"How Can You Laugh at a Time Like This?"

by Allen Klein, MA CSP

"Comedy is tragedy plus time."    -- Carol Burnett

"Waitress wanted. Must be able to swim under water."
That was the humorous sign posted in the window of a restaurant submerged in water during the mid-West floods several years ago.

A few days later, a billboard appeared down the road. It too added some humor to the soggy situation. "The weather lately," the billboard read, "gives a whole new meaning to Roe vs. Wade."

And, after a major earthquake hit San Francisco, one man put a sign on his damaged house that said, "House for rent. Some assembly required."

While the people above were able to find some humor in their catastrophe, the tragic events on September 11th were so horrendous, with so many lost lives,and with such widespread consequences; that humor, even with all its beneficial coping traits, took a while to return.

According to one news reporter, the time it took between the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and the first attempt at Internet humor was 5 days, 2 hours, 8 minutes and 1 second. And the results weren't that funny. It consisted of a listing of anagrams of the name Osama bin Laden. The most humorous: "No! A mad lesbian."

But it was humor, nevertheless. And it was a reminder that life must go on. In spite of our overwhelming loss, deep down we know that laughter provides relief. We know that it helps us cope. We know, too, that if we can laugh, we will somehow get through it.

And if we can't laugh now, perhaps some day we might. Who, for example, would have thought that anyone would ever be able to laugh about the Holocaust where millions of people were killed? Yet, here we are today with the hottest musical comedy on Broadway, "The Producers", being about Hitler.

Even while fleeing from the attack on the World Trade Center, a small bit of humor helped some people triumph over tragedy.

A group of office workers, who were running down flight after flight of steps, didn't know if they had the strength to make it to the bottom. They stopped at the eleventh floor and couldn't go on. Then one woman suggested that they pretend it was New Year's Eve. En masse they began a countdown with each flight of stairs and shouted out "... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."

Encouraged by this bit of levity, they all made it to the street and to safety.

Humor, no matter when it comes, helps us bear the unbearable.