I love Gilda Radner, and I am upset because the Madison, Wis., Gilda’s Club has changed its name to attract more donors. Twenty-three years after her death from ovarian cancer, Gilda, it seems, is no longer relevant to younger cancer patients.
Gilda’s Club was founded by Gene Wilder, Gilda’s husband, to fulfill her wish to create a place where people could find support while going through treatment. Gilda had said her cancer diagnosis gave her “membership to an elite club I’d rather not belong to.”
If I ran Gilda’s Club, I would have a screening room showing Gilda’s loopy, brilliant comic sketches whenever the club was open.
Laughter helps, especially when you don’t feel like laughing. And who can not laugh at Judy Miller, the overactive Girl Scout, who wore a half slip on her head? The first time I saw that sketch, I was stunned to see Gilda re-enacting my childhood. My sisters and I had used half slips as wigs. In an instant, I could turn my pixie cut into flowing blonde hair. Judy Miller was my soul mate.
Lisa Loopner, the uber-geek teen in cat’s eye glasses, was more like me that I care to allow. While my exterior came off a little more polished, I felt as goofy as Lisa on the inside.
Roseanne Roseannadanna was a gift. She spoke her mind, she grossed us out, she made us laugh at “tiny little sweat balls” and other oddities. She helped us accept the side of ourselves that couldn’t be squeezed into the mold society prepared for us.
In 1979, in a faux commencement speech to the Columbia School of Journalism, Roseanne shared her struggle to get a job in journalism: “They all said the same thing: You’re overqualified; you’re underqualified; don’t call us, we’ll call you; it’s a jungle out there; a woman’s place is in the home; drop dead; have a nice day; good bye.”
She nailed the job hunting experience both then and now.
Nearly 40 years have passed since Gilda gave us Emily Litella, the doddery old woman who got everything wrong. I am coming to identify with her. Her catch phrase, “Never mind,” has been put to good use since we were in our 20s, but it’s becoming even more valuable now. When a young thing gives me that look like “you are so clueless how do you make it through a day?,” I can say or at least think, “never mind” in Emily’s high-pitched voice and feel better.
In writing this column, I revisited some of Gilda’s skits via YouTube. She is just as funny today as she was decades ago. She is the Lucille Ball of our generation. I refuse to believe she is not worth top billing in Madison.
An Associated Press story said LauraJane Hyde, who runs the Chicago chapter of Gilda’s Club, told them her group has spend 15 years teaching people Gilda’s name was synonymous with cancer support.
It is also synonymous with laughter and brilliance and fearlessness. And her shelf life will be much more than 23 years.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.