I have interviewed a lot of comedians and improvisers over the years, and I always find it interesting who turned them on to their first comedy album, or movie or TV show.
For me, it was my older brother, Bobby. I was a grade behind him in school, so when I was in seventh grade, he was in eighth. It was 1977. My parents had gone on a trip to Florida for the weekend and had hired this older woman whom we had to call Aunt Fannie to babysit us.
Since our parents weren’t home, we lied to “Aunt Fannie” about what our bedtime was on Saturday night so we could stay up late to watch part of this show that came on after the news that my brother swore was the funniest thing he had ever seen. He seemed really excited as he explained the skits, including a hilarious one with bees. I didn’t understand, but since he was excited, I was excited. Older brothers have that power over their younger brothers. Of course, Aunt Fannie didn’t know what we were talking about.
After the sports was over on the local newscast, this show came on called Saturday Night Live. I remember two things from that show.
- There was a sketch called “Ask President Carter,” where Dan Ackroyd played then-president Jimmy Carter, and Bill Murray played Walter Cronkite, and they took phone calls, and one guy called who was tripping on acid and the president talked him down. I had not taken drugs at that point in my life, but on some level I understood the humor of that sketch.
- It was the first time something on TV made me laugh out loud, which is impressive because by the age of 13, with little parental supervision, I had watched literally thousands of hours of TV.
SNL had a profound effect on me. On Monday morning, I was that annoying fat kid, repeating all of the lines from the show like I had made them up.
In seventh grade we had to debate on a subject, and I imitated Dan Ackroyd and used his line, “Jane you ignorant slut,” replacing Jane with the girl I was debating. I don’t remember getting in trouble but I do remember that the girl was really mad at me. This is no excuse for the fact that I used that word, but I didn’t even know what “slut” meant at the time.
I learned all the words and all the moves from Steve Martin’s King Tut song, and students would ask me to perform it. I loved the attention.
Then Bobby came to me later and said, “You’ve got to watch this show that is even funnier then SNL. It’s called Second City Television.” In Chicago, it was on at midnight on Saturdays right after SNL. I didn’t agree that it was better, and it took me a while to like it.
But on Saturday nights I was watching two hours of the funniest TV I had ever seen.
When I was 13, my brother was not the funniest person I knew, but he had great taste in comedy. He thought I was funny, too, and as we got older, he tried to keep up doing bits with me, but that was not his strength. His appreciation of comedy made him both a great audience and a great sidekick. He was much more light-hearted then I was and he had a way of bringing people out of themselves. I was always funnier around him.
He helped me get through some pretty dismal times in my life and around my family.
My brother and I have not spoken since my father’s funeral over five years ago. I hope one day we will be back on speaking terms so I can thank him in person for turning me on to comedy, because my life is so much better because of it.
Who turned you on to comedy? Let us know in the comments below!