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Commentary: Grab a laugh, Mr. President

  • Story Highlights
  • Jane Condon: President Obama laughed on Leno, giggled on 60 Minutes
  • She says she's glad to see that he can laugh, given the stress he's under
  • Condon: In hard times, comedy allows us to laugh and forget stress
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By Jane Condon
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Jane Condon is a comedian who has appeared on "The View," "Girls' Night Out" and "Last Comic Standing." Visit her Web site.

Jane Condon says people turn to comedy in hard times so they can laugh -- and forget.

Jane Condon says people turn to comedy in hard times so they can laugh -- and forget.

GREENWICH, Connecticut (CNN) -- I saw President Obama laugh last week on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." I saw the president giggle on "60 Minutes."

"You're sitting here. And you are laughing," Steve Kroft said in his interview with the president. "You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people gonna look at this and say, 'I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about money.' How do you deal with, I mean, explain the ... mood and your laughter," Kroft asked.

All I could think was thank God, he knows how to take care of himself, considering the amount of stress he is under. Grab a laugh, Mr. President, when you can. He was right to tell Kroft, "There's gotta be a little gallows humor to get you through the day." Everybody needs to use comedy in hard times.

More than a year ago, right before a New Year's Eve show for more than a thousand people, a prominent New York economist named John Tepper Marlin came up to me and said, "Jane, you should really do a joke about mortgage-backed securities." And I thought, "What is he talking about?"

Turns out the joke was on me (and us). Now we all know about mortgage-backed securities, collaterized debt obligations and credit default swaps. The economy has become a topic of choice among comedians.

My own favorite joke these days is: What did one Somali pirate say to another Somali pirate? "Thank God we didn't invest with Bernie Madoff!"

Why do people turn to humor in hard times? (Think of sitcoms like "The Cosby Show" rising out of the ashes of the early '80s recession. "Seinfeld" became popular during the 1990-91 recession.) Why are some people watching the fake news on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" rather than the real news on the networks?

Two reasons really: They need to laugh, and they want to forget. Decades ago, Norman Cousins told us "laughter is the best medicine" in his book, "Anatomy of an Illness." He watched the Marx Brothers and "Candid Camera" to help heal himself; to reduce stress. Why? Somehow, he knew that laughter releases endorphins. Endorphins help us relax and sleep.

People are flocking to movies these days for comedy. (Total United States box-office revenue is up 23 percent so far this year.) They go to comedy clubs as well because they want to forget.

After one of my shows, a social worker from Brookline, Massachusetts, came up to me. I had talked with her before the show. I knew that her 41-year-old son had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. I also knew that the overall survival rate these days is 15 percent, because my father had died of the very same thing when I was 15 years old. And she said, "Thank you, Jane. You're very funny. ... And you made us forget for a half-hour." That's when I realized: That's why I do it.

Even in the worst of times, I think people are programmed to look for the funny. It's a release, an escape valve. Almost a reflex.

I was entertaining a crowd of cancer patients and their caregivers, families and friends one Sunday afternoon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York.

A 14-year-old boy with a bandanna on his head to hide his lack of hair and an IV tethered to his side yelled out, "Can I get up there, lady?" I said, "Sure, what's your name?" He said, "Leroy." I said, "Leroy, where you from?" He said, "Pediatrics!" So that was his intro. I turned to the audience and said, "Let's give a warm welcome to Leroy from Pediatrics!"

Leroy moved center stage so fast that his IV tilted over. He made air guitar motions and sang a James Brown song with total abandon and glee, "I FEEL GOOD (strum, strum) SO GOOD (strum, strum). I GOT YOU! (His fist punched the air.)" People jumped to their feet to give Leroy a standing ovation. He deserved it. He made us all forget. He made us all feel good.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Condon.

All About Stand-up ComedyBernard MadoffJon Stewart

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