I am a tough audience. Most things people find funny, I don’t. I don’t laugh out loud. When something is funny to me, it’s more an internal implosion, like an orgasm.
Among my fondest memories of Michael is our shared sense of humor, a thing so powerful that much of our time together I spent (as the computer generation says) LMAO. Even today, unmarried as we are for a decade, Michael and I share an almost uncanny ability to crack each other up.
To say what we find funny is hard to pin down. Mostly it’s “observational humor,” which is a fancy way to say that other people’s behavior is tinder for a laughing bonfire.
At Yale, we shared an apartment with two roommates who embraced the whole hippie thing. They would float around in dashikis and love beads chanting OMMM and stopping every five feet to light incense in front of photos of the Maharishi. We watched quietly; then, in our bedroom with the door shut, we fell apart.
When we were not laughing at other people, we laughed at ourselves, at our quirks and shortcomings and some of the downright stupid things we did. We got a chuckle out of the time I called into my job selling fountain pens to tell my boss I would not be able to work that day because “Michael had fallen off his desk.” It was a spontaneous lie. Explaining why Michael was standing on a desk in the first place never occurred to me.
In the prime of our career, we were bombarded with opportunities to launch into hysteria, and I do mean hysteria. Our shared chuckles and chortles sometimes turned into uncontrollable eruptions – often in public places, and all too often, impossible to quash.
Here is an example. We were in the green room of CBS TV in New York, where we did a weekly segment about Roadfood. Michael preferred me to do his makeup rather than use the network’s makeup professional on duty. It had something to do with pathogen-laden brushes and sponges applied to all the guests. We had 10 minutes to airtime and I quickly fished out the makeup kit I had brought with me. Small problem: I had only brought my own makeup. I had left Michael’s at home.
I am much fairer then Michael. I use the lightest shade of foundation available. But, undeterred, I swiped my makeup all over Michael’s face and we trotted onto the set. I looked at Michael under the high-intensity studio lights. He looked like Grandpa Munster or a zombie that had just crawled out of a grave. His face was as white as a mime. He had not checked himself before we went on air and had no idea what he looked like, so, on set, he happily chatted with the CBS This Morning host.
I said not a word. I was transfixed staring at him and his pantomime face. I felt the laughter roiling inside me, but like it was a cough or a fart, I refused to let it out. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, rocking back and forth getting redder and redder … which only made Michael look whiter. It is said that comedy is tragedy plus time. Watching the segment sent Michael into a fury, but as the years have passed, every time we recall it we both double over with laughter.
Our daily life was also fraught with opportunities. I once gave Michael an impromptu haircut at the barn where we stabled our horses. I could not find the scissors so I used the electric horse clippers which I accidentally dropped on his head. They skidded along his skull, leaving a perfect two-inch landing strip: a reverse Mohawk.
We made repeated trips to local stores not because we needed to buy anything, but because we were enthralled by the salespeople, whose verbal quirks became jokes that made us laugh for decades after. One, striving for extreme politeness, started every sentence with, “If I may.” Another was fond of constantly telling us about “The rule of thumb,” no matter what it was we asked her. Then there was the appliance salesman we asked if we should clean the ice maker in our new refrigerator. He scolded, “Not Should, MUST! ” It’s an expression we have used ever since. I won’t even get into the car salesman who inexplicably tried to cover his baldness by finding someone else’s hair, chopping it very fine and gluing it onto his head.
And I cannot forget the countless radio hosts who called us “Jean and Mitchell” “Joyce and Martin” or “Jan and Mickey,” or assumed we were brother and sister. They loved our “novel” Roadfood, asked if we had been inspired by Guy Fieri, wanted our rates for catering their office party, asked if we would like to see a porn video they were in, and queried why I was fat and Michael skinny.
A short time ago we were filming a TV segment at a studio near my home in Connecticut. The producer of the show could not stop bragging about the lobster rolls he was going to have sent into the studio for lunch. When the ballyhooed lobster rolls appeared, I took a big bite and looked at Michael, who was desperately trying to swallow the slimy seafood on a bun. We both smiled at the producer and tried to mouth the word “yummy.” Suddenly I felt the vibration of my cell phone. I clicked it on and there was a text from Michael who was sitting a foot away from me. “Is this not the worst thing you ever tasted?” I excused myself and went to the ladies room where I could laugh to my heart’s content.