Reading a few pieces recently on the life of Nora Ephron and of course her sad and unfortunate death at only 71, and also having a phone conversation with my mother, who has always been a big fan of finding comedy in life (she divorced my serious surgeon father for a salesman who likes to clown and harrass strangers with his humor), I thought I’d give a stab at writing something comic - for a change. After all, before I got into tragedy, I was kind of funny - interested in making others laugh through stand-up comedy and sitcom writing. My standup comedy days were short lived though, exactly six miserable performances, when I decided I didn’t like trying to make people laugh (I like making them cry). It was actually harder than I thought as I found myself sweating bullets to try to elicit laughter. And then there was the high school teaching job I didn't get for taking so seriously the literary value of Frasier, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons. I don't advise arguing the point at your big interview that sitcom writing is great literature in the face of a hiring committee that thinks Jane Eyre, Hamlet and the Great Gatsby are the cat's meow. Oh well, I shouldn’t have taken comedy so seriously then. It had neared killed me and also my chances for gainful employment. But in the immortal words of Annie Hall, "La Di Da, La Di Da."
Anyway, I run the gamut between the two extremes, sometimes dark and heavy while of late less light than normal. Sounds like I'm making coffee here but really it's much deeper than coffee. Very, very deep stuff. Please don’t ask me why things are tending to the grave side (I've been taking pictures of cemeteries lately, finding beauty in marble. Does that help explain anything?) Anyhoo, I’m not looking for your sympathy. It’s not the recent death of a father, nor the perennial struggle to make a living, nor my Chihuahua that keeps me up in the middle of the night as it suffers from a bout of diarrhea or the thousand other slings and arrows coming at you as the twilight of life approaches and you look back and wonder where the hell it all went. See how I lean towards the morose and I'm not even fifty yet? I can’t help myself. I don’t know how Nora was able to do it so well, to have that comic touch, in so many serio situations. Divorce inherently isn’t funny, but I guess it’s how you handle it that makes it so. She had a knack for finding humor in it. And finding humor in relationships. And conveying that in art.
Truth told, somehow I prefer poetry to match my heaviness, rather than comedy to create levity. Rarely am I light like taffy before I find it entangled in the mouth. In trying to spit out the jumbled words, I have fallen prey to the weight of ever rising taxes, a slugglish economy and the woes of common folk all mired in getting through the daily grind. Please, I don’t want to hear about the little things going on in your life-another brake job around the corner or how your kids are bleeding you for another dollar of your hard earned money. Get rid of the car and get rid of the kids and add some black humor to your life. And a little sugar to go with it all.
When you get to that point of sourdom, as you are putting up your precious children for auction, it may be time to inject life with the sweet scents of humor. Of course for their benefit. And yours too! Where do you find the comedy? In yourself, to start. You find it at the end of the lines you are scripting, as you are catching yourself droning on about the hardness of things and the absurdity of your implacable situations, when you realize in mid-sentence that your life is more pliable than you might have thought and that you can change the outcome with the turn of a phrase. It’s looking for opportunities to twist the narrative of a sad saga with a tap dance routine by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers even if your cast of characters are as clumsy as a pair of new born phillies trying to stand on their own feet (A little heady for comedy but you get the point).
I am far from an expert at what constitutes comedy, but I am going to pay attention to the endings I’m infusing my stories with, looking for the twists that turn tragedy upside down to make things funnier. I’m going to start, first by rewatching my favorite movies of Nora Ephron, and then catching a few more comic movies on my summer’s list while working to regain that side of myself o’ertaken by the dark side. I will also pick up the phone, call my mother, tell her I love her, and thank her for her wisdom for reminding me to lighten up and embrace the comedy that life has to give, for the punchline is that time here is finite so enjoy it while you can - starting with a good dose of laughter.
You can make em' laugh. I know you can.