I was the class clown of 4015 Walnut Street. While my dear friends at the offices of The Daily Pennsylvanian Inc. were doing real jobs, I walked around the newsroom cracking jokes. My job as editor-in-chief of Under the Button was to be funny (and perhaps achieve our business and editorial objectives), but I don’t view my time at UTB as a vanity project. Beyond scoring a few laughs and filling a few backpacks with chili, UTB became an outlet to explore the more subtle virtues of being a class clown.
While not at all part of the plan coming into school, journalism became the defining feature of my Penn career. At the risk of angry Slack messages from news editors, I will assert that comedy is a form of journalism and that complete fabrication can be as real as anything.
Fundamentally, journalism is the documentation of truth. All truly great humor is funny because it points to some shared emotional truth. Every day at UTB, I tried to tell the truth and carve out my own corner of the journalism world at Penn. Unlike my news colleagues, my motivations weren’t to inform the public. I was driven largely by the need to cope and to help others cope. UTB became a space not only where I found my community at Penn, but where I could laugh about Penn and about myself and my own shortcomings.
Penn is an incredibly stressful and maddening place and the seemingly accelerating insanity of the world around it certainly doesn’t help any of us feel better. We spend years of our lives grinding ourselves down, racing breathlessly towards wealth or influence or whatever it is we think that we want out of our time at Penn. Despite our best efforts and intentions, things rarely pan out the way we want. Penn can be a wonderful and enriching experience. It can also be crushing.
Failure and the seeming fruitlessness of our efforts are important, if disheartening, aspects of life at Penn. Put simply, things can be downright terrible. Acknowledging the absurdity of the Penn experience and being willing to try to laugh it off is essential to our emotional well-being.
It’s not just the world around us that we need to find humor in, but also ourselves. Finding something to laugh about when things go wrong is an empathetic pursuit and we should seek to have empathy for our own individual situations.
While being a serious person is a good thing, taking yourself too seriously may not be. It’s easy to be high-strung and single-minded about your future and your self-image. If you take yourself too seriously, you run the risk of shattering completely when things don’t go your way. Learning to laugh at yourself and your own failures is not only an emotional insurance policy, but it demonstrates a greater sense of perspective.
Granted, this is easier said than done. At times it seems like there’s not a ton to laugh about. Failed midterms, job rejections, and presidential elections can really stick us in the eye. In the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016, I was sitting in the newsroom, reporting on the election. I called my editor and asked him what he thought I should do. “Nothing,” he replied. “There’s nothing funny about what’s happened tonight.”
In that moment, he was right. For me and for many other students, the election was a waking nightmare. But looking back, I’m not sure we did the right thing. There was a shared experience that we declined to consider in a potentially therapeutic way. Resigning ourselves to a void of humor is resigning ourselves to hopelessness. In our darkest times at Penn we must try to find something to laugh about.
I was incredibly privileged to serve as editor-in-chief of Under the Button. I deeply love the people I worked with and I am proud of what we accomplished during my time at Penn. UTB defined my college years and helped me maintain my sanity. But my biggest hope goes beyond my own well-being.
I hope that our work touched people here. I hope that there was at least someone who read one of our pieces and understood that they weren’t alone in their struggles. Our mission was always to angle the difficulties of everyday life in a subversive and funny way, and not just because we’re class clowns desperate for laughs.
Class clownism goes beyond evoking a reaction. Yes, it’s fun to be funny, but humor shouldn’t be about validation. Humor is a language of empathy that communicates to those around us that we share experiences, and while those experiences may not be good, we can at least laugh about them together. As long as there are class clowns, everything just might be alright.
ALESSANDRO CONSUELOS is a Wharton senior from Allentown, Pa., studying Behavioral Economics and Cinema and Media Studies. He served as editor-in-chief of Under the Button on the 134th board. Previously, he was a UTB staff writer and a senior staffer in the DP digital department.
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