Humor is just another defense against the universe.Mel Brooks
There’s a fascinating thing that happens when you’re raising Gen Z kids. You say, “hey, let’s all watch something tonight!” and the kids immediately scramble for their anything everywhere all of the time devices and slink into different corners of the room.
“No…I mean all watch, as in we do it together. And something refers to a movie. So… let’s find a movie and watch on the the big TV. Together”
Generally they groan and remind you of the time you made them watch that one boring movie that was so long and so boring and you said it would be good so how can they possibly trust you again?
(Okay, so 2001 A Space Odyssey was a stretch.)
But we insist, and so they reluctantly put down their devices and decide how much fight they have it in them once they see our minds are made up; and anyway, this was a Costco run week and we’ve got the good snacks.
(Note to new parents: incentivizing kids with good snacks is one of those things you are shamed for when your kids are little but when they get older? Essential tool, impossible to overuse. #itgetsbetter)
That said, I don’t know that you can entirely imagine how arduous it can be to come to a four-way agreement on a movie when you have a film-loving household and a highly opinionated one at that.
One kid is in the mood for a romantic comedy, and the other teen is in the mood for a broad buddy comedy, and then the first teen says wait a sec I don’t know if I’m up for a comedy at all, how about a horror movie, and then the second teen says how about this one I haven’t seen, and the first seen says I’ve seen it—twice—so the adults step in to unearth a few suggestions from the dusty vaults of old people times (i.e the 90s) at which point one kid says, “let’s just watch old episodes of Monster High” and you don’t quite know if that’s sarcasm but probably not.
Repeat for oh, thirty minutes or so.
But not this time.
Not this Friday night.
I decided enough with the alien attacks and true crime, pandemic-ravaged civilizations and flesh-eating undead (including both the “slow-walking zombies” and “running zombies” sub-genres).
After another difficult week, I needed to laugh and I needed us to do it together. Jon felt it too.
Miracle of miracles, wonder of wonders, we were somehow able to get the kids to agree on a film they hadn’t seen, which included neither murder nor interplanetary conflict nor the number “2” after the title.
As soon as I hit play on the remote, a forgotten memory came smashing back into my brain.
Late September, 2001.
After a brief closure in the week after 9/11, Broadway reopened. New Yorkers—those of us who hadn’t fled at least—were desperate to find moments of escape from our daily reality and Broadway was running ads begging us to come back. Actually, everyone was back then. Spend money! It’s patriotic! You’re helping New York! You’re helping America!
(I used that excuse to buy more than a few pairs of shoes.)
My mom got us two tickets for The Full Monty musical; it was no The Producers but hey, it meant seeing André De Shields in the company of my mom, safely away from the news and the missing posters around my West Village neighborhood, the wilted flowers hanging from chainlink fences, the acrid smoke from Ground Zero that would continue to burn our nostrils for many months after anytime the wind changed direction.
Two hours in a Broadway theater sounded downright magical, in fact.
There were no tourists then; they were still scared to come into the city. And so 1100 or so New Yorkers, eager to support our hometown, dressed up just a bit and sat together for two hours, letting down our guards, withholding judgment or pretentious theater criticism of any kind and just…laughed.
Or more specifically, we let ourselves laugh.
We laughed so hard it brought those tears you try to pass off as allergies and I can’t properly describe to you just how much catharsis occurred in the Eugene O’Neil Theater that night.
Because what is that story, if not a group of friends at their darkest moments managing to bond together in support and find a path to a better future.
When the curtain closed and 1100 of us jumped to our feet to cheer the cast, you couldn’t miss the red eyes above the smiles, the crumpled Kleenex balls hidden in tight fists, the hands squeezing other hands, remembering that it would be possible—likely even—to feel joy again.
I will say it forever: The world needs art.
And evidently my DNA contains the understanding that when the world is at its most dire and terrible, we need humor too.
As for our Friday night movie at home, what I will remember most is looking over to catch a glimpse of three faces lit up with broad smiles, laughing in unison, gasping in unison, squeezing each other with feigned shock when they learned a colorful new insult or some outstanding new British slang for penis.
(I also came across the most important of revelations that night: Dave from The Full Monty is, in fact, Robert Baratheon. Hats off, Mark Addy!)
I’ve mentioned here that I love the catharsis of zombie movies and dystopian apocalyptic fare, but damn if a good laugh doesn’t patch up a few of the cracks in your soul. Like crazy glue to the broken handle of a mug your kids made you for Mother’s Day; of course you wish the mug had never broken, but that doesn’t mean you throw the whole thing away.
I won’t forget it again.
Liz Gumbinner is a Brooklyn-based writer, award-winning ad agency creative director, and OG mom blogger who was called “funny some of the time” by an enthusiastic anonymous commenter. This was originally posted on her Substack “I’m Walking Here!,” where she covers culture, media, politics, and parenting.