By Alex Winnick
For me it’s the grogginess, the lethargy that stretches hours into the new day, the unshakable sluggishness that no amount of caffeine or water can seem to alleviate. For others it’s the headaches, the nausea, the vomiting. For the rest it’s merely a heightened and painful sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises. Regardless of the symptoms, a bad hangover remains one of the more miserable experiences of our day-to-day lives; and yet, despite all of its discomfort, hangovers have evolved into something praiseworthy. They’ve become an infinite source of bragging rights and a hilarious joke. In a strange and somewhat nonsensical way, we tend to romanticize and glorify hangovers, such that they’re practically an added bonus of being drunk.
Popular culture has naturally played its part in accelerating this trope. One of my favorite shows in the past few years is “Parks and Recreation,” a show that has based entire scenes about the comedy of being hungover. In Season 3’s episode The Fight, almost all of the characters get exceptionally drunk, and in the final seven minutes of the episode, the writers deliver consecutive jokes about everyone’s hangover woes. Ann wakes up in snow pants; Leslie throws up in a trashcan; everyone looks like they just slept inside of a dryer machine. And yet, regardless of their blatant physical pain, the jokes are hilarious.
Andy Samberg’s new sitcom, “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” also recently capitalized on the humor of hangovers. His character spends the night drinking with one of his idols, and reports to work the next day for a slew of sarcastic one-liners and desperate antics. He complains about how hot his office is, how loud everyone talks, and eventually slides onto the floor into the fetal position when it all becomes too overwhelming. Coworkers force him to drink raw egg yolks and continue working, even though he feels like “All of the water in my body has been replaced by whiskey.” Again, it makes for hilarious television.
At first I thought our pleasure from these hangover jokes derives from our distance to the pain; since we are not the ones suffering, it’s easy to laugh at other people’s hangovers. However, the last time I was particularly inebriated with friends, I spent the entire next day making jokes about how dysfunctional I was. Upon waking up, I immediately began laughing with my roommates, claiming that I had a headache that could slay a rhinoceros. Throughout the course of the day I saw people I was with the previous evening; we compared hangover statuses, dehydration levels and bodily functions. I spotted a friend slowly maneuvering his way through the Diag, “Too useless to accomplish anything.” Inevitably, health updates transition to reminiscing about the events of last night, now too hazy to remember exactly. We delight in asking the question, “What even happened last night?!”
Why is this funny to us? Why do we relish in comparing just how many drinks we had? Why is it even funnier to forget the precise number?
I recognize the superficiality in this comedy; I understand how annoying it is to relive each moment of the previous night instead of moving forward. However, inexplicably, I laugh at every hangover joke. I revel in the moment I get to sarcastically and self-deprecatingly tell someone I’m just a bit too hungover to comprehend every word they say. Maybe we use it as a defense mechanism to distract us from just how uncomfortable we feel. Maybe it’s another aspect of our society’s deep affection for drinking too much in college. Whatever the reason, I anticipate the next round of laughter and headaches, optimistic for another set of groggy jokes followed by a temple massage, greasy food and a ten minute power nap. In my opinion, the hangover humor never fails.