It isn’t just alcoholics who deserve respect and protection from comedy—from abuse by comedy, that is. I’ve learned that lesson—for example, when I was part of a comedy act and we performed—just once—a sketch about a teenage girl in Europe who’s forced to hide with her family from the Nazis in an attic.
Our comic take was that she acted like an American teenager, reluctant to give up her youthful diversions, and refused to go. Her father said, “Ja, no more strudel.”
But no one laughed! They just sat there!
Well, I want to say a few words now about cancer.
Is it in bad taste to joke about it?
No matter how much you’ve thought about it, or watched it destroy people you’re close to,
it’s never what you think. At some point you have to decide—is it your body’s betrayal of itself,
or the consequence of where and how you’ve lived, or maybe the result of an abduction by aliens?
When I was diagnosed, the first thing that happened, since I had insurance from Aflac—
that’s the company with a duck as its spokesperson—was that I started getting checks—all kinds of money—just for having a life-threatening disease!
It was like winning the lottery!
Next, I had to look at my life in perspective. I decided it had been pretty good. If there wasn’t going to be much more of it—well, I couldn’t complain too much.
Don’t get me wrong—it took a while to get to that point.
I’m okay now, and I’ve been okay long enough to feel at ease about it. I had surgery, radiation, humiliation, side effects—but the result is I’m okay.
It’s like finding unexpired time on a parking meter—a bonus, a gift, not rare, not remarkable,
but a kick in the existential pants. And nothing like what I’d ever thought.
There’s something odd that happens when you do any kind of acting. You go through something in a play or a film, and you start believing you’ve really done it.
One character I played was autopsied for a TV program. (By the way, the autopsy table was really uncomfortable.) Then I put on my clothes and went home.
Recently I played a man dying of lung cancer, with his daughter at his side. Our scenes were intense and emotionally draining.
Afterwards, I found myself thinking: Hey, that’s it—I’ve done dying. We’re wrapped! I won’t have to go through that again!
Delusions can be comforting.