Flatline Punchline


July 4, 2010

Prostate Cancer. No laughing matter. Even Bruce, the usual life of the party, had trouble coming up with a zinger for this. One rule of comedy is to always punch upward (millionaires, celebrities) and not downward (poor people, people with speech disorders). Right now, he was so down, he couldn’t bear to make a joke for fear of offending himself. But he tried.

After the doctor told him he had prostate cancer, he sat in silence for about a minute. This was not unusual for patients who just learned of a terminal illness but if the doctor had been inside Bruce’s head, he would be appalled to learn why. Instead of thinking about his wife and daughter, he was frantically attempting to come up with a real good zinger, something that wasn’t cliche, something a doctor wouldn’t expect to hear.

He considered, “I guess I won’t try anal sex now.”
And, “I was getting sick of this planet anyway.”
And, “Now I can save money on that Halloween ghost costume.”

But he didn’t say any of them. It was the first time in his life that Bruce didn’t have a punchline. The doctor put his hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “Would you like me to give you some time?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Bruce. “This is a tough one.”