If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

Woody Allen said it originally, but it’s my dad’s voice I hear when it echoes in my head. It was December of 2007, five days before Christmas. My father was going in for heart surgery the next morning and I was headed to our nation’s capital to tape a special for XM Radio. I called him from the balcony of my Los Angeles apartment. I shivered in the cold and smoked a cigarette as we talked.

“I have the flights all booked,” I said proudly. “I go to DC for the shows this weekend and then I’ll be in Texas on Sunday in plenty of time for Christmas.” My itinerary was perfect. “No,” I told him. “I can’t stay for New Year’s. I’m meeting Titus in Oakland and then we’re driving back to L.A. from there. I have it all figured out.”

“If you ever want to make God laugh…” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, laughing. “Everything’s going to be fine. I’ll call you when I get to DC and see how the surgery went.”

“I love you, son,” he said.

“I know.”

* * *

My father and I had our ups and downs through most of my life. Some of my earliest memories were the sounds of my parents fighting loudly as I tried to sleep. When I was almost nine they divorced, and I can still remember sitting in my dad’s little blue truck when he told me. The black, plastic, fake leather seats were cracked and smelled like cigarette smoke. The engine idled as we sat in the parking lot that evening after soccer practice. I was too young to know what he meant when he said that he wasn’t going to be living with us anymore.

I went from eight to thirty quickly, and our relationship swung drastically throughout those 22 years. Some memories are stronger than others, but most are just flashes of moments, captured in still life like Polaroids.

I’m nine. I’m walking the top row of the bleachers like a high wire artist. My dad is at the bottom talking to the woman that would eventually become my step mom. I’m eleven. Willie Nelson and Ray Charles sing Seven Spanish Angels in the living room as my dad adjusts the knobs on his new stereo and I lay on the floor. I’m thirteen. I tell him that I’m not going with him when he comes to pick up me and my brothers for the weekend. “I hate your stupid church,” was the excuse I gave before running back inside.  I grew up a lot after that.

There are pictures in my mind with no dates on them. I could have been twelve, or twenty. He had dogs, one after the other. Fritchie, Beignet, Max. There was a kitchen table with a bench on one side. I ripped my finger open on the lid from a can of Pringles at that table. You can still see the scar. The ceiling of the game room upstairs was covered in models I had made, painstakingly painting them and straightening the decals. Airplanes of every sort hung like icicles over the pool table.

When I was twenty-one, my grandmother went into the hospital. My dad paced the halls there waiting on the inevitable bad news from the doctors. I couldn’t imagine how he was strong enough to face the death of a parent.

* * *

I landed in DC and made my way to the hotel. My phone rang as I unlocked the door to my room. “Dad’s in a coma,” my brother told me. “He never came around after surgery.”

“I have a flight in the morning,” I told him, then hung up the phone in silence. I slid down the wall onto the floor of the hallway, staring blankly in front of me. I had a show in two hours.

The club was packed with people when I walked in, and I hated every single one of them. I had spent my entire life mocking the general population, with their real jobs and their fluorescent lighting and their boring offices. That night I wanted desperately to hide in a cubicle, to peck away at some keyboard with no one staring at me. This was the trade off, I learned. Now, not only did I have to pretend to be happy myself, I had to make other people happy on top of it.

My grandmother, long before I ever started doing comedy, used to say how amazing it was that Jack Benny was able to perform while his son was dying. I understand it now. I stayed on stage for an hour and a half, somehow removed from, but still aware of, my sadness and fear. To this day the stage remains the one place that I still feel completely in my element, regardless of what is going on around me. Jack Benny must have gotten that.

I walked off stage that night and back into the dark reality that was now my life. I started canceling my 2008 dates before I even got on the plane the next day. I was going to stay in Houston indefinitely.

* * *

It was Christmas Eve, three days later. I had sent my brother home to spend the evening with his wife and daughter. I sat huddled in the lobby between visitation periods, aimlessly surfing the web on my laptop and waiting for the next opportunity to stare down at my father and hope for a response. I walked into the cafeteria late, hoping for something to eat.

“How are you today?” the lady behind the counter asked.

My question was a simple one, and the words fell out of my exhausted lips like leaves from a dying tree. “How late are you open?”

She repeated herself. “HOW are YOU today?”

“How LATE are you open?” I tried again.

“I asked how you were today.”

“I am in the hospital on Christmas motherfucking Eve,” I said, bouncing my tray loudly on the metal rails. “How late… are you… fucking open?”

“Sir, you don’t have to use –“

“Maybe you should just slosh some mashed potatoes on the plate next to my chicken fried steak, pick up your minimum wage based check, and take your soulless body away from people that could not care less how fucking chipper you pretend to be around the holidays.”

My phone rang as I walk away. It was her. “Merry Christmas,” she said, and I thought to myself how much my dad would have liked her.

* * *

Days rolled by, and I spent every one in that very same lobby. It was a waiting game. Just wait. There are no other options. You can wait, or you can wait. For twenty minutes at a time, five times a day, seven days a week. Nothing you can do can change the situation. Friends call. “I’m sorry,” they say, but they don’t know.

