I think the first time I realized God didn’t want me to be a stand up comic was on September 11, 2001. Or maybe it was in the days just after. Comedians are supposed to be able to pick up on the absurdities of culture, and then craft a joke that calls attention to the absurdity in a way that is so uncomfortable, those hearing it give themselves over to laughter. Or they make a poop joke. Sometimes it can go either way.
On that particular day and all the days after, I was hyper aware of the absurdities around me…around all of us…and the mix of anxiety and absurdity was making me feel particularly crazy…because I kept laughing. I wasn’t laughing at the tragedy, I wasn’t laughing at the thousands dead and the thousands more wounded forever. I was laughing at our reactions to the tragedy. Everywhere I went I heard people saying, “God bless America,” but they were saying it with such venom in their voice that it sounded like the opposite of a blessing…it seemed like an epithet for a curse word. To this day, when I stub my toe or someone cuts me off in traffic, I am known to mumble to myself, “God bless America.” The President of the United States gave a speech trying to guide and soothe us in the days after…and he said the best thing we can do is keep the economy going. I remember something about going shopping and taking the family to Disney World. This tickled me…in an entirely gallows humor sort of way. The color-coded Terror Alert system at airports and other public spaces. Remember that? I swear I was at an airport one day when the Terror Level was at Red…but other than the color of the sign, nothing was different. The world seemed dark and dangerous and…bizarrely entertaining…and I knew I was never meant to be a stand up comic…because I couldn’t figure out how to make it funny to anybody else.
The #1 thing I have tried to make a joke out of but haven’t been able to: The War on Terror. I think the reason I can’t make it funny is because it is the most abysmally cynical thing that has ever been created. It’s not a white rhino having tea time with the Queen kind of absurd…it’s children setting off firearms…it’s tragically absurd.
The word itself means “something that intimidates, an object of fear.” Going to war with the thing causing our terror would have made sense…not a good idea, but sensical. But by declaring a War on Terror, we declared a war on our own emotions. Rather than thinking logically about what happened and how best to respond, we collectively screamed, “We’re scared and we don’t WANT to be!” and we started shooting anything that seemed dangerous, whether it was or not. So we need guns to feel safe…because terror is out there waiting to take shape. Children setting off firearms.
And now we label most everything violent as an Act of Terror, maintaining the need for panic and constant vigilance, painting any object that bothers us as our warring enemy, Terror.
Do the killings at Club Pulse in Orlando give you pause? Aren’t there enough absurdities and contradictions to bring into sharp focus the blind spots we have lived with for…going on 15 years, at least?
On last night’s Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC, we learned that the killer at Club Pulse had gone there before…many times. He had a profile on a gay dating website. He pledged allegiance to Isis…but the key issue that drove his violence seems to have nothing to do with fundamentalist religion. We don’t know everything, there is still more to learn…but does this make you take pause? There’s the possibility that this young man was just engaged in our War on Terror….and his enemy in the terror war was actually part of himself…and 103 precious GLBTQ people got caught in the crossfire.
If we can’t liberate our Pride…if there is nothing in our life to feel Proud about…then doesn’t everything seem terrifying? If everything is terrifying…aren’t we then at war with everything?
Someone asked me yesterday, “What do we do about people who want to kill us?”
Perhaps we begin with a confession: We have supported and promoted the practice of destroying the things that scare us. We have attempted to solve our emotional problems through means of war and destruction.
Perhaps, then, our response to those who also seek violent means to fixing themselves should be…a little compassion.
We’re all trying to win the same war.
I know…it’s not funny.