Comedy Defends Us Against the Dark

Punch & Judy photo courtesy of Eva Lambert

Punch & Judy photo courtesy of Eva Lambert

As the saying goes, we all have good days and bad, and that’s I suppose as it should be. Without the bad, we wouldn’t know how good we’ve got it when things are going well. And often it’s through pain and disappointment that we hone our strength, our resolve and insight, and discover how resilient we can be.

I’d like to joke that this isn’t true, how it’s just some old saw, but it is. It really is.

This week, I was turned down for a job I really, really wanted, and received the rejection email at the perverse hour of 7:00 am. I wondered, is it too early for wine? I know this is small potatoes compared to the heartache many people are facing in the world. Heck, it’s but a gadfly of annoyance next to some of the travails me and mine have seen this past year. But even so, it stung.

On any given day, week or year, my ability to cope with bad days waxes and wanes like the tide. Usually I’m pretty buoyant, and I just keep on trucking. Rejection in all its forms is a reality of life, and perhaps especially the writing life. I know this to be true. I know persistence is the only viable response, and I know, too, that Stephen King was rejected dozens of times before Carrie was accepted for publication. These mantras usually carry me through, but the other day, none of it made much of an impression.

On rare days like that, when all else fails to cheer, I fall back on what Good Husband calls my Happy Movies. I’ll snuggle up on the couch in my jammies wearing my 1950s librarian glasses, often with that bottle glass of wine, and lose myself in comedy. A friend recently reminded me that humor is often how we cope in the toughest circumstances, and he’s right. And that’s why comedy, and the capacity to laugh while in the jaws of hardship, is one of the most beautiful of all human qualities.

So whether your day is going swimmingly, or if you’re tempted to curl up on your own couch with your head tucked under a pillow, I’d like to share with you a sampling from my pantheon of Happy Movies.

Blazing SaddlesBlazing Saddles
To watch Cleavon Little ride into Rock Ridge astride his Gucci saddle, while Count Basie and His Orchestra play him on in full regalia amid the sagebrush, is to observe a thing of beauty. Mel Brooks takes aim at racism and general stupidity with what may look like a pearl-handled Colt revolver, but don’t be fooled; in this movie, Mel’s brought a Howitzer.

You might wonder how a thinly veiled indictment of Vietnam about surgeons and nurses in wartime Korea can be funny, but Robert Altman makes it happen. I always dissolve into snorts of mirth when Henry says, “Goddammit, Hot Lips, resign your goddamn commission!” And watching these characters find reasons to laugh amid the absurdity and violence of war always puts my own woes in their proper perspective.

The Blues BrothersThe Blues Brothers
When I’m feeling like my life resembles crazy-stalker-jilted-fiancee Carrie Fisher’s “Curl Up & Dye” beauty salon, The Blues Brothers can be counted on to come to the rescue. I start to get ants in my pants when Jake orders two whole fried chickens and a Coke, and Elwood asks for dry white toast, because I know what’s coming. And when Aretha Franklin belts out “Think” with the diner patrons in her pink apron with gravy stains, even if I’ve got a fever of 102, I’m up and dancing.

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride
Sometimes I forget, to my peril, that one should “never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but Vizzini in The Princess Bride always sets me straight. Wesley, Buttercup, Fezzik; I love them all. But my favorite, of course, is Mandy Patinkin’s Inigo Montoya. When he battles the Six-Fingered Man to avenge his father’s death, I don’t know whether to cry or cackle at his dogged refrain, “You killed my father…prepare to die!” Inigo is a lesson in tenacity and heart.

So, to the makers of these films, I salute you. You’ve seen me through many a dark day and reminded me that laughter really is the best medicine. Comedy shines a light in the darkness. And wine, too, of course. Definitely wine.

Does a good comedy pick you up when you’re feeling down? What are some of your favorite funny movies? What else cheers you when life deals you jokers? Share your stories with me.

