I’m an actor. Though not the star of any art house films or of Hollywood blockbusters (that, you may have guessed), I’m an actor all the same. This was not always the case. It was about ten years ago when first I auditioned for a play at our local community theater – the Bradley Playhouse, a historic theater located in Putnam, Connecticut. When I auditioned, they asked me about my experience. I had none. Up to that point, I’d never been in any kind of theater production – save maybe playing a tree in an elementary school show. After doing a few shows, I would later joke that I’ve been acting my whole life, but that I’d only recently received direction. And it’s true.
When I was a child – elementary and middle school age – I often would perform skits for my family. They were silly and were constructed so as to elicit laughter. My parents, however, were not audience plants. If something wasn’t funny, well then why would they laugh? Receiving honest feedback was important, they felt, for me to know what was humorous and what wasn’t. When I reflect back on my indoctrination into humor, I realize that it was through plays, TV, films, records, and yes, books. I remember watching episodes of All in the Family and M*A*S*H. My mom permitted me to stay up late and watch the early Saturday Night Live, sketches with Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd, and John Belushi. We had Bob Newhart and Steve Martin record albums. We loved watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS and seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. I loved Mel Brooks’ movies and the slapstick comedy of Airplane. My parents, readers that they were, also made sure that I knew that reading could be funny, too. Books by P.G. Wodehouse and Kingsley Amis were holiday and birthday gifts. Later I read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Tim Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker, feeling smart when I got the jokes. Indeed, when I became an English major in college it was, at least in part, because an upperclassman I knew and admired was one. He had such a rapid fire and biting wit that I knew I wanted to hone these skills for myself and knew that it was through immersing myself in language and art that I could. And should.
Later, when I read books by Hunter S. Thompson, Augusten Burroughs or David Sedaris, it only deepened my understanding that so much of life, as difficult and dark as it can often be, is still funny. In fact, it often needs to be funny. So while I have a serious side and enjoy drama and what might be classified as more serious literature, I need laughter each day. Sometimes the measure of my day might be how many laughs I induced. How does this fit in with my role as the library director? Well, we all have to play our best hand and, for me, that means bringing some silliness and laughter into our various efforts to promote the library and its programs. Here are a few videos that we, upon occasion, send out to our school community. They’re silly, sometimes funny, and popular. It’s gotten to the point that if we go too long without making one, we’re asked to speed up the production.
Not everyone is a comedian or an actor, but everyone has a character attribute that is a strength or a talent. So why not play into your strengths and use them to highlight the library – or your role there? I am pleased to say that I don’t laugh when my kids tell bad jokes. It’s important to know what’s really funny. That’s something I take very seriously.