Photo: Justin Walker

Photo: Justin Walker


Back in the ’70s, they’d have five or six of these in the studios where they filmed TV shows. Someone in a booth would press a button and the box would light up, prompting the audience to laugh on cue. This particular box was used in the live taping of the pilot of Diff’rent Strokes, which my dad and his writing partner created. At that taping, my dad was in the booth pressing and pressing the LAUGH button. But no one laughed. My dad thought the show was dead in the water. After the taping, he grabbed one of the boxes and headed home.

But the show caught on. It started the career of Gary Coleman and became a cultural touchstone. Everyone knew Diff ’rent Strokes. Forty years later, people still say, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” Of course, it also hurt a couple of the child actors.

I’ve kept this for the reason my dad kept it: to remind myself that if you think something is funny or truthful or beautiful or sad, it is. That’s the truth. You don’t need to prompt people to confirm what you think. There’s truth to the way you see things.

When I get home from work at night, I flip it on. It turns the living room a deep orange.

Barnaby Harris

President, itsasickness productions
New York, NY