Branding myself a comedy nerd offers a strange source of pride; I possess a love that’s mostly pure. I experience something like exhilaration digging through early seasons of Saturday Night Live, discover new dimensions each time I read between the punchlines of Mike Birbiglia or John Mulaney, smile a mile wide at clips of Bill Hader breaking on camera.
Pick nearly any other medium, and I welcome misery and company. I soundtrack my life with “sad bastard” songs, read heavy novels, absorb the poetry of conflicted emotions. Melancholy is my sixth sense, my superpower. Wearing an unenviable sort of X-ray glasses, I see through others to their sadness and spiritual disorientation. The blues enter my bloodstream, and I am acutely aware of how quickly they travel. The news of the day and sheer gravity of living bring the walls a little closer.
Yet drama stretched across a screen of any size looms large; it bears down, its immanence almost oppressive. My viewing habits include watching the same episode of The Office for the eighteenth time, returning to the friendly confines of Pawnee, Indiana, settling down to play catch-up in The Good Place.
My wife dares to ask about streaming another episode of a prestige drama. She holds her breath, then readies her lips to mouth along with my answer. “Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight,” I say, parroting Sondheim.
Night after night becomes custom and compulsion, and I only see it when I step outside myself: I have a serious issue with postponing serious things.
Comedy, in most cases, offers escape; it revels in the lightness of being. Even the cringe-inducing mockumentaries I enjoy introduce mostly good people navigating knotty situations with a sense of their own insignificance. Even as we—thankfully—evolve beyond the laugh-tracked, filmed-live-before-a-studio-audience sitcoms of my childhood, these stories knot their loose ends and lend even their most aggravating characters a chance to live right.
Bearing witness to these characters’ trials—authentic or invented—I take joy in absurdity and relish the order found even in chaos. Like a gospel, we pass around the axiom that comedy equals tragedy plus time. I want to impose my own formula; give me error plus remove, and I’ll keep laughing.
In the language of St. Paul, I prefer putting off to putting on. Dramas only remind me of what waits on the other side of 45 minutes but comedy enables my emotional procrastination. I assign weighty conversations, deep theological wrestling and unpleasant decisions to a later date. Let seriousness be future Aarik’s problem. (Thank you to, How I Met Your Mother, for enabling me.)
When anxiety sits on my shoulders like a growing child, the last thing I want is to stare into TV character’s problems. When the objects and subjects of drama do irreparable harm, miss a connection, let words go unsaid, my own absence and ache return unwelcome. I barely hold up under the weight of my own sin and selfishness and the suffering of those around me; how can I be expected to bear fictional weight too? Ripping off Augustine, I pray for emotional maturity—just not yet.
At my most self-aware, I know sitting with the drama in someone else’s life offers needed practice at sitting with my own. Despite its noble best, laughter cannot hold drama off for long; it waits just beyond the closing credits. Actual adulthood requires honest accounting of our problems, a recognition of the open plots before us, land available for growth and flourishing.
The Bible draws its picture of a whole life—both laughter and lament fit. Sadness and silence qualify as gifts; so do belly laughs and crisply starched one-liners.
I want to experience both in their purest forms, at their truest weights. Give me eyes to see what hurts, ears to hear great jokes, the constitution to laugh and cry— whatever life asks. Comedy and tragedy tonight, tomorrow, and all the days God allows.
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