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Funny thing happened on the way to the new year


As spontaneous noises go, it was at once familiar and stunning.

It seemed to rise from all directions, out of the dark, until it dawned on me that I, too, was contributing to this strange, communal experience.


Not the sort of laughter that seems obligatory when a co-worker drops a half-witticism or stumbles into the corner edge of a cubicle partition.

This was an organic, primal, cathartic engagement that would be oft-repeated during the 2 hours and 30 minutes of “It’s Christmas, Carol!” inside the Bowmer Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Where had this joyful noise been? Who knew that laughing in the dark with strangers would be so missed and so welcome? Joni Mitchell was right: You really don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

A week after that matinee performance of OSF’s holiday show, I’ve been able to draw some conclusions about why that sound had brought such necessary, if even just fleeting relief.

Our laugh-muscles have all but atrophied over the past few years — often only emerging when they spring with reflexive guilt from mean-spiritedness directed at those demeaned or diminished.

To be sure, there is a healthy dose of that in type of humor in “It’s Christmas, Carol!” — it features The Marx Brothers, after all — but we find ourselves laughing without consequence or judgment over what we find funny or how it is expressed.

Once the pressure valve that seemingly has been holding back (since who knows when) our ability to spread good humor was released, other communal experiences seem to spring from all corners.

Making the rounds of the cyber theater that is the Internet has been, of all things, an obituary which originally appeared in The Fayetteville Observer, the oldest newspaper in North Carolina

Written by one her sons, the piece details the life and passing of one Renay Mandel Corren at the age of 84 — which, the obit begins, is “of itself hardly news, or good news if you're the type that subscribes to the notion that anybody not named you dying in El Paso, Texas is good news.”

From there launches a ribald, risqué and often riotous take of Renay’s life as a “plus-sized Jewish lady redneck,” as she traveled the southeast became (at least in her son’s words) a legend.

Some snippets:

“At one point in the 1980's, Renay was the 11th or 12th-ranked woman in cribbage in America, and while that could be a lie, it sounds great in print.”

“Yes, Renay lied a lot. But on the plus side, Renay didn't cook, she didn't clean, and she was lousy with money, too.”

“We thought Renay could not be killed. God knows, people tried. … Covid couldn't kill Renay. Neither could pneumonia twice, infections, blood clots, bad feet, breast cancer twice, two mastectomies, two recessions, multiple bankruptcies, marriage to a philandering Sergeant Major, divorce in the 70's, six kids, one cesarean, a few abortions from the Quietly Famous Abortionist of Spring Lake, NC or an affair with Larry King in the 60's.”

(If you’re reading online, the link to the full obituary — and, trust me, there’s much much more — is provided. If you’re reading in print, do not put your mouse on the newspaper, it won’t work.)

I suppose there will be some of you who won’t find Andy Corren’s tribute to his mother to be in good humor or good taste. But when it came to my inbox through a Kansas City lawyer named Jeff, I joined the throng of those who have made it a viral sensation.

Once opening myself up to laughter again, the skies cleared, my jaw unclenched and — even after a second year of pandemic-induced psychosis — I allowed myself the luxury of thinking things actually might get better in the coming year.

The other morning, the three of us were sprawled out across the living room rug … two of us doing the morning stretching exercises, and me along for the ride.

In the background played, as is custom, a acoustic folk compilation album (don’t ask) — specifically at this moment the song “World Keeps Turnin’ by Trevor Hall.

“I wonder,” I asked during leg lifts, “why he’s singing about a pizza oven glowing.”

“Wait … what?” came the reply, not from the cat.

“The pizza oven,” I said. “ Don’t you hear it?”

This, apparently, would not stand. And before you could say laurel (or yanny), to the internets we went and discovered that what I had heard as “the pizza oven’s glowing” was in fact “seeds we’re always sewing.”

(Don’t ask.)

Any way you slice it, of course, whenever we get to that lyric each morning, the exercise routine crumbles into chuckles, guffaws, and even the occasional giggle … not from the cat.

Laughter, it seems, has returned to being an option — whether online, on the floor, or in the dark with strangers.

“The grace is always blowing,” Hall sings through our daily disruption.

“We’ve just got to lift the sail

“And we’re bound to hit the shore

“We’ll finally calm this storm.”

Until then, why should Groucho resort to only putting a lampshade on his head when he can wear an entire chandelier?

Hey guys, the entire staff at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com really appreciated the Coriolanus joke.