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The Comedy Mindset

The benefits of humoring ourselves.

Key points

  • Humor is a way to enjoy situations that might otherwise make us angry or discouraged.
  • The comedy mindset is a belief that most situations have a humorous potential that we can use to take the sting out of frustrating events.
  • When we see the humor in a situation, we are less likely to take things personally and more capable of responding constructively.

Laughter has long been viewed as a way to promote greater happiness and mental health. The old Reader’s Digest feature called “Laughter—the best medicine” gave readers something to laugh about to help them cope with problems—a joke, an anecdote, or a story.

That’s not what this post is about. We aren’t concerned with jokes or funny stories. We aren’t examining laughter as an outcome. We are exploring humor as a means of enjoying situations that might otherwise make us angry and frustrated. When we see the humor in a situation, we are less likely to take things personally, less likely to feel defensive and threatened, and more capable of responding constructively to the people involved.

The comedy mindset is a belief that most situations have a humorous potential and we can plug into that potential to take the sting out of frustrating events.

Here is a personal example. Gary was rushing to complete an online bank transaction. He’d previously set up a two-stage verification. The bank verified his identity by sending him a text with a security code that would expire in 10 minutes. He had to quickly enter this six-digit code. However, the text message had a six-digit identifier. Using his smartphone and toggling between the transaction and the text message, Gary entered the six digits in the text and his verification was rejected. The bank then texted him a new six-digit security code. He tried a second time and then a third time, getting rejections each time. He noticed that the security code in each case was the same, which surprised him and he suddenly realized that what he needed to do was to scroll down in the text message to get the actual code. He tried again but now—due to the several failed attempts—his bank account was locked. So he wasted another 10 minutes generating a new password. He was frustrated and angry until he thought that if someone at his bank was intent on driving him crazy, this person was doing an excellent job. And having a six-digit identifier at the top of a text that contained a six-digit security code was ingenious. His anger melted away as he admired the brilliance of the scheme.

And he laughed. The humor let him stop taking this trivial situation personally.

Of course, the bank wasn’t trying to frustrate him. But imagining how it might have been messing with him made the electronic encounter sort of funny. It initiated a comedy mindset.

Taking the comedy mindset more seriously, Gary enlisted the help of an actual comedy writer—his brother Dennis who has had 55 years of experience in Hollywood, as co-creator of The Larry Sanders Show, and as head writer/showrunner of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. And because the comedy mindset has implications for mental health, Gary enlisted the help of a clinical psychologist, his brother Mitchell, who has been a therapist for over 40 years. This post is a collaboration between the three of us. Each has learned to see beyond the surface situation. Dennis notices what is ironic and humorous in a situation. Mitchell perceives the invisible forces shaping his clients’ experiences. And Gary is aware of the tacit knowledge and expertise people have gained even if they can’t articulate these things themselves.

Dennis taps into the comedy mindset more than most because that’s his profession—writing comedy scripts. Mitchell sometimes uses humor in therapy situations. He once had a client with weight issues who was angry at his boss and went home and ate an entire pizza. Mitchell asked with irony, “Do you think your boss got the point?”

There is a long history of investigation into this topic. Freud (1905) is frequently cited. The International Society for Humor Studies, founded in 1989, compiles a list of references on relevant research. Ruth Wisse (2013) has her own views, noting the importance of paradox, contradiction, conflicts, and incongruity for jokes. Particularly relevant is the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. Further, the field of positive psychology has identified humor as one of the prime character strengths, and has demonstrated its link to positive well-being (Lonczak, 2020).

The downside of the comedy mindset

Some situations are not really amusing. Poking fun at them is insensitive and cruel. People can use humor to discount something that needs to be taken seriously. Humor can be weaponized to make the pain of others feel worse, not better. “I was only trying to be funny” is many times just not true. When we laugh at someone’s expense, we have antagonism instead of attachment. Laughing behind someone’s back is hostile. And trying to make a joke out of everything is just annoying.

Taking the comedy mindset seriously

Changing a mindset requires practice. It’s not as simple as advising people to look for the humor in situations. One needs to practice putting it into action. Dennis has spent decades sharpening his perspective.

Part of the practice can involve finding ways to laugh at ourselves as long as the laughter isn’t too self-deprecating. We can also imagine an audience, maybe a single person, who might share our amusement.

We believe that the comedy mindset can be strengthened through methods such as scenario-based practice. The next step in our collaboration is to develop a training workshop to help people build a humor-based mindset when faced with failures and frustrations.


The comedy mindset lets us step back—giving us the space to become less personally involved when that’s appropriate, reducing a disproportionate anger, as in the bank security code example.

There is power in humor, a potentially destructive power but also a healthy and affirming power. We are enthusiastic about the positive aspect and the benefits of the comedy mindset. Not simply about laughing, but enjoying. The comedy mindset can give us the perspective that life is playing out in its bizarre, conflicting, contradictory way and becoming angry or hurt or wounded will not serve us.


Freud, S. (1905). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. (1960 translation, New York: Norton).

Lonczak, H.S. (2020). Humor in psychology: Coping and laughing your woes away.

Wisse, R. (2013). No joke: Making Jewish humor. Princeton University Press.

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