Land Of The Free, Home Of The Brave

Happy 4th of July my friends!

Funny how lyrics can resonate differently depending on where you are in your life.

I have been thinking a lot about bravery, more specifically courage, these last few months. So much so that you may have noticed we changed the tag line for Laughter On Call from “Hope. One laugh at a time,” to “Courage. One laugh at a time.” The more exposure I’ve had to the disease of Alzheimer’s and the people who show up for it, I realized that hope is nice, but not really relevant. Because it’s not a disease that can be cured for now. What is absolutely essential though is courage, the bravery if you will, to accept it and deal with it and, from our point of view, help people find whatever moments of joy are possible along the way.

You don’t think much about bravery in everyday life, unless you’re reading a children’s book or watching a Pixar movie, they always seem to find a place to hit that note, like the film about the redheaded girl with all the curls, appropriately named Brave. Side bar: Laughter On Call, was hired for an outdoor birthday party in a private home, it was a rare humid night in Los Angeles. A woman with a full head of curls listened to the show from the doorway of the house, for which she was teased mercilessly by the comic. “I can’t come out,” she finally said, “my hair. It will ruin my hair!” Naturally this set off another round of Don Rickles’ like barbs. Later the host told us that she was the model for the red tresses of that girl in Brave. Only in Hollywood, folks.

But enough about hair, the point is that I never thought about “home of the brave,” in a less sweeping way before. Many are brave in much quieter ways. Not to diminish the founding fathers, setting up a country, yeah, you win. But homes with Alzheimer’s require tremendous bravery.

Then there’s the “land of the free,” which although related to freedom of thought initially, freedom of speech, freedom from the monarchy – prior to my years of exposure to this disease, I would listen to these words, once in a while even sing them, if I was at a ballgame and everyone was standing for example, but I wasn’t making the personal connection to what it means to have freedom of thought. Certainly, when Francis Scott Key wrote this anthem in 1814, he wasn’t thinking about cognitive decline, and yet many of us witnessing this disease firsthand can’t help thinking about the simple act of having thoughts and freely expressing them. In fact, my thoughts run so freely I find I could often use a little restraint myself. But regardless, it’s no longer possible to take any of this for granted. Because there is a prison aspect to Alzheimer’s that I see with my mother, where I feel her trying to say something to me, sometimes with great urgency, but she can’t find a way to get it out, it is trapped in her. She has lost her freedom of expression and it can feel tragic. Which is probably why I work so hard to make her laugh.

People say to comedians all the time, “tell me a joke.” Or the more lacerating, “You’re not that funny,” when we go off as I just did about something with more than one-liners. In the case of Laughter On Call, I promise you we know how to be funny, but of equal importance, thinking more deeply about these circumstances is exactly what gives me and my amazingly talented group of comics the compassion to bring love and laughter to our work.

Now I’m thinking we need a laughter holiday. Love is covered by St. Valentine, but how should we make it a point to recognize laughter? Open to suggestions!

Note: The words of our national anthem hit me surprisingly differently this July 4th. To be clear, I am in no way blind to the bigger political implications of these lyrics at this time, but I will leave that analysis to the experts. Suffice to say I stand with Lady Liberty.