Comedy a matter of timing

It’s almost book fair time again and each year I wait anxiously to hear what the theme will be. I then remember how grateful I am for a chance to be goofy around children. Have you ever tried to make your kids laugh? Worse, have you ever tried to be funny when your kids have friends over?

Gosh, it worked so well when they were two. They still laughed when they were five. It even went pretty well when they were 10.

Then just when you think you’ve really got it, the mood of the crowd gets ugly.

They turn into preteens and you feel like you are doing slapstick for a crowd of nuclear physicists. Pearls before swine or, from their angle, pork chops before pearls.

It can be so demoralizing. You once again taste rejection like you haven’t experienced since the seventh-grade dance.

You can empathize with every comedian who ever bombed in a small, smoky bar in Bakersfield. The eye-rolling, heavy sighing, “Geez Mom!” disdain of your children stops short of a chair-throwing brawl, but just barely.

I have come to offer reassurance. You have not lost, overnight, your ability to be clever and funny, despite what your child may tell you.

You just need a new audience. How do I know? More than 600 kids told me so. I am the library lady at my nearby elementary school, where I have found the perfect setting to dress up and be goofy at every opportunity. Kindergarten through fourth-grade think I am hilarious. The fifth- and sixth-graders are a tougher crowd, but when they think I’m not looking, I see them smiling.

Over the past two decades, I have taken on the personas of Wilma (Where’s Waldo’s female counterpart), a four-armed green alien and Ms. Frizzle (of Magic School Bus fame, this time with a red wig). I have donned my now-famous flannel jammies and curler cap for Pajama Day and wore my mom’s high school middy and bloomers for an Olympic sports theme. I’ve been a germ, ice queen, shark-bait and a worm.

For me it is pure therapy. Pandora’s box has been opened. Once I put on my first wig, my alter egos leapt out and there’s no going back. The kids are the best captive audience I could imagine and I have the best time. It is a resounding vote for the joy and wisdom of age. Are you one of us who always yearned to be a cheerleader, go onstage or do extemporaneous speaking, but never found the courage? Until my 30s, the thought of these things made my lips quiver with terror. By the time I hit 40, I finally realized that I had impressed just about everyone I needed to impress and I could finally relax. Then the fun really began.

As someone recently said, “I have reached the age where it is more important to feel good than to look good.” While that is considered a high sacrilege by many in Southern California, it definitely gets my vote.
Anyone want to borrow my stick-on eyeballs?

 Jean Hart Gillette is a thoroughly silly media-center aide with a closet full of costumes. Contact her at


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