Some rock stars at ChicagoNow graciously invited me to participate in a series of imagined conversations with an inspirational figure. I was all set to feature Walt Disney for this virtual group hug. The man created parallel realities that are every bit as real as Tom Sawyer or Scrooge! The Disney Parks are my own personal wonders of the world.
Then the other night, I had an experience with my son I will never forget: a revelation on his part with all the staying power of Snow White.
I was being silly with my five year old, pretending his big stuffed animal super heroes were beating me up. G started laughing so hard. So hard. And then he got super still. I will never forget his face when he said:
“You’re funny, Mommy.”
“No. Mommy. You’re…funny…”
The gig was up. For G, it was like seeing a rock star get an oil change. I was exposed.
“I can be.”
“How did you learn to be funny?”
If you talk to people who like me, they might say I’m a funny person. If you talk to people who don’t like me, they might say I am an annoying, even ridiculous person.
And both are right.
My sense of humor is like a pet rock I keep in my back pocket. (I painted it myself!) It has the ability to put people at ease in uncomfortable social gatherings. It can shock people awake in the grocery line.
It brings people into my space, yet keeps them a comfortable distance away from me, but not in an inauthentic way. It’s like a dog I’ve trained.
And it is absolutely because of Carol Burnett.
Carol and I have chosen a non-descript office for our imaginary chat. It is rather unglamorous, but “discreet” works when you are a superstar. I would have agreed to fly to the the moon for this. I filled a Styrofoam coffee cup with water. She has brought her own green water bottle filled with whatever Carol Burnett drinks.
I feel I should be more overwhelmed. I am surprisingly comfortable sitting three feet away from my icon.
Me: What an honor. You were like a babysitter to me. I watched you every day. Every day.
**Does she know she’s grabbing her ear right now? Like she did at the end of her monologue on her show to tell her “Nanna” hello, and that she was doing okay out there in Hollywood.**
Me: I can pinpoint the moment I chose humor as my power ring. When I first aspired to be Thor to the Ring of Funny.
**Carol Burnett laughs, and its familiarity is like a cartoon stun gun to my solar plexus. I’m sure my skeleton is pulsing visible from the outside of my body.**
Me: I had volunteered to do a skit at the local nursing home with my Best Friend Steve. "We will be doing Carol Burnett," I announced to my soccer buddy.
I'm not sure I ever really laughed out loud, per se, at her shows. I don’t have that memory.
When I listen to music, I don’t listen to the words. Never have. I feel it. When I watched the Carol Burnett show, I wasn’t listening to those words, either. I was feeling them. I was studying the performers, and their command of the magic ball of energy being bounced around the audience like a beach ball at a concert.
When Harvey Korman or Tim Conway or Vicki Lawrence "broke," it tickled my funny bone. To this day, I'm still a girl who can't always keep a straight face when it just gets too funny. My body is defenseless against the urge to laugh.
Me: For our nursing home performance, we (I) chose to recreate your Mrs. Wiggins character. Steve was Mr. Tudball. We rehearsed, bought funny wigs and shoes, and showed up. I did Mrs.Wiggins’ funny shuffle across the stage: butt held high, tiny shuffly steps. The wall of laughter that engulfed the stage when I did that..
**I choke up a little bit. Carol Burnett hands me a Carol Burnett Kleenex from her Carol Burnett purse. Carol Burnett.**
Me: If only I had just stuck to just that one drug,.. My life changed in an instant. I was seen. I made something magical happen. I had found my Superpower. In my own way, I had found God. I was the Sarah Frickin’ Silverman of the weird smelling Nursing Home Day Room.
In the Spiderman origin story, Peter Parker takes some unsuccessful leaps between buildings, shoots webbing at everything in his room, and shows up for dinner with black eyes. There is always a learning curve, right?
And mine was on the playground of my elementary school. If I could make those folks laugh in the nursing home, imagine what I could do to a bunch of third graders at recess, right?
I waited for just the right time….made sure THAT person and THAT person were watching. It was go time. I did my best Miss A-Wiggins shuffled across the black top. Butt held high…tiny, shuffly steps.
The only reaction I can be sure about was the one on THAT one’s face. Confusion. Embarrassment? Horror. Definitely not “let’s be friends, funny girl…”
Like Peter Parker, I showed up for dinner with my own proverbial black eyes that night. But for me, the blows didn’t leave a visible mark.
Me: Ms Burnett, I know you have to go. But this has been such an imaginary honor to pretend to talk to you for ChicagoNow. Oh, and congratulations on the Mark Twain award. Who better? Before you go, I’d like to tell you one more thing.
After my son told me I was funny, he asked me how someone learns to be funny. That’s not a question I can take lightly when my own son is asking. Humor is just about everything to me.
And after a few seconds of contemplation, I said, “The best answer I have is this: find people you think are funny. Try to figure out what, exactly, is so funny about what they are saying and doing. Then study them. Watch them over and over again with an open heart. Something magical happens when you do that.”
I found you, Ms. Burnett. In a tiny beige living room in standard base housing in an Air Force Base in the Panhandle of Florida. And, I was never the same, for better or for worse.
Thanks for reading. It means the world to me. Carry on...
Old Single Mom
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