Why We Love Gilda

Image by Reckon
Following this Twitter conversation instigated by the lovely Meighan O'Toole, who reminded us that Gilda Radner would have been 66 today, I realized I had more to say than 140-word chunks. To thirty-something ladies who grew up watching SNL reruns from the 70's with their moms, Gilda was huge. She was an inspiration to silly, funny, funny-looking/beautiful (being funny does make you better-looking, I think) ladies when there just really weren't that many total goofball women to look up to. There still aren't.

Both Gilda Radner and Jim Henson died when I was in 6th grade, and I took it really hard at the time. At an age when I was figuring out who I was and what was important to me, I felt like all the awesome people were disappearing and I felt really helpless. Is it weird for an 11-year-old to cry a lot about celebrity deaths? Well. I'm a hardened old crone now, but lots of things affected me deeply as a kid.

On Twitter, I found that our feelings about Gilda are inextricably mixed in with memories of our moms. For a time when I was little, it was a ritual for me to get to eat popcorn in my parents' room while we'd watch reruns of the first few seasons of SNL. It was so great. Sketches I loved: Land Shark, The Vomitorium, Nerds, and the Judy Miller Show. My mom is also hilarious and an inspiration to me, and these times are among the memories I cherish the most (and I don't throw around the word "cherish," okay?). I can't think of a better introduction to comedy.

Gilda wasn't perfect (her book talks about her weird childhood, hardcore bulimia, and body issue struggles); but she was fucking hilarious with an edge of warmth that made her irresistible . So much comedy is mean, rooted in bitterness and anger and insecurity, and while I love that stuff (see: David Cross), it's refreshing to see that it is possible to be funny without being mean. I think Gilda had that skill. As a comedian, she let it all hang out in the greatest way, gawky and goofy and crazy and girly and adorable. A silly role model. I feel very strongly that silliness is a virtue that so many people feel forced to stifle as they get older, and there has to be way to be a responsible adult without suppressing that.

And I haven't even mentioned what she did to change the atmosphere of women's health. Also huge. I don't think women would be able to talk about cancer as openly as they do today if she hadn't shared her story the way she did.

Did you know about this? Such a boss.
I have mixed feelings about inspirational quotes right now. I feel like we're so inundated with them (thanks, Pinterest) that they don't really have that much power a lot of the time. At least for me. There's nothing shittier than sitting at a desk covered in inspirational quotes, reading them, and still feeling awful. "Yeah, I KNOW today is awesome and my creativity is a flower waiting to bloom and every day is a gift and and and I KNOW."

That said, sometimes they can pack a wallop, even if it only lasts for two seconds after you finish reading. Here's one from Gilda, probably from her autobiography It's Always Something*, which is a read that is both fun and heartbreaking.

While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die - whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness.  
So there you go. That's why we love Gilda. Her life is worth celebrating, and I hope her legacy continues to grow.

*If you want to read more about Gilda' lovability from the people who knew her best, I recommend Live From New York by Tom Shales. It's a huge compendium of SNL stories and also has lots osf juicy bits about Chevy Chase's chronic assholery.  


meighan said...

LOVE it.

nana k. said...

Loved her (I was one of those little girls watching SNL reruns and falling in love not only with her but the other female SNL members), and love you for posting this!