by Joanna D'Angelo

The other night I went out to dinner with some friends and the topic got around to our favourite TV shows.  One of my friends has become obsessed with Dexter.  She couldn't stop talking about it and wanted to reveal the whopping finale to season four. I passed. I did watch an episode of Dexter in season one. I always like to watch at least one episode of a new series just to check it out and to see if I want to make a commitment.  I can usually tell by the first date if it's going to work or not. But, I just can't commit to Dexter. Not because it isn't a clever and well written show but because I just can't watch a guy who has an addiction to carving people up on a regular basis. Fascinating premise yes, but not part of my "must see" line up.  In ten years will I look back fondly and say - gee I miss that Dexter?  Nope. Don't get me wrong, I love heart wrenching, soul stirring, dark and brooding drama - but when it comes to TV at least, I am first and foremost drawn to the funny.

Why is that? Well, funny you should ask that question. (I'm assuming you asked it in your heads). Funny is what gets me through the day.  Truly. I don't think we laugh enough in our culture and I'm always appreciative of anything or anyone who can make me grin, giggle or even guffaw.  I come from a family of great story tellers - funny story tellers. My nonna (dad's mom) was a master story teller.  Maybe it was because she was illiterate that she developed an ability to weave a good tale. She had a very sharp mind. I remember the summer I turned 15, I went to Italy with my older sister, my cousin and my nonna. Back to my parents' home town.  Back to the little corner of the world where Nonna reigned as Queen.  While we did quite a bit of travelling that summer we also spent a lot of time with family and friends.  One afternoon my sister and I were returning from visiting my aunt, (my mother's sister)  and Nonna was holding court with the neighbours in the alley behind her house.  They sat around on wobbly kitchen chairs and empty wooden crates.  And they were telling stories. Funny stories. Silly stories. Even raunchy stories.  At one point Nonna told a joke about a priest and a prostitute. I can't do it justice but here is the gist of it:

A prostitute steps into the confessional and addresses the priest -

Prostitute: Father I had a dream about you last night.
Priest: This could very well be.
Prostitute: Father, I dreamt that you had your hands all over me.
Priest: This could very well be.
Prostitute: Father, I dreamt that you enjoyed yourself.
Priest: This could very well be.
Prostitute: Father, I dreamt that you paid me $50.
Priest: Oh no. This could never be.

Okay, the joke sounded better in Italian and it was very funny as told by my nonna whom I'm sure is regaling her friends in the great beyond.  I probably didn't tell it the way she did.   I'm not very good at telling jokes. But I do like to laugh and that's the point I was trying to make.  I can't remember a single family gathering that didn't include laughter - great raucous laughter. Also many arguments - but that's for another post.  My father inherited that storytelling gene.  I like to tell stories too which is why I do what I do. 

The other reason why I'm so drawn to comedy shows is because I have what is known as "panic disorder".  I know, everything is a disorder nowadays. But in my 20s I went through a dark period that "unleashed" this panic thing.  If, you've ever had a panic attack then you'll know what I'm talking about.  I'm not referring to the butterflies in your stomach before an exam.  I'm referring to what can only be described as something that feels like you're dying. But you're not. Of course medication and therapy has been a great help. But sometimes the panic "punches through".  It doesn't happen very often any more  nor for any reason  - that is - I'm not feeling upset or nervous about anything before I get an attack. It just suddenly hits.  I can quickly recognize the signs now:  floor begins to shift beneath my feet; overwhelming feeling of doom; disorientation, dizziness, rapid heart beat, feeling faint. If it ever happens to you, lie down right away - trust me - I've fainted before - not fun.  My panic attacks generally happened at night. I'm told that is common. When they first began they impacted my "sleep hygiene". So, I created a night time routine - which is very important.  One of the things I started doing was watching Seinfeld every night. I still watch it - but not as much as I used to - probably because I can run favourite scenes in my head so I don't need to watch it. Weird huh? Another show that helped me was Northern Exposure (in my opinion an honorary Canadian show). I used to watch it religiously as well. I still enjoy it on occasion.  All of this to say - that laughing really helps. It re-sets my inner-peace/balance button- or something like that.

But even before the panic attacks hit I was always attracted more to comedy than anything else. When we think of our most beloved TV characters of all time who comes to mind?  Well, Lucy Ricardo and Mary Richards are definitely on my list.  See, it's the funny ones.  (and women dominate of course).  In  recent years I've added  Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha - they're a package deal.  I loved those "walk and talks" (what better way to show off those outfits). Definitely, Elaine Benes with her love of big salads, her on again off again relationship with Puddy, her spongeworthy philosophy on men and her-let's face it- unrealized love for Jerry.  My current favourite comedy heroines  - I've blogged about them before - but they include Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) from 30 Rock and Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) of Being Erica. I also adore Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) from Glee.  Although, technically Sue isn't a heroine - she's a villainess - but the funniest villainess on TV for sure.

It takes work to be funny and it's hard to make people laugh. Trust me. I'm trying to do that with a TV series that I'm currently developing with the fabulous Kayla Perrin.  Well, it's more of a dramedy - but there's enough funny that we're shooting for to make it a real challenge for us. But we're up for it. And we've made each other laugh over our characters and their shenanigans - and that's fine with me. Now, if I could just channel my nonna's flair for story telling...

