Being Funny When Nothing’s Funny

Like many Americans, ever since the tragedy last Friday, I’ve been watching and reading countless new stories about the Newtown school shooting. It seems the entire nation is struggling with a deep sorrow, for those children and teachers, for their families, and for America. Many of us feel anger at those who stand in the way of substantial gun control and reform, anger at our inability to provide the right kind of help and care for the shooter long ago, anger at the media for their sometimes inappropriate, vulture-like coverage, anger that we can’t even define. There are no words that can accurately describe how we feel. Perhaps “lost” best describes it. The more articles we read, the more news we watch, the more we feel completely lost. How could this happen? Why did this happen? What can we do now? How do we cope?

Since the shooting on Friday, I’ve performed on three comedy shows. My monthly show was Friday (the day of the shooting) and I was booked on two shows on Monday. Especially on Friday, it felt impossible to joke. Before each of these shows I had to actually tell myself to be funny, when nothing feels funny. I had to put aside my feelings, my anger, the tears, and tackle a set list that read: Cat Call, Tall, Feminist, Engaged, Weight Watchers, Pregnancy Scare, Little Girls are Creepy. None of these jokes could offend anyone. None of them addressed the situation. They were just jokes. Completely irrelevant. Stupid, I thought. Not the best material, but eh, that’s what I’m working with right now.

Something strange happened: All those shows were amazing. People were generous with their laughter. Crowds were eager to listen. The Friday show was absolutely packed. We had six comedians perform along with me and my co-host, Ben Kissel, and everyone did great. Nore Davis made the audience almost fall of their chairs talking about Kwanza, “Only black people celebrate Kwanza, but no black people celebrate Kwanza. It’s just a holiday hanging out there.” Jared Logan dealt with a heckler perfectly, “Thank you for your help. I was just sitting back there thinking, ‘I’ll start with this and then I hope the lady in the cardigan helps me out!'” Thomas Dale and Mike Dobbins just made people go nuts. The crowd was wonderful.

We comedians aren’t that important, I know. We aren’t teachers or doctors. We aren’t firefighters or nurses. Many of us don’t even know how to be good, functioning, bill-paying members of society. Obviously, we are in no way heroes (duh). But now and then, I see the reason we do this. Honestly, I’d “bomb” on stage forever if it could undo any of the damage that happened on Friday, but that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where terrible things do happen. We live in a world where hate, violence, and war are real and constant. Sometimes it is more than we can bare. Even though I’m not a full-time comedian, even though I’m usually only paid in booze, even though I often know half my audience by name, even though I may never be truly successful, I feel so good about making those people laugh. I feel honored to share the stage with talented people who know how to reach out and give a crowd some joy, even at the worst times. I feel so thankful for audiences who are willing to follow comedians and escape from the pain for a few minutes, even if it’s with a joke that involves a lot of balls and poop.

There is nothing funny about this post. There is nothing funny about the gun control and reform we need desperately need. There is nothing funny at all about what happened in Newtown. But there are still things to laugh about. Laughter can’t undo the damage, it can’t solve the problems, but it is something we all need. So, now and then—when you’re ready—step away from the dark news, step away from the horror stories, step away from the deep sadness we all naturally feel right now, and let yourself laugh for a little while. Trust me, you need it. We need it, too.

Thanks for reading.

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One thought on “Being Funny When Nothing’s Funny

  1. I remember feeling this way the first time SNL aired after 9/11. The cool thing about comedy (and performance in general) is the shared experience of the audience. There’s something quite comforting about it.

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