Columnists

High On Humor

Over the years, several of my sports heroes have had their careers tarnished following allegations they were using performance-improvement drugs. During the recent Olympics, several athletes were similarly accused.

As a newspaper columnist, I am proud of what I have written, unassisted by any humor-enhancing drugs or whimsy-producing substances. Many humor columnists have on their shelves at home, Milton Berle’s Personal Jokebook, the 12-volume Complete Works of Henny Youngman and the Acapulco Gold of humor: Bob Hope’s Greatest One-Liners (unabridged).  Yes, I was once a weak person, making it tough to deal with temptation over the years. There was a period in my life when I constantly wondered where my next laugh was coming from. I found myself in a kind of comic abyss. I hung around Barnes and Noble and Borders. I haunted Books-A-Million, where I knew I could buy cracks at a good price.

At one point, I even toyed with Half-Price Books, but you never know what you are buying at a place like that. Is the humor pure, or is it cut with bad stuff? I had a friend who overdosed on The Pocket Rodney Dangerfield back in the ’70s. He finally got caught doing Dangerfield jokes in a stand-up routine in a Louisville comedy club. He was kicked off stage. Talk about no respect.

Others may look at my work and wonder: How did he stay on top of his game for so long? He’s 75 and has been writing his column for almost 25 years. Maybe he’s hooked on something. Tom Brady is hanging up his pads. Maybe Wolfsie should hang up his gags.

Once you are dependent on other people’s humor, it’s hard to kick the habit. You may think you have conquered your demons, but before long you are hiding Woody Allen quips on index cards in your office desk drawer or sticking Post-It Notes with Jeff Foxworthy wisecracks on your desk lamp. That was me some 20 years ago.

When I first appeared on TV, I also watched old Jerry Lewis movies and I mimicked a few of his routines on camera. Then one day I just stopped. I went cold jerky.

As I write my 1,100th column, I am proud of what I have accomplished. There were times when I almost peeked at an Andy Rooney compilation of essays. I once took a Dave Barry book off my shelf, but I never opened it.

Other humorists have emailed to ask me for advice on how to quit pilfering jokes. I  created a short quiz to assess their susceptibility to stealing from others. Here are two sample questions, to assess their chances of a relapse.

I just got back from a pleasure trip.

a.      I went to Vegas.

b.     My wife and I cruised to Bermuda.

c.      I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

My wife ran after the garbage truck. “Am I too late for a pick-up?” she screamed.

a.      Yes, and we are not permitted to turn around.

b.      No, just set it by the curb.

c.       Of course not, jump in.

Anyone who answered C to both questions is on a slippery path. They are apparently too weak to resist cheap zingers and one-liners, often stolen from legendary humorists. As of this week, I will have not yielded to temptation for 6,752 days. But tomorrow I am going to begin reading Mel Brooks’ autobiography.

Wish me luck.

– Dick Wolfsie spent his career sharing his humor, stories and video essays on television, radio and in newspapers. His columns appear weekly in The Paper of Montgomery County. E-mail Dick at Wolfsie@ aol.com.