It's Funny Because It's True:

Buddhist Realism and Dark Comedy

Christopher Kelley, a professor at the New School, argues that if the human condition damns us to disaffection and angst, then our ability to laugh at such limitations is a uniquely human privilege.
— The New Yorker Magazine
Part of life is suffering. Death is a reality. But that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh along the way. Christopher Kelley, a student and teacher of Buddhism, finds a parallel between Buddhism and dark comedy—the truth-telling sort of comedy delivered by Louis C.K., Marc Maron and Tig Notaro, among others.
— Houston Chronicle
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The Buddha is believed to have taught that the fundamental nature of the human condition is suffused with feelings of existential angst and abiding dissatisfaction. Such realism is not exclusive to Buddhism, however. As any dark comedian knows this already because making jokes about the reality of life usually gets big laughs, or as they say in the business—“kills.” Like the Buddha, the comic can be a powerful medium for communicating the more disquieting and shunned truths in life.

In this lecture I argue that both Buddhism and dark comedy seek to expose unsettling truths about the human condition that we normally choose to deny, namely—old age, sickness, and death. I discuss the work of comedians like Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, and Andy Kaufman. And why I believe they offer a kind of therapy for eliminating the existential anxiety that comes from denying the human condition and clinging to unreal idealizations about oneself and the world.


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