Stay Young with Humor

February 25, 2008

Humorist Kay FrancesAnti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael Brickey

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

Host: Anti-Aging Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey

Expert Guest: Motivational Humorist Kay Frances

Broadcast: 1-26-08 on webtalkradio.net where the latest shows are broadcast and posted as podcasts

Kay Frances is a professional speaker and professional emcee who loves to give a healthy dose of humor. She has a keen interest in health and staying youthful. In her career as a top standup comedienne, she performed in 38 states and even performed for the all male inmates at Riker’s Island prison. She is the host the TV program, Happy Hour with Kay Frances: Health, Humor, and Healing. Her website is http://www.KayFrances.com  

TRANSCRIPT ©Michael Brickey–excerpts permitted with attribution

MB: This is America’s Anti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael Brickey, with Ageless Lifestyles Radio, your source for cutting-edge thinking on being youthful at every age. On each program I interview experts on what it takes to live longer, healthier, and happier. Our program takes a holistic approach in addressing anti-aging psychology, medicine, alternative medicine, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Our emphasis is on innovative thinking and practices that have solid data and results. Today’s expert is Kay Frances. Kay Frances is a motivational humorist, professional speaker, and professional emcee who loves to give a healthy dose of humor. She has a keen interest in health and staying youthful. In her previous life as a top standup comedienne, she performed in 38 states and even the all-male institution at Rikers Island Prison. She is host of the TV program, “Happy Hour with Kay Frances: Health, Humor and Healing.” Kay, before I met you a few years ago at the National Speakers Association Meeting, I heard you at the Funnybone Comedy Club. And I remember I was so impressed, I bought your tape in the back of the room. I remember it well. It was “You Don’t Mess with a Woman with PMS.”

KF: Well, I’ve since graduated to menopause, but you know, the principles are the same. And I always say that PMS is just dress rehearsal for the Big M, so…

MB: Okay. Well, how in the world did you get from being a top standup comedienne to being a motivational humorist?

KF: My whole life’s career and path would appear checkered to anyone else but me, and luckily it now sort of all makes sense. And then without boring you with my entire life story, I did start off with a degree in physical education, so I actually have been sort of a fan of wellness, but I decided I didn’t want to teach. So I went into the corporate world for a while and ended up in standup comedy – again, kind of a long story in and of itself. But I’ve done standup for a number of years and, as you mentioned, lived in New York City. And I came back to Ohio, where I’m from, when my Dad passed away, and I just intended to stay about six months and just sort of regroup and help Mom out. And as it turned out, Mom had been taking care of my Dad and was actually a little sicker than we thought, and so six months turned into a year, which turned into two years, which turned into seven years I actually ended up taking care of my Mom. And during that time, I actually – that’s when I really, really began to see the value of humor, you know, dealing with terminal illness and so forth. And after she passed away, I just tried to go back to standup and just felt like I had a little more to say. And by then, I had really become a health and wellness advocate. And speaking of this aging thing, one of the reasons I’m such an advocate of taking care of ourselves is because I did lose my mother – she was only 77, and from where I’m standing at 52, that doesn’t seem very old. And my Dad was barely 70. And all of my grandparents were gone before they were 60. So I’ve had to really take a look at this and determine, well, gosh – I have a really bad genetic hand. If it’s genetics, I mean, I have like five minutes left to live. I’m not even going to make it through this interview, the way it’s looking.

MB: So you looked at this and said, “This is a real wake-up call.” You tell me that you’re actually healthier now than you were 20 years. How’d you do that?

KF: Yes, it’s crazy! Well, I told you I started off with health and wellness, with the physical education, and then it all kind of went south for awhile. I was a smoker, I drank heavily. I was never overweight – yet – but I was not very healthy. Of course, you can get away with that when you’re in your 20s and 30s, and then your body becomes less forgiving. And so it was in my 40s, and really during the time with Mom, I needed my energy. I really did. So I gave up smoking and I started exercising. Well, I did gain some weight.

MB: How did you quit the smoking?

