Tag Archives: comedians

I love lucy

Remembering Funny

I’m catching my breath after the two-part Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episode with Tallulah Bankhead. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

It was the 100th anniversary of Lucille Ball’s birth this weekend, teaching me something I previously didn’t know — my mother died on Lucille Ball’s birthday. Kind of weird. Mom loved Lucy.

The top three shows for my mother — I Love Lucy, Columbo, and the Carol Burnett Show. All three were funny as hell, I thought. Peter Falk really had great comedic timing in a subtle way.

So, Saturday was the 12th anniversary of Mom’s death. People tell you that loss never really stops. Well, it doesn’t. The hurt kind of even hurts more now, sometimes, because I realize now how long forever really seems to be. It was a different kind of hurt this weekend, since I’ve been down with a cold and stuck watching re-runs half a century old on a hot August weekend.

I don’t remember if my mother was very funny. I don’t think she was. Just the average kind of funny. She sure knew what funny was, though. I grew up with I Love Lucy, Carol Burnett, the Apple Dumpling Gang, and classic slapstick kind of humour like that. Dad introduced us to Porky’s and Porky’s Revenge, so, you know, we got a little balance there. Both Dad and Mom were fans of MASH and Three’s Company, too.

All the other little kids at Catholic school were shocked we were watching that sin-filled Three’s Company. “They live together! There’s s-e-x!”

Still, I don’t think we were a particularly funny household. There weren’t miles and miles of laughs, ever. We weren’t unfunny, either. I think we laughed enough, that’s for sure.

I remember being distinctly unfunny, myself. I couldn’t tell a joke to save my life before the age of 10. I was funny just “being myself,” since I’ve always been an odd one.

My brother, he was a laugh riot sometimes. He’s still very funny but we have differing opinions on some of his methods, since I can find him really irritating… which is fitting, since he’s my big brother.

As a kid, though, I thought he was hysterical. If he wanted a laugh, he got it. He seldom blew the joke’s punchline.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make people laugh much until I got older, into my mid-to-late teens. As a kid, most of my jokes involved me flubbing the timing, blowing the punchline, and receiving a split-second blank stares then confused guffaws. Or, just a swat from my brother, since siblings are allowed to be jerks.

Being funny, that was important to me. It was a life goal. I couldn’t imagine living life without being FUNNY.

Then… I introduced my brother to Saturday Night Live. I was 11.

I remember it being fall of 1984, I’d just turned 11, and I was sleeping on the sofa, sick, while my parents entertained friends. I woke up after a few hours sleep, turned on the television, and am surprised now that I didn’t hear a choir of angels harmonizing as I discovered something that just blew my mind: Saturday Night Live.

As Billy Crystal would have said, it loohked mahvellous. Eddie Murphy was Buckwheat, wookin’ pa nub.

In the next couple years, I’d be getting into SNL and Second City TV and Johnny Carson. And, oh, The Blues Brothers. It was a crash course in Funny. by 14 I was getting my comedic cues from John Hughes movies, too.

Throughout it all Lucille Ball was a constant, so was Carol Burnett. I knew I’d never be slapstick kind of funny the redhead queens mastered, but I wanted to make people laugh.

These days, it’s still something I love to do. If I make a stranger laugh during the day, it’s great. If someone can’t breathe because my timing’s so good when telling a funny story and they’re laughin’ so hard, I’m on top of the world. I don’t look like I’m elated about it, I always have that sorta-surly Irish-girl look, but I’m secretly on top of the world when I get a good laugh.

Once upon a time, I had a nightmare. It was when I was 19, and I was becoming “in with the out crowd” and getting lots of friends, not a lot of whom I could call “close,” but who typically wanted to invite me to parties ‘cos I’d be interesting. So, the nightmare hit one day and I had it a couple times. It went like this:

I’m driving down a treacherous seaside highway in my hatchback, a bunch of friends in different cars behind me, as I lead the pack and our caravan weaves down the coast.

Suddenly, my car careens and I shoot through the embankment, off the road, over the cliff, plunging hundreds of feet to the rocky coast below — my car exploding into a fiery inferno, and me most certainly as dead as can be.

Smash-cut to the top of the cliff where a dozen or more “friends” all stand peering down in not-so-much-abject-horror as “dude, what a bummer” kind of faces.

One friend goes, “Wow. That really sucks.”

Another goes, “Yeah. She was funny.”

