Humor heals

Laughter is helping Americans cope with some difficult situations.

Meghan O'Connor

Our generation is no stranger to inappropriate topics made into late-night sketches on “Saturday Night Live,” or real-world scenarios displayed via YouTube. We are able to find humor in some alarmingly serious situations. Humor has become the medication for our country; it provides us with a sense of comfort during grim times.

Take for example, suicide. It’s clearly a sensitive issue for many Americans who have been affected by suicide in some way. A campaign based in Colorado aimed toward men between the ages of 25 and 64 features a comical, fictional therapist who uses humor to help men sort through thoughts of suicide or depression.

The Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention launched its humorous advertising campaign in July 2012. The campaign’s videos and billboards sought to break down the stigma that envelopes men when they realize they need help.

Last year, Vanity Fair issued its first comedy issue. Inside were exposés from the country’s most prominent comical figures. One article that struck me as I was waiting for my hair dye to set was a feature on Mathilde “Tig” Notaro.

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of this particular comedian before I picked up the magazine, but after I put it down, I couldn’t forget her.

In four months’ time, Notaro was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent a double mastectomy, ended a long relationship and lost her mother to a freak
accident.

Many would have understood if she had decided to put her comedy routine on hold after such an ordeal. After all, it didn’t appear that she had too much to laugh about. However, this was the time that she gained most of her fame, as she made light of what were most likely her darkest days. Her opening line: “Hello. Good evening, hello. I have cancer.”

I wouldn’t refer to myself as an expert on comedy, but I can say that I have the utmost respect for people who choose to make their lives into public spectacles for people’s enjoyment.

Notaro did not have to stand up on a stage and joke about her cancer or her mother’s death, but she did — not just for herself but for others.

“Tig is now in the heads of hundreds of thousands of people who don’t see her as a comic — she’s now their favorite person,” Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” said in the Vanity Fair feature.

Mayo Clinic staff believes that laughter, as the age-old idiom says, is the key to managing stress and providing relief under difficult circumstances. It can improve the immune system or relieve pain.

While I don’t believe that a good, hearty laugh is equivalent to antibiotics, it should be noted that laughter can provide an escape from reality. Let’s be honest, if you choose to watch “Anchorman” over “Schindler’s List,” you are going to improve your mood by leaps and bounds for the rest of the day.

If there is anything to take away from Notaro’s story, it’s that humor can be found anywhere. Although there are times when I watch “SNL” and ask myself “How are they making fun of this?” particularly when it comes to government, it is a healthy outlet for the country to let out frustration and create a dialogue that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.