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Steven Barash

Theory of Comedy Paper


William Walter
Dec. 13, 2010
People have problemsall kinds of problems from adultery to Multiple Sclerosis and
continuing to Zorro fetishes. Problems make individuals feel strange, secluded, angry, alone,
depressed, and frightened because they do not consider themselves normal. To feel normal,
people seek a sense of belonging and may choose to manifest false impressions of themselves to
others such as a peer group, a religious group, or society as a whole. People rather live a life of
denial behind a mask rather than preach their personal problems. Who blames them? Why would
any person want to step out of their comfort zone?
People want reliefan easy fix for their problems that does not require the need to
remove the mask. So, people seek for answers through ideologies, stories, morals, and religions.
People seek for the easy fix through therapists, anti-depressants, and doctors. People seek for
advice to achieve the easy fix from friends, family, and teachers. The easy fix they look for is the
immediate deletion of a problema rare, hopeless achievement. Unfortunately, there is no easy
fix, and until people realize their search for it is another long interstate of their continuous denial,
they will continue to suffer. How does one break the denial? Through help designed to placate
problems rather than search the answers for them.
There is no perfect help. But there is a remedy, a soothing power that overtakes the body
and for a mere glimpse problems are wiped cleaned and a positive attitude begins to bud, which
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may motivate for people to take the exit off the denial highway. It is a simple, distinctive sound
common to all cultures yet specific for every person: laughter.
Laughter may have a simple definition; the experience or manifestation of mirth,
amusement, scorn, or joy
[4]
yet hides an intricate meaning. Laughter is a natural sound released
from the body like sneezing, coughing, and farting. But opposed to these three common
resonances, laughter is unique as it absorbs its owner into a relieved moment and immediately
strikes a smile upon the owners face. Laughter is spontaneous and truthful whether it stimulated
from the use of conversation, story telling, comedy, and situations. Laughter may be utilized for
a coping mechanism, a signifier to show discernment, or a symbol of something humorous. How
may laughter be the remedy for peoples anxiety, depression, denial, or sickness that haunts
peoples lives?
Laughter exercised from a specific form of comedy, otherwise known as Therapeutic
comedy, is alleviating. Laughter induces amusement and happiness; an overall stimulation of a
positive attitude. Dr. Margaret Stuber, American Psychiatrist, said in a 2002 study, laughter
could be used to help children who are undergoing painful procedures or who suffer from pain-
expectation anxiety.
[1]
Stuber supports the old adage laughter is the best medicine has proved
[laughter beneficial] among children coping
[1]
with pain and cancer. Laughter provides the
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positive mindset that is beneficial for the serious problems. To stimulate laughter directly
relieves an individual. How may be successfully stimulated to laugh?
Comedy is the ingredients to the remedy of laughter. Comedy evokes laughter. Comedy
is an art intended to amuse an audience through a series of play, talk, act, sketch, etc. Comedy
has many genres ranging from Dark comedy to Impressionistic comedy and to Slapstick. All
comedic forms attempt to induce laughter, which will stimulate positive feelings, but only a
certain class of comedy helps an individual rather than distracting them and providing food to the
bear of denial. Therapeutic comedy is the direct form of comedy that assists in putting the denial
mask aside and enabling people to cope with their problems through their amusement through
others dealing with similar issues such as social anxiety and body appearance. Unlike
Therapeutic comedy, slap-stick comedy refined for its common outrageous, random events with
exaggerated violence stimulates laughter but rather detracts the individual from their problems
temporarily thus doing nothing in the quest for appeasement.
Therapeutic comedy is an integration of genres rather than a sole genre. It contains strong
roots of Cringe and Observational comedy and influences from Blue comedy. Therapeutic
comedians and writers utilize a problem such as strange fetishes and mock it to apply acceptance
and understanding rather than disgust. A private issue spoke aloud to many makes an issue