KF: I had tried about everything, and I started smoking in high school, so I’d smoked 25 years. And my friends said I would never quit. My roommate in college said, “Here, Kay – the alarm clock goes off, Kay lights a cigarette and turns off the alarm.” And people were telling me, “Oh, you’ll never quit.” I just – it was just time. I was 41 years old. I always said I don’t want to be smoking when I’m 40. And what happened to work this time was that I had everything else in place. I had already quit drinking, I had already started exercising, drinking water, everything they say you’re supposed to do. And I just decided it was time. And the only thing that was different between this time and all the other times that I tried to quit is that I did use the patch, because I do think we need a little help getting over the physical part of it, because I had dealt with the mental and the social and I had, you know – oh, I understood my addiction inside and out. So I used the patch for about eight weeks and it really did help wean me off of the physical part.

MB: So you did a lot of stage-setting before you really made the all-out effort, including the patch.

KF: I did. And I also had one slight mental shift, in that I decided to take it one day at a time. And you know, this will sound so strange, but I have been off of the cigarettes for 11 years now and I still occasionally will get an urge. And I’ll say to myself, “Well, maybe I will tomorrow, but for today I’m not going to. Today I’m going to choose not to.” So it was different than saying, “I have to give this up forever and ever.” I just felt like I had an inner rebel that would say, “Oh, no, I’m not!” and would fight it. Whereas I – I mean, that sounds so crazy, but I’d say, “You’re an adult, you can do what you want.” And I’d start my self-talk and sort of try to talk myself off the ledge, you know. I’d say, “Fine, you can smoke. But remember, you probably won’t be able to have the workouts that you have.” My skin looks better, I feel better, I have more energy that I did in my 30s, and I’m 52. So that’s part of why I feel better today than I did when I was younger as a smoker – and also, just eating bad and, you know, not taking care of myself overall. And now I do much, much better. I’m not perfect. I believe in progress, not perfection. I’ve had cake as recent as yesterday. But moderation – I think the key is balance and moderation, and of course that ever-ever-important mental attitude.

MB: Now, Kay, I know you’re not really a moderate person. I mean getting healthier wasn’t enough – you went and got a third degree Black Belt?

KF: That’s true. You know, you are right. The moderation page seems to have been ripped out of my dictionary. But at least now when I’m obsessive, it’s over something a little healthier than what I used to do. But as I got into karate, those were the years when I was taking care of Mom and I really needed somewhere to release my stress. And what a great thing to do, to not only get to pound on bags, but other people. I mean, it’s great! So I started studying, and I never set out to get a Black Belt, but you know, it was just taking it one day at a time. And after three and a half years, my instructor, who was 28 years old at the time, said, “You know, it’s about time to start talking about getting your Black Belt.” Well, I couldn’t have been more surprised. And I said, “Really?” He said, “Yes! You’re very good and you know your requirements.” And he never said, “…for your age.” It was just, I was good! And I appreciated that he wasn’t into ages; he just saw me as one of his students and he was as hard on me as he was-

MB: Well, maybe you were so good, he was afraid you’d beat him up. I mean-

KF: Well, there’s that, too, yes. I was at the peak of my training and he was getting a little pooch on him there, you know.

MB: Has the Black Belt helped your humor, as well?

KF: Well, everything’s tied together. You know, life is life. Humor is just one way that – it’s in my toolbox. It used to be, when my life was a lot more out of balance, when I did standup comedy, it was too much. Everything was humor. I would sometimes use it as an escape. And I would say it’s more in balance now, if that makes sense. I still think it’s very, very important – and one of the reasons I am a humorist is I still think it’s important to encourage people to keep a light heart and a positive attitude, because I think that’s lacking. I think in other people’s toolboxes, it gets sort of ignored, especially in really important matters like serious illness, death – you know, there are all the stages of grief which, of course, we can’t ignore them. We have to go through all of them. We have to feel our feelings. We can’t stuff them and hide behind laughter, but we certainly have to give ourselves permission. And it’s just so backwards in our society. It’s viewed as silly, frivolous and unnecessary. We’re told growing up, “Straighten up, get serious. What’s that messing around?” It’s sort of synonymous with horseplay, and it’s not.

MB: Oh, I’m a big believer that humor is one of the most complicated, intellectually stimulating things we can do. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the IQ test, one of the 11 subtests is arranging cartoon pictures to tell a story. For immigrants, humor is one of the last things they get, because you have to have a good understanding of the culture, you have to have a good understanding of the language, and that’s just to get the joke. To tell the joke, you have to be able to remember it, you have to have timing, and you have to be able to read the audience. Getting some humor in your life every day is one of the best things that you can do for your mind and your spirit.

