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The funny guy
Jimmy Jard died February 17.
That won’t mean anything to but a few people who grew up with him in Virginia Beach, Virginia in the 1950s and 60s.
For those of us who did know him, though, he was one of the funniest guys ever to walk the planet. He came to one of the un-funniest endings, though, and that was sad and disturbing to see. Or to hear about, since the last time I saw him was when my father was still alive and Jimmy was still married. That would have been at least twenty years ago, probably more.
We are eternally grateful for those who make us laugh. I don’t mean public comedians, though we’re thankful for them. I mean those people in our lives who consistently break us up, make us double over, cause tears to flow from our eyes and even give us moments of falling down.
Jimmy Jard did that for me, and for others, for years when we were young.
He was the son of a local pharmacist. Nothing in his background that I know of would indicate he would possess this ability to make us uncontrollably laugh. But he did.
What was particularly wonderful about his humor was his delivery. It was calm and quiet, the kind of delivery that doesn’t acknowledge itself, that you might call deadpan. It wouldn’t at all be out of line to reference Buster Keaton here. Not for Buster’s physical dilemmas, but for that face, that never-smiling, slightly woebegone, flat response to whatever crisis he was encountering. When Jimmy said something, he never acknowledged its humor. He said it, and produced an indifferent look.
Jimmy spoke in a low tone, practically a whisper, so you had to lean in to hear him, which made his humor that more conspiratorial. There were times when even leaning in, I couldn’t hear what he said, and I had to edge even closer. He did this on purpose, of course. Sometimes he would lower his voice so much so that in the end I would be practically forehead to forehead with him.
His sidekick, his Oliver Hardy, was Kenny Caffey, himself extraordinarily funny. Kenny’s humor was, as it usually is in great comedic partnerships, the opposite of Jimmy’s. Kenny was bellicose, distressed, slightly annoyed and obvious. But together! Together they were brilliant! They were unstoppable. They made growing up so much funnier than it ever would have been without them. Whenever I could, I sought them out. Of the two, Jimmy was the genius, the sui generis, the incomparable.
Those guys were wags, highly politically incorrect. We didn’t know we weren’t supposed to fall down on the floor laughing at the things they said and did back then, thankfully, and so we did.
Jimmy grew up, as we all did. He and Kenny stayed in touch, and then some betrayals occurred between them, Jimmy’s doing. Samuel Johnson said, "In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath." Let other speak of Jimmy’s faults and failures if they feel inclined. For me, I am grateful for his genius, for the blessed lift he gave me when I was a boy. I can still see my young self laughing, laughing, laughing. Falling down, begging, clutching my stomach. And he looking at me as if he had nothing to do with it.