Dick's Shtick

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When you're in the business of mining everyday life for a load of laughs, bad news is good news.

Consider the time Dick Wolfsie received a letter from his health insurance company informing him, and we quote verbatim, "Our records show that the gender we have for you doesn't match the information received from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid."

Might not make your day, or mine. But Wolfsie, when he's not at his day job as a TV personality, writes a syndicated humor column that demands material every week.

A Hoosier broadcasting legend, Wolfsie's love for his rescued pooch goes beyond life, death or statutory changes at the BMV.  - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • A Hoosier broadcasting legend, Wolfsie's love for his rescued pooch goes beyond life, death or statutory changes at the BMV.

He raised thanks to heaven for his crisis of sexual identity and proceeded to act on the next line: "To have your gender corrected, please contact your local Social Security office."

The ensuing conversation succeeded in restoring Wolfsie to the male fraternity, even though it failed to amuse the government staffer. No matter. When the official says he may have a software problem, and the citizen replies that he may have a hardware problem, lots of people are going to get with the act.

When the official says there are standard operating procedures, and the citizen says that seems a drastic way to address gender change ... well, you've struck gold.

That episode spawned one of an estimated 750 humor columns the longtime WISH-TV feature reporter has produced over the past 15 years for a subscriber list that numbers about 30 Central Indiana newspapers and 10 others across the country. He also reads them in his Life in a Nutshell spot Saturdays and Sundays on WFYI-FM; and every couple of years, collects them in a book. Those six collections are part of an oeuvre that totals 13 published books ("Real publishers -- no AuthorHouse stuff").

He prefers to keep the numbers to himself, but allows that if you add up all the outlets for the year, you can cover the cost of a compact car.

How does one make a going concern of funny prose in a time and place of famine for freelancers?

Working one's buns off as a salesman, Wolfsie will tell you.

"I called a guy in Crawfordsville every month for 18 months before he finally said yes," the 68-year-old broadcast veteran says. "I was a pain in the ass to people. But I knew I was good. I was told that by a lot of people, including Art Buchwald."

Wolfsie frequently writes of his frustration with high-tech devices, but he's savvy enough to make his books available on Kindle. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER

Some of Wolfsie's most poignant writing has paid tribute to Buchwald, the late political satirist whose cherished compliment -- "Stay out of my racket" -- adorns Wolfsie's latest book, The Right Fluff (Blue River Press).

Wolfsie himself has delved into heavy issues here and there over four decades in TV and radio, but he eschews political controversy in the humor column in favor of a Seinfeldian focus on, well, life in its endless heaps of nutshells.

"Every column -- they're not 100 percent true necessarily, but every one of them is based on something that actually happened. The other night [wife] Mary Ellen and I were going to go to a movie, and she got bitten by a cat. She said 'Let's go to Med Check.' I said 'That's cheaper than the movie.' As soon as I said that, I knew I had a column. So much of writing is having your antennae up for things other people just ignore."

A thank-you note from Oreck, for example, wishing him "many years of vacuuming pleasure." A terrifying new washing machine that comes with a 74-page instruction manual, in four languages. The chilling discovery that one has returned home from the gym wearing someone else's underwear (no connection with the Medicare problem).

Some things you just can't make up. And here's some bad news that isn't all joy. As every TV watcher knows, Wolfsie's boon companion on and off the air for many years was a found stray pooch named Barney, undoubtedly Indy's most popular media quadruped until his death in 2003.

Wolfsie has honored Barney and the TV station with a BARNEY8 license plate for many years, and just recently received word from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that new rules disqualified the vanity plate. That made a column. Then the merciful folks at the BMV heeded Wolfsie's grieving plea and grandfathered him back in. Which made another column. Life is just a neat pile of shelled pistachios sometimes.

Barney's last walk before being put to sleep made for one of Wolfsie's occasional forays into solemnity, a digression that's bound to pop up for a comedic writer at age 68 as life's losses mount. He persists in aging gracelessly, however, finding inexhaustible veins of mirth in his (sometimes only slightly exaggerated) bafflement at the straight-faced absurdities of bourgeois living. He doesn't have to dial back the sarcasm or tiptoe around certain subjects to avoid offending a largely small-town readership, he submits, because "80 percent of the time I'm making fun of myself."

And getting the last laugh from a pain-in-the-ass business.

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