In the time that my husband, Tod, and I have known each other, we dated for a year and a half, lived together, became engaged, put together a sweet wedding on a budget, had a child, bought a house, worked hard to have a second child, pulled it off with the help of science, took care of two bunny rabbits (now dead), sent the boys through preschool and, miraculously settled them into a fine public school in Los Angeles. We even made it to Hawaii once as a family. Twelve years in, life for the Modisetts was relatively calm. Which is when I started to really panic. As my sons became more self-sufficient, my husband and I finally had the time and space in our brains to see each other from across a crowded room again. The same way we had in a bar in Hollywood the night we'd met, only different. Which is what scared me. Rather than that initial shared look of seduction, our eyes appeared to have taken on a look somewhere between glazed over and quizzical. There were moments I would swear Tod was thinking, "Had we really agreed to stay together till death do us part?" Did we mean that?" Then I'd think, "People are living longer now. That could be a really long time."
Also, we had started fighting more than we had been. After one particularly gruesome exchange, I curled up on our bed, buried my head in a pillow and mumbled, "Being married is the hardest thing I've ever done." This made me laugh a little to myself remembering all the people who had said that exact sentence to me when they discovered I was a stand-up comic. "That's the hardest thing to do!" they would declare, "I could never do that." Blotting tears with my pillowcase I thought of the expression, "Dying is easy, it's comedy that's hard," and decided it must have been written by a single person. Because anyone married for a long time knows dying and comedy you can handle, it's marriage that will really kill you.
My husband and I had one more big fight, again reminding me of my time as a comic. The feeling of not having what it takes to persevere in my marriage was very similar to the one I experienced after, specifically, one awful set I'd done in New York City early on. I came up through the Los Angeles comedy clubs, and it was my first time working at the Comic Strip on the Upper East Side. Saying that California audiences are gentler than New York ones is like saying whipped cream feels better in your mouth than rocks. Pretty much from the moment I walked on stage, New York comedy goers were not buying my rather innocent material about picking sad dogs at the shelter to take home, just like the men I dated, and L.A.'s obsession with frozen yogurt. "Nice dress!" someone shouted from the back of the room, followed by a cacophony of sentences including "get off the stage," "go home," and, psychically, "go get married!" But I completed my set, because I was told that comedy sets are like marathons, and even if you walk the last 20 miles, you have to finish. Walk I did, directly from the stage, out the door, and onto First Avenue, without looking up. "I am never doing that again, that is NOT for me," I said out loud to no one. But the next morning, I went over my material, threw out the clunkers, found some new jokes specific to New York and got back on stage two nights later. I returned to the Comic Strip and this time no one booed me off the stage. I had already proven to myself I was nothing if not resilient. If I could step back up to the microphone after that kind of humiliation, certainly I could stay married another day. In fact, maybe if I took a closer look at what helped me to persevere at the other "hardest thing to do" I could find some direction and tools to help me recapture some wedded bliss. It was a bit of a reach, for sure, and only a person with comedy in her blood would consider this approach, but it certainly couldn't hurt. My sense of humor had gotten me through so much in life, including my father's slow, painful death to cancer, my own fertility challenges having my second child, and even an insanely expensive parking ticket just this morning. Why not use it to take a whack at my marriage?
I decided to revisit the basic comedy rules that I explored exhaustively in the 10 years I taught Performing Stand-Up Comedy at UCLA. (Yes it really was a class.) To me, there were obvious parallels between a good solid comedy career and a good solid marriage. After all, stand-up is an art form full of ups and downs, sometimes in the same hour, where you often learn as you go, and you don't even really hit your stride until you're at it for 10 years. Just like building a life with another human being. No disrespect to dog and cat lovers, but please, they don't talk, you don't buy a house with them, and there is little to no chance that their parents will ever move in with you.
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