The Perfect Joke: Autopathography and Humor in Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In spite of that old adage—"laughter is the best medicine"—it is hard to overcome the feeling that illness and humor are fundamentally incompatible. Indeed, this basic assumption is often used as the source of comedy itself: the incongruous intersection of laughter and suffering highlights the ways in which the former might somehow trump the latter by way of an ironic "deadening" or desensitization. In a literature review for the Southern Medical Journal in 2003, physician Howard J. Bennett finds little support in published studies for the idea that laughter meaningfully promotes health or healing, despite popular beliefs; the only direct medical benefits he substantiates concern pain management through a kind of comic anesthesia. "In one well-controlled study," Bennett reports, "humorous movies reduced the need for postoperative analgesia in orthopedic patients."1 If comedy does work upon the body, it seems to do so exclusively by placing pressure on one end of a kind of Cartesian lever, prying apart the humorous experience of pleasure from the physical reality of disease and illness.


1. Howard J. Bennett, "Humor in Medicine," Southern Medical Journal, 96, no. 12 (December 2003), 1257.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.