Laughter in the Time of Insurrection

Maybe it’s not a bad thing Twitter is filled with jokes following the breach of the US Capitol.

Katie Martin


If the US Capitol breach was a coup, then it looked like a bad Seth Rogen movie. But still, 5 people died. The images of people occupying the Senate chamber were both comical and devastating. Is this a joke or a tragedy? I couldn’t decide.

Maybe it was both. Maybe it was a tragedy that much of social media viewed through the lens of humor. But why sarcasm? Why humor?

Well, that’s how we make sense of our world. While in collective shock, those short quips on Twitter could have been our first attempts to process what happened. After all, the proper historians will take a little while longer to develop a robust understanding of January 6th. And we don’t have time — no one wants to sits with the tension of not being able to process the events around them. Not for long at least.

I’ll be honest — when I read that a Trump supporter was shot by a Secret Service officer, I didn’t feel anything. I watched the video, and didn’t feel a thing. At the time, I tried to reason: this woman was threatening the security of our Senators — that’s really bad, right? In an ideal world, I would have also tried to remind myself she was brainwashed or unstable. Still a human and all. But at the time, I couldn’t process it.

I felt indifferent. Too stunned to hate, too stunned to love. Too exhausted to have any concrete thoughts at all. So naturally, I spent the evening chuckling and scrolling through snappy memes on Twitter.

This was a desperate attempt to cope with the tension in my head.

Tension and Release

In her stand-up special, Nanette, comedian Hannah Gadsby explains how she’s done with comedy because she’s tired of giving tension a release. Gadsby walks the audience through how she uses tension to set up a joke, and then later provides a release via the punchline. Near the end, she says:

“Do you know why I’m such a funny fucker? It’s because, you know, I’ve been learning the art of tension diffusion since I was a children. […] It was a survival tactic.”