My youngest brother was still in Hawaii. He had moved there on a whim, with one bag and nowhere to stay. He had gotten off a plane in Honolulu two months before and carved out a niche for himself there somehow. He wanted to come back now to be involved but he didn’t have a plan. My car was still at my apartment in Los Angeles, and the goal became to find a way to get him there so he could drive it back for me.

Coordinating a trip for that particular brother has always been like playing Plinko. No matter how much planning you try to do, that little plastic disc is just going to end up wherever the hell it wants to go. We sorted out his flight and I arranged to have him picked up in L.A. I had everything arranged actually – a place to stay, my car keys, and enough cash to get him back to Texas. All he had to do was get on the plane. Whether he got distracted by a shiny object or simply got lost I don’t know, but he missed his flight. To his credit he did try to come up with an alternative plan. “I can catch a flight into San Francisco instead,” he said.

“Of course,” I told him. “Go right ahead. It’s only seven hours from L.A. Great job, Magellan.” Eventually he did make it back, though I’ve never managed to find out exactly how. I was actually worried more about my vehicle than I was him. Not that I didn’t love him, but I had two other brothers; that was my only car.

* * *

Days turned into weeks, and the diagnosis grew more and more grim. There had been a series of strokes and brain activity was virtually nonexistent. On January 17, the decision was made. Family was gathered in the small, now private room. Goodbyes were said, tears were shed, and the breathing machine removed. He was gone. The tension hung like humidity in the air, thick and suffocating. My brother and I turned to each other and embraced, heads buried in each other’s shoulders.

I felt something move as we stood there – a vibration – down my upper leg. It was awkward as we both held each other.

“Tell me that was your phone,” he said.

“God, I hope so,” I replied, and in the most unlikely of places, we laughed hysterically.

* * *

I was getting dressed on the morning of the funeral.  How am I supposed to get through this?  I’m the oldest; I’m supposed to be an example.  I don’t want to do this, I told myself over and over again.  My phone rang.  Who would possibly call me on a day like this?  Moments later my voicemail beeped.  My friend Kevin’s voice came through the speaker as I checked the message.  His father had passed away a few years before.  “You are the strongest son,” I heard him say.  “You’re going to be okay.”

I smiled.  I hope you’re right, I thought.  I’m going to have to be today.

* * *

It’s been over two years now, and some things have faded. Sometimes I get disappointed in myself when I realize that I’ve let more than a day or two pass without thinking of him. How could I forget? Then, out of the blue, a day or so later, I’ll pick up the phone to call him. I’ll stop myself as I scroll down to the D’s. “Damn. He really would have gotten a kick out of that story,” I’ll tell myself.

Or maybe he will flash into my head over a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream covered in chocolate syrup. I use to eat it at his house on Saturday nights after everyone had gone to bed. Just me, sitting on his living room floor watching Star Trek: The Next Generation… God, I was such a nerd.

The comfort is there now though. I don’t have to carry it every day. The memory has disappeared and resurfaced enough times now that I know it will never go away for good. It seems like an eternity since I stood on that balcony with my big plans for the future. I was going to take over the world, and he was going to have his heart fixed. I’ve had to readjust my plans now though, to compensate.

And somewhere, I’m sure, there is laughter.

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SLADE HAM is a stand up comedian. He has performed in 52 countries on six continents, a journey that can be followed in his book, Until All the Dragons Are Dead. One day he hopes to host a travel show and continue to trick the world into paying him to do the things he loves to do. Slade is also an Editor for The Nervous Breakdown's Arts and Culture section. He keeps a very expensive storage unit in Houston, TX.

106 responses to “And Somewhere There Is Laughter”

  1. jmblaine says:

    it’s good to see you can write
    the serious as well
    your pacing is excellent
    here – I cannot imagine
    how difficult a story like
    this must be to untangle
    and breathe to life.

    People who don’t cobble
    & fumble & wrestle
    with the words
    cannot understand how hard
    it is to take the emotions
    of such an event
    & make it true
    & right.

    You did real good
    here sir.
    Real good.
    & I hope you are looking
    to take your stories
    to the market.
    I think you’d do well.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I’ve been wanting to put this in print for a while but have never really known what to do with it. It’s definitely not what I usually do, but they’re all just stories, right? Just tell them. It kind of leaped into my head a few nights ago in its entirety and I knew I needed to go ahead and finally write it. It’s funny how it comes together sometimes.

      As always, thanks for he kind words.

      • Jason Black says:

        Wow I love the little things in life that happen to me, like the timing of this story. I just lost my mom May 5th. I dont remember if you ever meet her but she was one of those people if you made friends with her you had a friend for life, not that I had a choice in the matter but she was my best friend. The one thing that stands out for me is that laughter will creep in at some of the stranges places. That happen a bunch after my mom died but I guess that goes to show nothen beats the funny it can be the cure all for everything.

        I know people never tell stories like this to help people out but they have a way of doing that when told.