KF: Oh, I absolutely agree. Well, this is my life’s work. I’m really glad to hear that there’s a lot of research to back it up, because I’ve known it sort of organically. And all those years of standup – I mean, you meet people and they tell you, “Oh, my gosh, I needed to laugh. I just don’t laugh enough.” I heard this constantly for years, and that was one of the reasons I decided that I wanted to delve more into this therapeutic humor, because there’s really a need for it. And it’s important. It’s not just, “Oh, it makes you feel good.” I mean, there’s a lot of physiological benefits to humor and laughter. I mean, even it works your cardiovascular system, your muscles, helps fight disease and infection. I mean, stress management – stress sends us to the doctor for anywhere from 70 to 90% of our diseases and illnesses.

MB: And our immune system doesn’t even have a pump like our heart, so if you don’t laugh to get the movement going or doing some exercise, you’re not going to get full benefit from your immune system. Kay, one thing I was curious about – you know, I occasionally have fantasies of “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a standup comedian?” And then I look at these guys and it seems to me like it’s a terribly unhealthy lifestyle, being on the road. And I picture, frankly, excesses of drinking and maybe even drugs, to boot. Is it an unhealthy lifestyle?

KF: It certainly can be. You know, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and when you’re doing standup comedy on the road, you have a lot of free time. A lot – I mean, yes and no. I mean, we’d say we work an hour a day. It’s not like we’re quite that slovenly, but kind of. And you know, it can really take a toll on your emotionally. Sometimes it takes hours and hours to even come down from a show, to be able to sleep. And the next day you could be really tired. So it’s – yeah, it’s maybe not the same as an hour spent behind the computer. It’s a little different when you’re up there and you have the responsibility of an entire group of strangers. Their good time is in your hands. And you can’t turn around and blame the band or the manager or the economy – I mean, it’s just you up there and the audience. And it sort of does – and I think with a lot of comedians – and there, again, having known literally hundreds of them, and it was an interesting study in human behavior to live and work with comedians – it did seem that we all were somewhat dysfunctional to get into it. There were often a need for a lot of affirmation and validation. Because it’s different than actors, because actors – like, say you’re doing a stage play – you may not get any real validation until the very end and then you’re sharing it with other people, and then you may have to wait for the reviews to come out. Well, look at a movie – it takes months to make a movie. And with standup, the validation is immediate. Immediately you’re getting that affection and love, because they agree with you, and they’re showing their agreement with their laughter. And it’s apparent and it’s public. The downside of that, of course, is when they don’t agree with you and they hate you, and then that’s public, as well. And so it’s a form of public humiliation, basically. So you have to be a little masochistic to go into this to start with, because everybody has bad shows. Even Jerry Seinfeld, after his TV show, with all his fame and all this fortune, he did that standup tour to make that movie – he had bad shows. And we’re talking Jerry Seinfeld!

MB: He’s almost as good as you are, isn’t he?

KF: Yeah, I could only hope to ever be as good as Jerry Seinfeld. And he’s so wise. I always enjoy hearing interviews. He just had an interview in Oprah Magazine with Oprah, and it was just – he always has such an interesting take on standup and just life in general, and I just have a tremendous admiration for him. Met him one time – namedrop, namedrop – when I lived in New York. He’s quite short. I think people would be surprised to know that. Well, he’s not – well, compared to me, everybody’s short. But he’s about 5’7″, 5’8″, something like that.

MB: One of the things that concerns me about humor is that so much of the aging humor is negative stuff about geezers and over-the-hills and granny that’s sex-starved or something. And one of the things that you do is try to put a healthy spin on humor about aging and about health.

KF: Well, I do. And I will say this. If there is humor, there’s a grain of truth somewhere. But we are redefining aging. And that’s not just because we Baby Boomers are too stubborn to get old. There may be an element of that, because our generation is certainly kicking and screaming. We don’t want to be our parents and grandparents, particularly in terms of the disease and illness, which is not inevitable – and we have so many advances in our knowledge now and our medicine and our – like you say, the whole holistic approach to health and wellness and aging that we’ve come to see where a lot of it is a choice. And so the thing is, those jokes really don’t hold – they’re losing their truth. So they’re not funny because there’s not truth to them, so-

MB: I love the idea that they’re outdated.

