PUBLISHED IN THE IRISH INDEPENDENT APRIL 9
If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
Clichés endure because there’s often a germ of truth, and rarely has this hackneyed old saw been more appropriate. In the midst of the most surreal, unsettling situation in memory – dread and panic bubbling under the surface, barely suppressed, and no end to the crisis in sight – what else can the normal mind do, but revert to humour?
Lockdown, isolation, pandemic, distancing, economic Armageddon, not to mention the fact that both Liverpool’s long-awaited league title and the GAA championships are now in doubt…it’s all too much. So we ignore reality and have a laugh instead.
Kidding around enables us to face things we’re afraid of: by mocking them, making them seem less serious, less (literally) grave. It’s the ultimate act of defiance, even in the face of the ultimate threat: mortality itself. You’re not so tough, Death: in fact you’re a big joke.
There’s another familiar maxim, about humour as the best medicine, which applies here too. We’re always instructed on how mental health is crucial for the body, and laughter releases happy hormones, strengthens immune systems and makes you physically stronger and more resilient.
The Bible exhorts us to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. There’s no need to be quite so apocalyptic – most of us will come through this pandemic fine – and there’s certainly no need to remind a nation bulk-buying bread and alcohol about the importance of food and beverages.
But there’s no harm in appreciating the importance of merry-making, and since Covid-19 crash-landed into our lives, the people have played a blinder. Not just in obeying rules on social distancing, or remaining civilised – but in unleashing a whirlwind of jokes, gags, memes, gifs, tweets, puns, satire and comedy songs.
Across social media and messaging groups, in emails and texts and conversation, our spirits have been raised by this absolute, and thoroughly commendable, refusal to take Covid-19 too seriously. I mean, obviously we’re taking it seriously; just not too seriously.
The most recent Corona gags to make me chuckle included a Photoshop of that famous picture of workmen having lunch during construction of the Empire State – and a guard in yellow hi-vis telling them to observe social distancing; YouTube collections of “home haircut fails”; parodies of that hideous video of celebrities singing John Lennon’s imagine; a spoof movie trailer, starring an up-and-coming youngster called Donald J Trump, about “the world’s stupidest man” struggling to deal with a “Pandumbic”; Michelangelo’s Last Supper reimagined as a conference call; and the cartoon of a dystopian Coronation Street, with heroic Ken Barlow and sidekick Robo-Deirdre 4000 as mankind’s last hope.
It’s not just online. One of the newspapers had a brilliant spoof letter from a woman who’d set up a support group for people finding themselves increasingly attracted to Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, complete with a perfect closing-line about “the baldy man” (ask a Cork person to explain that).
Meanwhile conversations in real-life – held at the appropriate 2+ metre separation, of course – begin with furrowed-brow discussions of “what’s going to happen” before inevitably dissolving into giggles and daft jokes about “don’t come any closer, I’m armed”.
If you’re utterly sick of Covid-19 – and why wouldn’t you be? – there’s plenty comedy to be found elsewhere. I’ve been ploughing through Netflix’s extensive selection of Jimmy Carr stand-up gigs: very funny in a clever-dumb way, with just the right edge of bad-taste to make you feel you’re flicking a metaphorical two fingers at everything during this sorry time.
Netflix also carries Archer, the best animated comedy since The Simpsons’ heyday, and I’ve rooted out DVDs of some classic series – Blackadder, Alan Partridge – and films: Idiocracy, Spinal Tap, Clueless. And Shaun of the Dead combines great gags with a pandemic setting if you’re so minded: zombies, not viral infection, but we can’t be choosy.
All of these are so good, they bear endless re-watching. Indeed, as with a cherished album or book, the pleasure is almost accentuated through familiarity.
But perhaps the biggest belly-laughs during lockdown have come from Tiger King, a Netflix documentary about the beyond-weird world of private zoos and big-cat aficionados. It’s outlandish, gripping and – albeit in a vaguely horrified way – hilarious.
And guaranteed to make you feel better about your own life: when you haven’t had to return to work just five days after getting your arm ripped off by a tiger, things don’t seem that bad.