Jokes that Matter — A Belle Lettre by Wally Wallins

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Photo by Juan Arteaga on Wikimedia Commons

“So, what’s the problem with women who are nice?” I asked her. I sat on the tangerine-orange couch. I just got finished with my act at Joe Dirt’s Comedy Club and I sometimes stopped by on my way home — something I tended to do when Pearl’s husband was out of town.

“It’s a big problem,” Pearl said. She liked to read about the problems with our culture, and the problem that most concerned her that day was the socialization of civility.

“Hmm,” I said. I was distracted by Pearl’s three year old daughter, Ginger, who was putting red nail polish on the side of the couch. “So, why shouldn’t women be nice?” I asked again.

Pearl walked into the small living room and handed me the tea in a chipped “Kiss the Cook!” mug. “I told you,” Pearl answered. She ignored Ginger and sat down on the couch beside me.

“The book points out that women are taught from early on to be nice,” she said, “I mean, I was taught that from my mother. We remember those sorts of comments people make, and treat them like maxims when we grow up. That’s why I am so careful what I tell Ginger. I think it is better to say nothing than to possibly scar children for life.” Ginger proceeded to put red nail polish on the rust colored carpet.

“Hmm,” I said, taking a sip of the tea. Chamomile. I desperately wanted to put some whiskey in it, but Pearl didn’t like me to drink around Ginger.

Pearl shook her head, “You don’t understand. You get on the stage every night and tell mean jokes. But women — man, we can’t get a break.”

Pearl was right, I didn’t understand. Why care about being nice?

I said, “You never say anything except nice things.”

“See. I’ve been socialized that way. It’s a big problem,” Pearl said. I looked at her red lips and wonder if Ginger will go to bed soon.

​”Isn’t it past Ginger’s bedtime?” I hinted. Some nights Pearl sends her to bed when I say that. Not tonight.

“Ginger, you want to go to bed?” Pearl asked. My hope of getting laid was gone. Ginger ignored her mother, and started to paint the gray metal coffee table with the red nail polish. I had an urge to tell Ginger to stop, but I kept my mouth shut. Even if I couldn’t sleep with Pearl that night, I didn’t want to burn any bridges. She insisted I never say “Stop” or “Don’t” to Ginger.

Pearl read about “non-coercion” and the benefits in child rearing, and every time I babysat for Pearl, I struggle to direct Ginger positively. “Markers are for coloring on the page, not for walls,” I will try to say, and then kick myself for saying, “Not.” I will then try to rephrase myself, “Markers are for coloring on the page.” Of course, Ginger will just stare at me for a second and then will continue coloring on the wall. Sometimes she turns her attention to me and I leave with red and green ink spots on my clothes.

​That’s how I met Pearl in the first place — babysitting. I babysat during the day and at night I pursued my career as a comedian. I got on stage night after night and tried to make parents like Pearl laugh. Then, I would go over to one of their houses and try to give them a break.

​Of course, with Pearl, there was little bit more sometimes, but it didn’t look like this was going to happen that night. I left promising to come over the next day to take care of Ginger.

Pearl went shopping when I would take care of Ginger. She bought cleaning supplies and then stored them in a cabinet in her kitchen. She was always on the lookout for some new cleaning product, like a microwave-able wet wipe that would magically absorb the dirt in her house. She spent more money on these domestic inventions than I do on clothes.

​Other than Pearl, I went over to Donna’s house, and Felicia’s, and they introduced me to Mark and Joe, who have twin adopted two year olds. I hand out cards at my shows that say, “Wally Wallins, comedian and child-care worker.” They laugh at my shows, and buy lots of drinks, and then go home and the next day when they are sober, they call me to come by.

After I sleep until noon the next day, after getting home at three in the morning from Pearl’s house, I check my voicemail. A message from Pearl. “Wally — you don’t need to come by. Rick came back early and can take care of Ginger.” Rick’s Pearl’s trucker husband, and this means not only will I not get cash from babysitting, but I won’t get laid that night either. Luckily, Joe calls me up an hour later, while I eating a hot dog and watching Jerry Springer, and asks me to come over to take care of the twins.

Mark and Joe pay well, and don’t mind telling their children no, so I like babysitting for them. Of course, I would much rather have some extra loving from Pearl that night, but you can’t have everything.

