Weekly Edgework #27 - Jan. 04, 2005

Comic Relief

Usually when we think of “comic relief” we have in mind a break from the mundane in order to participate in a moment of communal laughter. Some people I know have a gift for providing comic relief at a time when everyone needs to lighten up a little. Dave Vogt was one such fellow. When, at a congregational meeting he sensed tension emerging over an issue, he would crack an appropriate joke. Everyone couldn’t help but experience the comic relief of a good laugh. When we returned to a discussion of the issue at hand it seemed everyone was better prepared to help forge a positive agreement.

However for most of this past week I have experienced a sense of discord watching the back-to-back promotion of comedy and relief on television. (I am writing this on December 30, 2004.) Night after night we watched the unimaginable destruction and loss of life caused by the earthquake and the resulting tsunamis in Asia on December 26th. Today it was estimated that the number of persons dead could top 100,000. Officials had no words to describe the massive amount of relief required immediately for those who have survived the ordeal. And one after another, reporters suggested that it would be decades or even generations before life would return to normal in some regions hit hardest by the tragedy.

What caught me by surprise was the fact that, interspersed among these tales of calamity unparalleled in human history, came repeated promotions of the comedy we were in for on New Year’s Eve on the same station. Short vignettes showed grown men and women making absolute fools of themselves in order to get a laugh out of their audience. And, indeed, much innuendo and even direct speech bordered on the profane. It may have been comic, but I did not experience it as relief. I experienced a profound dissonance in my soul. It seems that no matter how much the world bleeds, the comic relief for the unaffected masses must go on!

Now I suppose there is no one to blame for this confluence of discord. The comedians preparing for their New Year’s Eve gala performance of comedy had begun their preparations for the event long before the earthquake struck. And administrators of the television network had dutifully slotted in promotional clips for the event during prime time evening news the week after Christmas. They wanted their last show of the year to be successful. Of course that would mean to have as many people as possible laughing their way into the new year tuned in to their station. I imagine they assumed that the news on the last week of the year would report of regular car bombings in Iraq and a review of the events of 2004. So far, everything was running on schedule.

Then came the earthquake and the tsunamis. This was dramatic news, so everyone found themselves glued to their television sets. And the planned comic promotions during the news simply rolled on as scheduled. But who felt like laughing after seeing row upon row of dead bodies and hordes of people wandering through rubble – hungry, thirsty and grieving. Who felt like laughing after hearing one heart-wrenching story of loss after another, or dramatic tales of emotionally laden reunions of partial families. But the comic clips kept on coming like clockwork. To me they were a bizarre form of profanity.

Can our North American society not stop laughing long enough to allow the depth of the present crisis to touch their souls? Indeed, there is evidence that a great outpouring of compassion has touched our nation with millions of dollars being raised for immediate relief efforts. But the television network will stay on track with their laugh-fest tomorrow evening. Are they expecting us to thank them for providing comic relief from the tragedy that has gripped the world?

I, for one, will not thank them, nor will I watch the comedy festival. It’s like Rex Murphy said the other night, “If a tragedy of this proportion can not grip our hearts and minds, then nothing can.” My recommendation to CBC is to cancel the laugh-fest tomorrow evening and do what it takes to help us learn to cry together for once – for those affected by this tragedy, and for those of us who insist on comic relief while the rest of the world bleeds. Forget the comedy for this once and focus on relief! There may be a chance to laugh later.

(This article was forwarded to CBC on December 30, 2004.)