as “just” a stand-up comic which, of course, is far from the truth. If they know a bit about comedy, they may know he has performed at over 20 Edinburgh Fringes and been nominated for the Perrier Award.

They may know he acted in the high-profile stage productions of Twelve Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Odd Couple.

But I first met Owen off-stage in 2003 when Malcolm Hardee and I were commissioning Sit-Down Comedy for publishers Random House. It was an anthology of writing by comedians – not to be confused with the phrase “comic anthology” because a lot of the short stories are very, very dark (a glimpse, I suspect, of what lurks in many comedians’ minds). The book should have been called Sit-Down Comedians, but publishers’ mis-marketing of their own product knows no bounds.

Owen wrote a story The Basketcase for Sit-Down Comedy: a particularly dark and moving tale. His short film of The Basket Case (which he also directed) won him the award for Best Short Fiction movie at the 2008 Boston Film Festival in the US and Best International Short at the 2010 Fantaspoa Film Festival in Brazil.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy probably do not know this. Most probably do not know his first feature film as writer Arise and Go Now was directed by Oscar-winning Danny Boyle or that his play Absolution got rave reviews during its off-Broadway run or that he co-wrote the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption currently running in the West End of London.

I suspect if a literate alien arrived from Alpha Centauri and looked at the facts objectively, Owen would be described not as a stand-up comic but as a playwright who also performs comedy (his plays are many and varied).

You get typecast as being one thing in life no matter how much you do.

In the last couple of months, comedian Ricky Grover appeared in BBC TV soap EastEnders; and the movie Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, which he wrote and directed, was released.

What do you call people like this?

Well, in Ricky’s case, you obviously call him “Mr Grover” and treat him with respect.

He also wrote for Sit-Down Comedy and I know his background too well!

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