The Wisdom of Humor
This may surprise you, but they’re big proponents of not taking things too seriously.
By Jill Phelan, St. Vincent College
In my opinion, comedians have one of the best jobs in the world—they get to spend their time making people chuckle and snort until they pee.
In fact, just this past weekend, my fiancé’s (very Italian) family and I were listening to John Pinette on Pandora and couldn’t stop laughing at his jokes about Italians and their food. I literally almost suffocated because my body couldn’t keep up as I was gasping for enough air to fill my lungs as tears squeezed out of my squinted eyes. That’s the dream right there—dying in pure hysterics, crying, hiccuping, and chortling.
And while almost crossing over into the light, I had an enlightening moment. I realized that comedians dish out loads of truth in their performances—albeit veiled in sarcasm and humor, but truth no less.
Most of the time, people find their jokes so hilarious because they poke fun at the complexities of reality in a way that is relatable and entertaining.
Plus, the wisecracks deliver their material in a manner that emphasizes the already comical workings of the world. So I’ve found myself looking into some of the words of wisdom that a few of the more popular comedians have said and exploring what they have to offer on a more philosophical level.
Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve learned.
1. You Can’t Figure Out a Person
Demetri Martin is usually a pretty silly guy with his jokes a little more on the strange side. But in this particular closing segment, he gets shockingly profound with his audience.
Basically, he tells his viewers that “life is not a science” and that “you can’t maximize a life.” He then continues, “What you can do is try to be honest in the choices that you make. Be true to yourself.”
Wow, Martin, I didn’t see that one coming.
He’s right, though. There’s no formula for figuring out how to live as best as possible, and there’s no equation to turn you into an optimal human being. There is only that which gives you purpose and how you choose to handle your entire self—your attitude, your decisions—everything that involves your impact on the world around you.
You are uniquely you, and no mathematical calculation can ever figure you out. Take pride in that fact as the beautiful living, breathing soul that you are.
2. Just Do Your Job
After getting off Martin’s hippie train of thought, I stumbled upon Louis CK’s common-sense-that-isn’t-as-common-as-you-would-think type of reasoning. In this act, the somewhat crude and extremely blunt comedian makes a very valid point: “You should do your job…Why wouldn’t you?”
I understand that everyone has their off days and gets run down by their work so they don’t feel like doing what they’re supposed to do, but that doesn’t mean that you have to bring everyone else down with you.
“It drives me crazy when someone has a job that they don’t like so they do it shitty,” he adds, “What kind of a response is that? If you do it shitty, isn’t it worse for you?” Well damn. That’s a whole new perspective if you ask me. It’s one of those bits of advice that seems so simple and obvious, but in reality it really makes you stop and review your actions in a new whole new light.
It reminds me of what my teachers told me about cheating—the only person it hurts is you, so what good is it in the grand scheme of things?
The way I see it, you can do one of two things when you hate your work. You can either be a negative person—which doesn’t help you whatsoever—and drag everyone through the mud with you (essentially just making the world a darker place one customer at a time), or you can suck it up and do your job to the best of your abilities and ultimately help make other people’s days better (therefore making the world a brighter and better place to live). You might even find that you feel less miserable in the end.
So quit being selfish and just be good to your customers already. Everybody wins.
3. It’s Just a Ride
I’m a big fan of elaborate metaphors, so getting to hear one during a stand-up act was a real treat for me.
Bill Hicks delivered a great message in his comparison of life to an amusement park ride. In doing so, he tries to get his audience to acknowledge the importance of staying grounded in the realization that the ride isn’t “real.”
I had a hard time at first trying to wrap my head around what he meant by “real,” but I think I understand now. I believe what he meant was that it’s not the material things and trivial fears in life that should take precedence; it’s choosing to love one another that matters most, and taking the time to remember that as often as possible.
Your life shouldn’t be defined by your assets and anxieties—it should be defined by how you treat your neighbor and your personal impact on the world, because that’s what the ride is really all about. The rest is just a smoke and mirrors.
I couldn’t have heard a finer metaphor if I’d listened to Shakespeare himself. Well, maybe, but I have to give the man some credit. It was still pretty deep. Bravo, Hicks.
All in all, I’d say not bad for a handful of modern jesters. They may not be the next generation of Aristotles, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them and their experience. And there are plenty more just like the aforementioned entertainers who offer little nuggets of wisdom amidst their hilarious bits.
So the next time you’re rolling on the floor laughing and hiccupping your head off at some comedian’s witticisms, try to ask yourself, “What can I gain from this?” You might be surprised at just how much you can learn.