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
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.