When I get to Mark and Joe’s, they are sitting at their glass dining room table and making birthday invitations. Sue and Lynn sat on the floor trying to help, tearing scraps of pink and green construction paper.

They all smile when I come in after opening the door to their townhouse they never locked. I thought of my own apartment, where I had two stereos and one television stolen in the last six months.

​“Hey, Wally! Great show last week!” Mark said. Mark always seemed to be yelling, his stockbroker voice set at a high volume from his old career on the New York Stock Exchange.

​“Thanks,” I said. “You’re having a birthday party?” If I couldn’t tell from the invitations scattered all over the table, I could tell by the plethora of pink balloons in the corner of the room beside the giant plastic clown. At least, I assumed it was a clown, even though it was wearing a velvet green suit more suitable for a pimp daddy.

​“Yep,” Mark said. He was kinder than I would be, not pointing out the obviousness of my question. But I’m just a mean old clown. Joe said, “We were wondering if you did children’s parties!”

​“I don’t know. I’ve never done one,” I said. “I don’t think my jokes would go over too good. I don’t really know any kid jokes.”

​“Well, try one out on us,” Mark said. Joe added, “The kids wouldn’t care! You could just tell us some jokes and the parents at the party would get a big kick out of it!”

​I struggled to think of one and then finally said:

A little boy asked his father, “Daddy, how much does it cost to get married?” And the father replied, “I don’t know, son, I’m still paying.”

Both Mark and Joe laughed like crazy. You could probably hear Joe laugh two streets away. Sue and Lynn stopped tearing the pink and green paper and started to giggle. I didn’t fully understand why Mark and Joe thought the joke was so funny, but I had long ago stopped asking the question “why” when jokes seemed to work.

​Mark said, “Great joke!”

Joe pointed to Sue and Lynn, who were still giggling. “See, the kids just laugh when we do!” Joe said, “Of course, they think poop jokes are funny! Throw in a few of those, and you would be great!”

​I was skeptical. “I’ll think about it,” I said.

After I babysat for Mark and Joe, and then went to do my nightly gig at the comedy club, I went to bed. I tried to think about Pearl. But the conversation with Mark and Joe kept interrupting my fantasies.

Usually, when I babysat, I just have to watch the kids, maybe rack my brain to figure out how to tell them to do something without any negativity, and that’s usually good enough for me. Of course, I could use the money — Mark and Joe had offered two hundred dollars for an hour at a birthday party.

​I was still thinking about this offer when I get on stage the next night. There were lots of married couples in the audience, and I felt happy. I always got my best babysitting gigs when I made fun of the married couples. I wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe they liked the idea of an unmarried man who took care of their kids and saw the humorous side of their own life-style choices.

I said, “When a man opens the door of his car for his wife, you can be sure of one thing: either the car is new or the wife is.”

The wives laughed harder than the men! My political jokes made them stare at me. But when I made fun of the women and the men’s relationships with them, tears ran down their faces.

The next few days were booked. It seemed that I had more bookings taking care of kids than I did at the comedy club. Mark and Joe’s proposition kept coming back into my mind. They said I didn’t need to make the children laugh, but I wasn’t so sure about this. So, I decided to try my jokes on the children. I told myself that it is just for fun and to practice my routine.

So, I waited until Mark and Joe left for their party. After I got the twins in their Little Mermaid pajamas and made sure their teeth were brushed, I acted like I was going to tell them a bedtime story. I sat in the toddler sized plastic chair beside their My Little Pony bed and pulled their Care Bear covers up over them.

I said, “A 70-year-old man went to the doctor’s for a physical. The doctor ran some tests and said to the man, ‘Well, everything seems to be in top condition physically, but what about mentally? How is your connection with God?’”

I paused for dramatic effect. I realized pretty quickly that toddlers don’t respect those sorts of silences when Lynn said, “God brought me to the doctor.”

This strange tidbit slowed me down, but I kept going. I was determined to get this joke out. I said, “And the man answered, ‘Oh me and God? We have a really tight bond; he’s so good to me. Every night when I have to get up to go to the bathroom, he turns on the light for me, and then, when I leave, he turns it back off.’”

​I was not planning to pause here, but Sue jumped in and said, “I like going to the doctor.”

