36. Funny stuff

Old guy goes into a bar. He sidles up to a much younger woman and sits down. “So tell me,” he says in his most charming tone, “do I come here often?”

I heard that at a party recently and decided it should be a permanent part of this blog. So I’ve changed the signature opening at the top of the page, the part that begins “Old guy goes into a bar…”

The punch line – Do I come here often? – evoked in me a hearty laugh. At first.

It’s a classic example of how we use funny stuff to desensitize uncomfortable topics. For topics relating to social, psychological, political and medical issues we’re uncomfortable thinking about, much less talking about, we frequently joke about.

In the 1960s some black comedians helped bring the uncomfortable topic of racism into public discourse by telling stories and using words that had not been shared before in racially-mixed audiences. Dick Gregory, who came from the St. Louis neighborhood where I taught high school English for nine years, was a pioneer in this genre.

In his no-holds-barred comedy routines around the country, and in his writings – including his 1964 autobiography, the title of which I’m not comfortable writing in this blog – Gregory gave his white and black audiences the opportunity to laugh at, think about, and eventually begin to deal with issues that were ultimately not funny at all.

Hearing them in a comedy club, or reading them in a black classroom taught by a white teacher, they were shocking-at-first stories that led to ground-breaking conversations about race.

Death is another topic we joke about.

Death was not so uncomfortable when we were young. When we were 30, death didn’t exist. It only became an issue as we grew into our 70s and 80s. It became the silent elephant, lurking and growing in the back of our mind.

So we find ways to laugh it off. There are countless ba-da-bum one-liners that give us the opportunity to laugh nervously at our eventual demise. For example…

I saw an ad for burial plots recently, and I thought, That’s the last thing I need.

Art Buchwald, while in hospice: Dying is easy; parking is impossible.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Then there’s the cynically confident mortician who signed all his business correspondence, “Eventually yours,”

So it is that humor helps us deal with stuff. Funny stuff helps us deal with heavy stuff that we don’t easily chat about over dinner or bridge.

Dementia is another one of those scary topics. When I heard the line that opened this blog, it made me laugh. It got my attention. After all, what’s funnier than Alzheimer’s, right?

As I was pondering this column, I went online to find other silly, nervous jokes about memory loss. Interestingly enough, I had a tough time finding many. Maybe we’re not ready to laugh at such a scary, threatening phenomenon yet. Or maybe we just forget them once we hear them.

But I did find a few I’d never heard before, and I’m happy to share them here.

Doctor: I’m sorry to say you have both cancer and Alzheimer’s.                                                                    Patient: My god, that’s terrible, Doc. But at least I don’t have cancer.

Question: How many Alzheimer’s patients does it take to unscrew a light bulb?  Answer: To get to the other side.                                                                   

Old guy goes into a bar. He sidles up to a much younger woman and sits down. “So tell me,” he says in his most charming tone, “do I come here often?”

That last one sounds familiar.

11 thoughts on “36. Funny stuff

  1. I love you, Mitchener. Do I know you?

    My next Dr’s appt is about Memory. My last Dr, whom I left behind in DC, when I asked her would give me a little ‘mental acuity’ test in her office and declare me ‘very in range.’ But gosh darn, names are getting harder as are the recall of some words. Conversations with friends are sometimes like playing charades, which I guess is cool. We’re just having fun as we age.

    I hope this new ‘feeling of losing a little more’ is still in range. I’ll be 75 before ya.

    Hugs and love as always, Suzie Schaefer Baum

  2. When Dad first started having hand tremors he went to his doctor who sent him to the best neurologist in the Midwest. The doctor took some family history then took Mom and Dad to the corridor. The doctor said, “Sir, walk down that hallway”. My mother asked where he was sending my father. The doctor replied, “if he comes back, he has Parkinson’s; if he doesn’t he has Alzheimer’s “. Of course Dad did return and was correctly diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Initially I was appalled for my parents but later I became appreciative. Humor is the only way to look at the indignity of Parkinson’s evolution.

    1. When Dad moved to a new Memory Care unit, Maureen and I attended the medical director’s presentation on the brain research he was doing through IU. He encouraged family members to consider donating their loved one’s brain for research. He shared the fact that he had been convinced his own father had Alzheimer’s, but upon autopsy discovered he had had a series of mini-strokes. After the presentation, we asked Dad how he felt about donating his brain to research after he died. He sat there a minute, then shrugged and said, “Well, that would be okay. They can go ahead and take it now if they want. I’m not getting much use out of it anymore.”
      When I sent my spit to “23 and Me” for analysis, I requested a medical evaluation as well. I wanted to know what lay ahead. My results indicated I was at a slight risk of early onset Alzheimer’s. I was 62 at the time. I shared the results with my doc, who soundly scolded me for requesting them. I told her I was having trouble remembering names and she said, “Who doesn’t? It would have hit you before now. Quit borrowing trouble.”
      Thanks for your humorous take on the topic. Let me know if I’ve told this story before.

  3. Hey Larry, Generally in Alzheimer’s it is the recent memory that says good bye first. So the patient would have said ” That’s terrible Doc, I have cancer.” Not funny anymore. So change the sequence of cancer and Alzheimer’s. Just to avoid comments from picky picky senile people like me.

    1. But it’s the picky, senile people like you that I’m writing this for, Pradeep. Especially the picky, senile doctors who can try to apply medical logic to my posts.

  4. Thanks Larry,
    I think your stories are great. The good news is you could retell it in two weeks and I would think it’s new.

  5. Larry – I have a “new joke” I’ve been telling and was enthused about repeating it here. Of course I had to ask Chris – what’s my new joke I’ve been telling?? For real.

    Here it is, after that build up: A priest, a rabbit and a minister walk into a bar. The rabbit says, “I may be a typo.”

    Thanks for your post. You are one of my favorites. 👍
    -TDH

  6. Not apropos of fading memory, I have been repeating a couple of things I have found amusing – harvested from a Readers Digest (no kidding – I subscribed for a year a couple of years ago – for old times sake. ) Here is the first, “I’d like to think the guy who invented the umbrella was going to call it a brella, but hesitated.. 😏

    “What if soy milk was regular milk introducing itself in Spainsh?”

    And on a card I found (and sent) the other day, a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself . Everyone else is already taken.”

    My mom would have said, “Some people are easily entertained.” That quote comes in handy too…

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