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Late Night Commercials Aren't So Funny Anymore

Now that I'm middle-aged, the ads I used to laugh at freak me out

By Peter Gerstenzang

There once was a time when the act of watching television was completely carefree and always good for a few laughs. Like, when my friends and I were young, strong and nicely baked. To the point where we thought even the test pattern was a great show — even if it was a little short on plot.

We especially savored the late-night commercials, which were always aimed at the old and infirm. Particularly the ad for The Clapper, a device that turned off the lights when you lay in bed and applauded. Which was clearly for a demographic so ancient, they found the idea of getting out of bed scarier than jumping into the mosh pit.

Until I watched these spots, I never knew that knee braces, canes and step-in bathtubs were so important. Or that there was such a dramatic difference between used and disposable catheters! Such late-night advertisements made us carefree kids absolutely helpless with laughter. But things change. And so does your attitude.

A Familiar Refrain

Not too long ago, I was up late with a friend, and the commercial for the Life Alert bracelet came on. You know, where an 80-year-old actress collapses on the kitchen floor and utters the words as famous as the chorus to American Pie: "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!" My pal and I were watching TV, as in years past, as this played out. But instead of laughing, we grew quiet. And started hyperventilating.

We were now middle-aged. And what we saw was no longer a campy TV ad. It was more like reality TV. Bummed, I took one of the few sleep aids that was not part of a class action lawsuit, and sadly, went to bed.

What’s happened to me? I use to be so irreverent. I was once able to watch TV, imitate these fear-mongering ads and have everyone laughing so hard they needed to call Life Alert.

These commercials never bothered me. But some years passed and.... blimey, I find myself wondering if I’ve ever taken that drug for blood pressure, whose nasty little side effect is a whopping case of colitis. Now I see an ad for an electronic chair that pulls people upstairs and am tempted to call to order one. Class action suits against Xarelto and Pradaxa? Who cared if they sounded like words I flunked on my Latin midterm? I was sure I’d ingested them!

These advertisements were suddenly so compelling, I was even convinced I was the victim of a faulty transvaginal mesh. Until my girlfriend set me straight.

A Reality Check

Deep down, I knew I was just freaking out. But I had to face the reason these commercials were no longer amusing to me.

Years ago, step-in bathtubs, neck braces and lethal blood pressure medications were for other people. I was able to make jokes about such accoutrements of old age because they were so far away from me, they were in another city.


Symbolically speaking, I was in Hollywood. Old Age was in Scranton. But as time has passed, as I’ve aged, I’ve closed this geographical gap. I am now in Columbus. And Scranton is getting closer all the time. It’s making me very nervous.

So, what is to be done? How do I continue to watch television at night, without cracking, going to the phone and ordering catheters from Liberator Medical? Inquiring about Pat Boone’s Step-In Bathtub? Or calling Life Alert and saying, It’s not like I’ve fallen and can’t get up yet, but there’s no sense in waiting until the last minute. Help!

Laugh With, Not At

I think I know what to do.

That wicked sense of humor I displayed when I was a sarcastic kid? I need to resurrect it.

It won’t be long before I’ll be chowing down blood thinners, strapping on knee braces and wondering if Pat’s bathtub might not be right for me.

The reality of why we'll need this stuff is pretty grim. Which is why we boomers will need, more than ever, to mock the difficulties that come with growing older. Only now, we'll be laughing at ourselves.

Having a sense of humor about such things might be able to make life easier for all of us — whether we’ve had a transvaginal mesh or not.

Some of us, in the future, will fall and not be able to get up. But while we’re all down there on the floor, maybe we can crack some jokes and lighten each others’ load.

Peter Gerstenzang is a humorist, video director and journalist. Read More
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