It was one of those moments of clarity when I realized I should be careful what I’m wishing for, because “being funny” is a pretty short list of what one should offer. I tried to be more, and began to collect friends who wanted me to be more than just funny, who didn’t see me as interesting filler for the guest list, who saw me as insightful or as having something more to say in life than just the next gag.

So, this weekend, I’d sort of spent time remembering my comedic roots and sometimes thinking of Mom too. No, she wasn’t “funny,” but she was well-rounded and certainly enjoyed laughing. I think she and my dad must have laughed a lot in the early days, to spawn such amusing kids.

I’m glad I was raised with a mix of genres around me — comedy, film, music, theatre, and big fun parties thrown at home. I’m glad I had parents who entertained a lot, because once in a blue moon I did manage to say something amusing, and having a whole room of adults laughing was a gift. Look at me, I’m a funny kid. Don’t you wish your kid was this funny?

In the middle of all these remembrances is a big gaping hole. My mother died at a time I was really seeing her as human — flawed and all — and when I was beginning to teach HER a lot about living life. I wish there could have been more of a full-circle event between us, but that’s cancer for you. It doesn’t tend to take rainchecks. I’m glad she found me funny and enjoyed that about me when she got sick. I’m glad we found the same things funny then, too.

I may be motherless now, but I’ve got some 30+ episodes of I Love Lucy on my PVR, and somehow it’s like I’m back in my childhood. Pretty awash in memories these days.

I’ll worry about Being Funny tomorrow.

Lenny Bruce, Obscenity’s Legacy, and Today’s News

I wrote this late last night, when I should have been in bed. I was out for coffee this morning when The Guy emailed me with a link and said, “This will make you very angry.” Rightly so. It turns out the Supreme Court of the US has decided not to hear a case on internet-based obscenity, meaning that internet obscenity laws are to be decided on a local basis. IE, small towns can decide what’s “obscene” on the internet.

Think about this for a minute. REALLY fucking think about the ramifications of this, people. This is huge. You’re going to have Buttfuck, Idaho deciding on whether or not materials that are being used and seen by people AROUND THE WORLD are obscene… in the land of “free press.”

It all comes back to you. Your vote. It comes down to voting for leaders and politicians because you’re looking for a fucking tax break, but you fail to realize the implications of what that leader’s choices for life-long appointments to the Supreme Court are. Life-long: Meaning decades of deciding the interpretation of YOUR constitution.

You want to tell me that America’s passion for freedom of speech is greater than any other nation’s. Not anymore. Never has been. That’s the greatest lie ever told, my friends.

This year’s the 40th anniversary of the death of Lenny Bruce — a guy who met the wrong end of every obscenity law ever passed in the US. Four decades have passed, and this is the bullshit that’s starting to cycle back into action.

AGAIN, I ask you: Where is your voice?

The timing of that news is just strange, since I’d planned to post this today anyhow. A sad fucking day for freedoms, my friends. Know that.

__________________

The writer I am today is a result of the reader I was then. To tell the truth, I’m barely a reader today. I seldom settle in with a book, but I hope to change that behaviour.

I recently took some time to organize my bookshelves, and this book in the photo, my tattered copy of Lenny Bruce’s How to Talk Dirty & Influence People, still stands up on display, right behind my grandmother’s 1955 rotary dial phone, which still rattles and rings anytime someone dials me up. Next to it, a first-edition of the Arrow paperback version of HST’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.

When I was 18, my narrow, protected view of the world was shattered by HST, but then came Lenny. Like HST’s classic tome, it gets off to an unforgettable start – particularly if you’re an 18-year-old kid. Unbelievably, I had the balls to recommend this to my 14 year old student last week.

“Filipinos come quick; colored men are built abnormally large (“Their wangs look like a baby’s arm with an apple in its fist”); ladies with short hair are lesbians; if you want to keep your man, rub alum on your pussy.

Such bits of erotic folklore were related daily to my mother by Mrs. Janesky, a middle-aged widow who lived across the alley, despite the fact that she had volumes of books delivered by the postman every month — A Sane Sex Life, Ovid the God of Love, How to Make Your Marriage Partner More Compatible–in plain brown wrappers marked “Personal.”

She would begin in a pedantic fashion, using academic medical terminology, but within ten minutes, she would be spouting her hoary hornyisms. Their conversation drifted to me as I sat under the sink, picking at the ripped linoleum, day-dreaming and staring at my Aunt Mema’s Private Business, guarded by its sinkmate, the vigilant C-N bottle, vanguard of Lysol, Zonite, and Massengill.

