Using Humor to Cope with Tragedy

When fire spread at Second City Theater, Chicago's premier comedy training school, in late August, the theater sent out a characteristic tweet: "Yes, we know there's a fire. And we're working on it." The following books show how comedy works in all kinds of situations, including tragic ones.

In Yes, and, Second City training executives Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton apply improvisational techniques to foster creativity and innovation in the workplace. Some core philosophies developed over 50 years of training, like listening rather than leading, and gracefully accepting failure and fluidity, can enhance business interactions as much as they can scenic comedy. (Find additional titles related to Second City Theater.)

Scott Dikkers, editor-in-chief of the satirical newspaper The Onion, explores the relationship between comedy and tragedy in his slim volume How to Write Funny. Dikkers reveals many of the techniques The Onion staff uses to generate content, such as applying "funny filters" like parody, madcap and wordplay to news articles and human-interest stories. In one of the book's most memorable statements, early Onion lead writer Todd Hanson is quoted as saying humor is about one thing: "Life's nightmare hellscape of unrelenting horror."

Humorist Simon Rich's book of essays Ant Farm can be read in one short sitting, but its effect will likely linger. Crafting vignettes from unique perspectives, such as a child's view of the adults at a dinner party, the U.S. army as depicted in television commercials and the titular ants trapped in an ant farm, Rich explores life's most desperate moments through a minimalist observational lens of deep pathos and wit.

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Chicago Public Library