Laugh at the Fear: Writing Tough Times With Powerful Humor

When was the last time you laughed at least 100 times in a day? If you’re like me, it’s hit and miss. Having a good sense of humor is beneficial to multiple aspects of your life.

I’ve had my share of seasons in life filled with pain. You likely have too.

You may even be going through that season now.

It looks different for each person: a death, loss of a job, children going astray, divorce, physical pain or any other trial devastating to your daily life.

Often when going through these valleys, we feel like no one else could relate.  Sometimes you just keep plowing through your days, waking with helplessness, and going to bed with anger.


One of my favorite things to do during tough times is to write about it.

I’m especially thrilled when I can write through those times with humor…yes, humor.

Sometimes life is so screwed up you just have to laugh.

I laugh at the fear and the anxiety – and the absurdity in which this world operates. I’m not saying you can laugh your troubles away. That only happens in fantasyland. But if you can train yourself to write about trauma with an inkling of humor, you will thank yourself later.


I’ll share a bit of my tragic-yet-humorous writing in a bit, but first, let’s find out why you should develop a sense of humor….


8 Serious Reasons Writers Should Develop a Sense of Humor


If you’re interested in enhancing your health, brain, social life, writing and mood, try laughing more. A well-developed sense of humor has incredible benefits. Laughing and smiling aren’t frivolous activities. So, let go of being so serious and learn why humor is so important.


Growing your sense of humor has many advantages:


1.A Health Boost – The more you laugh, the less frequently you’ll be sick. Studies have shown that laughing strengthens the immune system. It also lowers your blood pressure, which is great for your heart and brain. It’s possible that laughter can lower your medical expenses.

2. Allure with a sense of humor – Who doesn’t like to laugh? We’re instinctively drawn to people that laugh easily. Everyone likes to have a good time and release their stress.

If you’re fun to be with and you know how to make others laugh, you’ll find yourself surrounded by others who also have a good sense of humor. This is true for your writing as well.

3. Decrease Daily Stress – Life is stressful. There are many ways to relieve stress, but few feel as good as laughing. With a good sense of humor, it’s easy to find reasons to laugh about life.

A good laugh will allow you to forget about your challenges for a little while.

4. Humor is a mood elevator – It feels good to laugh, and the good feelings can last for hours afterwards. Humor can redirect your focus from the negative happenings in your life to something more enjoyable like writing.


5. Enhance your social life. Whether you’re trying to find new friends or trying to find the man or woman of your dreams, a sense of humor is critical. Consider the most popular people you know. Are they upbeat and do they smile easily? Or do they lack a sense of humor?

6. Benefit others. Your mood, words, and actions affect those around you. When you’re in a bad mood, it negatively impacts others. Your smiling, happy face and mood are uplifting and brighten the moods of those around you.

7. Strengthen your relationships. Is it possible to have a relationship that wouldn’t benefit from your sense of humor? I doubt it. Laughing together brings you closer together. You’ll find that your relationships with your neighbors, friends, family, and coworkers benefit from your ability to laugh and appreciate the lighter side of life.

8. Increase your intelligence. At the very least, you’ll learn more easily. A study demonstrated that laughing stimulates the learning centers of the brain. Stimulating those areas on a regular basis is believed to enhance the ability to learn new information. In a roundabout way, laughing might help you get a publishing contract.


Laughing is good for you.

Your sense of humor impacts your health, mood, writing, social life, and those around you.

They say that, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Now you have a better idea why that statement is true.

Find the humor in life and keep your mood light. There are very few benefits to expecting the worst.


Feel free to laugh more.


The Tragicomedy


If you’ve ever thought your life could be the subject of a book or movie, you’re probably right.

The tragic and the comedy in life is all around us.


The most famous tragicomic writer is Shakespeare who wrote a few, including “The Merchant of Venice.” More modern examples are the movies “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Napoleon Dynamite.”


The tragicomedy is a literary device mostly used in fictional works. But nonfiction writers borrow it too. Here are two examples of tragicomedy in memoir:


  • The memoir “A Light at the End” (2015) is a tragicomedy written by Bryon Williams about his time as a stage and screen star-turned-caregiver for his disabled wife.
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” (2007) written by Alison Bechdel exemplifies the dark comedy often found in families – this family ran a funeral home. (It’s also a great example of how a memoir can also be a graphic novel)


You know how important humor is in our lives and in our writing, but you’ve had hardships in your life. In fact, your life downright sucks sometimes. The solution is to write your own tragicomedy.


How can you use humor in your own tragicomedy?


With a little practice, you too can make people both cringe and grin at your life storytelling.


Here’s how:


  • Find absurdity. So many things that happen to us are really absurd when you look at them out in the bright light of day. Play up the absurd and contrast it with the normal.


  • Laugh at yourself…your naiveté, your fear, your ignorance, your innocence. The crux of any story is a change in character. You know something now that you didn’t know then. What was life like before you knew?


  • Laugh at other characters. This is where you get to really poke fun at the secondary characters in your story. Play them up, get inside your own head and write out your first impression of the buffoon, or the narcissistic neighbor, or anyone else that plays a part in your story. You don’t want to laugh at everyone, but pick one or two people who may provide some comedic relief.


  • Learn a lesson. What life lesson did you learn the hard way? That’s the real story, that’s what your readers want to know…and avoid. Allow your reader to be a voyeur into how you learned that lesson.


