THE HEALING POWER OF LAUGHTER

In this challenging time, the healing power of laughter is more important than ever.

We hope you find this timely video segment worth watching and sharing — direct from the National Comedy Center exhibit: The Healing Power.

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The National Comedy Center is a 501(c)(3) cultural institution and we rely on the support of our generous donors and friends to help fulfill our mission. By supporting the National Comedy Center, you are making a generous commitment and demonstrating your belief in the importance of comedy as an art form.

Healing Moments in
Comedy History

Less than three weeks after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani delivered an uplifting monologue on Saturday Night Live, declaring that the city needed its vital institutions — including SNL — up and running to return to normalcy. Show creator Lorne Michaels asked Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” Breaking the somber tension, Giuliani humorously answered: “Why start now?”
The groundbreaking stand-up comedian Dick Gregory faced enormous adversity as he used his artistry to break the color barrier in a segregated America. Gregory often said that his priority was to get laughs. Yet his sharp-tongued, intelligent, and courageous work did much more than that. His comedy shifted attitudes and galvanized activists during the Civil Rights era.
Maria Bamford’s unique approach to stand-up and sketch comedy grapples bluntly with her struggles with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and OCD. Beyond getting laughs, her work shines a light on mental illness, offering solace to those who suffer privately and encouraging an open cultural discourse about mental health.
During a span of four months in 2012, stand-up comedian Tig Notaro was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection, unexpectedly lost her mother, broke up with her girlfriend, and received a breast cancer diagnosis. During a now-historic stand-up performance, Notaro spontaneously decided to share her story with a vast audience. As she later described it, the experience was a “bursting-at-the-seams, cathartic moment” – an opportunity for comedy to foster networks of community, empathy, and healing.
For more than fifty years, perennial entertainer Bob Hope crisscrossed the globe performing comedy for deployed military troops on bases and in hospitals around the world. From the early years of World War II through the Gulf War in the 1990s, Hope provided countless hours of uplift and laughter to generations of service members suffering severe physical and mental strain. Hope’s work established an honorable tradition of service: Hundreds of performers continue his legacy today by entertaining troops with the USO.
The critically-acclaimed 2017 romantic comedy film The Big Sick was co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon as a means of working through the real life trauma of an illness that left Emily in an induced coma during the couple’s courtship. The film addresses the complexities of love, fear, and tragedy in frank and funny ways; As one reviewer put it: “You’ll laugh till it hurts.”
Comedy can serve as a vehicle for upsetting oppressive power structures. Mel Brooks confronted the legacy of Jewish suffering by using acerbic song-and-dance routines to undermine the dignity of Adolf Hitler in films like The Producers and To Be or Not to Be. As Brooks explains it, “It’s been one of my lifelong jobs — to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler.”

Jim Gaffigan’s wife and co-writer Jeannie encouraged him to perform autobiographical stand-up material about the challenges of navigating her own brain tumor diagnosis and subsequent surgical treatment…while raising five young children. Gaffigan’s resultant stand-up special, Noble Ape, debuted in 2018 and the couple have continued to be vocal advocates for caregivers supporting patients through the trauma of life-threatening illness.

For over a decade, Robin Williams traveled the world buoying the spirits of military troops in active war zones. He shared his beloved brand of comedy through live performances, but also spoke openly with the servicemen and women about their struggles and fears. He engaged in moving one-on-one conversations that gave soldiers a chance to share their personal stories, and to find comfort in the empathy of a sincere and supportive listener.
Following the death of his wife Michelle McNamara in 2016, Patton Oswalt devoted half of his stand-up special, Annihilation, to a raw discussion of grief that is alternately heartfelt and darkly humorous. Oswalt was emotional as he performed, evoking memories of his wife and love for his young daughter. The piece is presented as a moment of release, and a means of identification with his audience. Annihilation closes with Michelle’s mantra: “It’s chaos. Be kind out there.”

In these challenging times, the healing power of laughter is particularly important for each one of us.

The National Comedy Center is a 501(c)(3) cultural institution and we rely on the support of our generous donors and friends to help fulfill our mission. By supporting the National Comedy Center, you are making a generous commitment and demonstrating your belief in the importance of comedy as an art form.