Tidings

Cultural Musings

Is it OK to laugh right now?

Mon 23rd March, 2020


Knock Knock.

Who’s there?

A global pandemic trying to be stopped by many people.

A global pandemic trying to be stopped by many people who?

Yes that’s right, and WHO.

Who?

Yes, WHO is helping.

Who is helping?

Yes, The World Health Organisation.

Ohhh, WHO is helping!

This joke is very bad and also does not work in a written format whatsoever, but it’s too late, you’ve read it. More importantly, I wrote it. And yes, it’s a very dumb joke, but it’s a joke. At certain points in these last couple of weeks, I have wondered if I would ever be able to write one again. “That sounds like a silver lining of the coronavirus to me” I hear some of you thinking, and that’s rude, but also funny. Leave the jokes to me!

Obviously, pretty much everyone’s life has been disrupted by the current global situation, and if it hasn’t yet, it will be soon. If you’ve been lucky enough to keep your job, you might now have to do it from home, in a new and difficult situation. Or you might be a health worker, and your life has just turned to pure chaos. Or you might be out there in stores and restaurants, having to show up when you aren’t sure if you should, dealing with anxious customers and also putting your health at risk, all while not being paid enough. You may have lost your hours, or your job, completely. You may have even hinged your entire year on performing at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, or any one of an array of events that have been cancelled. If I can use an absolutely beautiful two word English phrase to sum up the situation at this time: shit’s fucked.

When it feels like the apocalypse, does anyone need my jokes and tweets and posts about, another great two words: stupid shit?

It’s very difficult at the best of times to write about being a writer without it sounding frivolous and incredibly obnoxious.

I think that’s partly because often when writers talk about writing, it is obnoxious.

Do I absolutely have some working-class hangups about doing a job where I write jokes, rather than working my fingers to the bone in a “real” job, on a farm or something? Yes, obviously, but it does mean I’m not someone who thinks writing should be lauded as a profession. Writing is my job. I’ve been a food court cleaner, I've worked in a fish and chips shop, I've done data entry, I've worked in call centres, and now i’m a writer. And I may end up in one of those other jobs or back on Centrelink before the end of the year. Before all this hit, I had just gone back to freelancing, scraping together enough work to survive, and working on (mostly unpaid) creative projects. As they say in comedy, good timing is everything. So yeah, I’m absolutely nailing it.

But if you’re currently doing pretty much any job, it probably feels harder than usual. We have all had to show up to our various jobs when we have been dealing with something awful before.

We’ve all done work when dealing with illness, heartbreak, grief, and anxiety. That’s capitalism, baby! (the sequel to “Boss Baby”). It’s the exact same for me when that happens: you have to find a way to switch off those emotions for a bit and come up with funny things to write, even when you’re going through a really really sad breakup from last year and you can’t imagine that you’ll ever laugh again (just a random unrelated fictional example off the top of my head).

But this past couple of weeks has been different. I’ve seen a lot of people online talking about how they are finding it hard to concentrate, or to produce work at all. Personally, I had a couple of deadlines for articles to write, and I’ve been almost physically unable to bring myself to do them. Part of this, of course, is just the sadness and anxiety that comes with the world falling apart around you. Most of my family and friends are poor, queer, or creatives. I am worrying about a lot of people I love in already precarious employment situations. I’m worrying about the health of vulnerable people, the health of the world, and when I will ever go on a date again (slightly less important). It makes sense that we don’t feel productive in this environment. I don’t think we can challenge that.

If I can use an absolutely beautiful two word English phrase to sum up the situation at this time: shit’s fucked.

What I have been trying to challenge is the other part that's stopping me: that it feels so weird, and frankly, dumb, to sit down in this environment and write about unimportant things.

I have struggled with this previously, wondering about the positive contribution to the world I am making (not much, in reality). Those feelings have come out in full force this week. What is the point of writing anything that is not about what is happening in the world right now? When it feels like the apocalypse, does anyone need my jokes and tweets and posts about, another great two words: stupid shit? Logically, no, they absolutely do not. Everyone would be fine without it.

However! The only reason I am writing this right now, the only reason I got dragged out of the doomed mood that was stopping me from writing, is because over the last couple of days I have tried to indulge a bit in other people’s “stupid shit.”

I’ve read ​articles​ about non-corona things, I’ve tuned into daily live-streams by some of ​my favourite​ comedians, and I’ve started zoning out for 20 minutes at a time with ​Tik Tok​ videos. It made me realise that if we are going to get through this, everyone has to still bring to the table what they can do to help. Even though the arts are always underfunded, even though many who work in media or comedy or TV are now facing a very, very difficult year, people are still going to be turning to us more than ever for an escape.

This is going to be a very long journey, but there is no way for people to sustain themselves on news about the coronavirus only. If people like me can provide a few minutes of relief here and there for someone as they tune out of the hell world we live in, I feel like that’s okay. I feel like that’s something. And we need it too. That’s why you will still see comedians and creatives making content: writing, sharing, cracking jokes - because it’s not just a job, it’s their way of existing in the world. So I’ll keep doing this for as long as I can afford to.

Knock Knock?​

Who’sthere?

B​ec Shaw.​

Bec Shaw who?

Bec “Shaw” hopes you enjoyed this!

Sorry.