Funny stuff: author James Pauley Jr. on learning to laugh in life

  • by Michele Karlsberg
  • Sunday March 31, 2024
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Author James Pauley Jr.
Author James Pauley Jr.

James Pauley Jr. is a humor writer with a knack for storytelling, focusing on personal experiences that are both entertaining and heartwarming. His books, "Bumpy Rides and Soft Landings" and the forthcoming "An Unconditional Friendship: Messages from a Colorful Granny and an Off-Color Gay Guy" (Take Flight Publishing, May, 2024), contain a collection of laugh-out-loud anecdotes and messages of love and acceptance.

"Bumpy Rides and Soft Landings" may explore the ups and downs of life with humor and resilience, while "An Unconditional Friendship" highlights the importance of embracing diversity and cherishing the unique connections we make with others.

Pauley's writing style likely combines wit, charm, and a touch of sincerity, making his stories relatable to a wide range of readers. Through his work, he spreads joy, laughter, and the message of acceptance, celebrating the quirks and complexities of life and friendship.

Born and raised in a small town in southwestern Michigan, Pauley received his bachelor's degree from Albion College, with a double major in German and Spanish. Spending a semester each in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Heidelberg, Germany piqued his interest and a lifelong love of international travel. He began his career as a flight attendant in 1978, a job that he loved for 44 years.

Throughout his life, he's worn many other hats as well: massage therapist, real estate agent, house flipper, painter, busboy, groundskeeper, delivery person, wine steward, waiter, babysitter, caterer, house cleaner, bartender, cake decorator, window washer, substitute teacher, janitor, and salesman. He lives with his spouse, Rich, in Indiana. Pauley shared moments from his life that led to writing books in this essay:

Humor through life
Having been raised in a small Michigan farming community in the late 1950s and early 1960s, my early years were rather unremarkable. I had two loving (albeit young parents), a bossy older sister, and a spoiled younger brother. But when I was six, my world was forever changed when my parents did the absolute unthinkable: They got a divorce! Now, this was in 1964, in a small town in the Midwest. Long before social media, cable TV, and open-mindedness even existed.

As an extremely sensitive, inquisitive child who didn't miss anything, I often heard the hushed whispers when I was out with my attractive and newly-single mother. I quickly learned to just sit back, listen, watch, and take note of everything.

And although I was not at all happy that our home was now 'broken,' I quickly found my new best friend. Its name was Humor. Now, I wasn't a complete stranger to it, as we had met many times before when it came to visit my parents.

James Pauley Jr. in his job as a flight attendant (photo: James Pauley Jr.)  

Both my mother and father were funny in their own right, and I loved how people would giggle, laugh, chortle, or even guffaw when they shared something, my mother, especially. Her wit was extremely dry, possibly even dark at times. She was a cross between Joan Rivers and Moms Mabley, and I was amazed at how effortlessly she could retell — or totally dissect — something. My father's humor was more overt, like that big goofy kid in school who was always cracking eye-rolling jokes.

When I was eight, I saved my 25-cents-a-week allowance for three weeks and bought my first diary. That was the beginning of my long-term and sometimes turbulent love affair with writing. I could write about anything I wanted; myself, made-up characters, fantasies, sadness, gladness, or just about any emotion I was feeling at the time.

But humor, in all its sneakiness, always found its way in. Maybe it was a good coping mechanism for me, especially since I could fantasize, fabricate, and make everything seem perfect in my own imperfect world. And if it couldn't be perfect, it could sure as hell be funny!

My long-time flight attendant career afforded me the opportunity to observe a lot. Having worked for both a commercial and a private airline for a combined 45 years, I learned early on to jot down the most notable and outrageous things that I observed. I filled notebook after notebook, and to date, I still have hundreds, if not thousands, of "funnies' to expound on when the time is right.

A few years ago, on one of my private work flights, I had the great pleasure of having a very popular comedian and late-night talk show host on board. It turned out that this particular comedian was extremely approachable and friendly, and we ended up having a long conversation about pretty much anything and everything.

But what I noticed most was that when I was sharing something, this person was truly listening. And at times, I even felt like I was being "studied." It could have made me very nervous, but it didn't. Thinking about it later, I realized it was exactly how this person found and created their own material for future monologues or jokes. It brought to mind what a friend had told me years before. "Always steal with your eyes and ears, because you never know when you can use that material later on."

The one thing I've never found particularly funny, though, is forced humor, like the guy who interrupts an otherwise interesting conversation by demanding, "Wait, you've got to hear this! You're going to love it! You'll just die laughing!" I do know one thing for certain; if I really do die while being forced to listen, it won't be from laughing. It will be from boredom.

My favorite review to date is "hilariously uncomfortable" for "Bumpy Rides and Soft Landings: Stories of Coming Out, Flying High, and Not Learning to Play the Piano." It was really not started with the intention that it would be hilariously uncomfortable, but I'm happy that's how it's being perceived.

Life itself is hilariously uncomfortable at times. In "An Unconditional Friendship: Messages from a Colorful Granny and an Off-Color Gay Guy," one review read, "With honest tears and ample laughter, their stories could be dangerous to the practice of bigotry." Poignancy and humor blend so well together.

Recently, while simultaneously typing on my laptop with one hand, eating chocolate bonbons with the other, my long-time partner was sitting at the other end of the sofa, watching television. As I sat there giggling, and then trying to suppress an outright snort, he asked, "What are you read—? Wait a minute are you reading your own writing?"

Before I could answer, he said. "That's just not right!" I smiled demurely as I licked the chocolate from my lips, and responded, "Au contraire, my darling. That's exactly when it is just right!"

Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity and marketing for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 35 years of successful campaigns.

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