Laughter, much like a virus, is contagious. That might be why it has raised the spirits of so many, particularly over the past two years. Humour is often used as an escapism – a coping mechanism during challenging or tragic situations. Throughout the pandemic, people made songs about hand washing, and joked about the lack of toilet rolls in order to manage. Comedy also plays a major role in enhancing our wellbeing, uniting people through a shared experience. Gina Barreca claimed that ‘laughing together is as close as you can get without touching’, and over the past few years this has never been more true. Comedy shows such as 8 Out of 10 Cats, The Last Leg, and Mock the Week gave us entertainment during these tough times. For many comedians, their names were built on these shows, and their iconic lines continue to make us chuckle.
Aisling Bea began doing stand-up after studying at LAMDA. She was voted the ‘So You Think You’re Funny Award’ at the Edinburgh Fringe before becoming a regular on shows such as QI and 8 out of 10 Cats. In 2014, she won Best Female TV Comic at the British Comedy Awards. Since then, Bea has written and starred in This Way Up, her own comedy series about a young Irish-Catholic woman recovering from a nervous breakdown in London.
Ricky Gervais began his stand up in the 1990s, performing in a sketch alongside Stephen Merchant and Jimmy Carr at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001. Gervais’ best-known work is the acclaimed mockumentary series, The Office, which was co-written by himself and Merchant at the end of the 1990s. It won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy alongside Best Actor, and has gone on to be remade in Germany and, most notably, the US.
Comedy shows, such as those mentioned above, provide a platform to new and upcoming comedians. They often establish comedy careers and lead to other opportunities in neighbouring industries for those comedians. Without Gervais and Merchant, there would be no Tim and Dawn, no Jim and Pam and what a sad world that would be. Laughter, particularly in troubled times, resonates with people and makes people smile. If that is not one of the greatest powers, then I do not know what is.