Have you ever noticed that, during our most somber hours, our favorite comics disappear? Jon Stewart goes on vacation, Letterman regurgitates reruns, and Leno, well, Leno, just isn’t funny anymore.
But, sometimes, during such hours, a clown is born. In the 24-hour news cycle, it seems one is born every minute.
Last Thursday night, I was wallowing in a rather somber hour as I waited for The Daily Show to come on. I turned to CNN, hoping for some good news.
My mom had died two weeks earlier, a dear friend had just relayed the bad news about a mass in her lung, while another was living with lymphoma. And, the last I’d checked, my sister was out of work, the American Dream was given last rites, and the working class was in the trenches of an all-out war on unions, while the poor were a forgotten bunch altogether.
I couldn’t imagine things getting gloomier. But they did, and then some.
At first I thought CNN’s live footage of Tokyo quaking and a tsunami wiping out a village was just another remake of The Poseidon Adventure. Unfortunately, the breaking news out of the country I’d fallen in love with on a visit in 1986 had just been rattled by a monster that quickly grew tentacles.
A 30-foot high wall of water became a torrential broom, sweeping up boxcars, planes, automobiles, homes, people and puppies. A refinery exploded.
A nuclear facility north of Tokyo was having problems. What was unfolding there was the worst-case scenario of Mother Nature’s angry might going up against the flawed human technology of what some tout as a “clean” energy source — not just one nuclear reactor gone wild, but half a dozen, losing power, water and threatening meltdowns. Backup batteries with a 12-hour life, less than that of an iPhone, were running out of time.
I was heartsick, and on so many levels.
To suggest that “Laughter is the best medicine” at times like these, might seem inappropriate. But, laughter can make your sides ache and your mind buoyant like no other medicine, releasing endorphins and relaxing the whole body. It boosts the immune system and protects the heart. “Glum” cannot make those claims. In any case, comedic relief was nowhere to be found that night and in the days that followed.
Instead, we got charts and lectures about fission, fuel rods and iodine pills. “Could it happen here” talk choked the airwaves and filled newspapers, leaving us Pacific Northwest dwellers gasping for air, knowing that we live in the Cascadia subduction zone, a basic clone of Japan’s, and that our little corner of the so-called “Ring of Fire” is the only corner untouched by a major earthquake this year.
Not exactly the material of comedians. With The Daily Show on hiatus Monday night, I began flipping stations for comedic relief. I paused at FOX News Channel, and while I didn’t find comedy, I found absurdity – a man dusty with white chalk, juggling whacky props.
“I’m going to show you,” he told us, “how a nuclear power plant works.”
In less than 15 minutes, using a cheap cook pot, a small coffee cauldron and spilling tubes of M&Ms, Glenn Beck, our reliable go-to-alarmist, attempted to demonstrate just why the possibility of a nuclear meltdown in Japan or anywhere was near impossible.
Still quaking from having Japan’s tragedy preempt his Friday night show, he demanded we bring the “real” catastrophe back into focus — George Soros and a bad bond market.
For the first time in days, I was laughing out loud. I could feel the endorphins flow and my muscles relax.
I had found all the knee-slapping absurdity I needed: Chuckles the Clown teaching nuclear science.
Watch the video here.