Winters in Maine are famous for being long and brutal. When I was growing up, we lived a few blocks away from my junior high and high schools, so I never took the bus; I was always a ‘Walker’. Fine in warm weather, pure hell during the frozen tundra months.
One early morning, I started out on my trek across thirty acres of school athletic fields to reach my classes. The fields were covered in thick sheets of ice so I didn’t walk so much as slid across like a drunk Bambi on a frozen pond. I fell dozens of times, but it didn’t phase me as I was resigned to face the day suffering through another Chemistry class with a soggy, frostbitten ass. Several times I tried to put my trusty L.L. Bean backpack to good use, being careful to land on top of it and not my ass, instead sacrificing my mom’s greasy tunafish sandwich bomb. But in one particular spectacular fall, I missed and landed hard on my side. The ache in my hip already pulsing, I laid there on the ice for a moment, breathing hard in the minus 10 degree temps. Just long enough for my still damp hair to freeze right to the ground. (Back then we didn’t bother with such frivolous things like a blow dryer. Hell, we didn’t even have a shower. I had to wash my hair in the kitchen sink.) When I heaved myself off the ice, a huge chunk of hair was ripped right out of my head. I remember looking down at the tuft of hair still stuck to the ice, fluttering in the wind, and I did what Mainers do best: I laughed. Then I dragged my frozen ass and patchy ice-crusted freakshow of a hairdo to Chemistry.
Yeah, growing up in Maine in the ’70s certainly built a kid’s character. I had character coming out my frosty eyeballs. I would venture to say this is what shaped my sense of humor all my life: Life sucks sometimes. Okay…actually, it sucks most of the time. So what. Deal with it. Might as well make fun of it. Between the eternal soul-killing winters and the fact that most days I would find myself underneath a pig pile of five brothers all trying to fart on my head in unison–I developed my sense of funny real friggin quick. It was a survival mechanism. What other choice did I have? It’s almost like God is saying to you, “Uh…yeah…sorry about your shitty life. But now you can find just about ANYthing funny! Isn’t it great? You’re welcome!” I think most humor is the ability to find the comedic silver lining in the shitcloud of your life.
Most stand-up comedians I admire have made it their mission to bring to audiences their special take on life’s crap and the general absurdities of things. And they’re not afraid. They’re in your face. They take chances. Some of my favorites are: George Carlin (still sad about his passing), Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes, Denis Leary and recently, I’ve discovered Louis C.K. (brilliant, somewhat depressing, but always truthful)
When I first saw Eddie Murphy’s Raw back in the early ’80s, I was sitting on the floor with my brothers and we were dying laughing about his childhood stories–like growing up with a mom who made him these nasty hamburgers with peppers hanging out the sides and trying to pass them off as McDonald’s. I remember watching Eddie in that skin-tight leather suit and thinking: This is freakin amazing! He’s telling it like it is! He’s telling us the truth! He doesn’t care! He’s just coming right out and saying these crazy things that are true! How in the hell is he able to walk around stage in that leather suit?! Isn’t he chafing?
George Carlin was a genius at cutting through all the extraneous bullshit in life and giving it to you straight. Hey, I see the same bullshit you do! He’d point out the ridiculousness in human behavior, always with masterful timing and brilliant words.
To me, that’s what comedy is in a nutshell–serving up the bleak truth and still making you laugh at it. I love a stand-up who can not only push the envelope, but can rip it to shreds and swallow it. I could listen to Wanda Sykes read her grocery list, because she comes off as so real; she cuts through the BS. And she makes me laugh so hard I hyperventilate and weep.
Sometimes this sense of humor isn’t appreciated. Sometimes people find it offensive. We all have our own personal line we don’t like to cross. But in general, I’ve always found it to be simply exposing the truth. Growing up, I was a quiet, shy child; always observing, taking in the finer details of human behavior. Then I’d inevitably blurt something out at the dinner table, sometimes just to see the reaction. I called these gems, ‘Fork-Droppers’ because one or both of my parents would always drop their fork to their plate in shock. Normally, my brothers would laugh, but my mom? My mom would narrow her eyes and give me the ‘I’m Disappointed in You’ look and say, “Darla Jo!” using my middle name to let me know that I had really crossed some line.
Who could blame me? I was living with five brothers who teased me relentlessly in a frozen landscape of hell. Stepping over the line was all I had.
And besides, I think most things are funny. (Sorry, Mom) It’s gotten me pretty far in life. Like most people, I’ve had my share of tragedies, but laughter has this magical ability to heal wounds. Humor has saved me during some of the darkest times. I will always be grateful for my (sometimes warped) sense of humor.
Who are some of your favorite comedians? What is your sense of humor like? Do you find me funny? Funny like a f****ing clown? What…am I here to amuse you? Is that what I am to you?!