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  • Anjali Gupta

The Healthy Humorist: The Role of Humor

After I chatted with a friend who was having a hard day, Tom McTague's article Yes. Make Coronavirus Jokes felt jarring to me.  But as good titles do, it captivated me to read more.  He states, "Humor helps us take back control and connect- two things we have lost in our fight against the pandemic." I thought of all the Corona jokes and memes...the cartoon poker game with toilet paper, the Chris Mann parodies on YouTube that made me LOL, and the endless jokes about hand sanitizer.  What is the role for humor amidst the difficulties and sadness all around us?

Q & A Today

DR. BRAD NIEDER does stand up comedy and is known as THE HEALTHY HUMORIST.

Q:  How did you decide to transition from medicine to stand up comedy and how was that transition? 

Comedy and humor came first in my life. I discovered improv in college in my improv and drama classes. Sophomore year I was a founding member of the improv troupe at Stanford (SImps) that still continues on today. Before medical school, I would go to the comedy club in Denver and do the open mic night. So writing and performing comedy was already part of me. Then I went to medical school and residency, and I had no time. I felt my humor sapping out of me. So I decided to marry the two. Now I bring humor and laughter to medical conferences and conventions. I am still practicing, but in an unconventional way. I have been doing a form of preventive medicine for the last 18 years.

Q:  What are the medical benefits of humor? Lifestyle factors such as exercise, smoking, and food affect our health and longevity. The workout we all need to add in is laughter. It can burn calories. It is useful in pain management by increasing pain tolerance. It can decrease stress hormone levels. It may boost immunity by activating IgA antibodies and T cells. There are also social benefits. In the workplace, companies such as Ben & Jerry's and Southwest Airlines encourage humor and realize it contributes to more fun and job satisfaction.

Q:  I think sometimes when people are grieving, it is easy to feel guilt over experiencing joy or space away from that grief.  However, grief counselors acknowledge that there are moments of joy and sadness that can co-exist in the journey of grief.  What is the role of humor in this pandemic for us?

Laughter bonds us. We come together around a common experience we are sharing. Mark Twain said, "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”  I think the role of humor during this pandemic is important.  It gives us a few minutes of a brief escape and can be a coping mechanism to get our mind off of our stress for a bit.  It can give us a little bit of that sense of control or power.  Right now there is so much uncertainty and fear that a couple minutes away from it where we can escape and feel that control may be helpful.  

For me personally, I have had the same fear and have been scared like everyone else.  I think the “Healthy" part of my moniker is superseding the “Humorist" part.  I too have been worried about my children who aren't going to school or extra-curricular activities or playdates, and I have been concerned about my aging parents.  Having said that, I do appreciate the moments I get a good chuckle and do believe those moments have a role in helping all of us.

Q:  Health care professionals on the front lines are dealing with many tragic and stressful situations.  How can humor assist them?

I’ve always been amazed at Viktor Frankl’s words about humor in perhaps the most tragic and stressful situation imaginable: a concentration camp.  "Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.  It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”  Healthcare workers deserve our appreciation and accolades right now.  I hope they are getting a few moments of escape or a brief respite from the horrors they are facing day in and day out caring for patients in their final moments.

Q:  How can children stay connected to humor despite the physical isolation many of them are experiencing right now? I was worried about my younger ones early on.  They weren't going to school, did not have choir or sports, and were not seeing friends.  I thought, "How are we going to manage?"  But children are so resilient.  Technology helps too.  The other thing about children is that they are funny naturally.  As a family we watch The Goldbergs, and they like that comedy.  My youngest and I have started a silly video series where she is in the front and I am the arms.  She is Dr. Sylvie ARMstrong.:) (  Finding ways to bring out the creativity and laughter that is in them and creating moments to be silly with them keeps them connected to their humor.

Thank you to Brad for the inspiration!

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