What ‘Nothing’, ‘Fine’ and ‘That’s okay’ really mean: A review of Learner Husband

Last week, we were treated to a hilarious evening at the Baxter Theatre (a huge thank you to Heinrich and Cherona for the tickets). Hubs, myself, and two friends of ours who had only recently tied the knot, attended a side-splitting performance of Stuart Taylor’s most recent one-man show, Learner Husband.

Essentially, the show is based on an analogy between learning how to drive and learning how to be a husband; it has led to Stuart writing a K53 Manual for Learner Husbands.

In South Africa, we have a driving test that is called the K53 driving test. It came into use sometime in the 1990s. It places a great deal of emphasis on the principles and procedures for defensive driving, and has one simple objective: to reduce the risk of a collision on the road by using a set of mental and practical procedures.(*)

For instance, the basic elements of defensive driving are:

  • “SEARCH: Look in all directions for potential hazards.
  • IDENTIFY: Note the type of hazard, if any.
  • PREDICT: Evaluate the possible dangers.
  • DECIDE: What action will ensure everyone’s safety.”

If you think about it, all this is perfectly relevant for marriages too. As Stuart put it in his excellent programme (a PROPER programme, mind you, not a couple of pages full of advertising and other bumf):

“In my first few years of being married, I believed I was alone in my confusion as a husband. My marriage felt like a stage performance, that I had walked in on without having ever attended any rehearsals or reading the script, much less having learnt my part. This was a show where my wife and everyone else seemed to know their roles, lines and cues – everyone except me.

Feeling the pressure of needing to perform in my marriage, I did what most men do: I pretended to know exactly what I needed to do. The truth was that I was more like a bull in a china shop, constantly getting into trouble over small things with my wife without really knowing why. The irony was that my marriage began with those two important words ‘I do’, when my actual thoughts were ‘I do what?!'”

And that, exactly, is what his show explores:

  • What actually happens when two people get married?
  • How does the man/the woman change, as soon as that little ring is on the finger?
  • How do their roles change, and how does each partner cope with these changes?
  • What happens if one person either subtly expects or openly demands that the partner must change who they are, i.e. their behaviour, their speech, their circle of friends, their hobbies, their way of being in the world?
  • How do you deal with mis-communication – or the unwillingness to communicate?
  • How do you resolve disagreements and reduce arguments?
  • How do you deal with a partner who has most likely been brought up differently, with different coping mechanisms, with different responses to crises and challenges, with different expectations of the roles of men and women, and with different emphases on what they regard as important in life (career, motherhood, family, friends, religion, sports, hobbies, etc.)?

These are all familiar questions, that every relationship will – most likely – encounter at some stage. Stuart’s Learner Husband gave us a refreshingly new take on this. My only complaint was that he was constantly using stereotypes, which is an easy way of raising laughs. Surely, most of us don’t fit neatly into stereotypical boxes, or is that just wishful thinking?

Nonetheless, the Essential Wife Speak Glosssary in the programme was brilliantly clever. Here are my favourite extracts:

“Wives often speak a different language to husbands. What they say may often contradict what they really mean, which can be confusing for a learner husband. Here are some essential translations that may help you to find your way:

Don’t worry about it, I’ll do it: This is a dangerous statement, meaning there is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing herself. This will later result in a man asking ‘What’s wrong?’.

Fine:  This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

Maybe: This means either ‘NO’ or ‘We’ll see about that’. Either way, you are not going to get what you want.

Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. Nothing almost always means everything, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.

Loud sigh: This is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means you have just confirmed her suspicion that you are selfish or an idiot or both, and she wonders why she still wastes her time trying.

That’s okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a woman can make to a man. That’s okay means that she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.”

Stuart’s delivery was smooth and slick. There were little sleights of hand and delightful bits of magic, which reminded me that he was actually South Africa’s Magic Champion for three years!

