Funny no more
I recently reconnected with a fraternity brother who came across this blog. He had read some of my posts and commented: “you still got it.” He was kindly referrring to my sense of humor.
Sadly, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Oh, I can be glib at times. Occasionally clever. Sometimes witty. But, more often than not I resort to “silly” which is kind of a comedic cop out.
Now, trust me, at one point in my life I really was funny. And I say this without a hint of bragging: I was prodigy-like funny. The sad story below illustrates what I’m talking about.
When I was in 6th grade, our English teacher asked each of us to give a 5 minute talk in front of the class on whatever topic we chose. I’m certain it was to give us some “public-speaking” exposure, but I didn’t think of it that way. Instead, I viewed it as my first chance to do a 5 minute comedy set.
Now at that time, Bill Cosby was a huge talent in the comedy world. My parents had all his albums and I knew most of the routines by heart. So, I picked out one of his shorter bits, and proceeded to memorize it word-by-word.
Only it never came out like Cosby did it. I had trouble with both his timing and intonation. When I said it, it just didn’t come out funny.
So, in a moment of inspiration, I decided to write my own bit. 5 minutes of pure 6th grade hilarity. As I recall, something about a tyrannical teacher and some unruly students.
A few days later I “performed” in front of the class. And, trust me, I “killed.” Kids were falling out of their chairs in hysterics.
So much so, that at the end of class, the teacher pulled me aside and asked the source of my material. I told her I wrote it myself.
And she looked at me, and sternly told me not to lie. Insisted that since it was so good, I obviously had “borrowed” it from someone. Even wrote a note to my parents chastising me for lying.
To this day I am certain that if instead, I had been encouraged, I could have been the next Cosby.
But, even with that setback, it didn’t stop there. I was easily the funniest kid in high school. And not just “dumb” funny, but the kind of sophisticated funny that guys like David Steinberg and George Carlin were bringing to the table.
In college, I was elected fraternity secretary. The real role: do a 5 minute bit each Sunday night at 11PM as part of the fraternity “minutes.” Trust me, there’s no tougher crowd than 45 unruly frat brothers waiting for you to fail so they can throw empty beer cans at you.
But, I rarely bombed. I dressed up as “Dear Abby” one night and answer “questions” from the brothers. I did a 5 minute bit on a “day in the life” of one of our studliest brothers. And I did this for a solid year, every Sunday night.
Even upon joining IBM, I still had the knack. I wrote skits for the branch office, did 20 minutes “sets” as an instructor, and even did my own Letterman “Top 10 reasons to sell OS/2” in front of 10,000 IBMers. (Humbly, I knocked it out of the park and it’s not easy to make a dorky topic like that funny.)
And then Nancy and I started having kids. And right about then, I started losing my fastball. I’d get together with old friends, and I could just feel I was about a beat behind. Like I was one of those old-timers at the All-star game.
We’d be at a party, I’d tell a story and my timing would be completely off. Embarrassing.
And now, every year, I can feel myself getting slightly less funny. Heck Nancy, who was always pretty clever, is a LOT funnier than I am these days. Both my kids are funnier than I am. Heck, the fellows who cut our lawn have better one-liners than I do.
So sadly that’s where I’m at. Like one of those old comics you see on a talk show and wonder: “Boy, why did I ever think he was funny?”
But, I can still keep my memories, and I guess I’ll always have that day when I was the headliner in 6th grade.