Saturday, March 21, 2009

Today's Stock Tip - Invest in Comedy

While channel-surfing the other night, I came across a surly mob of stand-up comedians swapping jokes with each other. It was obvious they had been doing shows together for ages - the personal rapport they shared was terrific. The audience howled their approval. They were hilarious, riffing back and forth, topping each other's lines with the kind of friendly, competitive swagger that only comes from many months of sharing a tour bus toilet.

Some poor audience members were busting a gut so hard they seemed to be in pain. You could hear them gasp as their lungs fought for air against the belly laughs. For a moment I wondered if anyone at a comedy club had ever gone into cardiac arrest, or choked so hard on a pun they herniated something. That would be unfortunate, but imagine the bragging rights for the comedian.

A friend of mine has a strange tradition. Before talking to me at any length, she first insists on using the bathroom. Apparently I’ve made her laugh so hard she’s had a few accidents. In an odd way, I’m proud. If I had a resume for comedy, that gem would be on it. The Excellence in Comedy Incontinence Award, sponsored by Depends.

Sometimes, when she’s around, I push myself, digging for better material in an effort to make her laugh harder. Her bladder challenges me to be better. I’m in a battle of wills with her kidneys.

Making people laugh is addicting. You get that first giggle out of them and you crave more. Laugh again, dammit! Your mind races to find the next bit. You want them to laugh so hard it hurts. Which is weird, since funny is supposed to be, well, fun. But by this time, you don’t care about someone’s pain. You’ve found a rhythm, you’re in a groove, and you don’t want it to end, even if someone gets hurt or puddles a chair.

When life stinks, it is not hard to be funny - it is darn near impossible. While I've never done actual stand-up in a club, I have a comedian's daily routine of writing down jokes, quips, and quirky observations. Every day I force myself to find the funny, dammit. Some days it's simple. Lately, not so much.

It was much easier during the Bush administration, when we all still had some money in the bank and a job. It was so easy, anyone could do it. We could all afford a chuckle and some candy.

But the sweet and easy days of mocking the monkey-eared Decider are gone. Now more than ever, we desperately need to laugh. Even if you're cheery, doing great, with a terrific job, a wonderful spouse, etc. Especially if you're cheery and here's why. Every day, you interact with people on the verge of extreme grumpiness. People who would have no problem thumping you on the freeway, or heaven forbid - throwing candy wrappers on your front lawn. And one thing that can really push a grumpy person over the edge is an excessively cheery person. These grumpy people need a way to blow off steam before they wipe that smile off your dang cheery face with the front bumper of their car.

So somehow we need to find a way to laugh this mess - at AIG, at Madoff, at Congress, before we all go psycho-grumpy on each other. Yes, it’s a challenge. Which is why only the best comedy will do. The fallout of a lousy economy is that only the strong survive. This is true in business as well as humor. There’s a comedic shake-out going on.

Nadir is a funny-sounding word. Nadir, nadir, nadir. It means rock bottom, hitting the lowest you're gonna go. Unlike a roller coaster ride, Life doesn't let you know exactly where and when you're bottoming out. You have to look back over your shoulder after the fact and say, "Yup - that there was my nadir." This is akin to saying, "Yup, I should not have been looking at my nose hair in the rear view mirror and I would have seen the tree." No bonus points for hindsight.

When you’re sitting in your nadir, you usually don’t know it yet. But I’m going to venture a guess and say, hopefully, that right now, we’re sitting in it. It looks like a nadir. It certainly smells like one.

If I’m correct, that means things are looking up. And the best way to get up and out of our nadir is to laugh our way out.

"Tell me a joke. Say something funny. Now."

I used to resent such pressure. What if I didn't feel like being funny? I'm not a foofoo dancing poodle. Hmmph. But it is time to get dancing.

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone. Unless you’re laughing so hard you’re crying. Then you’ve come full circle, where bliss meets pain, where hurt is healing, where mirth makes kidneys explode. Maybe not, but close. I'm fine with this. I don't want anyone seeing me cry anyway.
We need funny. We can't sit here licking our financial wounds forever. And I need to be funny as much as you need to laugh.

