Sometimes I think that I’m kind of an insensitive jerk. I’ve never been the one my friends come to with problems or heartache unless they’re looking for a friend that will either logic their problem out until it lies desiccated in the corner, or, failing that, will avoid the issue entirely and distract them with jokes and sarcasm.
Like Ron Weasley, I think I might have the emotional range of a teaspoon.
But everyone uses humor to break tension. It’s a part of being human. It’s the basic principle behind shows like M*A*S*H and Scrubs. As if humans aren’t capable of fully accepting the inevitability of their own demises or the pain and suffering so many of us experience before we finally tailspin into our graves, we almost all of us have a punch line to make it better, at least for a moment.
I think that comedy often comes under fire for making light of issues that ought to be taken very seriously, that when we joke about serious things, we avoid the real problem, that by not being serious about serious things, we’re contributing to the problem instead of actively attempting to help it. I wonder, though, if comedy actually does the opposite—that in applying comedy to serious situations like war, death, disability, illness, or trauma, we actually uncover a greater and deeper understanding of the human condition.
Comedy, like trauma, like human emotions in general, rejects face value. It demands that we consider a concept from unconventional angles and process its very existence. It’s easy to be saddened by something, it’s harder to turn that sadness into hope, and I think that comedy is one tool that allows us to initiate that volta.
In other cases, it’s often easier, I think, to approach suffering and worldsuck with a barrier of comedy—which is often mistaken for apathy—because if we walk into every situation unguarded, we would be overwhelmed by the shadow of it all. For me, my dam of borderline-insensitive sarcasm and jokes in the face of bad news or sad friends is as much a defense mechanism as it is way of understanding. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that emotions are exhausting and sometimes hard for me to understand.
Comedy in the face of adversity is merely logic in the face of chaos. While comedy might not save the world, while it might not be what’s going to pick up the pieces of the world and fashion it back into a place worth living in, I think that comedy helps us to understand the world we are attempting to save. More than anything, that’s what I want: to understand. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the person on the front line trying to fix the world, but I sure as hell am going to try to understand it. It’s my defense and offense as much as it can seem defensive and offensive. I’m making an effort.