To be a real philosopher, one must be able to laugh at philosophy.
- Blaise Pascal
No comedian is on stage to make people laugh. You’re on stage because you’re damaged and you need love from strangers.
- Dana Gould
The best comedy comes from the losses, not the wins, in your life.
- Dave Attell
Early 1990s. Montreal. Walking. Woman strolls by.
“You should smile more.”
“Why not!? Isn’t it better to smile through life?”
Inside I rolled my eyes. Outside I feigned agreement.
Figured it would get me into her pants.
I didn’t smile again until I got ball cancer.
As a kid I laughed a lot.
Not Really My Pops was a Brit.
He loved comedy, especially the crude stuff.
Sunday was comedy day.
Mornings we listened to Dr. Demento.
Evenings we watched Monty Python (I’d also seen Holy Grail).
I was pretty young. Maybe 7 or 8.
I had no idea what was going on in Python shows except that it was really silly, funny, and the animation parts caused me laughfarts (a rare condition wherein intense laughter stimulates a series of short, rapid farts).
Derek and Clive, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, SNL.
Then I heard George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” at age 10.
I made certain that adults, peers, and authority figures were aware that I was armed with this seven-word arsenal.
“Hey Dad, you’re a tit shit!”
“Mr. Wilson, you’re a shitfucker.”
Didn’t go over too well.
I tasted mom’s new soap bars often.
Also got to know the principal quite well.
A very nice man.
He threw chalk at me and kept me late a lot.
I think he was a pedophile.
He’s dead now.
At 15, a friend and I had rented a vhs tape (I think it was vhs) of Richard Pryor’s concert film, Live on The Sunset Strip. Two years earlier, in 1980, Pryor made the headlines for snorting cocaine, lighting himself on fire and running aflame down the street. During the show Pryor joked openly about this harrowing moment before concluding the piece by lighting a match and saying, "What's that? Richard Pryor running down the street." The audience ROARED with laughter.
Holy fuck! I remember the shock as I watched this bit. He’s making fun of this horrible moment. The guy almost died and here he is telling jokes about it…and shit… people are laughing!! I had a small sack of shit for a brain at 15 (it’s an inch bigger today, 30 years later) so I couldn’t articulate what it all meant. I just thought it was cool. Everything could be laughed at and joked about. I don’t think I fully understood this joke until I faced some traumas of my own years later.
Being exposed to comedy was like having an all-access pass to a secret room in the adult world (well... that, along with the 70s hard core mags filled with hairy bushes and scar-faced women that Not Really My Pops stored under his bed and the liquor bottles left unlocked in the living room cabinet). Wow...this is what goes on!?!?!?
And they called us kids naughty!
Carlin, Pryor, Python and early SNL showed me a different world; one that could be ridiculed and scorned, laughed at and farted at or simply told to get fucked.
No one, no thing should be taken seriously.
I took that lesson seriously.
Comedians were, and are, the real teachers, social critics and philosophers (hell, many young people get their news today from two news show parodies, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Comedy performances are among the few places where we can hear ugly, uncomfortable truths about ourselves, our culture, society, and the world we live in.)
Today, Louis CK is the heir to Carlin. Whether it’s his blunt complaints about his kids or his savage attacks on how idiotic today’s technologically-spoiled generation has become, Louis CK speaks our silences. And when we hear him ridiculing his young daughters, calling them asswipes etc, we laugh because we are thinking the same damn thing. It’s not that we don’t love our kids. Of course we do. But Louis shows us that we are allowed to have a fucking laugh sometimes...release some of the tension by admitting that there are times we’d like to tell the kids what asses they can be. When my wife and I separated last year, I ended up showing our eldest son episodes of CK’s TV show Louie because he deals with the theme of divorce in a down to earth, thoughtful, and extremely funny manner. My ex had signed out some ‘Kids and Divorce’ educational dvd from the library but later said it was a piece of chicken poop. Our son learned more from Louis CK about divorce. What Louis made clear was that divorce doesn’t have to be this big secretive and harrowing ordeal. Hell, divorce parties appear to be the ‘in’ thing nowadays. CK’s “everyman” comedy pricks holes in assumed truths that we’ve inherited from earlier generations. By laughing and mocking them, he shows us that these so-called ‘truths’ are nothing more than myths. They need not be so precious and intransigent. We are the makers and breakers of society’s codes and morals. Like fashion, many of our so-called truths are ephemeral and subject to change.
I’ve never completely lost touch with comedy per se, but it wasn’t until OIAF 10 that I remembered and realized just how important comedy has been in my life. Joel Frenzer and Alan Foreman were at the festival interviewing attendees for an animation podcast. When I sat down for my interview I fully expected a typical, straightforward thing. What I got was ...well ...it was just fucking awesome. I quickly realized that we were going on some non-linear improvised thrill ride. I came away from that interview drunk. I’d just written a column for a weekly newspaper about comedians’ bios, and it suddenly became clear to me that the world of comedy had always had a huge impact on my life, writing, and programming.
When a cancer diagnosis followed a few months afterwards, I dove head first into comedy histories, memoirs, cds, podcasts, concerts etc. I was somewhat surprised to find that a majority of comedians were dark, troubled people. Reading a steady amount of stories about addictions, mental illnesses and crappy childhoods, I felt a connection. This was a world I understood only too well. I frequently relied on humour to get through the muck whether it was dealing with loss and grief (looking at my grandfather’s freshly dead body, I laughed at his nose hairs and admired his full head of hair... when my best friend died, I brought a cowbell up with me during the eulogy so I could remember what an ass he was sometimes), my own addiction and mood issues, or cancer. I had ball cancer. How the fuck can you NOT laugh at that? My balls? Really?! That’s how I’m going to die? Well... umm... yeah... that is pretty funny.
"Having to overcome unhappiness," says comedian Billy Connolly, " gives you a desire to manifest happiness just to get above your own darkness – even if it means involving people you don’t know.”
That doesn’t mean ‘don’t worry, be happy.”
Do worry, but laugh your ass off.
Especially at my funeral.