Humor is serious business, so I felt much better when the pandemic jokes began popping up. For example: “If you need 144 rolls of toilet paper for a 14-day quarantine, you probably should have been seeing a doctor long before Covid-19.” If we can joke about it, it can’t be as terrifying as it seems, right? Right?
Tracking the LOLs, it becomes evident that much coronavirus humor focuses on toilet paper and the shortages thereof. I guess the world started looking funny to us when we first put on our big boy and big girl pants.
I know some readers think there’s nothing funny about Covid-19, and really, those of us who find a laugh here and there don’t think it’s funny, either. We’re not making light of the disease, but of ourselves and our foibles.
Humor is an enormously successful defense mechanism. That’s not from me; it’s from, you know, the guy who knew about these things, Sigmund Freud. He wrote that humor helps us cope with seemingly insurmountable tragedy. It eases the burden and gives us some sense of control.
Two photos online: The first is a picture of Quentin Tarantino. The second is a picture of a guy in full hazmat suit inside a tent. The caption is “Tentin Quarantino.” You can laugh, it’s OK. The psychologists say so.
Gregg Levoy wrote in Psychology Today, “It’s a curious thing. We’re in the midst of the worst global health crisis in over 100 years, and yet we’re overflowing with jokes, parodies, cartoons and gag videos.”
I’ve laughed a lot at talking-dog videos, especially that one with the Schnauzer giving advice to other dogs on how to behave during a pandemic, specifically identifying the no-sniff zones. Yeah, the humor is low, but so is my morale.
This is not to say that sharing humor is without risk. We’re isolated, so when we send friends jokes or cartoons, they can’t see our expressions and we can’t read theirs. The possibility of misunderstanding one another is real.
To be sure, there is safe humor, and much more edgy stuff. One does have to exhibit a modicum of good taste. I don’t think humor goes into the ICU or to the gravesite. And it all depends on one’s own experience through this time of trouble. Being sick, worrying about a loved one in trouble, suffering financial setbacks or just going crazy from the extended isolation all change our sense of what’s funny.
My family is notoriously dark when it comes to humor. Almost anything goes, and for us, it helps.
People are still tuning in to Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers because they make us laugh, despite the horrific news. All of them push the envelope.
Levoy says you can’t laugh and be scared at the same time, so while we’re laughing, we are momentarily forgetting the horrors of the pandemic. We are temporarily tuning out the map with the spread of the disease and the voice-overs with the daily totals of dead people and the news reports of refrigerator trucks holding the bodies of people’s mothers and fathers and children. After a while of consuming the bad news, we overload on horrific detail and actually short-circuit. In that moment, if we can find something to laugh about, it’s really OK.
“Life does not cease to be funny when people die,” said George Bernard Shaw, “any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
Here are a couple of mini ha-has:
Has anyone let the Amish know what’s going on yet?
The World Health Organization has announced that dogs can’t contract Covid-19. Dogs previously held in quarantine can now be released. Just to be clear, WHO let the dogs out.
Some of the humor coming my way targets Donald Trump and his disastrous incompetence before and during the pandemic. (Have you seen the ad for Clorox Chewables?)
Maher piled on: “Donald Trump had a meltdown about what a great temperament he has. It was like watching someone carve ‘I’m not a psycho’ into their arm.”
“If you are able to teach people to be more playful, to look at the absurdities of life as humorous, you see some increase in well-being,” said Stanford psychologist Andrea Samson.
I’m all for vaccines — the sooner the better — but let’s not inoculate ourselves against laughter.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.