Happy Birthday.

Everybody sing!

Falling With Style.

The swimming pool had two diving boards over the deep end. There was the low diving board that hung about three feet above the water. The only difference between jumping from the low diving board and jumping from the edge of the pool was that the low diving board put you a little farther out over the water. And it was kind of springy so you could bounce at the end of the board and it would propel you upward slightly. I liked to jump from the low board into the deep end and swim all the way to the bottom, twelve feet down, and look up. The watery surface overhead was like a shimmering screen, and the sun was like a sapphire. Then I’d have to come up. Or, on slow days when the pool wasn’t crowded, I could jump off the low board and swim all the way across the pool without surfacing. The first time I did that it was exhilarating. I felt like I’d really accomplished something, and what I accomplished was nearly hyperventilating at the edge of the pool because I was breathing so hard, which reminds me of the time I was at my grandparents’ house and my grandmother picked up the phone. She listened for a moment then said to my grandfather, “All I hear is heavy breathing.” My grandfather grabbed the phone and began sternly lecturing the person at the other end about decorum. Then he got quiet and listened and said to my grandmother, “Jim’s car broke down and he just pushed it two miles uphill to the service station.”

Anyway the high diving board, twelve feet high if I remember correctly although it seemed like it loomed a hundred feet overhead. It might as well have been that high. I wasn’t going up there. Well, I did. After all it was there, a mountain to be climbed, or rather a ladder to be climbed and jumped off of. I told myself that I was interested in swimming, not airing, and that if I really wanted to drop twelve feet I could by going from the surface of the pool to the bottom. It drew me, though. I had mastered everything else at the pool—not that there was much to master. After swimming from one end of the pool to the other without taking a breath about the only other thing that was left was talking the guy who ran the concession stand into letting me have a full cup of orange soda without ice so I got more orange soda and spent about half an hour sitting in a beach chair feeling bloated and miserable, but that’s another story.

The same summer I made the first swim from one end of the pool to the other I made up my mind I was going to jump from the high dive. The worst that could happen, I figured, was that I’d fall in the water.

It was about that time, on a slow, hot afternoon when there was hardly anyone around, when even the lifeguard was barely paying attention, that another kid walked out to the end of the high dive, bounced a couple of times, lost his balance, and fell sideways. He landed flat on his back on the concrete below. I didn’t see it happen. I just saw him stretched out as though sleeping, and the emergency team with the stretcher that took him away. He survived, and word got around that he recovered, but he never came back to the pool.

Later that summer, on a busy day when the pool was crowded, I got in line with all the other swimmers who were going off the high dive. I climbed the ladder, walked onto the board, and gripped the handrails. The handrails ended about halfway. Beyond them was just the board and open air. I stood up there holding the handrails for what seemed like an hour, then climbed back down. No one laughed or made fun of me. The next person in line, an older guy, just nodded at me, climbed the ladder, and did a spectacular dive off the board.

The next summer I watched a couple of my friends go off the high dive. Sometimes we’d do synchronized jumps, me going off the low dive and, of course, hitting the water much sooner, or I’d wait and try to time it so we’d hit the water at the same time. And finally one day I decided I was going to do it. I climbed the ladder. I gripped the handrails as I walked out toward the end of the board, then let go. I didn’t bounce and I walked slowly, and when I got to the end of the board I jumped, feet first. It wasn’t an impressive dive, or even a dive really, but I plunged into the water. That was all I wanted—to make that leap.

Twenty-six years ago, on June 27th, 1993 I married my wife. It wasn’t as frightening, probably because the justice of the peace who performed the ceremony looked so much like John Cleese that my only regret is that when he read the vows I didn’t say, “What was the thing in the middle?” It was really her by my side that assured me, though, and every day I look forward to a new leap.

Preacher Woman.

Source: Wikipedia

If, like me, you started watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? in its original run as a British program, which, on this side of the pond, ran on a fledgling comedy network that wasn’t up to making shows of its own yet, but that’s another story, you probably remember Sandi Toksvig, whose birthday is today. At least you should because she was brilliant. I remember that when the group improvised a gospel song she didn’t sing. She got down and preached, and not just to the choir.
Since then she’s taken over as host of QI, because she has that special gravitas that makes you feel like your IQ is going up just listening to her, was the host of The News Quiz and 1001 Things You Should Know, founded the Women’s Equality Party, co-hosts The Great British Bake Off, has written a slew of books for children and adults, and gave an amazing TED Talk, all of which makes me wonder where she finds the time, but of course she makes it look easy because she’s brilliant.
Preach on, Sandi Toksvig, preach on.

 

Great Expectations.

