What’s So Funny?

I’ve always been a comedy junkie. It’s in my DNA.  With British parents, the main form of communication in my family was sarcasm with a side of soccer.  Burning one-liners were revered around the kitchen table and if you could do that while scoring a goal, you were the Pele-Christ.  I grew up on Monty Python and SNL, read Erma Bombeck and MAD Magazine.

When I was old enough, going to the comedy clubs was my favourite. And because I had to practice conversation with tens of thousands of men at work, I became pretty entertaining. I started to think in the back of my mind that I could do comedy too.

After my first husband and I split up I really started to consider it. In 1997 I actually started to write material. In 1998 I was practicing that material on customers at work.

I was going twice a week to Yuk Yuk’s to watch the comedians perform. I’d stay for the early and later show to watch the differences.  I was befriending some of the comedians and even the late great Kerry Talmage became friends with me and offered to help me out.  It began to feel really real.

On the morning of June 12, 1998, I woke up from a dream at 3 a.m. In the dream I was Rosie O’Donnell and I had found my dream man, Tom Cruise! Something about that dream fired me up and I got up and performed all of my material in front of a mirror for several hours. When I was finished I felt ready to go and try it out on a real comedy stage.

Later that day I headed off to work at Pure Platinum across from Buffalo in Fort Erie. It was three weeks before my 30th birthday.  My body was strong, I had a new haircut and I was feeling super confident about myself.

My first set was the Beatles. The first song was Revolution with those powerful  opening screaming riffs- I would burst out onto the stage during those riffs and people would lose their shit.

I totally killed that set. While I was on stage I noticed a ridiculously handsome young man standing at the bar singing the words to Revolution with a smile on his face. I smiled back at him. Later in the set he came up with a five rolled up in his mouth.   I took it from him and then, I did something that I never did – I kissed him square on the mouth.

After my show, I made my way over to the beautiful young man.

“Hello. You are lovely.” I said

“Oh my god, no, you.  You’re so beautiful. And you were amazing up there. I love the Beatles, they’re my favourite.”

“They’re my favourite too!”  He was wearing a Calvin and Hobbes T-shirt. I had posters of Calvin and Hobbes on my wall.  He was a Big Brother.  A science geek.  He knew all the words to Les Miserables.

Then he told me he was a gymnastics coach. Oh my god. Seriously? My cool was all gone.  I couldn’t believe it. He asked me to dance for him. I did and there was so much chemistry between us I thought we would blow up the club. I actually stayed and did freebies for him because I just wanted to be with him.

We hung out all night.  We kissed, we cuddled, we gazed into each other’s eyes.  Yep, it was a bona fide love at first sight experience.

That night, June 12, 1998 was when I pretty much lost my mind and the drive for for comedy because my brain was flooded with the cursed oxytocin.  The drug of love.

I talked about comedy intermittently but I never really worked on it much again after that. I had found my Tom Cruise. I never became Rosie O’Donnell.

But Brian broke up with me when I was 34.  I had spent 3 1/2 of my prime childbearing years with him and I was infuriated. Not to mention completely and utterly broken and devastated.  We’d been planning a life together.  After he broke up with me, I went back to drinking with a vengeance.  I didn’t really care about anything except forgetting how shitty my life was.

Less than a year later, I met my husband Lloyd and I was a Christian.  I know, right?    

And by the way, Christians don’t do comedy. At least not very well anyway.  They have to censor the hell out of themselves so they don’t go to hell.

Time went by with Lloyd, I did Christian-sanctioned funny stuff like “Laugh your way to a better marriage” and skits about game shows.  We had Meaghan in 2006 and two years later I got into Toastmasters. My life was pretty much Jesus and Toastmasters.

Then I discovered Darren Lacroix, the Toastmasters 2001 world champion of public speaking and I was floored. Here was a guy who was a comedian and got into Toastmasters to improve!

In an interview, he actually said that he got the idea for his hilarious world championship speech at church. I was so excited by this discovery I felt it was divine.

“Oh my God! You can be Christian and be funny!”

That was the route I went down for the next few years. I  kept entering the humorous speech contest for Toastmasters and the international speech contest. And I really loved the process. I loved the process of writing and editing the speeches. I loved working on delivery.  I was good at it.  I won awards.  And it led to my present business of public speaking for kids.  

