Pain and Humor: The Dark Side of Funny
There’s one theme that keep recurring during each of my radio interviews for the book, Beyond Blue, and that is: humor. People are taken aback that I would write a book about depression and try to make it funny. Because funny and pain don’t go together, right?
Fellow blogger and comedian John McManamy interviewed me about this topic. It afforded me an opportunity to explore humor and think about why I use it so often.
John: Listen, Therese. William Styron’s memoir of depression was bleak. Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” was heart-breaking. Yet, here you are, agony with a thousand punch lines. This has to be sacrilegious.
Therese: Funny you should ask the question that way. Gus Lloyd, who has a radio show on Sirius Satellite, confronted me with the same thing this morning. But he asked me, “How do you know when you are using humor and comedy to heal, and when it is perceived as offensive?”
I responded, “I don’t. I guess that’s why a lot of people stay away from humor.”
I typically offend 5 to 10 percent of my readers when I use sarcasm and wit in a post. So should I skip the attitude and satire? Absolutely not. I hate to say this – it sounds cold and heartless – but I’d rather offend five listeners to allow 95 listeners a moment of healing laughter, than to stay boring and safe. It’s sort of the opposite philosophy of Jesus and the lost sheep. I’d sacrifice one sheep in order to help out the 99 that are desperate for a laugh. Sorry, Jesus.
John: Uh, uh. I’m not letting you get away with that. By your own admission, you’re a self-confessed manic-depressive, alcoholic, stage-four people pleaser; ritual performing weirdo, hormonally imbalanced female, and Catholic. What could possibly be funny about that? Honey, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.
Therese: Here’s the deal, John. It goes back to the Seinfeld rule on humor. You remember that episode? When Jerry is telling dentist jokes and his dentist calls him an anti-dentite. And the dentist converts to Judaism so he can tell Jewish jokes safely? If someone came up to me and said, “Therese, you are one manic-depressive, alcoholic, people-pleasing, ritual-performing weirdo!” I would be offended if they A) were wearing ugly clothes, B) could not laugh at themselves too, C) could not check off anything in the DSM-IV, and D) had no sense of humor. I have earned the right to call myself all those things with levity because … for crying out loud … I’ve wanted to die for big chunks my life. Cut me some fricking slack! Now if a former co-worker of mine emails another co-worker and accidentally copies me on the email in which she says I’m looney (true story, actually), then yes, I have a right to be pissed. But can I call myself looney? ABSOLUTELY. I say let’s err on the side of recklessness.
Borchard, T. (2018). Pain and Humor: The Dark Side of Funny. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/pain-and-humor-the-dark-side-of-funny/