Almost two years ago, my wife signed us up as members of St. Andrew’s South Golf Club, as it occurred to her I was spending too much time sitting behind a computer or working late into the evening, and my only outlet was doing yard work. Somewhere along the way, I became my father! I wasn’t doing anything fun in my spare time. Try explaining that to someone who spends half their year bundled up during the winter months, and they’ll think you lost your mind when you live on the water and close to a host of golf courses. Sure, there are more challenging courses than St. Andrews; for years, when asked why I didn’t join, I would tease and tell them that due to the relatively flat terrain of the course, that’s where they used to host the areas Greyhound races. Now before you think, “This guy must be some golfer,” let me tell you this course has gotten the better of me in more ways than one. While St. Andrew’s South may not be hosting the U.S. Open anytime soon, this club is second to none in terms of the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made.
Golfers have their unique brand of humor. They can hit a great shot and tell you it’s just another of the many great shots they routinely make. And no one is quicker to tease you about the shot you just hit into the water or lost in the trees than the guys in your foursome. This may sound cruel to some, but that makes the sport so much fun, and the guys I play with will never miss an opportunity to celebrate your crummy shot. While there is no shortage of sarcasm, they are equally supportive of the good ones too….or at least they feign they are!
Unfortunately, that fun time on the course ended in April. I was playing in a small tournament with this cast of characters when I tore my rotator cuff, and I haven’t been able to play golf since. For anyone who has had this injury and gone through surgery and physical therapy, I can tell you it isn’t something you would put on your bucket list. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the recovery process is the sleepless nights, but there is always a silver lining with every challenge.
While the rest of the neighborhood was sound asleep, I was entertained by some shows and comedians we grew up watching. Between all the documentaries and infomercials, it was as if they were all waiting for me. There was Groucho Marx, All in the Family’s Archie Bunker, Sanford and Son’s Redd Foxx, Don Rickles, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Rodney Daingerfield, and George Carlin, to name a few. Shows and comedians I hadn’t seen in what seemed like decades not only took my mind off the discomfort I was experiencing but somehow made me realize the stark difference in the things that entertained us back then and how many of those things couldn’t be said today. How did we become so thinned-skinned that we couldn’t laugh at ourselves or gain a better understanding of life’s injustices without going into the frenzy we see today? Can we blame it all on the media?
If you have ever played a sport, you know what teasing happens between your teammates and in the locker room. The nationally-ranked high school soccer team I played on was comprised of virtually every nationality you could imagine. I was one of the few American-born kids on the team, and don’t think we didn’t make fun of each other when we could barely understand what our teammate was saying. We laughed at our differences and celebrated the things we shared in common.
We had friends who were politicians and others whose political opinions differed from ours. Maybe it was a time when we didn’t feel like doomsday was right around the corner and the president our friend supported was in the process of driving the train over a cliff. To this day, we still can discuss our differing viewpoints without the thought of a friendship being compromised. I always felt it was better to listen and learn from other people’s experiences, which made the shows I mentioned earlier so special. While most watched them for entertainment or just a laugh at the end of a long work day, I developed an even deeper appreciation of them during these overnight hours.
As diverse as these shows and comedians were, their performances were all based on some form of social commentary. While we laughed at Archie Bunker referring to his son-in-law Michael as the “Meat Head,” most would agree it was Archie with his narrow-minded personal and political views. Richard Pryor and Redd Fox had us laughing till our sides hurt, but no one painted a better picture of the injustices so many people of color endured regarding their interactions with the police. Eddie Murphy’s SNL skit Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, where he describes gentrification as “A magic trick where the white people pay money, and the black people disappear,” could never be shown on television today.
Don Rickles was an equal opportunity insulter. He made fun of every nationality and race you could imagine. If the celebrity guest or audience member wasn’t quick enough to catch on to his insult, he called them a “moron.” He always followed up with, “You know I’m kidding,” and then would roll his eyes to confirm that person was a moron. Try saying that to someone you don’t know today and see the response you get.
This leaves me with the last three, Robin Williams, George Carlin, and Rodney Daingerfield. No one was more quick-witted than Robin Williams. While we remember him for his rapid-fire one-liners, the diversity of his movies, such as The Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, and The Birdcage, often shed more light on many of the social issues we faced then. In contrast, we remember Rodney Daingerfield not only for his iconic role in Caddy Shack but as the one comedian who always made fun of his deficiencies and bad luck. His “self-deprecating” sense of humor that always ended, “I get no respect,” was refreshing in many ways and made us take ourselves a bit less seriously. Unfortunately, like Robin Williams, Daingerfield fought depression most of his life, which was another life lesson so many quietly suffer from today.
I saved George Carlin for last, as he was perhaps the best regarding social commentaries. In an article written by Helbert Enrique Asprilla, entitled “Why George Carlin Is My Dead Mentor,” he reflects on the life of the late George Carlin, who was known for his “thought-provoking, stand-up comedy, tackling topics such as politics, languages, and the human condition.” Asprilla continues by saying, “Carlin offers a wealth of knowledge and insight, challenging social norms and encouraging us to think critically about the world around us. Whether through his commentary on politics and government, his observations on the human experience, or his critiques on authority and institutions, Carlin’s comedy has much to teach us about the absurdity of the world and the importance of questioning the status quo.” In one of his routines, “Life is Worth Losing,” Carlin relates, “We’re all just temporary custodians of our bodies…we’re just passing through, and this is just a stop along the way.” Asprilla concluded, “Carlin’s perspective on the fleeting nature of life can help us appreciate and make the most of the time we have, rather than getting caught up on the trivialities and materialism of the world today.”
While many of these comedic icons have passed, the life lessons through their work live on to this day. I’m convinced comedy is not just a respite from the everyday challenges life throws at us but is the antidote we need to put life into a bit more perspective and take ourselves a bit less seriously.