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Funny business!

My wife Mary Ellen was kind enough to pass along a comment she had heard about me at her book club. “Kathy says your newspaper column makes her laugh.”

“Gee, thanks for sharing that, Mary Ellen.”

“Yes, and Cara, the organizer of the group, told me she thinks you’re quite amusing on TV.”

“Wow, I sure appreciate the compliments.”

“But Dick, I have to ask you this: How come you’re not so funny at home?”


“Well, people keep telling me how humorous you are. They say it must be so much fun to live with you, but I just don’t see it. Maybe you just leave it all in the basement where you write your column, or at the remote locations where you do your TV segments?”

“How dull has it been for you the last 38 years?”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. We’ve had a great marriage and I’ve been perfectly happy. It’s just not been the laugh riot everyone else thinks it is.”

It was a startling observation — and not an unfair one. When we are out with other couples we all laugh. Waiters just love to trade jabs with me. The UPS guy and I always yuk it up on my doorstep. I never leave the dry cleaners without exchanging a few jokes with the clerk. But, apparently, I save nothing for my relationship with my wife. I give too much at the office.

I mounted a feeble defense. “Mary Ellen, in some ways, this is your fault.”

“Excuse me?”

“I can’t kid about your cooking: it’s outstanding. You dress impeccably, your hair is always perfect, and you are very intelligent. I need some material to work with.”

“I must admit, Dick, you are making a convincing argument, but still, my friends assume that the way you are in public carries over at home. Am I missing something?”

That evening I was determined to make things right. We sat across from each other at the dinner table. She was just staring at me and shaking her head. “Dick, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Now you’re trying way too hard. A red foam clown nose is not what I had in mind. And you keep kicking me with those giant, floppy shoes.”

At that moment, I had to really bring out my best material. “Mary Ellen, maybe you’d like for me to be more like Harry the accountant who lives next door?”

“Is he a funny guy?”

“No. In fact, his wife Sue says he can be very calculating. I could be like Jake, the comforter manufacturer across the street — always down on life. Or there’s Hugh, our exterminator friend — antsy the minute he walks in our door.”

When a slight grin appeared on my wife’s face, I knew I had made some progress. “Well, I guess I do have the ability to amuse you after all,” I said. “How about if I try to bring this same snappy repartee to the dinner table every single night? That would make me as funny at home as I am at work.”

“Please,” said Mary Ellen, as she gave me a big hug. “Don’t make me laugh.”

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