Sunday, February 12, 2012

Make Me Laugh

Letter to my son, Justin
Sunday, 12 February
C L I C K     T O     E N L A R G E

Picture:  Fun Fluster

You’re the funniest guy I know.  Of all the kids you’d be the one most likely to make me laugh with something you’d say.  Your sense of humor just seemed in sync with mine.  Laughter is one of those things I continually wonder about.  It’s the one thing we do that sets us apart from the other animals running about this planet.  Apes make tools.  Whales sing.  I’ll tell you right now hyenas don’t laugh.  There’s nothing funny going on when they start their nervous yapping.  We’ve got an entire bag of laughs to choose from to fit the situation. 

Let’s start with the polite laugh.  We gain experience over the years on how to make a convincing sounding chuckle.  Some kind person will attempt to amuse us with a remark that doesn’t quite nudge the funny meter into laugh territory.  We’ll come up with a short musical ha ha that says, “I like you.  Nice try.”  Laughter here seems a kind of reward, a way of showing friendliness.  We use it to bond to one another.  Isn’t that interesting?

Speaking of this bonding phenomenon… how about all those laugh tracks on TV shows.  What’s that about?  If other people are laughing do you find it more likely you will laugh?  It’s kind of contagious that way.  It’s like a reflex for all of us wanting to join in.  Sometimes it’s like a release of nervous energy, a sort of tension that’s been building in all of us and then something happens that allows us to release that tension together.  We suddenly realize everyone was feeling just as we do.  We experience the we’re all in this boat together laugh. 

Another kind of social group laugh – the one big happy family laugh – is a group hug moment.  It’s a laugh that may be followed by a long, drawn out “aaah” sound.  Babies and puppies get us to respond this way.  It’s often an endearing moment you might find recreated on a Hallmark card.  It’s a moment of recognition, isn’t it?  We’re reminded of possibly a loving link, something shared.  If it’s shared with someone we care about or in a family setting it can be expressed as a gentle laugh.  But if we are alone it may bring a tear to the eye.  We experience an emotion that is supposed to be shared but the person or persons that need to be here are missing.  We’re alone and it just isn’t right.  I’m thinking laughter is very social, aren’t you?  Sure we can be absolutely alone when we laugh, but chances are its really funny.  Without others around the bar for laughter is raised much higher.

Let’s go right to the belly laugh.  Talk about getting whacked along side the head with hilarity.  We’re often laughing and crying at the same time.  What a release this laugh can be.  The interesting point about this kind of laugh is that it often isn’t considered funny.  As a matter of fact under normal circumstances you might find yourself getting in trouble laughing over something like this.  It’s like, please don’t make me laugh at the funeral.  This kind of funny can be especially funny because it’s not allowed to be funny.  We say it is wickedly funny.  You have to be in the right mood for this kind of humor or you might just find yourself offended and you get angry.  How dare you!  Slapstick hits that kind of funny bone.  The school principal walks to the microphone to address students and parents at a big formal event.  He slips and lands hard on the stage.  Gee, I hope he’s not hurt.  Ha! Ha! Ha! 

Now what is that about?  We’ve got gentle laugh, encouragement laugh, recognition laugh, pressure cooker laugh… there’s more but you get the idea.  Yeah, there’s something going on here.  It seems to be mostly a good thing.  People approaching St. Peter’s Gate are always surprised by the amount of laughter that is going on just beyond the cloud on the other side.  You know what I think?  I think we need to laugh because we know too much.  There wasn’t any laughter before Adam and Eve bit into the apple.  The Garden of Eden was gloriously pleasant.  The problem is that’s never enough.  We’re human and complicated and too smart for our own good.  Knowing can be such a burden.  Thank God we can laugh.  Yes, thank God.  It was a brilliant idea.

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