Jun 29

Nora Ephron, Heroine Known For Her Humorous Writing

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron

This is just one of many serious quotes that have been attributed to writer Nora Ephron (1941-2012), who died this week after a secret battle with leukemia.

But Nora Ephron was also known for her sense of humor. And one of her friends has publicly noted that even as Ephron was dying, she was still cracking jokes. Not that she wasn’t also showing sadness. She could do both.

“My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.”

I don’t know if she was ever in therapy, but she did seem therapy-oriented in some ways. For example, in her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Heartburn (1983), group therapy figured prominently. The movie version, which featured Meryl Streep as lead character Rachel, contained a scene in which she and others get robbed during a session.

Actually, it’s quite possible that in real life Nora Ephron spurned shrinkage in favor of something else. According to the New York Times, she once said about her choice to engage in twice-a-week professional blow-drying of her hair:

“It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis and much more uplifting.”

Also on the topic of hair, she had stated:

“…the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”

Here’s Ephron in 2004—with good hair—getting big laughs during a tribute to Streep:

Other Nora Ephron quotes of interest:

“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.”

“[A successful parent is one] who raises a child who grows up and is able to pay for his or her own psychoanalysis.”

“When you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious, subconsciously. So what we think of as fate is just two neuroses knowing that they are a perfect match.”

“Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is faking it.”

“Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.”

“You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were, or back into the people they used to be.”

Apr 05

The Psychology of Humor: Some Quotes That Sum It Up

A long time ago I eagerly enrolled for an evening course on the psychology of humor. The teacher mixed theory with some stand-up comedy—unfortunately, both the info and the routines fell flat. And although I’m still always drawn to this topic, whenever I try to read about new humor research, it just bores me. What’s wrong with this picture?

Writer E. B. White once said:

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.

Well, at least I still enjoy good quotes. The following are about the psychology of humor, or the way that laughter and humor help us cope:

Mark Twain, humorist: Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.

Erma Bombeck, author and humorist: There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

Robert Frost, poet: If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.

Arnold Glasow, humorist: Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects.

Erica Jong, author: Humor is one of the most serious tools we have for dealing with impossible situations.

Frank Howard Clark, screenwriter: I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, writer and speaker and “father of motivation”: It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either.

Bob Newhart, comedian: Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.

Norman Cousins, political journalist and author: Laughter is inner jogging.

Henry Ward Beecher, minister and author/lecturer: A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.

Will Durst, comedian and political satirist: Comedy is defiance. It’s a snort of contempt in the face of fear and anxiety. And it’s the laughter that allows hope to creep back on the inhale.

Mahatma Gandhi, leader: If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.

Apr 04

Kambri Crews: Comedy As Coping Mechanism In “Burn Down the Ground”

A recent blog post caught my eye: “Comedic Therapy: How Laughter Helped Me Through My Grief.” The writer? Kambri Crews, a new name to me. Turns out she’s involved in comedy—both in the business end of it and performance; she’s also married to a comedian, Christian Finnegan. She’s surrounded by comedy.

Her new book? Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir. Extremely well-reviewed, by the way. And not exactly about a life filled with the funny.

This review by author Annabelle Gurwitz capsulizes Crews’s childhood:

Imagine living in a tin shed, growing up as the hearing child of deaf parents, seeing your father attack your mother, or sneaking gum into prison. Those are just half of the challenges Kambri Crews faced growing up. Burn Down the Ground is a story of triumph in the face of poverty, alcoholism, violence, and, worst of all, heartbreakingly powerful love.

Apparently, in the midst of severe challenges Crews has always been drawn to laughter. She points out in her blog post that as a kid, she liked to watch TV sitcoms. “Those shows affirmed to me that life did in fact suck, but it was also worth turning into a sitcom. Hardships existed solely to set up a punch line.”

But writing her memoir was difficult nonetheless. In an interview, Crews spoke about the process: “Opening the old wounds and extracting their poison was both cathartic and painful, like self-imposed therapy sessions without a psychiatrist.”

Although humor is her mainstay, she apparently believes that because the truth of her background is not funny, the book is not funny. That’s not, however, how many reviewers see it—her wit and humor are in fact frequently cited. This one’s by author Julie Klausner:

Addictive and heartbreaking, Kambri’s memoir demonstrates both true grit and a sense of humor that exists only among the very sharpest of those who have survived extraordinary childhoods.

Crews knows that she’s not the only one who survives with the help of humor, of course. In the closing words of her blog post: “There is a reason comedians gravitate to the stage and why audiences continue to support live comedy and storytelling shows: Because life is tough, we all just want to laugh more.”

Dec 06

“The Descendants”: Husband/Father Faces Sudden Loss

I recently saw the new and highly praised/hyped movie The Descendants, a comedy/drama by director Alexander Payne. In a nutshell, Matt King (George Clooney), who’s been an emotionally distant husband and father, is suddenly forced to deal with grief and betrayal issues when his wife suffers a horrible accident.

The following are excerpts from the critics about this movie’s handling of the grief process: 

  • Bill GoodykoontzArizona Republic: “…captures the complexity of emotional reactions that grief stirs.”
  • Josh BellLas Vegas Weekly: “Grief feels overly pleasant…”
  • Ann HornadayWashington Post: “A tough, tender, observant, exquisitely nuanced portrait of mixed emotions at their most confounding and profound…”
  • Rex ReedNew York Observer: “…I found the film’s moments of pathos every bit as unconvincing as the bigger picture of a man who learns late-life redemption through guilt, and I found Mr. Clooney’s tears and sentimentality especially clumsy.”
  • Dana Stevens, Slate: “This is a movie that wants to confront painful truths about love, loss, and grief, yet there’s a curious emotional brittleness about it. The script seems to operate in only two affective modes—deadpan absurdism and heart-tugging melodrama—and every time it switches gears, the grinding is audible.”

As for me, one of the two main things I liked about this film was the feeling that the family’s grief responses were complicated and often realistically so. And the other was the acting of Clooney and the two young women portraying his daughters, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller.

However, I think the biggest failing was a certain lack of depth. Why, for example, has Matt been so emotionally unavailable?

As for the comedy/drama aspect, for me the film seemed much more “drama” than “comedy,” as most attempts at humor fell flat. Peter Howell, Toronto Star: “This is stealth comedy, richly delivered…” Then I would argue perhaps it’s too stealth. But anyway…

In sum, it’s a tragic story—and although I appreciated its theme and apparent intents, I just wish I’d been more moved by it. As does Richard Corliss, who states in his review for Time:

Watching this adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’s 2007 novel about a man facing family crises in the modern Eden of Hawaii, I wanted The Descendants‘ elevated sentiments to wash over me, inundate me in its lapping warmth, like the restorative waters on a Kauai beach. I’m a notorious softie, and I found things to like about the film…but I remained untouched. I must have been wearing my wet suit.

See it and see what you feel—or think.