I recently viewed “Misery Loves Comedy,” a 2015 documentary that examines the darker side of comedy. Do you need to be miserable to be comedic? Not necessarily, but this intriguing film highlights interviews with several comics who all wonder where their inherent drive to be funny stems from.
Interestingly enough, many relay that comedy can act as a mechanism to cope, to receive positive attention, or to manage personal distress. They’re certainly not alone.
A 2014 article posted on The Atlantic discusses comedy’s evolutionary origins.
Our ancestors utilized laughter to counter threats and strife; to offer a sense of reprieve in dire circumstances. Laughter had another valuable purpose as well.
“Before people could speak, laughter served as a signaling function,” psychologist Peter McGraw said. “As if to say, ‘this is a false alarm, this is a benign violation.’ Tickling, the basic form of humor that even non-verbal primates use is a perfect example: there’s a threat there, but it’s safe; it’s not too aggressive and it’s done by someone you trust.”
In a 2012 article on Splitsider, stand-up comic Rob Delaney addresses the classic question: Does misery love company?
“There is a popular belief, in and out of comedy, that comedians tell jokes and endeavor to make others laugh as a means of treating the pain they feel inside; that depression and drug and alcohol abuse plague the world of comedy,” he said. “Is this true? For me, the answer happens to be yes.”
Delaney, who’s also an active Twitter user, even refers to comedy as a drug.
“I post the jokes on Twitter because making people laugh makes me feel really, really … good. I would even go so far as to say, ‘It gets me high.’ And I like getting high. I like it very much.”
The article features comedian Kevin Hart’s viewpoints, too.
“This is my therapy,” Hart explained. “I didn’t talk about my mom passing away. I never talked about my dad being on drugs. I didn’t talk about my relationship status, and me going through a divorce — these are all things I had just held in, and I was very, very reserved about. And it got to a point where I was like, you know what? I’m a comedian! My fans will respect me more when I’m honest. The more honest I am with them, the more of an open book I am, the more they can relate to me and the more they can say, ‘Hey, you know what? Dude, I like this guy. I relate to this guy. He doesn’t care. Nothing’s held back.’ It’s funny but at the same time it’s real. And by me putting my real life out there, I think I got the best of me.”
Humor clearly can play a positive role in mental health.