Here's a little gem of Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) doing her thing:

And here is Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) from Being Erica. In this scene she's gone back in time to her university creative writing class where she actually wows her demanding professor with a "brand new poem" off the top of her head - er - with a little help from Britney.


  1. Now that is funny. I have this sense of humor that sometimes get me in trouble because people take me too seriously. Anyway, funny - or more a sense of fun - is what I have to have in my writing, too. I've been agonizing over which wip I should focus on this year and I decided it had to be fun - I get bored with the other 2 that aren't as much fun.

    So this blog is at the top of my list for fun things I must do to get through the day. Thanks for being there.

  2. Hi Kathy:

    I completely agree with you - I'm all about injecting fun into my writing too. I for one welcome humour in any form. It's all good. The production company I used to work for had several people with wicked senses of humour - I could never keep up with their zingers - but I occasionally got a "nice" or a "good one Jojo" from them. My brand of funny is decidedly more on the wacky side - which they appreciated as well. Thanks for stopping by and I'm so glad that you enjoy the blog!


  3. Hello Jojo!

    Yet another winning piece from you!! How do you do it?! I loved reading about your Nonna. My Italian family isn't quite as funny, though my Uncle is good at telling dirty jokes. But my adoptive Parsi family is hilarious - long story, won't bore you with it now - and I do have a cute joke for you.

    Two men were sitting down for a break in their soon to be opened new store in a residential area in Mumbai.

    As yet, the store wasn't ready, with only a few shelves set up.

    One said to the other, ' This locality is full of Parsis, and I bet any
    minute some curious Bawaji - elder Parsi man - is going to walk by, put his face to the window and ask what we're selling.'

    No sooner were the words out of his mouth when, sure enough, a curious Parsi
    walked to the window, had a peek, and in his typical Parsi accent asked
    'Hey guy, what are you selling here'.

    One of the men sitting there replied sarcastically, 'We're selling arse-holes.'

    Without skipping a beat, the Parsi elder said, 'You are doing well for a new business . . . . . Only two left!'


  4. Nina! Ha! That's a good one and I think you can insert any ethnic group into that joke for sure. I thank you for your lovely comment. It means a lot that you take the time to read my posts. And one day you must blog about your adopted Parsi family. :)


  5. Hi Joanna,

    I have a friend's daughter who couldn't be in close quarters. She couldn't drive very far without having a panic attack. She would to get out of her car and do something before she could drive farther. I had never seen anyone with such a severe phobia. She died at the young age of 25 of esophageal cancer last year.

    I can't write funny for anything, but I'm going to try. Your Nono sounds like she was a real hoot. I mean that in a very good way.

  6. Hi Sandy - I'm so sorry to hear about your friend's daughter. And do have died at such a young age - so tragic. I hope she is at peace.

    I think you have to start with what makes you laugh - what do you find funny and take it from there. There are a lot of books out there about writing good comedy - but at the end of the day - it's telling a story that we can all relate to right? Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment.

  7. You are absolutely right JoJo that we don't laugh enough in life. I try to find humour in every situation - it makes getting through some really difficult times much easier. Certainly Seinfeld was a favourite, but I loved Second City Television when that was broadcast as well. Some of the episodes of All in the Family were brilliant and as far as movies go - the Marx Brothers are my measuring stick or schtick for the funny.

    I swear your nonna and mine must have been separated from birth because mine had the bluest humour of any woman that I have ever known - we would say that she would make a construction worker wilt with her mouth.

    Thanks for writing this - made me smile...again. ;)

  8. Jojo - Oh, my lord - Jane Lynch...that clip is pure diamond brilliance.

    I share your panic attack history, as my family is very prone to anxiety disorder. However, for me personally I was plagued with it in my late teens and early twenties, and for some reason I used cognitive behaviour therapy on myself without knowing what I was doing. I got it under control by recognizing the signs of an oncoming attack and altering my thought patterns before the attack could settle in. It gave me a tremendous amount of comfort to read about others going through the same thing, and it made me feel less alone and trapped whenever one threatened, to remind myself that millions of other people have gone through this throughout all time.

    The only thing I can't seem to talk my way through is having to do any kind of public speaking. Unfortunately, I've recently had to give a presentation at work which went okay except for me feeling like I was about to perish. The people in my group couldn't imagine that the passionate, well-spoken, confidant, authoritative person they knew - me - could descend into a babbling idiot if I had to speak to more than eight people at a time.

    That's why I'm able to help my husband out - he has bipolar disorder, an enormous amount of anxiety and agoraphobia. He often trembles like a leaf, and every time he has to go to work, he's basically working his way through yet another panic situation. Because I know how he feels, I'm able to reassure him in a way that acknowledges just how terrible it is to go through panic attacks. To me, my husband is heroic.

    And so are you, Jojo. Think of how many times you've come out the other side - and how much courage that takes.

  9. Hi squozed:
    Yes, I love Second City as well. Good Canadian comedy! I don't know what it is about Canada but this country has produced some funny people.

