It’s hard to know what to do when something tragic happens. Especially when it happens so far away yet feels so close to home. Words seem useless. I feel both obligated to speak and moved to silence. What’s normal now? How do we go back to a daily routine of fart jokes and pictures of cats? What can I offer that won’t seem disrespectful or ignorant to the situation at hand?
There are times when laughter can help move the world forward in the face of tragedy. We’ve seen it happen before. But the line is blurry and fine. As a comedian, how do you know where to contribute? What’s appropriate? Do you side with silence? Or do you carry on, not without acknowledgement of the horrible events that transpired, but in the spirit of helping people readjust and refeel?
Many comics were chastised yesterday for tweeting jokes as news was breaking about the Boston Marathon bombings. Some of them, like me, quickly read the news and deleted their tweet in a panic. Others soldiered on. They weren’t making crass or disrespectful jokes about the situation, they were simply pushing forward in spite of it, offering up a laugh to anyone capable of having it. I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, I admire those comedians and writers for their bravery and for understanding that this might be when the world needs their voice the most.
Still, it’s hard to know what to say. It’s hard to feel like joking when just yesterday a darkness took over as humanity’s evil side was once again revealed. But with that darkness comes a goodness (even if it’s in the form of a few cheap laughs), bravely trying to bring some light back into the world. As I click refresh on Witstream.com every few minutes, I notice there are fewer posts than usual - perhaps it’s a purposeful silence or perhaps some of us just haven’t figured out how to solidier on yet. But I also notice the site has not glorified the event with a category title, and to that I say - thanks for encouraging what’s right and making me proud to be a part of you.
As I watched CNN last night I realized I was hanging on every word Anderson Cooper pried out of his vulnerable witnesses. It was when Cooper started interviewing someone in Newtown, CT on how they felt about this tragedy that I snapped out of my daze and, drunk on grief, angrily changed the channel. I want to be informed by the news, not accidentally “entertained.” I could go on forever about sensationalized media coverage and the damage infotainment has done to the American psyche, but that’s not really what this is about.
This is about limits. Knowing when and how to speak is the same as knowing when to change the channel. We all hunger for entertainment. We don’t need to fall into the hands of a news station hopped up on ratings to get it. We don’t need to feel guilty for turning our attention to something else. We don’t need to be uncomfortable when we laugh at something that’s funny.
So as we come together and begin to pick up the pieces left behind in the aftermath of this tragic event, let’s try to do so with open hearts, less judgement and more understanding because shit is dark enough. And should you find yourself hungry, know that there’s a never-ending feed of people who want nothing more than to entertain you, lovingly distract you, and make you laugh because they are fighting for the good side.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a fart to tweet about…