Smile Lines: The Intro

My brother and sister-in-law during my Maid of Honor speech. I’ll never be as funny as a comic, but the day I made 179 wedding guests laugh for 12 minutes will always be one of the best days of my life. Photo: Trevor Holden Photography

This is not a beauty post. I’ll be back to my usual bitching about overly retouched photos and scolding you for not properly cleansing your skin with the next post. Today, I’m going off course.

You know when you’re out on a date and the person you’re with asks “So, what do you like to do for fun?” (“Not this,” I want to say.) I hate that question, but I feel compelled to answer direct questions. It seems like these dudes are looking for me to tell them some kind of hobby, and the closest thing I have to a hobby is comedy. Going to comedy shows, watching stand up specials, listening to podcasts hosted by or with guest comics I love, reading the books they write, following them on Instagram, etc. I’ll always choose a comedy show over going to a bar or going to the movies and definitely over hiking, camping, or any of that nonsense.

I have always loved to laugh (are there people who don’t?). As a child, Comedy Central was my favorite channel. I liked funny movies the best and was an SNL fan, even if I didn’t get half of the references. I would read the George Carlin books my parents had over and over again. I was drawn to people who could make me laugh and would be psyched if I ended up in a class with the funny kid.

All of my family members have a great sense of humor. My mother is a smartass. Her sarcasm–and how she yells “You turkey!” at cars who cut her off–makes me laugh every day. My brother, Mikey B, is a quick witted boy genius with an infectious laugh. He’s so intelligent that I’d be jealous of him if it didn’t work to my advantage (I’d be lost without his sage business advice). My sister-in-law, Katelin, is the ginger version of my mom, but her smartassery has a sweeter undertone, I think because she smiles so much. Not a family dinner goes by without Katelin and my mom giving each other the finger. My Aunt Michelle is one of the creators of the Women in Comedy Festival in Boston and has done stand up herself. She is smart and funny and a super mom to four young children.

And then there’s my father, Big Ray. I’ve always been convinced that he was a court jester in a past life, but recently I decided that he is a cartoon character. The way he looks, the expressions he makes, the ridiculous things he says. I mean, look at that face! (Him opening a Father’s Day gift full of Sasquatch things.) He can’t be a real person.

things Dads say
Seems like Raymo liked his gift. Hard to tell.

We are a family who laughs. We laugh during good times, and we laugh during bad times. And we’ve certainly had some bad times.

My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June of 2015. He went through chemo, radiation, surgery then more chemo and is now cancer-free. That’s something I’m grateful for every day in a way I can’t fully express. But the summer of his diagnosis, especially before the first scan came back and showed that the chemo was working, I was a mess. I had two modes when I wasn’t with my family: working or crying. There was no in between. I would walk around town to do errands as I usually do, crying behind my sunglasses. Whenever someone asked how my father was doing, I struggled to hold back tears.

From the initial “something’s not right” discoveries to the “the cancer is gone” appointment over a year later, I felt like I was holding my breath. I had a lot of crying sessions on the floor of my living room and my beauty studio those first few months. I was stressed–a word I do not use loosely–as I was running my business as well as part of my father’s property management business, which my brother and I had started to take over (Big Ray worked through his first chemo and radiation until surgery, then took four months off to recover and do more chemo). I’m no stranger to 14 hour work days and 7 day work weeks, but that in combination with the constant fear of what could happen made me feel like like I was being crushed.

My game plan became to distract myself as much as possible. I was able to do that when I was with clients, as I get deep in the zone when I’m doing makeup, mega focused on making the client, photographer or director happy. I’ve been a bookworm since I learned how to read, so in summer of 2015, I first tried to distract myself with reading. That didn’t work, because my mind would wander and I’d find myself staring at the same page I started on, sobbing. I felt better when I was with friends and through a couple group emails explained exactly what I was feeling and how I needed to be around people, but a lot of my friends don’t live nearby and a few just couldn’t be bothered. I don’t have a tv (and haven’t since 2003) but I do have a laptop and a solid WiFi connection, so I tried watching stuff online. I had watched YouTube makeup tutorials for years, but in summer of 2015, I started watching comedy clips on YouTube. And that is what helped me in a huge way.

