In unfunny era, comedian talks me off the Ledge of No Laughter
All I ever really wanted to do was to make people laugh: Strangers in the PTA meeting at my son’s new school. Colleagues in a supposed-to-be-serious work meeting. The poor lady doing my mammogram. I especially love it when readers tell me they snorted so abruptly at the local café while reading this column that latte foam spewed from their nose. Propriety be damned, I sincerely believe it’s always the right time for humor.
Except … maybe … right now? Lately, in the face of political, social, and environmental crises, my life’s goal feels sort of futile. And worse than futile, it feels indulgent. Who wants to giggle and guffaw when every day’s news is more sobering than the last and the Amazon is burning, you guys? What could possibly be the value in wisecracking and wit slinging when we could be (should be!) phoning our senators, marching in the streets, shoveling money to sane candidates, maintaining a consistent “self-care” wine buzz and educating the shizz out of the next generation so they don’t wind up screwed and humorless like us?
I spoke recently with comedian Katie Goodman, who brings her Broad Comedy show to the Planned Parenthood Central Coast Action Fund’s Politics, Sex & Cocktails fundraiser on Saturday. Katie’s troupe of five feminist funnygals travels the country performing benefits for orgs like PP and the ACLU. They dress up in breast costumes while singing “Boobs Look Funny When You’re Having Sex,” don Russian accents for a bit called “Pee Tape Prostitutes,” and take Republican lawmakers to task with the country ballad “Get Out of My Vagina.”
Since Katie is a life coach when she is not rhyming “narcissist” with “white supremacist” with “exorcist” in a musical plea for impeachment, I confessed to her my Crisis of Comedy and asked her to talk me down from the chuck-the-yuks ledge.
She totally gets it. Whereas she and her husband normally spend three months each year writing a new show, they opted to spend this whole year touring — and helping to fund the good fight. “Making money for nonprofit organizations is a better use of our time,” she said from her Brooklyn, N.Y., home.
While the world may seem more frightening than funny just now, Katie believes it’s actually a crucial time to be a humorist/satirist/cultural commentator. Here’s why:
1. To make sense of it all. “A comedy song puts in motion an explanation as to why something’s not okay,” says Katie (whose mother is Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman). Take the Broad Comedy song “ICE, ICE, Baby,” for example: “What do we care about facts when we’ve got beliefs? Just keep retweetin’ the Commander-in-Chief.”
2. To comfort. “My job used to be to try to change minds; I absolutely thought I could,” she says. “A thousand years ago, we used to have Republicans come to our show. Then everybody lost their sense of humor and got so wildly polarized. Now I am definitely intentionally preaching to the choir because this choir — liberal audiences — are like, ‘Are we crazy? What did the president of the United States just say? Am I losing my mind? What 1984 novel are we living in?’ To have an entire roomful of people who agree with you is comforting. It’s like, okay, I’m not crazy! When people can laugh together about the same thing, it’s cathartic. It’s super healing.”
3. To energize. Laughing instead of crying about the state of the world gives audiences the energy to go back out and put into their own activism. “That’s why we do this: So they can,” Katie says. “I’ve seen it work every show and, honestly, that’s the reason I keep doing these shows.”
In fact, Katie’s words energized me, reminding me that there is heroism in hilarity, and that the time for potentially offensive humor is always rightthisdamnminute. Also, something extraordinary happened as I watched her earnestly croon, “There’s never been a time as #^@ked up as this” on YouTube. Wine spewed from my nose.