Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Sound of Laughter

One of the great joys of my life has come to be the sound of a group of people laughing.  To know that I have been the immediate cause of their temporary happiness is gratifying, almost ego-enhancing.

In recent years, with a university colleague, I have put together two one-hour programs, "Historical Humor and Wit" and "Fractured English."  The material is taken from what people (writers, public figures, students, others) have actually said or written, so I can only claim the originality of creating the package.

Looking at historical figures (Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Churchill, et al.) as funny or witty men humanizes them, brings them down to our level, and makes history a human story rather than a mere succession of events, mostly horrible. Our audiences eat it up, learning a bit while also laughing a lot.

I often begin with what Charlie Chaplin said: "A day without laughter is a day wasted." Yet many go without laughing, and, sadly, without the psycho-physical release of tension involved, for long periods. It's no wonder we have the Comics page, the emailed jokes, the cartoons, and TV comics.  Men, more than women, tend to bond over jokes, even silly ones involving puns. Both men and women seem to use the silliness of cat videos and anything cat-related to provoke a smile or a laugh. I join right in; many people are too serious, even solemn, afraid to smile let alone laugh.

Comedy allows us to step back and take in the whole picture of life at a given moment; in our detachment, we find amusement, perhaps at human folly. 

The German poet Schiller said, we are fully human and alive when we play. And laughter is at the heart of play, and of that elusive thing called happiness.  I like to think of laughter as a type of prayer, an affirmation of life and its essential goodness.

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