The power of comedic relief

Exploring how humour can discern the indiscernible

Ann Telnaes' political cartoons satirize contemporary politics.

To laugh is an essential part of the human experience, and the power of humour finds its way to the spotlight when life shows its dark colours. 

The state of the world has been rendered dismal for the better part of the population with political unrest seeping the globe, inequalities widening, and climate catastrophe looming. Navigating these issues with satire has become more necessary than ever. 

From Saturday Night Live to political cartoons, creativity sparks levity in subjects that are difficult to confront. Martin Page’s How I Became Stupid does this remarkably well.

The 160-page cult favourite tells the story of a young man whose unequivocal intelligence labels him a prodigy but leaves him depressed in the wake of what he’s learned about the world. Readers follow him on his quest to become stupid and happy through oblivion—ignorance is supposedly bliss, after all. 

This satirical novel explores a process of understanding that’s familiar to all of us: how do we go about our lives when the world is a messed-up place? Page’s approach to answering this question is unnervingly honest, yet oddly comforting,  as his protagonist, Antoine, questions how to rid himself of his intelligence that those around him have deemed a gift. 

The Aleph Review, a south Asian literary magazine, named humour as it’s meta-theme for its latest issue. “Humor, in writing, has that ineffable quality of underlining dark truths and making them palatable for most people,” Editor-in-Chief Mehvash Amin wrote. 

Comedy takes dark topics and shines a light on them, providing solace in suffering and voice in suppression. One of The Aleph Review’s articles tells a fictional tale of an alien infiltrating Pakistan and seeking a mate from a marriage matchmaker. Another is a starkly honest yet laugh-out-loud funny telling of motherhood in its glorified state. 

When the difficult realities of tradition, expectation, and social structure are subdued in comforting stories and recollections, readers have something to grasp onto as control seems unattainable. 

Ann Telnaes weaves commentaries on contemporary politics through the lens of editorial cartoons, making complicated circumstances and current issues digestible and light-hearted. Power structures and norms are told in colourful sketches with minimal words—her work truly shows how a picture can be worth a thousand words.

Art is a notoriously pretentious field and, as such, satire can be left out of the conversation. The playful existentialism humor offers is necessary, and, when done well, gives us as much as an overtly serious piece of art would—and sometimes even more. 

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