The comedy of despair

I just watched a video clip of  The Late Show where Stephen Colbert interviewed the comedian Patton Oswalt, who recently lost his wife.

Patton was unabashedly honest and succinct in his belief that grief sucks and is devastating. But he added we have to take it out of the closet and hold it up to the light so that it loses its power over us.

“It feels like you’ve summoned this virus and you’ve become this avatar of loss,” he explained.

Oswalt just got back to doing comedy following the unexpected death six months ago of his wife, Michelle McNamara.

Not so surprisingly, many comedians can be a rather sad lot off stage. Look at Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters. Both struggled with crippling depression.

Aristotle stated that comedy was the light treatment of the otherwise base and uglier aspects of life. Comedy is certainly a great release for whatever ails you. As a child I devoured my dad’s monthly edition of The Reader’s Digest. The best section was “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” with all of its corny jokes. Comedy has a healing component – whether you are the laugher or laughee.

I’ve always used jokes and comedy as a safety mechanism. It started early on when I realized as an awkward adolescent I would not make friends based on looks or athletic ability. It was my hook to lure people toward me.


I’m sure facing that first performance after his loss was hard for Patton, but he had said the stage is where he feels most comfortable.

I can relate in my own infamous way.  I’ve shelved the pain by entertaining  and distracting myself with social opportunities. These times are enjoyable, but the grief still waits patiently out of the limelight, like a tenacious stage mom.


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