The Gift of Laughter

One of the benefits of spending so much time at home during the current COVID-19 situation is the amount of time I get to spend with my family.  Every night, and the bulk of every weekend I have quality time with the whole family, and for that I’m grateful.  In spending so much time together, we’ve had the chance to explore board games, video games, TV shows, movies, books, arts & crafts, music and so much more.  In doing so- we’ve come to a greater understanding of our individual preferences, and how to find a middle ground in doing things we all enjoy.

Often on a weekend night, we decide to kick back and watch a movie or TV show.  When thinking about my personal suggestions, I guess I’m not surprised that I often recommend some sort of comedy.  Whether it’s showing a clip from a Netflix stand-up special, a classic Saturday Night Live skit or digging into the archives of the essential comedy classic movies.

Now while I’d like to share an anecdote here that we’re slowly making our way through all this classic SNL, Belushi and Chevy Chase movies- that is most certainly not the case.  While I’m sure we’ll get there in small doses over time, this is just not happening.  From what I’ve shown thus far- it’s hit or miss.  After several viewings of Belushi’s “cheeseburgah, cheeseburgah, cheeseburgah, cheese”, and Chris Farley’s “Van Down by the River”, they finally got it.  They have an appreciation for Jack Black, Will Farrell, Adam Sandler and a bit of Eddie Murphy, but not much else.  Showing them Seinfeld stand up… bombed.  Mike Myers ‘Coffee Talk’- crickets.  When suggesting movies like ‘Airplane!’, no luck.

I’ll gloss over the fact that so many of these classics are now just flat out old.  I’d assess that the rough historic range of the comedy classics spans from Animal House- 40 years’ish to Hangover- 10 years’ish old.  While the kids can appreciate some of the better older movies, they much prefer brand new releases.  So I have to play my cards wisely in picking “Dad’s old movies”.

But what’s really getting in the way- is that what we thought was funny back in the day is so incredibly politically incorrect for this day in age.  While I still consider “Blazing Saddles” absolutely hilarious, I admit that the way Mel Brooks (and screenwriter Richard Pryor) portrayed race has no place in today’s world.  Airplane!- super offensive.  Revenge of the Nerds, not much better.  And since I like to think we’ve raised our kids to accept diversity, by no means do I want to go backwards and encourage these horrible values we grew up with.  But I’m still torn, because I will forever consider these movies as the treasures that they are.

The next issue I’m struggling with is that they’re super inappropriate for kids.  What was with the 80’s?  I mean when my kids were tiny, I figured Mr. Mom would be the perfect entryway to introduce the brilliance that is Michael Keaton.  But when reviewing it online, I completely forgot about the sub-plot where Martin Mull tries to shack with Teri Garr on a work trip.  And do I recall that Ann Jillian tries to seduce Keaton too?  And that’s PG-rated stuff, but when we get to the real classics, it presents a much greater challenge.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Risky Business, The Hangover- oh my.  Like I said, I’m sure some day soon we’ll get there, but they poured it on pretty thick back in the day.

So what does this all mean to me?  Why do I have this tendency to lean towards comedy?  Whether it’s recommending movies for the family to watch, or when I pick something for myself?  What does it mean to have this deep archive of stand-up, SNL and movies? 

What I realized is that this tendency comes from one of the greatest gifts my family and friends gave to me as I was growing up.  This is the gift of laughter.  Right, wrong or indifferent- when I think of my childhood, I think of cracking up as we quoted classic movie lines.  We saw every comedy classic as soon as I could recite “A-B-C, 1-2-3”.  Back when my sisters were my babysitters, I’d stay up for the cold open, monologue and fake commercial on SNL right until the garage door went up and my parents got home on a Saturday night.  I’d watch the edited versions of Animal House and Caddyshack every year when they were on TV, it was like a special family event.  I saw all the comedy classics- no matter what rating in the theater as soon as they were released.  Blues Brothers, Vacation, Stripes, History of the World, Fletch, you name it. 

I would be constantly quoting and referencing the canon of comedy classics with family- both parents and sisters, family friends and my closest buddies.  So I thank you Mom, Dad, Liz, Amy + Steve for introducing me to the world of Belushi, Murray and Chase.  I treasure the days of literally crying as we quoted “Vacation” with good friends- like the Krasseks, and watching these classics countless times at the Manelis house.

I don’t have to remind everyone that we’re stuck in a very trying time with Coronavirus, our current political situation and a planet that’s falling to pieces.  We’re confined to quarantine in the house most of the time, and life often feels like Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day”.  It’s challenging to find a way to escape the monotony of this current period- and there’s no end in sight.

But I was lucky enough for my family and friends to give me a superpower a long, long time ago that wards against times like these.  That superpower is the ability to dig deep inside and find the comedy in all of this tragedy.  And for that I am eternally grateful.

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