I recently got some disturbing news; I discovered that I have MC1R.
Not that anyone can easily tell by looking at me, since I shave my head. I did not start shaving my head to hide my MC1R, I did so because a TV talk-show paid me to shave it on the air; I went from long locks tied in a ponytail to my current chrome-dome look in only seconds, but it took quite some time for me to adjust to the transition. For example, the first time I got caught in the rain it seemed really, really, LOUD! And the first time I went camping, I never thought to spray bug repellant on my shaved head and the mosquitoes saw me as a cranial buffet; so the next shaving cut off all the bumps and for weeks I looked like the victim of a woodpecker attack.
Before I go any further I suppose I should explain, for those unfamiliar with advanced genetic study, what MC1R entails. In 1995, Professor Jonathan Rees, of Edinburgh University, identified the melanocortin 1 receptor found on the 16th chromosome (MC1R for short) as the “gene for red hair.” Although news of this discovery took over a dozen years to reach me, it was still quite unsettling to learn that as a redhead – I am a genetic mutation.
There are not many of us mutants out there, only 4% of the world’s population sports natural red hair, and only 2% of the United States. Although it may appear there is more; the majority of women who dye their hair do so at home, and the majority of those choose to be redheads (30% red, 27% brunette, and 26% blonde). Of the natural hair colors, red is the rarest, even on the same head; the average human has 120,000 strands of hair, brunettes have the most, blondes less, and us poor downtrodden redheads have the very least.
This is but one of the many negative effects of MC1R. Others include: being prone to industrial deafness, the favorite target for bees to sting, and being more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancer, and wrinkles. My research also disclosed that redheads are harder to sedate, requiring 20% more anesthesia to obtain the desired effect (I suspect this unusual tolerance may be due to centuries of over-consumption of Irish whiskey).
As a child I despised having red hair, frequently begging my parents for permission to dye it any other color, which they persistently denied, forcing me to endure the constant taunts of classmates, such as, “I’d rather be dead than red on the head!” Can you imagine a childhood burdened with the knowledge that others would rather be deceased than to look like you? My parents believed the ridicule I received was a small price to pay for being so “cute.” But as any adolescent boy will tell you, “cute” is not an adjective he desires; he longs for “hunky” or “handsome.”
Any person born below the Mason Dixon Line (myself included) is familiar with the phrase “I’ll beat you like a redheaded stepchild” (which dates back to the South’s darker days and refers to the illegitimate offspring created by master and slave). This phrase alone always made me grateful I was never adopted (but perhaps my adoptive parents might have let me dye my hair… after they finished beating me). Looking back, I’m surprised my MC1R was not treated with weekly sessions with a therapist.
Having red hair is a feature that has historically been looked upon with an unkind eye. Throughout time artists traditionally depict Judas Iscariot with red hair because of their common belief that redheads are untrustworthy. In the 16th century, the fat of a redheaded man was an essential ingredient for poison. The Egyptians had a ceremony in which they burned redheaded maidens in an attempt to eliminate any future redheads, because they were considered unlucky. In Greek mythology redheads turn into Vampires when they die, and Aristotle proclaimed that redheads were “emotionally unhousebroken.” Romans kept red-haired slaves (at a higher price). Brahmins were forbidden to marry redheads. And Adolph Hitler banned the marriage of two redheads because their children would be “deviant offspring.” But Germanic persecution of redheads is nothing new; from 1483-1784 thousands of suspected witches were tortured and murdered for having the abnormality of red hair or freckles, which were considered “marks of the devil.” During the Spanish Inquisition having red hair was proof the owner had “stolen the fires of hell” and should be burned as a witch. In light of the MC1R history of persecution, if I hear one more fair-haired person complain about having to listen to dumb blonde jokes, I just might slap them upside their golden locks!
Sadly mankind has still not evolved to ending prejudice against redheads. Currently in Corsica, if you pass a redhead in the street superstition dictates you should spit and turn around. In Liverpool, folklore states that meeting a redhead at the beginning of a journey is a bad omen of terrible trouble to come. In Africa, the UN is investigating allegations of ritual murders of Cameroon’s redheaded albinos. A popular French proverb states that “Redheaded women are either violent or false, and usually both.” The Russians have their own proverb: “There never was a saint with red hair” because of a common Russian belief that a person with red hair is crazy and has a fiery temper. In fact, I am certain that some of you reading these words also still associate red hair with a crazy temper. An Irish judge, as recently as 2001, fined a man for disorderly conduct stating “I am a firm believer that hair color has an effect on temper and your coloring suggests you have a temper.” Why shouldn’t we have a temper? Redheads have 50,000 years of oppression to be mad about!
There are countless reasons to be angry. Although some may consider redheaded females to be sexy, the same rarely holds true for redheaded men. My redheaded friend, Phil Palisol, described his only visit to a nude beach, “I have red pubic hair; I looked like Bozo with a double chin.” An opinion echoed by the very funny Patty Rosborough, who says, “Red hair is just not a good setting for a penis. You keep expecting it to jump up and start singing ‘The sun will come up tomorrow.’”
It is very frustrating as a redheaded man to have so few redheaded icons to look up to, since the most well-known are usually female cartoons: Wilma and Pebbles Flintstone, Jessica Rabbit, Pippi Longstocking, Raggedy Ann, The Little Mermaid, Princess Fiona, Peppermint Patty, and of course, Little Orphan Annie (singing “the sun will come up tomorrow”). What male redheaded role models do I have? Well, there’s Winston Churchill (fat), Vincent van Gogh (crazy), Henry VIII (fat & crazy), and Ronald McDonald (neither fat nor crazy, just money-crazed enough to make the rest of the world fat). As for Conan O’Brien, all I can say is, “Damn you Jay Leno!” (Or as I call him, “Grey-Lo.”) And as for Carrot Top, he is as embarrassing to redheads as Uncle Tom is to African-Americans.
But this story has a happy ending; I’m thrilled to report I am a MC1R survivor. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate being unique. And as I age I take comfort I’ll never need Grecian Formula because redheads don’t turn gray (we turn sandy, then white) so if I ever grow my hair back out it might be described as “salt and (cayenne) pepper.” I’ve already reached an age where I’ll eagerly accept anything close to a compliment, so now “cute” is no longer disappointing. I’ve finally learned to live with the genetic cards that I’ve been dealt, even MC1R, because in truth, sometimes it’s kind of fun to be an emotionally unhousebroken mutant.
“The Laff Guru” has taken his message of LAUGHTER=NIRVANA to all 50 states and 23 countries. His awards include: “Comic of the Year,” “Campus Performer of the Year,” and a “Cable Ace Award.” His credits include over fifty TV appearances, including: Showtime and The Late Show. He is represented by GP Entertainment. To find out more about his award-winning comedy act please visit: laffguru.com