Comedy and Pain

Posted on 31 July 2011

A friend’s blog links to Scott Adams discussing “Writing Funny“. Adams brings up the old saw that cruelty is part of humour.

I have spoken about this before, but I wanted to say this again in quotable form in order to update people’s ideas about comedy.

Pain is a fertile subject for comedy because we all experience pain. Vengeance is a fertile subject for comedy because we all experience anger and frustration with some people and situations. However…

When a child falls down, looks startled for a moment, then runs off laughing—that’s comedy.

When a child falls down, breaks its spine, and must live in a wheelchair for the rest of its life—that’s tragedy.

It’s only comedy when the consequences are trivial and/or temporary.

These are important distinctions. One helps people to release a little steam, the other encourages a meanness of spirit that is wholly unnecessary. Think Wile E. Coyote who can be standing there, fur in tatters, dark burn marks, and swaying in pain, then only moments later he’s recovered and making his next plan of attack on the Road Runner.

Yes, the line between acceptable and unacceptable portrayals of pain does change as we grow and become more thoughtful and respectful people, but that’s as it should be. I am more than happy to live in a world where, as Dr Seuss puts it, we all “eat rainbows and poop butterflies.”

Peace and kindness,


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