Chuckles and Me: Mixing Comedy With Grief

a guest post by author Elisa Lorello

www.inkthinkerblog.com — One of the most famous Mary Tyler Moore episodes (and in sitcom history) was about the death of Chuckles the Clown. While at Chuckles’ funeral, Mary finds herself with a case of the giggles, which soon trickle into laughter. With every mention of Chuckles’ name, his TV shows, his characters, Mary’s attempts to stifle her laughter are futile until the reverend validates her laughter. At that moment, she bursts into tears.

When I planned to write Ordinary World, the sequel to Faking It (a romantic comedy), I had no idea that grief and loss were going to play such predominant roles. I knew Andi had to evolve from her insecurities about her body and her intimacy issues, but I didn’t know how upside down her world was going to be turned. How was I going to make it work? How was I going to provide the reader with a pleasurable reading experience when the very first chapter takes Andi to a funeral? How could the sequel to a romantic comedy be so heavy?

There had to be comedic elements to the story, I decided. Perhaps not as comical as Mary Tyler Moore and Chuckles the Clown, but I started with a visual element. Andi goes to the funeral, yes; but she’s dressed in a cocktail dress and delivers an ill-prepared eulogy. On her first day back to work, she spends the morning throwing mail across her office into the wastebasket. Her wit slowly returns, day by day. Thus, my novel wasn’t going to be a romantic comedy, but a “dramedy,” not unlike such television shows as M*A*S*H and The West Wing.

There’s nothing funny about losing a loved one, but comedy and humor, laughter especially, can be part of the grieving process. About twenty years ago, a childhood friend of my twin brother committed suicide. It had turned out that we had tickets to see Jay Leno (a popular stand-up comedian in those days) the same day as the funeral. At first, we weren’t going to go, afraid it would be disrespectful to the memory of my brother’s friend. But as the day progressed, we changed our minds and attended the show. We laughed incessantly throughout Leno’s performance. At one point during the drive home we grew quiet, and I knew we were thinking the same thing. We were thinking about our friend, and were saddened again as the reality of his death returned to us. I think we even felt a little guilty. But it was so good to go someplace else and laugh for two hours. We needed that. Our friend would have liked the show.

Comedy and death have something in common: regeneration. At the end of the day, life goes on. In the situation comedy, for example, the plot may be foiled, or everyone becomes friends again, and life goes on. We go on. And we always have a choice in how to respond to death, how to live our lives in spite of it.

We can even laugh a little.

***

Elisa LorelloElisa Lorello was born and raised on Long Island, New York. In 1995, she moved to southeastern Massachusetts, where she attended University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Her career in rhetoric and composition studies began in 2000, and since then she has been teaching first-year writing at the university level. Currently, Elisa lives and teaches in North Carolina and is co-writing her third novel. She is happily single.

To learn more about Elisa and her other writing projects, please visit her blog “I’ll Have What She’s Having”: The Official Blog of Elisa Lorello at www.elisalorello.blogspot.com, or her official webpage at www.elisalorello.com. Ordinary World is currently available in print and ebook at Lulu.com, and at Amazon Kindle Store.

Contents Copyright © 2006-2014 Kristen King

20 comments… add one
  • Sheila B Mar 1, 2010

    The ultimate dramedy M*A*S*H! I always remember the last episide when I laughed and cried Alda chanelled so many types of funny into Hawkeye. Nothing was funny about that chicken/baby scene but until you knew for sure it was the latter that died the giggles kept coming. Nervous laughter probably.

  • Todd Jordan Mar 1, 2010

    What a great guest post. I’ve struggled with this a time or two. Where I got over it though was my grandmother’s viewing and funeral. She was not a quiet woman. She was the type that would not sit still even near her death bed.

    I knew, as I stood by her casket, she’d be the one cracking a joke, telling folks to move along, and quit hogging up the viewing. With those memories in mind I couldn’t lose my smile during the entire service.

    Cheers to a bit of realism in writing.
    .-= Todd Jordan´s last blog ..Cupcakes and Camaraderie =-.

