Apparently Jesse Tyler Ferguson–one of the actors on TV Show Modern Family–is notorious for getting the giggles. (I recently learned this watching a random panel interview on hulu). Sometimes, he’ll just start laughing in the middle of a scene, recognizing the absurdity of it all… meaning, the fact they they’re all pretending to be other people.
I love that phrase: “the absurdity of it all.” Because so much of life is truly absurd. Being able to see that can be hilarious.
We like comedians because they point out how absurd things are. Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is fascinating, because you get to see the comedians discuss and react to life as it happen. Their reactions are mostly devoid of the barriers planned performance creates. You see their recognition of the absurdity in the everyday, and we recognize it, too. It’s pretty funny. Like why do you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?
Being able to see the absurdity of it all can also be frustrating.
It’s why I–and a few million others–watch shows like the comedy news show The Daily Show (and why I used to watch The Colbert Report, sigh, until it ended this past December). We need someone else to to acknowledge the really, really frustrating parts of being human (and living with other humans)… and we need to laugh at it.
But someone like Jon Stewart (The Daily Show host) doesn’t work so well hosting the Oscars–the height of pretension. He famously told David Letterman that neither of them were great as Oscar hosts because, “At some level, deep in our hearts, we think it’s stupid.” (I know, I know, I watch the Oscars sometimes, too. But don’t tell me the illusion didn’t start to crumble when you watched a few minutes of the Golden Globes this year and saw the actors start to sweat and fan themselves when the air conditioning wasn’t working properly).
Being able to see the absurdity of it all can also be depressing.
Many comedians suffer from depression. This includes several of the comedians on Jerry Seinfeld’s show I mentioned earlier–in the span of not even 20-minute episodes, a significant number of them casually mention their therapists or reference periods of depression. Being constantly aware of various levels of a situation–especially when others can’t (or won’t) see them–is exhausting and overwhelming.
I keep phrasing my statements as though absurdity is the source, and the other states (hilarity, frustration, depression) are outcomes. But it’s not that straightforward. For instance, sometimes it seems the ability to recognize absurdity comes from the depression.
Writer and director Lars von Trier showcased this phenomenon in the movie Melancholia. In his own experience with depression, he realized the odd truth that the depressed are often the most calm in situations where others might panic. Those that are depressed have already realized the worst, and so even the worst is not a threat. The movie’s a bit artsy for me, but I watched it out of some kind of morbid curiosity.
The movie takes place at the end of the world. Justine is the main character–the depressed one. Her sister, Claire, copes with the impending worldwide devastation by suggesting a ceremonial gathering on the porch with wine and music. Justine’s essentially responds, “Seriously? Do you realize it doesn’t matter?”
I feel like that sometimes. Or maybe a lot. “Seriously? Do you realize what you’re obsessing over literally makes no difference?” We dress up so much in life that we often miss the whole point. (And, in contrast to Justine, I do believe there is a point).
All considered, I guess I’d rather be able to see the absurdity. Even though it’s sometimes depressing. Even though it’s sometimes frustrating.
It’s not just that I enjoy the hilarious aspects. I guess I’d just rather know than not know. It’s so ingrained in me I’m not sure it’s even a choice.