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Pain And Humor: The Dark Side Of Funny

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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?

Wrong.

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.

Click here to get to his original blog post.

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 five 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.

John: Right, that's your story and you're sticking to it. Okay, let's shift gears a bit. Some of our darkest thinkers in history also doubled as our greatest humorists. I'm thinking of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and George Carlin. You can also throw in Shakespeare and Swift. What accounts for this? Were they as twisted as you are?

Therese: I believe in the theory of the rubber band. Your brain (sanity) is stretched, and stretched, and stretched, and stretched to where it ... ZAP! ... just snaps one day, and from that day on, everything in life is somewhat hysterical because you can't believe how messed up the world is. You see everyone around you trying to walk straight while juggling five heavy suitcases of baggage ... and for some reason, it's funny, and you know you can't take life so seriously. As G.K. Chesterston once said, "angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

Stephen Colbert was interviewed in Parade magazine a while back, and he explained the night to burst out of his shell of pretension and was able to fully be himself on stage. He said, "Something burst that night, and I finally let go of the pretension of not wanting to be a fool." I don't know, John, something burst in the psych ward, where I sat eating rubber chicken with women wearing granny underwear for everyone to see and painting birdhouses with a teenage boy who wanted to hook up with me at the mall after we were discharged. Some people probably wouldn't find the humor in it. But man, they do make great social hour stories (and especially since I don't drink or use any illegal drugs).

Click here to continue reading...

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Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com. To read more of Therese, visit her blog, Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com, or subscribe here. You may also find her at www.thereseborchard.com.

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