By Chris Gay
Somewhat infrequently, I’m asked who has influenced me with regard to the humor portion of my writings. Indeed, it was a question I’d also asked myself at times as comedy became more and more the genre I was focusing on. As I thought back on it, I realized the most accurate answer was probably Andy Rooney. To backtrack just a little, I was born in 1972, and by the time the Yankees had beaten the Dodgers for the second consecutive time in the ‘78 World Series, I was already reading everything I could get my hands on. I’d wanted to be a writer and, to a very young me, two of them stood out among the others at that time; primarily for the same reason.
Roald Dahl & Andy Rooney
By the time I was nine I had read many of the now classic books that author Roald Dahl had written for people my age, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What I hadn’t known at first though was that he had also written the script for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Having already seen and loved a few Bond movies by then, I’d thought that that was pretty cool. That the same person was able to change gears like that and write such distinctly different works using the same typewriter struck me as fantastic. Although not as impressive, however, as me finding a way to use the word that three times in six words in the previous two sentences. But let’s move on.
In 1981 or ‘82, I found a copy of A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney in my mom’s living room bookcase and read it. I’d heard of Mr. Rooney, but at ten I can tell you with relative certainty that I didn’t spend all that much time watching 60 Minutes. (The Greatest America Hero however, was another story. Maybe re-runs of Wonder Woman, too. Although, to be honest, not really all that much for the story lines) Most of his essays were short, and many were funny.
What really jumped out at me though was the impressive range of the topics he wrote on, ranging from soap to politics and everything in between. The lesson I learned reading that book was that you could wring comedy out of anything. Though I hadn’t thought about that in a while, a few years back it occurred to me that the radio spots I broadcast today, as well as my books based on them, And That’s the Way it Was…Give or Take: A Daily Dose of My Radio Writings & Shouldn’t Ice Cold Beer be Frozen? My 365 Random Thoughts To Improve Your Life Not One Iota are, to some extent, a result of that lesson.
From The Greatest Generation to Generation X
So, what else could an aspiring writer/performer learn from a seasoned essayist 53 years his senior? Quite a bit, actually. It turns out that Andy Rooney and Roald Dahl, aside from their material, weren’t all that different. In fact they both rode on the Cross-Genre Expressway at times. Before writing comedy, Rooney corresponded for the Stars and Stripes newspaper during World War II, and wrote many non-comedic pieces on his experiences during that time. But as some writers can tell you, if you write a variety of stuff in relative anonymity- yet broadcast one particular type on the air somewhere- that’s generally what you’ll start becoming known for. Or so I’ve heard.
Opinions, I’ve Had a Few
In the course of writing this piece I’ve come to realize that maybe he was a bigger influence than I’d thought. I’m a freelance writer who does a little broadcasting, voice-over, and acting. I also have myriad opinions. The difference of course is that having opinions on innumerable topics is one thing; getting millions of people to care what you think about them is quite another. Some I share with Mr. Rooney (I’m very nostalgic, as well as being an agnostic with a love for Christmas) and some I don’t. Further, most Americans have heard of Andy Rooney while, conversely, most have not heard of Chris Gay. Laugh if you will, but if you’re reading this now, once again my number has climbed by one. The point is that Rooney wasn’t a household name until well into the second half of his life. Indeed, he was nearly sixty when he debuted on 60 Minutes.
And The Lesson There is…
It truly is never too late to go after your dreams or, at least, try something more befitting of your natural abilities than whatever you’re doing now. I believe that everyone-including you- has at least one thing they’re very good at doing. When you realize what that is, it might be worth looking into making that what you do in life. Listen, I waited until my thirties to let go of the side boards and try to skate around the rink as a writer. What made me start thinking about trying to go for it, about eight or nine years ago now? It was when I thought about whether four billion years of evolution occurred just to bring us to a place where we spend our time working our tails off for little, in some cubicle-esque or retail environment, while kissing the backside of people we’re likely more talented than. I know what that answer was for me; I’ll leave your answer to you.
I still wonder if I can be a successful writer. I think so, but I’m not sure yet. All I can do is work hard to put myself in a position to be successful. My guess that last sentence is some old football or baseball coach’s cliche’. I’m not sure, I’m just guessing. But it’s my belief notwithstanding. What I do know for sure though is that I won’t be looking back in twenty years asking myself why I didn’t try.
A friend of mine in the radio business once said to me, “Chris, everybody’s always getting ready to get ready.” That was his simplistic yet profound way of saying that while people talk a good game, most never take a chance on themselves. Take what you will from it. But I digress. Actually, I digress a lot.
Wait, Where’s the Humor?
To those who’ve read the majority of my previous writings for their comedy and wonder why this one isn’t all that funny; it’s because it’s not meant to be. The list of people who’ve influenced me in any way is very short and, when one passes, it seems like the proper time to acknowledge them and how they’ve impacted me. The humor will return soon, I promise. In the meantime, if you’re impatient scroll down my blog and reacquaint yourself with some of my previous humor writings. Or don’t. Either way I was able to get a shameless plug into this blog post. And really, that’s what counts.
Though I’m still hanging on to my thirties, I’m beginning to find that the older one gets, the less one cares all that much about pulling punches with one’s opinions- written or otherwise. I can’t even imagine how much that will be magnified in the unlikely event that I reach age 92. Whether writing straight or writing satire, as long as a writer is honest with himself (or herself) and his readers, some people will agree with you and some won’t. And sometimes, those two groups will trade places.
Thank you, Andy Rooney, for inadvertently teaching us that good writers don’t have to tether themselves to one genre. Even though you probably don’t care that you did. Rest in peace.
God. The Devil. The Bet. The Fate of Mankind in the Balance. Check out my new theological, paranormal crime thriller, Ghost of a Chance.
What if a late 20th Century Jack the Ripper tearing apart a small Connecticut town was the result of a pancake shop bet between God and the devil? Imagine if Satan’s impact on the world in the new millennium hinged entirely on one police officer’s skill in hunting down a ruthless killer…hiding in plain sight. Detective Danny Seabrook is an unwitting pawn in a divine chess match with immeasurable consequences for all mankind. Set primarily in 1995, this action-packed suspense thriller features clever dialogue, humor and romance-with an ending you will never forget.
Chris Gay is an author, freelance writer, voice-over artist, broadcaster and actor. He writes and broadcasts a daily, sponsored minute radio humor spot in Hartford, Connecticut. He’s written three humor books: Shouldn’t Ice Cold Beer Be Frozen? My 365 Random Thoughts to Improve Your Life Not One Iota, And That’s the Way It Was…Give or Take: A Daily Dose of My Radio Writings, and The Bachelor Cookbook: Recipes with a Side of Sarcasm for the Single Guy. He’s currently writing his fourth humor book, Another Round of Ice Cold Beer: My 365 More Random Thoughts to Improve Your Life Not One Iota, along with the Ghost of a Chance sequel Perdition’s Wrath. He has written and voiced radio commercials, authored both comedic and non-comedic freelance articles, scripts, press releases, website, media and technical content, done occasional radio color commentary for local sports, and acted in a couple of movies and plays. He lives in Connecticut.
Hope Springs (Barfly)