One of the things I love most about being a comedian is watching the reaction to the same joke from different audiences, and sometimes from different people within the same audience. Laughter is a universal expression, but humor itself is very subjective. And the truth is, we don’t know who’s in the audience from one show to the next, or the realities they came to the club to escape.
I can enjoy just about any kind of humor, depending on my mood. And I believe just about anything can be funny, depending on how you approach the topic. That said, I’ve never been a fan of unnecessarily cruel jokes about people with handicaps. To me, the question has always been pretty straightforward – are you making fun of the situation, or the person? There’s a difference.
So where am I headed with this? Well, for the past ten months, my 88 year-old mother in law has been living with us, and I’m learning more and more about what it means to take care of somebody with multiple handicaps. She’s nearly blind, she can barely walk, she has Parkinson’s, and the reality fairy doesn’t visit as often as she once did. On the bright side, she’s forgotten how badly she despised me all those years, and when I write a new joke, I can try it on her several times in the same day and get a fresh audience every time. There’s a silver lining in every cloud.
Every one of her ailments is truly heartbreaking, and it pains me to see her go through it day after day. But being on the other end, a sense of humor is absolutely essential. Sometimes, the ability to laugh at the things she says or does is all that gets me through the day. And she doesn’t mind. Most of the time she laughs with me.
Names are a real challenge for her, especially mine and my wife’s. The nice part about that is I don’t have to take the blame for anything. “Dick said that, not me!” It’s sad, though, and I can’t imagine living with that level of confusion. But I’ve found that she stresses a lot less over it when we joke with her. She gets a little chuckle, and the name is no longer so important.
And I think that’s the key – making things a little less important. It’s all about choosing your battles. She can call me just about anything, and I’ll answer. In the overall scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. When she stresses over the cat (we don’t have a cat), I tell her it’s outside. When she announces the time for the third time in five minutes, I thank her. When she calls me to her room at night and invites me into her bed … well, frankly, that scares the hell out of me. “Goodnight Jane.”
I’ve often wondered what really goes on in her mind when I joke around with her. There are times when I can see that she’s getting a bit confused, and then I have to either get serious or make the joke a little more obvious. But we have our best days together when we share a few laughs. In an existence that consists of eating, sleeping, staring at a TV she can’t really see, and simply waiting for death to take her away, the ability to laugh is one of the few joys she has left. Well, that and chocolate.
I guess the bottom line is that we can find humor in just about any situation, and it doesn’t make us a bad person. It’s okay to laugh, folks. Just be sure your laughter isn’t misguided, and that it’s not a source of misery for somebody else. But when you can find the ability to laugh at the things that trouble you most, your days will be brighter and your life more fulfilling. And besides, you may brighten somebody else’s day as well.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon