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I have always looked up to my older brothers, and not just because they are taller than I am. But I do believe that as a little sister, my interests have taken turns either because I wanted to be just like them, or because I wanted to be exactly opposite of them. Or somewhere between. Baby of the family and only girl? Fun times.
There was a time, for instance, when I thought that I ought to take up stamp or coin collecting, because that’s what my brothers were doing. So, in an effort to follow in their footsteps but spin it to match my interests, I collected stickers instead. And I did this despite, and perhaps because of, the fact that they told me collecting stickers was not an economically sensible hobby since none of my collection would ever increase in value (like stamps or coins). Plus, I figured, I didn’t need special tweezers or velvet pouches to handle my collection. Just good decision-making and aesthetic skills about whether and where to actually stick the stickers.
Now, any of you who still have your books of Scotty dogs and teddy bears and Lisa Frank rainbows and Hello Kitty characters stuck forever onto cherished pages of pastel sticker albums from 1981 will attest to the fact that value is in the eye of the beholder. In fact, if it were the case that someone existed out there who’d pay top dollar for my Hello Kitty sticker album, I would worry a bit about whether I should give them my contact information for an eBay exchange. I wasn’t in it for the money.
Given the title of this post, you may wonder now what stamp or sticker collecting has to do with Monty Python. I say it has everything to do with it because the identity of a girl with lots of boys in her family who dictate the definition of “cool” or “valuable” is often most vividly enacted in scenarios with lots of popular culture references. And at any dinner table that I sat at in the late seventies and early eighties, what was cool was Monty Python.
In between Roger Whitaker songs while spooning down our Spam noodle hotdish, we five Jannings would converse often about what made us laugh. This inevitably would lead my brothers into a seventeen-minute collection of monologues and dialogues from any number of Monty Python sketches. They were teenagers. I was a preteen. My parents rolled on the floor laughing. I did my best to mimic their renditions of “Dr. Johann Von Gumbelputty” and “nudge nudge wink wink” and “number four, the larch” and any number of silly walks. This was hard because a) one of my brothers looks like John Cleese, and b) I’m a girl.
But wait, you say, what does being a girl have to do with it?
Monty Python is funny. But humor is socially constructed. Where were the funny girls in Monty Python? Only in the cross-dressing boys. Was it that it wasn’t funny to me? Absolutely not. I rolled on the floor laughing, too. Neal and I still laugh hysterically when we read aloud from his boyhood collection of the full scripts of every episode of Monty Python, ever (yes, these exist. Yes, he has them. Yes, he will try this weekend to get Eric Idle’s autograph since he is our college’s Commencement speaker). I’m particularly good at the sketches that require a German accent.
But I lament the fact that, during all of my childhood, I was an outsider to the cool boy world of British sketch comedy. I tried. But my voice was too high, even though I do a pretty good British accent. And, of course, it was easier for the boys to be funny. Much has happened since then, most of which I attribute to Absolutely Fabulous in the UK, and Carol Burnett and Tina Fey here. And much continues to render the visibility of funny girls more and more pronounced.
It’s fun to watch silly walks. But it’s hard to do a silly walk in high heels.