  2. jmblaine says:

    oh yeah, let me add this:
    At a time when I wasn’t
    much a fan of what the Bible
    had to say, I read this verse
    & it became a favorite,
    one of those you cling to
    in troubled times.

    Psalm 2:4
    “God sits in
    the heavens
    & laughs.”

    I figure if God doesn’t take
    it all too seriously
    maybe we shouldn’t either.
    Sounds like your Dad knew that secret.

  3. Brandy says:

    I’m really proud of you. Good job. This is where your heart is.

    I remember that Christmas clearly, and I was one of those who didn’t know what to say with you on the phone except to NOT talk about it–to talk about anything else in hopes that you were distracted for a few minutes.

    I think your Dad is very proud of you…

    • Slade Ham says:

      Eh, just one of those I had to get out of me.

      • Brandy says:

        My father has been perfectly healthy–until this year. Now he’s on medication for high blood pressure and he might possibly develop diabetes. I’ve been free my entire adult life, have lived around the world and done as I pleased. I’ve refused to marry although proposed to several times—and now what scares me is that my Dad will miss the big things.

        When he was a boyscout they still gave badges for catching rattlesnakes. They dropped them off in the woods with a dutch oven and an onion and said “..have fun”. Nothing replaces your Dad.

        “I slid down the wall onto the floor of the hallway, staring blankly in front of me.” When I read this story, it physically hurt at moments although the Magellan bit cracked me up.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Yeah, I was hung up on the whole “he’s gonna miss the big things” thing as well. I’m not sure what forced me past that, but I got over it. He caught a lot of things, big and small.

          I would starve to death on an onion.

  4. We all have these death stories. They’re so hard to pull back to the surface. I’m glad you did. If anything just to have a glimpse of your Pops. May he RIP, bro.

  5. Amanda says:

    What stands out most–however small–as a dad-detail is…he had a dog named Beignet…that’s really cute and funny. Like when you think about how someone would remember another person, and it’d be a freaky little bit about the way the man walked, or a thing he always did with his finger to make a point.

    A dog named for a New Orleans treat.

    : )

  6. Slade Ham says:

    Hahaha, yes. It was a bichon frise. It looked literally looked like it was covered in powder sugar.

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    What a poignant, heartfelt essay. Lovely work. The part about you and your brother and the cell phone…that’s life, the weirdness of raging sadness and crazy funny at the same time. At my grandfather’s funeral–a traditonal Catholic one–my sister and I didn’t remember the times you’re supposed to kneel, stand up, etc. so we kept looking around to catch cues. Behind us was an old nun, still habit wearing, who at one point shout-whispered, “Stand up!” We somehow managed to not laugh out loud, but the nun no doubt saw our shoulders convulsing.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Isn’t that what sticks with us in the end? Those funny moments, the ones that broke all the tension. Funerals always seem to be so unnecessarily formal to me. I understand that there are traditions to be honored, etc, but deep down, we all have those moments of silent, shoulder shaking laughter in times that we are taught that we shouldn’t.

  8. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Oh this is haunting. It is quite something how our most personal art, even if publicly shared, becomes a refuge. Three years ago I had what I now think of as my year of utter tragedy. Comfort was always very cold, detached and distant, and yet unmistakeably there in the form of poetry, reading and writing. Without it, I probably would have had a breakdown. May your memories be a flame that continues to light up your work.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thank you, Uche. You are so correct. My father’s death happened towards the end of a particularly brutal string of bad happenings – a six month period where lots of things were taken from me. The written word has always seemed to bring me more comfort than conversation, whether my own writing or that of others. It always seems to be more thought out than spontaneous attempts at comfort from others.

      Cheers, to being on the other side of all that tragedy.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    Very well done, Slade. You’re a versatile writer. You manage to include details and images that render your memories real for us like they are for you. I’m sorry all that happened, and that you weren’t there when he had the surgery. But I know the thought process because it’s a medical procedure and, though there are always risks, you assume the 3 percent or 5 percent or whatever is going to be someone else’s family. Not yours.

    My dad’s been having some heart electrical issues, has been in the hospital a few times now, and I keep assuming that medicine and technology are infallible and everything is going to be okay. But it isn’t always. At least you spoke to him on the phone before it happened.

    A very heartfelt piece. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I think I was lucky. He and I found resolution to so many of the things that had plagued our relationship when I was younger. A lot of that was simply my own maturity level. The conversation the night before, and my knowledge that there wasn’t a ton of unresolved stuff to sort out, brought me a lot of peace, and still does.

      I find it amazing how much we do take for granted when it comes to medicine. His was actually a follow up surgery to clean up an infection. Originally, he had had a valve replacement in October. The infection removal was supposed to be somewhat routine. That minuscule little percentile of things that can go wrong… It’s a bit scary to me.

      I hope your father’s issues don’t escalate.

      Now that I think about it, why don’t those highly unlikely things ever happen in the other direction. I’m going to pick up a lottery ticket, just in case.

