Humor – the Morphine of my Soul

Humor – the Morphine of my Soul

I recently have taken some online and offline flak for posting a couple of (in my opinion) delightfully tasteless memes on Facebook. One that seemed to get the most attention was a meme showing Magilla Gorilla and Wally Gator, representing Harambe the gorilla and the alligator involved in the incident in Orlando. I prefaced each with the rhetorical question: “Too soon?”

There is a history to that question that places humor in a philosophically historical context. In 1957, Steve Allen said “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”  and that prompted, I believe, the emergence of the question “Too soon?” following a tragedy. Others have repeated the quote in different forms, but comedy and tragedy have always been conjoined twins, and for a good reason. Woody Allen once said:

“I think that the tendency for most people is to fall back on a comic interpretation of things — because things are so sad, so terrible. If you didn’t laugh you’d kill yourself. But the truth of the matter is that existence in general is very very tragic, very very sad, very brutal and very unhappy.”

Stephen Colbert said it differently, but just as eloquently: “After tragedy, if you are laughing, you can’t be afraid”

When I was growing up, I used to jokingly repeat the oral meme “Life sucks, then you die” as a way of forcing myself to actually see that, like every other human being on the planet, I have a limited shelf life – an unprinted expiration date.

I choose to laugh at things that others might choose to cry over, and I do so for the same reason: it is a coping mechanism. After my father died in 1991, I had to identify his body and claim his remains. He died under awful circumstances in a pool of his own vomit on the floor, alone and intoxicated – and according to the coroner, his last few minutes of life he was in excruciating pain (acute pancreatitis and fat necrosis of the liver due to his alcoholism).

On my flight home, I wrote down the whole experience, and I laughed for the first time. When they’d rolled his lifeless body out for me to identify, the first thing I noticed was a detail that is still how I choose to see that awful scene. The image of me standing inside a chilly, white-tiled and sterile room – with my father’s pale refrigerated corpse on a stainless steel gurney, head propped up on an H-Shaped plastic block, covered from shoulders to ankles in a white sheet – was horrific, and had the potential to haunt me for the rest of my life. Instead, I went on emotional autopilot, and I noticed that his hair had been combed back into a duck ass. He looked like a darker-haired version of Sonny from Grease – and I thought all he’s missing is a cigarette behind his ear and black leather jacket. The female coroner who had told me how he’d died was standing there, and I could picture him saying one of Sonny’s best lines: “Va fa napoli, tutte puttana!” and I smiled at exactly the same time I started to tear up.

When something tragic happens – whether man made or an act of nature – I look as far into the darkness as I can tolerate until I see something I can find ironic and/or humorous. Because that is how I survive.

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