Humorous Nihilism: Having Fun with Meaninglessness

by Gary Z McGee

“What is a tragedy but a misunderstood comedy.” ~ Shakespeare

Nothing matters. We’re all going to die. Everything we’ve ever done, both as individuals and as a species, will eventually become ashes and account for nothing. There’s no meaning in the universe. It’s all just one big existential bummer. Hurray?

The good thing is that we don’t need the universe to be meaningful in order to laugh at it. The fact that the universe is meaningless is funny in and of itself. The fact that we’re all going to die someday is Patch-Adams-wearing-a-red-nose comical. The jokes on us. We’re all a bunch of walking, talking punchlines, and most of us don’t even realize it. That’s hilarious. Or, at least, it should be.

Why should it be hilarious? Because the other options are too unhealthy. Being a depressed cold-hearted pessimist with a cloud hanging over you is detrimental to your health. Being a nihilistic cynic wallowing in ennui and crippled by angst is equally unhealthy. You might as well be a zombie walking through the coffin of your life.

It really comes down to answering one critical question: Do you want to live, or do you want to die? As Albert Camus said, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”

If your answer is life, then it stands to reason that you want that life to be as healthy as possible. And there is almost nothing healthier than laughter. Except, perhaps, sleep and love. Both of which are actually made better by laughter. So, when faced with the crushing implications of a meaningless universe that ends with your certain death, humorous nihilism trumps naked nihilism every single day, and twice on the Sabbath.

Laughing into the Abyss

“Life is a matter of oscillation. Life is vibration. The question is: how are you going to interpret that. Is it tremble, tremble, tremble; or is it laugh, laugh, laugh?” ~ Alan Watts

Laughter, it’s said, is the best medicine. Laughter reduces pain, forms deep social bonds, fosters brain connectivity, acts as an effective antidepressant, and protects the heart. Besides all these scientific benefits, laughter is flat out enjoyable. It usually happens when we’re having fun.

Laughter happens when we’re hanging out with our friends. It happens when we’re mocking our enemies. It happens when we’re watching comedies, dramas, horrors, even pornos. It happens when we’re alone with our thoughts, and when we’re dreaming. It happens when we’re watching Rick demean Morty.

Nothing is more powerful than laughter in the face of that which seeks to destroy you. Shine even as your soul is breaking under the heavy weight of cosmic nihilism. Allow your indomitable sense of humor to blaze through the cracks of your having fallen apart and come back together again. As Charlie Chaplin said, “Smile, though your heart is aching.”

You are free to laugh at anything: death, birth, love, hate. Just as you are free to laugh in the face of any authority: cops, heroes, the devil, even God. F*ck them all if they can’t laugh back. The joke is on them. The joke is on you too, but the crucial difference is that you’re able to laugh back.

So, what’s wrong with looking at the funny side of nihilism? What’s wrong with having a little fun with meaninglessness? What’s wrong with standing before the throne and flipping the crown the bird? What’s wrong with staring Death in the face and laughing while he insecurely looks around wondering how to handle things. We might even scare him off with our eccentricity until a later date.

Maybe next time, Monsieur Death… Yes, Death is French.



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