Wednesday, January 23, 2013
"Live From New York...." It's Gilda!
"Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to."
Those were Gilda Radner's words when the beloved comedienne battled Ovarian Cancer a few decades ago. Despite a fight filled with humor and determination, she succumbed to the disease in 1989.
Gilda was back in the news recently. A local Madison,Wisconsin chapter of a cancer support group affiliated with the Wellness center Radner helped established wanted to change its name from 'Gilda's Club' to a more clinical and colder name: 'The Cancer Support Community of Southwest Wisconsin'. Why? Because young Cancer patients who used the facility were not born when Gilda was alive. "Who was the Gilda in 'Gilda's Club?", perhaps they asked. I suppose no one answered, nor did anyone educate them. They just thought to change the name and forget about it. Forget her. Forget her legacy. Forget the fact that Gilda was a funny, charming talent who tapped danced, Rosanne Rosanna Danna'd, Emily Latella'd and Lisa Loopner'd her way into peoples' hearts years ago. Perhaps they didn't think to explain to the kids that Gilda was a lady, with the heart of a child, who one day found herself very ill like you, very scared like you, and turned to a support group with very ill people who needed laughs, a sense of common ground and normalcy in order to heal- just like you. She helped create this space. For you.
Remove Gilda's name? Hell no! The population of Gilda fans roared. Her dear friend, comedian and writer Alan Zweibel wrote a heartfelt article in the Huffington Post (read it here) to fight to keep her name. Emails flooded the local chapter. Loud emails. Angry emails. Emails pleading that her name not be forgotten. Emails professing their love for this sweet, funny clown, who if alive today, would not only have stood alongside the Poehlers, Feys and Dunhams of the comedy stage, she would have been honored by them.
As per Huffington Post's article today, the Madison chapter reversed their decision. They will be keeping the center in Gilda's name. Hooray! Somewhere in heaven, Judy Miller, dressed in her Brownie uniform, just jumped off her bed and introduced her Teddy Bear to an imaginary studio audience to talk about this awesome news!
But why did we even need to go there? Why did a committee of seemingly intelligent advocates for Cancer patients publicly entertain the idea of removing Gilda's name just because a younger generation didn't know her? Wow.This new concept of "if it happened before I was born, then it didn't happen" has become pervasive. It's a lazy vision on history - a narcissistic concept of "only my reality matters."
It's sad to think that one's name and legacy can be erased forever if cancer claims your life. People go on living, decades will go by without you, and your proof of existence diminishes generation by generation. Surely, that's not the message the Madison, WI branch wants to send to children who were given this dreaded diagnosis?
Although the Madison 'Gilda's Club' is taking steps to honor Ms. Radner by keeping her image placed around the building, this question still comes to mind: Why wasn't Gilda Radner introduced to kids at this Wellness center from the get go? Okay, maybe not everyone cares about comedy, despite the existence of studies that show how laughter can help lower blood pressure and ease the emotional stress of the disease. One of the reasons might be the lack of internet coverage. Sadly, copyright restrictions on YouTube and various internet video portals have made it hard to see the very best of Gilda's legendary SNL work at the touch of one's finger. Unlike your average viral video of a dog talking to a baby or 'Gangham Style' parodies, Gilda's organic live television shows and the intimacy of the studio audience in their entirety are hard to find. To a generation technology-fed young folks, who are not inclined to seek out her work by waiting for a Netflix DVD in the mail, the immediacy of seeing her TV work online might help these kids to see why we loved her work back in the day - and how it's still relevant and irreverent today.
I don't mean to be hard or go all preachy on the Madison Chapter of 'Gilda's Club'. In fact, I applaud them, for changing their minds by voting to keep her name, and for causing a little stir in the universe that allows Gilda's name to be brought to light and help young children who gather at their local Wellness center and ask "Who was the Gilda in 'Gilda's Place"? Now their question will be answered wholeheartedly.
Happily, Gilda's Broadway show 'Gilda Live' is available on YouTube. As far as her SNL work goes, at least there's the cold open "LIVE FROM NEW YORK...!!" montage below: