I have watched with great interest over the years the increasing number of athletes who have used steroids and other body-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.
Other humor columnists, I am convinced, have on their shelves at home Milton Berle's Personal Jokebook, the 12-volume Complete Works of Henny Youngman and the Acapulco Gold of humor, Bob Hope's Greatest One-Liners (unabridged).
My old friend, the late Soupy Sales, gave me a file with his 100 favorite jokes. I have been tempted to look at it, but I don’t want to be tempted to borrow from it.
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. I used to hang around Barnes and Noble and Borders. I haunted Books-A-Million, where I knew I could buy funny cracks at a good price. At one point, I even loitered at a nearby Half Price Books, but you never know what you're buying at a place like that.
I had a friend who overdosed on The Pocket Rodney Dangerfield back in the '70s. I still believe they had cut some bad Jerry Lewis into the mix, and it required my buddy to go cold turkey for almost a month — suffering for 3½ weeks from Dangerfield tremors. Nothing funny about it.
Once you’re hooked on other people's humor, it’s hard to kick the habit. You may think you have conquered your demons, but before long you're 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're addicted.
As a professional humorist, 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 maybe 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'm proud of what I've accomplished. There were some close calls — times when the dark side tried to affect my lighter side, but I was strong. While composing last week’s essay, I saw the perfect spot for a wisecrack I remembered from "Everybody Loves Raymond." I broke out in a sweat, but I resisted. A single stolen joke or “borrowed” pun, and I’d 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 oldie:
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.
Dick Wolfsie is an author, public speaker and featured reporter for WISH-TV.