There are many Jews in America who publicly engage in comedy, whether as a career path or as a way of expressing themselves (blogs, art, etc.). Is there historical precedent to this? Are there any religious and/or historical texts that point us towards finding humor in life as a coping mechanism?
As far as comedy in Jewish history goes: the Gemara, in Taanis (22a), has a story where Eliyahu Hanavi tells Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah that two particular men would merit the world to come. Upon asking them, the two men said that they were comedians, and that when they see someone who is depressed they try to cheer them up. Also, they said, that they always try hard to make peace between quarreling parties.
The Gemara (Bab. Pes 117a) reports that Rabbah used to open his Shi'ur with a joke to put everyone in a good mood before starting to learn in earnest and with fear of Heaven.
IIRC, Rabbi Neil Fleischmann, the funniest rabbi in New York, taught us that when the B'nai Israel asked Hashem why He had to take them out of Mitzrayim to die in the Midbar as if there were not enough graves for Him to bury them in Mitzrayim, it was the B'nai Israel who were trying to alleviate their situation by finding some comic relief.
This was a teaching of Rabbi SR Hirsch, and Rabbi Fleischmann had expanded on it.