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Making Franny Laugh

By Alan Zweibel

(Alan Zweibel has been writing comedy for 50 years. But there's still no person he loved making laugh more than his sister. He contributed this essay for Sisters! Bonded by Love and Laughter, published by the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. Available in paperback, the ebook launches on National Siblings Day on April 10.)

Fran was my sister. She was two years younger than me. When we were really little, we shared a bedroom. The Jack and Jill pictures on the wall above her bed, the Old King Cole ones above mine.

She was my friend. We whispered conversations after the lights were out. We walked to school together. And through the years the friendship grew to the point where, in high school, we hung out in the same crowd and dated each other’s friends.   

Fran was the first person I ever made laugh. An unbridled, contagious laugh that was genuine — if she didn't find something funny, she was unable to pretend that it was. So when I was first starting out as a comedy writer, I would read the jokes I'd written for Catskill comics and if she laughed, I'd send them along. If she didn't, I'd rip them up and throw them into the fireplace.  As time went on, I did the same with TV shows, stage plays, books, movie scripts, etc. I once had a sitcom on the air called “Good Sports,” and I knew we were in real trouble when Fran told me it didn't make her laugh. The show was cancelled mid-season. 

Fran was my comedy barometer. And though she passed away four years ago, to this very day while I am writing I ask myself,  “Would this make Fran laugh?”  This is my way of saying, "You’re still with me. I love you.

— Alan Zweibel 

Alan Zweibel is a five-time Emmy- and Tony Award-winning comedy writer, author, television writer, playwright and screenwriter who was one of the original Saturday Night Live writers. He co-created and produced It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and served as consulting producer for Curb Your Enthusiasm. He won the Thurber Prize for American Humor for The Other Shulman: A Novel, and his 2020 memoir, Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, was named a “Best New Book” by People magazine. He served as one of the finalist judges for Nickie’s Prize for Humor Writing, the impetus for Sisters! Bonded by Love and Laughter. He will serve on the faculty at the Erma Bombeck Writers' workshop Oct. 20-22. 

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