Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Power of Laughter

I love humor. I love to laugh.

I've always been fascinated by what makes other people laugh, and why people laugh both more and less in certain situations.

Why does laughter exist? What is its purpose? In the Bible, God laughs at Abraham and Sarah when they do not believe Him when He says that they are going to have a child, that Sarah is going to bear a son in her extreme old age. The name of their son, Issac, is translated as "God laughs". That is the only reference to laughter that I have found in the Bible. I am curious as to whether laughter is mentioned in other religions' scriptures and holy texts.

I believe that to laugh is to be fundamentally human. It is, along with reasoning and consciousness, one of the foremost sensations of life as a human, as I see it.

We laugh at the awkward in our lives, when we perceive things as out of place in the universe in some way. We chuckle at comedians in loud outfits. We chortle at John Belushi's impression of a zit, when he shovels food in his mouth and blows it back out again. It takes a special acumen to be funny. Things that threaten us or other people we care about are almost never funny, with the rare exception of a few types of gallows humor (but this is an exception that proves the rule.)

We never almost joke about disasters such as the Titanic or the Hindenburg. We don't joke about hurricanes, mudslides or earthquakes.

Gallows humor occurs when we ourselves are threatened by something, and we choose to make light of our own situation. For example, take stand-up comedian Ron White's "airplane" routine. A classic example of gallows humor:

Ron White and a fellow passenger are sitting next to each other onboard an airplane. The pilot informs the passengers that one of the engines has failed, and that the plane may need to make an emergency landing. White's comrade is incredibly nervous, and tells White that he doesn't want to die. "What are we going to do?" the frantic passenger asks White. But White isn't worried. "Hey, I bet we'll beat the paramedics there by at least thirty minutes."

Another example of gallows humor: "I really hope the activation of the Large Hadron Collider doesn't cause a black hole to form that swallows the entire Earth. Of course, if it does, that means I won't have to use the new Facebook."

People do joke when they need to reduce stress in their own lives, but there is a clear line between self-deprecation and deprecation of others that cannot be crossed in comedy.

Things that are strange to us are often hilarious. Things which are controversial to us are often the funniest of all. It appears that comedy is a way of reducing our anxiety levels with things that are hard to cope with. But there are only certain things that are hard to cope with that we find to be funny. Many people find sex to be very funny. Some people find violence to be very funny, but a great number of people could never laugh at violence. A few people find humor in death, but a large majority of people could never even summon the nerve to think about laughing at death.

When I am depressed, I laugh. Many people laugh when they can no longer cry. Sometimes, I laugh without realizing why. It is as if it an echo from the deep depths of my soul making its way into the objective world. My despair resurfaces as laughter. Or laughter resurfaces as despair, once I realize the larger thing that is happening to me that is making me feel the way I am. As soon as I have to confront my feelings, the situation immediately loses its humor. Laughter is a reprieve; it is an escape. It is a way to avoid anxiety, and to release and cope with anxiety that we have stored up through our lives.

I know that many people ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?" And that is a valid question. I often ask myself, "Would God laugh?"

I've always wondered what makes God laugh. If He exists, then surely He invented it, because He created everything in the universe, as asserted by the Book of Genesis, in the Bible. Would He laugh at death? sex? violence? someone tripping on a banana?

He created a way to die, He created sex; He even created banana peels. Would He laugh if someone replaced the words "Caution: Wet Surface" on the sign with a picture of a person falling down on it with the new words "This is Sparta!"? Would He cry? Would He tear up at all of the poverty and destruction and neglect and abuse in His world? According to the Bible, we are made in His image; we somehow manage to both laugh and cry at the same time. So far, I have thought of one reference to God laughing in the Bible, and I can only think of one instance where God cries in the Bible. Jesus weeps in the New Testament Gospel (John 11:35). It is the shortest verse of the entire Bible: "Jesus wept."

I find it very intriguing that before God became human, He could only laugh, but as soon as He became one of us, He cried.


"K" said...

Nice entry Alex. Your writings always inspire me. And they make me laugh too. :) You ought to consider writing as at least a side job when you become Senator, President, or World Potentate. ;)

Teleprompter said...

Thanks, lol. I love to write, and I'm glad you derive some benefit from it. I'm glad someone is getting some benefit from it. :P

I don't know exactly what my career is going to be, but writing is my way of life, my mindset and my frame of reference. I have yet to figure out what I'll do for a living.

Thank you for the encouragement. I will try to keep up with my blog, as long as those of you who read this are willing to tolerate it.

Matt said...

Nice entry. Very thought provoking.

Look up Job 3:2.

Teleprompter said...

For those of you at home, here is the text of Job 3:2 --

"He said."

Okay, I erred. Job 3:2 is shorter than "Jesus wept." Thanks for notifying me.

Anonymous said...

Liked the thoughts on laughter..and am very grateful that we humans were given a sense of humor to help us survive the ups and downs of life! Keep up the writing.M

Anonymous said...

Vonnegut writes about this in one of his books. I will have to find it.

Teleprompter said...

Robbie: I think he may have touched on it in "A Man Without A Country". Also, Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. We all have our own opinions of him, but I really enjoy his work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alex. I was thinking that was the book, but I didn't have the books on me to make sure.

Teleprompter said...

Well, unfortunately, I don't have the books on me either, so what I was said was entirely conjecture, based on what I remember from the book.

swbarker said...

I love to laugh. But I love to make others laugh even more. I believe that laughter always makes you feel better, even if it's just for that moment. My personal mantra for many years now has been, "Everything in life has humor". Dry, ironic, dark,'s all around us. OH MY GAWD, the Lehman company was bailed out by the government! Oh No! This is a sign that our economy is collapsing around us!


Wait, you mean the company thats sole purpose is to bail out individuals in financial trouble?

He. Hehe. Ha.

Everthing in life is funny. If you're going through a rough patch, seek out the humor in life. I promise it's there.

(Correct me if I'm wrong about the example)

Teleprompter said...

No, you're spot on, as usual. Everything in life is funny, in some way. I share that belief. Laughter almost always makes you feel better; I wish I could make other people laugh more than I do, because that's always a great lift. The things that people do are hilarious. If we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves, we lose our entire perspective on life.

Mark K Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark K Williams said...

As Vonnegut is my hero and my philosophical father, I have it on hand.

It is the very first chapter of A Man Without A Country, and his example of gallows humor was as follows:

While we were being bombed in Dresden, sitting in a cellar with our arms over our heads in case the ceiling fell, one soldier said as though he were a duchess in a mansion on a cold and rainy night "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight" Nobody laughed, but we were still all glad he said it. At least we were alive! He proved it.