Angry? Consult a Comedian

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How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.

~Marcus Aurelius

You’ve seen them. You know them. Road-ragers, violently aggressive parents at children’s sporting events, girl-fighters on YouTube, high school students who kill, perpetrators of domestic violence.

They’re all part of the growing number of angry people in the world who are wreaking havoc with their rage at any given moment. Anger is the source of a tremendous amount of suffering, but it doesn’t have to be.

Jerry Seinfeld observed that, “All comedy comes from anger.” Humor is a means of taking charge of anger and controlling it rather than allowing it to control you. Those who are most adept in the use of humor almost always come from a place of lack of control. This is why you see so many comedians with difficult and painful childhoods, and why gallows humor is so common in the darkest and most dangerous places.

When we have no other tools to escape from overwhelming circumstances, humor acts as a way to both reframe the situation in more tolerable terms and self-soothe our pain. Humor is our final line of defense against otherwise crushing emotional and psychological pain that has the potential to destroy us.

Think about people you know who are perpetually angry. How many of them have a great sense of humor? Typically, people with uncontrolled anger issues aren’t the life of the party and will often respond to humor with anger.

They’re not more angry than seemingly fun-loving comedians and general jokesters. The difference is that comedians are highly skilled at taking control of their anger by redefining it in terms that are psychologically more tolerable and less destructive.

The truth is, we all have anger issues. Anger is a vital emotion that serves us well. There are times we need to feel it … as when witnessing the abuse of a helpless animal or responding to social injustice. But it becomes a problem when we’re letting it trigger us and control us in ways that become destructive to ourselves or others.

A gun is a great thing to have when an axe murderer is chasing you. But you don’t want to walk down the street pointing it at random innocent people, which is what those with uncontrolled anger frequently do emotionally.

The great news is, the ability to control and channel anger into humor can be learned. Responding with anger to difficult and painful circumstances is a learned behavior, and responding with humor can be as well. 

In a recent interview with Elizabeth Blair of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” comedian Sandra Bernhard said, “Anger is energy. You’ve got to be able to access that side of your psyche and be able to fully express yourself within the confines of it.”

In everyone’s life, there is some pain, struggle and anger. It’s part of being human. But most of us recognize that it is socially unacceptable to express anger openly, so we do our best to keep it under wraps and not let others see that very natural, but unpleasant, side of ourselves.

This is why there’s an audience for jokes about painful and anger-inducing topics. We all need to soothe that pain and find a way to release it. Harnessing the energy of anger to squeeze laughter out of our woes is a skill we would all do well to learn from Nature’s greatest therapists — comedians.

Comedians demonstrate for us the skill of controlling what would otherwise control … and potentially destroy … us. This is a reason those in power and those who wish to oppress others fear humor

Article III, Section 2 of the 1941 legal code in Nazi Germany (the Reichsgesetzblatt I) made anti-Nazi humor punishable by death. Why would a man as powerful as Hitler feel so threatened by the joke of a commoner? Because he knew that humor had the power to reverse control. If someone’s laughing at him, no matter how lowly that person, he no longer has control of that person’s mind. That person has taken the reins.

This is true under all circumstances, not just under oppressive regimes. We all have the power to take control and channel the energy of anger and pain into something that serves us and lifts us above all that threatens to harm or destroy us. We simply need to recognize that power and take those reins … and go to more comedy shows.

HUMOROUS BOOKS FOR THE ANGRY

  • Diary of a Mad Fat Girl, by Stephanie McAfee
  • The 7 ½ Habits of Highly Humorous People, by David M. Jacobson, MSW, LCSW
  • Mama, Get the Hammer! There’s a Fly on Papa’s Head!: Using Humor to Flatten Out Your Pain, by Barbara Johnson
  • The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not, by John Vorhaus
  • Diary of an Emotional Idiot: A Novel, by Maggie Estep

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