Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” an old vaudevillian once said. But comedy never seemed that hard to me, provided I didn’t mind sacrificing my dignity some. I was just five years old when I first began trying to make my family laugh with a sped-up rendering of the “Look! Up in the air! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…” prologue to the old Superman show, while standing before my captive audience in my little red jersey and tights, a dishtowel for a cape knotted around my neck.
So with all due respect to that old vaudevillian, if you were to ask me for an epigram depicting one true thing, I’d tend to say “Comedy is easy. Therapy is hard.”
I found out just how hard therapy is way back when I was first enrolled in counseling by my husband under the “I’m Ok, You’re Crazy” plan. Doing therapy under the “I’m OK, You’re Crazy” plan occurs when somebody you live with suggests you get counseling, although he personally wouldn’t ‘open up’ in a therapist’s office if you dragged him there in chains and threatened to pull out all his nose hairs.
This husband, who I have often wanted to drag places by his nose hairs, said back then he thought I should seek treatment.
Because I seemed sad, he said. “Hey, all humorists are sad down deep,” I quickly retorted, but I knew he was right: I was sad. Not long before, my mom had died, and I guess I felt too young to face life without her. Plus, she didn’t just die. She died in my living room. During her own 80th birthday party.
So, yes I was sad. And finally I began seeing this counselor to try feeling better.
Every week I drove to her office, all unwilling. Every week she asked me how I was. I could only tell her how everyone else in my life was. I told her a million stories, most of them richly humorous. I entertained the heck out of us both, but I wasn’t getting at the problem, and I think we both knew that, so after 18 months, I quit.
Then ten years passed, and ….I was funnier than ever! – yay! – though still in full flight from every kind of sadness that had ever come my way. I just didn’t want to feel it.
Then one day, my oldest friend called to say she was doing counseling – over the phone of all things – with a gifted therapist in Colorado, who was at first reluctant to work with someone in such an unorthodox manner.
“But it’s helping!” my friend said, and one day added, “and, you know, you should really do it too.”
And so. And so I began doing it, though God knows it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t seem to sit still as I talked to this faraway therapist but because we were on the phone, she didn’t know this.
Sometimes I cleaned the bathroom toilets while we talked.
Sometimes I stripped small pieces of furniture.
Once though, she got wise to me. “Are you DRIVING?!” she said.
I was driving all right.
But the main thing is I was doing it, as I wish my mom could have done in her younger years, to ease her own aching heart. Because it did sure enough help. I faced my sadness and the sadness under my sadness, and the sadness under that, and so what if I did most of that facing after the therapist and I had hung up..
I’ll say it again and you can take it from this old vaudevillian: Comedy really is easy by comparison; and therapy is very, very hard.