Finding Humour in a Pandemic

COVID-19 is no laughing matter and yet, I chose humour to convey my emotions about it.

In my upcoming bestselling novel, Till Death Do Us Party (look at me self-actualising!), Death asks his fellow Horsemen “Are we expecting Pestilence?”

To which Famine responds, “Pestilence is gone; completely blew his wad on the coronavirus.”

Rather than simply a sly remark about the pandemic our dear planet is still battling, it was a convenient way of explaining Pestilence’s absence from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as it suits my story more to use the Biblical collection, instead of the group popularised in fiction. Not for the sake of accuracy, or tradition, or anything as trivial as that; simply because it works better for that silly little story.

But the line stuck with me, and as I toyed with writing short stories set in the same world (which I’ve collectively entitled Afterlife of the Party), an idea for a story about this struck me. Pestilence ushers in the coronavirus and, in order to ensure its spread, sets about steering the narrative by spreading misinformation about how to protect ourselves, or not. This idea morphed into Pestilence’s Party With Rona.

As I write this post, it is eight days after I wrote the introduction to the story, and about eight and a half days until the story goes live. In the introduction, I mentioned the death toll sat at 6,361,678 people. Eight days later, the number of lives lost to it now sits at 6,377,089: in the space of these eight days, more than fifteen thousand people have lost their lives. By the time the story goes live, it is likely that again, another fifteen thousand lives will have been lost.

Here in Australia (although I acknowledge this is not the case everywhere in the world), at the time of writing, more than twice as many lives have been lost to COVID-19 in 2022 than through the preceding two years of this pandemic. Vaccinations have undoubtedly saved many more lives, as 95% of the cases this country has seen have occurred in 2022 to date. In a little over half of the year.

New variants are popping up, risking more and more lives, and the world is moving on. As people keep dying, COVID-19 is no laughing matter.

And yet I wrote a humorous story about the spread of this pandemic.

This is the point where I could point out the adage that laughter is the best medicine, and direct you to all the scientific evidence that shows the benefits laughter has to our health. But I won’t, and not only because I can’t be bothered hunting down all the links and begging you to click on them just so I can prove a point.

Instead, I’ll tell you this: I almost didn’t write Pestilence’s Party with Rona. I sat on it for months, went to write it, and then backed out. Numerous times, even. When I finally did sit down to write it, I had to fight to keep writing. And I was absolutely certain I wasn’t going to publish it.

So how did I combat that? I announced I was publishing a short story on 22 July. I put together teasers to be posted online from 15 July. As I write this post on 13 July, if I want to back down and save face, I have about two days to remove the teasers, which will then give me under a week to write something else. And instead, I’m writing this blog post explaining why I’m not backing down.

But why did I write something humorous about a subject that is so unhumorous? Art is a great way of holding a lens to the world and looking at it in a different light. Humour, comedy and satire are ways of amplifying that lens, to look at what’s wrong with the world. These methods are almost as old as storytelling themselves; in fact, many nursery rhymes we were taught as children began as political satire.

Not that my short story is a nursery rhyme, and I don’t expect children, generations now, to be quoting this story about Pestilence. The point of it (which I hope will be clear to anybody who reads it) isn’t to make light of the pandemic, the people who have fallen ill, and most of all, the millions of people who have tragically lost their lives. It is to comment on humanity’s reaction to it. To comment on the antivaxxers, to comment on the misinformation, to comment on a world so desperate to move on from restrictions that those losing their lives are acceptable losses.

So, please, read the story. I expect it will make some people angry, but I hope the people it angers will overwhelmingly be those it takes aim at, the people who willingly endanger themselves and others by not taking precautions, those who are more concerned with their notion of freedom than their fellow humans. If you have lost someone you love, I am deeply sorry. If the idea of a story about the pandemic is triggering, I am also sorry, and please disregard the above plea: don’t read the story; the last thing I want is to make your difficult times worse.

If you do read it, I hope it elicits a chuckle, or at least brings a smile. But as much as laughter is the best medicine, it is also a wonderful defence mechanism. A defence against uncomfortable subject matter, and a wonderful defence against anger. I’m uncomfortable with the way the world is determined to act as if there is no longer a pandemic, and I am angry about all those unnecessary lives lost. Pointing it out with humour is one of the safer ways of expressing that anger.

Maybe you’re angry, too. Or maybe you will be after reading the story. And if, after reading it, you find yourself angry about people refusing to look out for each other, this humorous little story has done its job.

And you never know, it may turn out that the upcoming bestseller, Till Death Do Us Party, takes aim at some stuff I’m pretty angry about as well.If you’ve made it to the end of this rant and you’re still willing to read Pestilence’s Party with Rona, all you need to do is click on this link.


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