KF: They’re outdated! That’s just it. Oh, gosh, I’m getting a lot of funnier ones now. I got one with the older people on the treadmill singing the parody to “Get Your Motor Running.” Did you ever – it was all over the internet.

MB: No, I haven’t heard that.

KF: It’s very funny. And it’s just a whole different take. It had the grandparents up there on the treadmill running and talking about their motorcycle and their this and their that – because people are living longer and they’re living much more vibrant lives. But you know, the interesting part of that – and I wanted to bring this up and have you talk to me a little bit about this, because we had discussed this one other time – is about that aging is very much a choice. And you had told me one time about the study, I believe, done on twins. And you had said that something like 30% of our diseases, illness, aging was genetic, that there’s little we can do about it. But something like 70% was within our control?

MB: It was Scandinavian research where they took identical twins and fraternal twins, studied them over a lifetime, crunched the numbers, and came up with 30% of their longevity was due to genetics. I think in our country, it’s probably even less than that, because the Scandinavian countries are pretty homogeneous in terms of social class and lifestyle, where we have a lot more variety here. So rule of thumb here is only 25% is genetic, which means that 75% is going to be your thinking and the lifestyle that you choose. That’s pretty good odds.

KF: Well, see, I find that very freeing. I think a lot of people want to look to genetics first, because it can be a handy excuse.

MB: And on top of that, genetics is going to become less and important as we get into genetic engineering and correct genetic weaknesses. And we’re getting so many other medical advances that more and more of it is what you do with your mind and your lifestyle.

KF: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. And well, I had to come to this conclusion, without even a scientific basis or like that – I’ve got like five minutes left to live. But I had to really take a good look at my grandparents and parents and realize that I lot of it was lifestyle choices. I know that. Type 2 adult-onset diabetes is a great percent – I don’t know the exact percentage – but it has a lot to do with obesity and lack of exercise and all those things. It’s not inevitable. So because my grandfather and my mother had diabetes does not mean that it is a shoe-in for me. And same with high blood pressure.

MB: Kay, you talked earlier about how the Karate helped you cope with being a caretaker. How did humor come into play in dealing with the stresses of being a caretaker with your mother?

KF: Oh, my gosh! Well, I learned from her. She had such a wonderful sense of humor. I’m not kidding you, Dr. Brickey. She was in the hospice facility with five days left to live – no one, of course, really knew it was five days – you never know – but I don’t think they believed that she’d stay there. I mean, I don’t think anyone believed – even though you could read her chart and her numbers and it was horrendous, the sort of diseases and illnesses she was carrying, but she still had this fantastic attitude. And she lived much longer than anyone ever expected her to with the sorts of things she was dealing with. But she had such a sunny attitude. The first time we went there – one of my sisters was very worried about her going to hospice. She was, “Oh, she’s just going off to die,” and all this. Well, you know, she was completely out of options at that point and we just wanted her to be comfortable. And again, we didn’t know – she could’ve lived for several months – nobody really knows. But we checked in the facility and she looked around and she said, “You tell your sister I’m in a beautiful place and I am completely happy.” I mean, this is a woman that couldn’t get out of bed.

MB: She was taking care of you guys.

KF: Yes! Yes, exactly. And I’ll never forget that. And it still just brings almost tears to my eyes, is that – I mean, she got to where she was pretty much confined only to her room, her bedroom, you know, before she went into the hospital and then went into hospice and so forth. But one time I had a bad cold, and I lived two rooms away – I lived in the house with her – and had a bad, bad cold. And she barely left her room, and she had her walker and a cane – you know, it was very, very difficult for her to walk. And I heard her milling around in the kitchen, and usually she would ask me if she needed something. I’m telling you, it took everything she had just to get up and walk across the room. I heard her milling around in the kitchen and I just felt like death warmed over – but you know, still getting my job done with her and so forth. But I was in bed and just -oh, you know. Here she comes with her walker and this cup of hot chocolate sloshing out of this cup, when she – I mean, I’m telling you, she just wanted to help me. She wanted me to feel better. So she had taken everything she had to make that hot chocolate in the microwave. And then here she came, you know, one inch at a time, bringing it in to give to me.

MB: Wow.

KF: But you know, I never thought of her as old. But there again, 77 – that isn’t old. She had an illness – now there’s a difference.

MB: Well, she probably never thought of herself as old.

KF: She did not. And I got that from her. She always said age is a frame of mind, and she always talked about aging gracefully and, you know, that sort of thing – which I’m not sure if I agree with that. I’m not even sure what that means.

