Natural Disasters Are Never Funny: Surviving a Comedy Wasteland

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When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, I was stuck inside a dormitory in Syracuse, N.Y., hundreds of miles away from any serious damage. We ended up getting a day off from school due to “fear of the worst,” but nothing more accumulated than a few errant raindrops and a branch or two gently falling down to the semi-moist earth. I assumed we were getting off easy, and that I would have no horror stories to tell. But reader, I was wrong. I mean, no one died in my horror story, or lost their home, or got hurt, or lost power, or got water damage, or tripped, or stubbed a toe.

But this is still is a horror story.

Sandy ended up hitting close to Halloween, which means it was getting in the way of one of the biggest days of the collegiate year. Young folks always try to outdo each other when it comes to the collegiate costume game. Girls test the indecent exposure laws and boys try to see how much normal clothing they can wear that still constitutes “a costume.” College is supposed to foster creativity, right? Wrong. It’s left somewhere in the vicinity of the liquor store down the block that doesn’t check I.D.

In spite of Halloween turning the university into a creative wasteland, some attempt to break out of this mold. I was taking an introductory grammar course when the effects (or is it affects?) of Hurricane Sandy first hit. I was sitting in the back of the class, because I hate class, when I first heard of someone’s attempt to go as “Hurricane Sandy for Halloween.” Or, at least, he was going to. He loudly proclaimed to the class, “I was going to wear a t-shirt that said ‘Hurricane Sandy’ and walk around with one of those water bottles that shoots water out of a mini-fan. Hilarious, right? But then too many people died so I thought it would be offensive.”

Wise choice, Mother Teresa. What was his thought process? How many deaths were too many deaths? Did he actually research Sandy deaths? Was he about about to leave for a party, wearing his costume, with a big grin, then thought, “Hey, maybe I should check the death toll one last time…” I like to imagine him checking, seeing the toll had gone from 14 to 15, his limit. Then I like to imagine a single tear trickling down his face, as he realizes that that human being dying means he can’t wear his costume. A real humanitarian, this guy.

You would think that a college-aged person could only have one horrible costume idea in them. But reader, he wasn’t done.

“Remember that virus that went around? Yeah. The staph infection. I was going to walk around with a t-shirt that said ‘Staph Infection’ and spray people with a bottle that said ‘Staph’ on it. But then I realized it would freak people out. I mean, if I replaced ‘Staph’ with ‘polio,’ it would be hilarious, but it wouldn’t be timely enough.”

Fun! Give him a t-shirt and a water bottle and the dude is a veritable idea machine. This guy’s attempt at making a costume for the moment sort of sums up the problem with college, at least for me. College is a comedic wasteland, filled with half children/half adults attempting to become full adults—or at least half children with jobs now. We can’t really control what comes out of our mouths, and whenever one of us puts ourselves on the line to attempt to achieve some sort of semblance of a joke, it ends up being not the best. Most jokes would be dismissed from the writer’s room at Family Guy for being “too obvious” or “dumb” or “bad” or “you should probably find other work” or “who are you and how did you get in here?” That’s not a jab at Family Guy. It’s just that that’s the only show we watch here, and casual sexism and racism becomes the vernacular that people use when trying to imitate Peter Griffin, not realizing he’s a cartoonish oaf meant to be laughed at. It’s kind of like what happened with Archie Bunker from All In the Family—he was someone who was meant to portray an ignorant jerk, except, uh-oh, some viewers agree with him.

College is a place where I was once walking home from a party and some kid looked at me and said, “And I thought I was white!” in order to impress his date. His date didn’t say anything, or at least I think she didn’t mainly because I started walking faster in order to avoid any sort of confrontation. In the year 2013, I was the victim of someone doing schtick. I mean, I was wearing white shorts and a white t-shirt, and I do possess aggressively Caucasian skin, but still. Moments like all these make college seem like a comedy deathtrap.

The one thing that has gotten me through this is Twitter. Twitter has helped me tread water during my first year at school, as I’m able to connect with fully-formed human beings with fully-formed senses of humor, and tell jokes that I think a fully-formed human being would tell. Every once in a while, people with college sensibilities will pop up on Twitter, but it’s much easier to ignore thanks to Twitter allowing users to, you know, not follow people. As I walk around campus, tweets fall from the sky, like the time I heard a girl say, “What was that movie where it was the day after tomorrow?” or realizing that college can’t be the four best years of my life, because no place where I have to wear shower sandals is the best. My school improv troupe also helps with keeping spirits up. But the one thing they don’t tell you about college is that it is just a bunch of young adults trying. Not well, mind you, but they are trying. I think. I hope. Maybe one day they’ll get it together. Until then, I don’t think I can wait.

Or maybe I’m the worst of them all. That’s probably it.