And when I say comedy, what I’m thinking of is, in no particular order, Dante Alighieri’s Commedia, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt, the movie A Thousand Clowns, Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness, the Gospel of John, and other such simulacra.
Other such representations. Other such meditations. Other such narratives. Other such explorations into the world as a fortunate place, into the idea that life is. Well. Filled with cupidity and insanity and banality and terror and death and suffering and corruption and evil. But also into the idea that life has in it restoration and order and beauty and light-heartedness and enjoyment and vitality and love and generosity and forgiveness and word-play and a modicum of hilarity from time to time.
Explorations that discover a dark world where there are also the moon and stars. And ultimately the sun.
Narratives that acknowledge that while our particular lives end, our endings may not be all that bad. And they may very possibly be good.
And this is from someone who is a hospice volunteer. Who occupies himself with people who are dying.
I sit with people as they die. I sit with people whose brother or sister or wife will not sit with them as they die. So I see death. And I see a bit of suffering. And I see cowardice. In other words, I am not isolated from the real world in a world of books.
So when I say comedy, I mean something beyond Laurel and Hardy. There’s nothing wrong with Laurel and Hardy. I think The Music Box is a scream, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was a teenager, when I fell off the couch laughing as the classic short played on the television.
But let’s face it, the destruction of a home and the destruction of a player piano by idiots, while amusing, doesn’t discover much in the end but destruction and mayhem and guffaws. Low humor such as this can serve the purpose of amusement in a larger comedic structure, but this is not itself an example of the comedy I mean.
The comedy I mean is unlikely. Improbable. The skeptic in us momentarily rebels at the comedic ending. But we put him down. We put down the skeptic in order to let the restoration or the salvation or the consummation or the survival of love in the ending stand.
Oh it may sometimes stand a bit shakily, depending upon our phase of life. Depending somewhat on our life experience. On whether we are clinically depressed or not, for example. On whether we have lost people we’ve loved.
And this shakiness is part of what comedy discovers also. It requires something of us—a steadying hand, in some sense. It requires a willingness to overlook whatever contrivance there might be. A willingness to forget something of what we think we know about the way the world works. And to remember hope. And to remember possibility. Consciously. Deliberately. As a matter of choice.