If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.
— Eubie Blake, on reaching the age of 100.
My family and friends treated me to celebratory birthday bashes on my 70th, 80th, and 90th birthdays, and they’re planning another for my centenary in 2026.
Each successive milestone has increased the requests I get to divulge the “secret” of my longevity. I keep giving the same flippant answer: it’s patience: all you have to do is wait long enough. But of course it’s not that simple. One’s genes, lifestyle, physical and mental activity, and a bit of luck are all decisive factors.
People have different upbringings, different qualities of life, different incomes, diets, strains and stresses. So most of the determinants of good health that have helped prolong my life span wouldn’t have a universal application.
The one vital prerequisite that I think does apply to everyone is the importance of having a good sense of humour. Admittedly, a jocular disposition is sometimes hard to maintain, especially during the rough periods that we all have to go through. But whenever it’s easy and natural to laugh – whether at a comedian’s jokes or a funny story or your grandkids’ antics – that exuberance can be more beneficial to your health than any anti-depressant drug. And a lot cheaper.
As Dr. Patch Adams always claimed, “laughter is the best medicine.”
Readers who have seen the movie Patch Adams, a real-life physician played by Robin Williams, know that he wasn’t a traditional doctor. Many of his elderly patients were seriously or chronically ill. He often showed them funny movies or cinematic “shorts” featuring comics such as Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and the Three Stooges. And they laughed. Even the sickest of them laughed.
Patch Adams didn’t believe that laughter could cure his patients, but he was convinced that it had a marvelously salubrious effect. It certainly alleviated their distress and often helped stimulate their recovery.
I share his approach to ailing and ageing, if only because, like him, I’ve found that the best way to deal with growing old is to make it ludicrous.
Old age itself has been the subject of hilarious jests by ageing comedians and celebrities, including the one above by Eubie Blake. At my 90th birthday party, I quoted more than a dozen others that I’m sure will at least elicit a few chuckles from you. Here they are:
Red Skelton: “You know that old age is gaining on you when the candles on your birthday cake cost more than the cake.”
Lucille Ball: “I’ve reached the age when my back goes out more than I do.”
Claudia Young: “It’s a myth that people tend to become wiser as they get older. If age really did impart wisdom, there wouldn’t be so many old conservatives.”
George Burns: “You know you’re getting old when you stoop to tie your shoelaces and wonder what else you could do while you’re down there.”
Ella Harris: “A retired husband is often a wife’s full-time job.”
Milton Berle: “Birthdays are nature’s way of telling us to eat more cake.”
Alan Bennett: “In England, if you live to be 90 and can still eat a boiled egg, they think you deserve the Nobel Prize.”
Jack Benny: “My doctor wants me to exercise more, but I told him I get enough exercise from all the pushing and jumping I do. That’s pushing my luck and jumping to conclusions.”
Phyllis Diller: “I exercise more than anyone else – every day, for hours and hours. Left, right, left, right, up and down, up and down. Sometimes I even lift both my eyelids at the same time.”
Christopher Fry: “When you’re elderly, you don’t need people reminding you how old you are. Your bladder does that for you.”
Daisy Ashford: “Old age is supposed to be fruitful, if only because you start out as a plum and end up as a prune.”
Edward Grey: “I’m getting to the age when I can only enjoy the last sport left to me: hunting. Hunting for my glasses.”
Joel Chandler Harris: “If I ever had any wild oats, they’ve now turned to Shredded Wheat.”
Baroness Stocks: “You ask me what I think of the House of Lords? Well, I think it’s a great retirement home.”
Bob Hope: “None of the actors living in Beverly Hills ever grows old. It would violate a strongly-enforced city bylaw.”
Abe Lemons: “The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off.”
Michael Pritchard: “You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.”
In case you haven’t noticed, almost all these quips came from comics who laughed a lot, made others laugh a lot, and lived into their 80s, 90s, or longer. A coincidence? I don’t think so.