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In Praise of Comedy
by Karma Waltonen

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The other day, someone asked how I'd gotten into a position to make my living studying comedy. To be fair, I don't. I regularly teach and study comedy, but my classes are too varied to be solely comic. Still, I suppose I teach and study more comedy than most people.

Comedy has long been devalued. When we think of awards, when we think of Literature with a capital L; when we think of what matters, we don't think of comedy. When we think about our lives and our loves and our families, we think about going through the hard times with them.

What we forget is that it is the moments we bond when laughing that enable us to make it through those hard times. Without them, we wouldn't have the strength to be there for each other.

Lord Byron once
said "And if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'tis that I may not weep." Indeed, laughter and comedy are survival strategies. We know this from our understanding of the great comics—whether they're actual introverts or extraverts, the public face of the comedian is usually constructed to withstand something else. (And yes, I do say that as someone who has been a stand-up performer.)

I think of Lord Byron's quote when I find myself laughing through something painful (which I do all the time), when I think of my grandmother laughing about breaking her hand, and when I feel the need to inject my classes with a healing dose of comedy.

The latter happened just the other day. We were finishing a week long discussion of MAUS, which came after a week
of apocalyptic texts (I shared a nightmare with my students about packing to evacuate after an apocalypse—I was trying to figure out what absolutely needed to go into a backpack—how many pairs of underwear do you take, etc—and then I went to pack my medications—the various things I need every day to keep breathing—and I stopped packing because I knew I wouldn't make it past the end of the month.)

Luckily, THE SIMPSONS had done an episode which featured Art Spiegelman, author of MAUS, and Alan Moore, whose work we'd read a few weeks earlier. I couldn't stand the thought of sending the students home for the weekend without the moment of levity.

Why will my students next week see THE SIMPSONS "Meat and You—Partners in Freedom" after reading
an expose of the meat industry? For the same reason I made sure to put Rushdie's HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES at the end of a syllabus filled with brilliant, depressing pieces like THE BLUEST EYE and THE HANDMAID'S TALE.

I'm not going to suggest any particular comedy films or texts to you in this particular column (that's what all the others are for), nor will I say that you should cut out the heavy stuff for an all-comedy diet. I will, however, say that you should try to keep some balance in the interests of sanity.

We need a SHAUN OF THE DEAD for every SCHINDLER'S LIST.

We need a COMEDY OF ERRORS for every HAMLET.

And the comedy gods know we need THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART for every single piece of news about the world we live in.

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Comedies with Dr. Karma
Every other Wednesday

Dr. Karma discusses all things comic, from the classics to what may become classics. Laugh with, but not at, her, please.


Other Columns
Other columns by Karma Waltonen:

Goodbye -- Dr. Karma

The Dictator and Dark Shadows

Pirates and Whedon Movies: In Theatres Now!

A Touch of Cult

Our Random Favorites

All Columns


Karma Waltonen
Dr. Karma is a silly, nerdy know-it-all, but in a good way. She brings all her overeducation to discuss that which truly matters: comedy. As some famous guy once said: “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis that I may not weep.” Or something like that.


Contact
If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Karma Waltonen by clicking here.


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