A joke does not trivilaise suffering but reminds us there is life beyond itby Shappi Khorsandi / March 25, 2020 / Leave a comment
In Kate Fox’s brilliantly observed book “Watching The English” she notes how, after the 7/7 bombing, messages from all over the world flew towards our stricken capital, declaring “We are all Londoners today.” Many Londoners responded with jokes along the lines of “Then you owe us £8 congestion charge.”
Far from making light of a crisis, a well-timed, well-aimed joke is the very thing we need to keep us hopeful. Jokes among one another help us acknowledge the dire straits we are in and release tension to give us strength.
As we try and navigate our way through the coronavirus crisis, humour is standing shoulder to shoulder with us as we face catastrophy. The memes, jokes, videos, take-downs have not dismissed the severity of where we are, but they help us connect with each other. And in a crisis, we need to feel that connection to keep our morale up, to keep us from despair.
Of course music, poetry and other art forms do this too, but what does humour do specifically? Well, for a start, it is culturally specific: its potency is very often lost in translation. Humour gathers under its umbrella those who “get” it, gives us the reassurance that we are not alone. Joking around our fear makes it real but managable.
Two weeks ago, my parents began to self-isolate. My brother messaged from his own isolation in Italy and joked that coronavirus wasn’t as big a threat to our parents as being cooped up alone together. Ho ho ho, how we laughed on our family WhatsApp about my parents’ legendary squabbles. None of us expressed our sadness or fear. There was no need. We miss them and are terrified for them, we know we all feel this. Laughing together was acceptance and gave us a feeling of solidarity that crying couldn’t. Crying has its place of course, I’ve been doing some of that too. Sadness and worry are inevitable, but by laughing, we reassure others that we are managing. Humour builds strength.
Satire too thrives in a crisis. Everyday humour and satire are different things of course but both have a critical role to play. Satire keeps its head when others are losing theirs. It goes against the grain, pricks pomposity and lampoons leaders, reminding us that power belongs to…