    Your nonna must have been pretty special too. ;)

    I'm glad you enjoyed my post.

    Thank you so much for stopping by and for your comments. ;)

  10. Dear Julia:

    You are a wonder! Your comment made me teary-eyed. You are a lovely, lovely person.

    I completely agree with you though - cognitive therapy has helped me as well - I generally have to lie down -but I'll grab a magazine and start reading and that helps it pass.

    As for your stage fright - well you're in good company - Barbra Streisand also suffers from it. I think like any kind of phobia - exposure is the only cure.

    Thank you so much for your comments.
    Now get back out there and shine! ;)

  11. I love the funny too :) I agree that serious, dramatic, creepy or through-provoking shows can be great, well-written, superbly acted, etc etc but I really prefer to laugh or smile.

    While I haven't watched Glee yet, I love Jane Lynch in anything she does. She was great in Best In Show. And she (along with the Mom - and housekeeper - all dryly funny ladies!) are the only good things about Two and Half Men IMO. If I see a synopsis where any of those 3 characters are on the show - I will watch. Otherwise - delete.

    Laughing and smiling keeps us young :)

  12. Hi Celeste: Oh you my dear must watch Glee! It's one of the funniest, cutest shows on TV. And they sing and dance in every episode. Jane Lynch is absolutely brilliant in it. She was nominated for a Golden Globe so fingers crossed for her. I love her in all those Chris Guest movies too. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by - I couldn't agree with you more. Cheers!

  13. Hi Jojo

    Funny is good - funny is what keeps us going I believe. I love good comedy shows and if you've noticed, at the end of a hard day we sit down with a funny DVD to chill, not a hard and heavy thing.

    Sorry to hear about your panic attacks. Sounds like hell, and to know that you go through it is really hard to stomach. But like the strong lady you are, you're facing up to it and that's the strength and beauty of your spirit, that you always fight back.

    So you and Kayla are working on a show? Awesome! Agree though - it isn't easy to write funny, and sometimes not everyone will 'get' it. But hey, it's fun, innit? :)



  14. I love great humor too, but actually prefer a mix. A little drama thrown in offsets the comedy and serves to heighten it, for me. Unless it's Monty Python, who can get away with great humor throughout. As you said, being funny takes hard work and a certain genius.
    I have a tendency for black humor, too, which Dexter feeds. I miss Northern Exposure! Used to love that show too.
    Too cool that you and Kayla are developing a series! Looking forward to hearing more about it.

  15. p.s. I read your pieces because they are really FUNNY! But not always ha ha funny, more of the insightful funny that makes life bearable. And your panic attacks are not funny by any stretch of the imagination, of course! Thanks for the response. Will definitely blog about my Parsi family in Jan. Great idea!

  16. Great post! I usually prefer the funny too. That's one of the reasons I could never get into Criminal Minds. Despite my friends raving about it, after watching a couple of episodes I came to the conclusion that these characters were totally humorless. I just couldn't relate.

  17. Great piece, Jo-Jo!!

    I love funny too. And like you, I tend to lean in that direction. Never did watch Dexter. There's more than a few gruesome shows I've passed on. But give me 30 Rock, Big Bang Theory, Ugly Betty, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, etc. and I'm all over it! *grin*

    Sorry to hear of your panic attacks. Yikes. That truly sucks, my dear. Good for you for moving forward and seizing the brightness despite the clouds.

    Now my childhood wasn't the best of times, though being a Sagittarius, I always found the good even then. But the warm, fuzzy, SAFE childhood others experienced was something I watched on The Brady Bunch, not something I experienced. I try to explain to people, fear is not fun for me because I lived it. It's not entertainment if your childhood wasn't safe. Then it's a dark reminder of the terror and anxiety you put behind you. Give me a giggle and a happy ending and the world is right again.

    So I do relate in an 'around-the-corner' way.

    Oh, and now I HAVE to watch Being Erica! *laughs*

    --Chiron O'Keefe
    Motivation for Writers at
    The Write Soul: www.chironokeefe.blogspot.com

  18. Hey Z:
    Thanks so much for your comment - I couldn't agree with you more - laugh baby! My panic attacks are under control so no worries on that front. Thank you for your kindness.


  19. Hey Nina - I know sweetie :) That's the kind of funny I'm attracted to most of all ;) I'm sooo looking forward to your blog post tho! ;)


  20. Hi Cate: I see your point about Dexter - the dark humour I'm sure appeals to many :) And thanks about the TV show - we're excited about it!


  21. Hey Kelly:
    thanks I'm glad you liked my post! I tried Criminal Minds on for size as well - and I'm with you - again - the serial killer thing. I think I can handle it in a movie - but not every week in a TV show! ;)

  22. Chiron - we are soul sisters then! Because I love those shows too! I know that in your case - whatever you went through growing up helped to shape the lovely and shining light you are today! Cheers!

    Being Erica is on soapnet in the US ;)

  23. Hi, Jo -- Loved your post! And I agree with you about humor making everything better. It's important to find it in a mate, too -- someone who makes you laugh every day is worth his weight in gold. It's a precious gift.


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