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November 3, 2020

Making the Comedienne Laugh – Firing on All My Cylinders.

(NaNoReMo – Day 2)

There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor. —Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

In May 2010, I made Anne Meara laugh.

Yes, the hugely famous Anne Meara of Stiller and Meara, Ben Stiller’s mother. Hard to believe. Me, the over-thinker of the universe, who is too pragmatic for her own good, who thinks of good comebacks three hours after the conversation is over. I made Anne Meara laugh and got applause from Jerry Stiller.

You’re curious now, huh?

I went with some friends to see Love, Loss, and What I Wore, by the Ephron sisters, Delia and Nora, off-Broadway at the West Side Theater. The show was a series of monologues of five principal actresses whose topics included women’s relationships and wardrobes and, at times, the interaction of the two. As any woman knows, our wardrobes are a time capsule of our lives. A long list of world-famous, hugely talented actresses performed in the long run of this show: Rosie O’Donnell (from my own home town), Fran Drescher, Tyne Daly, Kristen Chenoweth, Rita Wilson, Jane Lynch, Rhea Perlman, Brooke Shields, Loretta Swit, Sally Struthers, Debi Mazar and Kelly Bishop (whom I love from The Gilmore Girls). And, of course, Anne Meara.

The play is about five female characters as they interact with each other and deliver pithy, hysterical monologues; the audience was loving it and hysterically laughing.

We were relaxed and enjoying every second. We had front-row seats and I had the fortune to be sitting at Anne Meara’s feet. Literally, at her feet. (If she stood up and had been wearing a short skirt, I could see straight up to heaven, so to speak.) Anne Meara, as her character, was talking about shopping on the Miracle Mile in Manhasset, New York, looking for an outfit for a specific occasion, and did a whole bit about a store called the Forgotten Woman. I said out loud something the effect of “who could forget that store or what woman?” Anne Meara heard me and glanced down at me while continuing to act. I don’t remember the text of what she said, but it was uproariously funny and sarcastic, and I kept coming out with one-liners, quips and comments to each bit of it.

As a young girl, I used to shop on the Miracle Mile with my mother, who loved the store The Forgotten Woman. It’s a small world. I wasn’t holding back in my usual way; I felt like I was free and in my element.

Here’s the beauty of it – Anne Meara repeatedly broke character to look at me and laugh. She was enjoying it, too. After a few minutes of me participating in her monologue from the front row, she completely broke the fourth wall and looked right at me and said, “Gee, you’re very funny. You should write for television.” The audience loved it and clapped.

From the center section, about ten rows back, her husband, the famous Jerry Stiller, stood up and clapped for us both. It was probably mostly for his wife of fifty-six years, but I like to think that a little of it was for me.

I was in my element that day, fully present in my body, and easily accessing the humor center of my brain. It was flowing.

I was The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel kind of funny.

I should have waited in the theater to talk to them, or by the stage door. Maybe my life would have taken a different course from that moment on, or maybe I would have just had more juicy and funny details for this story. Was it a missed opportunity? Who knows?

There have been other times that I have been the center of attention, making others laugh. At the party after the Northport Chorale Winter concert in December 2018, all the singers and our spouses were gathered at the gorgeous home of one of our sopranos, and everyone was in a great mood, drinks were flowing, there was amazing food, music—the whole shebang. I was on that night, just like I was with Anne Meara, and having a great time, relaxed, the humor center of my brain firing on all cylinders.

It happens, but not predictably. I’m spontaneously funny when turned on by situations, people, or circumstances.

I’m frequently funny when I’m teaching—going with the flow of the class, talking about almost anything related to a high school English class—and the kids laugh and enjoy themselves while learning. I love puns, situational humor, and smart-ass jokes. I tell my students every year that my jokes are fast and smart, but usually terrible. I think that they are great and hysterical, but I’m famous for typical dad-jokes and puns, so they are groaners. As a teacher, I believe if you can make them laugh while they are learning, they will have fun and work their butts off. But, although spontaneity works for me, I haven’t discovered how to be purposely funny in a planned-out way. It always seems forced and unnatural.

What makes you laugh? What brings out your inner comedian?


This piece has been adapted from my book – Permission to Land: Searching for Love, Home & Belonging which is available wherever books are sold.

Please, if you are so inclined, like/ heart, comment, and share.

The image is my own. My husband and me.

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