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8 thoughts on “Comedy Defends Us Against the Dark

  1. Mary Reed

    I’m embarrassed to say that I just last month watched The Blue Brothers for the first time. It was the Saturday night movie of choice by consensus here at the Buddhist nunnery in India, and the sight of a dozen deeply spiritual practitioners sitting rapt around the small television screen was like a scene straight out of a comedy. It doesn’t matter how serious life gets for any of us, sometimes we all just need a little rockin’ music and some plain ol’ silliness to help us keep it real.

    1. Leigh Lauck Post author

      Mary, I love the image of all the spiritual seekers at the nunnery huddled around the TV watching The Blues Brothers. The movie is just that universal in its appeal. It’s hard to imagine anyone who would be unmoved by Aretha, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway! And, of course, Jake and Elwood’s rendition of “Stand By Your Man” (We have country and western!) is simply irresistible. Miss you, Ms. Mary!

  2. Alex Metzger

    As an oncologist, some days are emotionally grueling, with tough conversations leaving me spent. By the time the kids are in bed, I have found various ways to lighten the weight of the day. My older boys, Lucas and Noah, have discovered my Calvin and Hobbes collection and when I straighten up at night, I have found that several pages of C & H will usually end with shoulders that are less tense. I have discovered Portlandia and Louis C.K. on Netflix and I’ll end up chortling with wicked glee around 10:30pm. You are so right, Leigh! Recognizing when it is time to place the stress and disappointments of the day into a drawer and end the day with a laugh is one of the coping mechanisms I have embraced!

    1. Leigh Lauck Post author

      Alex, my friend! I was so happy to see your comment. I can imagine there are aspects of your work which are very emotionally taxing, and that time with family (and Calvin and Hobbs!), as well as cleansing laughter would help replenish your resources.

      I looooove Louis CK and Portlandia. Fred Armisen is a Genius of Quirk. I think my favorite episode is when Fred and Carrie become obsessed with Battlestar Galactica, find a random guy in the phone book named Ronald Moore (the same name as BSG’s writer), and force him to write more episodes. My husband and I laughed so hard we had to watch it twice because the dialogue kept getting lost in our snorts.

      Alex, I miss you! I hope you and your family are doing really well. And I hope our paths cross again someday. And remember…my name is Janet, and it’s Jackson if you’re nasty! 😀

  3. marsha and gregory lauck

    Leigh…so sorry about the job non offer at 7:00 AM. I don’t that’s too early for wine if you can mentally transport to a time zone where it’s already 5 o’clock. A warm beach (not hot) with waves lapping at your piggies…plenty of sun block…and a lazy river if you choose to indulge.
    A rollicking old comedy with Abbot & Costello or Martin & Lewis will bring a grin almost every time!

  4. Leigh Lauck

    Yes! Jerry and Dino for sure. And you may think I’m crazy for saying this, but I never get tired of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” It just never gets old.

    And only 5 1/2 months until its Lazy River time! Good Husband and I can’t wait!

  5. Milli Thornton

    Very sorry to hear about you being turned down for a job you really wanted. All I’ve got to say about that is “They just don’t know you!” How they could turn down someone of your caliber does not make sense to me. However, now that they have made that ungainly mistake, I hope that one door closing brought you something else even better.

    Happy movies are such a tonic, yes. I’ve watched it so many times now, I only have to think about The Blues Brothers these days to feel a better mood creeping over me. (You forgot to mention Minnie the Moocher as performed by Cab Calloway! One thousand watts of feel good! And an elegant white suit to boot.)

    I don’t care what the critics or movie snobs say: The Blue Brothers, Caddy Shack and Star Wars are the three best movies in history, no contest. Insane amounts of fun, mega entertainment, and the ability to make you forget your problems. On days when I ain’t feeling good, I don’t need anything fancier than that.

    1. Leigh Lauck Post author

      Yesssss, precioussss. Cab Calloway, to use the vernacular, is Da Bomb. And I love the dreamlike transformation of Cab and his orchestra into the elegant white suits!

      And thanks for your kind words about the job disappointment. In hindsight, I agree that things happen for a reason, and that an opportunity closed means another is waiting in the wings. But why is this wisdom only available in hindsight?

      Oh yeah, that’s what the Happy Movies are for.


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