On Monday, author Michele Wojciechowski wrote about how she can find the funny in even the difficult moments in life and that kind of humor is the secret to coping in crisis. In this Q&A she offers some thoughts about humor, how she writes it, experiences it and how we can all find a little more to laugh about in our own lives.
MW: Whether something is funny or not is determined by the reader, the viewer, or the listener. I may think a joke or essay is hilarious, and a friend of mine may think it’s the stupidest thing she’s ever read. That’s why there are so many different types of comedy out there—from the slapstick to the cerebral. There’s a style of humor for everyone.
IS: Have you always been funny or is it something you cultivate?
MW: I grew up in a very funny family. Both my parents were really funny people. I remember sitting around the kitchen table at my grandmother’s house every Sunday and puns flying back and forth between family members. I began doing impressions of “Vinnie Barbarino,” John Travolta’s character on “Welcome Back Kotter,” when I was a kid, and my aunts and their friends would pay me quarters to do it. With that, a professional comic was born!
I also have cultivated it throughout my life. I’ve always had funny friends and been drawn to people who share my sense of humor. We always have a good time.
IS: Why is it so important to cultivate laughter and humor in your life?
Besides just making you feel good, laughter has been scientifically proven to help your health. If you’re really upset and someone makes you laugh, your muscles relax, your blood pressure drops, and your body releases all those feel-good hormones.
MW: Here’s how I see it—your life is going to happen no matter what. You will go through the same situations whether you’re laughing or angry. As much as I can, I choose to laugh.
IS: How do you find humor in your life?
MW: Frankly, humor finds me. What I mean by that is folks think I must have the funniest life in the world because I use tons of everyday experiences in my column, Wojo’s World .
I don’t think my life is necessarily funnier that everyone else’s. I’m just really observant. I carry a paper and pens with me all the time and have them on my nightstand. I have a folder full of scraps of paper—literally—because I will think of something funny or experience something hilarious, and I write it down to remember it later.
I’ve tried to keep a journal of funny stuff over the years, but unless I was being graded on it in high school or college, I couldn’t keep it up. I’m too disorganized. And I even have an assistant now. I still like my scraps of paper system for jokes.
IS: Like many people, I know you’ve faced some great losses and challenges such as the death of your mother. How has humor helped you cope with the dark days?
MW: Losing my mom seven years ago was, without a doubt, the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. I lost my dad when I was just 10 years old, and that was tough. But I was a kid, and I think that often kids can really be a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. I’m not saying it was easy to lose my dad, but I still had my mom.
My mom and stepdad lived with us during her illness, unless she was in the hospital. When my mom was ill with cancer, sometimes she was on drugs that were making her, as we called it, “goofy headed.” So, for example, she would take a nap and then wake up and ask what time it was. When we told her 5 o’clock, she would say, “In the morning?” And it would be evening. To joke with her and get through it ourselves, my husband and I made two signs—one that had a sun on it and read, “It’s daytime” and the other that had a quarter moon and said, “It’s night.” It would make my mom laugh when we would hold them up and announce the time. But it also kept us from crying.
IS: Some may perceive humor, or laughter, especially during difficult times to be frivolous or inappropriate. What do you think of that perception?
MW: I believe that people are entitled to this opinion, but it’s not one that I share. I think that in our darkest, most horrible moments laughter and humor help to keep us sane.
I’ve known fire fighters, police, and folks in the medical field who use dark humor within their ranks. Would it be appropriate to joke about it with their neighbors or at a cocktail party? Absolutely not. But it’s needed because it helps them deal with horrors that many of us could not experience on a day-to-day basis.
When my mom was ill, she knew her odds weren’t great. But she often joked with the hospital staff. She did, and we did. And, as a result, they did. We all knew what was really happening, but humor helped us all deal with it.
IS: When you are feeling low or in a dark mood, what, if any, are the ways you are still able to laugh or see glimpses of light in your days?
MW: Honestly, I’m like everyone else, and sometimes I just need to have a good, long cry. On other days, I find that getting out of myself and making other people laugh pulls me out of a low place. Sometimes, I’ll put on a funny movie or watch something hilarious on YouTube that I may have seen hundreds of times already. But I still laugh.
If nothing seems to be working, I know what will. I watch stand-up by Brian Regan. His stuff never fails to make me laugh out loud.
IS: For those of us who are not comedians, what are some ways we can find the humor in our days—even though life can be so challenging at times?
MW: Look for the absurdities in your life and the general weirdness around you. I think most folks have funny family, work, pets, kids, or childhood stories that they can retell and laugh about. We’ve all had funny things happen to us. It’s just a matter of remembering them, and you can go back in time, relive the event, and laugh your head off.
With the internet, laughter is as close as a click away. YouTube, Funny or Die, and The Onion websites are full of funny stuff. Take a break, and click around. You’ll find something that makes you laugh.
And go to my website—www.wojosworld.com. I’m pretty dang funny and not promotionally minded at all…
IS: Do you have any “practices” you use that could help the rest of us rediscover the fun and laughter in our own lives?
MW: Open your mind and observe. Watch movies or TV shows that make you laugh. Find books that make you laugh (like a new one called “Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.” I’m not into promotion. Nope. Not me.). Call a friend who makes you laugh. Play with your crazy pet. Search something like “babies laughing” online. I guarantee that if you do all of the above, something will make you laugh.
MW: Five years ago, my husband and I found our dream home. Problem was, we weren’t seriously looking for it yet. In a two-week whirlwind, we had put in a contract on our dream home and gotten our place on the market. Then we had to sell our home and move. Chaos and hilarity ensued.
I wrote a number of columns during the months we were going through this, and I got great feedback from readers, our realtor, and our mortgage broker. I knew I was on to something, and within a month after moving, I said to my husband, “Next time I move, they’ll carry me out in a box.” A title was born and so was the idea for my book.
IS: If people could take one thing from the book, what would you hope that they get from reading it?
No matter how stressful a situation might be, if you can step back and find some humor in it, you’ll be able to get through it.
Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski is a national award-winning freelance writer and humorist, as well as a standup comedian and public speaker. Her writing has appeared in Family Circle, Boys’ Life, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Maryland Life, Baltimore magazine, the BaltimoreSun.com, and the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye.com, among many others. She has written the award-winning column, Wojo’s World™ since 2003 and is a faculty member of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Wojo lives with her family in Baltimore, Maryland and is never moving again. For more information, visit WojosWorld.com.