Jessie Raymond: What’s so funny? Good question!


These are the times that try humor columnists’ souls.

I remember this happening two years ago, too. I was prattling on, probably about my vacuum cleaner or how it’s still, you know, really cold out. Important things. And then we got hit with a pandemic.

Talk about a buzz kill.

Suddenly, writing about the worst parts of my life — “Mark still hasn’t finished my pantry” — seemed inappropriate. Businesses shut down. People were getting sick and dying. There was no toilet paper.

I worried that the glib ramblings of a woman who was happily working from home wouldn’t resonate with readers struggling to keep their jobs or teach their kids at the kitchen table. I considered skipping the column for a few weeks, just until the pandemic was over. (“A few weeks,” we were saying in March 2020. Weren’t we adorable?)

Since then, not only has the pandemic stuck around, but we’ve had climate catastrophes, civil rights atrocities and political strife, none of which, in my opinion, put people in the mood to read about my new kitchen sink.

I’ve persevered, under my editor’s assurance that readers want an escape; they look forward to the vapid musings of a middle-aged near-recluse to take their minds off the bad news of the world.

But for every reader who says, “Wow, thank goodness I got to focus on that time Jessie bought a radiator to distract me from how humanity is doomed,” I bet there’s another going, “Lady, read the room.”

And now, Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine.

At the moment, it feels a bit tone-deaf to waste column-inches reflecting on my personal struggles. For instance, in February in my car, I was taking off my N95 mask when the elastic got tangled in my hair, pulled out an earring and flung my glasses into the back seat. In my flailing, I almost asphyxiated myself with my scarf, which had somehow gotten entwined in my seatbelt.

Sure, it was a big deal to me (though not, apparently, to the people walking by my car, who registered only mild amusement and kept walking). But in comparison to current events, was it really a crisis?

Just because I’m self-absorbed doesn’t mean I’m not aware of, or affected by, what’s going on in the world. Last week, a friend and I were discussing climate change, which is accelerating exponentially but is still unreal enough here in Vermont that we try not to let it be a bummer.

“Yes, it’s an existential threat,” I told her. “But it’s so abstract. A real existential threat would be one that endangers our survival right now.”

And don’t you know, the next day Putin vowed nuclear strikes against any country that tried to stop his efforts to occupy Ukraine or, failing that, to level it and wipe its citizens off the face of the earth.

I saw “The Day After” in 1983 and wasn’t right for weeks. Now, almost 40 years later, hearing newscasters use phrases like “mutually assured destruction,” my inner 15-year-old wants to crawl into bed, watch MTV videos and eat Pop-Tarts until I fall into a fitful slumber. It’s hard to come up with quips about my cat while panicking about the possibility of imminent nuclear annihilation.

Despite my misgivings, however, I’m not quitting the column. As long as I have a husband to complain about and a garden to neglect, I’ll keep writing. But maybe I need to start finding humor in the big issues, too.

To that end, I’ve been working on rib-tickling outlines for several potential disasters: a plague of locusts, an alien invasion, a global financial collapse triggered by the failure of cryptocurrency. (Heads up: I still don’t get what cryptocurrency is, so that column probably won’t be very funny.)

I’ve even prewritten an entire column in the event that a giant meteor comes hurtling directly toward earth to destroy humanity. In case you’re busy that week — cancelling dentist appointments and whatnot — and don’t have time to read the paper, just know that I’m planning to end it with, “That’ll teach me to buy green bananas.”

It may not sound that funny right now, but if a meteor ever is about to wipe us out, you might be glad for the laugh.

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