THE BLOG
05/13/2014 03:44 pm ET Updated Jul 12, 2014

Cancer Comedy

I have cancer, which is not that funny. At all. Or, is it? Honesty can be funny when it's hard hitting, and hard hitting can feel necessary to get out of a funk of depression that, well, fuses in ways with political correctness. There is the wholistic doctor who asks me if I'm "new to the cancer 'journey'". I tell him right away, no. Not "no" to the question but no to the "journey", a word I now know is used more for adventure than this is for me. There is the health care professional at the infusion center beaming at me while asking how I am. I say nothing, while thinking "How the f*** do you think I feel, I am at an infusion center, right?" A minute later, one staff member is oozing compliments to her friend on her attractive hairstyling change. I think, "Now, just how f****ing sensitive is this exchange when there are eight women -- including me -- in the same waiting room wearing wigs or turbans, precisely because we have no, and I repeat no, hair at all.

When you say stuff like this, people laugh. Okay it depends on timing and location, and some things in some contexts for me are not funny. I don't laugh at genocide and I don't laugh at genuine suffering, but I do see humor both as a release and as an agent of change. Meaning I actually think that saying more stuff like this could help people to be more sensitive to people with cancer, those of us who are not radiating (bad word?) with the epiphanies of our "personal cancer journey" ("journey" being a word that doesn't go away and needs to). Being Jewish, almost anything can get a laugh, with the Holocaust a usual exception. Something like the following, a not-new joke, however gets a laugh: Two Jewish men are talking, one of whom is dying. The dying man tells his friend, "You know today I converted to Catholicism. The friend says, "You, of all people, a believer, how could you convert to another religion, and something so different, what, Catholic?" Pause, there is a pause and the pause is crucial for the timing which in this kind of humor is more important than location. The dying man answers slowly, "You know, better one of them should die than one of us."

Many of us would find this funny. But really, it's funny because it says without saying so seriously what we know: that Jews feel superior and victimized, in something of a war for most centuries in recorded history, and it's a bit of a jibe, payback.

This doesn't come out of nowhere, as humor comes from somewhere. It often blazes with the raw truth that "nice" people don't like to say out loud, for shame, for guilt, and sometimes out of real sensitivity. But there is nothing like humor for getting through bullshit, ask anyone addicted to Jon Stewart. The only thing I don't like about that is people watching one guy be funny after which they go to sleep and feel at peace with themselves for substituting action or activism, usually without taking that something seriously into the next day, with the watching of one guy be funny. Most of us have the capacity for at least some of this stuff, while I am not suggesting hundreds of thousands of comedy shows on at the same time, please.

A propos, this evening, during my attempt to help a friend and her two daughters, via Skype, get to some deeper honesty in their congested and seething relationship, one of them said she envied me. She is 18 and I'm, well, so many decades older. She envied my humor. So I was nice about it, kind of. I told her how much older I was than her, and told her for how many years I thought one of my brothers was the funny one, whereas lucky her, she can find out about her own humor this second, or soon enough. At which point her mother asked me if I thought she was funny, and let me tell you, it was a tough question. But my motto lately has been: If you think I have so much courage, you're mistaken. What you see as courage, I see as honesty and part of the reason I'm there is it's that the only way I approach any inner freedom or non-torment is through the honesty. (You have noticed, right, that telling the truth out loud is often funny because it cuts political correctness into little pieces?)

So I tell my friend I think she can be funny and she has been funny. (Let me just say, and see here I get self conscious too, to be sure) that I'm not doing regular therapy with friends, though sometimes it does seem better than the therapists we find out there. In this situation the dad left abruptly and I said I'd help them find a therapist, and this was a pre-finding a therapist, friendly potentially "session". I said that Mary ( a made up name, obviously) had a chance to be funny when her husband George (also made up, obviously) asked her why she thought he wasn't being deep enough in exploring why he left. I said she could have said, "What, do you have Alzheimer's?" at which she cackled. I said, see it's in you. It's "just" taking a risk.

So I guess courage is something I have some of, in that I take some risks. But then again, I don't do so well as a liar. Believe me I've tried.

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