Is it OK to laugh at coronavirus jokes and memes?
No one because we're isolating.
The coronavirus pandemic and its deadly wake are no laughing matter. But there are plenty who are finding punchlines amid the pandemic. Seriously, did you think when the (bleep) hit the fan you'd be wondering if you could spare the toilet paper to clean it?
Comedians Norm Macdonald and Patton Oswalt attempted to bring levity to the situation weeks ago.
"Remember the good old days, when washing your hands didn't take three hours?" Macdonald inquired at the Hollywood Improv on March 13.
"Alright, folks, thanks for staying in tonight," he said. "This COVID-19, I tell ya. I didn't see COVID-1 through 18, so I don't really know what this is all about."
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Stand-up comic and author Cameron Esposito has also been inspired by the crisis. "Doctors think my girlfriend has COVID-19, and this has really progressed our relationship," she joked in a clip shared to Instagram Sunday. "I mean, we're sleepin' in separate beds, something usually reserved for marriage."
"That is the dumbest joke in the world," Esposito tells USA TODAY, "but it made me laugh."
The funny lady feels "It is always OK to laugh," even now. She suggests comedians stick to "talking about your own life and your relationship to the topic" and believes they can get into trouble when "they’re talking about something they have no personal knowledge of."
For her, determining what's off-limits is more "about cruelty, not whether or not the topic can be funny at all."
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Peter McGraw, behavioral economist and director of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, agrees that sensitivity should be exercised.
"It’s easy to make jokes about getting to the end of Netflix because you’re quarantined. It’s another thing to make jokes about a lack of respirators," he says.
McGraw says while there is some "mild" physical benefit to laughing, it's the positive emotions that humor triggers that do us good because they're "incredibly important for our health and well-being."
Happy feelings can help our immune systems thrive, he says, plus "It’s actually easier to solve problems when you’re in a positive mood."
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Maybe most importantly, laughter can help decrease fear.
McGraw references the benign violation theory to explain how joking about something as awful as the coronavirus pandemic can be beneficial. The theory describes a violation as "anything that threatens one’s beliefs about how the world should be." In order for a violation to become humorous it needs to be viewed as not harmful.
"So, when you turn tragedy into comedy, you actually make it less of a tragedy," he says.
Esposito, who spoke about her own sexual assault in her 2018 special "Rape Jokes," sees comedy as an aide, not a cure.
"I don’t know that it’s ever about getting over (tragedy), because I don’t actually think humor can do that," she says. "I think everybody has to heal in their own way. ... I think humor is about keeping going."
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