Cartoonists are making the coronavirus the butt of the joke: 'Humor is good in stressful times'

New Yorker cartoon contributor Harry Bliss collaborated with comedian Steve Martin on this cartoon relating to the coronavirus pandemic. "We need to take precautions but let’s laugh at this too," he said. (Credit: Courtesy of Harry Bliss)

Cartoonists around the country are making a point of making people laugh about the coronavirus at a time when many Americans are feeling anxiety and fear.

“Humor is very good at breaking the tension, humor is good in stressful times,” said Marty Dundics, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of the Weekly Humorist, a digital magazine that features cartoons and funny articles. 

Dundics tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he has been getting many submissions from humorists about the coronavirus. He says the challenge is sifting through the content to find light-hearted content that taps into the things Americans are collectively experiencing right now.

“Jokes about working from home, jokes about having kids always around you. Jokes about having to wash your hand all the time, or touching your face,” he said. “There’s humor to be found there. So it’s about finding that stuff and trying to relieve the stress in those ways.”

Harry Bliss, a New Hampshire-based contributing cartoonist to the New Yorker and author of the syndicated cartoon strip “Bliss” says we need humor now more than ever. “I think this is the universe’s way of telling us to slow down and just hit pause and recognize some of the things that are pretty cool in this life: nature and humor,” he said.  “Laugh! Laughter is a wonderful way to emote. It’s the direct opposite of crying. But they’re very closely related.”

Bliss says the New Yorker recently reached out to him and other cover artists for submissions related to the coronavirus. He submitted an idea they ultimately rejected: of a rat on the New York City subway wearing an N95 mask. He says he has mixed feelings about their decision.

“I think it’s depressing and I think we’ve had enough of depressing,” he said. “I think we need to laugh. We need to take precautions but let’s laugh at this too.”

Instead, he says the cover will now be featured on the humor quarterly, American Bystander

Jessica Olien, a Brooklyn-based cartoonist who also contributes cartoons to the New Yorker, says that finding humor during a serious pandemic is possible if cartoonists focus on the universal truths of the situation.

Related Video: How to Manage Coronavirus Anxiety

“I think people seeing their realities reflected back at them in the little details and the absurdity of everyday life we experience now – it’s cathartic,” she said.  “I know looking at other people’s comics, it’s very cathartic to see all of these things put back to you so you can digest them in a way.”

And it can also be cathartic for the cartoonist. Tyson Cole, a Utah based cartoonist and graphic designer says drawing about coronavirus has helped him process the reality of this quickly-changing world.  “It’s a way of training your brain to see the humor in situations like this and just get used to thinking about things in a positive way, that may not intrinsically be humorous,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

He says that finding humor in the absurdities of the new normal has been a big part of his work recently. “For me, I’ve been making jokes about lighter stuff that’s based in human nature, like hoarding toilet paper is really funny to me.”

Dundics says since the coronavirus hit the U.S., many of the submissions he received even a month ago are no longer relevant.

“I’m forcing myself to put stuff out that’s non-coronavirus related on purpose, so people can have an escape. I’m also re-sharing old articles that are more evergreen and silly content that can make people laugh, and that can take them out of their mindset for a short while,” he said.

Cole says social media has played an important role during this time. “We’re all cooped up. But I think that social media has kept us all connected and sharing that in a way that’s helping everybody. It makes us feel not so isolated when we can still talk to people and still share experiences through jokes.” 

Dundics agrees. “You need to get out of your head sometimes,” he said. “It’s very important right now to laugh and to try to still seek humor in life and everyday things. Because we’ll get through it and we’ll get through it with the humanity we’ve always had. We’ll get through it with a sense of humor.”

For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides. 

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