humor during dark times

Alien conspiracy theories, a child finding his adopted parents, Marilyn Monroe as an undercover agent, immortality, a severed head, the library where they filmed scenes for Ghostbusters… these words have nothing in common unless you happened to be at the Largo in Los Angeles on October 1st.

That’s where the staggeringly talented Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz performed improv last Sunday night (they do it monthly under the name Middleditch&Schwartz).  It was an hour and fifteen minutes of absurd hilarity and I laughed until my face hurt.

And the next morning, I woke up to the news that the deadliest mass shooting in American history took place right in my hometown.

That’s quite a rollercoaster of emotions.

And before I go any further, I need to say that I’m keeping the Las Vegas victims in my thoughts and prayers, but more importantly, we need to work toward comprehensive gun control legislation NOW. More Americans have died from guns since 1968 than in all wars of American history combined. That is an insane statistic, and it’s totally unacceptable. I have called my senators to urge them to stand up for gun control and I urge you to do the same. Do your part to help prevent further tragedies like this one. UGH.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now.

Anyway, it’s very confusing emotionally to personally spend a great night laughing your ass off over some great comedy, and then to find out that while you were having an amazing time, a bunch of people were being murdered ten miles away from your house.

But what I want to talk about today is the importance of humor during the dark times. Mind you, NOT as a substitute for action and definitely NOT as a way to be insensitive to suffering. Obviously, we need to be present with the facts I listed above in bold, and we need to take the time to mourn. But we can’t live in a constant state of depression, fear, worry, and anger.

Laughter can remind us of our common humanity, bring joy, add meaning, and help us cope. Studies show it helps alleviate stress, increase short-term memory, and prevent heart attacks. And that’s not to mention the comfort and relief it offers even in the darkest of times.

For example, just today, I was having a very serious conversation when my cat crammed himself into a box of blankets in the most awkward way possible. It not only distracted me from my worries for a second, but also provided a good chuckle. I think there’s a lot of value in moments like that.

One of the best and most well-known examples of handling comedy after tragedy was Saturday Night Live after 9/11. After a serious and moving tribute, Lorne Michaels and then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani had the following exchange:

Giuliani: “…Saturday Night Live is one of New York’s important cultural institutions. And that’s why it’s important for you to do your show tonight.”

Michaels: “Can we be funny?”

Giuliani: “Why start now?”

In an instant, SNL offered a brief respite from tragedy and allowed America to take a breather. It’s an often repeated story for a good reason. It shows that humor is possible, and even necessary, during dark times.

We need to mourn, take action, and work for a better future. But we also can’t let fear win. We need laughter. We need funny corgi videos, we need cringey dad jokes, we need comedians, we need two guys pretending to work in a library until one of them unmasks themselves as Marilyn Monroe who unmasks herself as an alien.

In other words, I’ll try to quote from memory what Ben Schwartz said at the end of Sunday night’s show: “We all have some shitty things going on in our lives right now, so to be in a room together and laugh is a special thing.”

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