Yes, I Was Wearing Pants

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I admit it. I’ve been itching to write this column for more than two months. But other things needed to be said first.

There’s a time to be serious. There’s a time to be funny. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, much like the sudden nature of the coronavirus crisis, everything shut down abruptly. Serious people took over doing serious things. It offered a calming confidence.

Then, one day – one night actually – the time for non-stop seriousness ended. On Saturday night, September 29, 2001, nearly three weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Reese Witherspoon stepped onto the stage at NBC Studios in New York City’s GE Building for the airing of the season’s first episode of Saturday Night Live.

Only she wasn’t the first one on the stage. In lieu of the standard cold opening, Mayor Rudy Giuliani appears on stage with members of the New York City Fire Department, the New York City Police Department, and the Port Authority Police Department. In a quiet and dignified tone, Giuliani respectfully introduces them by saying “these are the heroes.”

After a poignant and compelling retelling of New York City’s – as well as our nation’s – resiliency in the face of the unprecedented events of 9-11, they (and we all) listened to Paul Simon sing a somber rendition of “The Boxer.”

As the audience (and us) cheered Simon’s final notes, SNL Producer Lorne Michaels sauntered onto the stage beside Giuliani. With stern seriousness stretched across their faces, the two gentlemen exchanged the proper pleasantries. Giuliani declared New York City “open for business” and Saturday Night Live as “one of our great New York City institutions.”

What happened next has become iconic.

Lorne Michaels turned to Mayor Giuliani and asked, still with that serious look on his face, “Can we be funny?”

Rudy Giuliani, looking startled for a moment, turned from the camera to face Michaels directly. Pausing as if to search for an appropriate response, the Mayor, without breaking his serious tone, asks Michaels in turn, “Why start now?”

The audience burst into laughter and jubilant cheers. Both men smiled that kind of grin you can only sport when you know you’ve pulled off the perfect prank.

It was time to be funny again. And, with familiar playful enthusiasm, Giuliani shouted the line that ends every Saturday Night Live opening: “Live! From New York! It’s Saturday Night!”

So, after fifteen terrible days, the world began to laugh again.

Perhaps it is time we, too, begin to move away from the 24/7 seriousness and begin to laugh again.

Now, I’m not saying you’ll consider what I’m about to write “funny,” but I’m sure we can all agree it is less than serious.

But it has been on my mind. Since March 28th.

You remember March 28th, don’t you? It was way back in the “Snow Day” era of the shutdown. Things were still new back then. People were excited. They felt like they were entering a new world. Everyone wanted to see what it was like. Yes, we were anxious (some still are). Yes, some were afraid (a few still are). Yes, a few saw the coming change blossoming into opportunity (not enough still do).

It was only a week or so before that all H-E-double toothpicks broke loose. Just as the first trickles of water began sprinkling through the dam, I received a call from the producer of Dana Perino’s show.

She was interested in having me talk about an article I had just written for Forbes.com. Titled “Don’t Let CoronaCrash Mess Up Your Retirement,” it was published just as the stock market was reaching its low point.

A lot of people were worried about this.

Within days, they were worrying about something else.

The producer emailed me late at night (actually, very early in the morning). I had gone to bed earlier that night (i.e., before 1 AM) and didn’t see it until the next morning. By then, all the major networks had begun going all coronavirus all the time. My segment got bumped. Then Perino’s show was bumped (actually, she got bumped up to handle the nonstop COVID-19 coverage).

The producer, however, also handled Trace Gallagher’s late night “Special Report.” She got me to change my talking points (yes, they’re really called that) to address all the people suddenly looking for unemployment checks. I gave her that and more.

Another piece of mine had just been published by Forbes.com titled, “This Is How Your Work, Spending And Life Changes From This Point Forward.” It was one of those “shape of things to come” kind of articles. That’s the angle Trace went with when I was on the air with him.

About that “on the air with him” part. Like I said, his was a late night show. And by “late night” I mean really late night. In fact, you might consider it “early morning.”

You see, Trace Gallagher’s show was broadcast from Los Angeles and it’s geared to the West Coast audience. It aired from 11:00 pm to 2:00 am.

“What’s so unreasonable about that? It’s not that much different than Saturday Night Live.” you are probably are saying.

Ah, yes, but remember this is the Pacific Time Zone. In our world, the show ran from 2 am until 5 am.

They were merciful, though. They scheduled me early on the show.

So at 2:30 am our time, I set up the laptop and Skyped into Fox’s Los Angeles studios. I was surprised how awake I was for yet another 15 minutes of fame.

I was also surprised how many people who knew me were awake and watching TV at 2:45am. And they weren’t afraid to send me messages as soon as my segment ended. Who knew there were so many night owls?

Everything went without a hitch. The set-up was awkward. I placed my laptop on top of bins stacked on a folding card table. This insured it was at eye-level. I also placed a five-foot standing lamp on that same table to insure proper lighting. Any backyard deer looking in the rear windows would have thought I was crazy.

Who know? Maybe I was. Maybe we all were at that time. But at least I was wearing pants.

So, I ask you, “Can I be sane?”

The first one who answers, “Why start now?” proves they’ve been paying attention.

Now, go ahead. Smile, laugh, and welcome good times again!

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