I have here an email from a woman named Ellen, in Elko, Nevada, who writes:
“Your writing used to be very funny, but in the last few months it seems more reflective and almost sad. Sean, I have come to depend on your stuff to make me laugh, but lately you haven’t been doing your job! LOL! I’m just wondering if you’ll ever go back to being funny again!”
Ellen, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s been tough finding humor in daily life since the pandemic hit. I hope I haven’t been too much of a buzzkill for you, I’m sorry if I have.
Humor is just one of those things that feels “off” when used at the wrong time. I’ve found that sometimes gags which are hysterical one day, can feel very impolite under the wrong circumstances.
Case in point: Once I was building a shed. My wife was my construction assistant. My wife and I have always had a running joke between us where I “goose” her when she’s not looking.
Goosing is of course pinching someone’s hindquarters. This is not to be confused with “Christmas goosing,” which is sneaking up behind your cousin and pulling down his pants in public. Both are classic moves.
So one day my wife and I were building this shed, pounding nails with hammers. All of a sudden, my wife gets silent and turns her back to me.
I’m thinking she’s taking a break, maybe catching her breath. But little do I know that she has just smacked her thumb with a hammer and is crying silently, grasping her swollen thumbnail, which is now about the size of a grapefruit.
That’s when I sneak up behind her and goose her.
What happened next would live in local folklore for years to come, and is still talked about in many circles. I will leave out the violent details involving how she injured me, and I’ll simply warn you to never goose a woman who wields a hammer.
So we can see here that humor is not always funny. In fact, poorly timed jokes are the opposite of funny and are responsible for blunt force traumatic injuries.
And that’s how things have felt during this epidemic. It’s been difficult finding things to chuckle at when everyone’s proverbial thumbs have been hit with a hammer.
A few days ago, I actually sat down to write something lighthearted. I was going to write about Floridian yellow flies, which are always good for a laugh. Anyone who has ever spent any time in West Florida knows that our yellow flies are big enough to qualify for GEICO auto insurance.
No sooner had I written two paragraphs than I received a call from a friend. My friend was telling me all the updates on Florida’s COVID-19 front.
My pal explained how for the last few days Florida has been reporting record highs of coronavirus cases. And it’s expected to get worse over the next few weeks. Then he told me that the mother of a mutual friend had died.
Immediately I felt horrible for writing humorously about Florida when so many people are getting sick. Thus, I abandoned my casual tone and changed the main thrust of my column.
But by then it was too late. I had sort of lost my inspiration altogether. After a few hours of editing, I just tossed it into the trash.
I guess what I’m saying is: I have no idea what I’m doing right now. Most days, I’m not even sure whether I’m fully awake.
All I know is that this has been the weirdest four months of my life, and I don’t think it’s going to be over any time soon. I wish there were something I could do, but I’m in the same boat everyone else is in. I have not changed out of my pajamas more than twice within the last 90 days.
When the pandemic hit, my wife and I were on a mini tour, doing my one-man show in different towns each night. When the tour was cancelled, it only took a few minutes to start packing and head for home. Then life went into suspension mode.
I remember that car trip back to Florida. I was thinking to myself, “Okay, Sean, this is gonna be a tough time, but stay cheerful, and maybe—just MAYBE—you can help others feel cheerful too.”
I gave myself this little pep talk, hoping it would help. But deep inside I genuinely doubted whether my written words could actually help anyone feel better.
Certainly, I attempt to make people feel better with words, and sometimes I attempt to make people laugh with words. Sometimes I even use words to crack jokes about small-towns, Jello salad, dogs, and about how a Baptist’s favorite whiskey brand is Vicks NyQuil.
But the truth is, I’m as human as the next guy and these words you are reading are just pixels on a screen.
So I’m running out of room here, but before I end this column, I want to apologize for letting you down, Ellen. Really, I do. I will do my best to stay lighthearted and cheer you up. The last thing I want to do is make you sad. I also hope that you can stay buoyant during this tough time, and maybe even help your friends and family laugh.
But take it from me, first make absolutely sure they aren’t holding a hammer.