Thursday, October 28, 2010

Actually, I’m laughing WITH you. Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010.

A man goes to see his psychiatrist. He says, "Doctor, I've been having suicidal tendencies. What should I do?" The psychiatrist replies, "Pay your bill today."

Clearly, life has become hellish for the young man in this short film. He downs a whisky as he looks over the papers on his desk – a pink slip, a foreclosure document, bankruptcy papers, and a divorce order. He signs his “To Whom It May Concern” letter, tosses it on top of the pile, and walks out to his car.

After a long drive down unpaved roads, he locates an obscure clearing in the woods and parks his car. He then proceeds to connect a garden hose from his car’s exhaust pipe through the driver’s side window; puts on a pair of dark glasses to block out the sun; reclines his seat and prepares to die.

The screen goes black. Then, suddenly, it’s dusk. The young man wakes up with a start. He’s alive, his engine is off, and his gas tank is on E. What the …? The camera pulls back as he gets out to find a car behind him, with the garden hose now inserted through the other car’s window – and a dead man inside.


I watched this five-minute film at a film festival several months ago. I was sitting between my mom and my husband. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. I was laughing so much, tears were running down my cheeks. I don’t remember if my mom or husband laughed; I’m sure they were uncomfortable. And so was I. But I couldn’t help myself. As a suicide attempt survivor, this little movie touched my funny bone.

Wiki defines “black comedy” as “a sub-genre of comedy and satire in which topics and events that are usually regarded as taboo, are treated in an unusually humorous or satirical manner while retaining their seriousness. The intent of black comedy, therefore, is often for the audience to experience both laughter and discomfort, sometimes simultaneously.”

I have always loved black comedy. Black comedy is part of what’s allowed me to survive two decades in a newsroom. Not everybody gets the joke. I once asked a new friend if she liked black comedy; she replied (in all seriousness) that she was only familiar with “The Cosby Show.” But at work, where we covered rapes and murders daily, we basically had the choice to either laugh or cry, and we often chose to laugh.

Of all the taboos, suicide (or attempted suicide) is probably the tabooist. “Heathers,” which I wrote about a few months back, is probably the most classic. There’s also “Harold and Maude,” “My Suicide,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “Suicide the Comedy.” But it’s a short list. Much more often, suicide is the stuff of depressing drama. IMHO, the best of the bunch: “Leaving Las Vegas” (with Nicholas Cage’s most brilliant performance, which practically made me want to kill myself!), “The Hours,” “The Virgin Suicides,” and “21 Grams” (thinking of this one still gives me goosebumps).

Since my suicide attempt I’ve been amazed by the number of times I’ve seen suicide depicted on television shows, such as “Law & Order” and “Fringe.” (Of course, it was always there, but it’s like when you find a spot on your carpet – once you know it’s there, you keep noticing it.) I’m more concerned about my loved ones that might be watching with me than I am for myself – it’s just a plot device to me.

But drama isn’t as cathartic for me as black comedy can be. The very act of laughing in the face of something so horrible says, “I’m not afraid of you anymore. You have no power over me.” It’s a form of closure for me, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Perhaps it’s time to dig “Heathers” out again. After all, “I knew that loose was too noose ... uh... noose was too loose.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alizah I too am a fan of black humour. I get it and I think it is good to get relief from something that can be so consuming in your life. I am sure being the daughter of an autistic parent you saw Snow Cake. I saw it and it was so poignant but along with my Mum, Nan and friend we all laughed. And people would turn in their chairs because they felt we were laughing inappropriately but we were laughing because we could relate. Particularly that Sigourney still slept in her childhood bunk bed and I could imagine my son as an adult in his bus shaped bed. Really if we didn't laugh we would cry. I thank you so so much for your blog. I love it and I am still reading it backwards but that is ok.