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Picks to click for when life is hard

The need for joy has been on my mind this week ... particularly instances that catch us off-guard, shake the rust off our internal engine and lift the spirit.

It does the heart, the mind and the soul some good to activate our muscle memories of spontaneous happiness — even during our most dreadful times ... and the past nine months more than qualify.

Or, as The (Slightly) Fabulous Limelighters would say, it’s been hard, it’s been hard, ain’t it hard ... hard-hard, hard-hard-hard ... not to mention very very difficult to rejuvenate a troubled spirit.

It isn’t easy to access such joy as our friends and neighbors in Talent and Phoenix facing a long road back, our indivisible nation appears more deeply divided than at any time in the past 160 years, and a continuing pandemic remains on course to kill — despite suggestions to the contrary from populist propagandists — 10 times the number of those who died during the 2019-20 flu season.

So it’s up to me, a certifiable graduate of the Happy Happy Joy Joy School of Eternal Sunshine, to flip the proverbial switch in hopes of jump-starting (however temporary) a reminder that the creative arts remain able to ignite our smile reflex.

What follows is a program of sorts ... a curated selection of pop culture moments of Zen that are able — in the philosophical wisdom of the lyrics of 1,978 different songs — to turn that frown upside down.

These are my choices for today. Ask me tomorrow, and I might include Ed Norton teaching Ralph Kramden proper golf etiquette on “The Honeymooners,” Stevie Budd singing “Maybe This Time” from the “Schitt’s Creek” production of “Cabaret” or Robin Williams going full Robin Williams with an audience member’s pink scarf during an “Inside the Actors Studio” interview.

Even if these picks can’t resuscitate your sense of joy, maybe they’ll jog the databanks and send you off on your own search.

Opening Number: “Bigger!” from the 2013 Tony Awards

Song and dance, acrobatics, a magic trick, arched jabs at Hollywood and Broadway insiders, cameos by Mike Tyson and Tom Hanks, and the combined casts of countless shows ... THAT’S entertainment! This exhilarating number deservedly won Emmys for co-writers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt, and showcased the multi-layered talents of host Neil Patrick Harris. Watching this might make you miss live theater even more, but I’ll live with that as long as it helps me remember why.

The Warm-Up Act: Drew Carey’s first “Tonight Show,” 1991

When I was a wee lad, I was enthralled by the cavalcade of stand-up comics who would do their six-minute bits on talk shows or in between hand-puppet Señor Wences and plate–spinner Erich Brenn on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They wore short haircuts and the same boring dark suit and tie. A quarter-century later, a former Marine and future game-show host walked out of the past and onto Johnny Carson’s stage and reminded me of those earlier times in a killer set that was so deceptively simple.

The Star Attraction: Aretha, Kennedy Center Honors, 2015

What do you mean ... “Aretha ... who?” In this video, which has been seen (as of Thursday) 42,395,757 times, the then 73-year-old Miss Franklin walks onto the stage wearing a fur coat and carrying her purse, sits at the piano and begins what becomes an epic performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in tribute to Kennedy Center honoree Carole King. This is about as organic as a musical connection gets between artist and audience, even when the audience is in evening gows and tuxedos. This performance trembles the soul.

The Skit: Tim Conway’s Siamese Elephant Story, 1977

If you loved “The Carol Burnett Show,” you knew that what was spontaneous often matched (and sometimes surpassed) what was actually in the script. The conventional choice here would be “The Dentist,” with Conway and Harvey Korman, but I laugh harder at this “Mama’s Family” skit in which Tim Conway’s stream of consciousness tale of Siamese elephants and their doomed trainer slays Burnett, Vicki Lawrence and Dick Van Dyke — and ends with a wisecrack from Lawrence that eloquently turns the tables.

A Little Song and Dance: Dancing With the Stars, 2014

My key would no longer work in the front door of my home if I didn’t include a dance number on this list ... so it’s a good thing I was planning to anyway. Here is the exuberant freestyle routine, set to Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)” that clinched the Mirror Ball Trophy for actor Alfonso Ribeiro and pro partner Witney Carson. A dizzying two minutes that features style, showmanship, sophistication and an Easter egg to Ribeiro’s role on “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Try to keep you feet still while watching.

The Finale: Igudesman & Joo, 2007

Closing out this high-energy show with a disco cover by a classical violinist and a concert pianist? Well, yes, of course ... sort of. The stylings of Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo have a cult following among their peers as well as their fans and, in this number from their show “A Little Nightmare Music,” they take a legendary song of resourcefulness and defiance and give it a spin all its own. It’s the right piece at the right time — and, well, okay, played by the wrong guys ... but it works all the same.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin will be away from rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com next week, practicing “The Carlton.”

Oh, one more thing: What would a show be without an encore? Here's an extra at no change: The post-credits musical number from "Mamma Mia!"

Robert Galvin