Does Humor Have any Place in Tragedy?

I wasn’t going to write anything today, as I couldn’t imagine sending out a humor piece right now, when we’re all mourning and trying to comprehend such unfathomable evil, and having enough trouble sending our own babes back to school.  But, then it dawned on me: This is why I — we — many of us (bloggers, humorists, comedians) write.

Let’s be real, for the most part, my writing is pretty useless. Well, unless you print it out and use the back of the paper to write a to-do list, or as a make-shift tissue, or dare I say it… TP?

The other day I wrote a rant about someone cutting me off in the carpool lane. It was for a site I love, TheStir, where most of the readers don’t know me my motivation, sense of irony, and penchant for poking fun at cliches and stereotypes.  As any blogger knows, the comments on major sites can be pretty harsh. Some of them mentioned how trite my article was, “The polar ice caps are melting … and people starving in our own backyards?” “Why did I even waste time typing this response to such drivel.”

To which I replied,

“Frankly, I regret you commented as well, and if you wanted to read about polar ice caps, why read a column titled “Did That Really Happen?” with an “LOL” label next to the title?

Also, I checked in my backyard and thankfully no one was out there begging for food.  This is good because I probably would’ve tried to feed them jokes, since that’s clearly all I can comprehend (being I write them, rather than reporting on what’s wrong with the world). And, as everyone knows, jokes are not nutritious!”

I’d like to say that’s how I responded, because that would’ve been the deserved reaction, but instead, I took a moment to consider the comments. “Why does anyone care about this frivolous rant? Does a sarcastic article about minivans (or any of the topics humorist expound on) have any place in a world where horrible things are happening all around us? Have I somehow stolen moments of people’s precious lives with my ‘drivel?’”

Then this incomprehensible tragedy occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and I spent much of my weekend mentally wrestling over whether I need to protect my children more or drop my anxious over-protective tendencies (because they’re futile). I thought about copy cats, I kept my son out of religious school, I cried as each name was read aloud, I forced myself to read about each child (as heartbreaking as it was) because I thought I owed that to their memory, I considered becoming agoraphobic and taking my family down into that DSM diagnosis with me.

And I thought about not writing anything humorous until we could all come to grips with this injustice (So, like, never!).

But, I will and I hope other humorists do, and I hope people read their work and laugh. We aren’t stealing moments from unsuspecting readers, we’re providing levity, distraction and sometimes the most amazing respite from the obsessive and depressing thoughts (of our readers and ourselves).

I will post my column tomorrow, even though polar ice caps are melting … and it will be totally pointless and absurd.  I promise.

I will also mourn with our country, I will hug my children tighter, I will obsess over their safety and I will struggle with how little control even the most over-protective moms, like myself, truly have.

55 thoughts on “Does Humor Have any Place in Tragedy?

  1. Tracy Beckerman via Facebook

    Feeling EXACTLY the same way. I think it is something all humorists wrestle with. Thanks for putting it into words!

    Reply
  2. Eileen Linde

    My husband was in the hospital on life support, and I still bitched about the traffic. The rest of life doesn’t stop happening when you’re experiencing a tragedy.

    Reply
  3. Pauline Baird Jones

    It was during the Depression that many comics got their start. Ditto during WWII. They provided respite for people’s souls from the hard times. So write on, laugh on! There will always be troubles, hard times, both personal and public, but hard times are lightened by laughter.
    Pauline Baird Jones recently posted…googlecd20eb13f78687f0My Profile

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  4. Jessica @FoundtheMarbles

    You write because your talent is your humor and your place in the world is making readers laugh when we need it, in spite of the horror in the world. Your writing does not diminish the hurt or pain – instead it can help heal those who are open to a laugh. Keep writing, my friend.
    Jessica @FoundtheMarbles recently posted…Thank a Teacher TodayMy Profile

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  5. Kat

    What’s interesting is that most humor is developed from pain…protection. It’s how we learned to cope. And I think there are a lot of people who seek out humorists during times like these to help them build their walls back up so that they can cope too. If you think about it, we owe it to the world to be funny. It’s our civic duty. I took a break from that today too, but tomorrow I plan on being hysterical as usual. ;)
    Kat recently posted…For No ReasonMy Profile

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  6. rachy

    Jenny, great, honest post, putting things in perspective.

