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Guffawing Through Face Masks: Some Turn To Gallows Humor To Cope With Pandemic


There's a new meme for these troubling times derived from a classic painting, a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh.

LORI DAY: With a surgical mask drooping off of just one ear.

SIMON: Ouch. I do mean ouch, because Vincent Van Gogh famously cut off part of one ear, so his surgical mask would droop.

DAY: I have not laughed as hard as I've laughed these past few weeks. It is so cathartic.

SIMON: That's Lori Day. Before the pandemic, she worked as an educational psychologist in Boston. Now that schools are closed, she's up to something completely different. She's become an administrator of a Facebook group that encourages several thousand people to share dark humor about the coronavirus.

DAY: When the pandemic started getting taken seriously in America, I just remember getting anxious because, well, my work was drying up, and I was worried about elderly parents and even my husband, who's in a high-risk group. My go-to coping mechanism has always been humor, especially dark humor. So I posted a few memes on Facebook that I thought were hilarious.


ERIC IDLE: (As Dead Collector) Bring out your dead.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Here's one.

DAY: That scene from "Monty Python's Holy Grail" (ph) where Eric Idle is shouting, bring out your dead.


IDLE: (As Dead Collector) He says he's not dead.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Yes, he is.

JOHN YOUNG: (As Dead Body) I'm not.

IDLE: (As Dead Collector) He isn't?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Well, he will be soon. He's very ill.

YOUNG: (As Dead Body) I'm getting better.

JOHN CLEESE: (As character) No, you're not. You'll be stone dead in a moment.

IDLE: (As Dead Collector) I can't take him like that.

DAY: But the feedback I got was, like, really mixed. Some people thought that they were funny, and other people were just aghast. But I have other friends that are like me. And it's like, we talk about how laughing gives us these little dopamine squirts. And it's like, you know, better than pharmaceuticals. And it's - I don't know - I just felt like I needed it to get through so I created the group. And I was really shocked at how it took off. The people in the group really get what it's about. They post anything that involves horror references. So a picture of Anthony Hopkins from "Silence Of The Lambs" - he's looking right at you and saying, when the food runs out, we'll still have each other.


DAY: There is this photo going around of a sewer grate with a red helium balloon tied to it and a roll of toilet paper. There is silly stuff. It's not all dark. The people putting on those huge inflatable T-Rex costumes and, like, parading through their towns, but keeping their six feet of social distance. Humor like this might rub some people the wrong way. But everybody's different, and it's just as legitimate a coping mechanism as anything else. There are people in the group that are COVID-positive, and they're literally laughing from their beds or their hospital rooms. There was this one guy who put it, I thought, really succinctly. He said dark humor brightens dark days, and I'm happy to be of service.

SIMON: Psychologist Lori Day talking about her new side job. She runs a Facebook group dedicated to poking dark fun at the coronavirus.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BRION'S "STRANGE BATH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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