How Do We Laugh in Times of Tragedy?

How comics handle their job when tragedy strikes.

Posted Oct 04, 2017

The horrible tragedy in Las Vegas. As a standup comic, our community has to ask, "How do we comedians make people laugh with when we are blasted with such tragedy such as what happened in Vegas?" 

Judy Carter
Source: Judy Carter

I learned a lesson about this when my book, The Comedy Bible was first published 2001 and I went on tour to promote it with comedy concerts— on Sept. 13, 2001. That's right, 48 hours after 9/11. 

My friends told me to cancel as they said, "Nobody was in the mood to laugh." And, believe it or not, I was starting my tour in, you guessed it, New York City.

When I got on stage in New York, in front of 200 people at a show at the Gotham Comedy Club, we had a moment of silence and then I went into my material. There was that moment that all comics know about; the silence before the joke hits the audience. That night, the gap seemed excruciatingly long. And then, people laughed. They didn't just laugh, they erupted. It was loud and deafening as acts of rebellion usually are. It was as if the audience was saying, "Terrorists have taken away a part of our city, our community, and our sense of security, but we will be damned if they take away our sense of humor."

It was in that room, with wall-to-wall, defiant, convulsive laughter, that I realized that it was a perfect birth date for a new comedy book; as what is the purpose of humor but to spin tragedy into comedy? Humor is healing.

Isn't that why we comics do comedy; to turn our own problems into punch lines and heal ourselves? Life doesn't show up funny, it shows up messy, troubling, humiliating, painful, confusing, ugly, happy, scary, disturbing, and then we all die (sorry to deliver the news).

It is up to us funny people to remind others and ourselves to see the humor of it all; to feel and see the pain and choose to laugh in its face.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. If we can take anything away from that, it's that we're needed, even if only to make someone laugh at one joke. So, funny people, let's get busy! The world needs us, now more than ever.