"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, July 2, 2010

On Dad and Being Funny

My father died 15 years ago today. The next time I mention him will probably be in January, on his 100th birthday (for those doing the math, he was 51 when I was born).

My father loved a good joke. Unfortunately, he wasn't naturally funny and he really couldn't tell a joke and most of the jokes he told I'd already heard, so I don't think he ever made me laugh. That's not unusual - I'm a tough audience. Comedians are generally very hard to make laugh (they usually smile and nod their heads and say, "That's pretty good.") and I'm no exception. There are people who think I'm generally a morose guy, but I usually laugh - hard - once a day, usually at things whose humor is hard to explain. "Family Guy" is a show that frequently makes me laugh, but it's the stuff no one else thinks is funny that gets me; some of that show has got to be written specifically for comics.

Shelly is not usually funny, but she made me laugh a few weeks ago telling an old Emo Phillips joke: "When I was a kid, I prayed for a bicycle and I was upset that I didn't get one. Then I learned that God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bicycle and prayed for forgiveness, because that's how God works." She told it during the invocation of a church service! There was this moment of shocked silence as people were trying to decide if it was okay to laugh. That nearly killed me. It also explains why that's the church I attend. I've delivered sermons there; people would laugh when I was trying to be serious. That's also why I didn't deliver an eulogy at my father's funeral - people laugh no matter what I say, it seems.

Except... some people don't find me funny at all. I dated a woman for a year and never made her laugh (later, her brother explained that with all the psychotropic drugs she was taking, her affect was completely flattened... and yes, I sure know how to pick 'em). There's another woman I made laugh exactly twice in 5 years, though she had a great sense of humor.

Dad did not think I was funny. At all. I made him laugh exactly once and that's what all this introductory stuff was leading to. I was a precocious reader and at 10, I was reading Tolstoy's "Sevastopol Stories." There was an exciting story I thought my father would like, as it involved cossacks; Dad had grown up on a cavalry base back when that still meant horses (Grandpa went up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt). So, I was describing the climactic scene, as the cossacks came over the hill, brandishing their scimitars.

Only... I said, "burnishing their samovars." Dad laughed at the mistake and at his smart-ass kid who was trying to use words too big for him. Then the image hit him. I could just see him picturing soldiers going, "Ooh, cossacks! I'm soooo scared, with them shining up their teapots!"
He laughed until he wept. He couldn't catch his breath. He'd stop laughing for a while, then break up into giggles all over again.

I tried for 20 years to make him laugh like that again. Miss ya, dad. Miss that big booming laugh.


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Senses of humor are very idiosyncratic. That's one of the things that makes humor so great.

RBR said...

Funny. I have been trying to get my dad to say, "Wow, RBR, that is a really great decision" for the last 20 years. I have been wholly unsuccessful at that.

I am a very easy audience in person since I enjoy laughing, but shit that really gets me makes me do that 'silent, can't breathe, then honk like a goose' laugh.

RBR said...

Oh and regarding this "...but RBR's education apparently stalled at the difference between genteel and gentile. I'm only one of those.


Just for that you have to buy your own coffee when you come to California.

RBR said...

You will note, that because I am soo genTEEL I did not even say you would have to offer proof of your assertion.

sea legs girl said...

I keep telling myself to hold back my comments a bit. It's not like I ever have anything profound to say. I remember reading a book by Freud about humor a long time ago (yeah, I was like 7, so there, not 10 like you. Okay, I was actually 20.) and he boiled it down to something very simple, which is that humor is entirely based on the unexpected. I agree wholeheartedly. The simplest form is taking an idiom and changing a word and making everyone laugh. But Glaven had a good point that humor is very idiosyncratic and you also alluded to that. And I think it is basically that we all have different types and levels of expectations. Some people like slapstick and I will say in general that I can't stand it, but it's really hard to explain why, but it is kind of like "come on people, didn't you see that coming?". But, when you posted the Mitch Hedberg stand-up routines, I seriously thought I was going to die from laughing so hard, but I haven't met very many people who think it's funny. But SR came around after about a week, which was good, because now he quotes him enlessly.

Another "funny" thing about humor is that babies seem to ALREADY have their lifelong sense of humor. I see this daily in The Lorax and my mom always said that about me. I love it when The Bois gives me the "not funny this time, mom" look.

It's kind of a shame that you didn't make your dad laugh much, but parents seem to take their kids really seriously, and there are many kinds of respect and love that don't involve laughing out loud, of course.

joyRuN said...

The funnier some folks try to be, the less funny they become.

Like RBR, I'll take any opportunity to laugh even at the most juvenile things. I'm easy ;)

Xenia said...

I seem to laugh all the time. One of my many nicknames growing up was Giggles.

RBR said...

RE: your comment: I did know it is Lyme Disease not Lymes. It sounded weird to write "tick carries Lyme" unless he was going to some sort of margarita party :)

I know, I know. It would have TOTALLY pissed off my pathogenic microbiology professor too. My bad.

Isn't it really called Lyme Disease because they thought it was more acceptable than "Shitty Golfer Disease"? ;) Since it was seen in a high proportion of golfers that had to hike out in the Connecticut woods to retrieve their errant balls? At least that is the story we were told.

One last thing, is it wrong that it made me kind of hawt that you have seen live B. burgdorferi under a microscope in the fucking lab it was discovered in?! Sooooo cool!