When I first brought my mother to Los Angeles from New York City where she had lived for most of her life -minus a long decade she spent in suburban Connecticut – she was doing okay. Given how enamored she had always been about Manhattan, in that singular way that native New Yorker’s can be, we anticipated a lot worse, tantrums, sleepless nights and seething looks of contempt. She did deliver on that last one…
…at least any time I was there, but all in all she seemed to enjoy the social aspect of life in a senior residence after several years of isolation in a one bedroom apartment. All the sunshine didn’t hurt either. There is a beautiful glass chandelier in the entry way of Silverado Beverly Place and as is their philosophy there’s always lots of activity happening. Dogs run around, children giggle and chase each other and someone is often tinkering on the keys of a baby grand piano in the dining room. We assumed she thought she was visiting a nice hotel and were grateful for the absence of too much drama around the transition.
About three months in to her stay, my mother started exhibiting signs of depression. She wasn’t eating much and spent a lot of time with her head down or staring at the wall, barely communicating. I was so upset, doubting uprooting her from her home, questioning if moving her near my two sons was the right choice after all. I was at my dentist – who is more life coach than dentist because she loves to tell me what to do when my mouth is full of cotton and as one tear streamed down my cheek, I mumbled something. She cleared my mouth.
“I feel so bad about my mother, she’s getting depressed, I just wish I could hire a comedian to cheer her up.”
“Why don’t you?” she asked.
“How? Like post it on Facebook or something?”
“Why not?” she asked.
My next thought, in retrospect oddly, was, won’t I look cheap? Will people think I’m too cheap to go to a proper agency? Oh the heretofore hidden crevices of our psyches that are revealed when managing a loved one with Alzheimers. I’m a pushy New York comedian – I had no idea I worried what other people thought of me, but there it was, exposed to the light – albeit florescent.
“No,” she responded. And then added. “You can rinse.”
I went home and wrote a “status update.”
“Looking for comedian interested in gerontology. Paid gig.”
The phone rang 3 minutes later. A friend of mine from the east, she had just been on the phone with a former comic who wanted to work with seniors. So it began. She came and met my mother and made her laugh. I was hooked. I hired her to come 8 hours a week, usually around meal times. The changes in my mother’s mood were almost immediate. She was eating again, singing and of course laughing. And this extended well beyond the hours that the comedian was with her. Bringing someone to my mother with no history who was solely focused on making her smile, and the fact that it was working gave me hope that my mother wouldn’t end her life a miserable depressed woman. I wrote an article about the early days for AARP magazine.
I then received over 200 responses from around the country asking me to bring a comedian everywhere from Wichita, Kansas, to Bethesda, Maryland and about 30 other states.
I will confess that I never intended to get in to the business of trying to make the toughest audience out there laugh, but the results with my mother an subsequent clients are undeniable. I became committed to figuring out a way to multiply this mutually beneficial relationship– between comedians who can bring their specific training to stay completely in the moment, to move on to the next joke when the last one doesn’t land, and who often have daytime hours free and Alzheimer’s patients who need to laugh more than almost any other sector of the population.
This, along with training caregivers and family members some basic comedy tools to do the same, is Laughter On Call’s primary mission.
Welcome. We are so happy to meet you.