I learned something about children recently that may not surprise you, but was very shocking to me, because sometimes I am an idiot. Apparently children do not enjoy irony and/or sarcasm. They take things literally, and if you employ either of those devices, in let’s say, an amazing impression of said child doing something banal but annoying, like resisting your efforts to get their shirt buttoned in the morning, they will get very mad at you, and look upon you with white hot fury that will scare you and make you fearful for The Teenage Times.
I should have already known this, but forgive me, for I am oldish, and sometimes my brain-parts forget important things.
My husband and I are actor/comedians most known for our work on The Daily Show, and outside of our family life, there is very little that we are unwilling to say or do in order to receive the sweet irresistible nectar of audience laughter. On that note, when we first had a baby, of course we celebrated and cried with joy and wept over her every tiny milestone in the usual way, but we also knew that we had something extra special on our hands: the World’s Most Amazing Prop…
Anyone who works in television knows that people who have babies who are willing to then put them on television are surprisingly difficult to come by, especially when it comes to comedy shows. So when we had our first baby, and it became clear that we were willing to try all kinds of baby-related humor with her – It Was On.
We volunteered her to appear in a field piece that Jason was shooting in which he demonstrated his new abilities as a father. In the piece, Jason also demonstrates a high level of self absorption, as he refuses to change his daily routines for the sake of the new baby; he takes her to a peep show, drags her behind his bike while riding at top speed–all you see is the empty tricycle reeling around the corner after him, takes her to a bar and spills beer all over her, and in the piece de la resistance, puts her in a Baby Bjorn and dives into a swimming pool. Do I even need to say the words “we used a doll?” Of course we did.
We thought it was hysterically funny, and dark, and all of those good things. Soon after the piece aired we realized that putting our children in inappropriate (although staged) situations was, well, inappropriate and that we should never use our children in anything…(later re-calibrating that position, and using the age of ten months as our hard cut off.)
Then our daughter got a few years older, and started watching a little television herself and slowly learning what we do for a living. Cue: Us, thinking ‘oh how hilarious! Our daughter will love seeing herself on television! It will be so trippy for her!’ and showing her that piece. Oh my.
Worst. Parents. Ever.
The tears, the sobbing, the questions: “Why didn’t you help me?” “Why would Daddy jump into a pool with me in the baby carrier?” “Why did Daddy spill his beer all over me.”
We were sickened; the soft crack of our hearts breaking in unison heard for miles away. “No, it’s edgy! It’s supposed to be funny! We were pretending to be horrible parents because…it’s so…funny when…parents are…horrible…(voices fading with shame.)”
It took a long time to finally placate our daughter and reassure her that our main priority in life is protecting her and her siblings from danger and emotional pain, and that if we could, we would put her in bubble wrap and/or keep her forever in a terrarium of safety, featuring mostly pureed foods and a lot of helmet wearing.
One day she’ll see the footage again, but it likely won’t be until she hits high school, when having been on television at one time in her life will seem special and fun again. I certainly do not have any plans to show her the footage I have of her in a burlap sack with soot on her face. Nor do I plan to show my son that I put him in a drawer one time while pretending to be in a fight with the President of Pakistan.
But in the end, what I think might be the most damaging image of all will be seeing pictures of their mother in thigh high silver boots, bikini bottoms and two large hairy patches of prop pubic hair doing sketch comedy in late 90′s.
Seriously though, it was really funny at the time.