If I said “British comedian” without any other information what would your expectations be? If I added that he was born in Lancashire what would your expectations be? When I first heard Tez Ilyas, whose birthday is today, on a radio program where the host introduced him as one of her favorite comics I really only expected him to be funny, but I also thought his background—he’s of Pakistani descent–might be part of his comedy. And it is, and it’s really funny.

 

Everybody’s Comedian.

Source: YouTube

There were a lot of funny people on Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. I was already familiar with some while the show introduced me to others who were so funny I couldn’t wait to tell  jokes the next day at work until my boss would have to interrupt and ask about the earnings reports, but that’s another story. One of those wonderful discoveries was Ron Lynch, whose birthday is today. And my boss was glad that repeating a Ron Lynch joke is nearly impossible, unless, of course, you’re Ron Lynch. Years later I was lucky enough to start reading Ann Koplow’s blog, and while she’s even luckier to have worked with Lynch I feel lucky to have learned more about him through her.

I’m going to use a term I’m not all that fond of, but bear with me. Normally when someone is described as a “comedians’ comedian”—or a “musicians’ musician” or, well, you can fill in the profession, especially if the profession is mason—it’s a backhanded compliment that means someone so brilliant at what they do their work is only truly appreciated by other professionals. Sometimes it’s really an insult, both to the performer who’s being subtly criticized for not being “accessible” and to regular audiences who are faulted for not getting it.

Some people might call Ron Lynch a “comedians’ comedian” because of the way he plays around, interrupts himself, and breaks down a joke—and, for that matter, because he frequently doesn’t rely on the traditional setup : punchline, but Ron Lynch is like a magician who shows you how a trick is done and still manages to dazzle you with it. Or, to put it another way, fool me once, that’s hilarious, Ron Lynch, fool me twice, you did it again, Ron Lynch, fool me three times, it could only be Ron Lynch.

Little Things Get Big.

Source: Village Voice

Sometimes all it takes is one little thing. Back in 2012 comedian Josh Gondelman, whose birthday is today, co-created the Twitter account @SeinfeldToday which has spawned dozens of imitators. This is not to say that he stopped there, of course. He performs regularly. One of his life performances was featured on the Bullseye With Jesse Thorn podcast as part of the End of Year 2017 Comedy Special. He has a story about how he had what may be the most memorable wedding reception ever, and that’s all I’m gonna say.
And these are only steps in a career that’s been steadily rising. He’s had articles published in McSweeney’s and other publications,  and since 2014 he’s been a writer for John Oliver Tonight.
Yeah, I guess now that I think about it that’s a lot of little things adding up to a lot.

Rocket Man.

Many years ago when I was in Britain I fell in love. And how could I not? Snooker is unbelievably complicated but also elegant and fun and I was absolutely smitten from the first moment I picked up a cue and potted a red ball. Granted I was, and still am, not very good at it, although there was a professor who fancied himself a bit of a snooker shark and liked to put other players in what he thought were impossible situations. And somehow I could always find my way out and he’d grudgingly say, “Nice shot,” but that’s another story.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, whose birthday is today, is an amazing snooker player, staggering to watch.  Here is twenty years, and in record time, earning him the nickname “The Rocket”. If you’re unfamiliar here’s how it works: the game starts with fifteen red balls, worth one point each, and six balls of other colors—yellow (2 points), green (3 points), brown (4 points), blue (5 points), pink (6 points), and black (7 points)—on the table. A player must pocket a red ball first for one point and then can pocket a ball of any other color for the corresponding points. The red balls stay pocketed but the other balls are replaced until the red balls are gone. Then the player must pocket the other balls in order. If one player accidentally sinks the wrong ball the other player gets the points and the turn.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is the master of the nice shot.

Sophie’s Stuff.

Source: Wikipedia

Comedy is often a way of crossing social boundaries which is why it fascinates me when comedians leave their home countries to do comedy in a completely different environment—and sometimes in a completely different language, which can require facing a steep learning curve. Sophie Hagen, whose birthday is today, left Denmark to do comedy in Britain and in English, and has succeeded brilliantly, challenging social conventions about body image. She co-created the funny and thought provoking podcast The Guilty Feminist and was a co-host for a long time. Before that she created the also funny—and sometimes thought-provoking Comedians Telling Stuff podcast. It’s interesting because the comedians she talks to sometimes share funny stories and sometimes they share personal stories which may be funny or may be a little sad, or a little of both. Hagen herself also did funny introductions to each podcast in which she sometimes talked about recording in her room under a blanket, and also shared some of her own funny, sometimes even embarrassing, stories. For instance there was the time she was making out with a fellow comedian and confessed to him that she was dating another comedian at the time. He asked, “Is he bigger than me?” She reached into his pants and said, “No,” then realized that’s not what he meant.

There’s also a steep learning curve for understanding the culture of comedians.

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