I was talking with my fellow writer Miss MacKay today about the events of the past weekend when she said, “I’m like so down about this. I can’t even be funny.” It was a sentiment that I shared – and even when I happened to have a funny, Twitter worthy thought in the past 72 hours (which only happened like twice), it didn’t seem appropriate to be funny. But given how messed up everything is (there are still kids in cages, y’all), how can we ever be funny?
The fact of the matter is most comedy comes expense of something; a person or people place or process. And when something like what happened this weekend happens, it can feel almost wrong to make jokes at the expense of something or someone; like we are doing a disservice to humanity by being funny in a moment of tragedy, no matter how lightly we tread.
So the question becomes – how do we, a bunch of writers for a small website – produce entertaining content when we just want to curl up in a ball and cry (more than we usually do, anyway) because the world is a steaming cesspool of hate and violence?
The more I thought about this, the less clear I become on the answer. So I reached out to my fellow Clock Out writers for their thoughts on how we can be funny when everything is so fucked up. One of my fellow writers, Peter Moran, had an interesting viewpoint since he’s also a stand-up comedian,
I had a standup show on Sunday and the set I prepped had a couple white guy/terrorism type jokes in it. Dark stuff, but standard for a comedy club. After Saturday’s events, I realized how poorly that would go over, which caused me to question every joke I’ve ever written. I go on Twitter to tweet silly nonsense about the weather and puns and whatnot, and I’m immediately caught up in a heated debate. Everyone is angry, nothing is funny, and everything is sad. It’s dark, perhaps, but I think this is where humor is found. It’s the necessary response to sadness; it’s a defense. We wouldn’t need humor if we didn’t have sadness, and in identifying that, we find the funny. Humor is the sarcastic dismissal of the things that should be bringing us down, it’s making fun of evil. The forces that tell us nothing is funny and everything is sad are being eyed up and flipped off with a simple joke. We laugh and realize that nothing matters and it’s all going to be okay.
While I don’t agree that nothing matters and that it’s all going to be okay (in the near future, anyway), Peter’s point about humor being the necessary response to sadness is a good one. To find humor, sometimes even in the darkest of days, can take power away from the evil. It doesn’t diminish the seriousness of a situation or lessen the pain of those directly or indirectly affected, but it can represent a taking back of a conversation. In 2013, after a shithead with a slow cooker attacked my beloved hometown of Boston, comedian Lianna Carrera wrote, “Comedy is the voice of an undercurrent that is constantly asking us to do better.” Maybe sometimes it asks us a little too soon (TOO SOON!), but it’s better that we ask ourselves to do better rather than do nothing.
While there’s no points of comparison when it comes to tragedy, the existential question asked in the title of this piece reminds me of the first episode of SNL after 9/11. How does a comedy show so closely affiliated with the city that has just been completely decimated carry on? It was the crux of question that Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani (back before that dude went completely fucking insane) to open the show (watch it here if you’ve never seen it):
Lorne Michaels: Can we be funny?
Mayor Rudy Giuliani: Why start now?
Because we need to do better.