MB: Oh, I don’t want to be graceful about it.

KF: I know, I’m kicking and screaming.

MB: I’m kicking and screaming.

KF: I know. Well, she did, too, to a degree. I mean, she was going to the YMCA up until a year before she died and she was on a walker then, and she would walk all the way back to the back to the swimming pool and get in the lift chair and it would lift her into the water, and she would take the arthritis swim class. So she did the best she could as long as she could.

MB: Just wouldn’t quit.

KF: No, no. She was – she made some poor choices, and you know what? She stood by her choices, though. She stood by the poor choices that she made. She never blamed anyone else and she took responsibility for it.

MB: Let me take a brief break here. This is America’s Anti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael Brickey, with the Ageless Lifestyle Radio, your source for cutting edge thinking on being youthful at every age. Today’s guest is motivational humorist Kay Frances. Her website is http://www.kayfrances.com/. And her email is OhioFunnyLady@yahoo.com. And of course, for a comedian, it has to be yahoo.com.

KF: It’s got to be yahoo, of course.

MB: Information on anti-aging psychology is at DrBrickey.com, or you can just go to NotAging.com and it’ll take you to DrBrickey.com. I’d love to get your feedback and comments. Just send them to radio@drbrickey.com. Kay, one of the things you talk about is aging inappropriately. What do you mean by that?

KF: I think we should be happy with wherever we are in our age. I think we spend a lot of our lives wanting to be older or younger than we are, and we pay so much attention to that number. And was it Satchel Paige that said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

MB: Exactly.

KF: And I believe that’s true. You know, when you’re young, you’re, “I’m three and a half!” I mean, you want to add the halves on. And we do that for a while. Then we can’t wait to become a teenager. Then we want to be 16. Then we want to be 18. Then we want to be 21. Then we start dreading 30, and it starts going backwards from there. And then we hit about 80 and we start bragging about our age again. And then we hit 90 and it’s “90 and a half,” “91 and a half.”

MB: Exactly. I had a woman in a seminar once who raised her hand and she said, “I’m 97…and a half.”

KF: Well, yeah. But that – I’m concerned about that middle part. You know, when you’re young, you don’t know better. You don’t know to quit wishing you were other than where you are. I think by the time you get to be 30, let’s say, you should begin to realize that you should embrace the moment and the present and where you are and be happy with it. I don’t understand not telling your age. Now, there are differing people with different points of view, and maybe when I’m 60 or 70 or 80, I’ll feel differently about that. But at 52, I just – I want to stop that. You know, we say, “Society says…” and “Society’s youth-obsessed.” You know what? We are society.

MB: I think you’ve already decided to not buy in to what society says.

KF: No, I’m not. And I could just be a good example. And I’d like younger people to go, “Well, gosh. 52’s not so bad. Look at her! She’s having a great time,” you know.

MB: One of the things that you do so well is story-telling. That’s really what makes the humor so memorable. I especially love the story about when your father died.

KF: Oh, yeah. You know, when someone passes away – good gosh, my Mom lost her mate of almost 50 years. She was not yucking it up. It’s inappropriate – no, I don’t want to use that word “inappropriate.” I don’t mean inappropriate. It’s not natural to necessarily want to laugh when something horrendous has happened in your life. However, that said, I think that it is such a wonderful tool to have as part of your grief toolbox, that when the gifts of laughter come up, you just have to take them and run with them. And it may be that day, it might be a month later, it might be two months later. Well, the particular story – I know the one you’re talking about – it was a couple of month after my Dad passed away. And Mom and I were talking, and I knew the story. She had gone in to get him up – it was early in the morning, it was about 7:00 in the morning, and the phone had rang and my Dad had gotten a phone call. Well, she went to go wake him and had discovered that he was gone. He had passed away in his sleep. And so that’s the story. Well, a couple of months later, of course, I get to thinking about it and I said, “Mom, what did you tell the person on the phone?” And she goes, “I told them that he can’t come to the phone right now.” “Did you take a…?” She took a message! I mean, we started laughing. And I’m telling you, we must’ve laughed for 30 minutes. And it was just – you know, she was laughing at herself, at how silly she was. And you know, she was able to have enough distance from the situation where she could put it in perspective and have a good, hearty laugh. And I’m telling you, it made her feel fantastic. She’d been, you know, grief-stricken for two months. And to be able to enjoy a good, hearty laugh was invaluable. I mean, it made her feel terrific.

