COMEDY THAT’S INSPIRING, NOT INSULTING.
Byline: CHRIS WEINKOPF
(story from – http://www.thefreelibrary.com/COMEDY+THAT’S+INSPIRING,+NOT+INSULTING.-a0137647261)
“I’VE got some bad news: You’re probably never going to walk again. But your parking problems are solved!”
Another joke, another outburst of laughter in the crowded barroom. Studio City comedian Phil Perrier had the audience on his side. But then, he’d won it over before his act even began, when he slowly climbed onto the stage at the Hollywood Improv, clutching a quad cane.
This day was never supposed to have happened. Five months ago, Perrier – a joke-writer for Jay Leno and an occasional contributor to the Daily News’ op-ed pages – was paralyzed when trying to take up surfing at the age of 40. (“I think the advisability of that is readily apparent,” Perrier deadpans.) Doctors told him he might stay paralyzed for life.
But there was Phil, standing on stage and cracking jokes.
Before catching Perrier’s act last week, I hadn’t set foot in a comedy club in more than a decade, largely because modern comedy seems to be dominated by the cruel and the crass.
And to be sure, there was plenty of both among the other acts at the Improv that night. There was the self-professed creepy guy, who said he can smile only when he sees a little old lady fall down an escalator. There was the unwittingly creepy guy, who explained why he would make the ideal rapist. There was the utterly creepy guy, who simulated sex acts with his ukulele.
Then there was Phil, who was funny.
Perrier’s tasteful act involved retelling his story of the last few months. A testament to his wit, he could find much humor in agonizing times.
“I tried to embellish my story,” Perrier explained: “I was surfing in Malibu, and this wave picked me up and jammed me down into the sand. … And then these two dudes shot me for no reason!”
In rehab, Phil also got acquainted with high-grade painkillers. “Morphine has a powerful side effect: a strong desire for more morphine.”
But despite the suffering, Perrier seemingly remained pleasant. At least that’s what I gathered from watching the table of Rancho Los Amigos staffers who had made the trip to Hollywood for the show. They cheered on their former patient, proudly snapping photos.
During his time in rehab, Perrier must have made an impression, just as he did that night during his 15 minutes on stage. Throughout his act, he never boasted about his recovery, except to salute those who made it possible. Nor did he play the sympathy card.
Going into the show, I expected to feel sorry for Phil, but instead I found myself feeling sorrier for his comedic counterparts. The other, able-bodied comics seemed to have learned that to make it in their tough line of work, they need to tell degrading jokes so trite that they’ve long lost whatever comic shock value they once had.
These jesters were cynical and sarcastic, but didn’t seem to be an especially happy bunch.
Contrast them to Phil, the guy who could barely walk, who spent months away from his passion and his livelihood – an experience that all but impoverished him. In his eyes, in his wit, in his jokes, there was joy.
“It feels so good to be back on stage. My enthusiasm is the highest it’s been since I first started out 20 years ago doing open-mike nights,” Perrier later told me.
Maybe there was something redemptive about his suffering that made him grateful just to be alive. “I have much more understanding of not taking anything for granted, be it walking down the street or having a cup of coffee,” he says.
Or maybe he has that inner-satisfaction that comes from being graced and knowing it. “Every time I could have gotten a break, I did,” he says.
After his accident, two passers-by flipped him over in the water so he wouldn’t drown. His spinal injury wasn’t complete, so there was a chance of recovery. “Every little thing that could have gone my way, went my way,” he says, with a sincere, amazing sense of optimism.
All I know is I’ve never seen any other comedian sign off the way Phil did: “OK guys, thanks a lot., God bless you!”
And blessed we were.