TIMING & DELIVERY
My dad used to drive us by Scott Hansen’s house, point, and say, “That’s where Scott Hansen lives. He’s a real comedian and a really funny guy.”
This man, Scott Hansen, and the things he did were important. This was what my dad was telling us. My dad would then, more than likely, launch into his stock, three-word advice that to him was an answer to everything, and to us, his three children, just another one of those things he said—that he had already said a thousand times and would likely say a thousand more.
“Timing and delivery,” he’d say. “That’s what it’s all about.”
“Timing,” he’d restate.
Few things outside comedy or running really got my dad excited. He worked a job that caused too much stress, led nowhere, and ultimately, I think, killed him. A few months before he died, he was on the phone setting up interviews with every department who would listen in an attempt to land a position—any position—at a company he had spent 30 years building his career. This company started to do what many companies were doing and continue to do: laying off soon-to-retire employees. Severance packages, it turns out, are much cheaper in the long run than retirement plans. Because of this, the bottom line cut many down at their knees, and my dad was no exception.
This, of course, caused undue stress. He was overworked. He was worn-out. Still, he was a healthy distance runner who completed more than 30 marathons, so he managed to run after work every day to alleviate his frustrations through some kind of self-medication or act of contrition—a way to leave the unfairness of the Modern American Company on the trail, unwilling to bring its stink to the dinner table.
When he started at this company, it was family-oriented and did right by its employees. People could move up so long as they worked hard and were good people. I actually met the president when I was eight. He waved and laughed at me from his balcony seat when I complained how boring the company-sponsored orchestra concert was at Orchestra Hall—while the concert was in session. These were good people, leading a good company, who understood working families.
My dad made it to middle management before a smaller company from Denver aggressively took it over in the 90s. They decapitated the management, all my dad’s friends and mentors, including that nice president, and they reorganized those who were just high enough on the pyramidal org chart to provide sturdy shoulders to stand upon. My dad ended up in sales. He first sold energy savings plans, then decorative street lamps. He did not enjoy it, but joked away the demotion that nobody called a demotion, claiming he always wanted to be like Mike anyway, a good salesman friend and running buddy. He also found the silver lining in being able to make his own hours.
But he never made his own hours. He was up at 4:30 and at the office before 7:00. He’d be home around 6:00 in the evening.
Still, at the end of the day, he would manage to come home, finding the humor in all of it and groveling like Dangerfield, “I get no respect there, I get no respect.” Then he’d run 7 to 10 miles to work out the day’s disappointments. Toward the end, he’d try to squeak out 5 or 6, always complaining about this pesky acid reflux in the pit of his chest. He was driving home from work and planning to go for his evening run when he died on the side of the road.
My dad would always tell us, “Don’t ever work for anybody.”
He’d always tell us, “We’re C students. I can’t believe you got an A.”
He’d always tell us, “Timing. And delivery.”
He loved Seinfeld. After his run, he’d turn the broken knob on the little black & white we kept in a refurbished wardrobe, and as that little dot grew from a speck to the world he loved, he’d be laughing before the sound kicked in. My dad and I didn’t really talk at this time, but we watched every episode, we re-watched the reruns, and we communicated with one another through Castanza and Kremer.
“Festivus for the rest of us,” we’d say.
“No soup for you!” we’d say.
“There was shrinkage!” we’d say.
His job was never his thing, but he did all right because he was personable, funny, and told great stories, populating scenes with people he met. He took their voices and gestures and made them large, outlandish. Hilarious. Before the aggressive takeover by those folks from Denver, he was always the MC at the company Christmas party. It was because of his humor, his ease in front of an audience that he’d be their man. This was a big deal. Hundreds were there. He’d roast the higher-ups. He’d have skits prepared. Bits. He’d practice his bits in front of us, his kids.
“I don’t get it,” we’d say.
“That’s so stupid,” we’d say.
And most vicious of all, “That’s so DAD,” we’d say.
Later, being this kind of guy made him a good fit for sales because his customers liked him. I imagine his angle with a customer was working on a bit rather than the sale. He did this kind of thing all the time. On weekends, if I was dragged around with him, he’d tell the same story over and over to every person we met. Each time, it was tweaked and revised until the funny parts stood out and the slow parts fell away. He did this daily. It was how he lived.
I imagine his customers thought of him the way his friends thought of him—or the way his friends told me they thought of him at his funeral.
“He liked everybody,” they said.
“He’d do anything to make you laugh,” they said.
“He was my best friend,” each and every one of them said.
I saw his office only once. It was in an old building in a part of Minneapolis that’s been “coming around” for 40 years. There was nobody there and it smelled like dust and ink. The lights didn’t work, and his office was at the end of a dark hallway. It was windowless and about the size of a closet. He apologized for the mess.
“I don’t spend much time in here,” he said.
“I got the company car, though,” he said.
“Don’t ever work for somebody,” he said.
People often told my dad that he should’ve been a stand-up comedian. He loved Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and Richard Pryor. He taught us old SNL bits. He’d shout, “Walk this way,” and nearly every neighbor kid we knew would follow him in a conga line of lurching steps and chaotic giggles, doing our best Bob Rapacz, who was doing his best Mel Brooks.
A year or so before he died, I finally realized how funny this guy, my father, was. I think he started to realize that I also had my own thing going. We could finally make one another laugh, like men. I told him that things might have been different had he taken his routines to the stage.
Always quick-witted, always with another beat or callback, this time, however, he was caught off-guard and was left speechless.
Perhaps it was the timing, or maybe it was the delivery, but here we were in a moment where he knew exactly what I meant and I knew exactly what he was thinking, and that’s where we left it, in that breath of space before the audience really gets the joke.