Lola Gillebaard, the amusing muse
Lola Gillebaard came into this world weighing only a pound and a half.
Now, at 81, she weighs in as one of the funniest housewives in Orange County at the Irvine Improv and advanced as a quarterfinalist last week in this year’s funniest female in California contest in Burbank.
“You may have noticed that I have WWDD, Walking While Distracted Disorder,” she told her audience in her North Carolina drawl after sauntering on stage with a cane. “My walking distraction is not my cell phone, it’s not my texting and it’s not my satellite radio. My walking distraction is my walking.”
Despite a brain hemorrhage at birth that left her left leg with no muscle control, Lola came out of the chute ready for the world. “The doctor told my parents I would not last a week,” she said. Born two-and-a-half months premature, she started out as the other half of a twin that didn’t survive. “That probably slowed me down,” she said referring to the fact that she wore a leg brace most of her childhood.
Before incubators, her father, who later told her he could fit her in his pocket, lined a walk-in closet with heaters, where she lived her first year. She came out of the closet with no apologies; she’s never looked back and she’s anything but slow. “My mother was determined I would be independent. When I fell down, she’d say, ‘Get up. Just get up.’ And I’d get up,” she said.
It was that gutsy determination with a large dash of sweet Southern sass that caught the attention of a strapping, good-looking WWII Dutch pilot. “I fell in love with her because she was funny,” said Hank Gillebaard. “So she had a limp. So what!”
Despite his passionate nature, or maybe because of it, Hank, a successful entrepreneur and sculptor, has been funny-fodder for Lola for the 58 years since. “For one thing,” she said, “Hank’s gluteus maximus has become a gluteus minimus.”
Lola profusely apologized for Hank’s personal contribution to last December’s record-breaking rainstorm at a flood relief variety show in February called Maimed – A Benefit for the Wet and Muddy.
“I have to tell all you wet and muddy victims that I do feel sort of responsible for your dilemma,” Lola told the packed Artists’ Theatre audience. “Actually, I am not responsible, but my husband Hank might possibly be. Let me just say it loud and clear. My husband Hank pees off our veranda a lot, often, and more and more often since he has gotten older. All I can say to you wet and muddy victims is, I am so sorry.” That’s also when the change in Hank’s posterior became glaringly apparent to her. Lola raised the roof, and the donations.
Four precocious sons named Hank, Gus, Paul and Ted followed dad’s footsteps in adding funnier-than-fiction fuel to her punch lines. “’Course I learned from our four sons that little boys love to write their names in the snow,” Lola continued in her flood relief script, “but folks, Hank has turned our canyon into the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
Lola also taught creative and television writing at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo and, later, corporate and cruise-ship workshops on how to incorporate humor as a communications tool.
While in a creative writing class herself, she received the key that unlocked her prolific ability as a side-splitter.
“A woman in the class said, ‘If you write exactly how you talk, I’d love to read it.’ When I sat down to write, it was about the belly-dancing class I was taking and, when I read it, everybody laughed,” Lola recalled. “Isn’t that wonderful? I could have never made it up. Only the truth is funny.”
Lola wasn’t very good at dancing. Only one bell on her belt chinged when she shimmied while others’ belts were pinging like a roomful of pinball machines.
That difficulty could have caused a marital chasm with her dapper husband, who was fast on his feet at ballroom soirees. “I was a champion jitterbug dancer, but she was funny,” Hank explained. “She learned that if she was funny, she didn’t have a limp.”
It’s a truth that has propelled Lola throughout her career as teacher, wife, mom, and comedienne. “I discovered that if people had a good time, they didn’t care what your name was, what you looked like, what color you were or where you were born,” wisely surmised Lola, who has undergone 18 major surgeries, mostly for her back. “Everybody gets challenged. I just started early.”
For more about Lola, go to www.laughandlearn.org