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March 17, 2009


“I have two last pieces of advice. First, being pre-approved for a credit card does not mean you have to apply for it. And lastly, the best career advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. It pays well, the hours are good, and you are famous. And eventually some very nice people will give you a doctorate in fine arts for doing jack squat.” –Stephen Colbert, delivering the commencement address at Knox College


Did you hear the one about the unemployment rate in Michigan? It shot up in the first month of the year like it was on Cialis. The 2009 unemployment rate of 11.6 percent was 59% higher than the 7.3 percent rate from January 2008.

            But there is a little hope for us Michiganders and the hope comes from a late-night talk-show host from LA. Jay Leno, the multi-millionaire who at last count owned 84 cars and 73 motorcycles, is coming to the Detroit area in early April. For those hoping Jay is coming for job restoration, think again. NBC is not hiring Michigan TV workers for Leno’s new 10 PM show coming in the fall. Instead, he is coming to the Palace of Auburn Hills in April for not just one but two nights of comedy. Maybe it’s because of guilt that he’s one of the last people in America not hurt by the economic downturn or maybe it’s because he really does love Detroit because he loves cars. But whatever the reason, Jay is offering suffering Detroiters a first: if you don’t have a job, his night of comedy is FREE.

            Leno’s “Comedy Stimulus Plan” show is being offered to the unemployed in Michigan at no charge. If you wait in line and tell the box office attendant that you don’t have a job, you can get up to four tickets free. Two Leno shows will allow almost 15,000 a night to laugh instead of crying.

            For the last few years, too many Michigan job holders have wept when they lost their jobs, their homes, their self-esteem, and their confidence. Over 500,000 have lost jobs in the last six years, many of them in the beleaguered automotive industry. And while GM and Chrysler fight for survival and bailout money from the government while automotive suppliers hang on financial threads or go bankrupt, thousands more wait to see if they will be next for the unemployment line.

            Just think: if Jay can come here to do pro-bono comedy, how about a few other gifts to people without jobs? How about the thousands of American cars sitting on new car lots that could be donated to those desperate without work? How about the banks offering some of their foreclosed properties to the unemployed? Stuff for free could really help those banging their heads day after day, searching the employment ads, begging for a job, just any job.

            Over the last year, Michigan payroll jobs fell by 6.2 percent. That included: An 114,000-job loss in manufacturing; a 60,000-job loss in professional and business services; a 49,000-job loss in trade, transportation and utilities; an 18,000-job loss in construction; a 14,000-job loss in leisure and hospitality services; and a 12,000-job loss in the financial activities sector.

            Laughing amidst the fear and sadness is good medicine. 55-year-old Brenda Smith of Warren who lost her job with Chrysler 18 months ago, said, “This is just what this area needs” (“Leno: Let’s make it 2 shows,” Korie Wilkins, Detroit Free Press, March 17, 2009). The hope of simply laughing without paying for one night shows how desperate the Detroit area is. We will take whatever we can get.

            Workers who still have jobs are afraid because companies are desperate to survive so they cut costs, and that means cutting employees. And if you don’t have a job, what company that has slowing sales is going to hire you?  It’s a vicious circle that needs to stop, but what is going to stop it? Good jokes and laughter? Well, I guess that doesn’t hurt. If you can’t afford health insurance, at least you can laugh out loud (LOL) about doctors. Jay Leno once said, “The New England Journal of Medicine reports that 9 out of 10 doctors agree that 1 out of 10 doctors is an idiot.”

            There are a lot of idiots other than doctors who have helped put the economy into the toilet. You could get mad about the 40 AIG employees who are due to collect $165 million in bonuses after nearly bankrupting the company and forcing AIG to receive $170 billion so far in government aid. Or you can get mad like Jon Stewart at Jim Cramer and CNBC for not warning viewers enough about banks and the stock market in 2007.

            Or you can find glimmers of hope amidst the fear. Spring is around the corner, MLB’s Opening Day will be here in a few weeks, and this week begins the NCAA basketball tournament which will end in Detroit at Ford Field on April 6th. So forget about lost jobs and dream that your favorite college basketball team might win the big one and be crowned champion in Detroit.

            I prefer to laugh with Jay Leno and John Stewart instead of getting mad or getting lost in sports. Maybe you’ll laugh at this quote from Jon Stewart: “You just have to keep trying to do good work, and hope that it leads to more good work. I want to look back on my career and be proud of the work, and be proud that I tried everything. Yes, I want to look back and know that I was terrible at a variety of things.

            Let’s all start laughing again, pushing ourselves to believe that each day will be less terrible than the day before and that good work and good days will be here soon.

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