But there were so many restrictions around the structure of speaking in Toastmasters. And I began to feel bound by them instead of freed. And all along, my faith was changing, my beliefs were changing.  I didn’t believe anymore.

My story is too complex and way too crude to to tell in a 7 1/2 minute speech and in the polite company of Toastmasters. I lost interest a little over a year ago. And I’ve been floating ever since.

A few months ago a friend and I were hanging out for lunch. In the middle of her laughter she said to me “You’re hilarious! Have you ever thought about doing standup?”

 

Have I ever thought about doing standup?

 

JFC, I’ve been thinking about it for the last 25 years!

When she said that, I felt the fire stirring in my belly again. This is been such a hard year. This is been the most hellish year of my life and I’ve had some pretty shitty years folks. But this past year of leaving the faith of Christianity and trying to find a new way of being with my still-devout husband has been hell on earth. So when my friend said this to me it all made sense. It all came together.

I am Rosie O’Donnell. And I am Tom Cruise. I can’t look to anybody else to be the things that I need. I have to be my dream man. I have to be my comedian. I have to pursue  the things I’m passionate about. This is just a life. We don’t even know what it’s made of. So what if I’m afraid of everything? I’m also afraid of nothing.

I know I’m a weirdo. I know I’ve never fit in anywhere I went. I know I’ve always been looking for a group to which I could belong. And the bottom line is this is the only group I have longed to be in and I haven’t applied for yet.

There’s a reason I’m attracted to the fool in the tarot deck. I believe comedians are the truth tellers and the true philosophers of society. They are seriously fucked up and seriously sensitive people.  And that’s the club to which I intuitively know that I belong.  Hey, isn’t my tagline for this blog “armchair philosopher”?

I’m this 48-year-old woman who was a stripper for 16 years, who was the leader of a stripper’s activist organization. Who became a born-again Christian!  And then converted to Catholicism! And then left and went back to whatever the hell it is that I’m doing now!  Could anybody possibly have a more ridiculous life than me?  My entire life is RIFE with material.  

If I don’t belong in this group I don’t belong anywhere. So, I’m jumping in with both feet, fear be damned.

ACTION:

I signed up for a six-week comedy class that starts in a few weeks.   Then I’m going to take the advanced class in the winter.  Then I am actually going to change the day that I teach my speaking classes next year so I can regularly hit amateur night.  It’s going to take me 3 hours to get there every week.  Plus a ferry.  But I’m chasing that decades-old dream.   It doesn’t mean that I’m not writing my book. I’ve always been a writer too. I need to get this book out. And I will get it out.   And I need to do this too.  

BTW, Yuk Yuk’s is actually bringing regular comedy to the pub that is 90 SECONDS away from my house starting this month.  Can you say Master Manifestor?????

Comedy is truth and life.  It gives voice to the voiceless, which is what my entire life has been about.

It makes the unbearable laughable, which is what my entire life has been about.

Life is comedy.  Life is prayer.  Comedy is prayer, which is what my entire life has been about.

Paula Howley, writer, comedian

 

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4 comments on “What’s So Funny?”

  1. Dave Reply

    Sounds like you need to do this SO you can finish the book! If the comedy thread isn’t already in there, you need to go back and weave it in. However it goes, I’m certain it will be rife with self-discovery and conclusions that make for a great final chapter and epilogue! The best of luck to you!

    • Paula Howley Reply

      I wonder…. I often wonder if I’m waiting for something to happen so the end of the book will be really GOOD, you know? lol You may have a good point there Dave. Regardless, I still need to be writing. I’m so psyched to get started. Thanks so much!

  2. Vivien Reply

    Thanks for the post, Paula. I really admire you for going back and jumping into a dream you had/have!

    The following line in your post really resonated with me: “There’s a reason I’m attracted to the fool in the tarot deck. I believe comedians are the truth tellers and the true philosophers of society.”

    I believe that line is extremely accurate, thanks to taking a whole bunch of Shakespeare classes. Everyone laughs at the fool in Shakespeare’s plays, but if you look closely it usually has extremely good insight into their observations of the society around them.

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