The healing power of laughter…
We laugh because otherwise we cry. Laugh the beloved country – the reason ‘they’ say that laughter is the best medicine is not because there’s a campaign to discredit penicillin, but rather because some of our ugliest wounds and biggest fears can be addressed with the right dose of self aware humour, and it can really help us to lean into the things that scare-hurt us most.
South Africans have a wrought and painful political history, from which we are all working to heal; and as a comedian I have seen first hand our resilience and ability to grow from laughing at ourselves. And we are very, very good at it. And it’s very encouraging to me.
For a microcosm example, looking at the recent racist video uploaded by Adam Catzavelos where he flippantly said the K-word – and the subsequent, justified outcry and reaction from South Africans leaves me with more hope than dread. Sure, you can find the negative trolls on both sides of the spectrum – in any debate, to be fair – people who are just grumpy that News24 has closed down the comments section and have nowhere else to vent their vitriol – but, the overwhelming tone on South African twitter this past week, after news of the video went viral, and the initial reaction dust settled – was that of dry, mirthful wit. As is our beautiful nation’s way.
The number one hashtag trending was the #AdamCatzavelosChallenge, started by comedian David Kau in which South Africans made parody videos, mimicking the format of Adam’s video on a beach – but substituting the K-word with all manner of hilarious replacements. We chose to laugh at a situation where we would have been justified to sit down and cry. We opted to rise above, with wit.
This is not to imply people are making light of racism, this is not to take away the gravity of the situation and the painful politics we are engaged with – but it shines a beam of laughter, like a ray of sunshine in the darn void that would have otherwise just been hurtful fuel to a fire that’s been long burning. And it’s this ability to laugh at ourselves that shows me that South Africans are going to be more okay than a pessimist might assume.
We can take shining examples like Trevor Noah, and his massive success within SA, before he even bit the Big Apple as testament to our ability, our need to laugh at ourselves – because, quite frankly the alternative is to cry at how far we have yet to go – and that doesn’t leave anyone with anything, except puffy eyes and tissues full of snot does it?
Being a comedian has given me freedom of speech that most people appear to be jealous of. “You’re so lucky, I could never say what I’m thinking like that, you’re so honest” is a sentence I hear regularly. And it’s interesting to me how so many of us feel that we are not able to express ourselves, and I challenge you to lean in to your funny a little more. That’s not to say we should make hurtful jokes at the expense of other people in the workplace, but rather reveal more of our own ‘embarrassing’ truths – did you trip down stairs? Did you get caught singing along to an embarrassing guilty pleasure song on Smile90.4FM? Share it with someone, and see the trust grow from your vulnerability. Freedom of Wit truly is a privilege and I would love more people to experience the human connection of making yourself vulnerable, opening up your opinions, opening your heart a little more to that human connection of funny.
Laughter is an equaliser, the more you reveal little human truths about yourself the more the world will reveal how equal we all are, to you. Most women I have spoken to, cross-culturally and internationally have been told by their grandmothers to wear good underwear in case they get hit by a bus, crossing the road. What is it with grannies and busses? My first instinct is to ask them why they aren’t rather telling us not to get hit by busses in the first place. But that’s beside the point. When we realise that we all share that, we suddenly have more in common than we thought – and even if your granny didn’t say that to you, you now know that about me, and you feel like you know me a little better, don’t you? I’d like you to stop thinking about my underwear now though, let’s just say – I hope not to get hit by a bus any time soon.
Stand up comedy has introduced to South Africans I might never have met, and it’s lead me to parts of the country to which I would never had ventured. I’ve even been lucky enough to venture to parts of the planet I would never have dreamed of. And I would like to say, my wit has been my greatest privilege, (and that’s saying something, I’m a white South African, with a privileged background) and I encourage all of us in South Africa to find the common strain that connects us all, and then laugh at it.
And you might just find that when we all realise we’re more alike than we think we are, that we’re actually all more okay than we think we are. And we’re going to be just fine.
We get to have the last laugh together.