There are no guarantees you’ll be funny forever.
I don’t know what it is that makes a person funny. Chemicals in your head, family conditioning, an inability to play sports so you find a way to get acceptance another way, a quirk in your brain that causes your mind to make funny connections...
I really don’t know.
I explain what I do by saying I have a funny way of looking at things. This is ironic, because, due to some prenatal impairment – I was born with cataracts – I actually do have a funny way of looking at things.
I don’t know if that has to do with anything. It may be a coincidence. I just know I have a certain way of looking at things, and it comes out funny.
I also know this.
You can lose that “funny.” And on the day I’m about to tell you about, I did.
Or at least I misplaced it for a while.
Losing your “funny” is a disturbing feeling, to say the least. If “funny” is how you make your living and it’s suddenly gone, it’s like a surgeon, standing over an anaesthetized patient, the nurse slaps a scalpel into his hand, and he says,
Targeted amnesia. It only affects your talent. Ooooooh. (I just gave a little shiver.)
When I tell you what happened, you may think, “That doesn’t sound so serious.” Trust me. It was devastating. A chef with palate paralysis.
“I can’t taste savory!”
A trapeze artist with a sudden fear of heights.
“Get me down!!!!
A painter abruptly stricken color blind.
“I can’t tell blue!”
Are you getting the concept? It’s big!
Okay, so here we go. It’s the 90’s. We’re at the dry cleaners, my daughter and I. We’ve returned from an extended family trip, and we have tons of stuff to take in. Painstakingly, we begin the task. My daughter loads my arms with clothes, I carry them into the place, drop them off, and return to the car for more. I make half a dozen trips, our mountain of clothes rising on the dry cleaner’s counter.
I’m wearing sneakers and a t-shirt, emblazoned with the logo of a team I root for, or a place I want people to know I’ve visited. I’m also wearing what we call out here, gym pants. They’re really like pajama bottoms. One great thing about Los Angeles. You can wear pajamas in the street.
The pants fabric is a dizzying pattern of blue, white, black and red squiggles. They were the kind of pants you’d see at Muscle Beach on the Venice Boardwalk in the 80’s, their ballooney appearance heightened by the tight elastic at the ankles.
I’m passing through the dry cleaner’s door, carrying in my final load. During the entire process, unbeknownst to me, a female customer has, apparently, been watching me, as I accumulated this, by now, enormous pile of dirty clothes. Passing me on her way out, the woman turns to me and says,
“That explains the pants.”
That’s what she said. In retrospect: it’s funny. It’s actually really funny.
All my clothes are dirty, and I’m relegated to wearing those pants – that’s the joke. I might have made a similar remark about a person in that situation, maybe not out loud, but I would certainly have enjoyed it in my head.
“That explains the pants.”
A bulls-eye observation, and a four-word punch line, delivered in a dry, slightly amused tone of voice. The woman had executed it perfectly. Under normal circumstances, I would have laughed my head off, and possibly, at a younger age, have proposed marriage on the spot.
At the time, however, my reaction was not “Ha ha.” Instead, I turned to the woman and said,
”What’s wrong with these pants? I love these pants!”
That’s right. I defended my pants. Why shouldn’t I? A stranger had impugned my fashion sense. In Los Angeles. Where you’re allowed to wear anything!
“These are my favorite pants!” I insisted.
The woman looked confused. Backed into a corner, she tried to defend her remark.
“Well, they are kind of…”
No! You don’t attack me pants. Not my favorites. There was an impulse to strike back. Should I attack her clothes? Her sunglasses? Should I follow her into the parking lot and take shots at her car?
“A Volvo. No wonder!”
Fortunately, I did none of that. My wardrobe-defending tirade was interrupted in mid spittle spray by my daughter, who said,
“Dad, it was a joke.”
My head began to spin. I replayed the incident in my head. The setup – an enormous pile of clothes on the counter – the remark – right on the money….
It was a joke. A really funny joke. And I, who claim humor is my business, had missed it.
I snapped out of my stupor. I looked around for the woman. I wanted to apologize. I wanted to explain.
“I’m sorry. I had a lapse. That was funny. I know. I write comedy!”
The woman was nowhere to be seen. I felt devastated. Not for attacking her for insulting my pants, but because she was leaving with an impression of me that was achingly incorrect:
“That man had no sense of humor whatsoever.”
I took “The Dry Cleaning Debacle” as a wake-up call. I realized “funny” doesn’t come with a lifetime guarantee. You take yourself too seriously, and your “funny light” can fade, and eventually disappear.
You’re not funny anymore. And if you’re in the business of being funny, that can be very serious. If being funny is the only thing you do, and you can’t do that anymore, then you can’t do anything. And that’s not good.
Two consequences evolved from that experience at the dry cleaner’s:
I resolved to be always vigilant of my “funny light.”
And I never wore those squiggly pants again.