It’s called “gallows humor,” defined by dictionary.com as “grim and ironic humor in a desperate or hopeless situation.”
Like the kind of joke a guy might mutter with a rope around his neck back in the Wild West: “Man, I hate Mondays.”
Human beings, when faced with those desperate situations, often make a joke to ease the tension. Americans especially. But during these trying times of a worldwide virus spreading exponentially, of endless empty shelves in our local grocery stores, and of a creepy fear that it’s all going to get a lot worse before it gets better — is it still OK to crack a joke?
Man, let’s hope so. Comedy is our coping mechanism, a way to combat the unknown and try to hold on to a special trait unique to humans — the ability to laugh. And if we can’t laugh right now — when it all looks so grim — well, we’re kinda’ screwed, right?
First, let’s note a couple things: No. 1 — You’ve got a small chance of contracting the coronavirus. In fact, you’re far more likely to run out of toilet paper than get SARS-CoV-2. No. 2 — If you get it, “for most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough,” The Associated Press says in every story.
And No. 3, “most people recover,” AP says. As Carl Spackler says in “Caddyshack” when he’s holding a pitchfork to a frightened young caddie’s neck: “So, I got that going for me, which is nice.”
While it may feel like the end of the world — and it surely does sometimes — it’s not going to be so bad. We’ll look back at this in a month or two (or five) and laugh and laugh — “What were we so worried about?!” (Some of you won’t look back: You’ll be dead. But you get the point.)
And yet, some people are trying to keep us laughing right now, when we most need it.
Take comedian Patton Oswalt. He can’t exactly tour the clubs anymore (since gatherings of more than 1.7 people are banned), so in a recent post on Twitter, he just stood on his house’s porch and delivered some old-school stand up — to two passersby on a sidewalk.
“All right, folks, thanks for staying in tonight. Uh, hope you guys are, uh, isolating and, uh, securing in place. Huh huh huh, this COVID-19, I tell ya’. You know, I don’t know the — I didn’t see COVIDS one through 18, so I don’t really know, uh, what this is all about. But you know, hey, great time to catch up on your, uh, streaming and, uh….”
“Oh, hey!” Oswalt says as the camera pans down to a young girl on the sidewalk. “How you doing there? How you doing today?”
She promptly says, “You suck,” and walks off. Hecklers, amirite?
Watching the videos from Italy 🇮🇹 inspired me. Entertainers must offer hope & humor to their neighbors in this time of quarantine. pic.twitter.com/ohrsBtuqzu
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) March 16, 2020
Then there was Neil Diamond performing his own coronavirus edition of his 1969 classic “Sweet Caroline.” At the chorus, instead of singing “hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you,” he offers a new coronavirus version: “hands, washing hands, reaching out, don’t touch me, I won’t touch you.”
Stay safe out there! “Hands… washing hands..” 🎶 pic.twitter.com/QaRB1qZshp
— Neil Diamond (@NeilDiamond) March 22, 2020
And there’s banjo player Andy Eversole of Greensboro, N.C., who posted “Quarantine With You” in response to being kept apart from his girlfriend. In the video, Eversole wears a protective mask while singing about “those old virus blues” that have consumed us, emptying stores of toilet paper, closing schools and canceling shows.
“There’s just one thing now that I know is true: If I’m going to be quarantined, I wanna be with you,” he sings.
Then there was “Sir Michael” on Twitter.
“Day 1: I have stocked up on enough non-perishable food and supplies to last me for months, maybe years, so that I can remain in isolation for as long as it takes to see out this pandemic. Day 1 + 45 minutes: I am in the supermarket because I wanted a Twix,” he wrote.
Day 1: I have stocked up on enough non-perishable food and supplies to last me for months, maybe years, so that I can remain in isolation for as long as it takes to see out this pandemic
Day 1 + 45 minutes: I am in the supermarket because I wanted a Twix
— Sir Michael (@Michael1979) March 12, 2020
Not all the jokes are funny, of course (as with any comedic endeavor). There’s a “coronavirus challenge” going around in which people lick toilet seats. Not funny (bathroom humor rarely is). And there are some videos online in which people lick a row full of products on grocery store shelves. Even less funny.
But still, laughter is often key in the most stressful of situations. And that’s a scientific fact.
“Research shows laughter provides a good physical workout, generates mental relaxation, lowers blood pressure and pain, and even improves immunity,” writes Dr. Amit Sood, chairman of the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at the esteemed Mayo Clinic.
“You’re thirty times more likely to laugh in good company than alone. Further, the more you laugh with others rather than at someone, the greater the health benefit.”
So laugh it up, people. It might just save your life.
*Joseph Curl ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2014 and covered the White House for a dozen years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @JosephCurl. A version of this article ran previously in The Washington Times.
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