      • Richard Cox says:

        Yeah, one would expect the valve replacement to be the more difficult and risky of the procedures. Of course any time you go under there are risks. I remember the first few times I was put under general anesthesia I thought it was cool, because the nurse says “Ok, count backwards from 10,” and you get to 9 and the next thing you know you’re waking up in the recovery room. But all procedures involve risk, and it’s not something to be taken lightly.

        Not everyone gets the chance for resolution. Sometimes it seems like we waste our whole lives carrying around grudges and then tragedy strikes and you wonder why you wasted all that time.

        It’s easy to talk about setting aside differences but often hard to actually do. I’m glad you and your dad had the chance to work through things.

        The reason the unlikely things don’t work in the other direction is because of The Guy. He’s the guy running the game who amuses himself at our expense. I don’t not very fond of him, but every once in a while, in spite of himself, he becomes The Good Guy.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I’m glad too. A lot of that really just came with maturity on my part, and realizing that most of the conflict was really self-chosen on my part. There are other reasons, and part of a much longer story, but in the end a lot of the fault was my own. Once you’re willing to own that, you can get past it.

          I’ve only been under a couple of times, the big one being ACL surgery when I was eighteen. I was excited to be anesthetized (I almost typed euthanized, hahahaha). I don’t think I will be so eager if there is a next time.

          The Guy is long overdue with me in assuming The Good Guy role. He’s swinging back towards neutral with me, but he’s a long way from being on my side I fear.

  10. Jessica Blau says:

    Oh this made me so sad–but it’s wonderful. I’m sure your dad would have loved reading this.

    So, was it your cell phone vibrating?! It’s always interesting how things can seem so funny at the most tragic moments. I wonder if all mammals are like this–Do chimps bust out laughing after someone’s been slaughtered by a lion?

    Great story–thanks for posting!

    • Slade Ham says:

      I have to believe that they do. It would be a horrible tragedy if animals weren’t able to laugh. I’m pretty sure I would laugh if anyone I knew was mauled by a lion… chimps would have to.

      There was a clip out there somewhere (I’m gonna find it in a second) with a monkey toying with a tiger. If he wasn’t laughing as he did it, and his friends weren’t laughing as they watched, then something is horribly wrong with the universe.

      Found it!

  11. Anon says:

    Thank you, Slade. I get it.

    At my father’s funeral, my sister broke down in tears, mid-eulogy, with everyone staring like idiots, uncertain what to do and lost in their own grief and thoughts. My then-almost-two-year-old daughter suddenly stood proudly upright on my lap and belted out, “I went pee-pee on the potty!!” at the top of her lungs. Broke the place up and was exactly what was needed.

    Your dad is still proud of you.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Kids are the best at it, ever. Somewhere between them and us, we started taking things way too seriously. I try to revisit that innocence whenever I can. Good for your daughter!

  12. Kristen Elde says:

    This is beautiful, Slade.

    “Sometimes I get disappointed in myself when I realize that I’ve let more than a day or two pass without thinking of him.” I know what you mean. A close friend passed (cancer) several years ago now, and though I have yet to summon the whatever-it-is to delete him from my phone, days will go by, weeks, where he doesn’t occur to me outright. But as you point out, the comfort/understanding that it’ll never go away for good–this is powerful and important to recognize.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I have never been able to find the exact metaphor for it, though I have some image of whale watching in my head. At first it seems so beautiful and unique, and if you don’t capture that moment perfectly, or if you take your eyes off of them and they disappear, that you’ll somehow lose the moment forever.

      At some point you realize, “Oh, they will always resurface if I just hang around.” They live there. They’re never going to not be there. Even if you don’t see them for a few days, you can still have faith that everything is absolutely fine. It’s some form of trust I suppose, that we develop with ourselves.

      Hahaha, I believe that I have failed miserably again in trying to make this point. There must be a simpler way to say all of that. I’m laughing at myself as I type this, but I’m clicking submit anyway 🙂

      • kristen says:

        Nah, you didn’t fail miserably at all. I like the whale watching metaphor, and I really like and feel “They live here. … It’s some form of trust we develop with ourselves.”

        Glad you clicked submit! 🙂

  13. Cheryl says:

    I just love everyting about this. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Cheryl says:

      And more – this was a really beautiful heartfelt piece. You are a very versatile writer. The complexity and love of family really came through.

      Anyway, I just had to let you know that this piece really moved me and I appreciated reading it.

      • Slade Ham says:

        Thank you, Cheryl. It was a bit of an experiment on my part. I’m happy you read it, and even happier that you enjoyed it.

  14. Zara Potts says:

    Oh Slade.
    What a beautiful piece – written in such a tight and honest way. There’s a lot to think on here, the piece is full of imagery and thoughts and it feels exactly right. The confusion, the humour, the sadness, regret and love are all paced and placed in a perfect way.

