Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Laughter is important when being Ernest

WRITER'S NOTE: As we approach Veteran's Day, I'm dedicating this week's posting of Nancy Jo's Jokebox to U.S. veterans. To all of you, Happy Veteran's Day and thank you for being you.

It was as if President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden laughed at me and heckled me.

After reading that, some of my conservative friends are smugly saying, "We told you they'd turn on ya. That's whatcha git when an anti-patriot votes for one of them liberals who ain't a patriot."

Well I don't mean to put a damper on their Tea Party. But in this case, it really is all about patriotism and what comedy means to me.

It is about the importance of being Ernest and appreciating peace. You see, Ernest looks like Barack Obama without front teeth. A man known simply as De La Paz, which means of the peace in Spanish, looks like Joe Biden with more hair.

However, our heroes are about 10-20 years older than our nation's leaders. And our heroes really are heroes. Ernest was a Marine. De La Paz served in the Air Force. When I met them, they were in rare form, they were ready to laugh and loved being alive.

I knew that the moment I watched Ernest help De La Paz cut his turkey.

Our two heroes are war veterans who reside in a nursing facility at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Long Beach.

"Thank you for being here," Ernest said earnestly. He ignored the fact De La Paz was a bit messy while quietly and peacefully chewing his turkey.

"No one comes to visit us. The people here don't feel very good, so they aren't very good company. We get lonely. We need to laugh."

Medical researchers have proven laughter really does have healing benefits. It stimulates the brain to release endorphins, which alleviate pain and stress.

While insurance doesn't cover the cost of comedy, my friends and I were at the hospital cafeteria to literally deliver a Million Laughs.

Million Laughs is a non-profit clean comedy troupe organized and operated by Will Morton and his wife, Yvonne. They are based in Whittier, CA, a suburban city east of Los Angeles. Each weekend, the troupe travels throughout the Los Angeles metropolis to places where people with special needs reside. Laughter is high on the list of those needs.

It's not for every comedian. A lot of times we perform for people who can't hear us or see us. Sometimes our audience consists of Alzheimer's patients who don't know who we are or why we are. Other times our audience members physically can't laugh or clap. But we know when our punchlines work because we can see laughs from their hearts smile through their eyes.

Personally, I have always known I was created to write comedy. However, I had to struggle with the decision to perform standup in traditional settings – primarily bars or clubs where comedy appears to be the main draw, but is really secondary to supporting the liquor industry.

Performing in these settings can devalue quality. A lot of bookers – even in clubs with famous names – have made it profitable to disrespect the talent. Comedians aren't there to be funny or even get paid. They're there to be conduits to booze sales. To get stage time, they have to bring 5-10 people, who pay $10-20 cover and have to buy a minimum of 2 over-priced drinks. One of these clubs even charges comedians $6 for a 16-oz bottle of water.

Most comedians play these clubs once or twice and then move on. That's because the clubs are degrading and bookers are abusive. Plus, the comedians run out of booze-guzzling uncles or the uncles quickly run out of money drinking in their relative's dream.

Performing for Million Laughs audiences is worth a million dollars. For a couple of hours, we get to share our God-given gift with people who need to laugh. We help them forget sorrow and suffering. We get to help them remember they are loved.

The day we performed at the nursing unit within the VA Hospital in Long Beach, Will Morton was quick to explain our purpose to Ernest, De La Paz and 18 other people, including the man who fell asleep in his wheelchair.

"This is our way of giving back to the community. We love entertaining veterans. You made a great sacrifice for our nation. Because of you, we're able to do what we do. None of the comedians get paid for doing this. So make them feel welcome because some of them don't know yet that they aren't being paid."

This prompted Ernest to get in on the act, which prompted De La Paz to laugh.

"Are they really going to be funny?" Ernest asked, amusing and entertaining himself.

Being in the armed forces enabled Ernest and De La Paz to see the world, but it was clear not even military training prepared them to experience me – a gal from Amarillo, Texas.

De La Paz stepped out of complacency and into an inquisitive state.

"Why do you talk out of the side of your mouth?" he bellowed as I began my act.

"Because I just talk so much I wore out this side," I explained, causing Ernest to chuckle and show his toothless grin. "Since I do talk out of the side of my mouth, I suggest, Mr. President, that you and the vice president move to the other side of the room so I don't spit on ya."

"That's funny," Ernest shouted. But De La Paz wasn't convinced. He still had questions.

"What is a hick and why are you a hick?"

Before I could respond with a straight answer or a joke, Ernest did what made him a hero – defend people – in this case, me.

"I think a hick is someone from the east. Maybe she's from Victorville. But today we can call it Hictorville."

Ernest shouted his remarks about Victorville, a town east of Los Angeles. I don't know if he shouted because he was adamant about his feelings concerning hicks or if he just wanted to make sure De La Paz and other aging veterans could hear him.

Usually a comedian hates hecklers. We try to ignore them or say something to bite back. But in this case, I encouraged Ernest and De La Paz to share in the frivolity. After all we were there for them because they've been there for us.

Private Show – Million Laughs Clean Comedy Troupe
Veteran's Hospital
Westwood (L.A.), CA
** If you would like to book Million Laughs for a fund-raiser or private event, contact Yvonne or Will Morton at

Bird on a Wire – improvisational standup
Universal Bar and Grill
4093 Lankershim Blvd
North Hollywood, CA
**$5 cover
** Food service available
** Free parking

Best of L.A. Showcase
The Comedy Spot Comedy Club – Don the Beachcomber
16278 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA
** $10 at the door - $5 in advance
** Two item minimum purchase required

Private Show – Million Laughs Clean Comedy Troupe
Veteran's Hospital Spinal Cord Unit
Long Beach, CA
**If If you would like to book Million Laughs for a fund-raiser or private event, contact Yvonne or Will Morton at

Private Show – Million Laughs Clean Comedy Troupe
Veteran's Hospital Blind Center
Long Beach, CA
** If you would like to book Million Laughs for a fund-raiser or private event, contact Yvonne or Will Morton at