MB: I think that would’ve been a real long-distance call.

KF: Yeah, exactly. But she went – and that just shows you how you go into shock, and she’s such a responsible person, too – that’s part of what you’d have to know. She’s just so ultra-dependable and responsible, you know. And that would be her, to go and take a – she would never leave the person just hanging. She would go and take a message.

MB: You also had a centenarian neighbor, Pearl?

KF: Oh, Pearl – yeah. Oh, my gosh. Pearl – this is another person that just inspires so much. You know, Dr. Brickey, I always said I want to be a cool old lady. And these women – obviously not an old man, that’s not going to happen in this life, but I love cool old men, too. But I want to be a cool old lady. I want to be Pearl. I want to be Pearl. Pearl lived to be 103 years old and she was my neighbor until she was 101, and she lived in her own home until she was 101 years old. You would see Pearl out in her yard, doing her yard with a manual push mower – not a gas-powered one. 101 years old, doing her flowers – well, the joke around the neighborhood, you get a couple of inches of snow and you go, “Oh, man, my back kind of hurts. Let’s go see if Pearl’s busy. See if she can come shovel us out.” Because she just was so vibrant, had so much energy. But the thing about Pearl, it wasn’t until you really stopped to think about her age that you realized how incredible it was, the things she was doing, because you would just think she was a lady out there working in her yard. She was ageless. There was an ageless quality about her. But she had a fantastic sense of humor. And she was so fun and so funny that literally you had to call and get an appointment to go visit with her, because she was so busy. She had so many friends and so many people – it wasn’t like the obligatory “go visit the old person and make you feel good about yourself” type of stereotype. No, you went to visit Pearl because Pearl was a lot of fun. So Mom and I went to visit her. We walked in and Pearl helps us take our coats off, all right, and we sat down to enjoy a nice visit. Well, Pearl and my mother had been schoolteachers together years before. And so Pearl starts telling this story – she always had fantastic stories. She said, “Eleanor” – that was my Mom’s name – she said, “Do you remember the time we were driving to school. I was driving” – and I’m doing my Pearl voice, because she was very proper. She always wore dresses around the house, and hose – very proper lady. She said, “Do you remember the time we were driving to school. I was driving and Mary Lou Berger was in the passenger seat and you were in the backseat. Do you remember that, Eleanor?” And Mom said, “Well, yes, Pearl. But which time? We rode together for years.” She goes, “Well, on this particular morning, we drove past this house and there was a naked man standing in the picture window. Do you remember that now, Eleanor?” And my Mom was kind of blushing, and I go, “Mom, you never told me this story.” I said, “Well, what happened, Pearl?” She goes, “Well, your mother missed it, so we had to drive back by!” I mean, she threw her head back and just cackled. She was laughing at my Mom’s red face, she was laughing at the story, she was laughing at me because I was laughing. And I mean, we just enjoyed the biggest, heartiest laugh. And it occurred to me right there in that moment – and this was years ago – I thought, “Wow, this is why this lady is sitting across from me and I’m here visiting her, and why she’s 101 years old, living here by herself in her car – in her house.”

MB: Wow.

KF: Living in her car – I was thinking about her car as I was telling that story. She also told us that she stopped driving at 100. She didn’t have to. She said she just missed one little light on the side of the vision test. With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “You know, you can retake the test at another county.” She thought, “Well, you know” – she said, “I suppose maybe it’s time.” But you know, 100 years old is not too shabby to keep driving.

MB: That’s impressive.

KF: But the thing was, Dr. Brickey, her funeral was sad. It was sad. Wouldn’t it be nice to go out at 103 or 110 or 115 and have your funeral be said? Instead of, “Oh, well, my gosh, they had a full, happy life.” No, no, no – we were going to miss her. Her son was 82.

MB: Wow.

KF: He was crying! It was his mamma. He’d had her 82 years.

MB: Geez.

KF: I always said the only people that weren’t upset was the State Teacher Retirement System.

MB: How can humor help us cope with death and dying?

