Bridgette Picou

I have a twisty sense of humor. Not to be confused with twisted, although sometimes the things I find amusing might give people pause. I could blame the morbid piece of my humor on nursing, but the fact is that it was around before then. I say it’s twisty because I don’t necessarily find the same things funny at any given time. I enjoy a good stand-up routine either live or on YouTube, and I also enjoy old comedy films.

Humor me for a second. Will Ferrell is a funny guy, but Elf is not his best work. True fans will argue me into the ground over that statement, while others don’t think he is funny at all, which I find shocking. I am always amused by Ferrell and that kind of ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek comedy. Talladega Nights is raunchy, wildly inappropriate and it makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. Aside from that, my sense of humor depends on when you catch me. Most often it is born of sarcasm and sharp wit.

I thankfully never lost my sense of humor in the beginning of my HIV diagnosis, but I did find myself having to look for hope. Or maybe to remind myself is a better way to think of it. I hoped to feel like myself again. I hoped to be happy again. I hoped I wasn’t going to be alone forever. Humor helped with that. Laughing at the mundane or even the obnoxious was, and is, a reminder of resilience. I occasionally enjoy the slapstick and physical comedy of folks like Steve Martin or Jim Carrey. I may have dated myself a bit referencing Steve Martin, but who can resist laughing at movies like The Jerk or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Actually, let me correct myself. I know lots of folks who can resist those types of movies. Not everybody finds the same things funny and that’s part of the joy of comedy. There is something for everyone. What is most important in all of this is that I need laughter in my life. Comedy brings laughter and laughter is hope. I’ve never had a clear idea of why these two things are tied together so tightly for me, but they are. Laughter is hope.

Hope is an interesting thing. How people think of hope depends largely on if they consider themselves emotional or more analytical. Sustained hope depends on being encouraged and nurtured and tied to positive outcomes. It feels like emotion, but it is a cognitive process. You learn to hope. You learn something (experience), you feel it (processing) and then you tuck it away in your brain (memory) so you can draw on it when you need it again. It’s a combination of perception and memory and language. Which are all elements of laughter as well, so it seems I do know why they are tied together. One thing I learned recently is that there is science to suggest that through laughter, people may feel more empowered to problem-solve. Laughter reduces stress and increases connection with others. It also activates the limbic system which helps to moderate positive emotional responses.

Considering all this is part of why I love comedy and laughter. It also is why I get sad at the state of things these days. Being able to laugh at the ridiculous or off-color helps me deal with the hard parts of life. HIV can be heavy to live with, let alone work in. The number of times I’ve wanted to quit or let depression or anxiety get to me can’t be overstated. Laughter is one way to hit reset and try again. Even self-deprecating humor is a tool for recentering. I have opportunities to talk to people from all kinds of places and spaces in the world. More and more, people are struggling to find hope. The world is not a happy place. Folks are stressed, depressed and angry. Everything offends everyone and it’s hard to say anything even mildly controversial, let alone off-color or twisted without setting off a firestorm. Can you imagine TV shows like The Jeffersons or All in the Family airing on prime time these days? Me neither, which is a shame, because while sometimes shocking, they also offered lessons in laughter and a way to examine who we are and want to be.

I was never a fan of HIV jokes even before my diagnosis, but I also know folks use humor to cope with a diagnosis, or the jokes create a safe, “it can’t happen to me” space in others’ minds. Most Magic Johnson jokes, or jokes about downlow (or DL) men, continue to do harm in Black communities and keep people from being sexually healthy and getting tested. They perpetuate hate and stigma as the punchline. I have admittedly laughed at some HIV jokes over the years, but as I think about it, they tend to be the ones that are about dispelling myths around HIV and use humor to educate. Advocate and HIV-positive comedian Andy Feds (who appears in this issue’s cover story in conversation with fellow comedian Daniel G. Garza, who is also living with HIV, starting on page 12) comes to mind in this category.

Find your funny bone. Reset and center yourself by finding the humor in things. I pray something silly makes you laugh till your sides hurt and the tears run down your face. Have a laugh, have some hope.

Be well, you matter.

Bridgette Picou, LVN, ACLPN, is a licensed vocational and certified AIDS Care Nurse in Palm Springs, California. She works for The Well Project-HIV and Women as their stakeholder liaison. Bridgette is a director at large for ANAC (the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care), and a sitting member of the board of directors for HIV & Aging Research Project-Palm Springs (HARP-PS). Bridgette’s goal is to remind people that there are lives being lived behind a three- or four-letter acronym.