So laugh, dammit, or I'll throw candy wrappers on your lawn and make your kidneys explode.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

There's a Fly in My Coffee

It's another lovely day. Outside. Inside, not so much.

Daylight Savings is here. Time to 'spring forward.' Woo-hoo. Usually I don't care one way or the other about this sort of thing, but today I'm looking forward to losing an hour. Because so far it hasn't been the best of days.

First, the morning paper arrives without the comics section. Usually I read this with my sons, and it's never simply not shown up. The rest of the paper is there, intact, but no funny papers, which stinks because it's part of our traditional Sunday ritual. We usually discuss whether anyone could still find Beetle Bailey or Blondie funny, and how Prince Valiant hasn't aged a bit in forty years even though he takes all those zany voyages and never seems to use sunblock.

The boys turn up their noses at Family Circus, until I explain that parents are hard-wired to find the stupidest kiddie things amusing. They stare at me.

"Basically, it guarantees we don't kill you," I explain. They nod.

To make matters worse, a fly has landed in my coffee. Not sure how long he has been there. Wish we could choose which Daylight Savings hour to lose. I know which hour the fly would take back, and I'd probably agree with him.

Then there's the dismal economy. Then there's the media talking about the dismal economy. Then there's the media, realizing that people are tired of hearing about how dismal the economy is, meekly trying to find the bright side of the dismal economy. All this doom and gloom probably sucked the life out of the comics section, which would explain its disappearance. This would all be very amusing if it were a Coen Brothers movie. They'd even find a way to save the fly.

On a mixed blessing note, my old company was implicated in the Madoff scheme. Lucky for me, they were kind enough to not pay me decent wages, so I could never afford to invest in their IRAs. They then laid me off, along with a lot of other people, so I transferred my meager investments out of there. I would laugh, but there are still a couple of good people working there, and of course they're the ones being hurt. The evil brokers are long gone, probably now working as bailout lobbyists for the banking industry.

I saw that as somewhat good news, because this company was exposed for unsurly business practices. However, if they go under, locally they'll lay off another few hundred people, putting them in direct competition with me for a job. They've been hemorrhaging staff for a couple of years now, chasing that almighty stock rating by cutting expenses in the form of payroll. That can only work short-term, because the smart employees smell the coffee and fly the coop before the rest of the euphemisms hit the fan, so it's only a matter of time before they shut down. I'd just as soon have a job before all those people flood the job market.

After a brief memorial ceremony, I dump the fly from my coffee. We make our own comics which, in our opinion, are much funnier than the usual ones. I could have done without so many fart jokes, but at least today I don't have to see Kathy obsessing about her weight/dessert/mother.

The economy issue's a bit tougher. We try making our own currency, but apparently Madoff has already spoiled that game.

Recently the US government fined UBS, the Swiss banking giant, $780 million for providing illicit tax shelters to US citizens. The Treasury estimates the tax revenue lost through this money-laundering is over $100 billion a year. That's $100,000,000,000.00 per year, or a little over $11,415,525 per hour. And you thought losing an hour was no big deal. (thanks, Insom, for correcting my math- big numbers make me skittery and prone to error)

Why not take the UBS fine and fund some education for some future financial rain-makers? Why not train me and a few other intelligent, unemployed schmos to chase down the mini-Madoffs of the world, and all the others who think the rules don't apply to them? The fines we could levy would be enough to fund our payroll, and we could close down a few banking loopholes to help stabilize the industry and pacify Wall Street.

This is similar to what the police department does with the seized assets of drug-dealers - sell them off to finance better bad-guy finding equipment. Let's finance the bailout with Madoff's lavish New York apartment, hidden assets, and left kidney. As we know from watching Cops, kicking bad-guy butt feels good. It's time for us to do it white-collar style.

In the meantime, I'm going to scour the park for financial scofflaws. It's such a lovely day outside.