The Healing Power of Comedy
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
"Comedy is medicine… it’s the best medicine…. Laughter."
This is what comedian Jeff Ross replied when asked about how political correctness may stand in the way of true comedy. His view—as well as that of many other accomplished comedians—is that comedy should be able to explore and touch upon all depths of human life, in order to be able to attain its full value. Personal opinion, or feelings (as Ricky Gervais commented), should not impede this creative process.
One of the most beautiful things about comedy is indeed the fact that it digs deep into the human nature. The best stand-up comedians we know never took the soft approach: they always dove head first into the most seriously rooted aspects of adult life: sex, religion, politics, health, and what have you.
It goes deep
The reason we laugh so heartily, often coming to tears, is that we completely identify with what is being said. It is almost as if the comedian has the courage to admit what we would never let out in public, thus gifting us with an enormous sense of relief.
This is the medicine. Once we hear spoken the facts of our inner, secret life, we now feel accepted and normalized, as if realizing for the first time that those dark thoughts and feelings are actually part of our nature, thus part of everyone else around us.
We share the pain and the difficulty of existing. We keep it to ourselves, of course, because we know going around talking about it to others would not bring us to any good—just the opposite, probably. The comedian is then invested with a responsibility: he has the power to free us from our own shadow, turning our desperation into joy.
Alienation and isolation thus become a feeling of acceptance and of belonging to an identified community. Sharing our laughter with others means sharing our pain and frustration too. The volume of our cries speaks clearly, and the comedian, who has opened the portal for us, has just to watch and listen, and rejoice with us.
It stimulates both the soul and the mind
Just as our feelings and perceptions are stirred, so are our ideas.
It is so easy, failing to grasp how intelligent comedy is. We gather around jokes, we follow the voice and gestures of the man or woman on stage, and we allow them to transport us wherever they like. Some of us may feel repulsion, and just turn around and leave: but for those of us who are drawn in by the words and the motions, who knows where the ride will take us.
What we perhaps often fail to understand—so immersed are we in the moment—is that the easier it feels, the more complex the process behind it.
When we look at Chaplin’s or Keaton’s films, we may catch a glimpse of how infinitely complex comedy is. The amount of hard work one has to put into it in order to achieve great results—an overall sense of easiness and of fluency while strong emotions and challenging ideas are portrayed—must be incredible.
The comedian is surely someone who has lived an intense life: else he wouldn’t be able to read as much into the lives of others. Yet he or she is also a highly intelligent person, able to reflect upon the current affairs of the world that surrounds them.
When Bill Burr makes fun of presidents, or when the mighty Don Rickles ridiculed the different cultures and accents that make up our globe, we know now just as we knew then that these persons are simply informed and tuned in on everything that goes on in their world. That is essential.
This is perhaps what makes them exquisitely unique. Stimulated by the constant flow of news and knowledge, they are people who can turn that reasoning around, speculating and reflecting on the countless human aspects that, undoubtedly, in their minds, spring out of each of those pieces of information. This is what the artist does, being it while writing a novel or while shaping jokes into life.
It is then our purest pleasure that we are offered extraordinary viewpoints on the state of things in our society—perhaps challenged to reconsider what is fair and right, and what is wrong. We may take what a comedian says seriously or not, sometimes meeting their intentions, sometimes not. It is still our privilege to think about what they have said, and draw our own conclusions in our mind.
Comedy—laughter—is an excellent medicine. It is a collective medicine, when we share it. It is an individual medicine, when it touches upon a delicate aspect of our personal recent life, taking a bit of the weight away from it. Its power of healing is immeasurable—one only has to think of the effect of clowns on hospitalized patients or children—yet it is not its only gift: for, while we laugh, we are also being enlightened.
Edoardo is an Italian native and has lived and studied both in Italy and abroad. He graduated with a B.A. in Modern Languages and Economics from the University of Milan and with an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of London. He now lives and works in the city of Bologna.
The views and opinions expressed in Community are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Madiha Foundation.