NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Merrilyn Olson Belgum (1924 - 2014)
Merrilyn Olson Belgum was referred to as the Queen Mother of Comedy. After a 41 year career in social work she retired to become funny full time. She had been director for some years of Minnesota's Cleveland International Program. Her humor came from the human condition. As a wife, mother and 25-year faculty member of Minnesota's School of Social Work, she felt "I am a caretaker of laughter...humor is my guardian".
She took her message of using humor to cope with life's difficulties to thousands of people each year through her shows, workshops and weekly column, “Comic Relief”, in the St. Paul Pioneer. She delighted audiences in 27 states, Canada, and in Sweden at an International Social Work Conference. General Mills, 3M, AT&T, U. S. West and the University of Minnesota were a few of the corporations for whom she had done workshops and performed. On television, Belgum was seen on KTCA's “Land of Loons”, Martin Mullo's Show Time Special “Talent Takes A Holiday”, and Seattle's Emerald City Comedy Hour. As a comedian she became well advanced into her second career.
Although she said she was "born funny" she believed that "humor is a divine gift – God’s way of helping us deal with the demons in our lives." She spoke from experience - her husband died after a long illness and her humor helped her to see life in a new way. She said "if you're depressed you cannot find your way out of the door. Laughter helps us find solutions. It is an inner world which helps you make sense of the incredible tragic life that is going around us. Laughter helps you pull your life together, and when the final curtain drops, there's probably a happy ending." With Merrilyn, you knew she was not kidding.