April 21, 2013

MOSER: The Comedy of Tragedy

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My first column of this year was about the relationship between comedy and tragedy in response to the best stand-up comedy I have ever seen: Tig Notaro discussing her recent cancer diagnosis and a whole gaggle of other devastating life events that no person should have to face — especially in such proximity to one another. After all the terrible tragedies of last week and the various responses to them, I decided I would end the year on a similar note.

Rather than analyzing at length the role that comedy plays during times like these, I will just say that I think it’s vitally important to laugh in the wake tragic events. I recall a story my mother tells on occasion about her grandmother’s funeral. The two had been very close: When the family attempted to drive from their house to the funeral, it was difficult for all of them to fit in her father’s tiny sports car. With far too many people squeezed in the front seat, my mother was forced to ride to the cemetery in the trunk of the car and she couldn’t help but laugh despite the somber situation. The story is funnier when she tells it, I promise. But anyway, the moral is that life goes on and that funny things continue to happen, even at times that are seemingly inappropriate (i.e. one of my favorite movies of all time: Death at a Funeral — the British one, not the Chris Rock one.)

If you don’t laugh at those ridiculous moments (especially this week with so many pieces of depressing news), it’s easy to sink into a cynical downward spiral and weep about how terrible the world is and how there is no hope. At least, that’s how I cope. So I thought I would leave you with what I thought were the best examples of levity in the midst of an exceedingly dark week.

First off, The Onion wrote the story, “Jesus, This Week,” which pretty much sums everything that can be said about events of this week. Basically the article is just a bunch of sources saying things like, “Can you believe this? Can you honestly believe the kind of piece-of-shit week we’re having here?” Calling attention to the sheer number of deaths, injuries, governmental shortcomings and more, The Onion brought a sad smile to my face as they concluded, “At press time, sources confirmed that, you know what? Forget this week. 2013 as a whole can pretty much go straight to hell where it belongs.”

The Onion also succeeded in mocking the manner in which the media covers these events. Their series of breaking news reports on Friday were hilarious. “BREAKING: No News Breaking” read one headline, the next “BREAKING: Still Nothing” and then “BREAKING: Has the Word ‘Breaking’ Lost All Its Meaning?” My personal favorite was “BREAKING: Can Anyone Ever Truly Know Anything? What Is The Truth?” So, props Onion. You have more than made up for Quvenzhané-gate in my book.

The next bit of humor comes from a tweet that comedian B.J. Novak (The Office) wrote on Friday: “Affleck to assistant: ‘watch the news and write down the age and height of every good guy you see.’ This one really made me laugh because I have a feeling that it is not that far off from what Ben Affleck was actually saying to his assistant at the time. I just hope that he waits at least a year to start directing The (Water)town.

Lastly, as always, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report both did fantastically at striking the balance between respect for the victims of these tragedies and finding humor in the bizarre and ridiculous aspects of them. In particular, I would like to commend Jon Stewart for his segment about CNN’s premature news-breaking and for “Broken Bad: Legislating Evil,” about the failed gun control measures in the senate.

But my favorite by far of these moments of cheer in a somber time was Stephen Colbert in his opening monologue of The Colbert Report on Tuesday, in which he solemnly told the camera, “Whoever did this, obviously did not know shit about the people of Boston ’cause nothing these terrorists do is going to shake them.”

With that, I leave you. Have good summers, and I hope all you readers don’t get too depressed by the amount of work you have to do in the next two weeks. But, if the papers and the prelims and problem sets become too much for you, take a beat and recognize the humor in the stack of eight empty diet coke cans on your desk. Someday, you can turn these terrible weeks into great anecdotes.

Original Author: Julia Moser