How to See Humor in a Horrible Situation

Yocheved Golani
July 30, 2018

Smithsonian magazine once held an article entitled When Bad Things Become Funny; Humor experts set out to discover when tragedies are fine to joke about, and when they’re not. The last paragraph read “… space, time, social relationships and hypotheticality must combine to create a ‘sweet spot’ in order for a comedic spin on tragedy to be well received. The Onion’s post-9/11 story, ‘God Angrily Clarifies Don’t Kill Rule,’ successfully found that humor niche, poking fun at the terrorists rather than the victims, and inspiring some healthy laughter amidst an otherwise dark time.” That explains why people use sarcasm, understatement, exaggeration and pithy comments to poke fun at the misery which they or someone else experienced. The psychological, and sometimes physical, distance from the problem allows the person to see things objectively though they need not deny the emotions of suffering. They literally release some of the stress that lingered after something horrible happened to them in this manner.


Comedians use a “What’s wrong with this picture” point of view to find the humor in some situations. The reason that it evokes laughter is that it allows a person to release tension, to admit that something is far beyond a simple solution, and that there is irony in the situation (it is contrary to expectations, and that inner, perhaps outer pain are part of the picture). Satire is built on irony. That type of literature, theater, etc., lets people face the truth that some horrible situation (e.g, abuse, betrayal) is not what it appears to be on the surface. The Smothers Brothers poked fun at political problems with their satirical comedy in the 1960s and 1970s. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do it today. Samantha Bee and Sarah Silverman have opened minds to sex scandals, facilitating public discussion about that horror.

Laughing at or remarking on topics filled with emotional suffering does not negate the fact that therapy might be necessary for a full recovery from awful memories. EMDR, talk therapy and other forms of therapeutic intervention have allowed traumatized people to reclaim productive lives after their horrible situation. They don’t magically forget what happened, rather, they are able to view the event(s) with some objectivity, realize that they need not be crippled by what they’d endured, and that they remain capable of living productive, happiness-filled lives.

Yocheved Golani

Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts a healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.

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