Recently, I gave a toast at a friend’s birthday party. I’d prepared a brief speech and peppered it with touching memories and hilarious anecdotes from our decadeslong friendship. The response? Total silence. As far as I could tell, I had bombed.
Because it’s 2020, the “party” was on Zoom. Although there were dozens of guests, they were all on mute while I spoke. I stumbled through, attempting to crack a few more jokes into the void. It was deeply uncomfortable.
Attempts at humor can feel incredibly awkward at a moment when so many people are engulfed in stress and uncertainty. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 122,000 people to date in the U.S. alone, and lockdowns have led to levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Highly publicized police killings of unarmed Black citizens prompted a reckoning with the country’s difficult racial history. Things just aren’t that funny right now.