Jon Savitt is a writer and comedian.
Take a second to visualize your previous New Year’s resolutions. If you’re like many, you most likely thought about going to the gym, eating healthier, looking at your phone less or maybe even committing to a new hobby. But I’m guessing “laugh more” didn’t come to mind. It should—comedy is a necessity in today’s world.
Like many, I haven’t enjoyed what I’ve seen in the world lately, including terrorism, racism, various social injustices, homelessness and more. We live in a time when you can’t, with any certainty, expect to return home safely each night. We live in a world where the selfless, honest and hard working sometimes suffer as a result of the cruel and immoral actions carried out by a few. We have many questions and few answers.
Humor offers us a way to try and make sense of the chaos around us. A good joke has layers—at first, an initial laugh, but after further examination, a story or societal observation just waiting to be unpacked. Like a good meal, a proper joke should stick with you well beyond the present moment.
Take humorists Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, for example. They are two pioneers in the industry that have pushed the envelope and torn up the preconceived label of what comedy is or has to be. They’re intentional, well-researched, goal-oriented, and driven by wanting to make a difference. To me, this is when comedy shines. Shows such as “The Daily Show” provide refreshing commentary and tackle taboo topics head-on in a way that is almost impossible to do through an average conversation on any given day. From race to politics to global news and everything in between, these rare minds have proven that comedy can be used for social good.
Comedy also plays a role in more ordinary, everyday occurrences—from dating, to growing up and more. Popular stand-up comedians such as Amy Schumer, Aziz Ansari and John Mulaney provide rare genuine takes on what it truly means to be human—imperfections and all. Their content is relatable, authentic and calming. Though their jokes are sometimes politically incorrect and grotesque, comedy is a much-needed lens in today’s often sheltered society. Humor helps us understand that we are not perfect, and neither is the world.
There is also a scientific benefit to laughter. Studies have shown that laughter can decreases cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. It can even burn calories, protect against heart disease and improve memory recall as we grow older. Dr. Joel B. Goodman, author and found of The Humor Project, says that social laughter can also help us build confidence.
Much like one would take Advil to alleviate physical pain, humor can help keep us mentally sane and positive. From sharing articles and videos on social sites, to seeing a stand-up show live, there are many reasons why we seek out laughter, and why we should do so more.
While we can’t go back and change the past, fortunately for us, we have the power to make the future as bright as possible, and humor gives us an outlet to do so. As a writer and humorist, I see this as my responsibility—I see it as all of our responsibility in the coming year.
Will humor in itself solve the current issues we’re faced with? Of course not. But it turns out it’s a surprisingly good place to start.
Laughter is healing. It’s thought-provoking. It brings people together in a way few things can (why else do you gather around with your friends to watch silly YouTube clips?). It can unapologetically start a dialogue on tough and uncomfortable issues, cast a positive light in a room of darkness, and push us to reflect on our own actions and behaviors. It symbolizes optimism and hope—an ability to carry on with our lives despite the disarray around us. It may not seem like much, but it’s my way of balancing the bad in the world.