Humor is proving important as we shelter in place. Comedy about the current situation is by definition dark but, wow, it can be funny.
When I heard that Pleasanton funny lady Stacey Gustafson has two pieces in the newly released "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Laughter Is the Best Medicine," I gave her a call. And what do you know? She was home.
This was not just because of stay-at-home protocol; Stacey is a writer and works from home. Her husband Mike normally works from home less than 50% of the time, so her household has gone through an adjustment. Their grown children, Ashley and Brock, are sheltering in their own places in Santa Clara and San Jose.
Stacey said she had taken a hiatus from writing for eight months to spend time in St. Louis helping her father, who had had multiple strokes and had to be moved into assisted living. But she was back in time to chronicle what it means to shelter at home, including trials with her dear aging dog Stanley as she struggles to provide him with the perfect diet.
In her first pandemic blog, Stacey notes she is totally unqualified to give medical or emergency help but what she can do is share humor.
"It's a distraction from the current horrors of the world. It helps us stop focusing on the bad and be reminded that this too shall pass," she writes.
Stacey remembered starting to joke when her parents got divorced in 1979, and she was in the eighth grade. She joked to lighten her mom's load and, even now, she can see her mom's shoulders shaking with laughter. She also noted that a lot of times they "laughed inappropriately," so she recognized the value of dark humor early on.
She began writing in earnest in 2004 when, after 10 relocations – yes, 10 – her family settled in Pleasanton. Her kids were in school so Stacey finally had the freedom to get her suburban mom frustrations down on paper – in a humorous way, of course.
An online newspaper hired her to produce a column, and while it didn't pay much, she recalled, it gave her a reason to write. Those works were the basis of her first book: "Are You Kidding Me? My Life with an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives." She followed this with "Are You Still Kidding Me?" noting in the introduction, "I consider myself a survivor of the outdoor playground equipment, cars without seatbelts, and secondhand smoke."
When her first book resulted in speaking engagements, Stacey joined a public speaking club to learn to feel more comfortable in front of an audience.
"I caught the stand-up bug at a writers' conference four years ago," she explains in her second book. "The featured comedian convinced me to do my four-minute set on mammograms to an audience of over 350 supportive and hilarious writers. Their claps and cheers invigorated me."
Then she entered an open mic competition at Tommy T's Comedy Club and won, which she partly attributes to about 70 supportive friends who showed up. The unexpected crowd caused the club to run out of food and make up for it with free margaritas. Stacey had a ball.
Soon she was appearing at fundraisers for schools and sports teams, to joke about raising children, teachers and suburban angst. She also is often a guest speaker, with topics including starting a blog, writing a memoir, and the importance of humor.
Stacey will be performing next with Six Feet Apart Productions, a site recently put together by Regina Stoops, her comedy partner who also lives in Pleasanton. Comedy shows will be live online Sunday nights, launching this weekend with a Mother's Day special. Details are on Facebook.
One of Stacey's entries in "Chicken Soup" is prophetic, sharing fears about attending church during flu season. Titled "I'm Going Straight to Hell," it vividly recounts sitting shoulder to shoulder with people who are coughing and wiping their noses, "a veritable witch's brew of germs."
Stacey hopes finding humor in a religious setting does not offend people, but she feels the secret to surviving tough times is laughter.
"In our darkest hours, humor reminds us that it's OK to laugh and even for a few moments, feels good – and that's OK," she said.