From my latest comedy newsletter:


Hello economics comedy fans: In times of grief both public and personal—the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the end-of-life for my 92-year-old godmother Betty—it can be hard to think about comedy… or for that matter about economics! But Betty always encouraged me to keep at it (“break a leg” was one of her constant refrains) so here’s my news about upcoming shows around the U.S. and maybe in Europe, and about a climate policy grant I got that I’m eager to get your help putting to good use, plus some personal notes about Ukraine and about Betty.

[Then, following some paragraphs about comedy shows and climate action]:

Ukraine: I don’t have the personal connections of economists like Greg Mankiw or Tymofiy Mylovanov (of the Kyiv School of Economics), but with Tymofiy’s help I did go to Ukraine on comedy tour in 2014, which is all the more reason for my heart to go out to everyone suffering there. If you are interested in making a donation with an economics twist then check out the humanitarian aid campaign organized by Tymofiy and his colleagues at KSE.

Betty: Shortly before my 4th birthday, my brother and I lost our mother, an inspiring feminist troublemaker, to mental illness. Not too long after that we were lucky enough to meet and be “adopted” by a single woman whom we ended up calling our godmother. But Betty was really our fairy godmother, giving us love and support and (on our weekly Saturday night sleep-overs at her apartment) exposure to things like sloppy joes and toaster waffles and television, all of which were absent from the apartment where we lived with our father. Betty taught me to type (leading to my early jobs as a temp secretary) and she was a strong supporter of my comedy career, attending my open-mic performances at the Brainwash cafe/laundromat in San Francisco, and then—after I had somewhat miraculously managed to make a career out of economics comedy—coming while she was physically able to the Humor Sessions I helped organize at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. (After one flight to Chicago, I remarked to her that the plane was full of economists, and she replied “I could tell: they all seemed to be kind of mixed up!”) Betty grew up in Georgetown, Illinois, joined the Navy, was stationed in San Francisco, and never left; since she lived in downtown she never needed a car and never learned to drive. She went to stenography school to learn shorthand—because per-page payments meant that women earned the same as men—and traveled the world working on various court cases. (A lawyer once asked her, “Betty, can you be in Tegucigalpa on Thursday?” and she said Yes before turning to a colleague to ask “Where in the hell is Tegucigalpa?”) Eventually she worked as a court reporter in San Francisco City Hall (she was there on the day in 1978 when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were killed) and then retired to enjoy traveling, sewing, classic movies, supporting her favorite charities, and the view from her apartment overlooking the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge. (She is the original tenant in her one-bedroom apartment, which nobody else wanted in 1966 because of the outrageous rent of $230 per month.) I could tell many more stories—it’s like rummaging through Betty’s purse, which would always turn up some tasty candies—but Betty’s 92nd birthday is this weekend and she’s in hospice with terminal cancer, so she gets the last word:

When we met, you boys had recently lost your mother and were still in shock, and I was caught in a long-lasting depression, having lost my older brother, my father, and my mother some little time before. The three of us were in great need when we met. Your father. too, was still in mourning and doing his best to take care of you. He told me he had posted a notice at the Jewish Community Center seeking to hire someone to serve as a female model for you two boys. He apparently did have a response or two, but they didn’t work out. I surmise the trouble was that it was love that was needed, and you can’t hire or buy love – it’s either there or it isn’t. The fact is I fell in love with you two boys that first evening we met, which I do remember well. I had a cheap camera with me at the time. I recall that you, Yoram, grabbed the camera and ran around the apartment snapping pictures, without, of course, bothering to focus on anything in particular. I do still have some pictures from that evening.

Oh, but we went on to have good times, didn’t we?

Yes we did. Happy birthday, Betty, with love and thanks for everything.


Betty passed away on Monday, a day after her 92nd birthday.