Just know that I am not writing this as someone who was a friend of Gilda Radner's. Or as a writing partner. Or as a father whose three children, to this very day, refer to their godmother as Aunt Gilda. I am, however, writing this as an empathetic human being who is appalled by the unadulterated idiocy behind any Gilda's Club changing its name to a generic one because "young people don't know who she is."
Okay, let's say that these young people have not heard of Gilda who passed away in 1989. I personally think it could be a good thing because when these young people ask who she was, they can be told that she was a very funny comedienne who made millions of people laugh on television every week. And then they can be told that when she was stricken with ovarian cancer, instead of retreating, she embarked on a mission that took her to the cover of Life Magazine that had an article entitled "Gilda Radner's Answer to Cancer: Healing the Body with Mind and Heart." And took her to L.A. Lakers games where she laughingly compared her bald head with Kareem's. And took her onto an episode of "It's Garry Shandling's Show" where she made cancer jokes because she looked her disease in the eye when she told me, "My jokes are my only weapon against this fucker."
And once these young people are intrigued by these stories of this hero, invite them inside and show them the videos that abound on YouTube of her comedy. Show them Emily LaTella. And "The Judy Miller Show." And Roseanne Roseannadanna. Trust me, these young people will laugh their asses off and be infused with the spirit of the woman who coined the phrase "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to." Hence, the name Gilda's Club.
It boggles the mind how the local chapters who opt to change their name don't understand that Gilda puts a face on their support communities for cancer patients and their families. The friendly face of someone who acknowledged how enriched her own life became because of the time she spent at the Wellness Center in Santa Monica. An understanding face that a young person will know was scared, but who also had the courage to reach out. And to fight. And to laugh by declaring "It's always something."
I don't pretend to know how this wrong-headed decision came about. Maybe there are reasons beyond the rather lame ones they've given. All I can say to them is that I have no idea who Sloan and Kettering are -- but I do know that it's the name of a very famous cancer hospital. I also know that when I showed our then 11-year-old son Adam "The Pride of the Yankees," he learned why ALS is called Lou Gehrig's Disease. And I also know in my heart that the noble cause of Gilda's Club can best be fulfilled by keeping the name as is.
An original Saturday Night Live writer, Alan Zweibel won Thurber Prize for his novel "The Other Shulman." The paperback edition of his most recent novel, "Lunatics" (co-written with Dave Barry) will be released January 3. Learn about Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry's book, "Lunatics."