The Comedy of Tragedy

Point of view photo of standing behind a microphone on stage
Photo by Ilyass Seddoug from Unsplash

By Noel Peterson

Here’s the thing: life is hard and loneliness can often be debilitating. We’re all searching for meaningful connections. Some people eventually give up and get cats (I’m more of a dog person). Others turn to vices such as drugs, alcohol, and gambling… which I sought refuge in for almost a decade. But, now sober, I’ve found companionship in comedy: the shared joy of a relatable laugh. That moment when tears wash over your face from a tragedy, but somehow someone says something so silly and so damn relatable that you can’t help but to laugh. Comedy embraces life’s quirks, the silliness. It’s a much needed release when everything seems nonsensical and unfair, saying, “Yes, some things (heck most things) about this world are quite strange. But, therein lies the humor.” 

Image of The Comedy Store neon sign with smiling red mouth
Photo by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

Comedy is for the outcasts, the misfits, the oddballs, and everyone at their wit’s end. Because what’s better than to laugh at life’s absurdities? That’s why so many comics are known as sad clowns. Because, when life—their emotions, the tragedy they’ve endured, their feelings of loneliness and loss—seemed insurmountable, they buckled under the pressure and let out a big belly laugh. And then they shared that belly laugh with the world, shining a light on all the insanity, all the weirdness, all the perversion. The best comics are those who’ve used (nay needed) laughter as therapy, as a lifeline, as a hope in community, getting us through our darkest hours. 

It’s not just the funny meme that makes me feel good, it’s the thought that someone out there at the other end of their screen has a weird twisted mind that I can relate to, even if it’s just one person. 

On a larger scale, there’s no greater feeling than sitting in a live comedy show, seeing a community of people who all get what’s twisted about life in the same perverse way I do and have come to laugh about it. Because, there’s a fine line between sadness and joy, despair and hope, laughter and tears. And, good comedy truly is the best way, perhaps the only way, to triumph in tragedy: distorting a frown into a smile, twisting life upside down and shaking up our souls. Each well-told one-liner is an uninhibited exchange between strangers who forge a connection; each solid punchline, a fleeting flicker of the heart made possible by tragedy.

Or, perhaps Charlie Chaplin put it best:

“Life’s a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in the long shot.”

For more from Noel Peterson, check out her book A Very Inappropriate Short Story Book.