    It’s funny where we find humour isn’t it? I remember after my Grandmother died and my family fell apart, we had a situation where we (my mother and I) had to ‘steal’ some of her ashes from the rest of our family so that we could have our own service for her. It seemed easy at the time – just take the bag of ashes out, siphon some out for us, and then put the remaining ashes back into the bag and tape it up before putting it back in the box. It seemed pretty simple. Long story short – when we tried to get the ashes back into the bag it wasn’t that easy at all and we ended up with dust and ash flying around everywhere. We laughed and laughed even though I suppose it was a bit macabre. But I like to think that my Grandmother was looking down at us laughing and saying; ‘You Fools! Look what you’ve done!”
    Thanks for this lovely aching piece, Slade.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Hahaha, that’s a sit-com moment. Macabre indeed 🙂 Isn’t it amazing that everyone has a tale of hilarity during sadness? That would make a great book/compilation.

  15. James D. Irwin says:

    One of the best posts I’ve read here in a while… and not in an empty sentiment way either.

    The only thing I’m truly scared of is the death of my parents. I’m fortnate that mine are still together and I get on with them quite well. I mean now I live in a different town and this year I’m moving out of university accomodation and into my proper first home away from my parents… really just getting used to not seeing or speaking to them everyday.

    The thing that really freaked me out over Christmas was that for the first time my parents looked old to me… they’re both smokers and got all sorts of stress related health issues. I mean I don’t think they’re going to drop dead any time soon or anything…

    Buy… y’know… one day they will. My grandfather died when I was just born so I don’t have any experience of family bereavement. The thought scares the shit out of me…

    • Slade Ham says:

      Here’s the only thing I know about this kind of thing, and I may be echoing something I said in Irene’s post a week or two ago: I am astounded at how much we manage to get through that we thought we couldn’t. Whatever inevitably lies ahead, you will surprise yourself when you actually have to deal with it. Good for you for having that strong relationship now. It maes it exponetially more manageable when it comes to any regrets.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        One thing that encourages me is that I’ve taken ill fortune quite well in the past.

        At 16 we take GCSEs, which basically decide whether or not you go to college (high school).

        I royally fucked mine up, laughed all the way home and knew that it’d work out alright in the end. When I dropped out of university last year (and took a lot of shit for it from ‘friends’) the only thing that bothered me was how bad and repetitive all the jokes were people were making. And hey, it worked out pretty well in the end.

        But then death is kind of different. It’s not a situation that can be fixed… I think I’ll be fine… it’s the uncertainty that’s scarier than the fact…

        • Slade Ham says:

          Eventually I think, we all learn that it really all ends up okay. Some pick that up quicker than others, and generally because we fucked up a lot more than the rest, hahaha.

          And yeah, the fear of it always trumps the reality. Our imaginations are motherfuckers.

  16. Joe Daly says:

    You’ve got a lot of nerve writing something as awesome as this.

    The fact is, that while you sort of highlight what you intend as “unskilled behavior,” we all do the very best we can in every situation. You obviously did here, including with the cafeteria lady. Sometimes our tanks are just a little more empty than other.

    Our what?

    Our tanks.



    You’re welcome.

    Sorry- an old joke that my dad played with me growing up. Couldn’t resist.

    Anyway man, as someone who has lost a parent and experienced so much of what you wrote above, I appreciate you taking the time to share this. Well done.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Yeah, I was pretty drained that night. Even now though – while I understood that the lady was probably pissed that she was working Christmas Eve – I find it hard to believe that she was oblivious to the fact that anyone coming up to her counter was probably having a shittier time of it than she was.

      Tanks for swinging by 🙂

  17. Jude says:

    Another great piece Slade and so very well written. There is a wonderful flow to your writing, and although it was a very sad and poignant piece, you still manage to convey your love of life and laughter. I’m sure the cellphone vibrating on your leg would have been your father playing a trick on you…after all, the last conversation you had with him was a phone call. Obviously your father had a great sense of humour also…

    “If you ever want to make God laugh…” I have a favourite saying much like this – John Lennon’s “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans”. Oh so true!

    • Slade Ham says:

      Lennon was such the philosopher…

      I’m starting to understand that the comedy is there, in every situation. Sometimes we’re too bogged down to see it, but it’s there. I’m grateful it reared its head when it did. I didn’t have any words to offer otherwise.

  18. Lorna says:

    Wow. I should have waited to read this when I was home from vaca. Crying in my happy place is not allowed. I love your serious as much as your funny writing. Thanks for sharing Slade.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Sorry, haha. Vacation ramblings are for next week, on my part anyway. I have a story I’m looking forward to telling – much more lightheartedly – but this one threw itself in and cut in line. Laughs next week, I promise.

  19. Andrea says:

    You don’t know me (I’m kind of a Nervous Breakdown groupie, I guess), but this brought tears to my eyes. So good.

  20. Judy Prince says:

    You made me tea-spit *as well as* tear-up, Slade—-that’s five gorgeous stars on my 5-star writing-rating system.

    Here’s the tea-spit moment: “Whether he got distracted by a shiny object or simply got lost I don’t know, but he missed his flight. To his credit he did try to come up with an alternative plan. “I can catch a flight into San Francisco instead,” he said.