I’ve written about my own tragicomedy in the following scene. See if you can pick out these four elements in the story below:


The Spy Store


A turning point in my life came in the parking lot of a Rochester, NY spy store in 2009. It was in that parking lot that the naiveté of “how the world should be” fled like a fugitive.

I’ve been on many adventures in my life, both respectable and regrettable varieties, though I wouldn’t consider myself extremely worldly. In fact, for the first 35 years of my life I lived a “normal life” of young love and divorce, finding out who I was and what I thought the world should be. But this…imposed adventure I was on disenfranchised me of the notion that normal even existed.


Let me share a quick background story to give you some context. I had recently discovered…through a Craig’s List confirmation email…that my second husband was advertising himself on Craig’s List. That sentence right there might give you a bit of insight into the regrettable choices I made during my first few decades of life. I immediately went to an attorney who advised me to “get the computer to a forensic lab to confirm that’s where it came from.” Then, she said, I was assured of a quick divorce. I naturally called my Mom on the way home and told her what was happening.


So picture this: The next morning, I creep down the stairs to get the computer and on the black granite desktop…there was nothing but dust mites outlining where the computer used to be.


My husband stormed into the room teeth clenched and spewing spittle: “If you divorce me I will take the house, I will take the kids, I will TAKE YOU DOWN!”


I wish I had the balls to say, “Game on, buddy!” But I didn’t. My legs were shaking and my teeth were chattering louder than a woodpecker trying to catch his breakfast. I was entangled in something beyond my nightmares.


There was nothing to do but put on my Nancy Drew hat and think things through.  How in the world did he know I was going to take the computer? The only people I spoke with were the attorney and my Mom.  Two trusted confidantes. I needed more help. Where was Sherlock Holmes when you needed him?  So, I Googled…. “Detectives near Rochester”. And I quickly found out just how expensive real-life sleuths were.  None of them promised any results except for a bill greater than $2,000.


What I did get was practice explaining what I was looking for and a lesson in the language of private detectives.  It was rough.  You try calmly explaining that your crazy husband may have put a listening device in your car…without sounding like a paranoid lunatic yourself.


So, I Googled again for a cheaper detective and discovered a spy store in Rochester.  Really, I’m just a girl from the Midwest. I should have no occasion in my entire life to drive to a spy store.  Naïve as I was, I didn’t even realize there was such a thing until now – and one so lucrative they had a satellite store in Buffalo.  Obviously, there is more need for spy equipment in Western New York than I realized.


“Is there something that can tell if you have a bug in your car?” I’m confident now, having explained this three times before to the would-be detectives.  The nice man on the other end of the line urged me to come in and look at their selection.


That’s how I came to be at the Spy Outlet on Lyell Avenue on a cold afternoon in November. “When I sell those things, I usually tell people to put them under the dash of the car,” The spy store owner explained.  To my astonishment, he nonchalantly described various other ways to listen in on conversations.  I looked askance at Mr. Spy Outlet and wondered if he’d sold the handheld recorder I’d seen my husband using, or the bug that I suspected was in my car.  Probably.  After all, it was just business to him.  He did look…. experienced. I strode to the parking lot to look under the dash.


I felt along the underside of the passenger dash and discovered by touch that one wire was very loose and fell to the floor.  The thin black plastic coating had an end like a stereo plug-in and a small control nodule about 4 inches up.   The wire beyond that disappeared back into the nether regions of the dash.  I was afraid to touch it, and knew immediately it wasn’t part of the manufacturer’s original equipment.  It was labeled:  Radio Shack.


The following days my phone conversations were awkward.  I was keenly aware of the bug and that someone was listening to my conversations, but didn’t want to let them know I knew.  I needed time to sort out what to do.  It was disconcerting, and I found myself over-explaining things in case the person secretly listening didn’t quite understand the conversation from my side only.  I held two conversations in my head at once – the real conversation, and the one that the silent listener heard and which they perhaps needed greater detail about.  Eventually, I stopped answering the phone altogether.


Upon the advice of my attorney, I took my car to the state police barracks.  I haltingly explained my suspicions to the man behind the bulletproof glass.  After waiting an agonizing 20 minutes for Amy, their sole policewoman, to come out, I explained the whole uncomfortable situation again.  “Let’s go take a look,” She didn’t bat an eyelash.  This was probably the highlight of her week.  She took pictures of the dangling piece, nodding silently and giving me the thumbs up as she kept up a loud and clearly-for-broadcast narrative.  “I bet your husband has a dick about an inch long, right?”


“Uh, right, about an inch”


“What a jackass!” She tugged at the wire, tracking it across the floorboards to the driver’s side and up the steering column where she discovered a tiny microphone glued to the underside.  “Most guys who do shit like this are impotent and can’t get it up.”  I didn’t know which I was more uncomfortable with:  her vulgarity or the fact that I was standing in a police parking lot pulling out a listening device from my company car.


Of course, the wire was too small to obtain a fingerprint or press charges. So…I got in my car and drove straight back to The Spy Store. I threw down my credit card for the purchase of my own recorder…the deluxe model. Because if I were going to spy, I wanted to spy well!

Ready to write your own tragicomedyNow, go put on your Shakespearian thinking cap and write your own tragicomedy!


Also published on Medium.

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