Tragedy, Comedy, and the Power of Story

“Humor is tragedy plus time.”~ Mark Twain

I enjoy laughing. It’s one of the reasons why I teach. Every day a student says something that makes me laugh. The classroom, after all, should be a content and social PLAYground for students. I hope every classroom is filled with laughter.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, almost every day there’s a moment when a co-worker and I share a laugh to cut through the stressful nature of public education. Teaching is a double-edged sword of comedic adventure.

As an English teacher, I believe that stories and storytelling can be powerful educators. Most people don’t want to hear advice, but when people hear a story, they can insert themselves inside the narrative and become transformed without feeling like they’re being forced into an idea. The best stories inspire a theme, but have at least a thread of comedy holding the story together.

The best comedy isn’t the one-liner jokes of older sitcoms, or the physical/lowbrow humor of Chevy Chase or Jim Carrey. The best comedy takes a personal narrative and weaves the universal experience into it, forcing the listener to look at some hard truths about the current state of society.

Here’s a list of some of the funniest, most insightful, and most introspective comedy specials on Netflix: Sarah Silverman’s A Speck of Dust, Louis C. K.’s 2017, The Standups, and  Dave Chappelle’s The Age of Spin and Deep in the Heart of Texas. Not all of these artists will please your comedic palette, but all of them are guaranteed to make you think.  


Of the specials mentioned, the performance that stayed with me the most was Dave Chappelle’s. His ability to take current topics, talk about them bleakly, and harness an unwieldy narrative and create a brilliant piece of storytelling and metaphor that makes you laugh is uncanny. In The Age of Spin, Chappelle stitches stories together about O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby in a way that feels like amateur patchwork at first, but when the special is over, you realize he’s a man completely in control of the needle and thread–even if the final Bill Cosby punchline pokes at the sides harder than some people would like.

For example, watch how Chappelle sews together story and metaphor to question and probe “bleeding heart liberals” through a story about the Care Bears. Great social commentary through story telling, even if it stings just a little.

Check it out:

Micah Peters analyzes Chappelle’s prodding gallows humor in his column, “Dave Chappelle’s Tragicomedy”,  writing, “Chappelle’s willingness to splay his irresponsibility and entertain me with it, as always, demands a candid appraisal of my own blind spots.”

To read Micah’s entire column, click here:

Comedy has always functioned as a means to expose society’s blind spots, but what comedy really does is expose the modern tragic figure within all of us: our blind spots are our tragic flaws, the things that keep us from being our best selves.

In essence, great comedy gives us a safe space to examine who we are on a macro level (as a society) and on a micro level (as individuals).

With any of the comedic recommendations from above, I suggest the following beer: Camo from 5 Stones Brewing Company. As the name suggests, Camo is a beer that looks very different than it tastes. The beer is a Pale Stout or Golden Stout, a new style of beer (first brewed by Stone Brewing Company in 2014) that is still in it’s infancy stages of experimentation.


Most craft beer connoisseurs will scratch their heads at the oxymoronic beer style. Stouts, by nature, are not pale at all. They’re so dark. They can’t be seen through. 5 Stones Artisan Brewery and other breweries achieve the pale stout style by using flaked barley, wheat, and oats to emulate creamy mouth feel. To achieve the flavor of a stout without the color, brewers of pale stouts add cocoa nibs and espresso beans instead of roasted grains.

The nose of this beer screams of espresso and cocoa with a subtle hint of Irish stout malt that is also used.  Camo’s color is  warm and golden, similar to most middle-of-the-road American IPAs. There’s clear evidence in the hue that this beer has a heavy amount of malt, promising the brawny backbone of the stout genre. In taste, Camo is truly a camouflaged beer. The ale does mostly achieve a frothy mouth feel from it’s mix of wheat and oats, but there is a sticky residue on the back end, similar to beers that are brewed with generous amounts of Irish malt. Espresso and cocoa beans flavors dominate the flavor profile of this beer, but don’t linger too long, and Camo finishes surprisingly refreshing and clean.

Camo is a perfect pairing for comedy because as Eminem once said, “a lot of truth is said in jest.” This beer looks as though it will be light and refreshing, but the deep chocolate and coffee flavors prove that there’s a hidden depth, complexity, and darkness to the beer.  Wrapped inside any good joke, there lurks a dark truth that we haven’t fully grappled with yet.

If comedy truly is tragedy plus time, I’m not sure why most days in education are filled with so much laughter. Maybe it’s because both teachers and students are very sensitive to time’s fleeting nature even if it affects both parties in vastly different ways.

But that idea is probably best saved for a different blog post. A different beer.

Cheers. Prosit. Salud.


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