common to all, thus eliminating the feelings of seclusion.
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Many comedians hope to make others feel happier as they try to evoke laughter, but few
utilize therapeutic comedy. Comics such as John Pinette, Michael Birbiglia, and Louis Szekely
better known as Louie C.K. speak of their troubles within their routine, utilizing it as a tool for
their performance. By speaking of issues common to all, it places the audience on the same level
as the comedian, allowing the audience to feel comfortable with the comic and relax. These
therapeutic comics capture peoples problems and applies acceptance to them as they chide about
their own troubles.
Within John Pinettes stand-up, he establishes himself as a gentle giant on stage: an obese
man, with a huge smile, and big chubby cheeks. He has a confident, happy presence that the
audience can trust and feel comfortable with. Pinette uses himself specifically his weight and
eating as his own material as he accounts situations of his life usually revolved around the object
of food. In one of Pinettes most recognizable stand-up series, Im Starvin!, he jokes about his
various dealings with personal trainers and the gym. He draws from his encounters with different
trainers and mocks their advice, for example, one trainer told me with a 60-minute work out,
once you start, you get addicted I DONT THINK SO! I am pretty sure I can quit this anytime.
I think I can quit the gym cold turkey, and then eat the cold turkey.
[3]
Because of Pinettes
unique style of incorporating himself into his observational comedy, he has been recognized as
Funniest Male Stand-Up Comic in 1999 by the American Comedy Awards. A popular
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comedian whom incorporates his own issues with weight and eating into material provides
therapy to his viewers whom deal with their own weight and eating issues. Rather than
complaining about his weight issues, he uses it has his motivation, his inspiration, and his
comedy. Pinettes audience whom suffer from similar issues laugh at his humorous dealings,
thus making their own issues seem less depressing. Viewers see that Pinette is a fat man whom is
well liked, successful, and happy, and he takes form as a role model to them. Pinette ultimately
becomes the spark that makes similar sufferers have a positive outlook and which becomes the
wood that keeps the fire burning.
Like Pinette, Michael Birbiglia uses his own troubles, as the tool to his comedy, except
Birbiglia is short, skinny, and dorky. Birbiglia is know for his stand-up series, Sleepwalk With
Me and his New York Times Best Seller list book, Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully
True Stories. Within his comedy, Birbiglia details stories of his constant dealings with his rapid
eye movement behavior disorder, otherwise known as sleepwalking. Within the preface of his
book, the text reads, Its January 20, 2005, and Ive just performed at a college in Walla Walla,
Washington. Now Im staying at a hotel called La Quinta Inn. Some people correct me when I
say that. Theyre like, No, its La Keeen-tah. Im like, Thats not fair. You cant force me to
speak Spanish. I didnt press 2. Im asleep, and I have a dream that theres a guided missile
headed toward my room and there are all these military personnel in the room with me. And I
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jump out of bed and I say, Whats the plan? And the soldiers say, The missile coordinates are
set specifically on you. And I say, That seems very bad. Well, the only difference between
this dream and any other is that I literally leapt out of my bed, because a few years before that I
had started walking in my sleep.
[2]
Birbiglia usually expands this story within his stand-up to
him jumping through the second-story window, landing into the grass in front of La Quinta, and
ending up in the hospital claiming he thought he was the Hulk. Birbiglias entire career has been
built from the stones his sleeping disorder. Like Pinettes audience, Birbiglias viewers whom
suffer from sleep disorders associate with his life, which prove as therapy, illustrating that having
a sleep disorder can be viewed as humorous rather than depressing. Because of his humor, he
stimulates the laughter among the audience placing them in a positivity state. Whether a member
of the audience have a sleeping disorder or not, they see a man whom has been successful
looking on the bright side of his troubles. A first hand account, (a comment from YouTube for
one of Mike Birbiglias video) malimillion writes, my favorite comedians, and I also have a
really complicated sleep disorder that I'm very private about, and this really helps. :).
