I was 5 years old and my best friend was dying. I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I knew that my friend Paul was sick with something called Wilms’ Tumor, a rare kidney cancer, and that the medicine didn’t work on him.
The last time I ever saw Paul he was hurting pretty bad. We were at his house playing Mario Brothers on Nintendo when I made a random joke about the game, and he started to laugh hysterically. His whole appearance suddenly changed from tired and worn out to full of life and energy.
It was the single best sound and reaction I’d ever seen and heard. And I knew from that moment on, I wanted to make people laugh for the rest of my life.
Death and comedy aren’t exactly a pairing you think go together very often, but I think it’s a perfect fit – and it’s something I use quite often at Comfort Zone Camp. Maybe I’m biased because I do comedy for a living – told you I wanted to make people laugh for the rest of my life – but both death and comedy bring out such strong and powerful, yet opposite emotions from you, that they actually help balance each other out.
Sometimes you are so overcome with grief and sadness that there is no better feeling than the release the laughter brings you. It reminds me that I’m still here; and that even though I’m sad, lost and maybe even confused there is still joy in life, and that I can’t let those negative feelings take me over.
For me, comedy is my go-to coping mechanism. When I’m sad, whether it be from grief or just life taking it’s toll on me, I go to comedy. As I tell the kids and adults at Comfort Zone Camp that could mean watching a funny movie – “Dumb and Dumber” – going to a comedy club, reading a funny book, or throwing on a sitcom.
All of those are great ways to escape those feelings for 30-plus minutes and help get you out of that funk. Watching an episode of “Seinfeld” or “Friends” is perfect because you literally don’t have to think at all. You just watch, laugh and forget. Could those shows BE any funnier? (CHANDLER REFERENCE!)
But when I say, “forget,” I don’t mean just avoid your feelings and grief. That’s not healthy and I would never recommend that. But sometimes a 30-plus minute break from those feelings is just what you need so you can handle your grief journey in the appropriate and healthy way for you.
For me, using comedy as my coping mechanism is a little different. I do the things above, but as I hinted at earlier, making people laugh is literally my favorite thing to do in the world. To me, there is no better feeling than making the person in front of me laugh because I know I’m making them happy; which in return makes me happy.
And luckily Comfort Zone Camp lets me do that for the kids. Whether it be pretending to be a T-Rex during ice breakers, making the kids do awesome (see: goofy) dance moves with me, or when they find out I’m a comedian and beg me to tell them a joke – so I say, “Here is a joke I did on Letterman last week” (which I’ve never been on) and then literally tell them the lamest/dorkiest joke I can think of and watch their reactions as they realize it stinks and wonder how I ever got on Letterman.
“What do you call a bear that doesn’t take a bath? Winnie the PEW!” (YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYE AND TELL ME THAT’S NOT COMEDY GOLD!)
So I write this to not only share my experience and thoughts with the community, but to also say it’s OK to let comedy in and laugh when you’re grieving. In addition to being a good coping mechanism, it’s also appropriate.
So many people think death equals sadness. But you don’t have to be all the time. I love thinking of those funny memories I have of Paul or my Grandparents. They’re some of the best ones I have. Plus, hearing their laugh in my head makes them come back to life for me for a brief moment. And that’s something I’ll never want to part with.
The comedian in me was saying I should end this piece with a little joke like, “20 plus years later that Mario Brothers joke I told Paul is still the best one I’ve ever told. … Now if only I could remember it maybe I’d actually be famous right now.”
But as I wrote that something I’ve never realized until this very moment just hit me. How crazy is it that at 5 years old I told that first Mario Brothers joke that pretty much changed the course of my life, and 20-plus years later my strongest and closing joke to my set now is a Mario Brothers joke I recently wrote. Talk about full circle. And maybe that was Paul just saying hello.
Our thanks to comedian and Comfort Zone Camp volunteer David Storch for sharing his story with the Hello Grief community. Find out more about David at www.davidstorch.com.
How has comedy or laughter helped you in your grief journey? Leave a comment below! (Please note: Comments are now moderated and reviewed at least once a day on Monday-Fridays.)