My daughter and I spent the holiday break on her sofa; she crocheted while I knitted. The snow piled up, the rain fell, and the wind made a mess of the whole thing called winter while we wove stitch after stitch with a few “oops” and a recurrent “tsk tsk”. It was deliciously relaxing and restorative. We didn’t solve too many of the world’s problems while we engaged in our respective crafts, not any to be honest, but we broke out in uncontrollable laughter on a regular basis and there’s quite simply nothing better than that.
Aimee and I have always been serious laughers. She had a deep hearty laugh even before she could walk, and she laughed at just about everything. So, we are not new to this habit of mirth. Having said that, I’m not sure the rest of the population finds the “funny” in what we deem hilarious. I don’t think we can even explain it, but it doesn’t stop our bent over, stomach-clutching guffawing, and … it got me thinking.
I regularly enjoy the entertainment of stand-up comedians appearing on the likes of Netflix and Prime, etc. I have my favourites – Nate Bargatze, Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, Tom Papa to name a few, all of them providing good clean fun. I never tire of listening to their hysterical wisdom over and over. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to most that many comedians use their humour to do battle with their inner demons, to keep from being paralyzed by them. There are a few comedians who earnestly discuss their difficulty with mental health. Self-deprecation isn’t new to comedy. Garry Shandling built a career from it, “expressing his niggling anxieties openly”, said the New Yorker after his death (Naomi Fry March 30, 2018). Shandling struggled to find understanding and acceptance of his brother’s death in childhood and that trauma shaped his career in comedy. Shandling built a successful stand-up career, acting as guest host many times for Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. He was nominated for nineteen Emmy’s and was the writer for Sanford & Son as well as Welcome Back, Kotter. He created Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show while continuously searching for answers to his struggles.
I believe Hannah Gadsby may have been the first to provide the honest details of her trauma with her show called Nanette. There might have been others before her, but she is the first I stumbled upon. Gadsby was criticized for her material not being of a comical nature, but she seized the opportunity of having a dedicated devoted audience to share the story of her difficult life experiences and I was bettered for having listened, as I would presume most would be. Her humour is intelligent and thought-provoking. Gary Gulman sought relief for his crippling depression that erupted in childhood and he, too, came back to discuss his recovery from severe mental illness, using humour in a show called The Great Depresh that was released in 2019. He is one of my favourites, his truth telling gently funny.
Cathy Jones, of This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes fame, always had anxiety, begging her parents to let her stay home from school. She is deliciously funny and the characters she created on the above show were beyond hilarious while being believable. She has been a tremendous advocate for mental health awareness.
Most recently, I watched Neal Brennan who had a solid career in comedy writing before he built a stand-up portfolio. He co-created and co-wrote Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central that was a big success. His show Blocks was released in 2022 where he is courageous in truthfully telling of his difficult childhood and the resulting life-long battle with depression. He closes this show, that is indeed funny, with the confession that he attacks himself relentlessly as though it is his job to do so. He wants his habits, his emotions, his beliefs not to be defects but rather that his ideas and his spirit are sufficient evidence of his humanity. “Please let that be enough,” he says as the lights dim to dark to end the performance.
The truth is we are all enough, each one of us, even on our not the best sort of days, and that includes you and me. Most of us have a long list of what we wouldn’t want to be remembered for, but I hope Aimee always remembers our shared love of uproarious hilarity and maybe even more importantly, I hope I am mid giggle when the end comes.