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Head shot of Patanjali Sokaris

Patanjali Sokaris

Pondering the universe

Comedy, or stand-up misanthropy?

Life can be pretty tough at times, and humour can help to release the tension that builds up from the resulting stress. But do we have to denigrate and marginalise others to feed our humour?

There are many circumstances that we can find humourous, but often that humour is a spontaneous reaction to circumstances resulting from just going about our lives, and is triggered by something that seems anomalous or odd about a particular scenario.

A lot of scenarios involve us laughing at ourselves as we stumble at handling our lives. The laughter helps us to lift ourselves out of the possibly depressing realisation that we cannot always be on top of what is happening in our lives, and that we are not 'perfect' in all the choices that we make.

In recounting some of those scenarios, others are entertained, and for those that can do that well, that can be the start to them having a special reserved place as a stress-reliever to the rest of us.

Of course, there are not always enough circumstances just spontaneously happening in our lives that we find enough humour to carry us through. While we can always keep harking back to previous humourous times, some can make up circumstances that we can find amusing, and we call them comedians.

Comedians have entertained us by performing/acting out scenes repeatedly, changing to be more topically relevent and so that they don't become stale.

However, manufacturing humour can have a sinister side. There are not always a preponderance of humourous circumstances, and while we can laugh at ourselves, it does expose our weaknesses. But we can laugh at others, especially those we don't identify with, as that doesn't expose us to being laughed at.

Comedy then becomes a way to reinforce group identity, but at the expense of others outside the group. For those that want to have a career in comedy, there is a lucrative plethora of others to denigrate without alienating their own patrons.

With mass media, and a mass of people trying to get our attention, comedians have a lot of competition, especially from the plethora of amateurs on YouTube and social media. One way they seek to differentiate themselves is to be more aggressive about who they direct their humour at, becoming known for the people and topics they focus on. This is how they brand themselves, and so become a defined and marketable commodity, hopefully giving themselves a perpetual career.

But with scaling up to mass media sizes, we have created an industry that feeds off denigrating masses of people, setting them up as easy targets for many others to use to their own advantage. What has been a means to ease our pressures has been weaponised against people.

Many comedians seem to have no real empathy for their targets, and so aggressively berate them, and we, in laughing along, become complicit in alienating our fellow human beings, and lose our own empathy.

So, what sort of humour does not create such misanthropy? Well, it seems that those who do not use others as the foils of their humour, but use themselves, tend to be less aggressive, but also allow us to see ourselves in them, in those suituations where we have not been masters of our universe, but just human beings fumbling our way through life, trying to make the best of it.

At this point, I would like to give an example of one comedian who, to me, really exemplifies the pathos of daily life, and generally without using others' misfortune. That is Jimeoin, an Irish-Australian who uses the minutae of life to highlight the everyday circumstances that bedevil our existance, but that do not get us down enough that we cannot laugh at ourselves.

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