Edited by Sanjana Hira
While we have often heard people claim that “laughter is the best medicine”, unfortunately, it is not a cure for COVID-19. The onset of the pandemic led to the shutting down of the world. The virus coerced countries into a lockdown and people were forced to isolate themselves. The social isolation, along with the uncertainty of the situation, left many aghast by the deadly grip of the disease and stirred up stress and anxiety amongst people.
In such a horrifying and stressful situation, a little laughter and comedy is a welcome relief. Listening to incidents like stores in the US running out of toilet paper, or people coming together to show solidarity by banging plates and lighting candles during India’s first lockdown put a smile on people’s faces. But it was the memes that followed later that brought us the much needed relief. Studies have found that laughter can reorient dopamine and serotonin activity. Furthermore, endorphins secreted by laughter can help when people are lonely or in a depressed mood. Humour in isolation is impossible when the dreaded loneliness prevails over days. However, due to social media and networking, people managed to stay connected and funny memes and YouTube videos, crazy TikTok videos and Instagram reels helped ease the overwhelming fear, anxiety and stress. This hilarious and comical content online made a lot of people chuckle and the content’s relatability acted as a supporting mechanism during dark times.
It’s been a year into the pandemic and, in isolation, many people are facing high burnout rates and Zoom fatigue. Being cooped up into the house without any social interaction can lead to the stagnation of creativity. The comedy industry faced a huge blow when the lockdown was imposed. Comedy genres like improv, stand up comedy and talk shows – where audience interaction is an essential element – lost their essence when they had to switch to the online medium. Added to adapting to a new medium of hosting, comedians and artists also had to continuously produce new material. Comedy heavily relies on creativity; it is an art that engages with people by combining fantasy with reality. On one hand, having little or no interaction with society and the environment makes it difficult to create new content while on the other, new possibilities of comic content can be explored and created because of the exponential reliance on the virtual world, leading to different and new experiences.
There is no denying that humour has helped a lot of people get through these difficult times, making them feel connected to the larger world. Laughter is a social vocalization that binds people together. It is with the help of the comic medium that many people have maintained contact with each other and created many new contacts. High dependence on virtual medium and increasing content on the virtual platform has also allowed a lot of people to get in touch with a few with whom they had lost contact. While the deadly disease broke ties and forced people into isolation, the adaptable nature of comedy bridged this gap.
In the days of Plato and Aristotle, humour was considered dangerous as it had the potential and the power to undermine authorities. Often, humour is used as a device to feel powerful when pushed into situations of being powerless. Today, COVID-19 may seem like a potent force, dictating our lifestyles, but with a tinge of humour, the current circumstance may become easier to deal with.