When I was a kid we spent more time with my Mom’s family than with my Dad’s, but we still spent lots of holidays with my Dad’s family.
My Dad is the oldest of four siblings. The youngest, his brother, is only 10 years older than me. I remember my uncle and his sisters when they were teenagers.
The thing about the family was that everyone was constantly joking and laughing. I loved this.
I wanted to join in, so I did, from an early age. And sometimes I even got laughs! But most of the time I didn’t.
One day my uncle — who must have been about 20 then — gave me some advice about it. He said, “Hey, you don’t have to say everything you think of. Just the ones that are actually funny.”
Okay, I thought, so now it wasn’t enough to be fast enough to think of something that might be funny — I had to also evaluate it for likeliness? All in the space between sentences? And make it seem natural? Who can think that fast?
I think what he was doing was trying to get me to be less annoying. But I took it as earnest advice. And, well, I remember thinking, after a while, that it worked.
* * *
My uncle, Peter Simmons, became an actor and writer. He lives these days in Minneapolis, and he surely remembers none of this conversation.
* * *
My uncle had a dog named Whisky who was born the same spring when I was born. I called him Uncle Whisky, and I believed, until I was about 10, that of course dogs can be uncles too. Perfectly natural.
* * *
Whisky — sometimes called Wick for short — enjoyed hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon. There was always chips and that sour cream and onion dip. When you picked up a bad chip, you gave it to the dog. Those were called Wicker Chips.
To this day when I get a bad chip I mentally set it aside for Whisky, who was a good dog and a great uncle.
* * *
I’m a terrible introvert. The other introverts around me seem extremely outgoing. I marvel at them.
But I had this weird family training, and so I can, for instance, go around a room at a conference with a microphone and talk to every single person, put them at ease, quickly think of things to say, make it seem natural — and even be a little funny.
Not only that — I enjoy it!
And I can do a podcast. And I can point to the latest episode with Aaron Cherof as one of the better episodes. I suspect Aaron may have had a family kind of like mine.