Thursday, 5 March 2015

Life is too serious to take seriously

Life is serious. Seriously.

All sorts of terrible things happen all the time. Kids are abused. People lose their jobs and have no means of support. They might be victims of violence, or all sorts of brutality. The world is full of racism and sexism and lots of other not-so-good-isms.

Sometimes, I find it difficult just reading the paper, when I just have sadness and violence thrown in my face. How on earth are we meant to respond to all of this? What is the decent, honest, human way to deal with the general awfulness of a lot of life?

A lot of people take the burden onto themselves. They become involved as activists, or join up with organisations that support people in need, or volunteer for all sorts of different services, often putting their own lives at risk. That's great. I really admire people like that. But other people get overwhelmed with it all, or simply shut it out. Most of the time, I confess that's me. I suspect it's most of the rest of us as well.

In the end, the main strategy I have to engage with the general seriousness of the world is to write about it. But, you may say, isn't my writing largely humorous? Am I not primarily just trying to get people to laugh? Well, yes I am, but there's a bit more to it than that.

Humour is a big part of the way I deal with the seriousness of the world. I know, that seems to be a bit of a contradiction. How can you turn something serious into something funny? Isn't that just trivialising the very real suffering of others, just to get a laugh?

Well, yes and no. I agree that there is a lot of humour that can be quite trivialising, and personally I'm totally not into making fun of anyone disadvantaged. But there are other types of humour as well. Humour that helps you to see things in a new way. Humour that gets you to reconsider the way you view the world, and your preconceptions and prejudices. Humour that is about understanding there's only so much you can do, and putting on a brave face and getting on with things just the same.

To me, humour is a powerful thing. You can never be truly downtrodden if you're able to laugh, no matter how painful that laughter may be. It can bring people together, and maybe, in some small way, it can change the world for the better.

Because it truly is a serious world we live in. Far too serious to ever take too seriously.


  1. People come knocking on my door all the time looking for me to support whatever charity it is they’re promoting and I tell them all the same: you can’t fund everyone. I make regular monthly contributions to charity by standing order. The charity I support is neither here nor there. Is a cancer charity more or less worth supporting than a homeless charity or a charity for abused donkeys? You do your bit. I don’t go on marches. I don’t harangue my local MP.

    In an interview with The Spectator Sean O’ Brien said, “At a certain point, yes, all writing is political, whether the writer is aware of it or not, because it positions itself at a certain angle. It stands, whether it likes it or not, in relation to its time. It’s about how we are governed, how we exert power, or how we have power exerted over us. No, I don’t think anyone has a duty to write political poetry. Some people are inclined that way. I am, but other people, for perfectly good reasons, are not.” I don’t consider myself a political writer but I think that’s mainly to do with how I conceive the term ‘politics’ which is mostly negative.

    Beckett was often criticised for not being more political and yet this is what his biographer had to say on that score: "Beckett took political positions: he was against oppression, he was for individualism, he was certainly against all forms of totalitarianism and fascism. But he had this view of art—that it suggested rather than stated. If you got too explicit, you countermanded what you were trying to do." I agree with him. A sledgehammer is not always the best approach and not everyone has the strength to wield one anyway.

    I think writing matters. Correction: I think writing should matter. Writing should make a difference. Writing should change lives. There is a place for political commentary and there is a place for satire and a place for diversion. Not all change is permanent nor does it need to be. Humour serves an important function in life. On a superficial level it is nothing more than distraction and even at that level it’s good and necessary but humour also acts as the sugar cube. I don’t know if they still do that but I do remember as a kid having my medicine dribbled onto a cube of sugar.

    I’m a big fan of humour. No matter how serious I try to be the humour just slips on in there. I’m not a comedian or even a humourist but I’m also not daft: I know what tools are available to me and what writer worth his salt doesn’t take advantage of every trick in the book?

    1. Hi Jim. I think we see pretty much eye-to-eye on this. Have a good week,