Some folks are beautiful. Some folks are savvy. Me? I’ll choose funny any day. Why? Because in my world, comedy is everything. Funny folks often have a history behind why they choose comedy, because let’s face it, being funny can be hard.
At a young age – around the 4th grade – I started honing my material. I was the new kid in school, the skinny goofy redhead with enormous buckteeth and freckles, awkward…the perfect embodiment of comedic nuances. One of my first introductions to true comedy was from my 4th grade English teacher, Mr. White. After we would complete our lesson for the day, Mr. White would look around the room – as if to be certain no other adults were listening – and he would say to us, “who wants to listen to records for a few minutes?” Spindly 10 year old arms would fly up into the air and he would stride to the back of the room, which is where the turntable was. I will never forget the first record. Bill Cosby Himself. We children would sit motionless, mesmerized by Cosby’s voice as it took us on a journey of wit, ridiculousness and sarcasm. I had never heard anything like it. I remember that being the first time in my life that I laughed so hard I thought I was going to throw up, cry or wet my pants. (It was the parenting bit). I was addicted.
Once our class finished Cosby at a rate of 10-15 minutes per day at the end of each class, we moved on to Gallagher. I was already a bookworm and loved words – so Gallagher’s puns and wordplay were sheer intellectual bliss for me. His oxymorons opened my eyes to the dark irony of the world around me and I started seeing hypocrisy with punchlines. I was 10. Next we listened to Eddie Murphy – well, parts of his routine. Mr. White drew the line when it came to sex and language of a certain caliber, so he would sometimes dash back to the record player and we would hear the light scratch of him lifting the needle and then gently replacing it at just the right spot. I did not realize at the time that Mr. White obviously had every routine memorized.
Another huge influence on my sense of humor was my mother. My parents had a bad marriage and there was abuse. My mom had two kids and stayed with a man who did not love her because of lots of reasons I did not understand when I was younger. In retrospect, my mother had a wicked good sense of humor about a lot of things despite the odds. She laughed at herself a lot – because life was sometimes funny and as intelligent as she was, there were still crazy circumstances and situations she had to navigate. I learned the art of self deprecating humor from my mother. She could siphon out the irony in a situation faster than anyone I knew. She was dry. She was sarcastic. She was surviving as best she could. That impacted me in a way that saved me in years to come. I developed a dark sense of humor early.
High school. We have moved again and I was the new kid. We moved to Alabama, which meant culture shock lent itself to my humor. I wasn’t the best looking girl, but I could be funny. I had already learned this: if you can make people laugh, it will endear them to you. And so I made people laugh. I gravitated towards funny people. Comedy was my happy place and I would go to great lengths to find the secret formula for making others laugh. No matter how miserable my home life was, no matter how ugly or worthless I sometimes felt – there was always material there somewhere. Find it. Use it. Make people laugh.
When I was in the tenth grade I had already read countless books by comedians. I remember Erma Bombeck was especially glorious. To have the kind of intelligence that was not performance related but instead showcased in the written word; THAT was new turf. I read everything I could. Movies were funny, but in the same realm that sitcoms got a laugh. I needed something tangible to feed my habit. Then I saw Buster Keaton’s movie The General. Fifteen minutes in I knew I was watching a legend. Outside of Looney Tunes, slapstick had never been my predilection. Keaton’s performance combined exquisite timing with physical comedy and a level of acting that accomplished so much without any spoken words. I was smitten.
My thirst for good comedy never stopped, but it wasn’t enough to be inspired by others. Comedy was part of my fabric. From youth I was analyzing how preposterous social standards were, questioning people’s habits and behaviors, mentally noting the ironies and the absurdity of the world around me. I joined drama clubs. I was a theater major in college. Most women fought over the lead roles while I was often cast as the comedic relief in a play. I couldn’t have been happier.
After college there was a period of time where I was not in good health and even homeless for a short while. I was still funny. More so, I believe. My sense of humor saved me from the world and most importantly, from myself. Life, everything – all of this is temporary. I never take myself too seriously. If a friend is having a bad day, the least I can do is make them laugh. Comedy has given me purpose. It is my coping mechanism. It is how I make sense of crazy things. Comedy is an intellectual tapestry of human behaviors and triggers. I love this.
Laughter has been my drug of choice. Comedy saves lives.