March 06, 2015
In Martin Short’s autobiography I Must Say, he describes Stephen Colbert’s fearless demeanor after roasting George Bush at the White House Correspondents” dinner in 2006. Short asked Colbert if he was scared to get up there in front of all those people and Colbert said no, before adding: “I was scared when I was 10.”
The new star of Late Night was referring to a plane accident in 1974 that killed his father, Jim Colbert, as well as Peter and Paul, two of his seven brothers. After surviving this catastrophe, everything that followed seemed like child’s play.
Despite being only 5″7″, Short has no shortage of deaths in his own life. At the age of 20, he had lost his brother to a car accident, his mother to cancer, and his father to a stroke. Both Colbert and Short have enjoyed wildly successful careers that are characterized by a relentless work ethic. If they weren”t lampooning their own grief on TV shows such as SCTV (where Short played his deceased father) or Strangers With Candy (where Colbert played a teacher incapable of handling death), they were doing improv shows for free or starring in musicals nobody saw. They obviously don”t think it’s funny when your family dies, but it’s hard not to think these devastating events made them better comic actors. I”d even argue, it made them better people.
While it’s true that study after study shows children of single parents are worse off, that doesn”t mean suffering is necessarily bad for you. Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” has stuck for a reason. It’s true. Just look at all the young people who haven”t suffered. After an academic career of white guilt and microaggressions, they”ve retired to their parents” couch, where they play Xbox and Tweet about how #bored they are. Many of these kids could do with a dead parent or two. Russia’s richest man, Roman Abramovich, was an orphan. Oprah Winfrey was essentially an orphan, as she was shuffled from relative to relative, getting molested along the way. Ralph Lauren was a penniless Brooklyn kid who slept in the same bed as his brothers. Howard Stern lived nearby but he was shipped to black schools where he got his head pounded in regularly. WalMart’s Sam Walton fed his family with a paper route during the Great Depression, and J.K. Rowling’s childhood was marred by her mother’s slow battle with multiple sclerosis.
Surely you have billionaires who were born wealthy, such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Ted Turner”but there’s a certain enviable pedigree you get from surviving a brutal childhood that these riches-to-riches types just don”t have”or at least that’s what I”m hoping to be true or my entire hypothesis gets flushed down the toilet.
Oh, come on. Success is about enduring repeated losses. Pain has to produce prolificacy. Look at the pretty. Every time you meet an attractive woman who isn”t vapid, you learn she either grew up far from the accolades of the city (Katie Pavlich’s childhood was spent in the mountains) or she has a family member who is severely handicapped. When I first heard Amy Schumer do stand-up I knew something was up. She is too balls-out funny to have a loving family that coddles her. Turns out, her father has multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair.
David Cross” father isn”t dead. He just walked out the front door when Cross was 10 years old. It’s likely the main character in David’s show The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is based on his father. I wouldn”t wish either of these traumas on anyone but there’s something casually unafraid about both comedians where they seem to enjoy confrontation and making people uncomfortable. This is what we need comedy to be during this epoch’s politically correct war on fun. As a fan, I”ve done nothing but benefit from Barry Cross” negligence and Gordon Schumer’s decaying central nervous system.
Pop music is fun to make, especially when you have a dozen nerds writing the songs and auto-tuning your voice, but pop music is for children. Heavy metal, on the other hand, takes huge balls. It seems like every time I look up the personal life of a major metal star, they have a life stuffed to the gills with tragedy. MÃ¶tley CrÃ¼e’s Nikki Sixx was raised by his grandparents because his parents abandoned him right after he was born. Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson was also raised by his grandparents. MÃ¶tÃ¶rhead’s Lemmy was only three months old when his father left the family. Megadeth’s Dave Mustane had to fend for himself at 15 and was forced to sell drugs to pay the rent. It’s reached the point where you”re seen as a poser if you didn”t have a horrible childhood.