Laughter in the time of coronavirus

Sam Wood
Is it right to find humour amid COVID-19?

In response to the current coronavirus situation, Kent’s Head of Comedy and Popular Performance – Oliver Double – reminds us why we need to laugh:

‘The current situation with coronavirus might not seem like a suitable subject for laughter. It is, after all, literally a matter of life and death. Many of us feel anxious, frustrated, worried for the future.

‘However, laughing about the situation we’re in, when a 72-pack of Andrex can cost £84.99 on eBay and people are fighting each other in supermarket aisles for the last packet of linguini, might not be such a bad idea. If laughter requires us to find a bit of emotional distance from the whole coronavirus situation, surely that’s a good thing? I’m sure we’re all craving a bit of distance from what we’re living through right now.

‘On the other hand, laughter is inherently social. In my book Getting the Joke, I wrote, “Take the audience away from stand-up comedy and it starts to look weird”.

The comedy industry has been devastated by coronavirus. A stand-up comedian’s job is to stand up in front of an audience and talk to them directly in order to make them laugh – and that’s hard to do when you can’t legally assemble an audience to stand in front of. Most comedians been crossing out pretty much every gig from their diaries over the next few months, and the government seems to be offering precious little to support them while they can’t work.

‘Yet the resilience and inventiveness of comedians is truly inspiring. Almost immediately, comedians started to post funny responses to coronavirus on social media – a good example being the 20-second hand washing song that Bec Hill posted on Twitter.  Comedians across the world have responded with free services like podcasts, things they can do at home to help provide for the listeners and viewers eager to have some distraction from above mentioned linguini.

‘However, it is not just comedians who have done this. So has James Milner, Liverpool midfielder and popular Tweeter, who has regularly gone out of his way to self-mock and hope to make his followers laugh.

‘Not just Liverpool midfielders, but also popstars and actors, writers and even news reporters. Most importantly of all, so have I, and so have you.

‘Laughter in the time of coronavirus is nothing to be ashamed of, for we are coping with remarkable circumstances and whilst we’re staying home and continuing to laugh, we are winning.

‘To sum up, coronavirus might have severely hampered the necessary conditions for laughter, but it can never stop us laughing.

Oliver Double is Head of Comedy and Popular Performance for the School of Arts at the University of Kent.

Oliver is author of numerous books on the subject of comedy, is a stand-up comedian, and currently teaches the art of stand-up to School of Arts students.

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