Hey, did you hear the one about the investment banker?

Ignore the critics — a sense of humour these days is priceless


Hey, did you hear the one about the investment banker?In 1933, when the grip of the Great Depression was at its absolute tightest, the New York Sun made mention of a satirical sign hanging in the front window of a Brooklyn grocery store. “Due to the depression,” it said, “credit will hereafter be extended only to persons over the age of 80 years if accompanied by their grandparents.” Even in such dire times—correction: especially in such dire times—a sense of humour was a priceless commodity.

Seventy-six years later, it’s a lesson worth repeating. As stock markets melt and layoffs mount—and fake news reporters ambush politicians in the middle of “serious” and “important” press conferences—don’t feel guilty about letting out the occasional laugh. Boom or bust, a good giggle is never a bad investment.

No, Geri Hall didn’t exactly nail her latest sketch. When the star of This Hour Has 22 Minutes cornered Dalton McGuinty last week, the Ontario premier was talking to journalists about steel mill closures in Hamilton and Fort Erie, and her in-character intrusion (“Single Female Voter”) certainly didn’t match the somber mood. But if Hall’s timing was inappropriate, her intentions were not. Comedy, even when it flops, is a welcome distraction in these uncertain days. To suggest otherwise—to argue, as some headlines did, that a credit crunch is no place for comedy—is, well, laughable.

Isaac Asimov famously wrote: “Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy and literature than any number of dull arguments.” Which is why, as another deep recession looms, we need Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and even Geri Hall to keep supplying the punch lines, awkward or not. Nobody likes to think about pink slips or plummeting pension funds. But at a time when countless “experts” are lining up to tell us why things went so horribly wrong, it’s strangely fitting that The Simpsons, and not CNN, has provided the clearest explanation yet. “When you gave me that money, you said I wouldn’t have to repay it ’til the future,” Homer told his mortgage broker in the latest episode. “This isn’t the future. It’s the lousy, stinking now!”

When the lousy, stinking now was the Great Depression, it was the Three Stooges who offered comic relief to a beleaguered nation. In the downturn of the early 80s—and again today—it was Saturday Night Live. Money (or lack thereof) has always been a favourite topic for talk show hosts and editorial cartoonists, and no matter how many workers lose their jobs or how low the markets go, that won’t change. Nor should it. Bill Cosby put it best: “If you can find humour in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.”

It’s no mystery, then, why comedy DVDs are flying off the shelves in Britain, or why U.S. networks are pitching new sitcoms about bankrupt Wall Street tycoons, or why Fox just signed The Simpsons for another two seasons. People want to lose themselves in laughter, even if the joke is sometimes on them. We don’t chuckle at Homer because he’s a bumbling fool (although that’s part of it). We laugh because so many of us fell for the same sub-prime scam that he did. D’Oh!

Doctors have long praised the power of laughter (as did the Old Testament: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine”). Studies show that a hearty, hold-your-belly laugh produces pain-killing hormones, increases T-cell production, relaxes muscles, and triggers creativity. Science also says that laughter helps people overcome their fears and approach their problems (ie. tumbling portfolios) with a positive attitude.

By the way, have you heard the Canadian Oxford Dictionary has a new definition for optimism?

An investment banker ironing five shirts on a Sunday morning.


Hey, did you hear the one about the investment banker?

  1. Laughter is the best medicine. I sure hope these cuts to the arts, especially to the CBC don’t lead to the cancellation of This Hour has 22 minutes or The Rick Mercer Report. What else would make us laugh on Tuesday nights?

    And on another point, I’ve personally heard from Conservative sources, Mps, lobbyists, the whole lot of them, that if they had a majority they would privatize the CBC. Lord please let it not come to that!!

  2. I heard that if the conservatives win a majority, they will make women wear steel underpants and force men to wear polka-dot suspenders. And then they will appoint George Bush to Cabinet as an unelected member and send everyone from CBC to Guantanamo Bay. I hope to god (small “g”) it’s not true, but I heard it from some drunk guy in a bar in Ottawa who knows someone who said hi to Jason Kenney once. Everyone, please tell your friends and neighbours not to vote conservative. ABC all the way!!!

  3. Wow…..thank you for placing everything into perspective, as people lose their savings, homes, and watch their pensions plummet, i think your advice on just laugh it off has to be the most ignorant and offensive piece of “journalism” i have heard as of late. Now is not the time to laugh off your problems, now is the time to question why we are in such a position. It seems to me history teaches a valuable lesson, when hard times come, the average individual is the one who shoulders most of the tragedies, so instead of writing a column encouraging individuals to ” just look on the bright side” i mean your family will have no where to live, and your pension just doesn’t quite measure up anymore, and oh yeah you may have to work longer then expected, but just turn on your t.v and have a good laugh, that is until you can’t pay your hydro bill…….this truly is a reflection on the state of the media today….this is the kind of quality you recieve when media is allowed to govern itself…and journalist no longer feel an obligation to the people……but merely to a pay cheque and courtesy to their editors…good job guys!!!

  4. this is for some socialist:

    I HIGHLY doubt the author of this article is advocating humour over worry or over getting answers. If fact, I’m not sure you even read this article at all based on your comments. I believe the point is that life will continue to move, and we must continue to live it! Economic recovery is not going to happen while you sit in your home depressed and crying into your milk. We (royal, collective, all of us – whatever) need to get out and all do our part to contribute to the economic rebuilding of this great nation.

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