Having a right good laugh

A photo of a microphone stand on a stage, from where comedians can use comedy to tackle social injustice and the far right.

Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. However, I dare say if you are screaming out in extreme pain you would not want me telling you knock-knock jokes now, would you?!?! Laughter, like many facets of human life, has its time and place and while sometimes it can be a tremendous support mechanism when dealing with life’s cruelties, cracking wise at a child’s funeral is very much frowned upon (And rightly so!).

I have had a personal love of comedy throughout my life. In many ways comedy has saved my life (Literally and metaphorically). As a young girl growing up on the mean streets of Drimnagh, having the ability to make people laugh was a highly valuable survival skill to someone not fond of fighting such as myself. I soaked up every comedy show on TV, even the pure shite ones with the obvious canned laughter appealed to me as I delighted with that sound: Laughter! 

Understanding comedy

To me, the ability to make somebody throw their head back, slap their thigh, and explode with laughter just by the words I’m using is like a superpower. It is something I never take for granted. Many times I’ve had audience members show me their mascara-stained cheeks saying, “Look what you did to me!!” and my answer is always the same: “Far be it for me to ruin anyone’s makeup but in this situation, I’m happy to do it!”. Why? Because for that few moments they forgot their troubles, their sadness, their pain, their lives, and they were able to laugh and be free. Wow, this is starting to sound like an obnoxious humblebrag ; “Oh I’m not that HILARIOUS” opined Therese, self-effacingly.

Moving on! Part of my drama degree for which I got first-class honours (Not that you asked but there you go!) covered theatre history. And comedy is a vital part of theatre. Now, relax, I’m not about to condense three years of theatre theory into this article. Mainly because I’ve forgotten most of it. However, there was one definition of comedy that really resonated with me. In essence “comedy is laughing in the face of death” (And now I’ve ruined comedy for you!). 

There are many immutable aspects of life: Day follows night, seasons change, thunder only happens when it’s raining (Just checking you’re paying attention!) and ultimately, death! It comes to us all sooner or later and one thing is certain: We ain’t getting out of this life alive!

Now I’m sure you will agree that’s a rather depressing thought to dwell on; one’s own mortality (Trust me, this set KILLS at funerals!). And so we busy and occupy our lives with, well, our lives! We try not to focus on death. However, if we were to focus exclusively on one’s own inevitable death there would seem very little point in doing anything and we’d possibly slump to the floor in a hopeless heap (Seriously there are jokes coming, I promise!). So, we laugh, we dance, we sing, we read, we write; we engage in the exploration of what it means to be human. We contemplate human life, alien life, ancient civilisations, and future civilisations through the dramatic arts. And quite often we come back to the futility of life because there isn’t a “happy ever after”. There’s just more life…and then death. So, we laugh!

The stage as a weapon

In many ways that has become a philosophy for me, and that word “philosophy” brings me to the kernel of this article. 

A number of years ago I began to notice (Particularly since Trump was…gag…elected!) a resurgence of something I hadn’t personally witnessed in my lifetime but I had studied as part of my dissertation for my degree. Namely the rise of the far right in Europe. I chose for my thesis Bertolt Brecht, a theatre practitioner/director and playwright who’s had a profound impact on my work as a comic and an activist. 

Through my studies of Brecht’s work, I learned how he used very subtle techniques in order to use theatre to make a statement about what was happening slowly but steadily in pre-WW2 Germany. His aim was to be provocative whilst being subtle as he found that being prescriptive ran the risk of the audience not linking what was happening onstage to the real world and the rise of fascism. But it was also very risky to him personally. You see, this is why I don’t have many friends!

So how can I compare that era to what is happening now? Well in some ways the world is a more dangerous place at present. This is due to the proliferation of social media which has led to the unification of sympathetic ideologies, supporters of which can pump out hatred and still hide behind an avatar and a fake name. Due to the nature of algorithms, we are all only a few clicks away from the most craven antisemitic, anti-Islamic, homophobic, bigoted echo chambers.

I feel that COVID has become a poultice (But not the healing kind) for a vast amount of ignorance and misinformation and has led to an almost cult-like regurgitation of the same non-factual pseudoscientific rhetoric. Try to argue with an anti-masker/anti-vaxer/COVID denier. You will be met with a tsunami of Bill Gates is ducking George Soros and they’re boiling children in a large pot to freeze into microchips they want to shove up your arse as they dance around singing hallelujah! 

When dealing with this level of myopia it’s exhausting and pointless to challenge these people head-on. They demand scientific proof which you will naively provide them with. And they will inevitably bat it away citing the dubious qualifications of the (Pardon my language!) DUCKING WORLD DUCKING HEALTH DUCKING ORGANISATION and will counter you with an article Barbara sent them from Facebook! Duck you Barbara! So where does that leave you? Frustrated and hopeless that’s where! Enter…the comic! (Eh…not literally. I’m spoken for!).

Comedy in the time of COVID

Comedy is subversive by nature. Its goal has long since been to challenge the status quo — the “establishment” if you prefer. So, if these brain donors fancy themselves as “the new leaders” and “truth tellers” well then surely they can withstand a bit of lampooning, right? I mean if they’re so right they won’t have a problem with “little” old me slagging them now, will they? Funnily enough, they don’t seem to like it and can get very threatening and vicious when mocked for their views. 

But I suppose the main reason I use comedy to highlight social injustices and rising bigotry is because most people want an easy life with the minimum amount of conflict. Life is stressful enough without looking for an argument. Add COVID to the mix and you’ve got a perfect storm of stress and strain most of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. So, whether you are a frontline medical worker desperately trying to keep COVID patients alive or a frontline retail worker desperately just trying to get through each day, the last thing you want is yet another anti-masker/Covidiot making your life hell! 

These people care nothing about the stress they are inflicting on others suffering through COVID (We have all been impacted by COVID to varying degrees) and continuously abuse frontline staff.  These people unfortunately have to show respect towards these idiots. But I don’t! I make no bones about telling them to Duck off in no uncertain terms. And if you ask to speak to my manager you’ll meet me only saying even louder “Duck you and everyone you know and the ducking horse you rode in on!”.  I see the delight this brings to many people and regularly receive messages that my comedy helps them cope with these obnoxious types. And that’s what makes it worthwhile for me.  

For me, COVID has taken away my livelihood (For now) but thankfully no loved ones. I cannot imagine how painful it must be for anyone who’s lost someone to COVID and then to have to listen to complete duck-wits insist “It’s a hoax”.  That must be compounding the nightmare. So, to be a voice for those people, I relish in taking the absolute piss out of right-wing bigots. And if that means I have to block more than my fair share of trolls, so be it.  

My advice to any aspiring Covidiot is simple: If you have the neck to presume your hairdressing certificate or teaching a stand-up comedy course (Two random examples!!) is a substitute for YEARS of medical training and ACTUAL research (Again, not reading what Barbara sent you off of facebook) well don’t be surprised if a bald, fat, forty-plus disabled comic dons a bespoke tinfoil hat in your honour!

Therese Cahill is Ireland’s first female “limp-up” comic. You can find her observations and videos on TwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

Featured image via Pixabay – Tumisu

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