Yes, You Can Laugh During A Pandemic

Apr 14, 2020

Hickory-based comedian John Reep's take on the TikTok trend of misunderstanding a popular book title and celebrating the imagined outcome.
Credit Courtesy of Jon Reep

The news is filled with constant updates about the coronavirus pandemic, from outbreaks in prisons and nursing homes to an ever-increasing number of deaths. Mental health experts have been vocal about the need to take breaks from the news, but what specifically can help us reset? Try humor.


Host Frank Stasio talks with comedians, a reporter and a scholar about how humor can provide some levity and counterbalance to the uncertain and dark news. And they all agree: Yes, it is okay to laugh during a pandemic.

''One of the things that comedy does is it helps us play - helps us use our imagination. And that's something that people can really enjoy right now. It also brings us to moments of social critique and helps us see the world with new eyes.'' -Michelle Robinson

Michelle Robinson talks about the ethics of stand-up comedy and how comedians in recent history have used humor to navigate difficult times. Robinson is an associate professor in the department of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dave Jorgensen also joins the conversation to talk about how digital platforms like the popular short video app TikTok are adding to the comedy landscape and helping people stay connected while social distancing at home. Jorgenson is a video producer for The Washington Post and runs the paper’s TikTok account.

''A lot of people have joked on Twitter and TikTok that they know it's a weekday because we're posting the TikToks.'' -Dave Jorgenson

Comedians around the state also share how they are thinking about humor in the pandemic era — and how COVID-19 will shape the future of comedy. Lauren Faber is a comic based in Durham. Comedian Jon Reep is based in Hickory and is the host of the podcast “Country-ish.” Brandy Brown is the manager of Goodnight’s Comedy Club in Raleigh. And Erin Terry is the founder of Eyes Up Here Comedy, a North Carolina showcase dedicated to spotlighting local women-identifying, non-binary and gender non-conforming comics.



Robinson on late-night comedy’s take on the pandemic:

We can't wait to see how things are going to play out. ... There are questions about voter suppression, about the distribution of medical equipment, access to tests — and this is something that folks who do late night TV are good at addressing. They're absolutely on it. And the way we laugh at these kinds of jokes might be bitter. It might not be that same kind of enjoyment as escapist comedy. But I think it's very important right now.


Someone check on Dave ##lifeathome ##newspaper

♬ original sound - wookybee_official

Jorgenson on producing funny TikToks about a heavy topic:

From my point of view, literally comedy is about perspective. And what I find funny right now is quarantine at home. And I think that a lot of people find that very relatable. From day one of this quarantine, I said to my boss: I'd really like to just make all the TikToks going forward in my apartment until we're out [of quarantine] and experience it along with everyone else. And so I think [the videos come from] that sort of perspective of: Hey, we're kind of in this together. This is sort of crazy, and we're all going to kind of go crazy in isolation. I actually feel like that's appropriate.



Just doing my part! ##smallgestures

♬ original sound - washingtonpost

Jorgenson on the creative process behind a TikTok: 

The basic idea [for this TikTok] was from an article in The Washington Post that we published about how to make a face mask. And so I was kind of going through that vein where I backwards engineered it to: What if someone wanted to try to contribute in another way that isn't actually possible, and somehow my brain landed on laying eggs. So that's where it went. That's really the extent of the joke. But for me, and what we've created with the Washington Post TikTok account—which has over 300 videos—that's actually in line with a lot of our humor. And that video has the most likes of the last 20 videos, so something about it worked. Maybe it was just so original or weird that it appealed to people. But I think when you're just having fun right now, and it shows, that appeals to people.