It is the day after Halloween, that meditative day where we ask important questions of ourselves like “Is there still candy in the bowl?” or “Why don’t they ever play The Simpson’s Halloween episode ON Halloween?” or “Is comedy about cultural critique and subversion or just random revelry and spectacle?”
I mean it’s kind of an important question, you know what I mean?
If there is candy in the bowl then I should probably eat it now before the holiday candy-amnesty wears off.
But on to this question on the purpose and nature of comedy- Look, I know a lot of comedians are in this for the “not thinking too hard” part. There is a little myth around comedy that says anything can be made fun of, that comedy isn’t difficult, and that a little plucky irreverence can make anyone “funny.” You know better. You’re a student of the absurd, and you know it’s a complicated topic; not just a matter of coming up with a good pun and putting on a hilarious wig.
On the other hand, it’s no forgone conclusion that comedy is supposed to make you think. There are plenty of popular comedians who don’t necessarily foreground our societies’ interior struggles. Comedy is generally seen as escapist.
And it is. And it should be.
This is what I mean about Halloween. We have a holiday that is here for the whole culture to put on a masquerade, to feast, to take a sidelong glance at fear and a jab at mortality. It is the comedian’s holiday above all others.
The Carnivalesque is serious.
From ancient, ancient times there has been an idea that society suffers irrevocably if the “rules” aren’t tossed out from time to time. Without an opportunity to revel and bask in a world turned upside down the status-quo becomes stagnant, violent, and unaccountable. So the carnivalesque aspects of culture are there to defuse the bomb. But they do more than that too… they point out that power which can be playfully challenged isn’t immutable.
Participation is magic. When a person *participates* in something (not watches or consumes, but participates) she becomes aware of her own authority.
So Halloween plants a seed. A small seed that says “your rule-breaking is celebrated; tonight your frivolity, sarcasm, sexuality, or social trespassing will be paradoxically appropriate.” Protesters do the same thing; they encourage whoever is not protesting to participate vicariously, to go beyond simple catharsis, to express their latent desires for a different social structure, a different kind of world. Comedians are called to invoke the authority of the absurd and challenge the false solemnity of cultural norms. We are called to imagine a world that is different, playful, permissive, excessive, and in so doing spread an infectious lust for participation and freedom.