87: An Accidentally Funny Life

87: An Accidentally Funny Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

An Accidentally Funny Life

Keep your face always toward the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you.

~Walt Whitman

I was out of breath when I finally made it to my seat near the back of the airplane. I had run from one end of the terminal to the other, dragging a heavy bag behind me, my husband so far ahead that I couldn’t make him out in the crowd. It was impossible for me to keep up with his long legs and willingness to plow down anyone who got in his way. My having to say, “Excuse him, he was raised by hyenas” to all the folks in his path of destruction slowed me down even more.

But my breathlessness that afternoon wasn’t simply my body’s response to unusual feats of exertion and apology. What Paul and I had done earlier that day — signing papers to buy a house in Oregon while on vacation — was enough to suck the oxygen out of anyone’s lungs. It also made me have to pee. I must have gotten up to run to the tiny outhouse in the sky twenty times during our flight home.

As I sat in the on-board bathroom on one of my treks, I noticed my hands were shaking. What had we done? To be more specific, what had I done?

You see, I was thirty-five, while Paul was only twenty-six. Clearly, I was the adult in the relationship, right? But here we were, facing a future in which neither one of us had jobs or knew anyone. This wasn’t as big of an issue for Paul because he was always teetering on the brink of being fired from his first real job out of college. But I had been at my job for nearly twelve years, was making good money and still semi-enjoyed what I did.

Adult or not, buying that 1,100-square-foot house with the totem pole in the front yard was definitely my decision. I fell head over heels in love with the quiet neighborhood and the spring-fed creek that ran across the back of the property. The friendly ducks waddling across the street as we waited for the real estate agent sealed the deal with a quack.

Subconsciously, I knew there were only two options for Paul and me. One, we were going to move to the Pacific Northwest. Or two, we would end up moving to Paul’s hometown in Indiana to be closer to his parents. He had been too young when I married him, and his mother was the other woman in our relationship. Word of advice: If you’re considering marrying a man much younger, make sure you’re not closer to his mother’s age than his.

That day as we sat in the real estate office, I convinced Paul to join me in a new adventure far from everything and everyone we knew and loved. I was certain that our marriage would never survive if I had to be the third wheel in his relationship with his mom.

As we were getting ready to make the move, I made another big decision: I would try to make a career out of comedy. I had taken a comedy-writing class, and once I realized that everything in life could be viewed through the lens of funny, I wanted nothing to do with the people around me who seemed to be suffering from terminal seriousity. This wasn’t an easy or logical decision for a thirty-two-year-old woman who was not voted class clown in high school. Had there been such a category, I might have been voted “Mostly likely to depress people.” My role models were Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath, neither of whom was a laugh riot.

When I shared my plans with people close to me, they looked at me like I had just told them I was planning to run a halfway house for alcoholic porcupines. I could tell they thought I’d come crawling back to the “real world” with my quill-filled tail sooner rather than later.

Imagine arriving in a new place and trying to make a job out of something that was (and still is) mostly a man’s field. Worse yet, it was something most people don’t even consider to be a real job — something with a failure rate (I now know) of nearly ninety percent. Now imagine doing all of this before the invention of the Internet, so not only could I not job-search online, but I couldn’t even watch videos of goats in pajamas to de-stress at the end of the day.

For those first six months, I sent off funny one-liners to greeting card and novelty companies (whose addresses I had to look up in a book at the library). I sent in 100 jokes a month (in an envelope) to a joke-writing service every month; if they bought one, I’d make three dollars. I wrote a funny column for a wellness newsletter for free. I keynoted a wellness conference, again for free. But I did all my writing and phone calls from my office in our new house with its sliding glass door overlooking that wonderful creek.

By the fifth month, it was not looking good. Paul had a badly paying part-time job selling “Crime scene: Do not cross” tape, and we were quickly running through our savings. But then things started to change. I sold a joke to a greeting card company. One of the people at the conference offered me a job speaking for his organization for money. I sold a funny one-liner that ended up on an apron (“My other apron burned in the fire”). I convinced the local community college to hire me to teach continuing education classes in comedy writing and stand-up, something I had only the tiniest bit of knowledge about. By then, I had developed some chutzpah.

And here I am, twenty-three years later. Paul is long gone back to the bosom of Indiana. I’m still gazing out on the creek from my office. In 2003, I won the Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Award (for my true story on how my first mammogram caught on fire), and I have published twenty-five funny books. For nine years, I taught academic comedy classes with titles like “Comedy: Hero or Bully” and “Comedy in Media” at a major university. This year, a Hollywood producer asked me to write a screenplay. I teach improv and stand-up, and all of my friends make me giggle myself silly.

I’m still breathless, but mostly from laughing.

~Leigh Anne Jasheway

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