Out of the blue this afternoon, I remembered the very moment when I became addicted to making people laugh. Turns out it's Stephanie Schneider's fault.
When I was twelve-years-old, my parents were engaged in a custody battle of “Kramer vs. Kramer” proportions. As a result, my brother and I were thrust upon shrink after shrink in an effort to glean “evidence” to support whichever parent was paying the good doctor’s bill. To their credit, I believe some of these therapists also may have been part of an effort to make it feel less like I was being drawn and quartered. One day after school, I was playing some talk-about-your-feelings board game with a therapist. I picked a card that said, “What was the best part of your day?” Many of my school days were filled with wonderful parts since that year I was attending my beloved Roeper School. I don’t remember the first answer I gave the shrink, but my flash of memory begins when I asked her, “Can I give a second answer to this question?”
Of course she said, “Sure.”
And I continued, “Today, I made this girl at school laugh, and she said I was funny.” (This is where Stephanie Schneider comes in. I believe she also thought I was weird, but for some reason that didn’t have any lasting effect on my self-perception.) I told the shrink, “I like making people laugh. It feels really good.”
[You should be hearing a trumpeting fanfare and generalized Tinkerbell sounds about this time.]
And thus a seed was planted. And in that spot a mighty oak now stands with spider monkeys swinging from many limbs. (I know that seeds and spider monkeys and oaks don’t mix, but it’s my metaphor so stay out of it.) Now that I think about it, the soil in that spot had been well composted in preparation for that fateful seed. I have a vague recollection about being peeved about my sixth grade report card when the teacher described me as a “character” with a “dry sense of humor.” I grumbled that Mickey Mouse was a character, and a dry anything didn’t seem good to me. (Even then, I was a big believer in moisturizer, which is why my skin is extraordinarily soft to this day.)
But on the floor in front of an insipid board game in that therapist’s office, I first consciously realized what a gift it is to make people laugh. I’m sure you know what I mean. I firmly believe that everyone is funny (as long as you don’t get muddled in the differentiation between laughing with and laughing at.) When I was studying psychology – ironically, I became a psych major! – we learned about these rats that had a pleasure-stimulating device hooked into their brains. They could stimulate their brain’s happy-spot by pressing a lever. The scientists wanted to see if the rat spent his whole life getting his rocks off. I won’t bore you with the results of the experiment (mostly because I don’t remember them,) but I totally can relate to the rat’s plight. When you laugh at something I say or do, I feel like my cranial Mr. Happy is getting his jollies. It feels good. Really good. I like it. I like it a lot. I like it in an “I can stop any time I want to, but I just don’t want to” kind of twelve-step way.
I wonder if I still would have been a comedian if Stephanie Schneider hadn’t been so generous with her compliments that day in seventh grade.
I wonder if I still would have been a comedian if my parents hadn’t hated each other so viciously in 1978.