Laughter is the best medicine, or so they say. I have no quarrel with that idea. In fact, I endorse it. But I’d suggest that penicillin ought to rank pretty high on the “best medicine” chart, too. After all, penicillin spawned a gaggle of antibiotics to help keep us alive. Besides, what does a good belly laugh yesterday do for you today?
I’m only half serious. There’s nothing like a joke, a wise crack or a comedy performance to lift our spirits and let us escape the troubles of the world around us. We laugh until we cry at things we’re supposed to laugh at. And woe be to the attempt at humor that falls flat. You’re either disappointed or confused, and the jokester is crushed. He may even be angry because you didn’t get it.
Maybe that’s why so many professional comics are lonely and depressed. Their only resource is their brain, and their only tools are their words. They’re all alone in the harsh glare of the spotlight. And those people in the audience have paid for them to be funny on cue and make them laugh.
I’ve known quite a few well-known comics, but the one “performer” who really stands out in my mind is my friend Ray. When he was in elementary school, Ray made his classmates laugh when he’d make funny faces and stick out his tongue when the teacher’s back was turned. In high school, he’d graduated to writing funny poems and wicked limericks about his classmates – mostly the girls – and passing them around the room – when the teacher’s back was turned, of course.
By the time he entered college, Ray was convinced that he was a really, really funny guy. His dream was a career in comedy. First thing he did was get an audition for the school’s student humor magazine and make friends with the editor. His initial humor column was the story of a guy who was head over heels about a girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day. (Ray was idiomatically challenged.). So this guy scrapes together the money to buy a car. Then he parks in front of her house and honks the horn to get her to come out. As soon as she opens her front door – probably on her way to get a restraining order – the guy climbs up on the roof of the car and starts tap dancing. The girl must find that funny because she gives him a smile and a little wave. Her reaction excites the guy so much he makes a deep bow, loses his balance, falls off the roof of the car and breaks both his ankles.
The reaction? Stony silence. Ray couldn’t understand why the editor didn’t think his story was hilarious. He figured “guy can’t get girl so he does something ‘wild and crazy’ (Ray loved Steve Martin) and ends up looking like a jerk.” (again, Steve Martin). He was stunned when his joke tanked – and when the editor told him he would still be a big success – maybe in the Glee Club.
I lost track of Ray over the years. Then one day I bumped into a guy who said he was Ray’s fraternity brother. He told me he used to hang out with Ray where he worked – at a big-name comedy club.
I was both astonished and happy for Ray. He’d realized his dream. “I guess he did,” the fraternity brother said. “And he was the best damn bartender that joint ever had.”
By Dr. Duke