Earlier in the semester we discussed how comedy is tragedy plus time and I think much of the humor in Sedaris’ work relies on the part of his life that he struggled and suffered. For instance, in the section “Full House,” Sedaris is forced to go to a sleep over where he is held down while his nipples get twisted “back and forth as if they were a set of particularly stubborn toggle bolts.” After the torture Sedaris comments that he understood that Walt’s dead sister, Laura “was smart to have cut out early.” Sedaris recounts a tragic moment in his life then he offers a humorous yet dark comment. His audience is able to laugh at his suffering because time plays a major role in distancing the tragedy.
There is another component to Sedaris’ humor that explains why I found myself laughing out loud constantly and it is the relatability of his suffering. Usually when I read humorous novels I let out a giggle, but I rarely let out a full throttle laugh. I went back to examine the parts of the novel that made me chuckle the most and realized that they were parts that I related the most to. Memories of awkward situations surfaced as I reflected on my life so far.
This brought me to the realization that we laugh at other’s tragedies because their suffering reminds of us of our own suffering. In the section “Consider the Stars” Sedaris describes how excited he was when a popular kid named Thad threw a rock at his head. He came home to his sister with a bloody face exclaiming “It was Thad!!!” and his sister responded “Did you save the rock?” While I read, I couldn’t help but think of the social hierarchy that I encountered in grade school and reflect on the absurd power that the popular kid had on everyone. I immediately remembered Emma Avilia, the most popular girl at Hereford Middle School and associated her with Chad. I immediately started to chuckle as I thought about my past experiences with Emma and her charming character.
While we may not recognize it, we read other’s suffering as a reflection of our own. We see a little bit of ourselves in Sedaris and his stories ultimately serve as a mirror in which we can look at our past. While it is evident that humor does come from tragedy + time, it is worth noting that another person's tragedy is most humorous when the audience is able to connect through their common experiences and knowledge.