    • What to Invest In Jul 30, 2011

      Coincidentally, today is my mom’s 14th death anniversary. I can only remember tidbits of her and the short time we spent together. Your comment, Mr. Jordan, reminded me of my mom. I miss her terribly. I think your grandmother was a great woman. :)

  • Lori Mar 4, 2010

    I think one of the more memorable scenes in Steel Magnolias is the laughter after the funeral.

    There’s something so connected about our emotions. It’s a chance to pull ourselves out of an emotion that can drown us into one more familiar and less scary. I think readers need that.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Guest Post: How to Succeed in Business Writing =-.

  • Al Patoni Mar 21, 2010

    I can actually relate to what Todd said about his grandmother. But, for me, it was my grandfather. I can remember him still cracking jokes at my grandmother. My god, it’s already been ten years and I still feel like I’m going to see him every time I wake up. The memories are always there, too bad he isn’t.

    I actually had a split flashback after reading this article. I can remember being a kid and waking up during the winter and sitting by the fire. It had never been boring, he always talked. Whether it be about how he had a lot of girls when he was younger, or how newer generations of children are acting compared to the old times.

    Thank you, again. I’m going to sit back and enjoy the memories.

    Al,

  • Chris @ VocoPro Apr 17, 2010

    Humor is such a strange thing. What is it? For a moment we get a perspective about the dissonance between two things and suddenly we are laughing. Or crying, it depends. A very human thing, any way you cut it. I think humor thrives in extremely dark moments – I bet your funeral scene pushed the level of humor in the book up a notch. Just think of Hamlet in the graveyard. (There’s a guy who needed a laugh and found one in a Mary Tyler Moore sort of place.)

  • Great post! I completely agree with your thoughts about death and comedy !!

  • Humour? It’s one of human’s characteristics which defines us not being as a normal creature but a personality and a gift given from God to us, such es Love, Crying and other emotions that nothing from Flora or Fauna has.
    Keep smiling :)

  • Teresa Simmons May 14, 2010

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed your blog post. I think you can find humour in everything, even death and grief.

    Thanks!

  • Janice Dugas May 26, 2010

    This is so true! It isn’t fun or funny when a loved one dies but it is a great opportunity to remember the funny things about the person or the things we enjoyed. I think this really celebrates their life and helps us get through that grieving process! Thanks for this post!

  • Shaving Supplies Jul 23, 2010

    Comedy brings relief in so many ways, more people should turn to it instead of doing other negative actions
    .-= Shaving Supplies´s last blog ..Do You Like To Shave =-.

  • thank you very much your sharing

  • I like chatting to a person with a sense of humor and at the same time you will learn from it. For me it is an achievement to put a smile on other people’s face :)
    .-= annie @ car window lettering´s last blog ..Vinyl Lettering =-.

  • thank you for your sharing! it is a great article, very interesting and useful
    .-= Certified SEO Vietnam´s last blog ..The Giving Effect =-.

  • It never fails. When you are not supposed to laugh you will laugh. One of the best laughs I ever had was when a graduate class I was in was touring an addiction center and we had a guide who was very serious and with the serious atmosphere, my friend and i broke out in uncontrolled laughter. We felt bad but that was one of the best laughs I can remember.
    .-= Randy@plus size costumes´s last blog ..Plus Size Maleficent Witch Costume =-.

  • electric kettles Nov 10, 2010

    Nice post. I wish I could find humor in death sometimes. I am the type of person who wears my emotions on my sleeve though so inevitably I become a crying mess. I’ll keep working on it.

  • Edna Nicholson Dec 24, 2010

    thank you for your sharing! it is a great article, very interesting and useful .-= Certified SEO Vietnam´s last blog ..The Giving Effect =-.

  • forex morning trade Jan 10, 2011

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  • I am not familiar with the show mentioned but i know what the writer was talking about. Dramedy, when the event is suppose to require a sad atmosphere but then since you remember something happy it makes you smile and that’s when it comes.

    – Jack Leak

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