Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 | Author:

There’s this thing about me (that everyone says, but I don’t believe everyone means it, or knows how to do it): I absolutely love to laugh.I love funny movies. I love funny books. And over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered the joys of stand up comedy. (Did you know you can listen to comedy on Pandora? No? You can thank me for changing your life later. Note: If you like “cleaner” comedy, I’d suggest creating both a “Brian Regan” station and a “Jim Gaffigan” station on there.)

I didn’t know about the whole pandora trick until I was in a very sad, lonely, and broken season of life. And something odd started to happen. As I listened to more comedy, I became funnier. Which was hard for me to see, because it was clear that it was the most broken, least joyful I’d ever been, but I could make people laugh. Soon though, the things I’d say that actually made me laugh, they were about my pain. About the ways my life had gotten derailed. About the crap that most people would say is too serious to laugh about.

And I realized something. As I laughed about it, it lifted the pain a little. As I laughed about it, it took some of the power away. I wrote about this a bit last week about laughing at the real memory of my older sister after she passed away — not the fake, funeral-story version of her. The real her was kind of ridiculous sometimes, and we would laugh at those things in life, why not in death? Because death is too serious.  So when we started to laugh at her memory again, it took some of death’s power away.

Here’s a confession, but don’t stone me before you listen: I love Hitler jokes.  This also came out of this sad and dark season of my life. It started with one Hitler meme I saw on Pinterest that I will include for your enjoyment.

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(Not enjoyable yet? read on.)

I saw this meme around Valentines day, and I laughed and laughed and laughed so hard. To think of Hitler as this twitter pated 6th grade boy was hysterical to me.

And then I realized something — it also takes away the power that his memory holds. The atrocities done at his command. The manipulation. The reign of terror. The blood of millions. The man that did gut-wrenching things that he fought so hard to accomplish and we fought so hard to stop — he becomes a joke. He becomes a human again who we can laugh at. I saw my laughter taking him off of his pedestal of cruelty and inhumanity, and placing him on a ground where he can be laughed at because he looks like a twitter pated 11-year old in this photo. (And now you can judge me. I understand, Hitler jokes are not up everyone’s alley.)

And I resolved to work to get to a place in my life where I could laugh at pain. Not at first, you need to feel it. Pain deserves and demands to be felt. There are real things that must happen because of pain.

But I think it’s a sign of healing, or in some cases, like with Hitler, a forceful display saying “I’m not going to let you have more power over me than you have to.”

That’s what I was saying to death when I started to find the freedom to laugh at the memory of my sister — about that time we snorted pepper to see if it would make us sneeze, and it made out nostrils burn with the fire of a dragon’s breath. Or the way she totally took advantage of my brother and I — borrowing money from our savings accounts to buy her first car, and then saying she’d drive us to go get ice cream if we paid for hers.

That’s what I was saying to the shame of my story when I started to make jokes like “Oh, you you don’t want to talk to awkwardly to that person you kind of know in the grocery store? Just be involved in a scandal. People will avoid you. Problem solved.”  Or laughing with a friend when recounting a first date where a guy was saying his mountain bike got stolen and it was “the worst year ever” and my friend says, “Did you say, wanna bet? Let’s compare.”

That’s what I was saying to the threat of cancer when I found a lump in my breast last year and the on-call doctor with no bedside manner said to me, “Well, you’re young, so it’s probably not cancer. But it might me. Come back in two weeks.” and I said to my friend, “This better not be cancer, because these little things aren’t worth that.”

Last night as I was searching for something to watch on Netflix, I saw that comedian Kevin Hart has a really interesting video on Netflix that I’d never watched before, called “Laugh at my Pain.” I’ve heard most of the bits in that particular stand-up routine online before, but I’d never watched the video.

What caught me off guard, was that the whole first 20 minutes or so is a documentary style piece where Kevin Hart goes back to where he grew up in Philly, and he tells some of his story. In it, his old managers also talk about how he came into stand up comedy, and one of them recalled sitting down with Kevin and being like, “You’re funny. You’re a funny dude. But are you you when you’re up there? Do you leave people know you, or anything about you?”

It was with that admonishment that Kevin started to incorporate some of his real-life, real-story things into his stand up act. His manager remembers that as being where he turned the corner, where he started to really shine. So in the documentary part Kevin tells the viewer about how his mom kicked his dad out when he was four because of his addictions. And he points on the step on the stoop where she made a rule that his dad was never allowed to come past. He tells the real story, he shares the real pain.

And then, the second half of the film (which is explicit, so don’t watch that part if you’re not into explicit comedy), his whole standup routine is about those same things. It’s about what earlier was the painful remembering. And he is able to laugh at it, and invite the audience to laugh at it too. I had heard all the jokes before — but thinking about it in those terms, coming from just watching him tell the real stories, I have never enjoyed his comedy more.

As I said last week, I will teach my children this thought, and tell them to use it on bullies (never the innocent. If they’re the bully, they will be taught a FIRM lesson). But if they’re being bullied, I’ll teach them to laugh at the bully. They may get beat up, but certainly, there is no bully on earth who can stand being laughed at, because they know — it takes their power away.

The bullies in life like death, abuse, illness, divorce, disaster — they do beat us up. But there is some joy in being able to laugh at it. Whether it’s while we’re the kid crumpled in the corner of the school hallway bleeding when we laugh to our friends who rush to our side: “I fall really gracefully, right?” Or whether it’s later on, as we’re healing, when we recount how we swear his fist kind of smelled like Chanel #5 before we blacked out. It might not take the pain away, but it takes the fear and power away.

And there is some humor, because we all have been bullied by something or another. We all have pain. And while it’s important not to minimize pain. It’s also important to not let it rule our lives.


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Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

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2 Responses

  1. 1
    Carol Caborn 

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  2. 2
    Carol Caborn 

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