[5]
A
comment proving Birbiglia serves as something bigger than a comic but rather a role model to a
similar sufferer.
Louis Szekely takes therapeutic comedy to a higher level as he incorporates all kind of
daily life troubles. He conveys his comedy in a variety of mediums from stand-up, to writing,
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and acting. He is best known for his persona as Louie C.K. within FXs new series Louie, where
Szekely writes, directs, and edits the show. The show draws from various, awkward, self-
defacing, and outrageous events that have previously occurred in his life and how he copes with
it. In each episode of the series, Louie goes through daily life routine and always encountering a
problem. Various troubles Louie goes through include: awkward dating scenarios, prostate exam,
arranging play dates for his daughters, sexual encounters, divorce, homosexuality, mother
conflicts and neighbor problems. Unlike true life, the show depicts these common problems to
their extreme, as Louis encounters the worst possible cases of each problem. For example, in
Dr. Ben/Nick
[5]
(S1 E3) Louie goes for a prostate examination, a mans worst nightmare. Prior
to a prostate examination, most men gain a sense of insecurity and nervousness because of the
awkwardness of the exam. Quite common, men will envision the worst possible case of the exam
and replay the image over and over, mostly imaging the glove over the doctors hand and their
reach for the prostate. But in this episode it goes beyond this common horrifying image, as it
displays Dr. Ben criticizing Louie of his ugly, fat body, saying that he is going to die because he
has cancer, and that he should kill himself. Yet, such a horrific event provides comfort to those
nervous about an awkward exam, because there is no actual event that will be comparable to
Louies exam. Because the show takes many uncomfortable situations to the extreme, it provides
the best comfort by making the audiences personal uncomfortable situations seem like nothing
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compared to Louies everyday life. Overall, the show proves any horrible problem incomparable
to Louies because it could never be as worse, thus providing a therapy where people can see
their problems shrink. In another sense, Louie makes his audience feel that it is acceptable to be
an average person whether fat, divorced, or depressed because with all his problems and
situations, he remains impartial to them and keeps his head up as he looks on the bright side of
life such as his two daughters.
The need for answers and solutions to all of the worlds problems needs to stop, rather
techniques to soothe, placate, and improve problems needs to become the prevalent method of
dealing with problems. Therapeutic Comedy is a device used to stimulate laughter, to place the
audience in a positive mood, and to indoctrinate the technique of acceptance to those struggling
with their problems. Therapeutic comedians utilize their performance as their own therapy, but
differently from the audience. Instead, therapeutic comics share their personal problems and
struggles with their audience, and the audience acts as the listener to a comedians venting. Both
therapeutic comedians and their audience find the amusement, the humor, and the joy out of
problematic situations, and both cope with their problems through the use of comedy and
laughter. Comedians accept their problems and utilize them to their advantage for a career, rather
then remaining in denial. If only everyone was a comic, the world would be a happier, funnier
place.

Works Cited
1.
BBC. "Laughter Eases Hospital Pain." BBC News - Home. 21 Feb. 2002. Web. 13 Dec. 2010.
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1833854.stm>.

2.
Birbiglia, Michael. Preface. Sleepwalk With Me And Other Painfully True Stories. New York:
Simon & Schuster, 2010. Scribd. Web. 13 Dec. 2010.
<http://www.scribd.com/doc/38552823/Sleepwalk-With-Me-by-Mike-Birbiglia>.

3.
John Pinette - I'm Starvin'! Part 1. Prod. John Pinette. Perf. John Pinette. YouTube - Broadcast
Yourself. 25 Jan. 2009. Web. 13 Dec. 2010.
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSvPSkdoz08&feature=related>.

4.
"laughter." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins
Publishers. 13 Dec. 2010. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/laughter>.

5.
Sleepwalk With Me. Prod. Adam Richens. Perf. Michael Birbiglia. YouTube - Broadcast
Yourself. 22 Feb. 2009. Web. 13 Dec. 2010.
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU2KRBh1MOA&feature=related>.

6.
Szekely, Louis. "Louie: Dr. Ben/Nick." Louie. FX. 6 July 2010. Television.