    We all are united by our feelings after the horror last Friday. These things really force us to stop and put things in perspective and realize the treasures that are children are and how fragile these treasures are.

    Just a week ago I wrote a post making some fun at the Domesday scenarios coming soon: the end of the Mayan calender and the fiscal cliff. Like Y2K, the media and many folks become obsessed about a Domesday in our times. Y2K passed and no Domesday. Instead it came on Sept. 11, 2001.

    While many were fixated on 12/21 and 12/31, the real end of the world for so many came early on 12/14. For so many parents and siblings and other relatives and friends and neighbors, this was an end of the world.

    For those nearest the tragedy, the wounds may never heal. They need time.

    But for all of us, we can’t let ourselves dwell too long over this evil. Yes, we can talk about policy on guns, and really caring for those with mental illnesses, and how best to protect our most precious treasures we call our sons and daughters. But we need to get away from the negative energy or evil or sin that is this horrible, horrible event.

    And this is also where you come in, Jenny.

    We always need a little humor, even trite humor, in our lives.

    We need to you keep writing.
    rachy recently posted…Disaster AheadMy Profile

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    1. Jenny from the blog Post author

      Are you saying my humor is trite? Thank you. And your thoughts were beautifully said. Just because we laugh and go on with our lives doesn’t mean we have to forget what’s happened. It’s why we need to make changes! You always know what to say, Rachy!

      Reply
  7. Julie Gerstenblatt

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was feeling the same way. I have this piece to post about how much I hate Tripadvisor, and I was like, can I do that? Is funny okay today? I agree completely with your sentiments — you really touched on the core belief I have about humor and why I do it — so I will post it tomorrow. Sad world. Thanks for making it a little bit better.

    Reply
  8. Mom101

    I still remember right after 9/11 when I was wondering how I could ever write again. A wise friend said, “you make people laugh. We need that so much right now. That’s not insignificant” It changed my entire world view. I had never even considered that.

    We need the Onion. We need Jon Stewart. And you know…we need shopping blogs and sales at Saks and Christmas movies on Netflix. We can both save the world and preserve our sanity. In fact, one probably requires the other.
    Mom101 recently posted…The longest dayMy Profile

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  9. Emily

    Thanks Jenny, I posted about this very topic today too. My blog is meant to be light and funny and I didn’t know if I could or should write a post like that yet. I’ve held off and tomorrow I’m joining other bloggers in a day of silence, but after that, I’ll have to see if I’m ready to post “funny” again. I’m glad you’re mustering the energy to do so…I know I’ve got to do the same and that I can still grieve for this tragedy, but provide for my readers too. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this as it’s helped me try to move forward.
    Emily recently posted…Any Mother’s Loss Is Every Mother’s LossMy Profile

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    1. Jenny from the blog Post author

      Wow, that’s amazing to hear. Thanks and if there’s a day of blogger silence (I soooo didn’t get that memo, which is weird because I feel like the CEO over here!) I will participate as well, I can be quiet long enough to win a quarter on exhausting car rides — I can wait a day to share my insights on those stickers people put of their families on their back windshields!

      Reply
  10. Janine Huldie

    You pretty much summed up how I have been feeling perfectly here. I feel for the families profusely, but I too wondered is it appropriate to begin regular blog posts yet. I love writing and sharing if it is a bit of my snarky thoughts on life in general. That said it just feels normal and natural to me and don’t want to give into letting this monster take that away from em, too. Because all weekend, I was a bundle of nerves and felt as though I was succumbing to what the shooter would have hoped for. Well said and thanks seriously for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Jenny from the blog Post author

      What’s amazing to me about my post, is the comments. All of us are concerned about whether we can think beyond this tragedy and whether others are ready or able to enjoy a good laugh and lastly, whether writing humor at such a time is insensitive or offensive. The comments have made me stop second guessing. It’s not offensive … it’s necessary (for us to do what we do and for others to read our stuff to escape for a moment or two).

