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Online Personalities Offer Laughs in Coronavirus Times


Jonathan Jaffe poses for a photograph in his "man cave" at his Scotch Plains, New Jersey, home, where he produces The Jaffe Briefing. (Carrie Jaffe/Handout via REUTERS.)
Online Personalities Offer Laughs in Coronavirus Times
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Americans are using humor to calm their nerves during the coronavirus crisis. Some have shared memes about not wearing day clothes anymore and gaining weight as they spend so much time at home.

And late-night television (TV) shows are helping to cheer up Americans at a time of concerns over COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Medical experts say humor is central to surviving the health crisis.

Jonathan Jaffe operates a humorous online newsletter in the state of New Jersey. He calls it The Jaffe Briefing.

“We’re just trying to find the lighter side of the crisis with articles that tell readers that this is temporary, ‘Let’s just get through it together,’” he said.

Jaffe has seen a 40 percent jump in the number of readers since the first coronavirus patient in the United States died on February 28.

The newsletter jokes about such news as efforts of the American company Anheuser-Busch to make antibacterial products instead of its usual beer.

Mental health experts say humor is great for calming nerves, not just by making people laugh but also by lowering the body's stress hormones. Scientific evidence shows high levels of stress can weaken the body’s ability to fight disease.

Mental armor

At a press conference on COVID-19 death and infection numbers, officials in Kentucky released pictures with light-hearted sayings written on them. And Kentucky’s public health commissioner Doctor Steven Stack told reporters, “Humor is healing.”

Comedy can serve as a kind of protection for the mind to ensure safe passage through tragic times, noted psychologist Sean Truman of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

“It’s a really powerful way to manage the unmanageable. Just to make fun of it and to gain control of it, by laughing at it. That’s a really powerful psychological move we can make,” Truman said.

With New York at the center of the crisis, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked actor Danny DeVito to speak about the importance of self-quarantining:

“Stay home,” DeVito, who is 75, said in a public service announcement played on many TV stations. “We got this virus, this pandemic, and you know young people can get it, and they can transmit it to old people, and the next thing you know - ‘Gghhhhkk, I’m outta there!’”

When DeVito said “outta there,” he means dead.

After production of their late-night TV talk shows was stopped, many of the show stars began recording themselves from home for social media. They have been joking about their favorite subjects, such as politics, but adding new material, too.

For example, millions watched as talk show host Jimmy Fallon sat just outside his home with his laptop computer. Each time he told a joke, he would create the sound of people laughing and cheering by pressing a button on the machine.

Because of the virus, show host Stephen Colbert has changed the name of his opening segment. Colbert now calls it, "The Light Show with Stephen Colb-Air - We're All In This Together."

One of his recent programs had a make-believe horse race. Each horse represented his thoughts and emotions, some hopeful and others less so. Each horse was given a humorous name, such as “Does this cough mean anything?”

And, Trevor Noah has been doing video calls with “reporters” from his funny late-night news show. on a recent call from his home, he and “reporter” Ronny Chieng talked about Chieng being stuck in Australia.

Noah told Chieng he felt sorry for him because he is stuck in a hotel away from everyone back home.

But then Chieng joked, “I love social distancing...I love this stuff. I get to watch TV all day, eat whatever I want, wake up whenever I want. I don’t even have to wear pants...It’s the best.”

I’m Alice Bryant.

Reuters News Agency reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

meme - an amusing or interesting picture or video that is spread widely through the Internet

article – n. a piece of writing about a particular subject that is included in a magazine or newspaper or on a website

stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work

manage – v. to have control of something, such as a business or department

tuarantine – n. the situation of being kept away from others to prevent a disease from spreading

pandemic – n. a situation in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

transmit – v. to cause a virus or disease to be given to others

segment – n. a part of a news or talk show that is dedicated to specific topics

cough – n. an act of forced air through your throat with a short, loud noise

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