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  • Thomas E. Hepler
    IT ISN T FUNNY (This piece is written for the October 2008 Memoir Writing get-together in response to the assigned subject, “It Isn’t Funny.”)
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 23, 2008
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      (This piece is written for the October 2008 Memoir Writing get-together
      in response to the assigned subject, “It Isn’t Funny.”)

      “‘Taint funny, McGee,” was Molly’s response to her husband, following
      one of Fibber’s attempts at humor. There was a time when this phrase was
      a part of the American lexicon. I suspect, were you to utter the phrase
      today, you’d get nothing more than a blank expression. But, there was a

      My brother and I, in the late 1940s, were listening to a baseball game,
      when mom blurted out, “That must be painful.”

      “What are you talking about, Mom?”

      “Those pins,” was her reply, trying to mask a sly, very sly grin.

      Then it hit me. Byrum Saam had just announced that Hal Peck was going to
      pinch hit for the pitcher. She had just made fun of the game of
      baseball, and my beloved Philadelphia Athletics.

      “Mom, that’s not funny,” I told her.

      To this day, when a pinch hitter is announced in a baseball game, or the
      term is used in a colloquial way to announce a substitution, I think of
      my mom. If I don’t laugh out loud, I do internally. Someone looking at
      me is likely to ask, “What’s so funny?”

      If I answered, the response I would likely hear is, “That’s not funny.”

      When things were dull, my mother would do or say something to liven it up.

      For example, when I was in high school, we were having problems with
      black bugs. We referred to them as “water bugs,” although there is a
      scientific name for them, a long Latin sounding word known only to
      entomologists. One day, before the neighborhood, in a concerted effort,
      got rid of the critters, I was entering our house, through the long
      hallway, when Mom yelled, “There’s one!” In one motion, as though it
      were an Olympic event and I had spent years preparing for it, I was
      airborne, and as I came down from the 360 degree turn, one of my feet
      landed on the nasty creature. It was not as though I had never
      experienced stomping on one. I had, many times, and if I were to notch
      my shoes the way a gunslinger notched his six-shooter, I’d have to have
      had my shoes repaired many times over. This one felt different, however.
      It sounded strange as well. Mom was beside herself with laughter. I had
      just squashed a licorice jelly bean. It had fallen on the floor earlier,
      and knowing I would be home soon, she used it as a prop. She made me
      clean it up, the floor and my shoes.

      “Mom, that’s not funny.”

      There was never a dull moment with her or her brothers and sisters. I
      loved being around all of them.

      I got my revenge on my mother one day. I was angry at Evelyn for some
      long-forgotten reason. It was around the time of my parents’ wedding
      anniversary. I bought a card to commemorate the occasion. Imagine the
      surprise, when the envelope, addressed only to my father, was opened to
      reveal a most poetic sympathy card.

      Not only was it not funny, it was a tad over the top. Not a good thing
      to do to my mother, especially when I was anticipating living there a
      few more years. Did Pop think it was funny? I’m not sure.

      My brother is humor personified. My biggest critic, when it comes to
      humor, is my family. When I get off a good one, I often get the “....
      it’s not funny,” followed by the coupe de grace, “But if Uncle Bobby
      said it, it would be funny.”

      A couple of weeks ago, in a phone conversation, I told my brother that
      Paul Newman had just died. Without missing a beat, he retorted, “One
      less Obama vote.”

      Some people might think that is not funny.

      When I recounted that story to a Democrat friend, he opined, “Perhaps
      Newman already submitted an absentee ballot.”

      “But it is illegal for a dead person to vote,” was my rejoinder.

      “Get real, Tom, many Democrats vote after they die.”

      That is not funny, but likely true.

      As I was coming out of the executive offices of the Spectrum in South
      Philadelphia one afternoon sometime in the mid-1980s, a long line was
      wending its way to the ticket window. I asked a young man in line,
      “What’s going on here?”

      “Tickets to Ray Charles”

      “I wouldn’t pay to see him, but I bet he’d spend money to see me,” was
      my immediate response, totally off the wall.

      An associate said, “Tom, that’s not funny.”

      Dare I say, schadenfreude?

      Sometimes sad events are a great source for merriment. Who can forget
      the JFK funeral in 1963 and the picture of the grieving widow and her
      two small children standing as the caisson passed by. That bleak
      November day was, ironically, young John John Kennedy’s birthday. The
      question making the rounds a few days later was, “What did John John get
      for his birthday?”

      “A Jack in the box,” was the crafty and insensitive response. Not funny
      to many.

      Death humor is great. Nobody deals with it better than the Irish.

      But, they have their limit, I suppose. I have yet to hear a Potato
      Famine gag.

      Often I like to use humor to highlight a social concern. On a Saturday
      morning, in the late 1960s, a most turbulent time, I was passing the
      Sears store at the Willingboro Plaza. Ticketron had an outlet in its
      store. A long line of young people were waiting to buy tickets to a
      concert of some sort. As two older women were passing by, one asked if I
      knew what the line was all about. Without batting an eye, I replied,
      “Free VD clinic.”

      One of the ladies, with a scornful look, commented, “There is no
      accounting for what’s happening these days with young people.” Sadly,
      the ladies believed me. So as not to upset these well meaning women, I
      admitted to my hoax immediately. They seemed somewhat relieved.

      My wife does not possess a great sense of humor, but every once in a
      while she astounds me. One day, recently, while getting ready to go
      somewhere, she pointed out that my fly was open.

      In a very macho voice I responded, “Catherine, I’m advertising.”

      Without blinking an eye, her answer, “You can be sued for false
      advertising” is now a — not so funny to me — family legend.

      When I sat to write this piece, I was not certain how it might work out.
      Upon starting, it just flowed. Many such “It Isn’t Funny” vignettes will
      come to mind over time. When that happens, they will be added as another
      fragment to this mosaic.

      I do, however, have one concluding comment, “When someone says it’s not
      funny, it is the first indication that, whatever it is, is funny. And,
      sometimes, hilarious.”
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