KF: It’s sort of as I was saying – I just think it needs to be part of your grief toolbox. And I think we have to allow ourselves permission to have a light heart. And one thing that humor does – I’m not just talking about laugher, I’m talking about lightheartedness – it helps give you perspective. And you know what they say at a funeral that will bring people together and lighten your heart faster than anything? It’s a child or a baby. I was talking to a funeral director and he said that that’s the one unifying factor that will lighten everyone’s heart. There’s something life-affirming about it, and then their antics, of course. But he said you can have a funeral where of course there’s warring factions – you’ve got divorced parties and exes and this and that, and you can feel the tension in the air, or you know, problems with the will, or fighting brothers and sisters. And you bring a baby or a toddler in the room and everybody’s heart goes warm.

MB: Yeah, but I think that rent-a-baby for a funeral business is tacky.

KF: Hey, but there’s my first million! I’m not above it. And I just think humor helps us to reframe and to gain perspective. And prolonged grief does not benefit anyone. They say it’s not even good for the person that left – and there again, any of these kind of theories are just theories, because I don’t think any of us really know until we slide over the slippery log, as my Dad used to say. But prolonged grief can be selfish, too.

MB: I’ve had a lot of people get unstuck just by asking them what the person would have wanted them to do, and would they want you stuck in grief like this, or would they want you going on and passing the love and other lessons that they taught you? And it’s amazing how that can get people going again.

KF: Right, right. That’s excellent.

MB: Optimism is one of the key traits for people who live well into their hundreds and are still healthy and sharp. Does humor play a role in optimism, as well?

KF: I think humor and optimism go hand-in-hand. They’re not quite synonymous, but very, very close. They’re part of the same energy, which is joy and happiness and laughter and optimism – that’s all part of that. It’s all part of that energy that uplifts us rather than pulls us down. Anytime we’re in that energy that pulls us down – anger, frustration – it’s very difficult on our body. It’s hard on our organs, it squeezes our capillaries. Stress and tension, that fight-or-flight syndrome that we tend to like to live in, it wears out our adrenals – I mean, everything – it’s horrible on your body and your health. Whereas when you’re openhearted, you are allowing your blood to flow, your oxygen goes to your muscles. Now, I do make the point, laughter – it’s not all you can do. I mean, obviously, we see the people that are 400 pounds and they’re quite jolly. But that’s not going to mean they’re going to live to be 100. We’ve got to embrace everything. But I think if you have – well, everything, in terms of your fitness and you’re eating right and drinking water and all of that. But the attitude thing – I think if you have that, the other things will sort of fall into place, because if you have a good light heart, then you’re going to manage your addictive behaviors.

MB: Very true. Any suggestions on how people can add some humor to their daily life?

KF: I think it’s the same as drinking your daily water or taking your daily shower. It needs to be definitely part of your day. Sometimes you can keep a light heart or keep your balance just be choosing your input and now allowing negativity to come in. In other words, decide and choose a good frame of mind, hearken back to something that makes you laugh. I keep a file in my computer called “Keepers.” And it’s funny videos or even pictures of animals that are real cute or children or anything that kind of makes you smile or laugh or – and just go open up that file and look at things that make you smile and laugh.

MB: Oh, I love that idea. That’s wonderful.

KF: Yeah, and some days, like when I read the newspaper – I think the morning newspaper can really set the tone for our day. And if I wake up feeling kind of negative – maybe I’ve got a crick in my neck, a little headache, didn’t sleep so well – the last thing I need to do is pick up the newspaper and read the Op-Ed page and get all aggravated at what’s going on in the world.

MB: Oh, I think they ought to put the comics on the front page and the news on the back page.

KF: Yeah, you’re right! I think you’re right. And I think the evening news is a very dangerous thing to watch right before you go to bed.

MB: To watch news on TV is very unhealthy, because you see an image like, say, the World Trade Center collapsing, and that gets planted in your brain. And worse than that, they show it over and over again, and then they switch to some crime feature for three minutes, and before you get the chance to catch your breath from that, you get another bad news and another bad news, and you get all this stuff stuffed in your brain with pictures of it, and you can’t do much about it.

KF: And it’s when we’re most vulnerable. We’re tired, our defenses are down – it’s right before we go to bed.

MB: I encourage people to get their news in print or from the radio, not from watching the traditional TV program. If you want to watch the talking heads, okay, but not all the crime and tragedy stuff on the 6:00 news.

KF: Well, even the talking heads, sometimes – you know, and we can get ourselves so worked up over things going on. Now, take for example this presidential election – I just don’t want to get so wrapped up in it that I’m so involved that I’m irritated and aggravated every minute of every day, but I want to be informed and involved.

