My daughter Julia used to watch the dumbest Disney sitcoms when she was little. After a while, even she realized they were stupid and asked something like “is the laughing real or fake because I don’t think anyone would think that joke was funny?” I told her that part was maybe real, then they probably added a laugh track to juice it up a bit. After a little bit of thought she finally proclaimed, “When I grow up, I want to be a professional laugher.”

As her father, I tried my best to crush her dreams and burst her bubble. I continuously told her that there was no such job. Nevertheless, she persisted. At Mill Hill Elementary they had a parent-run self-publishing project called Hawkeye Press, where you could bind your child’s best writing in a book every year. At the back of the book, as with most professional presses, they had a blurb “About the Author.” For a few years running, it said Julia’s future career plans included being a professional laugher. After a few years, we finally convinced her to look at other career options on the off chance the whole laughing thing didn’t pan out. In fifth grade, her final year at Mill Hill, the bio in the back said, “Julia plans on becoming a scientist and a professional laugher.”

Julia went on to a science-based magnet high school. We were relieved. No more did we hear her practicing laughing alone in her room. We had finally forced that square peg into that round hole. There were a few setbacks. She once “borrowed” her older sister’s ID, ditched school and went to Stamford to see a taping of “The Maury Povich Show.” (You needed to be 18 and she was not.) Not a lot of laughing required of the audience. She said there were mainly a lot of “Ohhhs” and “Awwws” — and some prerehearsed shocked looks — plus she was not paid. Just free tickets to the show.

Julia is now a freshman majoring in chemistry at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y. She is well on her way toward fulfilling her dream of becoming a scientist. But I recently got some disturbing news. Apparently today, Julia skipped a class, left the Bronx on a train to midtown and lived out her first dream. I guess her wings wouldn’t stay clipped. She was paid $40 cash to be in the audience of a popular New Jersey-themed MTV series that was taping. Her plan was to be back for her 2 p.m. chemistry class, but she explained to me that sometimes your dreams run a little longer than planned. She did make her 4 p.m. class.

It wasn’t all laughing. She clapped and gave other appropriate responses during the show. However, afterward, they wanted some cutaway shots of the audience. Then the camera focused on them as a stage director was directing them to laugh, giggle, belly laugh, chuckle, guffaw, etc., with no outside stimuli, except his instructions. Finally, the hours of hard work laughing in front of a mirror were paying off. She added to her repertoire. With the camera on the audience, they were alternately asked to be amused and outraged, and back again.

So at the ripe old age of 18, my daughter fulfilled one of her dreams. When I was very young, I first wanted to be Spider-Man, but try as I might, I could not get a radioactive spider to bite me. I then wanted to be the Six Million Dollar Man, but that meant getting my legs and an arm hacked off. Then I heard in school about philosophers. I decided I wanted to stand around in the town square in a toga saying whatever I wanted. Adults tried to put the kibosh on my dreams: They said I could go to school, study hard and then maybe teach philosophy. That required you to memorize and then teach others philosophy. That didn’t sound like fun. I gave up on those dreams. I could never make a good web-slinger, but at least I kept my arms and legs.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at