March is always a tough time of year for me, because it's the month I lost my dad. He died on the 18th, just a few days before spring, which is fitting, I guess, because he always seemed like spring--fresh and fun, like a waterfall.
Today I'm not only thinking of him, but of his two cousins, and the funny bone that runs in our family (that I hope included me). My uncles Archie and Sy were the funniest people I knew, with a near-constant run of quips that pretty much landed every time.
Both uncles were overweight (Archie much more so), which also worked for them because they were so much larger than life. Archie had married a truly lovely woman named Helen, and they had a son named Freddie who was also uproariously funny. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 21 from a cerebral hemorrhage and no one knew the cause. It was the only time I've ever seen Archie cry, holding on to his wife at the cemetary.
Sy married a dancer named Vivian, and I think they had kids, but am ashamed to say I didn't know them well if they did, and don't keep in touch. (Note to self: find out and if there are kids, find them).
Sy could easily have been a Borcht Belt comedian, but Viv told him she wouldn't stay married to him if he stayed in show business, and unfortunately, he believed her and didn't pursue the career he should have had.
In some ways, I get why she was shying away from show business--it's harder and less forgiving than a rockpile--but I can't help believing that it also sustains us and that gifts should never be denied. Be that as it may, my friends and I certainly benefited from Archie and Sy's humorous take on the world, and I can't help but wish both of them had lived longer than they did.
There are other funny men in the family too--most notably my cousin Alan, who is the son of my father's twin brother Harry. When my son met Alan the night before my father's funeral, he told me he wished he'd known him sooner. Alan treated all of us to an incredible impromptu monologue about New Jersey politics--sounding, as my son said later, "exactly like George Constanza."
Of all the gifts you could have, I think, a gift for comedy is the hardest to fake and the one I want most. I think I have it in little spurts--nothing like Archie, Sy or Allen--and my father and son have those spurts as well. As a playwright, I celebrate the moments when I can get humor into my work--but still wish I had a stronger gift for it.
My husband has a gift as well, which I guess is no accident, and one of my favorite sounds is his laugh in response to something I'm saying. I think the older I get, the more important humor becomes. As a teenager I was in love with stormy, dark dramas and looked down my nose at comedies. Now, I still like those dark dramas, but am gravitating towards comedy more, as a writer and and audience member.
Maybe it's because I've learned how powerful humor can be, as not only a way to alleviate the tragedy and fear we come up against, but as a way to fight back against it. And when I see comedy now, I measure it against what I learned as a child from my two uncles: say what you see and see the humor in it, and keep talking.
Because the faster your story moves, the funnier it will be. And don't stop until everyone's on the floor around you--characters, actors, and the people watching. The more serious life is, the more you need to laugh at it.
Paper bag disguise photo: R. Crap Mariner