AUTHOR: Mike George

He will held Master Class “The Art of Conscious Leadership” on April 6 in Belgrade.

Taking something apart, like a watch or a television, in order to find out how it works is usually a self-defeating exercise. The moment they are broken into their component parts they stop working!  Humor and comedy are almost the same.  Analyzing why we laugh brings laughter to an end.  Trying to separate out what makes comedy comically funny kills humor.  Reflecting on the magic ingredients that have the power to induce hilarity is probably a futile exercise.  But lets do it anyway!

We now know for sure that hearty laughter stimulates beneficial, even life preserving chemicals in the body.  The short-term effects can be dramatic; tension is dispersed, apprehension is banished, our ability to think positively is increased, and contentment is restored.  In the longer term there is a case to be made for some deep, ‘from the belly’, laughter every day.  The now famous Patch Adams became known for his work with sick children, recognizing their laughter as the essential component in their return to good health.   He would literally get into bed with the chronically depressed and teach them how to laugh.   Then there was Norman Cousins, diagnosed with an incurable disease, who found the anesthetic effect of ten minutes laughter dissolved his pain for two hours.  He checked out of hospital and into a hotel room where, for two weeks, he laughed at comedy videos all day.  Eventually cured, he spent the rest of his life teaching the medical benefits of laughter.

According to scientific journals over the past few decades the efficacy of a good laugh is unchallengeable as it reduces cortisol and increases endorphins – the bodies natural opiates that make us happy; it eases muscle tension; it increases the bodies T Cell count; it aids ventilation; it increases flow of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues; it increase catecholanes which boost mental alertness and reduces the rate of cellular decay.  Laughter can also shift our perception allowing us to view problems in an entirely different light.  No surprise then that there are laughter clubs across the world where people go to start their day with 45 minutes of group laughter.  Apparently they begin with a simple ha ha…hee hee…ho ho (try saying it out loud now!) and work up from there into an infectious, collective wave of continuous audible glee.

One of the enduring roles within every society is the comic.  The evolution of the court jester to flood lit stage and world tours means the modern comedian has the power to fill auditoriums and have an audience both on their feet, and at their feet. Their ability to induce uproarious laughter, especially around what are considered ‘dark’ topics in what can appear to be darkening times, is a highly prized talent.  Despite 24-hour comedy channels on TV, many of us are still prepared to pay ‘top dollar’ for this kind of entertainment, which can border on mass therapy.  Why, because the comics role is to release tension.  They are agents of relaxation.  They puncture the tension of our pretensions, allowing a rush of fresh air into our consciousness.  They can induce our laughter despite ourselves. The comic spirit breaks down inner barriers, working against the forces of gravity, undermining our resistance to delight.

But our laughter in life does not always come sunny side up.  There is even a shadow side to humor, perversions of delight that are not wholly healthy.  A list of modern reasons to be cheerful reveals many different forms of laughter.  There is the laughter of the cruel as we celebrate the suffering of another.  There is the laughter of derision as we scoff at another’s failure or inadequacy.  There is the laughter of high spirits, a kind of childlike and over stimulated excitement.   There is the laughter of nervousness when we try to disguise our fears.  The laughter of relief when a deeply felt tension or pain is finally dissolved.  And there is the laughter of bravado as we celebrate our courage at breaking some rule or cultural taboo.  There is the laughter of self-consciousness as we try to disguise our discomfort at being the focus of attention.  And there is the laughter of manipulation in which we force our self to laugh at another’s humor in order to preserve their approval of us, and perhaps gain more favor.

While these forms of laughter may not be the right reasons to be cheerful they serve to confirm the purity and the priceless value of genuine wit.  And while ‘wittiness’ appears to becoming increasingly impromptu, the well-rehearsed joke that moves from premise to punchline, is still the genre that reigns supreme at ‘comedy HQ’!  Jokes, like myths, serve a purpose in society.  To tell one, especially to a group, is to assume an important mantle – that of the storyteller – breaking down inhibitions and uniting an audience in a shared involuntary response.  Not only do we laugh from our heart, we might also notice the comic’s unseen role is to unite a thousand hearts with humor. As we laugh with others we look around and, for a split second, the hearts of strangers melt together.  We are briefly as one, united my mirth and the mirth maker.

This reminds us of what some see as the real meaning of ‘humor’?  ‘Hu’ is an ancient chant for God while ‘mour’ is somehow connected to ‘amour’ or love.  So pure humor is likened to a divine energy that does what pure love does, it creates unity and harmony both within us and between us.  Perhaps the closest we can get to pure laughter, pure humor, is the innocent joy of the child who has not yet learned to believe that the world might be a seriously dangerous place.  And in a world where we can easily find a thousand reasons to be miserable perhaps the real comic we all need to discover is our ‘inner comic’.  An ability to laugh at ones self is, for some people, not an easy thing to do. While children will readily laugh at themselves, adults tend to be wary that self-mockery might be seen to undermine their commitment to ‘grown up’ responsibility.  In fact, being unable to laugh at ourselves may indicate that we find it hard to recognize our own foibles.   We then become susceptible to pomposity, pride, vanity and the like.  Perhaps this is why one particular definition of comedy rings true.  It’s been said that ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’. Which feels right if only because our ability to laugh at our self requires a time lapse in which we can reflect on an absurd mistake or a clumsy action, which at the time, seemed far from funny.

One thing is for sure, everyone has a different view of what is funny.  What tickles one person is simply bizarre to another.  In some cultures slapstick is the greatest cause for hilarity, in others it’s just corny.  For some people with a rigid national or cultural conditioning just being alive is such a serious business that laughter is almost seen as treating life with contempt.  Other, perhaps more enlightened communities, see life itself is a divine comedy, a cosmic joke, and if you take it seriously you do so at your peril!  It does seem however that the staple amusement of almost all cultures is still the ‘joke’ served up as a very short story involving characters we can in some way, however tenuously, identify with.

The LaughLab recently set out to find the world’s favorite joke.  And so in the interest of your good health and to give you the opportunity to share the gift of YOUR laughter with whoever may be the same room as you read this, here is the joke that got the most votes.

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.

The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”.

The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make absolutely sure he’s dead.”

There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

And if that did not set your belly on fire perhaps the runner up will.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: “Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see.”

Watson replied: “I see millions and millions of stars.”

Holmes said: “and what do you deduce from that?”

Watson replied: “Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like earth out there. And if there are a few planets like earth out there, there might also be life.”

And Holmes said: “Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent.”

I must confess, while I did laugh at both of these popular jokes this is the one that tickled me the most.  Something close to what used to be called a ‘shaggy dog story’.

An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote:

“Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”

The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”

“But,” the dog replied, “That would make no sense at all.”

Which perhaps confirms that when it comes to humor there is, as they say, no accounting for taste!

Question:  What it in life do you take most seriously and that is the hardest thing to raise even a smile about … and why?

Reflection:  How would you categorize the most common reason for your laughter – comedy, absurdity, cruelty, derision, nervousness, relief, bravado, self-consciousness, manipulation?

Action:  During the coming week consciously lighten up a different relationship with your laughter each day.