    “Of course,” I told him. “Go right ahead. It’s only seven hours from L.A. Great job, Magellan.”

    And here’s the tearing-up moment: “It seems like an eternity since I stood on that balcony with my big plans for the future. I was going to take over the world, and he was going to have his heart fixed. I’ve had to readjust my plans now though, to compensate.”

    • Slade Ham says:

      I’m happy that there ended up being some sweet to counteract the bitter here. Magellan. Yes, I smiled when I called him that. He’s an amazing person. Quite ingenious and resourceful really, even if he doesn’t quite grasp the layout of California.

    • Gloria says:

      The Magellan line cracked me up too. 🙂

  21. Gloria says:

    “I went from eight to thirty quickly…” This is the single greatest phrase ever.

    “Willie Nelson and Ray Charles sing Seven Spanish Angels…” Seriously – did we live the same childhood?

    The cafeteria lady called your cell phone? How in God’s name did she get the number? I kind of love her…

    This story. It’s heartbreaking and sad and I’m sorry for your loss. But it’s also funny. You’re really good at both.

    • Slade Ham says:

      The cafeteria lady called your cell phone? How in God’s name did she get the number? I kind of love her…

      I thought about that as I wrote it… There should have been a break between that. The person that called me was not her… “Her” was someone different entirely. A breakdown in the narrative, but accidental…

      Had the cafeteria lady found my cell number and called with such a message, I would now be married to a cafeteria lady 😉

  22. Alana says:

    You know I’m always a supporter. 😀 Moving; heartfelt; excellent.

  23. Greg Olear says:

    Terrific piece, Slade, and I’m sure a more difficult one to both write and share than the others. This is a great tribute to him.

    My father had bypass surgery in early December…he’s better now, but there were quite a few complications, and the whole experience was scary, and is by no means over…in any event, this struck a chord with me.

    It must have been difficult to do a show under those conditions. It reminds me of the Michael Jordan games, after his father died. You could tell it all meant more to him.

    Also: the line about the two brothers and the one car is ha ha out loud.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thanks for the laugh on the brother line. He HATED it when I first said it, hahaha.

      Performing under those conditions, surprisingly, was an incredible relief. I really was happy to be up there, despite how I thought it would feel.

      It really is terrifying… any time we’re confronted with the possibility of loss. I’m glad yours, at least for the moment, is in at least a neutral place.

      It always means a lot when you read, Greg. Thanks.

  24. PJ says:

    Wow. Great write.

  25. Quenby Moone says:

    Thanks, Slade. Poignant, painful and funny. Your pop would have been proud. It’s all a big kick in the head, isn’t it?

    I remember a similar gasp of indulgent, much needed laughter at my stepfather’s funeral. I think it’s imperative. Good for your phone for ringing inappropriately!

    • Slade Ham says:

      That call, or text message – and I don’t know who it was from to this day – was brilliantly timed. It HAD to be another comedian 🙂

  26. Natalia says:


  27. Ah, Slade. My heart goes out to you. Not just because you had to experience the death of a parent. But that you had the guts to write about it. And to truly express yourself in a way that might be more vulnerable than you’re used to expressing yourself. I admire the hell outta that, my friend.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thanks for the acknowledgment. This was definitely out of my comfort zone, but no less necessary. I can tell the funny ones… this made me actually “feel” something. I still feel like I pulled up short, but that’s something I can resolve in later writings. Thanks, Rich. Sincerely.

  28. Simone says:

    “How am I supposed to get through this? I’m the oldest; I’m supposed to be an example. I don’t want to do this, I told myself over and over again. “

    I know how that feels. I’m the eldest of 5 kids, my mom passed away almost 8 years ago.

    It’s been over two years now, and some things have faded. Sometimes I get disappointed in myself when I realize that I’ve let more than a day or two pass without thinking of him. How could I forget?

    It gets easier to forgive yourself for forgetting to remember as the years go by. When you do remember something, out of the blue, it’s like a little treasure and it makes it all worth while. Hold onto those moments.

    Words have no wieght in making anything the same again or even better, but Slade, I am sorry for your loss.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thanks, Simone. I’m at peace with it. The story has fought it’s way to the front though, and I needed to get it out there. It’s a departure from the norm that I am hesitant to make again.

      Time is a strange mistress, and one that really does get more forgiving as the years pass. You and I definitely share an appreciation for those moments.

      • Simone says:

        As for the story fighting its way to the front, it always does. It kinda builds up an army of words inside of you until it breaks the baracade and marches forth on those pages. I found after writing about my mothers death I’d gone through a catharsis of sorts. It took me 4 years to write about it though.

        Appreciation, indeed.

        * * *

        “Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.” ~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal

        • Slade Ham says:

          I’m with you on it taking a while before you can write about it. I found a reason to write about anything BUT that when it happened. Still, privately I worked through it in words, but I didn’t have anything close to the ability to process in any form fit for public consumption. It’s nice to be able to now.

          I love that quote.

        • Simone says:

          I’m glad you shared your story.

          I love that quote too.

