Printed on www.birthrightisrael.com, GenXzine, and various other places.
"The Day the Laughter Died"
I don't think anyone truly escaped the tragedy of Sept. 11th. Most of us
were left alive, but none of us were left untouched. Many had family or
friends who perished during the day's events, and those of us who didn't
still noticed the country come to a stop. The stock market closed, the
sports games went on hiatus, the airlines all stopped flying for a day,
Yet through all of this, I still managed to maintain some degree of
denial. I think many people tried, because the shear magnitude of that
day's events was beyond anything most of us were capable of dealing with.
Certainly beyond anything I was capable of dealing with. And so after the
horror of the 11th I managed to stay in a self-absorbed shell of denial
for a over a week until I finally cracked.
What broke me was seeing Jon Stewart cry on the Daily Show. Their
first episode since September 11 was aired on the following Thursday, the
20th. It began not with the usual headlines and feature story but with a
speech, an unscripted and serious speech by Jon Stewart. The Comedy
Central logo was displayed as usual in the corner of the screen, but
seemed eerily out of place. And after a week of watching tape of rescue
workers amid the rubble, footage of the second airplane crash, and shots
of the tower falling from every conceivable angle, this little speech is
what made me break down.
Now, this certainly wasn't the first speech I'd seen on the topic. And
while it was a good speech, it wasn't that much better than one or two
others I had already heard. No, what got to me was the context. I'd
already numbed myself to the shots of the wreckage showing non-stop on
every news channel. But this was no news channel, and the logo still read
Comedy Central in the corner of the screen.
Comedy Central, the one repository for humor, which I expected to be a
source of mirth and merriment, a merciful mirth during troubled times, and
yet the tears it made me shed were not of laughter. How can I describe it?
It's like turning on a fan to escape the summer heat and having it shoot
hot air at you. And then you realize it's not just your fan, but the gentle
breeze of comedy is nowhere to be found. A comedy show I was going to go
see in Rhode Island got cancelled, the Daily Show went on hiatus, a satire
journal about to start publication in Washington DC was delayed
indefinitely, the Onion stopped printing for a week, and across the
country, comedy as a whole just disappeared.
All of this may not seem to effect the world as much as unilateral
sporting delays or airline stoppages, but for me it's much more terrifying
to think that the comedians of the world have given up, because they think
they can't make people laugh now. People aren't in the mood to laugh--
life's events seem too serious now for laughter to have any place. Some
people even told me that I should lay off the funny stuff for a few weeks
until things got better. I told them that they were wrong.
We need to be able to laugh, especially now. Things won't get better
if we sink into a depression so deep that humor has no place in our
lives. The recent events have been very tragic, and it is unfortunately
within the realm of possibility that future events will continue to be
tragic. We cannot change this. But what we can do is to stand up to
it. Everyone's heard the old saying that laughter is the best medicine,
but they forget how powerful it really can be.
Laughter has long been a refuge from things too terrible to
comprehend, a way that we deal with things that can't be dealt with, and
above all, a sign that we have not given up. Mel Brooks once said,
"Humor is just another defense against the universe." It is a way for us
to heal our pain, a way for us to react that is cathartic without being
harmful. We can clamor for violent revenge, or drink ourselves into a
stupor in an attempt to forget our troubles-- and I have friends who have
done both-- but this tends only to make things worse.
Humor is a way for us to stare the worst parts of life in the eye,
and not blink. We may stick out our tongue and roll our eyes, but we do
not blink. We have long sent comedians like Bob Hope to entertain our
troops. Even during the Holocaust, the survivors survived by keeping a
little bit of laughter in their hearts. Without laughter, there would be
Truly, I believe a lack of laughter to be one of the most awful
things imaginable. Lord Buckley made this point long ago when he said,
"Humor is the absence of terror, and terror the absence of humor." I just
hope that the country can find the will to laugh again. When we have lost
laughter we have lost hope, and when we have lost hope, we have been