Author, speaker, and 35-year NSA member
PATT SCHWAB, PHD, CSP,
travels internationally helping leaders
manage change, manage others, and
manage to have more fun!
after a tragedy
through The first to emerge, morbid humor
includes sarcasm and vicious shots at
the perpetrator, oneself, and even the
victim—particularly if the victim has
done something stupid.
Morbid humor carries no obligation to be fair or just or rational. It
is predominantly bitter and self-centered, and allows us to start distancing ourselves from the tragedy.
One of my heroes is cartoonist
John Callahan. Left a quadriplegic
after a car accident, his “get over it”
line was: Self-pity is like wetting your
pants in winter. It gives you a warm
feeling—for a very short time!
¢ If the audience personally feels the
tragedy, acknowledge it, but don’t try
to be funny. Morbid humor, because of
its vicious nature, is not appropriate
for use by a professional speaker.
¢ Work at making your content relevant to what your audience may be
feeling and thinking.
¢ If your content is humor, sometimes
touching on the relationship between
humor and tragedy can be helpful for
the attendees. It may be useful to
remind them that we need laughter
to reassure ourselves that we will
ultimately triumph over adversity.
The gentle humor of distraction is
intended to help us mentally escape
the situation, if only for a few minutes. The purpose of distraction
humor is to reassure us that life goes
on. It buys time until things settle
down and can be dispassionately
analyzed. Some examples:
¢ Laughing at the antics of children
or pets, escaping to a funny movie, or
reading a humorous book are outlets.
¢ Hurricane Harvey inspired a sign on
a roofless store in Houston reading:
“More open for business than usual.”
¢ After Hurricane Irma in Florida, a
radio announcer broadcast: “Good
evening out there, all of you who still
¢ Build on the above examples of
¢ References to, or anecdotes about,
similar events you’ve experienced
help attendees feel you understand
¢ Light humor, unrelated to the crisis,
can help relax the audience.