When I was a kid, it was very apparent that I was different from other kids.
I didn’t have cable.
I think that this has affected my sense of humor greatly.
As I have mentioned before, my Dad was a thrifty man, and he wasn't going to spend money on television, when we could watch it for free.
Therefore, all of my friends from school did not watch anything that I was watching. I was not exposed to MTV, Nickalodeon, Comedy Central, and Cartoon Network until my college years. Most of the time I didn’t know what other kids in my class were talking about when they mentioned things like Clarissa Explains it All or The Real World.
I was lost, and kind of out of the loop.
When I would babysit or visit a friend’s house and cable shows would be on, I really wanted to like them to try and fit in with people in my class, but I remember pretending to laugh. Even at the time, I thought that the humor on these shows my friends were watching was infantile, silly, stupid, and sometimes tasteless. I knew I was an old soul even then, but even the kids side of me thought there were some things that were just plain stupid on these shows.
When you are in school, all you want is to fit in. So, I never talked about my favorite shows at school. I almost felt like I should keep what I was doing for hours at home a secret.
I remember when I was a very young child coming home from half days of school, eating a PB and J, chips, apple, and chocolate milk and plopping down in front of the TV for an afternoon of reruns. Before you gasp in shock and disgust, remember this was before a childhood obesity epidemic, peanut allergies, links between TV and ADHD, and an actual need for censorship. The shows I watched sometimes were probably much too old for me, but when I was growing up television as a whole seemed a lot cleaner and the inappropriate jokes were much more subtle and sometimes went over my head.
If there was a break from school, and the weather was too crappy for going outside, I would spend whole days glued to the TV. Because of the lack of cable, I watched shows that had been put into syndication and were on local TV stations as filler. Therefore, in my formative years I spent watching things like I Love Lucy, The Jeffersons, The Honeymooners, Three’s Company, Sanford and Son, and The Bob Newhart Show.
Also, I used to thank God for PBS. I could spend inane amounts of time watching Are You Being Served?, Keeping Up Appearances, Absolutely Fabulous, Thin Blue Line, and Vicar Dibley. Again, while most probably think this was totally inappropriate for a kid, let me remind you the jokes were pretty subtle, and I really did think Mrs. Slocombe was talking about her cat.
While this is strange, this is what I had access to, and watching this kind of TV as a seven year old molds a sense of humor that is very different than a group of kids who spent their afternoons watching Rugrats on Nickelodeon.
I will never forget the first time I didn't feel like a "comedy nerd" at school.
It was Mrs. Taylor's 5th grade religion class. We were discussing how God wants us to be helpful, and what is an example of helpfulness. Because not only was I a 9 year old TV buff, but also a goody two shoes, my hand darted up in the air. When Mrs. Taylor called on me I said, “Last night on Cheers, Frasier tries to help Woody sing a song for Kelly for her birthday... and...."
Another goody two shoes in the class yelled across the room while I was talking, “Are you kidding me?! That show takes place in a bar! I don’t think that is what Mrs. Taylor or God means to be helpful.”
In a most redeeming moment, Mrs. Taylor asked my critic to pipe down, and told me that it was an example of being helpful, and gave me a wink. Not only did she help me feel better, but she also saw the episode too and knew what I meant. We had a little connection.
While this was a wonderful moment for me because there was someone else other than me at school who appreciated a good sitcom. I decided I wouldn't talk about TV again at school.
I kept my secret well into my teens.
We still didn't have cable, but the CW was formed and showed programs like Dawson's Creek and Felicity. So, I would watch those shows so I would have something to talk about with my friends, but then the rest of the week, I would join my parents or older siblings and watch sitcoms. This meant a lot of NBC's Must See TV lineups. This also meant watching reruns on WGN and FOX in the summertime. Shows like Cheers, Cosby Show, Family Ties, The Simpsons, Golden Girls, Mad About You, Friends, Frasier and my favorite of all time, Seinfeld. On the weekends I would try to watch SNL, and if I stayed up really late, I would sometimes be able to sneak watching Kids in the Hall.
My siblings and I would often recite our favorite lines from TV shows to get a laugh at the dinner table. Being the youngest, it was always a serious accomplishment if I could get a laugh by repeating something like, “Would you look at this can of tuna?!” Just like Jerry Seinfeld. In fact, I loved that episode of Seinfeld ("The Marble Rye") so much we taped it, and I would watch it over and over and over again, trying to pick a character and recite their lines for the entire episode (I told you, I was a nerd).
Saying these lines at the lunch table in the cafeteria did not elicit the same response.
Then came college.
The network television sitcoms I was used to had to be clever, witty, subtle, and clean to be on primetime. However, while I do appreciate the kind of comedy I later discovered on Comedy Central or the comics on HBO swearing up a storm, I didn't even have access to that kind of humor until I was in my twenties (well, not unless you count borrowing George Carlin books from the library as a pre-teen, we will talk about that next week).
In college, I divulged my shameful secret of watching non cable sitcoms, and it felt so good. I even convinced a few people to watch some Britcoms with me, and I loved that my friends thought these shows were as funny as I did. I like to think that I was single handedly responsible for Comedy Central having at Absolutely Fabulous marathon. Also, I take credit for my best friend from college, Sara, buying all of Seinfeld on DVD and getting addicted to the show.
While, I would complain endlessly about growing up without cable television as a kid, I am glad that we didn’t have cable. I learned comedy from the greats and not Beavis and Butthead.
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