MB: Yeah, unless you don’t take it any more seriously than big-time wrestling that they’re putting on a good show for us.

KF: That’s pretty much what it is. That’s a great analogy!

MB: Any tips on how to use humor to deal with stress?

KF: Well, I think that we have to realize this is just life and none of us gets out of here alive. And no matter how important the things are in our lives, really, stressing about them, worrying – my Mom used to say that 90% of what we worry about never happens. So sometimes we like to worry, so then when it doesn’t happen we get that little feeling of relief that it didn’t happen. So with the humor, with the keeping a positive attitude and lightening up, that doesn’t mean that you’re not serious about what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get anything done. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that the more lighthearted and positive your attitude is, the more you get done. When you are uptight, tense, nervous, and scared, you get less done. So it’s the exact opposite of what a lot of businesses think. They think that people should have their nose to the grindstone and be worried and nervous and anxious. Well, all you’re doing is wearing yourself out because you’re not getting any more done. And again, when I say humor, I mean keeping a light heart and laughing when it’s appropriate. I, for one, really enjoy when I go into a store and the clerk makes a few comments or cracks a little joke and smiles, or makes nice conversation. I don’t think, “Hey, just put your head done and be scanning my stuff, lady!” I don’t think that. It brightens my day. It brings me up a little bit. So I just think we just need to give ourselves permission. If a joke comes up, make the joke. Now, again, that doesn’t mean hide behind it. It doesn’t mean not getting your work done. But I think people would be surprised at how much more they actually get done if they allow themselves to keep a sense of humor. Now, one other point I make – I call it the art of laughing on the inside. We don’t always have to laughing to where people can see us. There’s often times that I’ll be looking at something that somebody’s saying and inside I’m going, “I cannot believe they’re saying this to me,” and I’m laughing about it, but I’m not going to let them know – maybe I don’t want to hurt their feelings or maybe I don’t want a confrontation, but I’m keeping myself centered. I don’t have to be drawn into their stuff. So I might be laughing on the inside with a poker face on the outside, and I’m keeping myself balanced. And you know what? Our own mind, our own heart is the last vestige of freedom, and we can think and feel anything we want and no one has to know.

MB: And then we can go home and put it in our computer file as one of those things that make you crack up.

KF: That’s right! And the same with TiVo. There’s a couple of TV shows that just crack me up, and I TiVo them. There’s a show called “Just for Laughs.” It’s ridiculous. It’s really corny. It’s practical jokes – it’s like “Candid Camera” and it’s so silly. I just – well, one of them was they had an outhouse that looked like it was rooted but it was actually – it was next to a pond and it floated. So the person would go in the outhouse and then they would release it, and when they came out, they’d be in the middle of the lake. Well, that was just hysterical to me, because I have a – my inner nine-year-old still thinks that kind of stuff is funny. So, see, my humor is all over the place. I can go from esoteric humor that nobody but me gets – and we all have that because our sense of humor is almost as individual as our thumbprint – to humor that a nine-year-old enjoys, because that nine-year-old is still in me.

MB: And most humor is really about things that there were painful at one time and – you kept using the word perspective – getting a perspective on it and seeing the funny side of it.

KF: That’s exactly right. Well, there’s a saying that says, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” It does take time. You couldn’t make jokes about 9/11 on 9/12. You still can’t make jokes about 9/11 because it was a horrific, horrific event. But it’s not that you’re laughing at the event. What you find to laugh at is the politicians and how they reacted and this sort of thing, the media – there are other targets that you can find around the event that can still help you have a perspective of the event that does not diminish the importance of it. Does that make sense?

MB: Completely. Kay, you said you wanted to be Pearl, but to me you’re just a real jewel, and I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom and unique perspective on things. This is America’s Anti-Aging Psychologist, Dr. Michael Brickey, with Ageless Lifestyle Radio, your source for cutting-edge thinking on being youthful at every age. Today’s guest has been motivational humorist Kay Frances. Her website is http://www.kayfrances.com/. Her email is OhioFunnyLady@yahoo.com. Information on Anti-Aging Psychology is at DrBrickey.com, or you can just go to NotAging.com and it’ll take you to DrBrickey.com. I’d love to get your feedback and comments. Send them to radio@drbricky.com.