  29. Irene Zion says:


    This is such hard stuff to put down in words.
    You carried us through it, though, and we were there with you.
    Kevin, was right.
    You are strong enough to deal with the hard things.
    You did get through the funeral.
    The memories will begin to seem sweeter, but that only makes the loss more poignant.
    You wrote this well.
    It was a hard one, but you did it justice.
    You did.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I think your Nevermore piece was probably a catalyst for me in some regards, so thank you for that. It definitely seemed out of my comfort zone, but suddenly wasn’t as I was writing it.

      • Irene Zion says:

        I feel honored by your words, Slade.
        This kind of material is out of everyone’s comfort zone, seriously, who’s comfortable with death and grief and guilt?
        But you wrote about it anyway.
        Good for you, Slade, good for you.

  30. Simon Smithson says:

    My grandmother’s funeral, the priest my crazy aunt selected started bopping a little from side to side as he played Amazing Grace… on his ukelele.

    I had to bury my knuckles in my lips while my shoulders shook. People thought I was really upset.

    Wonderful piece, Slade. All the more poignant for the little moments of humor that counterbalance the rest of it, and knowing, as we do, that you’re in the business of making people laugh. Jesus. I can’t imagine how you got through that show.

    (the phone ringing in your pocket sounds like a perfect example of cosmic timing).

    • Slade Ham says:

      Perfect cosmic timing.

      I cannot imagine a priest with a ukelele. Who does that? Who actually says, “Yes. The ukelele. This will be a great idea?” Hahahahahaha.

      That’s amazing.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Dude, I know. I know.

        My aunt’s into some weird religions. Always has been. At this point in her life, she looked for a song-and-dance man in a priest.

        • Slade Ham says:

          At this point in her life, she looked for a song-and-dance man in a priest.

          Haha, aren’t they the exact same thing sometimes?

  31. What made this all the more real and beautiful was your depiction of the relationships you have with each of your brothers — different and yet at once, the same. I so enjoy your comic pieces, Slade — and I know this isn’t intended to be– but you are in there so clearly – every sentence, every word choice is so “Slade” — and with these words you have created stunning imagery and dialogue that shows the fine line we all walk in life between light and dark proving what is surely an ultimate truth: that you can’t appreciate the absurdities of life without the pain.

    • Slade Ham says:

      That’s one of the nicest compliments you could have paid. Thank you for seeing the “me” in it. I just wrapped a completely comic piece that will go up next week, btw. I hope it’s as enjoyable.

      On a separate note, I just listened to your Cup of TNB episode yesterday. Well done.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Slade, thanks for the opp to join you in complimenting Robin on her smooth, meaningful, continuously helpful-to-writers interview. I didn’t know where to post a comment on it!

        On that note: I also recently appreciated the archived Jonathon Evison video interview—energetic, intense, and helpful, as well. Admin, perhaps, (whose gravatar’s so striking!) could tell me where to post comments on interviews.

  32. Matt says:

    I read this when you first posted it, but I was too sick to process it fully. Just went back through it for a second time.

    Damn, man.

    Otherwise, I’m speechless.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Enough said, Matt. Thanks.

      You’re feeling better now I take it?

      • Matt says:

        The 101-degree fever and dizz spells have passed, but I still have plenty of congestion, sneezing, and coughing. I taught at a day-long karate seminar this weekend, and I’m convinced one of the kids passed something on to me.

        And boy, when I find out who….

        • Slade Ham says:

          Damn. That sounds brutal. That’s a karate lesson one kid will never forget… when you find him.

          Thought about you the other day btw. I saw the preview for The Karate Kid, where Will Smith’s son goes to China to take kung fu from Jackie Chan. Is it not a bit insulting to keep the name “karate” in the title?

        • Matt says:

          It sucked. I was so out of it it was a real effort to get out of bed and get to the bathroom, or go into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. Mostly I just laid in bed while the room spun.

          Don’t get me started in that movie. Terrible, terrible idea in the first place, and further evidence that Hollywood is not the place to go to find quality, intelligent cinema – and that those in charge generally believe the public to be mindless consumers.

          I can imagine, with frighteningly little effort, some production meeting where someone (probably the writer) pipes up, “But karate and kung fu aren’t the same thing!” only to be dismissed by an exec who says, “Oh, the public won’t know the difference.”

          Jackie Chan used to be fun. Then he came to the states, and started accepting lots of money to make total pieces of crap. Sigh.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I used to like Jackie Chan too. The dubbed stuff. I figured this film would be a hot button for you. The public can be dumb sometimes, but not that dumb. Just highly insulting to any potential patron’s intelligence.

          Room spinny fevers are the worst, man. The last time I was really, really sick, I tried to passively rewatch the Matrix trilogy with a 100+ degree fever. The hallucinogenic mind fuck effect was awful. Glad you’re on the upside.

        • Matt says:

          I watch so little TV and go to so few mainstream movies that I’ve – luckily – yet to see a trailer, or even an ad poster. Only word of mouth. Which has been enough to tell me, and most people I know, everything about the movie’s quality.

