Last year feels so much farther away than two months ago, doesn’t it?
At the end of 2016, so many of us felt melancholy, lamenting the losses of so many icons. Not only in comedy but everywhere else in the world, role models seemed to be swept up almost as if the heavens were calling an all-star rapture, as if they knew something we didn’t and were getting out while the getting was good. They included the funniest, most morally bold athlete (Muhammad Ali), the snarkiest onscreen villain (Alan Rickman), the most enigmatic musicians (Prince, David Bowie, George Michael) who made everyone feel they could love and be loved, the most self-deprecating screen idol (Carrie Fisher) and her mother (Debbie Reynolds). Abe Vigoda made a running joke of defying death, until he finally didn’t. Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke were sitcom parents for a generation, and Doris Roberts after that. The revolutionary golfer who inspired an army of fans and a tasty beverage (Arnold Palmer). John Glenn. Leonard Cohen. Craig Sager. Elie Wiesel. Gordie Howe. Morley Safer. Merle Haggard. Bud Collins. Patty Duke. Harper Lee.
Gene Wilder said he wasn’t a comedian, yet starred in some of the greatest comedy movies of all time, and formed teams with the best stand-up comedian (Pryor) and screenwriter (Mel Brooks) ever. Garry Shandling revolutionized TV sitcoms not once but twice.
Wilder and Shandling hit closest to home for me, as I realized just how much of an impact they’d made on me personally, as well as professionally inspiring me into however it is you describe what I do.
Comedy also saw the losses in 2016 of Pat Harrington, Bob Elliott, Joe Alaskey, Dave Anderson, Wayne Flemming, Gary Hood, Garry Marshall, Kevin Meaney, Adrianne Tolsch, and Ricky Harris.
We also lost friends and comedians we loved along the road who may never have achieved household recognition, from “Jersey Comic” Dennis Ross to Heather Snow and countless up-and-comers who you loved but I never knew.
It’s not going to get any easier. So far in 2017, we’ve already lost an icon in Mary Tyler Moore, SCTV/SNL alum Joe Rosato, “Professor” Irwin Corey and Alan Colmes, plus we have so many legends still living into their late 80s and early 90s, and that only portends more touching tributes to come quite soon.
But if our icons and heroes really have left us, that means, as one of my comedian friends put it over the holidays in his Facebook and Twitter messages, 2017 will be the year we who are still here find out who we really are and what we’re really made of.
Do we take up the challenge left behind by our role models? Or do we whimper away, sit by and do nothing?
I remember having these thoughts on Christmas morning, spending it with my parents and their dog, and the TV was on, tuned to CBS.
Face the Nation included an extended interview with Stephen Colbert (whom the industry collectively agreed had had a tough year, too), and you can see what his take on the year passed and the year to come meant to him. And now eight weeks later, we all can see how he has stepped it up more than a couple of notches.
Even before Colbert came on the tube that Christmas morning, CBS Sunday Morning featured the Dalai Lama, and wouldn’t you know it, he showed me the way out of the darkness is to head back into the light, back to joy. I know it’s not Christmas when you’re reading this.
But there’s still time for you to experience joy, and share it with those around you.