Are You Laughing in Pain?

Great comedians like Robbin Williams and Lucille Ball did it. They laughed despite their pain. Learn the difference between humor as a release and humor as a deflective strategy.


I have a dear friend from college who I refer to as The Deflection King. When things get serious, he goes for humor. It takes intelligence to throw out the quick zingers he often does. Most of the time, his comedy is welcome, but there are times when his personal stand-up routine is both sad and frustrating.

What Does Deflection Mean Anyway?

The word deflect comes from the Latin word deflectere. De means away from + flectere means to bend. Humor is my friend’s way of deflecting a barrage of whatever unpleasant experiences come his way.

I happen to love humor, and like my friend, I’ve spent time on stages performing as a stand-up comic. Humor can be a fantastic balm to a hurting spirit. Humor sugar coats some often painful medicine, allowing it a more palatable digestion.

Humor as a Band-aid

But when we use humor to deflect, it becomes a coping strategy, a comedic Band-aid that prevents us from growing and moving forward. Deflection becomes armor that might keep us from getting hurt, but it also keeps us from experiencing life fully. Over time, that armor becomes a weight, and we might wonder why we feel so alone.

Deflection is defined as causing (something) to change direction by interposing something. Verbal deflection pushes loved ones away and keeps the deflector “safe” from feeling anything of substance. Deflection is the young sibling of Denial and will literally keep us away from the chance of experiencing a genuine connection.

My dear friend has a heart of gold. He is loyal to his family and friends. He also has uncanny comedic timing and possesses the ability to make a crowd wish they were sporting Depends. But this King of Deflection is in pain and no amount of sharp jokes will remove the turmoil in his eyes.

Comedians in Pain

I think of the late and great Robbin Williams, bringing tears of laughter to millions of people through the years. I think of Christopher Titus whose mother and sister both committed suicide; I think of Lucille Ball whose offscreen personal life did not look anything like the slapstick humor the late comedic genius displayed onscreen. Humor can be wonderfully therapeutic, but we also need to be willing to look under the spiritual hood.

So, the next time you find yourself or a loved one tapping a funny bone, ask yourself: is there a bigger story here that I’m ignoring? Humor can often be the vehicle to truth.