“You make a choice in this world, I believe, about how you tell sad stories,
and we made the funny choice.”
A while ago I wrote a post about ethics in comedy vs. ethics in journalism. I wholeheartily enjoyed the discussion which ensued but I never really found an answer to my question- why do I think comedy should be allowed to cross the line but journalism must stay firmly behind it?
The above quote is from John Green’s new book, The Fault in Our Stars. In half a sentence John Green accidentally answered my question-
its about how we tell the sad stories.
It is an undeniable fact that the world is full of sad things. We’re painfully aware of these things in our own lives but its important, to some degree, that we are aware of the awful things which are happening outside of ourselves.
That’s what good journalism does. Good journalism says-
“Look at that. That sucks. And the people who are experiencing it know that it sucks. It is our responsibility to tell other people about how much that thing sucks.”
Bad journalism says-
“Look at that. That is crappy. Let us go and take pictures of it.”
They do this even when the people involved are quite clearly asking them to go away because this really awful thing just happened to them and they would find it a lot easier to cope if people didn’t keep taking pictures of them while they were trying to collect the mail.
Comedy is different. Comedy doesn’t say-
“Look at that person over there! Isn’t that shit! Let’s point at them and laugh!”
Comedy is about people saying-
“This really shitty thing happened to me. I am going to tell you about it and we can laugh together.”
This at the fundamental heart of what makes comedy so important and powerful. And why, if we were to limit what could be said, we would stand the chance of loosing that power.
Comedy makes the sad things less sad.
This difference is a big part of why I think comedy should have unlimited access and journalism should not. The first things to go, if comedy had limits, would be the sad things. Topics which are controversial tend to be so because, to someone, that topic is the source of pain. This is where comedy can go wrong, if it treads the line of bad journalism and starts trying to point and laugh without making a valid point, the jokes loose legitimacy. Comedy tries to be voluntary activity. People will not laugh at how much your life sucks unless you stand up and ask them to. Journalism isn’t always that kind.
Comedy is the knowledge that life and happiness and good things can still exist in the face of really, really awful things. Journalism very rarely makes sad things less sad. And that’s ok, because that isn’t what journalism is for. Journalism is for telling us that sad things exist. Knowing they exist might be the first step to them not existing as much in the future.
Comedy is about now. Comedy is gap-filler for the soul.