Laugh   My sides hurt from laughing so much with those Norwegians last night! Those are words you will never hear in your lifetime. Depression, blonde hair, skin that burns in the sun like a vampire on a tropical beach, an inability to leave a reasonable tip and stoicism are all a part of our Scandinavian DNA, but humor in our lives is like a fish skydiving, just kind of strange and out of place.   As a kid, my grandfather, a small town banker, I thought had no humor. Oh, he tried. He had dozens of Norwegian joke books lying around the house and loved to tell Ole and Lena jokes to friends, family and customers at the bank. They were lame, often cringingly bad jokes. He told them so often that they popularly became known as Sody jokes. I heard them so often that when I lived in Australia on a bet I started telling them and went on for four hours before I could not come up with a new one. I can remember him telling those jokes to customers as they left his office and them laughing. They laughed.   So, it surprised me when I was eight years old, sitting on my grandparents’ front step reading Mad magazine, when my grandfather asked me if I wanted to go to the movies. I was a wee bit of a wild child, a blonde haired Huckleberry Finn, and I knew he was a pretty smart man.  We both knew the math was not in his favor. Eyeing him suspiciously, I confirmed that he knew who he was talking to and then agreed.   Jumping into the car, I wondered what kids’ movie we were going to go to, thought it was pretty nice of him to take me to a movie, and decided to take it easy on him as we drove to the mall.    Sitting down in our seats in the theater, the lights dimmed, the film started, and I discovered he did not take me to a film directed at children. Instead I got Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Dick Van Patten, and Ron Carey.  It was my introduction to the brilliance of Mel Brooks, the funniest man to ever grace this planet. The movie was High Anxiety, a parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliance. It wasn’t one of his great films, but we laughed. We laughed until our sides hurt. We laughed. (Later in life, I heard the same laughter out of my grandfather when he would watch Seinfeld on his little television in the kitchen. I discovered that he was a huge Seinfeld fan. I also discovered that it is a little uncomfortable, okay, extremely uncomfortable, to watch the episode where the gang bets on who could last the longest as “the master of their domain.” Like a kid who did not study for a math test, I never prayed harder that we did not have a conversation during the commercial.)   Mel Brooks was married to Anne Bancroft, who in her prime was an extremely beautiful and talented actress. She was starring on Broadway when one of her co- stars struck up a conversation with her. He could not figure out why such a beautiful woman would marry the short, chubby, balding Brooks. She could have probably have had her pick of any man on earth, why would she pick Mel Brooks? Without missing a beat, she replied, “He makes me laugh.”    He makes me laugh.   I honestly believe I grew up in the greatest era of comedy ever. An old Groucho was making regular appearances on the daytime talk shows. A young David Letterman was just getting his start. Bob Hope, Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett were seemingly always on Johnny. I would sneak commando style downstairs in the dark to watch the original Not Ready For Primetime Players on Saturday Night Live. Monty Python, Benny Hill, and the lesser remembered The Goodies were on PBS. Movies of Martin and Lewis, Bud and Lou, Laurel and Hardy, Peter Sellers, Mae West, W.C. Fields and a young Groucho and his brothers could be found almost every afternoon or late night on TV. Everyone loved Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett and Barney Miller and Fife.    If your parents were gone or were not paying attention, a whole new genre of risky comedy was available to young eyes thanks to HBO and the VCR. Every kid read Mad and Cracked magazines, and once I figured out where my cousin stashed his copies of National Lampoon they became a part of my regular reading experience.  Every newspaper had its own Lewis Grizzard or Erma Bombeck. You would play Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin on your record player and hope your parents would not hear your laughter, or the words they said. At your grandparents you could find the older party albums with the likes of Bob Newhart, Andy Griffith, and Bill Cosby on them.  And everyone was trying to figure out what was up with Andy Kaufman. They made me laugh.   I learned early on that humor was powerful. As a young man, I wanted to be taken seriously. I did not want an ounce of humor in any speech I gave. I remember one speech I was to give that I thought was particularly earth shaking. I gave it out at a camp in a beautiful building with a stone floor. I must admit that I marveled at my powers of persuasion even though half the people listening to me appeared to have fallen asleep. They must have been in deep concentration. Yet, about halfway through my rhetoric gold, someone opened the door and the camp dog snuck into the building. It walked down the center aisle, its toenail clicking on the stone floor, and laid down right in front of my lectern. My beloved listeners became focused on my every word. Every eye was now focused in my direction. At least that is what I thought until I looked down over the front of the lectern to see that the dog was giving himself a bath. I say him because it would have been pretty obvious to even Stevie Wonder that this dog was a male. As I peered down at the dog I realized that I could have informed the audience where a million dollars was buried and no one would have heard a thing I said. Jesus Christ could have come back at that moment, stood next to me, and He would have simply shrugged His shoulders because when it comes to attention you’re not going to best a dog doing what a dog will do.  