Why Comedy Matters

Just in case you’ve been in a cave for the last few weeks, let me be the first to tell you, the pandemic is over!!!

I mean, not over, over, but it will be soon, okay?

And if you’re feeling just a leeeeetle whiplash, well…same.

The truth is, as someone who is immunocompromised, my day-to-day reality ain’t changing that much yet, not until my children get vaccinated. If I leave my home, it’s knowing that I might get sick.

I am aware of these risks, and occasionally, I take them. (Because I miss outside. And people. Gods, I miss people.)

And while I appreciate this newfound sunny optimism, I think it may be a little premature. Don’t let the facts stand in your way, though.

However, I will say that the discovery of a vaccine seems to have put a damper on the meme economy.

This is the hardest I’ve laughed in days, which means the bar is low.

Twitter Quote by @Twitter: 0 days since someone asked for an edit button

I know laughter has been a little thin on the ground here lately. Just the act of joking can get you in trouble these days.

Lookit this poor soul in r/AITA who can’t make dead mom jokes about her own mom. Dead mom jokes have been a staple in my repertoire for almost 20 years now, and frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without them. I also feel like my mom approves when I make a really good one. (I certainly didn’t get my sense of humor from my father.)

Cyanide and happiness comic

I’m uncomfortable considering myself any kind of authority on humor, or frankly, what’s appropriate.

Nevertheless, it’s a constant refrain in my inbox.

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you might have watched or listened to an episode of Ask Briar. (If you haven’t, you’re certainly welcome to go get my sad YouTube page like count up.)

When I first started, I wanted to get people to come on and ask their questions live, but that only worked for a while, because as it turns out, there’s a whole LOT of entrepreneurs who think asking questions makes them look stupid. 🙄

A bunch of people would sign up, and then cancel at the last minute, leaving me scrambling for replacements, or figuring out content on short notice.

Since I wasn’t interested in the work it took to literally drag guests onto my show, I pivoted to emailed questions, and that worked much better.

Sorta.

Opening my inbox for questions meant that I got the questions I expected: should I use an all-in-one, or WordPress? Should I use Trello or Asana?

But I also started getting other questions.

“I know this is really personal…but can I ask how your son died?” has been asked more than I would have ever imagined.

“Can you tell me what it was like cutting your family out of your life?”

And it’s fine.

I’m pretty open about my history, even if I haven’t really archived it in any meaningful way yet. Writing memoirs are HARD, okay???

Text from image: I want to write a DnD campaign but just play it by myself and DM myself.
I have been informed that this is called Writing a Book

But I also get asked a lot of questions about the memes I share.

And the question I get asked more than any other is whether I think it’s okay to still tell a joke about something.

For the record, the answer is yes. In almost every case, if you’re asking whether a joke is appropriate, then you’re thinking about the intent, which means that joke is likely to do its job.

Because that’s the thing about humor.

It has a very distinct function.

Laughter makes us feel good, sure.

One Does Not Simply Grow Plants If One Has Not Botany

But the truth is, puns change lives.

And no, I’m not being hyperbolic. Not really.

Humor is key to our growth.

Laughing at ourselves is foundational to being able to change our minds.

Don’t believe me?

Watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette with a man.

That is some uncomfortable fucking laughter.

Racoon gleeful look with paws clasped; How I Feel When I Write A Plot Twist

Comedy is kind of the leading edge of society, and it’s always been uncomfortable out here.

Lenny Bruce is kinda our poster child, but for thousands of years, the comic (or the fool) has been asking uncomfortable questions about who we are, what it all means, and if we can possibly be better.

We do it with laughter, because it works.

And these days, we do it with memes.

Make no mistake, memes are a double-edged sword.

The truth is, they are far more dangerous than deep fakes (artificially created images) because while AI has learned to spot a doctored image, it has yet to really understand the nuances of sarcasm.

In addition, the text overlay on images is very difficult to parse, which means even if the AI can recognize the word or phrase as a problem, it may not be able to see it.

This is also an accessibility issue, and one I personally struggle with. Memes almost always rely on visual cues to make a point.

Side eye at a plank with two slots, and many shaded areas on the second plank. 
Looking directly at first plank with two slots and seeing only two shaded areas on the second plank.

I’m barely smart enough to get this joke. I’m not sure I can explain it to you.

Does that mean I shouldn’t share it?

And that’s dangerous water.

It’s certainly water that a great many comics find themselves in. The problem isn’t that they’re afraid of getting cancelled. (Although let’s be clear–this IS an issue.)

The problem is actually much more insidious than that.

Because in our quest for endless content, we don’t really like to see a work-in-progress.

And comedy is ALWAYS a work in progress.

Jokes have to be workshopped.

Or, to borrow marketing parlance, split tested.

Sometimes a word or turn of phrase works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

And when it doesn’t, we (the audience) don’t react well.

Ricky Gervais: You found it offensive? I found it funny. That's why I'm happier than you.

With the pandemic winding down (notice I didn’t say end) we’re going to have to work a little harder at the jokes we tell.

We certainly aren’t gonna have fodder like this again anytime soon.

Tweet by Gillian Turner (@GillianHTurner):
BREAKING: The World Health Organization has announced that dogs cannot contract Covid-19. Dogs previously held in quarantine can now be released. To be clear, WHO let the dogs out.

And we’re going to have to be a little more tolerant of each other’s split tests.

Because we have to go back to telling jokes about painful social and systemic topics that require meaningful change. And this is how this shit actually works.

Tumblr Post and Response as follows.
user smackmybitchup: mental illness hasn't been destigmatised but commercialised
user queeranarchism: Sooo true. 
You can't have serious conversations about your mental illness and you can't even mention having one of the more stigmatized mental illnesses. 
But you can endure a long line of ads recommending medications, self-care products, gym memberships, self-help books, online seminars, crystals, plants, sunlight lamps and other overpriced shit that's supposed to be good for your mental health but is mainly just there to take advantage of people who are at a vulnerable place in life. Disgusting.

Sometimes it’s true, but not always funny.

Sometimes it’s funny for the wrong reasons.

And sometimes, we fall flat—a joke intended to punch up is just hurtful.

But we still have to be able to laugh.

Because if we do not, we will never be able to maintain enough distance from our lives to be able to say clearly what we DO need.

Tweet by Katherine (@MageOfSolitude)
I don't want a career, I want to wear a fancy robe covered in stars and dispense confusing and ambiguous advice to passing travelers from a large stone cottage on the edge of the woods where I live with a parliament of owls

And while I have neither the large stone cottage nor the parliament of owls, I DO have lots of confusing and ambiguous advice!

So, starting in April, I’d like to welcome you back to a reboot of Ask Briar.

I’m going to stop dodging the personal questions, and just tell the damn stories.

And I plan on answering some of the harder questions, too.

The Teacher: Don't worry. The Questions aren't that hard. 
The Questions: Image of a guy looking at a question from Who Wants to be a Millionaire about volcanoes near Icelandic cities with complete comical confusion.

Not any of those questions tho.

Let’s remember that humor has a function. And where possible, we should squeeze it in whenever possible.

A sign on a restroom door with Hannibal Lector standing in front of it. Sign reads: Restroom is for eating customers only!!!!

Toilet humor optional.

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About the author 

Briar

Briar Harvey is a storyteller and systems witch. She believes that everything has a story and exists within a system. The trick then, is figuring out how to change the rules, and tell a better story. You can hear her talk about systems twice a week on her live radio show, Ask Briar. You can also listen to her talk about terrible kids movies on the podcast Latchkey Movies.

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