      Reply
  11. Leslie

    Jenny, Thank you so much for writing this. I have struggled with whether or not to post anything today. I tried to compose something poignant and touching, but my words seemed so trivial and insignificant in light of what those families must be feeling so I deleted them all. In the last few days, I have read some incredibly inspiring and comforting words from people all over the internet who have been gifted to share in that way. Others of us have been gifted with storytelling in a humorous bent, with words meant to share laughter. The world is full of darkness, pain, and tragedy. It must be balanced with light, peace, and joy. Although we cannot forget what has happened, and we continue to grieve for those families who are experiencing the unthinkable, eventually we need to laugh in order to emerge from the darkness. Laughter is a very important part of healing and hope. I thank you for the laughs you give me, and I think we all look forward to laughing again. Even as we fight back tears.
    Leslie recently posted…O Christmas Tree, You Bring Out the Control-Freak in MeMy Profile

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    1. Jenny from the blog Post author

      Thank you. You know, if you were reconsidering posting simply read the comments here and I think it will inspire you to post. I wrote this piece specifically with humorists in mind and they found it, that alone is pretty inspirational!

      Reply
  12. Bari

    Jenny,
    Unbeknownst to you, your work is not only not drivel, it’s necessary. A grieving country needs breaks from the harsh realities of this past week. Constant grief can severely overwhelm our systems and as individuals we’d run the risk of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We need to take occasional respites and breathe a little easier, hug our kids ( without our tears) and yep maybe even crack a smile. So thanks for that. It’s been a tough few days and it will likely be much harder for a while for some but we all need a break here and there.

    Reply
  13. Nancy Schutt

    Five stars Jenny.
    I have always advocated that you write about important things, serious things. Humor resides in hidden places there, and you bring it to light, and lighten us as well. During the holocaust, some of the very funniest jokes ever, were created. Sometimes we need the ridiculous, the hypocritical, the absurd, to be brought out into the open so we can, dare I say it, disarm it.
    Thanks for doing that Jenny.

    Reply
    1. Jenny from the blog Post author

      Nancy – You’ve always seen the inner meaning in my humor and I love that, because it’s easy to see the top layer. Though, I will admit some pieces are a bit, ahem, shallow. I do agree, however that both deep humor that points out some of the ironies in life, and slapstick humor that points out absolutely nothing, have their place in putting smiles on faces, when we need them most. THANKS

      Reply
  14. Jenn @therebelchick

    At times like these, everyone struggled with what to do, how to act…we wonder if we should carry on as usual or not do anything – out of respect. The thing is, how is anyone going to heal if the entire world stops when there is a tragedy? We need humor – and distraction – now more than ever.
    Jenn @therebelchick recently posted…My Easy Oreo Cookie Bark RecipeMy Profile

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  15. Lea

    You said perfectly what so many of us were thinking. I’ve been feeling so very guilty about the need to laugh this past week, but I think it’s the comedy of life that keeps us all going. Nice job.

    Reply
  16. Michael Rochelle

    What I don’t understand is the pull for us humorist to be more focused on serious things as opposed to the pull for more serious people to lighten up a bit. We’re whole people with a many feelings and emotions. Not just happy and not just sad. There is no one right way for us all to act in every instance. We all deal with things differently, so whose to say that focusing on the global warming all the time–which you alone can’t solve–is better than giving people a reason to chuckle in spite of all that’s wrong with the world? There are places for all of us. In times of lightheartedness–like if we all survive tomorrow–we won’t be able to vote all the serious people off the island or banish them to some far away cave, so why do they get to do it to us because their focus isn’t on humor at the moment. Forget them!!!
    Michael Rochelle recently posted…Confessions of a Fat Red-Light RunnerMy Profile

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  17. Nicole

    Good for you! Leave the writing about polar ice caps to the professionals…so I don’t accidentally read it while surfing humor blogs! :P

    Reply
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