Humour in Dark Times

Why Andrew Cuomo didn't shy away from a joke in such dark times.

Posted Mar 30, 2020

I was sitting on my couch yesterday watching New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's latest press conference in relation to COVID-19.  He was giving the usual warnings, noting how high the death toll could be, how serious the virus is, how they still need medical supplies, and so on. The mood was serious, even grim.

Out of that, a moment of hope emerged. A "small nasal passage" procedure for COVID-19 would make testing quicker and less invasive, he stated. He then followed up with this (to paraphrase):

"Although I am not entirely sure what a small nasal procedure is, I am sure it would not apply to me."

Andrew Cuomo, while discussing the possible deaths of tens of millions of people, with thousands of people scared and wanting leadership, and much of the world looking on, had just delivered a joke about his nose size.

Think about this. At some point, he—the leader of a state that, again, is in the middle of a pandemic—is preparing a speech. He wants to calm nerves while making it clear the virus is still a threat. He not only thinks to himself, "I'm going for this sweet big nose joke I just thought of." Presumably, he runs this by others, but thinks: "Nah, this is golden. I'm keeping it in." You can imagine the pride beaming from his face in that moment.

I haven't seen much mention of this joke in the media. That's why I didn't quote it above; I couldn't find it. But this "peak Michael Scott" moment (to quote my friend John when I posted this joke on FB) brought much joy to my life in these pretty awful times.

After delivering the joke he even paused for laughter (which he didn't get). Or maybe he just paused to re-group while his internal monologue yelled "What have I just done? Why did I leave that in there?" The awkwardness was palpable, regardless. 

While some might consider this attempted joke in poor taste (again, not me), I would not classify it as dark or gallows humor so much as joking in a dark time. In these times, we need humor. We need it to alleviate stress. We need it to distract us from our lives, which despite a pandemic lurking, are becoming increasingly boring and more mundane for millions of people. It also allows us to "peak into" a problem without having to face it directly, and, in doing so, gives us a sense of internal and external control. Shared subjective experiences — such as humor — are also essential to psychological well-being, and increase compassion. 

I can't find the Cuomo clip where he makes the joke. I did very much enjoy this clip describing when comedian Trevor Noah met Barack Obama though. It won't disappoint. I've also been enjoying his show, now from his couch while he self-isolates in New York City.

We all need a bit of humor right now.