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.