Can I Be Funny Now?


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            I remember the first new episode of “Saturday Night Live” to air after the events of 9/11. After a somber opening and dedication to the fallen, one of the cast members asked the mayor of New York City, “Can we be funny now?”
            The Mayor replied, “Why start now?”
            It was a necessary ice breaker. All around we were hearing the best way to fight the terrorists was to go about our normal business, to not allow them to beat us into submission – to change us. A comedy show couldn’t just keep going without comedy. Well, some do, but not intentionally.
            Ten years ago this week, I dedicated myself to writing about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on each and every anniversary until the war was over.
            I knew even then that it would be a long haul. Muslim extremist terrorists are present all over the world, adept at killing civilians, using human shields, often hiding among more moderate Muslims who want nothing to do with them. We can’t do something like invade Germany or bomb Tokyo, then rebuild their country and expect them in turn to become vibrant, democratic allies. Extremists, by definition, are extreme. This war will go on until we figure out a way to ferret them out while also getting moderate Muslims to fight them too, or until they wipe out everyone who doesn’t convert to be just like them.
            Never forget, that was my motto.
            But I’m a humor columnist.
            Not only that, but there are only so many ways you can say the same thing. I spent some time thinking on what I wanted to write this year, then dug through my older 9/11 columns and discovered I’d already said all those things. I covered the victims, the heroes, the politics, the bad guys, the war. Should I just reprint one of my ten previous 9/11 columns, every year from now on?
            In that case, it doesn’t seem like anyone would get their money’s worth out of me. Besides, I already do that every two or three years with my Christmas column – half hoping nobody will notice and half worrying that nobody will.
            So much bad stuff has happened in my life this year. Medical stuff, mostly – don’t even get me started on the colonoscopy – and in my family we’re dealing with more of it to come. Worse, I’m convinced our government will continue this mad gallop over the fiscal cliff, down to the jagged rocks of national insolvency. As a nation we seem to have lost our moral compass. We can’t seem to bring ourselves to care about each other, we want everything for nothing, and blame everyone else for not making sure we get it. I can’t get people to start using their turn signal, and somebody’s dog is in the habit of taking a dump in my front yard.
            Am I just a barrel of sunshine, or what?
            I’m reminded of an episode of the British TV series Doctor Who. The Doctor finds a way to cure all the victims of a deadly virus, and he shouts to his companion in gleeful triumph: “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives!”
            It was the first time I had real insight into the effect the Doctor’s violent adventures had on him, deep down. He was so happy at that moment. Just that once, he found a way to solve a problem without sacrificing a single life.
            Just this once … can I help people through these difficult times with a laugh, or at least a smile? Can I be funny now?
            Oh, I’m not saying I’ll forget. I’ll never forget, and I’ll do my best to make sure no one else does either. I’ll put something on my website and social media, and take time myself to remember all the victims, all the suffering, all the challenges we faced and face still.
            But in this time of failing politicians, an economy about to be dropkicked, federal overspending at criminal levels, and bad guys working on ways to wipe out whole cities … well, we need to take action, but while we’re taking that action we can either laugh, or cry.
            I choose laughter.
            And let’s face it, that may have always been my best role. Maybe I should be like Bob Hope entertaining the troops, only not as funny, or brave, or rich, and with a smaller nose. If other people are more talented at fighting wars, tracking down terrorists, or doing so many of the other things that keep us safe, maybe I can bring a little levity to the proceedings; give someone a moment of respite from all that deadly seriousness.
            Yeah, it only took me eleven years to figure out I might be going about it the wrong way. We learn slowly. I still haven’t figured out not to eat my own cooking.
            I took that idea to my wife, explained the situation, and asked her opinion on it. I want to make people laugh in these hard times, I told her. Can I be funny now?
            She shrugged. “Why start now?”