Thirty Hilarys Agree
There are two things I remember about one special afternoon back when I was 12:
1. I was twelve. I don't know why that was crucial, but I remember thinking it.
2. I heard a bass line that would kind of change my life.
Let's walk it back.
For reasons my mom and I could never really pinpoint, I was homeschooled after second grade. When I was 21 I asked about her motivation to pull me out of public school:
Me: Why did you homeschool me?
Her: When you were seven you came home and said you didn't want to go to school anymore.
Me: I was SEVEN.
Up until I finally went back in my freshman year of high school, I spent a lot of time alone. That's never been a problem for me, as entertaining myself always came pretty easy. I didn't do a lot of actual schoolwork (whoops) but I had time to think and create things.
Along with that isolation, though, came a good deal of alienation. I had friends for sure, I wasn't locked away, but I couldn't participate in the cultural discourse that my peers were exposed to daily.
An early memory: the height of NKOTB hysteria, I was probably less than nine years old. A couple of my girlfriends (let's call them Emily and Anna) and I are laying on one of their beds talking about what's Hip and Cool. I am almost certainly trying to keep up and bombing hard. Emily pulls out a glossy magazine completely covered in young mens' hairless faces and she and Anna begin to coo over each page. I am...out of the loop. They excitedly chatter about New Kids on The Block and suddenly I have things to contribute.
"They're so stupid! I'll never like them. They make bad music."
Let's walk it back, again: my father is a multi-instrumentalist. He taught me how to play "Imagine" on the piano before I learned that Communism was a word. I thought Phil Collins and Yes and Led Zeppelin and The Monkees were the tits.
The only appropriate reaction to this kind of boring self-righteousness, of course, is apathy and side-eye. My hopes of being the Correct and Popular One were dashed right there on the comforter.
That was the beginning of my outcasted-ness. I began the descent into insufferable pre-teen (and teen. and young-adult.) gatekeeping, mining my limited knowledge of what was "good" and "bad" and making sure my friends knew that there was someone out there with taste. It was stubborn and short-sighted and all I had.
So I was twelve years old, I had the house to myself for the afternoon. I had some coursework to complete but had figured out that I could get most of it done in half the allotted time and that left me a good portion of the day to goof off.
Comedy Central was a fun channel, but I couldn't relate to most of the stand-up at that time outside of Paula Poundstone. Regardless, around 2:30pm I hopped up into my dad's study and turned it on. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet's clangy guitars were surfing through the opening credits as each member of Kids In The Hall was introduced. I was enchanted.
It resonated with me. It certainly appealed to the side of me that wanted to be different from everyone else. I found a thing. It's a weird thing. And it's mine. But then too, I got the jokes. I absorbed the absurdity and subversiveness and (maybe) the sarcasm and I was electrified. I was an outsider and these guys were also outsiders but now we had a language that we all spoke. The other girls could have Donny Wahlberg, I'd keep a crush on Dave Foley for a decade or two. And while the show would for a minute become part of my elitist currency among my associates, it was the first time I felt like I could maybe be understood. It set the tone for how I sought out the kind of art I liked and made, and the music I preferred, and the people I'd love.
I repeatedly turned to comedy for comfort and expression, and tried to be the funny one or the one with the quick comebacks in the friend group. I probably stayed in the hospitality and service industries for as long as I have because I enjoy good, quick banter. It's also easy to hide behind, and for someone who grew up as a loner it became the most effective way to connect while maintaining a thick boundary.
Discovering esoteric sketch comedy probably didn't help with the trying-to-connect part, but it did broaden my perception of what comedy could do. One sketch in particular from The Whitest Kids U Know, titled "Hunting Accident", begins with a fine dose of levity but after three uncomfortable moments you begin to ache for the punchline. The twist is that it never comes. I was left with my jaw hanging and a growing desire for bizarre setups. Later a friend introduced me to this and I spent the next year traumatizing anyone who would give me five minutes to play it for them.
All of this is not to say that I think I'm funny, or that I have superior taste in humor. I have my taste in humor, and it helps me cope with and process the scarier parts of existence. And every now and then I'll make something that cracks me up and I get to just enjoy that. If others get in on the joke, all the better.
My standards now for what's valuable or worthy have relaxed considerably. I like all kinds of music and literature and movies, but most of all I love talking with people who get excited about what they love. Even if it's not something that I'm into, the electricity is the thing, whatever it is that lights up a face. It keeps me connected.
Someone made a really great playlist inspired by the music from KITH. Highly recommend it.