This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2016

Healing trauma through comedy

Comedians take heavy subjects and laugh about them to ease the pain. Now, I'm joining them.

Hillary Di Menna@HillaryDiMenna

ThisMagazine50_coverLores-minFor our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!

At a punk show last June, a male security guard elbowed me in the chest and some drunk dude punched me in the face. So I left the show. I was angry, but also too exhausted to, yet again, process the wrongness of what had happened and how such violence is a symptom of the complexities of institutional sexist norms. Instead I turned to my friends and joked, “I haven’t been beat like that since my ex-boyfriend.” The ensuing laughs made me feel safe, let me know that this frequent violence is wrong, and that I am friends with people who understand this.

Then, this May I went to Toronto’s Comedy Bar to watch a stand-up show called Rape is Real and Everywhere. Men who “don’t get what the big deal is” seem to own rape jokes. But these eight comedians performing stand-up that night, including the two organizers, have experienced sexual assault and rape—and are now reclaiming the narratives of their experiences. For them, making jokes and sharing their experiences with an audience acts as catharsis and eliminates isolation. There’s a strong sense of solidarity. One of the show’s comedians says such subversive acts build awareness, support, and understanding. “It is a very traumatic, sensitive, and destructive experience” adds comedian Silvi Santoso. “For me, humour can be used as one possible way to deal with the pains.”

I started consuming more comedy after a suggestion from my therapist. Luckily, one of my oldest friends is a comedian. She has worked at Second City Theatricals for Norwegian Cruise Lines and is now attending school for social work, with an aim to create therapeutic comedy programs.

It is because of my dear friend that I have returned to Comedy Bar, this time to take a stand-up comedy writing class. I wanted to improve my public speaking skills and gain confidence, but it’s therapeutic as well. During my first class I shared something that has been building a pit in my stomach for decades, something I have been hashing out in therapist chairs for just as long. After I was done the room was laughing—and it felt amazing. I was high on it for the rest of the day. And so this is my wish for the future: that we may all heal through laughter and learn we are not alone.

Illustration by Matthew Daley

Hillary Di Menna writes about social justice with an emphasis on feminism for This Magazine and her blog Misfit Matriarch.

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