My dad used to sneak my brother and me out of bed every Saturday night when we were kids. We’d watch SNL and old SCTV tapes and try not to laugh too loud. What you may not know is that my dad was a preacher when I was growing up, so there was something especially devious about staying up late on a Saturday night and watching TV that most of his congregants would write off as sinful.
I still watch SNL, I never miss NBC’s Thursday night line-up, and all of my favorite movies are comedies. So how does that work? I think about comedy the same way I think about literature, because I think both art forms deserve that level of critical attention. Shows like Parks and Recreation or 30 Rock are smart, sharp, and often a commentary on life and culture.
Now, the question is whether or not I’m taking this too seriously. I don’t think I am. Comedy is important, it’s something that humans naturally gravitate towards and, I’d speculate, something we need. Sure, the low-brow, slap-stick version of humor might not be as affecting, but even at such a rudimentary level I honestly believe that comedy still serves an important function.
I say all of this because of a revelation I had a few nights ago. I was watching SNL and, out of nowhere, realized I was happy. I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life. If you’ve ever dealt with it as well, you know it’s often irrational, crippling, and irrevocably shitty. But, oddly enough, I’ve found that comedy actually helps. For whatever reason,when I’m watching TV, during that 22 minute period, I’m happy. Actually, genuinely, happy.
I don’t know if this is a common experience, or if there are deeper issues at play here, but I know the way that comedy affects me. There may be other reasons to talk about the significance of comedy, but for me it’s a matter of personal experience. The way I interact with comedy is extremely important. I once spent the whole day watching Party Down, just after a very dramatic break up. On the surface, thinking about someone sitting on a couch all day and watching TV might sound destructive, but in dealing with depression I’d argue it was extremely productive. Consider the alternative, for example. I wasn’t smoking weed, wasn’t drinking, wasn’t eating a box of doughnuts. I was just watching Adam Scott make an ass of himself.
And it makes sense, because the moments when I like myself the most are the moments when I am making people laugh. Sure, I might not be great at it and yes, I often make myself out to be a dick for the sake of attempting a joke, but on those rare occasions when I actually make someone laugh, I feel great. I feel fucking fantastic.
Comedy has the ability to affect us positively, and I think that’s kind of profound. For further consideration, check out Todd Hansen (of The Onion) on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. It’s long, but it’s very much so moving. Hansen goes in-depth on his struggle with depression, the effect of Comedy, and an attempted suicide. Check it out.