Humor Heals in Dark Times – Humor Health News

I’ve written before how humor can help us deal with tragedy. But just recently, I came across a great article that gives real life examples of how others have used humor to deal with death, war, and natural disasters. Its inspirational and hilarious.

By: Misty Harris
Link To Original Article

Whether laughter is the best medicine or a bitter pill is a question that looms large over Canadian politics this week as Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz faces a storm of controversy over his use of gallows humour to address the listeriosis outbreak that has killed 17 people.

Black comedy, however, is hardly the exclusive province of elected officials. If the annals of tragedy tell us anything, it’s that people are quick to make light of the darkest situations.

“Sigmund Freud talked about the person who’s on his way to the gallows and is offered one last cigarette before he dies,” says Rod Martin, a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario.

“He says, ‘No thanks, I’m trying to quit.’”

Doctors, firefighters, funeral directors, members of the military, police officers and others on the front lines of death widely use jokes to offset the horrors before them.

Vietnam PoW Capt. Gerald Coffee described how he and fellow prisoners told jokes by tapping on the walls in Morse Code to keep their spirits up. Ontario-based playwright Gary Kirkham recently produced a comic stage exploration of the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 — an attack in which he lost his best friend.

And in the most literal example of gallows humour, a Texas man on death row last year solicited jokes on the Internet prior to receiving a lethal injection because, according to prison officials, he wanted to “keep his execution light.”

“One of the functions of humour is to deal with issues that are threatening to us in some way,” says Martin, who studies the link between psychological health and comedy. He notes that jokes were often used as a coping mechanism in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

“It gives you at least an illusion of control if you can laugh at something; you have a sense of some power.”

Last month, at the height of the tainted meat emergency, Canada’s health minister introduced himself at a government-sponsored reception saying: “I’m Health Minister Tony Clement, and I have to say I approved this food.”

More recently, in discussing the political fallout of the public-health crisis linked with Maple Leaf meats, Ritz reportedly quipped in a conference call: “This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts.” When later informed of a new fatality in Prince Edward Island, the minister is said to have responded: “Please tell me it’s (Liberal agriculture critic) Wayne Easter.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has defended Ritz’s remarks as being made by a man “under a lot of stress.”

Dan Brodribb, a professional comedian from Edmonton, believes that’s how most humour is born — dark or otherwise.

“Most of what I talk about onstage is usually stuff that I’m afraid of or that upsets me, and that’s where a lot of the best comedy comes from … It’s almost a way of processing it,” he says, adding with a laugh that, “since I’ve become happier with myself, I’ve become a lot less funny.”

After hurricane Katrina led to the deaths of more than 1,800 people in 2005, New Orleans found comic relief in fridge magnets shaped like maggots — a nod to insect infestations caused by the disaster — along with bumper stickers that read, “New Orleans: Proud to Swim Home,” and the sale of T-shirts that proclaimed, “I Survived Hurricane Katrina and All I Have is This Shirt … Really.”

At a 2004 appearance at a Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner, U.S. President George W. Bush poked fun at himself in a skit that had him looking under Oval Office furniture for weapons of mass destruction.

The gag about the Iraqi WMD, the administration’s prime justification for a war that has cost hundreds of lives, drew harsh criticism from veterans, politicians and the media alike, with accusations that it cheapened the sacrifice of Americans soldiers and their families.

“This is where humour backfires,” says Martin, saying that comments made in jest that are reported in the media without real context or tone can be widely misinterpreted since “any humorous message is inherently ambiguous.”