Comedian Billy Crystal stands outBy Hannah Widener | 06/24/2014 5:39pm
The first step is admitting you have a problem so here goes. I, Hannah Widener, am a stand-up comedy junkie.
I first realized I had a problem when I was 13 years old. I became obsessed with watching stand-up specials on Comedy Central. Later it progressed when I found myself not only watching those specials, but then watching them for a second time just so I could laugh again.
Netflix and countless comedy specials on both HBO and Showtime fueled my addiction further. Pretty soon I began mentioning bits each comedian had done to my family and later to friends. I couldn’t stop. Once I had seen something I had to tell someone. It was an uncontrollable itch that couldn’t be scratched.
It wasn’t until I saw Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays” comedy special on HBO that stand-up comedy transformed into more than an addiction; it became an art form. This wasn’t simply a set with all the right jokes. This was storytelling at its finest. I hung on every word for the next two hours – here was a master at work.
True comedians find light in the dark spots of their life and turn it into something funny for others to relate to. Crystal spoke about his father dying when he was 15 and his mother coming to his bedroom to tell him the bad news. It’s so terribly heart shattering that you almost forget it’s a comedy special. There are moments when he weaves his jokes in so seamlessly that they have to occur to break the tension.
After his father’s funeral, Crystal’s uncle began cracking jokes with the family just as he had always done. This is the moment Crystal realized no matter how sad things are, laughter can make you forget, even if it’s just for a brief moment.
When my grandmother died last year, I had just come home from my first year of school and had almost forgotten just how crazy my family really is. Standing in front of her coffin, shaking countless hands of unknown relatives, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Sitting on top of my grandmother’s sleeve was an Oreo. At first I couldn’t believe it, but there it was lying right next to her clutched fist of rosary beads.
“Pssst, look to your right.” I whispered to my sister out of the corner of my mouth.
“What kind of sick person would put food in a coffin? Let alone an Oreo,” my sister said. Later we found out it had been my cousin who wanted our grandmother to have her favorite cookie since she always had her hand in the cookie jar. Still in disbelief, things only got weirder. My aunt’s third husband, a man who wears enough gold jewelry to bring down Tony Soprano, asked if he could take a picture of my grandmother in the coffin. My father just stood there for a moment, dumbfounded, then told him he had some nice pictures of her from when she was, oh I don’t know, alive.
Surveying the scene I couldn’t help but laugh although I had a heavy heart. You see, stand-up comedy isn’t just an addiction or an art form to me. It’s my refuge. It’s the place I go to laugh and think about how my family is just as strange as everyone else’s. That’s why “Last Comic Standing” has become my safe haven. It’s considered the church of the stand-up comedy world, and mass is finally in session. This leaves me with only one thing to say: Amen.