COMEDY in a TIME of PLAGUE
I’m sure everybody’s quarantine experience is different, and all of us are dealing with it in our own ways. As I try to process this weird time, I’m not even sure what to call it—although I think historians will call it the Great Toilet Paper Panic. Seriously, people—if you need thirty-six rolls of toilet paper for a three-month-long lockdown, you’ve got other health issues that you should have addressed before Covid-19.
Is it a ‘pandemic?’ That’s accurate, but it feels too sci-fi, and the kind of sci-fi you would see on TBS, with an exclamation point after the title—“Pandemic!” The ‘Apocalypse?’ Well, I truly don’t think we’re there yet. Check the various prophecies. While it’s true that our current president would be great in the role of ‘The Anti-Christ,’ I don’t think any world scripture mentions ‘idiot kids on Spring Break,’ so this is probably not the End Times.
What about combining the two terms? Look, I appreciate a good portmanteau as much as the next guy, but ‘pand-apocalypse’ just sounds like we’ll all be killed by adorable, fluffy bears, and if that ends up being the way this all goes down, I’m okay with it.
Whatever you call it (lately I’ve been using ‘Covidpalooza,’ because it implies a global health crisis AND a cool outdoor music festival), this whole thing has us all a little freaked. Now, I feel like I should lower my voice when I say this, or at least use a smaller font, but my day-to-day life hasn’t changed much. Since I’m more or less hobbled by disability, ‘sheltering-in-place’ is how I usually roll.
Other than the closing of a fabulous little piano bar where I sang, and missing out on the occasional nearby lunch with a close friend, my routine hasn’t really changed. I wash my hands more often than I used to, and a neighbor made a mask for everyone in the complex, so I wear one of those if I’m ever going to be around, you know, people.
I guess we’re all on Team Mask now, but it was confusing for a while, because they were saying we didn’t need to wear masks, even though literally millions of people around the world were wearing masks.
And then there’s the whole face touching thing. Bear in mind, I get overwhelmed by the amount of information that is out there, but I think the CDC says you’re not supposed to touch your face. I don’t think they have weighed in on whether it’s okay to touch other people’s faces.
There’s also been a lot of debate about what makes a business essential. I mean, beyond, hospitals, factories, and weed shops. Naturally, the bars are closed, which made for an awkward St. Patrick’s Day, as everyone was ordered to ‘vomit in place.’
Gamestop tried to declare itself ‘essential, which is ludicrous. Nobody needs videogames. Pot, on the other hand is clearly essential. Put it this way—I have smoked pot without videogames, but I have never played a videogame without being high. QED.
For the first few days of Shutdown 2020, I couldn’t get any vodka which, I’m not gonna lie, was terrifying. And, for some inexplicable reason…mayonnaise. All I could think was that some DIY/prepper dude figured out a cure, and that cure involves mixing Smirnoff with Hellman’s.
Passing time has never been a problem for me, because I have a bit of the OCD. I can happily kill a couple hours just alphabetizing things. To take it to the next level, I’ve started alphabetizing the things that cause me anxiety! This has had an unexpected benefit–I’ve spent so much time worrying about this coronavirus, which starts with ‘c,’ that I haven’t been spending my energy being afraid of Trump (all the way down there in the ‘t’s).
Sadly, I’m not terribly useful to those in need (though I can probably spare a roll of toilet paper). I can’t help older, at-risk people get groceries, because I don’t drive. Also, because I’m older and ‘at risk.’
So what can I do? My skill set is fairly…limited. Before all this started I remember talking with some neighbors about a possible zombie outbreak (it was a simpler time). Anyway, I realized I wouldn’t be of much help, since I’m pretty sure that if there is a zombie outbreak, nobody is going to need a humorous, fifteen-hundred word take on brain-eating.
Still, I feel pressure to do something. My social media feed is filled with friends who are learning a language, taking up a musical instrument, or throwing themselves into home cooking adventures.
I clearly don’t have the discipline for any of these things, although on Duolingo, I am studying Spanish. I’m still on lesson two, but if any of you need to know the Spanish word for ‘suitcase,’ or how to correctly ask for a piece of bread, I’m here for you.
What I do is write. That should be a fairly low-stress gig in plague times, since I mostly write jokes, and there isn’t really much of a market for those at the moment. Granted, there have probably been people trying to be funny during evydark moment in history.
And I know that there were court jesters during the Black Death era, but I am not wearing those shoes and that hat.
Pre-pandemic (!), I never felt much pressure to write…inspiration always seemed to show up when I needed it, give or take a few days. Then Covid-19 struck, and I learned something, from a meme, which is how I learn things now, that caused me to question everything I have done.
I learned that William Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ when he was in quarantine! I did not need to know this. Knowing this just makes what I do manage to write seem even less important. I definitely don’t need that sort of pressure.
And I’d like to point out that when Billy Shakes was under quarantine, there weren’t nearly as many distractions to interrupt the flow of his writing! Did he have four seasons of ‘Mr. Robot’ to finish? Was his free trial for Sling TV about to expire? Those episodes don’t just stream themselves!
Another difference between Shakespeare and me is that, by the time he wrote ‘King Lear,’ he had already written ‘Othello’ and Hamlet,’ so he already had an audience for his stuff. Yeah, writing under lockdown is a lot easier when you just have to wait it out, and all the people who didn’t die from the plague will just line up for your latest show.
Besides, it’s not like Shakespeare wrote comedy during the Black Plague! Sure, ‘Lear’ is great for what it is, but it’s not exactly a laugh riot. And maybe, in a time when we’re all stuck inside and afraid to touch anything, a few laughs can help pass the time! Maybe laughter is the only thing that can keep us, and by us I mean me, sane when the world is ending!
It’s like the episode of the original ‘Star Trek’ (season 3, episode 7, “Day of the Dove”—fine, maybe I watch too much TV), when the crew realizes they can’t defeat the alien with weapons, so they decide to laugh at it.
I’m not saying that laughter is more effective against the coronavirus than, say, hand washing, or social distancing, but if it can take down a glowing alien composed of pure energy, maybe it should be part of the solution to this…whatever it is.