My Comedy Obsession: A Timeline
(All illustrations by the author as a young comedy nerd.)
- •AGE 4: At the supermarket with my Father. I tell him, "I thought of a joke. There's this little boy at the supermarket with his Dad. The boy asks, 'Dad, where does all the money go?' The Dad says, 'To the people who don't need it.'"My left-wing liberal Dad, who is often displeased with me, is pleased by my "joke." This is my earliest memory.
- •AGE 5: My Aunt Mary takes me to my first-ever movie: an old, live-action Disney comedy starring Kurt Russell called "The Strongest Man in the World." I flip out and demand to be taken back four more times.On my fifth viewing, I get bored about 20 minutes in and ask to leave. My parents refuse. So I stand up in the middle of the theater and sing "Jesus Christ Superstar" until they carry me out.
- •AGE 6: At a junk shop where my family buys clothes and furniture, I discover old issues of Mad Magazine. I'm instantly in love, even though I don't understand most of the late 1960s/ early 1970s references.This results in me making lots of jokes to my fellow grade-schoolers about how Spiro Agnew is lame and Twiggy is skinny.
- •AGE 8: In bed, middle of the night. I'm awakened by my parents laughing. I get up to see what's happening. They're watching Saturday Night Live. It's a Gilda Radner sketch called "The Mystery of Toad Island." My parents let me stay up to watch.I'm fascinated by seeing something so weird and ramshackle on TV - but even more fascinated by the secret world of what makes grown-ups laugh late at night.
- •AGE 9: I'm sent to a one-day kids "art lab" kinda thing. Painting, sculpture, whatever you feel like doing. At the end of the day, we play an improv game. Each kid is handed an ad from a magazine and told to act out the depicted scenario. Mine is a vacuum cleaner ad featuring Santa Claus.I perform a scene where the Santa is a display robot whose vacuum goes out of control, sucks up the rug, a cat, the entire room. I get huge laughs and feel high.
- •AGE 10: I get my own little cassette recorder and spend endless sleepovers making tapes with friends - our own "funny shows." I write and draw my own attempts at Mad Magazine-style parodies.The two I remember are "Star Trek Poo: The Wrath of Korn" and a parody of the OJ Simpson movie "Capricorn One," called "Can of Corn One." Apparently, I thought corn was hilarious.
- •AGE 11: My parents are so deep in their own issues that they no longer pay attention to things like my bedtime. So I stay up all night watching TV, and discover SCTV, David Letterman and old black and white TV like Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen and "The Honeymooners."All of these things feel like I'm the only person in the world who knows about them. If I discover someone else who shares any of this "secret knowledge," we instantly become best friends.
- •AGE 12: I'm bullied by a kid on a bike. A crowd of kids gathers to watch me get harassed. I start making jokes at the bully's expense. The other kids lose it, laughing in disbelief that I've got the balls to ridicule my tormentor. The bully says "Fuck this" and rides away.A massive life lesson.
- •AGE 13: I'm old enough to buy National Lampoon. It's way past the magazine's prime, but contributors include Al Jean and Mike Reiss (who will go on to run "The Simpsons"), Charlie Kaufman, John Waters and Gilbert Gottfried. Now I'm in my bedroom writing pseudo-Lampoon essays.
- •AGE 14: My Dad goes after me about some small, petty Dad shit. He's yelling at the breakfast table. I launch into my best imitation of him. My Mom and my sister laugh. I keep going; they laugh harder. I watch my Dad deflate. He never directly confronts me again.The most powerful way to stop a bully is to hold up a mirror and say, "This is you, right now."
- •AGE 15: I use magic markers to make this poster of my "dream movie." My Mom has it framed on her wall.In case you can't read it - those very 1980s "credits" include John Candy, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, Blair Brown, Carl Reiner, Dan Aykroyd, Mark Mothersbaugh, Steve Martin and Madonna.
- •AGE 16: I perform a routine in front of my high school. One of the jokes concerns our typing class teacher, Mrs. Williams, who is married to the school's Headmaster. It's a double entendre about the two of them "after hours, banging away... on the keyboards of the typewriters." The whole school is laughing, even the teachers. I feel high again.Later, Mr. Williams - the Headmaster - grabs me by the jacket. He slams me against a brick wall, then violently shakes me and yells, "You don't talk about a man's wife!"
- •AGE 17: I perform in punk bands, which gets me into bars despite being underage. No one is particularly thrilled by my music, but lots of people tell me how funny it is when I talk between songs. One guy flat-out tells me, "You should just do that."
- •AGE 18-19: Punk rock/ underground years, when being into comedy isn't cool.That's how I missed almost the entirety of "Seinfeld," which I still regret!
- •AGE 20: I create a xeroxed "fanzine" as an excuse to call people I think are cool and interview them (whether I ever publish it or not). On the back of an old comedy album by Rudy Ray Moore (star of the 1970s blaxploitation movie "Dolemite"), I discover a phone number. I dial it, and Rudy - now in his 60s - answers. He agrees to an interview.Rudy gives me the best advice I'll ever receive: "Just come out to LA and keep hustling, and your day will arrive."
- •AGE 21: I travel to LA for the first time. Then I move to LA. One night, I'm with one of my punk rock/ underground friends when I break down and tell him the embarrassing truth: "I want to be a comedian." He understands.Now, when I look at that magic marker movie poster I made as a teenager, I see some names of people who I actually HAVE ended up working with. If I had known that back then, my 15-year-old head would've exploded! Comedy saved my life - thank you, comedy!