After vainly trying to continue my speech for a few more minutes, I finally said, “Even the animals come to hear me speak.” Everybody laughed. To this day, I still have people tell me it was one of the greatest speeches they ever heard, although to this day I am sure they cannot remember a single thing I said. They laughed.        Still, I did not understand humor. In my mind, the IV drip was slower than it probably was. She looked like a rag doll in the bed instead of the full-grown woman that she was. The white cotton mask that covered her mouth seemed to be bigger than her face. She had decided to stop fighting. She was worn out; enough was enough. As I sat there in that chair, in that visitor’s gown, thinking she was too young, but God or fate or whatever you call it didn’t care what I thought. I stood up to stretch my legs and unknown to me the gown and my pants had gotten pinched into the crease where the seat met one of the legs. There was a ripping noise. I had ripped out the back my pants. I hopped around angrily, cursing under my breath, not fully realizing I was showing the best part of me to everyone in room. It was then I heard a painful, gasping laugh, almost a whisper, but it was a laugh. She laughed.   It was not until that moment that I understood my grandfather’s jokes. Humor can make the elephants of daily life vanish, pain, suffering, even the weighty presence of death itself, if only for a few moments, and sometimes a few moments are all that we need. He had people coming into his bank office at some of the lowest moments in their lives, needing a loan to get through the next year or to buy a house or send a kid to college and all the worries and fears that entailed. He did what he could do for them and always left them with a joke. Lame as that joke might have been, for a few seconds, the weight of the moment was taken off their chests because they laughed.  They laughed.   Life is hard and painful. So, surround yourself with people that make you laugh. It is the only way you are going to get through it. My grandfather understood this. Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft understood this. The great comedians all knew this. I have come to understand this. I hope you laugh. Laugh.
Laugh   My sides hurt from laughing so much with those Norwegians last night! Those are words you will never hear in your lifetime. Depression, blonde hair, skin that burns in the sun like a vampire on a tropical beach, an inability to leave a reasonable tip and stoicism are all a part of our Scandinavian DNA, but humor in our lives is like a fish skydiving, just kind of strange and out of place.   As a kid, my grandfather, a small town banker, I thought had no humor. Oh, he tried. He had dozens of Norwegian joke books lying around the house and loved to tell Ole and Lena jokes to friends, family and customers at the bank. They were lame, often cringingly bad jokes. He told them so often that they popularly became known as Sody jokes. I heard them so often that when I lived in Australia on a bet I started telling them and went on for four hours before I could not come up with a new one. I can remember him telling those jokes to customers as they left his office and them laughing. They laughed.   So, it surprised me when I was eight years old, sitting on my grandparents’ front step reading Mad magazine, when my grandfather asked me if I wanted to go to the movies. I was a wee bit of a wild child, a blonde haired Huckleberry Finn, and I knew he was a pretty smart man.  We both knew the math was not in his favor. Eyeing him suspiciously, I confirmed that he knew who he was talking to and then agreed.   Jumping into the car, I wondered what kids’ movie we were going to go to, thought it was pretty nice of him to take me to a movie, and decided to take it easy on him as we drove to the mall.    Sitting down in our seats in the theater, the lights dimmed, the film started, and I discovered he did not take me to a film directed at children. Instead I got Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Dick Van Patten, and Ron Carey.  It was my introduction to the brilliance of Mel Brooks, the funniest man to ever grace this planet. The movie was High Anxiety, a parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliance. It wasn’t one of his great films, but we laughed. We laughed until our sides hurt. We laughed. (Later in life, I heard the same laughter out of my grandfather when he would watch Seinfeld on his little television in the kitchen. I discovered that he was a huge Seinfeld fan. I also discovered that it is a little uncomfortable, okay, extremely uncomfortable, to watch the episode where the gang bets on who could last the longest as “the master of their domain.” Like a kid who did not study for a math test, I never prayed harder that we did not have a conversation during the commercial.)   