If there is a universal shield against the blows of life, stupidity, the teeth of bureaucracy and politics, it is humor.
It takes brains to be funny enough to notice human vulnerabilities in their fullness and absurdity, to turn this into a mirror the audience looks into long enough to pass through, and collectively feel on the other side.
The 21st century has seen the spread of enthusiastic wits into the English-speaking world – the prophets of a cosmopolitan exotic time who have gained international fame.
Trevor Noah, Wanda Sykes, Ricky Jervis, Dave Chappelle, Hannah Gadsby and many more – true rock stars, brain shakers, and presenters of mass release.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was a comedian before his election to the office of President and immediately plunged into World War III.
However, any chaser of a good old spasm of cleansing laughter understands its shade. That flatline when your sense of humor or headspace is lost on you when others are wiping away the tears streaming from your cheeks while you’re rolling in carrots or giggling on the couch, device in hand.
We’re not talking about roller skaters smashing guavas against steel railings, cats in cooking aprons or Marlies biking into a rugby pole.
We are talking about proper intelligence. Smart Nando’s ads. Intelligence that offends malevolent politics, people, and business, removes the sting of chaos and fear – Humanum Subversivum.
Perhaps because we have 12 official languages, South Africans have developed a unique, dark and cosmopolitan sense of humor, which is amplified through social media platforms.
These short comedy creations show the language of 13 local languages.
In other words, we’re all going through the same shit. Whether it’s politicians, our parents, teachers, our siblings, our cultural differences, or food prices – we live together.
The “lockdown” has prompted many to pitch their entertaining ideas to potential audiences both nationally and globally. Memes were created showing stupidity, tastes made up of ridiculous regulations, and for many, these were a release beyond the unknown horrors of the Covid pandemic.
Rowling’s skit blackouts, jokes and memes
The South African shutdown of the network has spawned a whole industry of skits, jokes and memes, too many and too repetitive to pin down long enough as the next crazy news cycle continues.
South Africa has an amazing choice of successful comedians – too many names and too many up-and-comings, for no one to be left out – who pack venues big and small, in the real world.
It’s on the internet and TikTok in particular where ordinary, smart, and funny people, the vast majority of whom are young, are jumping for potential real interest, influence, and influence.
TikTok is also seriously awash in the wreckage of the human mind in the untethered 21st century. More than Twitter, which turns out to be the homeland of angry and deceived trolls.
Much of the content, which is disturbingly at odds with what we once thought was our species’ will to survive, suggests quite the opposite. We are our own worst enemy, we’ve come to learn.
Here conspiracy theorists, anti-science scientists, and self-proclaimed gurus predict doom and gloom. Comedies liven up a room.
You have to move TikTok for gems. They keep changing, they move fast, but that’s the shizniz model.
It is here that young South Africans, who are often criticized for not participating politically or socially in general, prove otherwise.
Search for South African comedians and TikTok will show you plenty of options, many of them with good humor. Nothing and nobody survives.
This particular type of black humor dates back to the revolutions of 1848 that spread across Europe in resistance to established monarchies.
In times of intense stress and trauma, communities deploy humor to address oppression and lack of freedom. That is if they still have it, in the eye of the storm — the ability to spread laughter.
Tyrants don’t laugh
Sociologist Antonin Oberdelik sees gallows humor as a measure of resilience and morale on the part of people who are being dominated, oppressed, or neglected.
Tyranny has no sense of humor, and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels believed that political humor was a relic of liberalism and should be dealt with.
Those telling jokes in Nazi Germany were labeled “asocial”, with Goebbels declaring it a crime, punishable by death according to Article III, Section 2 of the 1941 Code (Reichsgesetzblatt I).
Prosecutors used the following to define the sentence: “The better the joke, the more serious its effect; therefore, the greater the penalty.”
Author and psychologist Nicole Force, whose research is featured in her book The Hidden Power: A Weapon, Shield, and Psychological Salve, quotes theorist Martin Armstrong on the function of laughter:
“For a few moments, under the spell of laughter, the whole man is fully and gloriously alive: body, mind, and spirit vibrate in unison…the mind flutters open its doors and windows…its loathsome and secret places are ventilated and sweetened.”
An example of this was what happened in South Africa uniquely on Twitter when a gang of heavily armed kidnappers were shot dead by police in an operation in Mpumalanga.
Over a news photograph of a police van parked near a cul-de-sac where many bodies lay strewn about, some South African wit declared: “At least they died doing what they loved.”
It’s all right and wrong, all on one common note. DM
Marian Tam is the assistant editor of the Daily Maverick.
This article first appeared in The Daily Maverick’s weekly sister publication DM168 and is available nationwide for R29.