comedy & catharsis

We did our best here [at the Daily Show] to process those events, even enjoyed a bit of fun…and I know doing those bits helps no one, other than maybe us, here at the show, individually, as a creative outlet, a catharsis, a way of processing emotion that might otherwise be undigested. At least that process has begun … I honestly don’t know what to say. If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more f***ing time.
Jon Stewart, in the wake of the killing of Eric Garner

I’ve watched a lot of Jon Stewart and I can tell you that his yell at the end of his report on the Grand Jury decision was pure anguish. It wasn’t for comedic effect, it wasn’t to get laughs…he was angry.

And he was right. So many incredible comedians take tragedies in their own lives and reframe them into hilarious routines on stage…they just take time to let the pain subside first and then jump right in. They even take events in the world and make them pliable and understandable through comedy.

We laugh because we identify. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts recently – I mean just SO many because the couch is comfortable and break is nice – and my absolute favorite is You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, who is a doll of a comedian and a truly brilliant guy. The recurring theme in so many of his episodes is that being a comic isn’t simply being the silly fun person on stage telling jokes, but something more. In an episode with philosopher Pete Rollins, he says “comedy is the moral voice of today,” that being a comic means being a social observer and remarking on the plagues of our society.

I also watched what. It’s Bo Burnham’s most recent comedy special, it’s hilarious (you can find it for free on YouTube!), and it’s one of the smartest social commentaries out there. Burnham is one of my favorite comedians (check an example of his comedy here) because his themes are kind of dark – he covers topics like god, family turmoil, misogyny, homophobia – but he uses comedy to make these themes approachable. It’s certainly not all light or filled with constant jokes and gimmicks but damn is it is funny.

What Jon, Pete, Bo and so many others in comedy (like some of my other favorites Louis CK and Jessica Williams) all have in common is that their comedy smartly masks commentary. It’s not making fun of tragedy. It’s applying a lightness to our daily tragedy in a sensitive way when it’s done right. I think comedy can help us process emotions left otherwise unprocessed. So find your favorite comedians, and start listening. It might lend some giggles to a human processing that often comes with unbelievable weight. Your laughter is a precious commodity…use it well and use it as frequently as you possibly can. 🙂


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