Mel Brooks was married to Anne Bancroft, who in her prime was an extremely beautiful and talented actress. She was starring on Broadway when one of her co- stars struck up a conversation with her. He could not figure out why such a beautiful woman would marry the short, chubby, balding Brooks. She could have probably have had her pick of any man on earth, why would she pick Mel Brooks? Without missing a beat, she replied, “He makes me laugh.”    He makes me laugh.   I honestly believe I grew up in the greatest era of comedy ever. An old Groucho was making regular appearances on the daytime talk shows. A young David Letterman was just getting his start. Bob Hope, Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett were seemingly always on Johnny. I would sneak commando style downstairs in the dark to watch the original Not Ready For Primetime Players on Saturday Night Live. Monty Python, Benny Hill, and the lesser remembered The Goodies were on PBS. Movies of Martin and Lewis, Bud and Lou, Laurel and Hardy, Peter Sellers, Mae West, W.C. Fields and a young Groucho and his brothers could be found almost every afternoon or late night on TV. Everyone loved Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett and Barney Miller and Fife.    If your parents were gone or were not paying attention, a whole new genre of risky comedy was available to young eyes thanks to HBO and the VCR. Every kid read Mad and Cracked magazines, and once I figured out where my cousin stashed his copies of National Lampoon they became a part of my regular reading experience.  Every newspaper had its own Lewis Grizzard or Erma Bombeck. You would play Steve Martin, Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin on your record player and hope your parents would not hear your laughter, or the words they said. At your grandparents you could find the older party albums with the likes of Bob Newhart, Andy Griffith, and Bill Cosby on them.  And everyone was trying to figure out what was up with Andy Kaufman. They made me laugh.   I learned early on that humor was powerful. As a young man, I wanted to be taken seriously. I did not want an ounce of humor in any speech I gave. I remember one speech I was to give that I thought was particularly earth shaking. I gave it out at a camp in a beautiful building with a stone floor. I must admit that I marveled at my powers of persuasion even though half the people listening to me appeared to have fallen asleep. They must have been in deep concentration. Yet, about halfway through my rhetoric gold, someone opened the door and the camp dog snuck into the building. It walked down the center aisle, its toenail clicking on the stone floor, and laid down right in front of my lectern. My beloved listeners became focused on my every word. Every eye was now focused in my direction. At least that is what I thought until I looked down over the front of the lectern to see that the dog was giving himself a bath. I say him because it would have been pretty obvious to even Stevie Wonder that this dog was a male. As I peered down at the dog I realized that I could have informed the audience where a million dollars was buried and no one would have heard a thing I said. Jesus Christ could have come back at that moment, stood next to me, and He would have simply shrugged His shoulders because when it comes to attention you’re not going to best a dog doing what a dog will do.  After vainly trying to continue my speech for a few more minutes, I finally said, “Even the animals come to hear me speak.” Everybody laughed. To this day, I still have people tell me it was one of the greatest speeches they ever heard, although to this day I am sure they cannot remember a single thing I said. They laughed.        Still, I did not understand humor. In my mind, the IV drip was slower than it probably was. She looked like a rag doll in the bed instead of the full-grown woman that she was. The white cotton mask that covered her mouth seemed to be bigger than her face. She had decided to stop fighting. She was worn out; enough was enough. As I sat there in that chair, in that visitor’s gown, thinking she was too young, but God or fate or whatever you call it didn’t care what I thought. I stood up to stretch my legs and unknown to me the gown and my pants had gotten pinched into the crease where the seat met one of the legs. There was a ripping noise. I had ripped out the back my pants. I hopped around angrily, cursing under my breath, not fully realizing I was showing the best part of me to everyone in room. It was then I heard a painful, gasping laugh, almost a whisper, but it was a laugh. She laughed.   It was not until that moment that I understood my grandfather’s jokes. Humor can make the elephants of daily life vanish, pain, suffering, even the weighty presence of death itself, if only for a few moments, and sometimes a few moments are all that we need. He had people coming into his bank office at some of the lowest moments in their lives, needing a loan to get through the next year or to buy a house or send a kid to college and all the worries and fears that entailed. He did what he could do for them and always left them with a joke. Lame as that joke might have been, for a few seconds, the weight of the moment was taken off their chests because they laughed.  They laughed.   Life is hard and painful. So, surround yourself with people that make you laugh. It is the only way you are going to get through it. My grandfather understood this. Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft understood this. The great comedians all knew this. I have come to understand this. I hope you laugh. Laugh.