Journal entry: June 14, 2002 (age 33) — Family Comedy
Each of my five older brothers is a tough act to follow, in one way or another. My brother, Bob, for example, has always been the family comedian. A natural storyteller, he can command the room with polished tales and a lightning wit. Despite being a successful cut-up at school, I was always the unwanted wisecracker at the family dinner table. After Bob had cracked up the family with a new story from work or school, I would chime in with my comments. My comedy contributions ranged from the inane to the inappropriate, and invited reactions from the indifferent to the irate. Dad’s sour looks of disdain from the head of the table usually brought my monologues to a quick and merciful end.
Unfortunately, my immediate family’s attitude toward my sense of humor spread to large swaths of my extended family. My uncles, a witty bunch by any measure, have almost always been unreceptive. Uncle Cliff Smith typically replies to my bon mots with a pointed question about my mental state. After I toss out a particularly lame joke, he’ll look at me, his face wrinkled up with great concern, and ask “What’re your hours?” I have to admit that I enjoy this reaction as much as a gale of laughter.
Meanwhile, my Uncle Dick Moehlmann has a special fascination with my humor, or, as he sees it, the lack of it. Rather than ignoring or mocking my humor, he seems genuinely curious about its reputed existence. Like the notion of Bigfoot or unicorns, it haunts his imagination. At family gatherings during my teenage years, he began pulling relations aside and saying, “I’ve heard that Timmy is supposed to be funny. Have you ever heard him say anything funny?” Never waiting for a reply, he would add, “I haven’t!” When I formed a comedy troupe in college, Uncle Dick began to worry out loud that I was deluding myself. His concern only grew when I moved to Chicago to study with the Second City Conservatory in Improv Comedy, prompting him to ask my parents, “Is that really a good idea?”
As I achieved some success in professional comedy troupes like ComedySportz and Gross National Product, Uncle Dick became convinced that I had a funny doppelganger who never attended family functions. At wedding receptions, he would sneak up behind me in the buffet line with an urgent demand that I “say something funny!” My usual response of “Wakka-wakka!” was intended as an ironic homage to Fozzie Bear, the most cruelly misunderstood comic in history. But, like fellow curmudgeons Statler and Waldorf, Uncle Dick remained unamused.
Recently, my wife, Amanda, and I moved from the nation’s capital to my hometown of Binghamton, NY. I am continuing to supplement our income by teaching an improv comedy class I developed and taught in D.C. Somehow, these two facts conflated in Uncle Dick’s mind, giving him an erroneous, but worrisome notion of what I intended to do for a living. This afternoon I overheard his anxious telephone call to my father.
“I heard that Timmy moved back to Binghamton to open his own comedy club. That ain’t gonna work…”