I found that I couldn’t be crying while I was laughing (how weird would that be?). Even though I never cried or showed my sadness in front of my dad, I knew crying was pointless because it wasn’t doing anything to help him and was not a good look (it’s a bitch to apply eyeliner on puffy eyelids). So I tried to replace that with laughing. There were nights when I would stop work at 8:00pm, crawl into bed, and watch comedy specials for three or four hours. I eventually joined the rest of the 21st century and got Netflix where I found more comedy gold. I binge watched entire series that made me laugh–30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt–but mostly, I watched stand up specials. I didn’t want serious. I wanted funny only, and there is so much good stuff out there.

Laughter really does help. I cried less and less as the summer went on. How could I be crying when Chris D’Elia was making me laugh so hard that my downstairs neighbors could hear me? And although my father took his medicine and doctor’s instructions carefully, he was laughing (and making me laugh) every day too. He made up a song called “Chemo Man,” sung to the tune of “Piano Man,” and would call me to leave voicemails with new ridiculous verses. He had named the tumor in his pancreas the “Junior Tumor” because it was so small it barely showed up on scans, and he made up stories told from the “wimpy” tumor’s point of view. His jokes didn’t stop at home. At the hospital, protocol was to ask the patient’s name and date of birth at intake. Raymo never gave his real name. He would respond “Albert Einstein,” “Vito Corleone,” “Donald Trump,” or–and this is the one he was so proud of himself for–“Einstein Albert.” He would call me after an appointment to tell me how he made his oncologist laugh. And this was while he was going through some tough treatments, fighting a disease that killed one of his brothers and his grandfather.

Four years later, with two healthy parents (did I mention my mom had brain cancer when I was in high school?) and enough gratitude to make me borderline annoying, my comedy obsession has grown. I watch or listen to something that makes me laugh every single day, and I go to as many shows as I can. When people ask me for comic suggestions–a conversation I find myself in several times a week–I’m always ready to answer. But I don’t just mention a few names. There are too many great comics out there! I am a list maker, so that’s what they get. And that’s what you’re getting too.

Here it is!

Aparna Nancherla

Amy Schumer

Andrew Santino

Anthony Jeselnik

Bill Burr

Bobby Lee

Brent Morin

Brody Stevens*

Bryan Callen

Chris D’Elia

Christina Pazsitsky

Craig Ferguson

Daniel Tosh

Dave Attell

David Spade

Demetri Martin

Donald Glover

Fortune Feimster

Hannah Gadsby

Hannibal Buress

Hari Kondabolu

Hasan Minhaj

Jeff Ross

Jim Gaffigan

Jimmy Carr

John Mulaney

JR De Guzman

Kumail Nanjiani

Maria Bamford

Marc Maron

Mike Birbiglia

Moshe Kasher

Natasha Leggero

Nate Bargatze

Nick Swardson

Nikki Glaser

Patton Oswalt

Pete Holmes

Ricky Gervais

Ron Funches

Ryan Hamilton

Ryan Sloss

Theo Von

Tig Notaro

Todd Barry

Tom Segura

Trevor Noah

Sarah Silverman

Wanda Sykes

Zack Galifianackis

*Brody sadly passed away in March of 2019, but you can find his specials and clips of him online.

I’m no authority on comedy. I think if a comic makes you laugh, that’s awesome. If you don’t find someone funny, I’ve got some great news for you: You don’t have to watch or follow them. But don’t leave asshole comments on their social media. The people who publicly and repeatedly say a certain comic is not funny are probably the least funny people out there.

I have been writing this post for two years. Comedy is so important to me that I wanted it to be perfect before sharing this. I was originally going to give my take on each of the comics I love, but I think I’m going to split that into different posts, because I’ve got a lot more to say and this is already way too long. In the meantime, I wanted to at least give a list of my favorite comics, since I talk to everyone–friends, clients, Lyft drivers–about comedy and am constantly giving recommendations.

I don’t care about the laugh lines–I’d rather be laughing than not. I bet you didn’t expect that from a makeup artist and esthetician!

Have a beautiful day 🙂

 

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