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Simple Joy

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I might be an uncool parent now in the eyes of my teenage son, but there is one thing I can do pretty easily and pretty well: make him laugh.

I follow in a long line of stupid joke tellers: my grandfather on my mom’s side, my grandfather on my dad’s side, and my dad. It may even go beyond that, but those are the immediate influences on me. Every simple, cheesy excuse to get a punchline in is always taken. And be they groans or full-on laughs, the response is always worth it. Now my mom certainly has a sense of humor and tells some good jokes, but I think even she’d agree that sometimes things could get lost in translation when she’d share the jokes with us…Come to think of it, that was almost funnier.

My grandpa Newt (my dad’s father) was a story telling comic. His jokes were always wrapped in a story, and they always seemed to be the kind of story that needed to be long and involved, probably so that he could pull you down further into his web so that you’re less prepared for the gag that he had waiting for you there. He’d love to tell stories at dinner or sitting in the living room of his house, and I could remember the kind of odd silence that would fall over the room as he’d start weaving the tale. And then it would finish and he’d sit there and laugh his laugh–a kind of half snicker and half laugh. I realize now thinking about it that there were times that I think he’d laugh just as much at my response as he would to his own story.

But his laugh was always the same, whether he was joking with friends that he’d stop and see during his errands that I’d frequently join him on, or if he was joking with me or Julie or dad. It gives you some comfort that regardless of what it was, it was his honest-to-God laugh.

My grandpa Willie is the character that takes over entire rooms. He’ll greet every person in a crowd, if given a chance, and somehow, amazingly, he’ll always have something to relate to them with and some quick anecdote or joke he can tell. I remember feeling at times like it was impossible to keep up with him, even though I was a kid and he was…well…old. But that’s who he was, and, in fact, still is, even as he’s approaching 90. His jokes are the quick ones, loud ones, the simple short gags that come out of nowhere, need no setup, and just get put in front of you to earn their laugh. I think all of his kids and all of us cousins could all recite the entire catalog of cemetery jokes that would be told every time we’d drive past what to some people is a solemn place. But invariably, somewhere in there, you’d hear him say “a lot of coffin goin’ on in there…” I pretty sure that he’d even said it to me at the funeral of his own mother. And no one would have thought that out of place.

My response to his wit was, seriously, to buy a used book of puns. I think I was 10 or 12, and I pored over it and I think at one time, I’d memorized every single gag in there. To this day, I can’t remember which puns in my head are ones I’ve heard elsewhere or which came from the book.

My dad has the deep, dark, sharp wit that I was blessed with and have cultivated (probably all too well). Add to that his incessant education, and he can come up with some pretty obscure but funny stuff. Which is probably where I get the ability to tell a joke and have my entire family look at me with blank stares.

For a couple of years, dad and I had a sort of bizarre radio show-type comedy routine going as we’d do dishes after dinner. We had regular characters with certain characteristics and schtick about them, but it was very quick, and played off of each other’s riffs, which can be tricky if you can’t keep up. I usually played the straight man, trying to set up dad so that his characters could get off the jokes. Some of it was outlandish. Some was hilarious. Some was probably just plain dumb. Though I do recall the one night when, for whatever insane reason, we decided to perform for my grandma Grace…She either didn’t get it, didn’t like it, or both, because I don’t think she cracked a smile all night.

So it comes full circle, and I think I’m finally passing on some of my bizarre, off-center humor on to my son. He’s getting it and keeping up better now that he’s older. He’s starting to be able to tell some of his own, too. But for now, the best feeling I can get is still just making him laugh very hard.

So thanks to all of my comedy forebearers for at least giving me the gift of being funny. Sometimes.

See you tomorrow.