Humor Saved My Life by Jeff Anderson
Humor saved my life.
See, I know what is to be bullied. When I was young, I was called a sissy. As I reluctantly trudged into adolescence the names became worse—much worse. They still sting.
But humor saved my life.
Yes, at first humor started with defensive barbs that sometimes defused situations. But I hated those hours I was forced to be at school. I couldn’t wait to get home and giggle at reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies or The Odd Couple. Television always cracked me up, and when I laughed I felt more free, more whole, more hopeful. I didn’t come to humor through books though. My mentors were Joan Rivers, Valerie Harper, Carole Burnett, and Red Fox. I learned the comic perspective from them. I learned to process my life in a commentary on the sidelines when it hurt too much to be in the present moment.
When I was in third grade, my parents told my brother and me they were getting a divorce. We were devastated. We’d be uprooted from our town, our house, our school, our father. We’d live three hours away from him. But we weren’t supposed to worry: We’d see him two weeks every summer. We burst into tears and escaped to our rooms, burying our faces in our pillows. But some time later that evening, we all came out of hiding and sat in the living room in still silence—Mom, Dad, Ben, and I. Unsure how we were supposed to speak to each other now, we sat in the glow of the Mary Tyler Moore show as we often did. Then Ted did or said something on the screen and finally we laughed—together.
I don’t pretend to understand everything kids go through today, but I do know a few of them need to be saved by humor, saved by the relief and the release and the escape it can give. I discovered much later in life, TV wasn’t the only thing that could help me escape dull pain. Books could too. In college, I remember loving Linda Ellerbee’s memoir And So It Goes and her sardonic point of view of the news life. In part, I picked up much of the wry lens, which I look at life through from her voice. More recently, books like Clementine by Sara Pennypacker have sent me and the audiences I share her with into uncontrollable rolls of laughter. Chris Crutcher’s King of the Mild Frontier and Wendelin Van Draanen’s Swear to Howdy made me know at a deep level I wanted to make kids laugh like my students did.
Later, I came to understand that writing humor could be just as healing. Exploring the absurdity of life and what I could glean from it, what I could reframe and understand and connect became a new joy for me.
As a teacher for almost 25 years, Zack’s voice, the events he and his friends face, all scratched at the inside of my head, begging to get out. In the series, things don’t often turn out as Zack would like them to–something we all have in common. He may not be called a sissy, but he has plenty on his plate regarding friendship, divorce, a crush, as well as cafeteria and gym survival skills. He may spend too much of his time worrying about what others might think of him and forget to be in the moment. But, like all of us, he begins to figure that out. My hope is Zack helps readers take a comic perspective on their lives. Perhaps with a less dire lens and a more comforting message that everybody worries just as much as you. You are not alone.
When I think of less worry and more humor, I consider some of the hardest times of my life. I can’t help but reflect on my Mother’s last words: “Don’t worry about anything. It’s all a big joke.” This beautiful, loving, lifelong worrier never spoke another word. She was a worrier until the end. But in the last moment, in her last breath she reminded me of the truth. And, in that moment, we were both set free. My hope is my readers won’t have to wait that long. (My mom always wanted to write children’s book, by the way. Her wish ripples through me. We made it, Mama!)
Sometimes we all just need something other than the constant assault of serious reality. We all need to just laugh, like my family did at after the divorce talk. When we sat around the TV laughing, I somehow knew things were going to be all right, when only a moment before I thought my life was over.
When you’re laughing, you’re in the moment. Your belly contracts and sometimes you can’t even breathe. I love that feeling.
Remember, like me, someone is your classroom or library needs to be saved by humor,
In Zack Delacruz: Just My Luck, I hope to build community and connection through laughter and discovery. It’s October, the second Zack Delacruz book is out in the world, waiting. I hope you’ll consider inviting Zack, Marquis, Janie, Cliché, Abhi, and even Blythe into your classroom and into the life of that kid who needs a laugh and a place to turn.
Humor does more than it gets credit for. This I know for sure: Humor saved my life.
Here’s a link to the book trailer for Zack Delacruz: Just My Luck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsAPGVi6P7Y
Jeff Anderson is author of Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth and Zack Delacruz: Just My Luck (available now). He will be spending the next few months in schools and conferences sharing about Zack’s quirky sixth grade life along with his other books on teaching grammar and writing. Follow Jeff on Twitter @writeguyjeff on and the web at writeguy.net.