I have a funny one for you!
When I was a kid, I was the funny one. I had two switches, to me it was all funny, or it was all the worst ever. At my house, I could be the firstborn, the secondborn, or an only child depending on the day or date. My ever changing birth order set the stage for my adolescence of comedy and drama. Attention seeking vs. the other stuff. It was complicated.
I grew up in two blended families. Two mommies, two daddies. That is not true; I did not have two mommies, ever. My step-mom was always my step-mom. That is not a criticism of her, that is just never how our relationship landed. My mom was my mom, full stop. I do not believe I had two daddies either. I always called the dad I lived with by his first name, but he was my 24/7 dad.
I had sisters when I visited one house and sisters that visited our house. The sisters at one house were not sisters to the sisters at the other house. I will draw you a map one day. For now, absorb the concept, there is a quiz coming up.
When I talked about my two dads, I would say “my dad” and “my father” to help my friends understand who I was bagging on, ragging on, and talking about in the way that kids do when talking about parents.
I am forty-eight. I started calling my step-dad “Dad” a couple of years ago. I had tried and misfired as a kid but never got the hang of it. It is one of those things, like when I quit smoking, I had to be ready, then I just did.
I was going to call the complexity a metaphor for my life then I realized that it is my life and took a nap.
And, I Went Back In Time
At home, with my dad, I learned about comedy geniuses: Bob Newhart, Andy Kaufman. I loved Steve Martin and his televangelist character, one I would learn to imitate and build on. I cracked up at Robert Klien and his unstoppable leg, Chevy Chase because, well, Chevy Chase! Watching SNL with Jane and Gilda? Wow! And Steven Wright, who later I would hear whispers of in the work of the brilliant Mitch Hedberg, a fantastic comic I was lucky enough to see live and I still miss today. I was not allowed to watch Richard Pryor, but I did. I loved them all.
I’d love to have a go at stand-up but only if I could do what Steven Wright said,
“Once, I put instant coffee in the microwave, and I went back in time.”
When it was full-on Brady Bunch weekend, I was the second born. On these weekends my sisters who were the sisters that came to our house but were not sisters to the sisters at my father’s house were home. It was my self-appointed responsibility to be the funny kid. I was the entertainer, the family clown. It was not a chore; it was not a job, it was not a choice, it just happened. I liked it.
My brother tried to be the funny kid, but he worked too hard. When you try too hard, you become the goofball. That is different. Goofballs are why you can’t have nice things. The Three Stooges never had nice things.
As a family, the six of us, my parents, my sisters, younger brother, and myself, always ate at a perfectly set dining table. We followed all of the rules. Cloth napkins in laps, cut one bite at a time, buttered one bite of bread at a time, only from the butter on your bread plate, (not the whole frigging roll, you animals!), and so on.
Etiquette was the law of the land, and we did not mess with that shit.
Except when we did.
One evening, after cooking dinner and setting the table for four kids, our parents took off for an epic date night at Bible Study. Alone, this was our chance to misbehave, but how? Use our fingers to push our vegetables onto our forks? Toss our napkins on the floor? Butter our entire dinner rolls? These shenanigans were some low-level rebellion garbage bullshit, and very disappointing.
So, I did the only thing I could think of; I went full John Belushi.
Now, I know what you are thinking, “If you do this you will create more work than this is worth!” Au contraire, my friends. If you are going to be funny, you need to commit and commit I did.
I stuffed my mouth with as much rice pilaf that it could hold and, like Belushi in Animal House, I forced the evacuation of that rice with forceful fist bumps to each squirrel puffed cheek.
Rice flew everywhere! It was hilarious! We laughed, and then we vacuumed. Laughed more, then picked rice out of the lace tablecloth. I recall at that point we may have laughed a little less, then vacuumed some more.
But I got the laugh!
Comedy is like the postman: rain or sleight, or dead of night, you just get that delivery out there.
Keep Calm and Be Funny
I went into the theater in high school and college, but it didn’t strike a chord. As it turned out, I just liked making people laugh. What was important to me was how I, as in individual, made the people around me feel at that moment.
It is the same today. I want to create a moment of laughter. That can be a retelling of a shared memory with lively language that evokes greater emotion or adding an extra punch to something bland that makes a normal sentence suddenly feel like the chandelier has dropped on the table.
I have run the table. I try to break up uncomfortable situations with supremely inappropriate jokes. If I find a willing opponent, I can spar in an insult war for hours. If you feel like shit, I will do my best to clean that shit up.
Sometimes I am well aware of what I am doing, other times I am not. There are times when a joke is so old, and inside that, it sounds like complete gibberish to thirty people in a room. I’m fine with confusing a group of thirty people if a thirty-first person laughed, especially if that person is my dad.
Life Is A Gig
I worry that I am a terrible daughter and that my mother isn’t sure how to talk to me. I think about this every day. Mom isn’t a “did you hear the one about the” funny. Don’t get me wrong; she does hilarious things. I am not sure Mom knows that what she does is funny. Mom is becoming my “you are not going to believe this one” person. I like that. It never occurred to me that she may have also thought I was funny. I have always been too busy worrying that she finds me annoying.
Because there are times when a mom needs her kid I have defaulted to funny mode to take care of her or cheer her up. I only recently realized this, and in conversation, I broke the rule. I said, “yeah, I decided you needed funny Julianna today.”
Comedians don’t tell you they are funny!
My daughter and I used to joke about many things. She and I would people watch and share opinions about the entire world. We would tweet commentary together about a complete movie. We would spill running gibberish about grocery store products and attempt to “out obnoxious” each other in public. Her fearlessness is admirable. As she has matured, she is less inclined to snark with me. She is still hilarious.
My husband says he loves me because I make him laugh.
My whole life is a gig. I have a couple of acts, “Love Me Because I Make You Laugh,” and “Love Me Because I Make You Feel Better.”
Sucking The Joy
First of all, that’s what she said.
Now that that is out of the way, do not let that last bit suck the joy out of my life schtick story. I am happy in my role. This is my thing.
I went on sabbatical for a while and started sucking the joy out of the world. I made all that was happy miserable. Furthermore, I made all that was miserable tragic.
That did not work to my satisfaction. (Or anyone’s satisfaction.) I prefer the bringing of joy. It forces me to conclude that my act includes “I love you, so I make you laugh.”
People Are Miserable
Later today I will go out to buy dog food. I will stop to grab some coffee. I do not know where I will end up today, but each stop will require a human interface.
People, in general, I have noticed, are miserable. They hate their jobs and are living like robots until they punch out. I am not having that. I like to leave people happier than when I found them.
My grandfather never met a stranger. I am a little like that. My husband has said, “come on dear” as he has physically dragged me from check-out stands, Starbucks, take-out restaurants and anywhere people assemble. This forcible removable has happened thousands of times.
I like to know what’s up. I like to make people smile. I want to be the best customer of their day.
It is weird because I feel like I do not like people. It appears that I do like people, and that is disturbing. I struggle with the cognitive dissonance it creates.
And as quickly as the confusion was there, I am over it. It is easier not to think about conflicting ideas in my brain. I would preferably make a joke and move on. Jokes are great band-aids and subterfuge. My brain is a mixed bag of conflict. Sort of the wild west.
That’s why they call it Vermont.
John Belushi image courtesy snipenews.com