          You’re fun, Jackie…and sometimes even sort of wise, in a goofy way.

          But you’re no Pat Morita.

  33. Tawni says:

    I am racing around the house getting packed to leave town (and wrapping up the computer stuff)for a week, but I saw that you’d posted and wanted to read it. Man, I’m glad I did that. I think you are a great writer. And I’m sorry about your dad. xoxo.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Then let me try to express my gratitude before you run off. Thanks fpr taking the time to read it, Tawni. Enjoy your week away.

  34. Ofelia says:

    I just finished working a funeral about an hour ago and the thought that I could have easily been planning my own father’s did not go unnoticed as I was there. I was in Houston at a rehearsal when my father recently went into Memorial Hermann hospital in Beaumont for a stroke-like episode. All I could think of when my brother called me was “I’m too far away.” Thinking about such events definitely does not help when you’re about to sing for another family’s loved one. But as one of my choral directors told a group of us before “You have to work through the emotion so that the audience feels it for you.”

    The stage is a beautiful place that I love for one reason, it’s an escape. Time stands still there and you’re transported to a dimension where nothing can touch you or affect you. Those first steps off the stage are excruciating. It’s a drug that I can’t get enough of and will never be able to quit and I just want to turn around and do another repeat performance. It’s a refuge that cannot be imitated anywhere else. It’s home base in a game of hide and seek where you’re constantly hiding from reality. All things are possible in that space and you’re a part of it. It’s nirvana.

    Thank you, for sharing your heart with us.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I don’t know how non-artistic people do it. I’m sure they have their outlets, but still… The stage is indeed a drug, and I’m glad you have found your way to it. It really is a different world up there, and incredibly cleansing. You summed it up quite well.

      Thanks for reading, Ofelia.

  35. Ofelia says:

    Hehe, well, not to sound proud, but I think we as artists ARE their outlet. They come to see us to borrow that stage with us and to contribute their energy from their seats (completely different topic and discussion there). We’re nothing without our audience, otherwise we’d be out of a job.

  36. Sorry for taking so long to reply. It’s been a bad/busy week and I didn’t really think this post warranted a quick 30 second glance.

    Of course, now I’ve read it I don’t have time to write a long response… (I had other posts to catch up on, too) But trust me, I did love it. The clarity and detail are fantastic. I wish I could recall anything that well.

    • Slade Ham says:

      If I had a dollar for every response I never got around to posting… Stopping by was more than enough, David. Thanks.

      On your last point, I remember things like movies. It’s a blessing or a curse, depending on the moment. I remember certain things from a loooong time ago with unexplained clarity, yet sometimes cant remember what I did last week, or even yesterday. It’s weird.

  37. First: Sorry. I don’t know, but I’m sorry.

    This: palpable. Made me feel like I know. I don’t, but you gave me some vision of knowing.

    It was remarkable.

    Thank you for it.

    Your description of being on stage, of making people laugh, reminded me of the only prayer I really know anymore, which is the one of Saint Francis: make me an instrument of peace. It’s a wonderful sentiment, and it’s the only one I know that doesn’t request solace so much as action, because it acknowledges that action can be comforting. “Grant that I may never seek so much to be loved as to love.”

    Well done with this piece, and well done that night. Both speak volumes.

  38. Slade Ham says:

    “Make me an instrument of peace”

    The way you just explained that… wow. Thank you, my friend.

  39. Demetria Dixon says:

    Slade I enjoyed this. The knowledge that though each of of us come to these places in our lives and have these experiences that can make us feel alone that others have experienced the same thing is such a help. I’m a fan. Keep doing your thing.

  40. D.R. Haney says:

    “That night I wanted desperately to hide in a cubicle, to peck away at some keyboard with no one staring at me.”

    I hope you no longer feel that way. I have a friend who always likens the cubicle to the slave galleys of antiquity.

    As to the piece as a whole, I don’t think there’s anything I can add to what others have said already. So many wonderful details:

    “I use to eat it at his house on Saturday nights after everyone had gone to bed. Just me, sitting on his living room floor watching Star Trek: The Next Generation…”

    “The black, plastic, fake leather seats were cracked and smelled like cigarette smoke.”

    Also, I’ve only just written an account of a divorce in my new novel — actually, I’m still writing it, though now I’ll be working mostly on the aftermath — and I can’t help but feel a strong connection to this piece. Then, too, my own parents divorced when I was ten — but that was after they’d separated and reconciled and split again. In fact, I think they went through that cycle a couple of times before the marriage conclusively ended.

    My heartfelt condolences about your father, Slade, and sorry it’s taken me so long to read and comment.

  41. Carl D'Agostino says:

    They have that saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: “We plan, God laughs.”

    My parents live with me. They are both 86. I dread the day, and how will I handle the remaining one? I envy that fact you have a brother. The death of parents is painful for all but its is a unique one as a rite of passage for the only child of which I am.

  42. video says:


    […]Slade Ham | And Somewhere There Is Laughter | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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