Laughter and Comedy: Humour as Nonviolence

This excerpt is from my paper ‘How Effective is Laughter and Comedy in Creating an Atmosphere of Positive Peace?’

Humour as Nonviolent Activism

Patch Adams the founder of the Gesundheit Institute is one of the few humourists using clowning to fight creeping fear in the culture with active love of smiles and laughter. He gathers and trains aspiring multicultural activists to deliver what he terms ‘friendshipism’ to people with a particularly focus on those in orphanages and hospitals. He is an advocate of peace, justice and care. He asserts that he will not embrace fear nor does he believe that violence can end violence. His philosophy is that fun and love is the answer.85

The author travelled as a clown with Patch Adams in Russia. In discussions he identifies himself as the archetype of the Trickster and plays a clown character that is mentally slow but loveable. He talks of his central philosophy of creating a love revolution. Excerpts of his speech in Russia (2002) is reproduced:

“…If you really want peace and justice, really want presidents and world leaders and a world that survives, you got to hear that people think your great, know your great and get to work…Without operating from a base of feeling you are great you not going to be able to do your dreams for peace and justice…In a love revolution the money and power revolution operates with a very few people and wanting to lessen that number all the time. They lead through the money and power over model from the beginning of recorded history. The love revolution will never lead from the few to the many. A revolution where everyone is the leader… Since 911 I’ve been asking my audiences what is your love strategy, we know the revenge, fear, violence strategy… We don’t have a lot of time. You can’t be wimpy about being loving…Walt Whitman was a revolution, Einstein was a revolution, most revolutions have been non-violent. The love revolution is not going to have a violent anything…Quickly feel the friendship with a stranger, can’t say you spent much time with, but you felt connected to them. That is how you don’t want to bomb Iraq – is to feel connected. That corny thing that we are all brothers and sisters, you can actually know it is possible because you did it here…”

Positive humour has elements that compare with Gandhi’s Satyagraha and could be developed more fully in the future. Positive humour is a safety valve or outlet for dissent or a divertion of aggression. In effect, it transforms negative misery into positive laughter. Gandhi used positive nonviolence as a substitute for violence. Satyagraha is focussed on holding on to truth and self suffering as the mirror to injustice. The spontaneity of positive humour makes visible (or unmasks) suppressed truths and deception. In its highest form gives a power to sift the true from the false. Ahimsa refers to nonviolence or love whereas positive humour in its selfless and devotional form, is the image of love. Moreover, love transcends opposition and achieves a state of indifferent Being in both cases. Satyagraha is also referred to as soul force, truth producing liberty. Positive humour is considered devine and the soul’s weapon for self preservation and a force which raises positive energy. Moreover, positive humour produces states of liberty. Gandhi’s constructive program of building community was considered more important than resistance which can be viewed in light of Patch Adams work with active clowning to overcome inner states of fear with love in order to change culture, build esteem and re-humanise humanity.87

Therefore, positive humour and laughter is effective in creating an atmosphere of positive peace. Humour and laughter are extremely important in diverting aggression and violence and providing a channel for dissent. Engaging in jokes, satire and parody empowers the people in the face of tragedy, oppression or evil. Humour is innate and when the intent is playful, loving and devoted to producing real happiness, it has the power to transcend opposition, reveal truth and experience unity and liberty. If peace is the way we understand the deeper nature of life, the meaning of Being and harmony then positive humour provide a insightful channel to laugh at life, experience liberation and unity.

Mohandas Gandhi

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”


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