Whether your mother wears Army boots or simply subjects you to daily doses of psychological torture, you have to admit professional comedians have a virtual license to publicly humiliate the person who gave them life.
Should a mother be proud or embarrassed when her child bases a career upon a supposed lousy childhood? What if the kid had a happy childhood and just created the myth of a bad mom because it plays well on stage?
And does being a professional comedian mean never having to say you're sorry? Even on Mother's Day?
"My mother treated us equally … with contempt," Groucho Marx once said.
But later in life, Groucho admitted that he and his brothers Harpo and Chico owed their mother, Minnie, a great debt for pushing the boys out on stage as a singing act. "She made us," Groucho said.
But comics rarely apologize to mom. Some of today's top stand-ups — like Judy Gold and Susie Essman — rag on their mothers relentlessly.
But Gold and Essman are just like old-timers Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope, and even Soupy Sales when it comes to turning mom into the butt of their jokes. Apologies are almost never in order. Comedy is not pretty.
With Mother's Day approaching, here's what several comics say about their mothers, on and offstage: The Comic: Judy Gold
The Jokes: Gold's overbearing mother offered a special brand of comfort when the comic was a tall, gawky child and the other kids would make fun of her.
"She'd say to me, 'Judith, don't you worry about it, they're jealous of you. Go upstairs, put on your father's clothes, leave me alone.' "
These days, Gold's mom never stops complaining. "She hired a nursing aide recently, so that she could complain someone was stealing from her."
Mom's Reaction: "No matter what I say, I never feel bad because she loves the attention," says Gold, a 40-year-old Emmy Award winner.
Gold regularly plays her mom's answering machine messages in her act — a bit she even did on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
"My mom keeps telling me she should get residuals."
Mother's Day Thought: "I call her every day because I need material." The Comic: Phyllis Diller
The Jokes: "My mother taught me to think of myself as a sex symbol for the men who don't give a damn."
"Why do I have a poor self image? When I was a kid my mother always told me, 'If someone asks your name … don't tell them."
"My mother talks to herself and complains of hearing voices."
Mom's Reaction: "I never had to worry about what my mother thought of my stage act. By the time I made it, she was dead," says 85-year-old Diller, widely hailed as the first female comic to strike it big.
"Let's face it, if you tell the crowd about how sweet your mother is, they are going to want their money back," says Diller.
In reality, Diller says her mother was a smart, strong woman. When she was a child in Ohio, Diller says, it was her mother who gave her the confidence to be a trailblazer in stand-up comedy. "I wish she had a chance to see it," she says.
"Luckily, I don't believe in the afterlife," Diller says. "Or my mother could be looking down on me, criticizing my act."
Mother's Day Thought: "The biggest joke of all is death … For all the times I told my mother I love her, I wish I did it more."
The Comic: Bob Hope
The Jokes: "I was the youngest of five boys. After they had me, Mum and Daddy never spoke to each other again."
"I came from a very big family. Four of us slept in the same bed. When we got cold, mother threw on another brother."