Unapologetic Talk - ID a Joke from a Jab...


Time. It's elusive as the wind.

It surrounds us, but we can't grab it or nail it down.

It rules our lives, but never whispers a warning that it will soon be up.


I recently watched an old Dean Martin MGM Celebrity roast episode. On this special Christmas season night, Dean was roasting his pal of pals, Francis Albert Sinatra. I had just fought through six very sick days of Covid. I needed a laugh.

Virtually, everyone roasting Frank in Vegas that night is now dead, minus comedienne, Ruth Buzzi, and mimic, Rich Little. Dean and Frank, and their Rat Pack, are all gone.

It was one hour and 38 minutes of joy. Pure, light-hearted joy. The jokes would be silly, sassy and plain off-color, in every way. But nobody cared. Everybody felt the love, knowing this moment would never come their way again, that when the klieg lights died and the spit shine shoes hit the cold hard cement in the real world far removed from this precious time capsule, there would be time enough to feel hurt or regret or just plain human sadness. But on that dais, that night, in those few moments, there was no time for that.

No race.

No color.

No creed.

No political persuasion.

No meanness given.

No meanness received.

It was the Game of Games: I verbally kick your butt, and you kick mine, and let's see who kicks best, and in between the jokes, we drink and smoke and actually MAKE TIME to laugh... LAUGH HARD, AT OURSELVES... because time's a ticking... even if we can't see or hear the clock.

Back then, it was the art of the Comedic Thrust & Parry - heavy on the art. Few today who didn’t live through that art form appreciate the lost game. I mean, who has time for that jocular verbal jig when your emotional dance card is filled with being offended by EVERYTHING and EVERYONE, ALL THE TIME? Your life's schedule of shaming and hate is too jam-packed.


*My post INTERLUDE BEGINS. Orchestra lights ~ Picture the movie, Cleopatra. You're halfway through this soap box diatribe. Go grab some more popcorn and another soda. It's here that I'll give up a prayer to the 60s and 70s. Thank you wacky decades for filling me up with that joyous oxygen I'd need to survive these current joy-sucking times. Thank you neon blue eyeshadow and harvest gold Naugahyde and miniskirts and go-go boots and, yes, to you, the all mighty Brylcreem. Who knew I'd have to return to you to find joy? Orchestra fades ~ INTERLUDE ENDS.*


Thank God for comedienne, LaWanda Page, who knew what was what on the dais that night. She said she saw so much white skin she feared snow blindness. And if she'd have said that NOT USING the word HONKY, I, as a 4-star, card-carrying Honky, would have been mightily disappointed, in 1978 as in 2022, for I, said Honky, aka Cracker — aka whatever heck else people of color want to call people of less color to denote how people of less color can be 4-star idiots — can TAKE A BLOODY JOKE and RECOGNIZE HOW WHITES CAN BE IDIOTS.

Cogitate on that, oh hapless offended ones!

And if Peter Falk could get up and say he heard a Hoboken rumor it was actually Jerry Vale's voice singing on all Frank's records, and not get his nose punched into tomorrow by old Blue Eyes - on stage or off - all was damn fine in that world. Real damn fine.

Participants assumed that if you breathed air at one of Dean's roasts, you would be the butt of someone's jokes, and never get bruised by them.

Like it's supposed to be.

Like we all should be, all the time, roast or not, online and off.

The world is damn mean and ugly enough without adding nonexistent offense to the human conversation. Check your pearl-clutching over-sensitivity at the door there, pal. We got no time to whine.

As I scan left and right along that dais, I shiver to think how many tubes of Brylcreem sacrificed their lives for that celebrity line-up:

Peter Falk

Orson Welles

Jimmy Stewart

Ronald Reagan

Milton Berle

Jonathan Winters

Dom DeLuise

Flip Wilson

Don Rickles

Gene Kelly

George Burns

Ernest Borgnine

Red Buttons

Redd Foxx

Telly Savalas (no Brylcreem here!)

Jack Klugman

Rich Little

Charlie Callas

Jilly Rizzo (Frank's driver and "body guard?" *putting a finger to my nose as my pinky finger ring glints in the moonlight*)

(I really should have bought stock in Unilever, the company that makes Brylcreem, or at least in a tuxedo making factory.)

