29 August 2009

Not-Quite-Ready-for-Primetime player

My nine-month old daughter is starting to develop her own sense of humor.
I discovered this a few weeks ago, when, as I was changer her diaper on the changing table, I took the pacifier from her mouth and put it in mine. She was confused for a moment, and then broke into a broad smile and giggled. She thought it was funny – why is Daddy doing something the baby does? – and then she reached up and grabbed it back from me.
It’s strange to think about, but we were all born without a sense of humor. Not that we didn’t develop one in time, of course, but at the moment we came into the world, we probably had what most babies have: a strong cry, minimal reflexes and, in my case, a permanently confused look on my face. None of us came out of the womb knowing anything, let alone what’s funny and what is not. We learn it in time. I’m only realizing this now, as I am seeking a human being develop herself from a little speck in the ultrasound pictures into a beautiful little person.
It makes me consider how my own sense of humor was developed. My first memory of something being truly funny came when I was around 5 years old. The family had just purchased its first VCR, and one of the tapes we had was “Saturday Night Live: The Best of John Belushi,” which we watched many times. I found his extreme physicality and intensity to be hilarious, finding out only years later that it was this same excess that ultimately led to his death from an overdose in 1982.
After this introduction, I was an “SNL” fan, and would watch the old episodes on cable TV with my Dad. As I grew, I became interested in the early 90s cast, with Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, and Phil Hartman. I watched it, found some of it funny, but always knew in the back of my mind that it didn’t hold a candle to the work of the “Not Ready for Prime Time” players of the show’s early years. In time, Hartman would be murdered, Farley, in an eerie echo of John Belushi, would die of an overdose, and I would walk away from watching SNL for nearly 15 years.
In the late summer and fall of 2008, as my daughter grew closer to being born, my interest in SNL returned with its coverage of the 2008 election, and Tina Fey’s dead-on impersonation of Sarah Palin, which once again showed how powerful a comedic medium this venerable enterprise could be when it measured the pulse of the society it mirrored. I think this one character portrayal did more damage to Sarah Palin’s credibility than all of the gaffes and painfully awkward interviews. After the election, my interest in the show again faded, except for the occasional sketches I would hear about around the coffee maker Monday morning.
Still, I know that when my own daughter is old enough, I will hook up the VCR, dust off the beat-up cover of the Belushi video, and ask, with a twinkle in my eye, “Hey, do you want to watch something funny?”

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