I’m a professional comic. Here’s why you need to laugh about this pandemic.
The pandemic has brought serious challenges: people losing their health, their jobs, not to mention the COVID-19 pound weight gain. In short, there is nothing funny about the coronavirus.
Or is there?
COVID-19 takes away our sense of taste and smell. But there’s something it can’t – and shouldn’t– take away– our sense of humor. That’s key to helping us cope during these stressful times.
Laughter, like supermarkets, should be considered an essential business. Our mental health depends on it. Studies show laughter relieves stress, soothes tension, relieves pain, improves your mood, boosts your immune system, resolves conflict and just feels good.
Have you ever noticed that joking about a problem can make it more manageable? That’s because at its core, comedy is about telling the truth, in an unexpected and counterintuitive way.
In my online Comedy Workshop when discussing how long it takes to get Covid-19 test results back, this joke popped out of my mouth:
I’ll tell some of these coronavirus jokes now, but you’ll have to wait two weeks to see if you got them.
The entire Zoom workshop exploded into stress-reducing laughter… As Stephen Colbert wisely notes, “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”
Actually, laughter and the virus have something in common–they’re both contagious. Rather than spreading fear, why not learn some comedy techniques to spread humor? With no vaccine against COVID-19 in sight, laughter just might be the best medicine. As a matter of fact, it may be the only medicine.
Over years of teaching comedy workshops, I’ve developed techniques for turning problems into punchlines. I’ve taught these techniques to software engineers, accountants, even, the most unfunny, dentists. In these uncertain and often unnerving times, they are more important than ever.
1. Your life is a joke
When writing comedy, start serious… end funny. Day one in my comedy workshops we get real by answering this question: “What’s wrong about your life?”
Your starting point could be, “I’m getting a divorce!” “I can’t stand my kids!” “Cancer.”
That’s right. A woman in my workshop once got an audience to laugh at cancer. She said, “Anyone see my bumper sticker? ‘Lose weight now… ask me how.’”
Did her ability to find the funny in a serious topic boost her T-cell count and help her go into remission? According to her it did, so what else matters?
2. Think counter-intuitively, like a comic
Where others see problems, comics see punchlines. We have a warped, or as I like to say, counterintuitive view of life. A dysfunctional family or a quarantine has an upside: potential material. We flip our fear to make it work for us by looking at the positive side of fear.
For instance, I threw this setup out during my online comedy workshop; “There are some advantages to being quarantined…” One student shot back: “Finally, a good excuse to stay six feet apart from my husband.”
Okay, maybe not comedy gold, but it got a laugh, and also threw some sunlight into the world.
3. Don’t Get Mad — Get Funny
We can’t stop people from saying hurtful things, but we can choose how to respond. Why not try making a humor choice? This is the same technique I have used to squash a heckler on stage and it works great in life as well.
The technique is Validate and Paradox. That means to repeat in a calm voice the stupid thing someone said to you: “So, you think I’ve gained weight? Right?”
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Then, resist the urge to defend yourself by thinking counter-intuitively as you did in step one, and agree with them in an exaggerated way: “Yes, and thank you for noticing that all my overnight eating has finally paid off! I’ve cured my anorexia!”
Having a laugh rather than a fight can turn conflict into camaraderie and lighten up your quarantine.
4. Keep a journal
Comedy is in the details of life. You think you’ll remember funny moments, but unless you write them down, they will vanish. Writing 10 minutes each morning might just have you end up as the first story of your hilarious memoir. The details of your day such as when you tried to make a dinner out of peanut butter, an artichoke, and a can of sardines. Or, that adorable song your 7-year-old made up about her experience of the quarantine. Or, how you adapted to running out of toilet paper. As we comics say, “Bad for life—good for comedy.”
As an author, Judy doesn’t like to brag, but she did write the Bible. No joke, she’s the author of “The New Comedy Bible” and “The Comedy Bible Workbook.” These books contain exercises from her renowned Hollywood comedy workshop which launched the careers of Seth Rogan, Maz Jobrani, Hannah Gadsby and many others. During the quarantine, Judy is giving away her complete online speaking and comedy workshop for free. Sign up here.