Tonight at a meeting/read through of a pilot I'm reading:
Writer: When was the first time someone said you were funny?
It is the first time I have ever been asked that in my life. It left me for what seemed in my mind ..almost an eternity to remember the first person telling me that.
I have to preface all of this by stating a very simple fact growing up: I thought I was an ugly duckling in my family. The ridiculously too tall, too fat girl in a sea of beautiful shapely and small black women in my house.
Every woman in my house outside of myself was under the height of 5'7. I was convinced the women in my house could eat a meal the size of the house and *lose weight in that sitting* My hands are huge. My feet even bigger. My 8th grade graduation cap I wore was the size for a male senior in college.
I was nerdish & awkward. To the point where my mother honestly thought I had a learning disability: All the elders in my family thought I was mentally retarded. Yes. That was the term in the seventies. They thought I was retarded. Challenged was not a term back then.
Little did they realize, I was just a nerd with nothing to say until I found someone who was closer to what I was.
I was one of those kids in school where it was easy to find friends, but all of my friends were for all purposes straight out of Central Casting if they were doing a black version of Revenge of The Nerds.
In order to combat that in Elementary School to the really cool kids? I found out early that making fun of myself before anyone else could offset the idea of them doing it first and kicking my ass and stuffing me in a locker. I was a big girl who could have gone that scary big girl route and stuffed kids in a locker? But I didn't even wish to do that then and don't wish to "Hypothetically do that now".
I became the big girl who was funny. Hard to beat up someone when you are telling funny jokes about themselves. Combine that all with comedy albums of Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Redd Foxx with a combo platter of Monty Python and SNL?
I was honing being funny. Not only because I loved it, but what I believed was out of Big Girl Survival of Not Being Stuffed into a Locker.
By the time I got to High School I did what most Awkward Kids did: I found the Drama Club. It was there where I honed (from adults) what I had been doing in Elementary School to filter onstage: A comedic side to the world performed. I performed. I memorized scripts fast. I was a go to when people dropped out of things. I learned how to dance. I wanted to learn how to hang the lights. I honed the flute and violin. I ate drank and dreamed of all things theatre.
By the time I was sixteen I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to be an actor. I want to do this for the rest of my life and hang around Awkward Kids whose parents probably thought they were retarded too.
But what drew me the most was comedy. I knew I could make people laugh. With a wink. A smile. A drool approach. A silly happy dance. Making up fake words to real songs. A wacky character that I made up. Imitating other kids and teachers. Imitating myself. I knew I could always get a laugh.
Sitting tonight racking my brain for the first person to ever tell me I was funny, I realize now who that person was thought I was funny first: My mother.
I got out of whopping's (spankings for those who remember Child Martial Punishment) by being funny with my mom. The more she was laughing, the less likely she would find a belt.
I remember I was singing really loud to a song and my mom came into my room and told me to shut up as I was a horrible singer. I looked at her and she had that look of "One more off-key singing and I will beat the crap out of you" I gave her a look and smiled and quietly said:
"I'm sorry mom. I guess I just have to stick with dancing and telling jokes."
My mom laughed harder than any person I have ever heard laugh at that moment in my life that was not on a Mork and Mindy Laugh Track. Her face turned soft after laughing. Then, she hugged me.
"Aw. Look at my really funny retarded little girl" I now see in her face in retrospect.
There have been a lot of people who have told me I was a funny woman decades after this. Expressed in the words "Damn, you are really funny". But, I think the first person who told me I was funny was my mother.
Without ever expressing those words. Just in a big laugh and a warm hug...hoping to god her child was a quiet shy comedienne than someone who she and everyone thought was an oversized mentally retarded child.
Sometimes you don't need to hear the words "You are funny" somethimes you just know someone thinks you are funny with a hearty laugh and a warm hug.
Causes Shaun Landry Supports
The Alzheimer's Foundation, NAACP, Breast Cancer Foundation, Gilda's Club.