Saturday, March 14, 2020

83. A Great Comedienne's Not So Great Son

I spent today at my mom's memorial service.

It was more a celebration of a life well-lived than a somber occasion.

I recently ran across an online archive of old college newspapers I wrote for many years ago, and discovered something I had forgotten writing. I cannot think of anything better to post in the wake of my mom's passing, then to simply re-print this old humor column I wrote back in college. I am putting it down here word for word as it appeared back then.

A Great Comedienne's Not So Great Son

My mother has a game she plays with her cat. In the middle of the night the cat, who sleeps on the bed with my mother, will walk up onto her face and begin a sort of dance to indicate that she needs to go outside for biological purposes.

My mother will then rise from her bed (without rising from her sleep) and will make her way blindly to the door, and then in the darkness wait to hear the patter of the cat's feet scuffling along the floor to the door.

A few nights ago, my mother related, she groped through the darkness and found the door, held it open and waited, but she heard no foot-patter from the cat.

Being a woman not so easily defeated, she decided to prompt the cat by going through the door first, signaling to the cat the action she was to take.

My mother opened the door wide, took three steps in, and found herself in a rack of my dad's clothes.

The incident impressed me. I did not realize my mother's talent, or the extent to which she taken it. My mother has proven to be one of the last living comedienne's who can successfully execute the oldest and most tested gag in all of comedy; walking into the closet.

I've tried it myself a few times, but it isn't as funny when I do it. Even though my mother has tutored me, I still perform the gag with an air suggesting that I actually want to go into the closet, and I usually seem much too happy once I'm inside.

I often have trouble performing traditional comic gags though, as one recent incident will surely indicate.

A couple weeks ago I decided to rehearse slipping. You know; the gag where a person engages in a headlong sprint, either to save a girl, stop a train, or in my case, to get a piece of paper and a pen. Then, just before the person arrives, he slips on a banana peel, or a sheet of ice, or in my case, a piece of wet plywood.

The buildup to the gag went well. I was in a movement class at the theater, wearing gym shorts and no socks or shoes. I learned that we needed a pen and paper, and so shot out the back door of the theater and sprinted toward the newspaper office just across the way. There is a plywood ramp up to the door of the office, and it was raining, and I was in bare feet, running at a care free pace. So far, so good.

As soon as my feet hit the plywood they flew into the air, and my body began flailing this way and that, giving me the appearance of a rag doll whose five year-old owner is trying to tear the stuffing out of him.

Then I landed and realized how I had misjudged the gag from the beginning. If I had come at the ramp from straight on, and flew into the air just as I had done, I could have landed and continued sliding the length of the walkway and ended up sitting on the gravel. I could have stood up, brushed off and said "Ha ha," and walked off as if I had planned the whole thing ahead of time.

Instead, I came at the ramp from a slight angle. Rather than sliding silently past the door and window, like an angel gliding by, I slid sideways, banged into the wall, the door, and the railing of the walkway, much like a 14-ton block of iron would if it were delivered to the newspaper door.

Not wanting to be shaken from my task, however, I quickly got up and popped in the door. I was met with turned heads, dazed eyes, and the gaped mouths of people who half expected to see a block of iron, and a bloody block of iron at that.

"Are you alright?" one person asked.

It hadn't occurred to me that I wouldn't be alright, so I said cheerfully, "Yes, I'm just here to get a pen and some paper." Then I grabbed the stuff and left in a flash.

Looking back, I can see that my reason for coming did not justify the worries of the people inside. It was a tough situation all around, however, for if I had told the truth, that I had just miserably failed a comic performance, they would have made a quick phone call and some men dressed in white would have been all too happy to take me away.

I can safely say that I have overcome the failure of that incident, and now I'm ready to try a new one. I want to try the gag in which you start up your car, but rather than pulling forward, you lurch backward into the car behind you. My mother did that one once and received a standing ovation.

I don't have a car, however, and I'm having a hard time convincing my friend to let me use his. I've told him that it would just take a minute, and that he would get a real kick out of it if he saw it, but for some reason he doesn't trust me.
-Peter Wick
March 14, 2020 (actually many years earlier)