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Gagging and Vomit in Comedy

William, May 18th 2023

Until my recent recovery from emetophobia, I dreaded vomit scenes in movies and tv shows. Even just 2 seconds of a character vomiting would send me into panic and my time relaxing on the couch would be spoiled along with the rest of my night. I didn't understand it. Why put these scenes into the show? Are they just trying to be gross? Does anyone actually enjoy this? Why not just leave it out?

For me, vomiting and gagging were not funny. I couldn't imagine myself laughing at someone experiencing what I feared so strongly. But slowly this changed, and during my exposure therapy I watched a skit called 'Waiters who are Nauseated by Food' (for those of you using Bia, you will find this skit in the Fake Videos milestone) and for the first time in my life I found the idea of nausea and gagging funny. I didn't understand it, and I even wondered if I was losing my empathy.

I spoke to my therapist about this and I learned two things.

1. Emetophobia was hijacking my empathy.

I wasn't just worried about myself throwing up, I was worried about everyone throwing up. That's a lot of pressure to put on myself. Also as I evaluated what exactly about throwing up made me so uncomfortable (asking the question 'what about this makes me uncomfortable?' was a powerful tool for me) I realized I was afraid to vomit in front of other people. But why? Was I worried they would laugh at me? Maybe, but I was more worried that I would ruin their day, by causing them the same panic that I would feel if someone vomited near me.

So look at what emetophobia was doing to me. Not only was I worried about myself throwing up all day every day, but I also worried about anyone around me throwing up, and now, I worried about other people worrying. I was three layers deep of worrying! It's not fair, or reasonable, to expect me to save everyone around me. I had to let this go, but how?

I could have told myself 'Oh, you won't upset other people if you vomit'. But that statement leaves room for what if questions, and emetophobia feeds on what if questions (What if someone else has emetophobia? What if someone is already nauseous? What if someone already had a bad experience at the theater and now I ruin it for them forever?). Instead, I followed the same pattern I had been building on through exposure therapy - assume the worst will happen. I told myself - I might vomit here, and if I do, I might upset someone and ruin their day. That doesn't leave any room for what ifs, I have already accepted it. I was not dancing like no one was watching, I was dancing like everyone was watching. Of course, once in the room, emetophobia fights its way back in, the feelings try to bluff me out of what I know to be true. As Dr. Weekes says, 'don't get bluffed by a feeling'. With some practice, I have been able to get rid of these what if questions and take back my empathy from emetophobia.

2. I have a theory for why gagging and vomiting is funny.

I could not find any academic articles on this subject, I would love to hear a professionals opinion. But my theory is gagging and vomiting are funny because they are about losing control. Similar to watching your friend eat a hot pepper on a dare, the uncontrollable response is funny. It's not that I no longer feel empathy for people, but I understand that gagging and vomiting are not as horrible as I had built them up to be, and this momentary lapse of bodily control will be over soon. As I built Bia, I gathered hundreds of images, audio clips, and videos of people gagging, pretending to gag, vomiting, etc, and a common theme across these were people laughing. I started to find the humor in vomit scenes. I still think vomit scenes are added a bit too often into media where they don't really add value, but after therapy, I can confidently sit down and watch tv without fearing a scene will ruin my night.

Do you think gagging and vomiting are funny? Has your opinion changed during your recovery? I'm always interested to hear from others, please don't hesitate to write in or share your story to be added here on the Bia blog.