I’m almost finished reading Alan Zweibel‘s entertaining, honest and revealing memoir Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier*. I love to laugh out loud, especially when engrossed in a book, and he accomplished that for this reader.
From his days before writing for Saturday Night Live and Garry Shandling – writing jokes for Catskills comedians – through two epic failures – a Rob Reiner movie named North and an ill-fated romantic comedy television series starring Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett – we get inside the kimono of icons like Gilda Radner (adorable and lovable) and Milton Berle (as bad as you’ve heard).
It’s valuable to see how a highly succesful talent like Zweibel came back to life after these disasters. What I particularly appreciated was his down-to-earth evaluation of his art form:
I write. This is what I’m wired to do. To awaken at 5:30 every morning, sit down with my vocabulary, choose words, and arrange them in an order that would not only hold a viewer or reader’s interest, but also afford them a laugh or two along the way. And if I succeed, well, mission accomplished. There’s no greater feeling. But if I fail, well, I’m sorry, but it’s not a war crime. I swear, I tried my best. p. 165
I was fascinated, and my instinct was to introduce myself and ask a million questions about their wonderful careers and their collective contributions to the culture. But then I listened closely and detected the bitterness in their tones. Their resentment about no longer being able to work. Them bitterly putting down everything that was currently on television, saying, “This generation has no ideas what’s funny!” A haunting omen? …Was this going to be me one day? I decided not to introduce myself.
I know these weren’t the funny parts, but they are on nearly every page, but with set-ups too long to share. When you’re working with the cast of Saturday Night Live, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal, you can be sure that humor is the underpinning of these relationships. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.
I’m going to stop writing now and finish reading. But, before I do, I want to leave you with a sure-fire laugh. Driving home from upstate NY earlier this week I was listening to the Moth podcast, where storyteller Zellia Enjoli Tatiana describes an exchange with a disgruntled customer in her job at the USPS in Customer Care. When she asks him to spell his name, he responds, “P, as in pterodactyl.” She pauses a moment and then confirms, “Okay, so that’s P, as in pneumonia?”
LMK if you laughed, even a little, and if you have something funny to share. I’m hungry for laughs.
*The book’s title immediately reminded me of my good friend, colleague and client, Diane Ripstein whose tagline for her communications business is Sound As Smart As You Are. You know exactly what she does, and does well, just like Alan Zweibel’s mission.