Thinky Ha Ha: Comedians as the New Philosophers


Stańczyk during a Ball at the Court of Queen Bona after the Loss of Smolensk, Jan Matejko

Yup, I’m a philosophy grad- twice over, actually. I’ve studied it, I’ve taught it, and I’ve written about it.  The years I spent immersed in the academic side of philosophy were among the happiest and most fulfilling of my life.  I don’t, however, consider myself an academic philosopher anymore.  Maybe I never really did.  That’s not to say that I’ve hung up my toga.  I’m not sure it’s possible to crawl back into the cave once you’ve been out in the sun (high five to Plato).  I’ve just become accustomed to looking for big questions and arguments in other places.  When you’re a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail (last metaphor , I promise).

These days, I get my philosophy from movies, from television, from music, and even from advertisements, and I’m not alone.  There are a slew of writers and thinkers devoted to digging for it in popular culture.  My favourite source is, and has been for a long time, in the wonderfully wise-assed rantings of stand up comedians. Tackling difficult issues through laughter isn’t anything new.  Satirists have been doing it for thousands of years, and it works.  Comedic philosophy is especially potent in stand up, when the audience is addressed directly, the comedian is speaking with his or her own voice, and the raw energy of a live performance is there to amplify their ideas.

I’d like to pay tribute to the brave thinkers who spend hours writing material, schlepping from club to club, and enduring hecklers, all in the name of being able to say “What about this? Have your ever thought about it this way?”  Here are some of my favourites:

The list goes on and on, and I think I could probably fill an entire blog with examples (hmmm…maybe someday).  What really gets me fired up about philosophy through comedy is its accessibility.  Most people won’t take a course on Plato, but they will turn up the volume to hear what a comedian has to say about human nature and the state of the world.  Philosophy is more than an elective at university.  It’s a survival skill in the 21st century, and I’m a fan of anything that injects it into the common consciousness. Three cheers for those who treat big questions like they’re jokes!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *