By Rachel Payne
This pandemic has been undeniably hard for everyone. Call me Cromwellian, but I even found myself questioning whether there was a place for comedy amidst the dark and unsettling times the world seems to have been engulfed in.
What did ‘funny’ even mean? After walking past the milk in the one-way system at Tesco (for the second time), I wondered: should I laugh or cry? My emotions were muddled and disarranged; as if I had thrown my delicates, colours and darks into the wash and ended up with a basket of unexpected shades and sizes. I guess it doesn’t matter as no one can see if you’re wearing odd socks on a video tutorial anyway.
That’s the thing: we’re existing in a world where we’ve only ever seen half the new people we’ve met as a tiny 2D square in the corner of a Zoom screen. Of course, with this new time of ‘online everything’ – coffee calls, lectures, dance lessons – comes inevitable technological mishaps. Accidental unmutes mean that mutterings intended for the privacy of my own room were suddenly at risk of being broadcast to complete strangers. Faulty internet connection has (on more than one occasion) left me ‘frozen’, in a compromising facial position on screen.
It’s as if the ghost of my mum’s words has come back to haunt me, telling me my face would ‘get stuck forever’ if I continued with that ‘stupid expression’, one screenshot away from being immortalised. Whilst initially horrifically embarrassing, could these comedic scenes, found only in our new world of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, instigate the beginning of a new genre of comedy? Whilst this genre might not rival popular TV shows, could it be a light relief in the monotony of everyday Zoom life?
This new form of comedy side-split the internet after the Handforth Parish Council meeting went viral. Divine Justice at the mouse-click of the now-famous Jackie Weaver sent the ‘appalling behaviour’ of the likes of ‘Aled’s Ipad’ into exile: to the barren land of ‘the waiting room’. The commotion of the dispute was only made funnier by it having taken place online, with the frustration of ‘trying to have a Teams meeting you fool’, being one to which we can all relate.
Perhaps this ‘new genre’ has revealed something about the nature of comedic entertainment that was hidden before. When I think of the types of shows and films that make me laugh out loud, is it because there is a subtle part of me that understands and empathises with the seemingly distanced situations of Parks and Recreation or The Office?
Henri Bergson wrote that there must be ‘an absence of feeling which accompanies laughter’, yet in light of the Handforth Parish Council antics, is this really true? Surely what makes the video even funnier is the universal experience of the pains of video call. We feel, at times, as though we too are living in the ongoing struggle of an unsuccessful Teams meeting. And yet, it is this first-hand knowledge that allows us to laugh even more.
Jackie Weaver, the Handforth PC Clerk and Aled’s Ipad have taken on pantomime roles, uncovering a desire to yell “oh no it isn’t!” at the screen, whilst watching further scenes erupt. Yet I feel as if there’s something missing. There’s a loneliness, sitting by myself in front of my laptop; there is no one to laugh with me. It feels awkward and inhumane: solitary laughing, as if I am watching an episode of Friends without the canned laughter.
But we are not alone. We retweet and comment and like. Maybe the humour of this new genre of videocalls-gone-wrong is less polished than scripted Netflix or Amazon Prime shows. But it is so beautifully universal, a form of comedy in which we must all, at some point or another, participate. Perhaps in the future, we’ll sit in coffee shops with our friends, reminiscing the comedic mishaps of our former lives. Maybe there’ll even be an air of ‘Zoom nostalgia’.
Image: Amber Conway