[Note: this post is is a one-hour challenge from ChicagoNow: “Write about a time you made a mistake or were wrong about something.”]
Growing up, I never thought I was funny. Worse, I thought I wasn’t allowed to be funny. Funny was reserved for people who had been chosen. I was somehow under the impression that people were assigned roles at birth. Not that I ever articulated it to myself then, not like that. It was just a thing that I knew, but it was a mistaken thing. It was The Breakfast Club in my head known only to me although I thought it was a Secret Thing that everyone knew.
The John Hughes in my head had cast The Subversive One. The Rulebreaker. The Fearless One. I bet they were all funny. None of them were me. I didn’t get any of those roles. So who was I? I was cast (also as in “cast in iron”) as The Good Girl.
The Good Girl is not funny. The Good Girl is the one destined to never offend nor speak her mind, what the heck, never even to have an opinion. If you don’t have an opinion, a point of view that’s uniquely your own, you can’t be funny. Plus, you won’t know that you can be. You won’t even try and if you did you would fail. (Fail! That’s verboten! Failure and verboten are the antithesis of being “good.” Better get a damn opinion! And stand by it – if you do, and if you believe in your opinion, then “failure” and “verboten” will just become assholes and not the lethal monsters you thought they were.)
So, word. Word to the wise. Don’t ever not have an opinion. If I could go back, give any piece of advice to “then-me,” that’s what I would say. Those who sacrifice their own point of view are doomed to be defined by everyone else’s. Also, doomed to never be funny.
I loved comedians and comedy though, always. Thanks to my mom, my favorite comedy fan and the biggest comedy fan I know, my brothers and I always knew comedy. Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, the Marx Brothers, the Smothers Brothers, Mel Brooks, the Three Stooges. (Immutable Opinion: girls love the Three Stooges. It’s a veritable historical fact that Curly was a heartbreaker. Then there’s Moe who says and does what everyone else wants to say and do, even women. Maybe even especially women who are dying to speak their minds and even occasionally to hit people with anvils. Nyuk, nyuk. )
I was the only kid in my seventh grade class who could recite Sid Caesar routines by heart. But did I? I would never have attempted it in public. Just in my head. Following is one I can recite. I think I’ve seen it no less than 1,000 times and it makes me laugh until I cry with every viewing. Watch! But don’t shpritz on the buttons! (That’s another sketch. So worth it if you can find it.)
I finally found out that I could be funny – as in I also found out I was allowed to be – in college. Free to forge a new identity (I’d finally figured out an evolving identity was permitted, although it would still take decades of practice), I dared to be funny with a tight-knit set of supportive girlfriends who thought my impressions of my high school nemeses were hilarious. (Yes, I’d become that daring – making fun of people.) I went to high school at Madeira, a bastion of very funny extreme preppiness and of horses who boarded with their girls and also of Jean Harris who would go on to gun down “Scarsdale Diet” doctor Herman Tarnower. I loved Jean Harris. She was truly a generous, kind, thoughtful person – not kidding — and she clearly had opinions. I wish she weren’t known for her opinion of Herman Tarnower. That’s a discussion for another time, though.
It would be another fifteen years until I really grew a funny bone. I don’t mean that I’m funny, necessarily, maybe sometimes I am when I remember, but I mean that it was fifteen years when I realized that a sense of humor – and opinions! — make life better and that there is a loud funny voice in all of us who needs to be heard or the rest of our body and spirit will die.
What happened fifteen years later? Endorsement: Take Dobie Maxwell’s class at Zanies. That’s where I discovered the true deliciousness of daring to be funny. He has a knack for helping everyone find their funny and also how to make their sad funny and their every-day funny and their darkness funny and their funny funnier. He’ll help you find it. And so I did, the ability to always look for the funny which is his advice and he is the Jedi Master for real.
This is an hour-long exercise – uh oh, not kidding. Since I am mal-adept at all things technological, I will close and hope I’ve left enough time to find and embed that Sid Caesar link which I have to re-learn how to do every time. Please watch (you’ll see why a good girl was not going to recite that Sid Caesar routine in public clinging a la Uncle Goopy to somebody’s leg like a demented monkey, as tempting as it would have been.) That sketch is one of the best, okay, the best sketch in the history of comedy. That’s my opinion. I have a lot of them. I thought I didn’t, but I was wrong and once those late blooming suckers arrived, there was no stopping them.
[The Good Girl in me needs to confess that this took over an hour. The rest of me says, “Shaddup, will ya?!”]