How to be funny and not die
I'm afraid of violence and threats. I hate scary movies and any dramatic interpretation that involves someone getting needlessly hurt. I'm afraid of snakes and pit bulls and people yelling. So, what am I brave about? I have jumped from a 75 foot platform down a slide into water which my ex-husband missed because he was buying a hot dog. I have bicycled 85 miles in a day, finished the Olympic length Triathlon and told a bunch of idiots at a concert to sit down because they were in the way. I have taught gang bangers Jane Eyre and taught in the South Bronx and taught in Bedford Stuyvesant. I was in hard labor for 72 hours. I admitted I was an alcoholic and I have read from my own novel in front of an auditorium of people. I was on morning television in Delaware and I once modeled naked because I was broke and skinny.
Last week, I did stand-up. I was terrified. I actually thought I might back out and I almost never back out of anything. I couldn't believe I was meant to tell people a story that would make them laugh as a sort of plan. I make people laugh in a guerrilla attack mode. My students would be sulking and I would start telling them something about the stuff we were reading and sort of sneak something in and they would laugh and I would feel good about that. But this wasn't like that. This was performance. This was sort of like that last 6 miles of the Triathlon when I thought-"I'm not walking" but my legs were so heavy, so incredibly heavy I feared I had contracted some kind of paralysis.
I didn't want to go. I went. I didn't want to go on. I went on. I didn't want to speak, I spoke and people laughed and it was miraculous. I felt like I was gliding across the water, skimming it, and there was no real barrier to the flow between the audience and I. That was nice.
I acted for years. I stopped when my sister died. I couldn't do it anymore. I went to the actors message place and told the funny guy behind the grill to cancel my answering service and he looked at me and said, "Moving?" "No," I said. "I'm not doing this anymore." "Why not?" he asked. "My sister was killed," I said. "A drunk driver ran her over and she died yesterday. We turned off the life support." "My brother died in Vietnam," he said, coming out from behind the cage. He hugged me. "I never forgave him for stepping on that mortar shell," he said.
He was right. I was so angry I couldn't breathe or swallow. I was so angry I cracked all my molars and dropped 30 pounds and found out how easy it was to walk around wishing you were able to tell people how they didn't deserve to live because she was dead. I was crazy and sad. I was not funny. She was always funnier then me, anyway. Smarter and funnier and older but now I'm going to be twenty-one years older then she will ever be. But I was funny and I think she would have liked that. I'm afraid of dying before I give the people in my life the most I can. I'm afraid of dying and my son never knowing how much I love him. That is why I try to tell him whenever I can. Even when he's an absolutely dreadful teenage narcissistic wannabe rock star.