An Interview with AATH's Jennifer Keith, author of "Fixing the Funny Bone"
What is the GRIT Method?
Grieve, Relate, Invest, Transform
You have trained yourself to find humor in most situations. How?
I think humor is specific to each person - what makes someone laugh is not the same to the next person as well as in a different moment. I’m not a big fan of bodily-function humor, but occasionally, I find it funny. I am not always a fan of “blue” comedy, but occasionally I find it funny. I’m more into conversational or situational comedy. I love a physical comedy moment that feels real and not forced. Those kinds of humor are attractive to me so watching those types of shows or movies or being around people who are funnier than me and sometimes those who enjoy my humor when I get to be on “stage” with them is what I need too. It’s similar to having an athletic ability. I think some people are just born with natural basketball skills and talent, but they still have to get up early and work on those skills. Same with humor - and the first part of that is just being aware of it, looking at what makes you laugh, what brings you joy, and getting more of it. It’s a training that then helps you see it more often.
What does “Comedy is tragedy plus time” mean to you?
Some memories are too hot to handle - we must take a break from them, physically, emotionally, and spatially - so you may not be able to find the comedy for a while - and that’s okay. Some things come up in the moment - like the proposal - and stay funny. Some things will never be funny - they will always be too hot to handle. It’s different for every person, as is the trauma and how we train our brains to process it.
Tell us your thoughts about the risks of using humor.
Intention and Impact are not the same things. People turn to comedy to cope, but we all make mistakes, overstep, or spend a moment in a punchline or joke that doesn’t work. Comedians “bomb” all the time - trying out material is part of the process, but some turn dark fast, and that’s where it gets very risky. You have to pick what you’re willing to risk for the use of humor.
Is there a meaningful difference between journaling about something funny to you and having the ability to create humor and understand where it comes from?
It’s all part of the process of being better at finding the funny moments - writing about it is that surface awareness - “I’m finding things that are funny.” After enough times of knowing, you have to have something to write for your jovial journey every Thursday; when something happens on a Friday, you think, “oh good, I have something for next week,” and that repeats until Thursday comes, and you have a dozen choices for the one entry. That’s what I found my students doing - the habit helps you determine what you find funny and start noticing it more. THEN you move on to creating it yourself - but not everyone has to be funny - everyone can still enjoy humor.
“If we look at moments in our lives where things have not gone as expected or anywhere close to expected, there is surely absurdity somewhere within it. That’s what can make it memorable.” How do we train ourselves to find these moments?
It’s really practice. It’s taking a moment – maybe something you value as “small” in your own disappointment - and digging into what may be absurd. Then you take another one. Then another. As you look for those moments, they start to find you - jump out at you and wave, “here’s the humor.” It’s also fun when you’re finding those moments together - with someone who “gets” you - but that’s not required - it just enhances the humor.