The Buddha and standup comedians agree: Life is suffering

How dark comedy can serve as an introduction to Buddhist concepts. Featuring clips from Garry Shandling, Dave Chappelle, Larry David, Donald Glover, Ali Wong, and Patton Oswalt.

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Buddhism and comedy

The past few weeks I’ve been guest lecturer for a college course called BUDDHISM AND COMEDY at the New School. The tagline: “A Buddhism prof who is a fan of dark comedy joins forces with a dark comedian who is a fan of Buddhism.” Finally, an excuse for me to wear tweed jackets with elbow patches!

From the course description:

The Buddha and standup comedians agree: Life is suffering. Comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes and Dave Chappelle get guffaws by exploring dark, existential thoughts. Meanwhile, Larry David, Garry Shandling, and Tig Notaro have shown us how being awkward, neurotic, and dissatisfied creates fertile ground for laughter. It turns out dark comedy can serve as a great introduction to Buddhist concepts such as dukkha (“existential angst”) and anitya (“impermanence”). This course will explore that connection and show how much comedians have in common with Zen masters and Tibetan lamas.

The class was taught by Doc Kelley (Buddhist scholar, comedy fan, and pal of mine) who explains the connection in this interview:

Buddhism and dark comedy both seek to expose unsettling truths about the human condition, which we normally choose to deny—namely, old age, sickness, and death…Though I don’t believe these comics are necessarily doing anything consciously “Buddhist,” what they do well is share a comedic style that finds humor in what we’d rather not confront, challenging our tendency to shy away from that which—as they say in show business—“kills.”

We may do an online version of it in the future so hit me up if you’re curious to hear more about that.

In the meanwhile, here are some of the clips I showed to the class to illustrate the various ways Buddhist concepts can overlap with comedy:


“I noticed you bought a swimsuit. That must mean you want 5,000 more swimsuits.”
-Instagram advertising

It must suck to be a hot chick now. You have to spend so much time searching for motivational quotes.

Our obsession with safety is kinda absurd when you realize hitchhiking used to be a thing. We need helmets to skateboard, but Boomers used to just hop in a stranger's car and cross their fingers and hope the guy behind the wheel wasn't Ted Bundy.

They better make sure the camera in Allen Weisselberg's cell is functional.

The sadder, lonelier, and more disconnected we get, the more we log in and pretend we're happy, healthy, and LOOK AT MY COFFEE / IT HAS FANCY FOAM / WATCH OUT DAY, HERE I COME.

My startup’s not broke, we're pre-revenue. Also: I'm not a virgin, I'm pre-laid.

"That escalated quickly."
-The guy who invented the escalator

Shame on me?

Got some good feedback on last week’s shame exploration, but at least one reader was set off by it:

That’s the most uneducated piece I’ve read in a while. Getting advice from a counselor you trust and ASKED FOR an getting shamed for it by society are two completely different things. One leads to healing, the other to major mental health issues. 

Also slut shaming is just a sexist thing to control women’s sexually - no man ever gets slut shamed if you as a man hasn’t noticed. It’s a badge of honor. But thanks for mansplaining a women’s issues away.

Ah, the old mansplaccusation. Always a fun one. But I see where she’s coming from; judgement from a counselor and from "society" are different things. But if society is saying the same thing as the counselor, perhaps it's something to consider? As the piece explains, sometimes listening to one's community – even if that includes some amount of shame – can be constructive. I don't think it's fair to say that it exclusively leads to major mental health issues. (But yeah, of course, don’t go diving in a toxic dump if you can avoid it.) And btw, re: slut shaming existing exclusively to control women's sexuality, there's a whole section at Wikipedia about slut shaming among gay and bisexual men.

Going to the mattresses

Imagine the meeting where they decided how to name bed sizes:

🧔‍♀️: How will the naming work?
🧑: Biggest is King. Then Queen. Then–
🧔‍♀️: I get it, next is Prince, then Princess.
🧑: No, next is Double.
🧔‍♀️: What about Prince and Princess?
🧑: They’re gone.
🧔‍♀️: Gone?
🧑: Let’s just say they got Markle’d.
🧔‍♀️: So Double, so that's for two people?
🧑: Nah. You’ll wind up divorced. It’s almost the smallest size.
🧔‍♀️: What’s smaller?
🧑: Twin.
🧔‍♀️: Twin? That must fit two people.
🧑: No, Twin is for one person. Barely.
🧔‍♀️: It's all so confusing.
🧑: Sleep on it.
🧔‍♀️: C’mon, this makes no sense. No one will go for it.
🧑: This is why you got fired at Starbucks. Remember how you tried to veto Venti and Grande? Don’t make the same mistake.

Seen screens

1) Hey NY Times, ya really just not gonna mention the mascot eating behind ‘em that’s truly taking “mask up” to the next level!?

2) "Legendary comedians from the past would never have stooped to making TikToks just to get more Likes"👇

3) Thanks to Headspace, I've been meditating on Donald Rumsfeld's death for a while now...

4) Perfect trending topic/reply combo:

5) I was in Rhode Island this weekend. It looked like this:

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NYC comedy shows

In NYC and want to come see me tell jokes? I’ve got two weekly shows that are always a blast:

HOT SOUP is Tuesdays at Comedy Cellar at 10:30pm. Tickets at

GOOD EGGS is Wednesdays at NY Comedy Club (East Village) at 8pm. Use code SCRAMBLED for $5 tix.

The end stuff

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About the Rubesletter: Weekly musings from a standup comedian and startup veteran. If you like my comedy or writing, if you dig tech, politics, art, wellness, & pop culture, if you enjoy smart/nuanced takes & hate BS, if you’d like me to turn you on to other people making cool stuff, then subscribe.

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My latest standup special is free on YouTube. And you can stream my standup albums “Feels Like Matt Ruby” and “Hot Flashes” too.