Opinion: Staying on the clean side of humor


Several sports heroes’ careers have been tarnished following allegations they were using performance-improving drugs. During the recent Olympics, some athletes were similarly accused.

As a newspaper columnist, I’m proud of what I’ve written, unassisted by any humor-enhancing drugs or whimsy-producing substances. Many humor columnists have on their bookshelves, “Milton Berle’s Personal Jokebook,” the “Complete Works of Henny Youngman” and the Acapulco Gold of humor, “Bob Hope’s Greatest One-Liners (unabridged).” I fought temptation through the years as I constantly wondered where my next laugh was coming from. I hung around Barnes & Noble and Borders. I haunted Books-A-Million, where I knew I could buy cracks at a good price.

I even visited Half-Price Books, but you never know what you are buying at a place like that. Is the humor pure, or is it cut with bad stuff? I had a friend who overdosed on “The Pocket Rodney Dangerfield” back in the ’70s. He got caught doing Dangerfield jokes in a comedy club stand-up routine. He was kicked off stage. Talk about no respect.

Some may wonder, “How did Wolfsie write his column for almost 25 years? Maybe he’s hooked on something.” Tom Brady is hanging up his pads. Maybe Wolfsie should hang up his gags.

Once you’re dependent on other people’s humor, it’s hard to kick the habit. You may think you’ve conquered your demons, but before long you’re hiding Woody Allen quips on index cards in your office desk drawer.

When I first appeared on TV, I watched old Jerry Lewis movies and I mimicked a few of his routines on camera. Then one day I just stopped. I went cold jerky.

As I write my 1,100th column, I am proud of what I have accomplished. I didn’t reread Andy Rooney essays. I once took a Dave Barry book off my shelf, but I never opened it.

Other humorists have asked me for advice on how to quit pilfering jokes. I created a short quiz to assess their susceptibility to stealing from others. Here are two sample questions to assess their chances of a relapse.

I just got back from a pleasure trip.

  • I went to Vegas.
  • My wife and I cruised to Bermuda.
  • I took my mother-in-law to the airport.

My wife ran after the garbage truck. “Am I too late for a pick-up?” she screamed.

  • Yes, and we are not permitted to turn around.
  • No, just set it by the curb.
  • Of course not, jump in.

Anyone who answered C to both questions is on a slippery path. They are too weak to resist stolen zingers and one-liners. As of this week, I’ve avoided yielding to temptation for 6,752 days. But tomorrow, I’m going to begin reading Mel Brooks’ autobiography. Wish me luck.


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