I have watched with great interest through the years the increasing number of athletes who have used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. As a writer, I am proud of my body (of work) that has not been tarnished by the use of any humor-enhancing or whimsy-producing substances.
There have been periods in my life when I’ve wondered where my next joke would come from. I have sometimes found myself in a comic abyss, ready to steal others’ lines.
Once you’re hooked on other people’s humor, it’s hard to kick the habit. You think you have conquered your demons, but soon you are hiding Woody Allen quips on index cards in your office desk drawer or sticking Post-it Notes with Jeff Foxworthy zingers on your refrigerator. You sneak a peek at Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routines on YouTube and before you know it, you are addicted.
I constantly fight the temptation to pilfer from others. At first, it’s just casual use, like a witty remark at a party filched from Eddy Murphy, or an observation from Andy Rooney. The allure becomes intoxicating. It’s so easy to become dependent.
Having written more than 1,000 humor columns, I am proud of what I have accomplished. There were some close calls — times when the dark side tried to affect my lighter side. While writing a recent essay, I saw the perfect spot for a wisecrack from “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I broke out in a sweat. A single stolen joke would cause me to fall off the wagon.
One newspaper, in order to safeguard its reputation and to assure themselves that I was not “using,” administered a test to assess any potential reliance I might have on other humorists’ material.
I filled out an extensive survey with tough multiple-choice questions, including this famous Henny Youngman line:
Take my wife…
A. As an example
B. To the grocery store
D. Out of Nordstrom
The newspaper also sent a few of my columns to a humor clinic in Washington, D.C. to be analyzed. I tested completely negative: not stolen, not plagiarized.
And sadly, not very funny.