In the centre of the stage stood a wall made up of large building blocks, with pictures on each side, rather like the alphabet blocks many of us played with as children. The bright and colourful images on them resemble the icons you find on South African road signs. Some of the boxes contained props, while others were rotated to spell out words. They reminded me vividly of the books I studied for my learner’s and driver’s licences, i.e. Pass your Learner’s Easily and Pass your Driver’s Easily, which used similar colourful images to illustrate the various scenarios you would encounter on the road.

Stuart didn’t miss a beat, even when his audience that night was at times a little sluggish to respond to his banter and improvisation. Perhaps it was because the Concert Hall was only about a quarter full? I think the energy in a full house is always more powerful, particularly in a comedy show in which there is a so much interaction with the audience. But, consummate performer that he is, he never lost his stride.

For instance, when a young woman in one of the front rows got up in the middle of the first half to go to the bathroom, and her partner jumped up immediately to accompany her, Stuart used the opportunity to interrogate them with a mock-serious expression on his face, “Hey, where are you going? Are you bored? Are you going to the toilet? Do you have to go with her? Do you always go at the same time? Are you coming back?” We couldn’t help giggling, as the two of them scampered up the steps, somewhat embarrassed by all the attention.

As they reached the top, he shouted out, “I’ll wait for you, don’t worry. You won’t miss anything. I’ll continue when you’re back.” (Can you imagine how embarrasing it would be, knowing that the performer and the entire audience is WAITING FOR YOU while you go to the bathroom?)

As soon as they had left the hall, he suggested, with a naughty grin, “How about we all go backstage and hide? There’s enough space back there, I’m sure we can all fit in. What do you think they’ll do, when they get back and the theatre’s empty? Or we’ll leave one person sitting here – you, in the front, we’ll leave you out here, okay? The rest of us will all go backstage… I wonder what they’ll do.”

I wonder what would have happened if we’d actually done it. 🙂

During the show, we were all required to fill in a multiple choice questionnaire designed to reveal the husband’s personality type. The women were told to choose the answer that they thought their partners would most likely choose. (I only got three of them right, but I think that was by accident!)

For each question, Stuart presented a scenario and four possible answers. For example: “A light bulb is broken, and your wife asks you to replace it.”

(A) You get up immediately and replace the broken light bulb.

(B) You get out all your tools, completely take apart the light fitting, discover you don’t have the right replacement bulb, you struggle to put it all back together again, and four hours later the job is finally done.

(C) You tell your wife you’ll replace it ‘in a minute’, but promptly forget all about it (there’s sports on the telly or whatever.)

(D) You leave it for so long that your wife ends up replacing it herself in an angry huff.

(I’ve in the meantime forgotten the questions and the answers, so I ad libbed these. But you get the gist.)

The problem was that, by the time we had finished listening to each option and recovered sufficiently from a fit of laughter, we couldn’t remember which option was the most appropriate! Afterwards, Stuart explained what it meant if your answers were predominantly A, B, C or D, and what blind spot (to use a driving analogy) you were likely to have, but – alas – I’ve forgotten the details!

The show returned to Cape Town for a couple of weeks (24 Nov 2009 to 16 Jan 2010) after sold-out performances and enthusiastic reviews around the country, to coincide with the release of Stuart’s book, titled LEARNER HUSBAND – The Definitive Guide for Confused Husbands (The Man’s Manual). If you’re curious, pop on over to the website, which is divided into a page for Ladies and a page for Guys. The book promises to be extremely funny!


(*) Not that this has been working all that well in practice. But in theory at least, every driver on the road – albeit not every taxi driver – should have gone through the rigorous testing procedures of the K53. Judging from the world-infamous and sadly entrenched aggressive driving habits that are prevalent particularly in the local taxi industry, none of the K53 defensive driving procedures have been internalised. Or perhaps – as is often surmised – the drivers simply dispensed with the test and bought their licences on the black market, if you’ll pardon the pun.

2 thoughts on “What ‘Nothing’, ‘Fine’ and ‘That’s okay’ really mean: A review of Learner Husband

    • I thought so too. One of the best ways of learning is through humour and by seeing one’s own foibles and idiosyncracies performed on stage in a humorous and compassionate way, so that one can’t help laughing or at least giggling at oneself. Not taking ourselves too seriously really does make life easier!

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