Monday, March 29, 2004

Laughing In All Seriousness

I had thought I'd want to expand on the conversation I started earlier about game theory, Prisoner's Dilemma, and the problem of suboptimization (what's good for the individual in the short run may be bad for the group both in the short run and in the long run; it may even be bad for the individual in the long run too if he's still around) ... and how these all relate to developing a personal code of ethics.

That's where I thought I was going to go with this today. And instead, I've changed my mind. I still may get back to game theory & ethics (so hold that thought!); till then, how about an April Fool's-ish theme.

In the past, I've usually been too serious to get much into April Fool's jokes or pranks. Occasionally I'd go to bed the night before or even wake up in the morning with the notion that it might be a good idea... in theory anyway and then that serious side would take over again and I'd conveniently forget about having any particular fun.

Now, I'm still the sort of person who would rather not cause anyone undue angst - I'd rather keep it all in "good fun". I'm not above yanking someone's chain, however. And I'm learning to recognize when I've got a chain of my own that's there to be yanked. That's a big step.

So I was faced with the question a few days ago - what's something serious you wish you could laugh at? It's a good question... and I should back up a bit (yes, I realize flashbacks are a particularly bad movie device - can't help it though; I just think that way sometimes) before sharing more about what it was I wanted to be able to laugh about.

The flashback (along with a bit of a frolic and detour) part is this. My first on-air job was meteorologist at KRTV in beautiful Great Falls, MT.

While I came to enjoy my time there, I did so only after coming face to face with the reality of why the abbreviation for Montana is Em-Tee. Anyway, it's not unusual for on-air meteorologists/weather anchors to do double-duty, especially in smaller markets. At KRTV, my second hat was to go to the "cop shop" every day before work, check the booking logs and get the daily briefing. Checking the logs is important because otherwise you only get the information they want you to have or (more likely) that they think you'll find interesting. Believe me, a police officer's idea of what the viewing public might find interesting is not all that accurate.

One day, both the booking logs and the briefing were pretty devoid of anything even closely resembling a news story. I made a few notes on a couple of things and left for the station, hoping they weren't counting anything from me to fill airtime beyond stretching the weather a bit. The hope turned out to be just that - wishful thinking. They needed me to write up something for the newscast and when I tried to explain that the best I could come up with was a burglary in a weight loss clinic, the news director was not phased a bit. His direction? Write it funny.

In Mack Berry's view (and I've since come to believe it myself), it's possible to write anything funny. Somehow, by the time I was done writing, fourteen cases of diet bars stolen from a weightloss clinic seemed a lot funnier than it started out.

That seems easy enough with a crime that belongs in News of the Weird or plenty of other more light-hearted-leaning things. What if it's something like having difficulties at work or home - or even having someone close to you be diagnosed with cancer (my answer to the "what do you wish could be funny" question)? That seems tougher.

I have a sister with a huge gift for finding the humor in anything. You should hear her story of rolling a car, getting hit on the back of the head in the process with the snowboard she had in the backseat, nearly killing her, and having the medics seeming to be more than passingly interested in the lingerie she was wearing as they were trying to treat her assumed-to-be-serious neck injury. We were rolling on the floor laughing so hard, no one thought to question her supposed attempts to avoid some constantly changing variety of rodent as her explanation for the rollover.

And if a life-threatening accident can be that funny, then you bet, cancer can be funny too, even when it's at its saddest. I found myself watching Julia Sweeney's one-woman-show, God Said, "Ha!" the other day. It was the answer to my request to be able to find real humor in having a family member diagnosed with cancer. If you want to see what even the most serious things look like when written funny - and still full of the compassion it takes to be fully human - this is a good movie to see.

And so, I"ll put the question to you - what would you like to be able to laugh about... and how could that happen? Try "writing it funny". Send it to me at if you want. I like funny and sometimes even the darkest humor is right up my alley.

Life plays little tricks on us sometimes (okay, big ones too), checking to see if we can still laugh. In that sense, every day is April Fool's Day.