Can You Laugh Away Anger?

How to punch with a punch line

Posted Sep 29, 2014

There’s never a shortage of people who make us mad: the neighbor who decides that early Sunday Morning is an ideal time to jackhammer, the aunt who reminds you that you’ve gained weight, the stranger who steals your parking space from behind.  They may not mean to, but they infuriate us.   

Instead of brooding and stressing, how about using comedy as an offense?  Many people don’t realize that anger is the driving force behind comedy.  One technique we stand-up comics favor is to rant and rave about things that make us angry. Not only does anger provide material that everyone can relate to, but turning a problem into a punch line turns you into a winner instead of a victim. Humor is healing and empowering. Laughing about anything gives you power over it, instead of it having power over you.  

Can you recall an experience of having laughed at something that made you angry? Maybe you’ve been crying to your therapist about something hurtful your spouse, parent, colleague, mother-in-law, psychic healer, or someone else equally unpredictable did and suddenly it strikes you as funny. In that moment, drama turns to comedy as you share a laugh with your therapist, trying not to think about what you’re paying for the audience. That moment can be transformational.

Years ago, I was jogging around my Venice Beach neighborhood. Passing a parked car with an open door, a guy flashed me. Scared, I picked up my pace, fretting, “Maybe I should change where I jog? Maybe I should get a treadmill, instead of running outdoors? Maybe I should move to a better neighborhood?”

Then I had an Oprah Moment, realizing how many life choices I have made in reaction to unhealthy people – from hiding in a closet to avoid my angry drunk father, later trying to change myself to please a lover who slapped me, and now, yet again, running faster than I should to get away from some wackjob with his junk showing. In that moment, as my fear turned to fury, I decided to try a different response.

I stopped, turned around, and ran over to him. “I just wanted to tell you something,” I said. “That looks like a penis… only smaller!” He shut the door and drove off. He ran from ME!

That day I found a new defense mechanism: a humorous offense. Instead of ruining my day, I learned to confront what’s happened by using humor, punching someone out with a punch line.

Try making a humor choice. It feels a lot better to laugh than to stew.