A handful of decades later, and Dean's MGM set looks old, gaudy. The tuxes outdated, the bow ties bombastic. But the hearts were real, as real as they'd be today, if they had not stopped beating so long ago. Back then, they only ever beat on love. Life's downbeats, all those entertainers knew, but by God, that night held none.

There were jabs at Frank's womanizing, his hatred for the paparazzi, and how skinny he was in his youth. George Burns said, "Sure, you're handsome now, Frank, but look how long it took you to grow into those ears (paraphrased for George, and possibly my two cents added).

Not once in the storm of jabs was there ever a hint of disdain from Francis Albert. If you had followed his life, you knew Frank had a hair trigger temper. You saw it simmering in his steely blue eyes. But on that night, on that dais, he knew love when he heard it, and every bit warmed his soul.

Today, this same world is tone-deaf.

Loving jabs, we know not. Now it's all serious, all the time.

Be ready for the insult!

Bulldoze for rights over loving fights!

Battle for what's yours by merely showing up!

Everything matters!

Except for understanding and love.

Grab everything, not by earning it, not by taking the hard licks we've ALL had to take in life, if we've lived long enough to watch these roasts live on TV. 

(Yes, you read me right. I said ALL OF US. I don't care if you have three heads and your skin color is neon green. Nobody gets a full Pass in this life, pal. No one.)

Success is achieved by finding quiet, witty, creative ways around those perceived lack of rights, those so-called elitist rules that make it harder for you to succeed. I, the so-called elitist White, had to do this in my career, my life. No matter who you are, there are gates you have to hurdle.

Cogitate on that, too, oh hapless rioters.

I’m sure your uber-offended, youthful, inexperienced heads are exploding right now.

You'll never get what I’m saying until your wisdom outweighs your youth.

Life ain't a straight road, peeps — black or white, young or old, rich or poor, healthy or sick.

If you're breathing, you're on the earthly scenic tour from hell.

Just like Frank and Dean and Telly and Redd, Ruth and LaWanda, too.

Hang on tight around the tire-squealing corners. Your pearls won't save you now.

Yeah, that dais knew monumental failure and astronomical success, abiding love and endless loss, distilled joy and sorrow’s abyss.

Scarring all.

Healing all.

Maturing all.

Hardening their mettle. Making them able to discern a joke from a jab.

For it's only in scratching out a survival in the lowest valley do you know how to truly appreciate joy at the highest peak.

And at the peak, you receive life's most previous gift — laughter — laughing more at yourself than others. You learn to take joy where you can find it, whether you’re Joe Shmoe or Frank Sinatra... on a fake dais, in a fake room, in a fake building, in a city full of fake lights or on a street corner, or at work, or in an online group chat.

You matured enough to discern a joke from a jab.

You don’t get your undies tied in knots over every little comment.

You know love when you see it.

You can walk in other people’s shoes, whether they be spit-shined dress or scuffed work.


There wasn’t a soul on the dais that night who didn’t know a joke from a jab.


Most are all gone now.

And with them, maybe the ability to ID jokes from jabs.


Their flickering images dance upon my bedroom wall late at night, as I watch and remember and miss… then click them into nonexistence, as I X out the browser page.

No bouncy intro music.

No glaring klieg lights.

No gaudy bunting.

No hazy cigarette smoke.

The smiles gone.

The laughter mute.

The love light in those flickering images extinguished for all time.

The only proof that they and that dais existed at all is in my sore stomach muscles and my throbbing jaw and in my smiling eyes and lively beating heart that for even one hour and 38 minutes I, too, laughed and loved and easily recognized jokes from jabs, and felt alive again in this oh, so uber-offended world.

Yes, even in death, the men on that dais gave me the kiss of life.

It's sad that I have to look into the past to smile these days. Maybe if the world would stop fighting, stop being so offended, for just a wee sec, we all could hear the laughter again and be warmed by our own beating hearts, and I wouldn’t have to find comfort in the dead.

Think of this post, this roast, the next (umpteenth) time you feel dissed by someone, for god knows what, and this time, just don't... 


If we don't find our way back to unapologetically laugh and love at freewheeling speech, Frank and Dean will call us all Clydes to our faces, and we will bloody well deserve it.

And if you don't know what being a Clyde means… yep, I'll say it for them. You're a Clyde.


Who knows? Maybe the solution to happiness all along lay inside a tube of Brylcreem, and I never even knew it.


Rest well, you dais souls.

Damn, do I miss you all.