When I was a kid I saw a lady pee her pants while running to the bathroom, screaming in uncontrollable spasms. I was still a young kid, but I understood clearly what had happened. My dad had just delivered a punchline.
This Wednesday I’ll be one of the finalists in Madison’s Funniest Comic competition, and when they dim the lights and the audience starts clapping I’ll be thinking about my old man. He taught me what humor was. And that day, March 9th, is his birthday. I don’t care about the result of the competition. My victory is being able to go up onstage that day. Behind a mic, miles and miles away from him, I’ll remember my life with my dad, which has been a 31-year-long burst of laughter.
I always remember my dad from ground level. I’m sitting in the living room of one of my parent’s friends, and the adults are sitting, looking up to him. My dad stands up, looking like a giant, and everyone is laughing. I’m six, and I don’t understand his grown-up jokes. My mom keeps warning him, “Marcelo, the kids are here!”, and he apologizes sincerely but forgets about it a second later when he starts the next one. And I don’t understand that one either but I’m laughing too, because laughter is contagious and collective. It does not respond to reason. But more than anything I’m happy because I’m sharing the spasms with everyone in that room.
My dad taught me that telling a joke builds community. Making people laugh is almost like social work. Laughter is fraternity. We are all one as we laugh, and making people laugh feels good because during those few seconds we are all victims of the same wild attack that comes inexplicably from the inside. Laughter is an absurd and irrational spasm, but it’s something we all share as a human experience.
That’s something I share, among other things, with my dad. When I picture him I still do through my six-year-old-sitting-in-the-floor angle. I’m looking up. He’s moving around, acting and gesturing, and we’re all laughing. We are all dying of laughter. And my dad, that gentle giant, is doing all the killing. Beyond this competition, his memory keeps me grounded, because it reminds me that there’s no contention during those moments when we all laugh together. It reminds me of my humanity and that of my audience. It reminds me of the unbreakable bond I share with him.
My dad’s memory and the laughter in that room will already be an award. Thanks for teaching me to be human, Dad! Happy birthday.