​I kept going, “The doctor was astonished. He called the man’s wife and said, ‘I’d like to speak to you about your husband’s connection with God. He claims that every night when he needs to use the restroom, God turns on the light for him and turns it off for him again when he leaves. Is this true?’”

​Lynn piped up again, “I don’t like the dark.” I went ahead and took the dramatic break. I felt like I was coming up for air while swimming in the middle of the ocean, and said, “And the wife said, ‘That idiot, he’s been peeing in the refrigerator!’”

​Sue and Lynn burst out giggling. Sue said, “He peed!”

Hmm, I thought. Maybe, Mark and Joe weren’t all wrong. I was ready to report my success to them when they got back home.

​The next day, I got a call from Pearl. “I heard that you are thinking of doing children’s parties.”

​“Yeah,” I said warily. Pearl had such definite child-rearing ideas. I was afraid she was going to disapprove of my plan.

​“That’s so great!” she said, “You can do Ginger’s party later this year.”

When I got off the phone, I wondered if I would have to meet trucker Rick at this future party. I hoped not, afraid it might ruin things between Pearl and I. I put this worry out of my mind and tried to concentrate on the twin’s birthday party the next day. At this point, I had only done one joke, one time, in front of two kids. I had been doing gigs, honing my act, for over ten years at the comedy clubs. The possibility of failing, of being stared at by a gaggle of toddlers, intimidated me.

The party itself was overwhelming to me and I could only imagine the effect it had on ten toddlers more used to Montessori toys and healthy food choices than double-decker chocolate cream cupcakes and neon lights at Chuck E. Cheese. But this was to be the highlight of these chino wearing and suntanned parents’ week — unadulterated fun that would not have to be taken home with the children at the end of the party.

My entrance was to come after the Chuck E. Cheese mouse’s break dancing, but as fate would have it, this would not happen. The children followed this large mouse (his electronic clone in the background fastened to a stage) around the room, trying to copy his every move. Mark urged me, seeing an opportunity, which I could not decline because, after, all he was paying me more an hour than I had ever gotten in my life.

​“It would be funny if you copied him, too! Wally! Go — “ and he pushed me forward with the force that only a parent who had too much chocolate himself could manage.

So, I found myself following behind this costumed teenager, who had ligaments and tendons much more flexible than my own fifty year old joints could possibly imitate.

Imagine: my plaid button-down lumberjack jacket thrown to the floor in magnificent fury as I revealed my all black standard comic wear. I looked like Richard Lewis on acid, was all I could presume, flailing my body in tune to “We got the beat!”

​The children stopped their following the pied — Chuck E. Cheese — piper routine and stared. I noticed that some had their mouths wide open, pieces of cheap pizza dribbling out of their mouths in what I could only understand as shock. But I was wrong — the source was delight. Their mouths closed and they began to laugh, so raucously that I wondered why I had been seeking such pale substitutes in the form of responses from their semi-drunken parents.

​I felt compelled and sensed I was channeling Robin Williams — all from this outburst of laughter. This was not my kind of humor, mind you. Physical pratfalls seemed ludicrous onstage at the comedy clubs to the point that the most physical movements I ever made was to sip my handy alcoholic beverage.

This went on for over thirty minutes, the tunes changing from the loud speakers hanging from the flashing neon lights above. But my flailing continued. If Chuck E. Cheese’s frozen furry face could have had some expression, I am sure it would have been of irritation due to my upstaging him. Finally, I could not last any longer. I collapsed to the floor, my poor heart no longer maintaining any more physical activity in such a short time frame — more than I probably had ever had in my whole life.

​I was balled up on the floor with children pummeling me in laughter, Sue and Lynn yelling, “We love you Uncle Wally!” directly into both of my ears. I think seeing me on the floor began to worry Mark and Joe and so they pulled each of the laughing — albeit somewhat hysterically now — children. Before I could ask for Mark and Joe to call 911 or at least give me a stout shot of Scotch, Pearl was helping me off of the floor.

​“That was so great, Wally!” Pearl said. She handed me a glass of water and helped me to a sticky vinyl chair. “You will have to do Ginger’s party!”

​This was fine, I thought, watching Chuck E. Cheese corral the gaggle of kids for a group picture. Perhaps I could use my material that I had prepared — next time.

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