Joan Rivers is gone, and while most people seem to remember her fondly, others remain upset at some of the things she said when serious, and still more are upset at some of the things she joked about. Personally, I think all those people need to get a life. Sure she said some stuff I disagreed with. That proves she was a person and not a robot. And she joked about some stuff that I didn’t find funny, but that was a problem with my sense of humor, not hers. When I’m gone, I don’t particularly care if I’m remembered by anyone at all. But if I am, I’d like it to be, not for anything I’ve accomplished, but rather for the fact that I tried my best to laugh as much as possible. So much so that I’ve often been accused of having a dark sense of humor because I tend to see something funny in the most off-putting of circumstances.
Revising Mark Twain, Carol Burnett once said that comedy is tragedy plus time. So, since life tends to have a lot of tragic moments, humans tend to laugh at some very strange things. They laugh when they’re surprised, when they’re happy, when they’re scared, and they laugh when they’re hurting. Laughter is a mechanism that lets people turn something close and dark into something they can remember without crying.
My late brother was an alcoholic who died of cancer. I can’t joke about the cancer yet, it’s still too soon. But I can joke about his drinking, because I was around it all my life. When he was a teenager we shared a big double bed. One night he came in drunk and while sleeping, threw up all over me. I still remember the smell of that wet, clammy t-shirt as I pulled it off over my head. I remember my mother coming in, and asking me if I was sick. Then she realized it was my brother (and why). She went from concerned to mad in a New York minute. I remember trying to make her laugh by telling her, “I might not have been sick, but if you’ll just wait a minute, the smell is going to make me throw up.” To me, that was funny.
When I can joke about the cancer, I’ll know that I’m gonna make it, that I’ll be alright, that healing is happening. Laughter does that for us. My mother always said, “You have to laugh to keep from crying.” And we do. We all do that…