What's Funny? Humor In A World That Isn't Ready To Laugh / by Orey Wilson

Last night I spent all evening with my roommate watching a marathon of Bo Burnham stand-up. We started with his half-hour special on Comedy Central and watched through his most recent piece "Make Happy". Now, I call it a "piece" and not "show" because it is absolutely, freakin' art. Each minute is witty, quick, dense and complex. "#Deep" makes you question your own pretentiousness. "Pandering" raises an eyebrow at stadium country music while "What's Funny" has you trying, desperately, to keep up with rapid lines like: 

"Welcome to my flow, it flows a little bit like this
with a rap and a diss then a swift rap on the wrist,
a rap in a kiss like Hershey's wrappin' a Kiss, shit
I got a show that'll test you kids

and it asks one question and the question is:
What's funny?"

And test you he does. He doesn't give you a second to breathe through all of his fast-paced music, poetry, and bits. You don't walk away from watching Bo Burnham thinking, "Wow, what a funny dude". You watch the credits wondering what the hell humor even is anymore while sitting in a puddle of your own, personal existential crisis, questioning who you should call to fix whatever he did to you (in the best way possible). If you're not familiar with his work, I highly recommend it. 

Now, we both know you can't get on social media without getting bombarded with aggression and despair. Really. Open a new tab and scroll through Twitter. No, seriously. Open up a tab and look. I'll meet you in the next paragraph...

...Right? That's awful. People freaking hate each other right now. It's incredibly depressing and begs the question: Why don't we all turn to comedy? Laughing makes us feel better. That's just a psychological fact. And people have been flocking to comedies well before the times of Shakespeare for a welcome reprieve from the everyday calamities of life. Okay then, so why isn't that happening now?

Well, some people don't feel ready to laugh. With political upsets, climate hysteria, famine, and celebrities Kardashian-ing their way all over our lives, there are many who just need a second to step back and reassess. That's totally fair. For many it's impossible to find humor in what feels like Armageddon (the end of the world, not the movie with Bruce Willis, to be clear. Although, not a ton of humor there either.). 

Other people are total victims of a PC-age that insists we all behave in a way that doesn't step on anybody's toes. Unfortunately, this has caused many people to end up stomping around like Godzilla and others to end up all foot (if you will). What space is left for poking fun when society tells us that any joke will offend?

But, all this is why I think that comedy is so crucial at this moment. If the world is ending (or even if it just feels that way), it's my firm belief that nothing will help us if we can't laugh at ourselves and if we can't laugh at each other. This doesn't mean making a mockery of someone to make yourself feel better (refer to my comment on "stomping" in the last paragraph). It means finding the inherent humor in the world around us and allowing that catharsis.

Bo Burnham addresses race, sexism, homophobia, and a hell of a lot more in his comedy pieces. He makes us laugh and then think. That second part is essential. If we're not considering what makes all of this funny, it's just a band-aid on a bullet wound. By joking, laughing, smiling, we can process the hurt and fear that fills our lives and Twitter feeds. Every guffaw and snort releases a little of the pressure that pushes against our chest the moment we read the news in the morning. Yes, you have a right to be mad. You might wake up every day furious and horrified and feeling at the end of your rope. But, I have to believe that laughter can help us to heal. Comedy won't fix our problems, but it can make us ready to fix them ourselves. 

So, what's funny?

All of it. Cause, damn. If we can't laugh at what is happening to us, we're all absolutely screwed.