At this tender age, I knew nothing of douches. The only difference between men and women was that women always had headaches and didn’t like whistling or cap guns; and men didn’t like women – that is, women they were married to.

Aunt Mema’s Private Business, the portable bidet, was a large red-rubber bulb with a long black nozzle. I could never figure out what the hell it was for. I thought maybe it was an enema bag for people who lived in buildings with a super who wouldn’t allow anyone to put up nails to hang things on; I wondered if it was the horn Harpo Marx squeezed to punctuate his silent sentences. All I knew was that it was not to be used for water-gun battles, and that what it was for was none of my business.

When you’re eight years old, nothing is any of your business.”

Lenny Bruce, if you’ve never heard much about the dude, was a pioneering comic who broke all the rules. The Jim Morrison of comedy, he had his ass busted for obscenity more times than Dick Nixon would proclaim he was not a crook. It was on his heels, on his ground-breaking sacrifices and legal hassles that Richard Pryor and every other comedian would follow. Without Lenny Bruce, there might not have been a Pryor, or a Hicks, or a Rock, or a Leary. Lenny Bruce said fuck you to the man, and he said what was on his mind.

These days, there’s something still admirable about someone with the balls to say “What you think is obscene is what others do behind closed doors.” As someone I quite like recently said, let’s meet at the corner of The 21st Century and Get Over It.

Laws of acceptability are drawn by people with the courage (or the accidental happening) to push envelopes in defiance of what accepted norms are. For instance, fucking can now be used as an adjective after 10 pm all because Bono accidentally said it as such during a broadcast of (insert irrelevant music awards ceremony name here).

But the ones who discover whole new lands, they’re the journeymen like Bruce because they’re the ones who consciously know what the accepted is, but choose to go far beyond it, consequences be damned.

You open to any fucking page, anywhere, and there’s something that even today is relevant. Me, my copy’s so fucking tattered it’s permanently mated with an elastic band, the only thing that holds it together. The page where the spine breaks clean in half, page 91, yielded this pearl from 1963, 10 years before my birth.

“Why don’t religious institutions use their influence to relieve human suffering instead of sponsoring such things as the Legion of Decency, which dares to say it’s indecent that men should watch some heavy-titted Italian starlet because to them breasts are dirty?

Beautiful, sweet, tender, womanly breasts that I love to kiss; pink nipples that I love to feel against my clean-shaven face. They’re clean!”

So many of us sex bloggers, we’re up in arms against this Moralizing of North America; the legislative attempts to arbitrate morality; this pitiful attempt to turn back the clock and eradicate sex and desire from the consciousness of the average person.

Got news for you, folks. We’ve been fighting this battle for decades. Whether it’s a brilliant writer and commentator like Lenny Bruce or a filthy fat fuck like Larry Flynt, the battles ain’t new, the war ain’t new, and the blood’s long from dry.

What’s different now, though, is the medium. Enter blogging. Enter podcasting. Enter streaming video. Now we have a voice. Now we don’t have to wait any longer for a voice crying out in the night, for a black-as-hell knight to ride in with a filthy leer and a winning argument. Now the undersexed, underfucked, randy-as-hell, crop-flogging, chain-wearing, paddle-using, nymphomaniacal, cross-dressing, same-sex fucking, porn-loving, and swinging folks, NOW they all have the ability to have a voice.

The thing about activism is that it’s not about ground breaking wide open in one fell swoop. Like any hole, it start with one push of the shovel. And another. And another. There will be rocks and boulders that limit progress, but with persistence, it all comes out. The greater the chorus of resistance, the harder it is to ignore. The greater the groundswell, the more ground we can break.

Unfortunately for the battle, Lenny Bruce died too fucking young. He should’ve died right around now, in his 80th year. Instead, a needle in his arm, he toppled off his toilet, and crashed to his death – a disgraced, bloated man who was mocked and ridiculed out of the mainstream, and instead, placed post-humously upon a pedestal by those who would continue to wage what was known as his crusade against semantics.

The book’s afterword ends thus:

“One last four-letter word for Lenny.
Dead.
At 40.
That’s obscene.”

And it was. It is. Few people ever have the balls that Lenny Bruce lugged around with him, and it’s a crying fucking shame. And still, here we are, fighting for the same things, dreaming of the same freedoms as this long-dead Jewish-American comedian, in this, the 21st century.