In this five-part series, comedians and humorists write about their experiences with the grieving process and its effect on their comedy. Today, one of LA’s best and hardest-working comedians Brandie Posey talks about the death of her mother, and how it helped her understand that comedy is all about rooting for the underdog.
The Bygone Bureau: Tell us a little about your loved one. Did this person inform your comedic sensibility? In what way?
Brandie Posey: I’ve had two big losses in my life — my mom about three months ago and my dad’s mom, my grandmother, in September 2006.
My grandmother informed me pretty directly, mostly because she was a real pistol who didn’t care what anyone thought of her and was also the most social person I’ve ever met — she’d become your best friend behind you in line at the super market. She was a storyteller and loved holding court but would never need to be the center of attention.
My mom was the opposite in a lot of ways because she was incredibly shy, although when I was a kid she was always very goofy in private with my brother and I.
I think I learned not to need to be the center of attention from both of them, and to really know the value of saying something versus bullshitting. My mom developed a disease called MSA though, which is neurological, so it’s hard to know when she stopped being able to joke around that way anymore.
Can you tell a short (maybe funny, maybe not) anecdote that encapsulates this person? Has thinking about the events of this story changed for you in the grief process, and if so, how?
My grandmother, when she was young, had a younger brother, Leo, who was bedridden with an enlarged heart. She would come home from school and carry him outside and teach him what she had learned. Some of the neighbor boys would make fun of Leo, and she stockpiled rocks and would throw them at them and tell them to back off. It’s been a few years now since she died, but thinking about how tough my grandmother was has always been a huge source of pride for me, and I think of it when I feel like I can’t keep going.
My mom would always leave sweet little notes in our lunches, and when I’ve gone back recently and watched old video footage she shot of our school events, she was always saying little sweet things about us while filming — stuff she never said to out face very often.
I wish I had known that’s how she felt more when she was alive. Once I hit my teenage years there was always a distance between us, whether from being a teen or from the early stages of MSA taking away her ability to communicate as well as we’d both like.
Describe your experience with grief a little. Did it interrupt your desire to write or tell jokes? If so, in what way? When did that desire return, if it did. What happened that made it come back?
Having a comic’s mind has actually helped me immensely in the grief process. I was writing or thinking jokes within hours of my mom passing away. It gave me back control over the situation in some small way. Not about losing my mom, but just little absurd things about all the stuff that comes with it — picking out the clothes she’d be buried in and how weird that kind of thing is, the morticians being stereotypical morticians, etc.
Humor has always helped me cope with hardship because it’s taking back the power.
How has experiencing grief changed the way you think about comedy in general or certain jokes in particular? How is it different, and how is it the same? Are there any sorts of jokes that you were comfortable with before that you aren’t now, or vice versa?
I’ve always believed comedy was for backing up and supporting the underdog and people who are down. Using comedy through grief has only strengthened that feeling — I don’t like mean-spirited comedy. I like it coming from an honest place.
We only have so much time here so use it to really say something. This whole experience has only reinforced that. I think a lot of that can be attributed to losing my grandmother before I started comedy, so that grief definitely helped shape my beginnings.
It’s been sometimes said that humor comes from pain. Has any comedy writing come directly out of your experience with the loss of a loved one? Is there anything funny about death or grief, whether in the abstract or in your personal experience?
There are so many funny things about grief and death. They are things we all feel but don’t talk about much, which is a shame.
The pomp and circumstance of the funeral is weird and hilarious and you take a step back and think, “Why is this how this is done?” Weird relatives and parents’ friends come out the woodwork. You remember funny moments of the person in life.
Life is funny and weird, so why would death be any different. Good comedy helps us understand why we’re here and what’s waiting at the end and makes it less scary.