Carrie Fisher delivers a line in “When Harry Met Sally…” that I think about almost every day — almost every time I tell a joke, and definitely every time I buy something for around the house.
The film, written by the late Nora Ephron, is full of memorable lines. Some of them are relevant to relationships, or ordering in a deli, or getting older. But only one is relevant to almost every aspect of life.
Ephron’s masterful line, delivered by Fisher, comes during an argument with Bruno Kirby’s character about a wagon-wheel coffee table. Here it is:
“Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.”
At this point, she’s cut off by Billy Crystal’s character, Harry. The interruption is for the best, because she doesn’t say the devastating thing we know she would have said: Not everyone can have a sense of humor.
Think about that. Everyone thinks their sense of humor is great. Donald Trump thinks his jokes are brilliant and that people who don’t get them have no sense of humor. He gets to believe this because humor — horror of horrors — is completely subjective.
In “When Harry Met Sally…” we hear that sad news delivered directly from the lips of tell-it-like-it-is Princess Leia herself.
Got that, Laser Brain?
If, like me, you were only 15 when “When Harry Met Sally…” came out, Fisher’s line may have crushed you: Was it possible that my mullet and Batman shirt and baggy jeans and shoes with a pump on them weren’t incredibly cool? And if so… did that mean not all of my jokes were great?
It was a world-shattering observation, but one that carried added weight coming from Fisher. She had played a princess and general. But knowing what I know about her now, it means even more.
Fisher became an addict, and then a recovering addict — a person whose recovery depended completely on honesty. Brutal honesty about the problem, and how to beat it, and then how to keep beating it, day after day. She talked about it and wrote about it. Her honesty helped other people be honest, too. The honesty defeated addiction.
If Fisher could be honest about something that carried as much stigma as that, you could bet she could convincingly convey the message that your taste may not always be great. And that not all your jokes were funny.
That message conveyed something else: Why you need to be humble. And to realize that no matter how much you believe something to be true, you might be wrong.
The fight over the wagon wheel is a fight between a man and woman, a couple moving in together, about who has better taste. But also about being vulnerable enough to acknowledge someone’s might be better than yours.
There’s a lesson in the scene, though Ephron and Fisher were too good at writing to spell it out. I’m not on their level, so here it goes.
You’re going to be wrong sometimes, and have no idea. So surround yourself with people you trust.
And then trust them.