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Time To Laugh Again

by Stephen Lautens


October 5, 2001

It may come as a surprise to many of my readers that yours truly is generally billed as a humour writer. In fact, a recent letter from one of my readers began: "My friends think you're funny, but I do not".

Just my luck that his friends never write.

One week before the despicable and cowardly attack on New York City I wrote about the Taleban. Specifically, I wrote about what a bunch of savage nuts they are. Little did I know that a week later they would prove it in a way that has made the whole civilized world hold its breath.

Even before the New York attack a reader complained that the Taleban is so awful and has such a terrible human rights record that no one should be making fun of them. What's next, she asked ­ Holocaust humour? Would I have made fun of Hitler if I was writing back in the 1930s? The answer is yes ­ and for a very good reason.

Humour is one of the most powerful ways to criticize and expose human weakness, evil and stupidity. That's why there are still many countries where making fun of politicians is not only illegal, but also hazardous to your health. You could literally laugh yourself into the grave. In some countries the only place you'll find political opposition is in cartoons or jokes whispered on street corners.

In politics there's a saying that people can hate you all they like, but when they start laughing at you, you're dead. Not as dead as a cruise missile knocking on the front door of your cave, but you get the idea. Groups like the Taleban and bin Laden's terrorists thrive on fear, and it's hard to fear something if you can laugh at them in spite of everything they throw at you.

I'm not suggesting we drop mimes or whoopie cushions on Afghanistan (although I keep getting an image of a sign that says "Caution ­ Mime Field"), but we need humour to lift our spirits up and allow us to pick back up with our lives.

In the wake of incomprehensible destruction of part of one of the world's great cities, and along with it several thousand souls (including at least one I knew), everyone staggered through the next weeks in shock, grief and outrage.

I was relieved to see the first jokes starting to make the rounds on the Internet after the September 11th tragedy. It meant the human spirit wasn't buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center. David Letterman started cracking jokes again. New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani has told Saturday Night Live that it was okay to go ahead and be funny, although many of us have been wishing for years that SNL would do something funny.

By giving ourselves permission to laugh, we can get back on with our lives.

Don't mistake me for someone who thinks every cloud has a silver lining. Inside some clouds are just more clouds, and occasionally lightning. But humour not only wears down those who line up against you, but also helps carry a heavy burden in dark times. And it sure helps put all of our little grumbles back in perspective.

And of course there's nothing better in the world than having the last laugh, as no doubt we will.

Next week: Pie throwing at the UN - making the Three Stooges international ambassadors of peace.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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