Speaking of Hilarious Humor on a Serious Subject

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Friends in high places? I have exactly one. She is a top political reporter for a national newspaper and I am lucky to count her as a good friend.

Three of the best things about her are:

  •  she lives in my neighborhood
  •  she is a very generous person &
  •  she appreciates my sense of humor.

One night a few years ago, when we were sitting in her family room, as she had her ever-present iPad on her lap, following along on social media (reporters are allowed to do this at all times), she looked up at me and said:

Nancy, you know, you should be on Twitter. You’re funny!  You have a lot to say. You should start a Twitter account.”

Now you have to understand this was said by someone who currently has (I just checked) 56,300 followers on Twitter!  People follow my friend because she is astounding insightful on all things political, but also because she is very generous in sharing the work of others.

Plus she has a wicked sense of humor. Which is extremely hard to do in a maximum of 144 characters,

I thought sure, why not give this a try, I love to communicate, to stay on top of the news, Twitter will be fun. Just after I created my account, my friend tweeted to her thousands of followers, something like:

Be sure to follow @_nwolf, new on twitter and very funny”

Within a matter of hours, I had nearly 1,000 Twitter followers!  And then within a matter of days I had nearly lost them all.


Because being funny on Twitter is an art form I could not master. As soon as my friend told her twitterverse to pay attention to me, her funny friend, my sense of 144-character-driven humor disappeared.

Since then I’ve figured that my sense of humor comes through better when I speak than when I write. Not that everyone gets  my sense of humor. Some do not.

Humor like cilantro or olives, is an acquired taste. You either enjoy it right away or sniff in distaste and never come back. I happen to love both cilantro and olives; you may not.

And oddly enough my sense of humor really shines through when I talk about difficult topics.

A few years ago I gave a talk about the parenting of teens and young adults with mental illness to a roomful of Jewish clergy at a DC area organization. The rabbis wanted to know to respond when a congregant with a troubled kid came to them for advice. What did they need to know about awareness, stigma and support?

I launched into my tale of my experience as a parent, laced with insights from the many families I’d gotten to know while I was leading the parents’ support group (“parents of young adults who struggle”) I founded at my synagogue.

My audience nodded appreciatively as I spoke, laughed often. When I finished, one of the rabbis came up to shake my hand, and said something like –

Thank you so much for your candor and helpfulness; you really have a knack for being hilarious when talking about mental illness.”

I smiled, said thank you but as I was driving home, suddenly thought, what did he say? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be funny when speaking about such a serious subject?

I decided it was a good thing. Humor can often reach people in a way that solemn speech cannot.

Ever since then I’ve tried to talk about “mental health” (which everyone has, even your dog or cat) and “mental illness” (a diagnosable medical condition which everyone does not have, but some do) in a relatable way.

To carry the message that mental illness is a disease of the brain – you can think of it as a broken brain. You’d go to a doctor and easily find the appropriate care if you break your ankle (as I did 3 weeks ago), but when you have a broken brain, it is inexplicably much harder to find the right treatment. (and to stick with it.)

When is the last time you saw someone stigmatized because of a broken ankle?

(I thought so.)

If in February, 2016, you find yourself in or near Marin County in northern California,  I am thrilled to tell you that I will be speaking there at a reform synagogue about young adult mental health and mental illness. Fair warning that what I will likely say will not be solemn or serious but it will be heartfelt.

And in case you are as fascinated by the connections we make on social media, I have not given up on Twitter.

You can follow me @_nwolf  – where I tweet about books, college, mental health, parenting, women’s issues and other topics that strike my fancy.

Just don’t expect to laugh out loud when you read my tweets. For reasons I am still trying to comprehend, my funniest moments come when I am talking about the most serious of subjects.


Filed under Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Jewish, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting, Raising Kids, Social Media, Talking, Women, Writing, Young Adult Mental Health

11 responses to “Speaking of Hilarious Humor on a Serious Subject

  1. I loved this post. I think Twitter takes getting used to, honestly. I had an account years ago and found myself more distracted by it than anything else, so I gave it up. Recently, I found it necessary for something work-related, so I reactivated my account and am more or less participating in observation mode to get a feel before diving in. I don’t especially like pressure to say witty or moving things, and I think it takes some practice to effectively communicate in 144 characters. And I’m always inspired by people who can speak of hard topics with humor, especially one as hard as mental illness, but if I hadn’t been blessed with a sense of humor, living in a family full of mental illness would have taken me down.


    • Humor is the great leveler. If you think of the great silent era comedians–Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd–their routines all had them in scary, precarious situations that made people laugh. And think of the film “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”… full of not-funny predicaments that are made funny by some top mid-century comics!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, “Grief Happens”, for appreciating my post. Twitter is ridiculously distracting but some days I need that distraction more than others as I am sure you know well,


      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you are funny, tweeting or not! I use humor when I speak about cancer. My oncologist has a great sense of humor and I recommend him to others. He has a blend of humor and nerdiness, perfect in an oncologist I think, but some disagree. They do not see the need for humor when talking or living with cancer. Sofie Tucker had it right!


  3. I am at my funniest when I’m dead serious – like being at the doctor’s office or my elections work. Humor helps you face fear head on, smooths the way when the discussion gets awkward and makes some of the boring details more interesting. Trying to be funny almost never happens for me, which is why I don’t write humor.


  4. Let me know if you ever come speak in the Philadelphia area — I would love to come see you.


  5. Miriam Daniel

    No, you are also funny when you write your blogs! Am moving in the direction of writing my blog and will work on it at the Biennial in Orlando, which may keep me at least half way sane. Am really pleased to have you so actively engaged in the family California project. Feels like a nice circle. How is the foot?


    • Many thanks, Miriam! I am looking forward to seeing your Blog,
      Sanity is over-rated.

      Left ankle is healing. Now told I can walk while wearing the “boot” but need to find a shoe for the right foot at the same height as the left boot so I don’t walk with a tilt.

      Always something,



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