Just for laughs

In our family we take being funny seriously. While other families were building financial empires, creating musical ensembles, sports dynasties, or Nobel prize winners, we were hanging out on the kitchen table and bar, spinning yarns and snapping punch lines. And where has it gotten us? No platinum records or Pulitzer prizes, no Rhodes scholarships, no Olympic medals. The only thing we have to show for it is whenever we get together its a pandemonium of belly laughing, knee slapping, stitch ripping jokes and stories, And I’m afraid we are passing this balderdash on to the next generation.  The cousins smile and joke with each other, play games, and frolic endlessly. The older ones try their best stories out on the adults as they move from the minor leagues to the majors.

I tried to teach them to be more sober and restrained growing up, but they didn’t take me seriously.  Could have been the fake arrow through my head and the rubber chicken hanging out of my pocket.  The best we parents could do was decree rules to the game: Lift people with your jokes.  Appreciate everybody’s contribution.  Cheer other people on.  Enjoy and build.  No risque stuff–that’s a crutch.  Use your humor to smooth the rough edges of social interaction. Use it to include, not exclude people.

I am entertained and pleased that our children know how to deliver a punch line each in their own way, but I’m even more happy with the nature of their humor. No put downs, no attempts to top each other, just enjoying every joke that every person comes up with..

Two of our sons David, and John have turned their humor into a profession, and have their own radio show. They and Matt had a comedy act in high school and college.  John, Tom, and Josh took the training and then participated in “Comedy Sportz.” This is a franchised training program which prepares you to take part in a weekly improv comedy stage show. The funny people are divided into two teams, and participate in various comedy games. The audience decides which team won that particular game, the scores accumulate, and one team wins the night.

It is all in good fun, but it also teaches some good skills of stage presence, thinking on your feet, and even teamwork.

One of the valuable techniques they worked on in training was the principle of “Yes and,” and not “Yes but.”  “Yes and” is the comedy sports equivalent of the assist in basketball or the lateral in football or rugby. It is taking the ball (joke) from the previous person and building on it. “Yes but” is a head-on tackle that stops progress in its tracks. “Yes but,” can also kill productive thinking in a committee, or work team, or just about any group including, especially, families.

In college I was campaign manager for a young woman running for a student body office. She had already picked her committee, and one of them should really have been an executioner by profession.  He killed every idea we came up with.  I was no genius in my job, but having Mr. No in my ear every meeting didn’t help.  Bottom line, we managed to have her lose to a write in candidate. Failure second only to losing to “none of the above.”

In this case, it took us the several weeks of campaigning, and the election to show us how miserably we had failed. In other situations including families, it could take years. But in improv comedy it takes a nanosecond. A negative comment or insinuation is a point blank blast to the forehead with an elephant gun. “Yes and…” may change the direction of the comedy but it keeps it moving forward. That’s also vital in most of our social interactions. I like to think our “Yes and…” way of enjoying each other’s comic quips is one of the keys to our success.”

One of the best compliments to our family humor came to me from a federal judge who is also our son John’s (and coincidentally our daughter Callie’s) father-in-law. Judge Monroe McKay several times said to me, “You know, John is really funny. But more than that; when I’m around him I’m funny.”