The problem is that my mind is always on “joke-creation” mode.
It doesn’t matter if I’m about to fall asleep, riding my bike to work, or having lunch with my favorite nun: Jokes come in whether I want them or not. This is not a “I just can’t help how hilarious I am” kind of thing. Many, if not most, of my jokes would bomb, should I share them. When something funny comes into my head I have to make a snap decision on whether to express it aloud, delete it, or save for later. My willpower is not strong, and I can rarely hold onto a joke for the future. Like a junkie I don’t save my stash for later.
Often I delete. Most jokes aren’t that funny. I throw away ten for every one I share.
I’ve had the joke faucet running my whole life and it’s hard to shut off. I have to consciously pay attention or it can get me into trouble.
Tonight was almost one of those times.
My friend Laura Ingalls Wilder (not her real name) and I were chatting tonight. Laura is a mom who just turned forty-two. I asked her how things were going and she told me that one of her close friends has an aggressive cancer and will be dead within a few weeks. Also, one of her clients also just got diagnosed with terminal cancer. Lastly, Laura Ingalls Wilder is undergoing the knife in early November for some pretty serious neck and shoulder issues. It’s possible that she could die while in surgery.
Pretty depressing stuff, no? Yes.
My empathy surfaced and I started feeling a sense of loss and sadness for Laura. Clearly she is going through a difficult time. As I’m reeling in this information, the joke mind popped out. Before I knew what I was doing, this is what happened next.
Exact transcript – no edits.
it sort of seems like someone is always dying lately. i guess i’m hitting that age.
I just thought of a joke
i’m sure soon one of my friends or I will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
you’re so old that your chest starts to go tits down and your friends start to go tits up
that’s some clever shit right there!
Now, if you’ve just decided I’m a monster, you’re wrong. Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of my closest female friends and we bust balls constantly. I think the world of her and would be crushed if she befell tragedy. When she told me that it’s possible (though very unlikely) that she could die as a result of this surgery, I asked if she could write me into her will and leave me her collection of mom jeans. I would them put them into a pile in a church parking lot and burn them as a sacrifice to God. We Christians don’t do enough sacrificial burning for God. I say more lighting things ablaze for the Lord! It’s fun and respectful.
She and I goof around a lot. Okay, back to the story…
you didn’t make that up.
I DID. right then. ha
you think you did. you heard it once and then forgot you heard it so you think it is yours.
jesus. I made it up
what to eat for dinner?
I had some frozen pasta with vegetables and pork
no, i’m sure you heard a woman comedian say something like that once.
the pork was a bad call
hmmm. maybe indian, tonight. I could use some Indian.
Okay, it ain’t exactly dialogue David Mamet would be proud to put in his next play, but this is what happened. She was talking about tragedy, and I pounced on it. I couldn’t stop myself. Notice how she didn’t even react other than to accuse me of joke-stealing. She’s probably right. This joke has to have been said before. I’m sure I have never heard it, but it’s too perfect and easy of a joke not to have been thought of already. I’m still proud I came up with it, though, even it it’s not original.
What’s important about being my friend is that you get used to these type of exchanges. During real tragedy I am empathic. The jokes go away and I’m present for my friends in whatever they need. But during everyday chit-chat, sometimes I just can’t help myself. I need to be funny, even when inappropriate.
The trick is to find friends that understand you love them deeply and also that you need to be yourself, which means sometimes making jokes about tough subjects. Thankfully, my friends not only can handle it, but welcome it.