Dear Michael and Caroline,
Always I’ve wanted to make people laugh. I made silly faces in class to break up my fellow students. I pretended to trip on the sidewalk or walk into trees to amuse my friends.
One day in high school I found out my classmates had voted me Class Clown (male division) for 1970. Somehow it came to be decided that I would be photographed for the school yearbook holding a bottle of whisky. That was before I knew my mother was an alcoholic, or I might someday be.
One night, years earlier, I had a party for friends at our house, my parents out for the night. I had to be maybe 15. My friends hung out in our living room while I would emerge from my bedroom at the head of the stairs to do my act.
Each time I came out I might affect a British accent or lumber out like a hunchback – I loved doing Quasimodo – or just talk in a silly, high-pitched voice a la Jerry Lewis. For a while there, I broke everyone up, no one more than my friend Larry, who always laughed hardest and considered me a king of comedy, so much so he would laugh even in anticipation of my pulling something funny.
So it went all through my boyhood and on into adulthood, me always answering the impulse to go for a laugh. I might be introduced to girls as a guy with a sense of humor.
I’ve maintained my reputation to a degree, but my stabs at comedy have changed, evolving from vaudevillian slapstick to something more cerebral, more laced now with wit and wordplay than physical antics. I’ll always feel like a clown at heart, always fantasized about going to clown college – yes, Ringling Brothers has one – for a magazine assignment.
But I’ve also had to watch my step.
The funny business that goes over well in eighth grade will often come across as out of place in a job at an office. So I’ve learned to temper my sense of humor, to hold it back and deploy it only at strategic moments.
P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.