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Laughing to keep from crying

By Mike Ruffin I follow the Twitter account @WatergateDayOf. Its description says, ‘Tweeting out the events of Watergate as they happened 47 years ago.’ I remember the Watergate crisis well. I was a young teenager while it was going on, but it affected my view of politics in ways that have endured until this day. It’s been interesting to relive some of the Watergate events through @WatergateDayOf. For example, on July 14, one of @WatergateDayOf’s tweets noted that on that date in 1973, the album The Watergate Comedy Hour peaked at #66 on the Billboard album chart. Around that time, I took some of my hard-earned money from my job at Burnette’s Thriftown grocery store and bought a copy. I still have it. Among the performers on the album are Jack Burns, Avery Schreiber, and Fannie Flagg (who does a killer Martha Mitchell impression). It offers a comedic take on the very serious events of Watergate. Some of its bits are pretty funny. Some aren’t. But they gave it a good try. Political comedy has a long and noble tradition in our nation. In the early part of the twentieth century, the political and social commentary of Will Rogers produced many classic sayings. He said, for example, ‘Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.’ He also said, ‘You’ve got to be optimist to be a Democrat, and you’ve got to be a humorist to stay one.’ And here’s one more: ‘That’s one thing about Republican Presidents. They never went in much for plans. They only had one plan. It says ‘˜Boys, my head is turned. Just get it while you can.'” Rogers died in 1935, but that doesn’t mean his words don’t still ring true. Some of the best political comedy has come in the form of songs. It’s hard to find a better musical satirist than Tom Lehrer, a mathematician and musician who wrote and performed satirical songs in the 1950s and 1960s. You can see some of his performances on the Tom Lehrer Wisdom Channel on YouTube. In his hilarious song about nuclear Armageddon (no really, it’s hysterical), Lehrer sings, We will all burn together when we burn. There’ll be no need to stand and wait your turn When it’s time for the fallout And Saint Peter calls us all out We’ll just drop our agendas and adjourn. The Smothers Brothers also do musical (and non-musical) political comedy. Their innovative variety show lasted only three seasons (1967-69), largely due to their battles with CBS censors. The program gave rise to the 1968 presidential campaign of Pat Paulsen, who ran on the Straight Talking American Government (S.T.A.G) Party ticket. He had brilliant positions on the issues. For example, here is his position on gun control: ‘Guns are not the real problem. The real problem is bullets. And if I’m elected, I’ll see there are plenty of guns for everybody, but we’ll lock up all the bullets.’ There are also some excellent current artists doing political comedy. I’d recommend three in particular to you. (I follow them all on Twitter, so I’m putting their Twitter handle in parentheses after their names.) One is J-L Cauvin (@JLCauvin), who may be the best Donald Trump impersonator out there. Another is Atlanta’s own Blaire Erskine (@blaireerskine), who has recently done great bits in which she pretends to be the wife of that guy who verbally accosted an elderly lady for wearing a mask in Costco, the mother of a family that went to Disney World as soon as it reopened, and a woman irritated by Walmart’s July 15 announcement that customers visiting Walmart and Sam’s Club stores would be required to wear masks (tip: always listen closely for the names of her three children). The third is Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr). She lip syncs Donald Trump’s speeches. It’s priceless. She’s amazing. I am grateful for comedians who do smart political comedy. We need them. We need to laugh at what we’re going through. It does seem sort of odd to make fun of and to laugh at things that, when you stop and think about, really aren’t funny at all. It’s a survival technique, I think. Most great comedy comes out of great pain. Comedians create the humor and we laugh at it as a way to get through it. We laugh to keep from crying. But as we laugh, we might just see things from a slightly different angle, and we might make some progress toward dealing with what’s happening. And our laughter might reduce our stress so that we can live long enough to do something about it.

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