Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my kids a disservice by sheltering them from funny TV. I let them watch Disney Channel and other children’s programming—which isn’t that funny. But when I was their age (grade school) I watched Saturday Night Live. We stayed up late to watch it and we thought it was great. One year we got The Best of John Belushi on tape for Christmas. I recall not really knowing who Elizabeth Taylor was, but thinking his impression of her was dead on.
The year I received my Disco Kid record player from Santa, my older sister received Steve Martin’s album, Comedy is Not Pretty. We listened to it and quoted it and then we read his book Cruel Shoes when it came out. I always knew John Belushi died from a drug overdose and that Steve Martin swore. I worshipped them but managed to never do drugs and rarely swear. Last night we started to watch Hancock for New Year’s Eve. Hancock drops the F-bomb in the first five minutes! I was scandalized, turned off the movie, and felt sick for exposing my kids to it. Yet, I remember my very pure and upstanding grade-school self laughing out loud (still do) at some of Steve Martin’s punch lines which include swear words. I don’t know what to make of it.
Maud, Rhoda, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore were standard fare at our house. Tina Fey is their rightful heir. But how can I let my kids watch 30 Rock? I wish I could . . . Can I? I don’t think so. Maybe when they’re older, but—and this is the question that haunts me—by then will it be too late?
Another favorite pastime that I remember with absolute glee was making fun of people and having animated discussions about people we hated. Even though it was good-natured and I don’t think I turned out too badly for it, I never do that with my kids. And yet, some of my best memories revolve around mutual hatred. I remember all of my sisters’ enemies as well as their best friends from school. (Curiously, they are all the friendliest of Facebook users now.)
So are my kids not going to be funny? Will they be less funny than me but more charitable? Will they miss out on the cultural references that I live for? Have I given their lives more meaning or taken it away? Will the lameness of the Disney Channel they are exposed to in their formative years stunt them later? Will Zack and Cody inform their sense of humor for the rest of their lives? I kind of think it will because I know that Two Wild and Crazy Guys informed mine. What’s wrong with me? I care much more about this than how many vegetables they ate today.
Even without this early exposure, my kids are developing bits of quirky senses of humor. So maybe it needn’t be fostered Chevy Chase. For example, Sam once told me that he fantasized about driving up along side of a group of pioneers on their way to Zion to see their reaction to our car and then speeding away. The look on their faces would be priceless. And Ben has been heard to remark, “Is that guy in [Edvard Munch’s] The Scream screaming because his shoes are too tight?”
After a skirmish on Election Day where my 8- year-old daughter was pushed and kicked when she said her parents were voting for Barack Obama, my daughter admitted to me that she had always known her bully was evil because of her ruddy face and that she hated her. I don’t usually let my kids talk in terms of “hating,” but this confession was oddly satisfying for both of us. And Maggie was right about her little archenemy. We laughed and laughed about her ruddy face and from persecution sprang humor.
So maybe they’ll be ok. I just can’t bear the thought of them all riffing on Drake and Josh for the next 50 years. But maybe that’s how my mom feels about us.