For those of us who get ornery when a head cold persists, the sight of Julia Sweeney wisecracking through the tale of her cancer-stricken household nearly rates as a medical miracle. God Said “Ha!”, a filmed version of Sweeney’s acclaimed theatrical monologue, attests to the power of positive joking— not to zap away tumors, of course, but to get through horrendously difficult days and nights.
Sweeney cannily sets up her story by letting the audience in on her fantasy for what joys a post-divorce-and-SNL move to Los Angeles would bring— hosting rousing dinner parties at her cozy Hollywood bungalow, with days devoted to writing the screenplays just waiting to spring from her head. Instead, her brother Mike was diagnosed with lymph cancer and moved in, along with her parents, who are apparently possessed of enough quirks of behavior to fill a stand-up act. From the evidence here, Sweeney and her brother developed a keen sense of the absurd while growing up in their home. This is perhaps best illustrated by Mike’s reaction to Julia’s own subsequent diagnosis: “You couldn’t stand it, could you? It must have been hard for you being an actress with me in the cancer spotlight.”
Sweeney switches back and forth between her brother’s illness and the problems with living with her parents again. (There’s also the occasional perk— the titillation that arises when she and her new boyfriend are forced to sneak around.) Adept at impersonating others, Sweeney also makes fun of herself (and her famous “Pat” persona), perfectly capturing the moment when even modest coping mechanisms (smoking a cigarette and reading the pope’s new book) backfire. In the end, though, God Said “Ha!” emerges as a tribute to Sweeney’s brother, clearly one of the funnier men who have
lately walked the earth.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 9, 1999