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Life In America: Comedies Versus Tragedies

It was a defining moment early in my column writing career, when someone sent a complaint letter to my editor, making it my first and only complaint letter. I've had emails and blog comments, but no one has taken the time to write an actual complaint letter before or since.

Seventeen years later, I still remember what the letter actually said:

"Discussion of Pamela Anderson's boobs have no place in a humor column."

I was confused. Where else would you expect discussions of her boobs to be?

Okay, late night talk shows, but the point is — and the Internet. But the point is — yes, and her B-movie career. But you need to realize — well, obviously Baywatch reruns. But what I'm trying to say — yes, more stuff on the Internet.

What I'm trying to say is it made me realize there are two types of people in the world, those who appreciate Pamela Anderson's boobs, and those who don't.

Wait, that's not my point at all.

My point is there are two types of people in the world, those who appreciate humor, and those who don't. Those who think we need to laugh and enjoy life more, and those who think life is meant to be endured, and not enjoyed.

I worked with one group, and worked for the other. Given that I now own my own business, I'll let you guess which is which.

You've seen the old theater masks that symbolize Comedy and Tragedy. You're either happy, or you're not. You laugh about the good in life, or you cry about the bad in life. We know both types, the wise-cracking cut up who laughs at everything, and the melancholy Debbie Downer who finds misery in everything.

Let's call them Comedies and Tragedies.

Tragedies manufacture outrage, while Comedies can't be bothered with life's small difficulties. Tragedies are easily offended by their favorite hot button issues and will look for things to gripe about. Comedies like to poke Tragedies' favorite hot buttons, and then sit back and watch the fun.

I call it Poking The Bear. I like to play it on Facebook by posting articles about the negative effects of helicopter parenting when I know my helicopter parenting friends will read it, after they finish feeding their children organic peanut-free peanut butter sandwiches on gluten-free bread. I like to post pro-gay marriage news articles where my anti-gay marriage friends will see them.

Poke, poke, poke.

Comedies have wrinkles around their eyes from smiling so much, Tragedies have lines around their mouth from frowning. Comedies just smiled to feel their eyes wrinkle. Tragedies said, "I do too smile!"

Tragedies enjoy dramas and sad movies and depressing books. They watch the news every night and share the scariest stories at work the next day, convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They watch Parenthood and The Fosters, loved The American Sniper, and they read The Help. In hardback.

Comedies love, well, comedies — sitcoms, funny movies, and funny books. They watch Big Bang Theory and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They read Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams books. They get their news from The Daily Show, and are often better informed. And they don't make a grumpy face that makes them look like they haven't pooped in a week.

Comedies will think that last joke was funny, Tragedies will send angry letters saying "the word 'poop' has no place in a humor column." (You would've hated my boobs columns then.)

Comedies watch Scandal to make fun of it, Tragedies watch Mulaney and fail to see the humor in it. (Of course, so did the Comedies, which is why it was canceled.)

Personally, I don't see the need to entertain myself with sad stories — tales of war, bankruptcy, death, lost love, and personal suffering. I'm not saying these stories aren't important or worthy. They are. But the whole point of escapism is to escape real life sadness and pain. I want to laugh, not bathe in other people's miseries.

Comedies tell me that everything is going to be all right in the end. Tragedies tell me I'm one day closer to the sweet, sweet release of death.

In the end, we'll measure our lives by how much we laughed and how much we enjoyed the journey. Ultimately, we'll all measure the joy in our lives in pounds or in teaspoons.

Personally, I'm going to measure it in newspaper complaint letters. Check back next week for my column about gay weddings that serve non-gluten-free cake shaped like boobs.


Photo credit: Tim Green (Flickr, Creative Commons)


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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