Former editor-in-chief of The Onion says this is the No. 1 thing she learned from working in a psychiatric ward


You might think working in a psychiatric institute would make you lose your sense of humor. But it did the opposite for Carol Kolb, who is known for her work as the former editor-in-chief of satire news website The Onion, as well her writing for the comedic TV show "Community."


In the book "Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers," by Mike Sacks, Kolb talks about how her intense job working with mentally ill patients helped her develop her comedic voice.

Before quitting in 2000 to work full-time at The Onion, Kolb was a nurse's aid at a "horrible country psychiatric home" in Wisconsin. She told Sacks that "working at a place like that makes you develop a thick skin."

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"You deal with a lot of sad situations and annoying conditions. So I think you learn to not be emotionally affected by things as much."

She says being able to disconnect emotionally is what made her so comfortable making fun of "taboo" subjects on The Onion. While she knows many of the topics she explored for the news satire site are "sad" and "wrong," she believes her experience in the psychiatric home helped her understand that "there's more than one emotional response beyond sadness or outrage," and knowing that, she learned how to distance herself from these topics enough to see the humor in them.


And this, she says, is what comedy is all about.

"For me, writing comedy is about being unhappy," she says. "It's about being unhappy with the way things are, and wanting to write something that is critical of those things, but in a way that isn't so self-serious."

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