The other day in McG we were all sitting on the sofa after supper telling jokes, and my dad started one that involved a parrot and an attorney and a bar – but he couldn’t remember it properly. Each time he began again he got it wrong and that got him chuckling. He laughed harder and harder – until tears were running down his cheeks and he was literally gasping. The kids began running around in gleeful circles and my mom and I were giggling uncontrollably. It was truly one of the most beautiful things I have been part of for a long time.
I remember watching a UK comedian – God must have been twenty years ago – taking about why he was a comedian. His name escapes me right now but he was remembering a professional crisis he had after his first child was born. Was he going to be able to support this new being, give him what he needed? Was he going to make his son proud when he had to tell kids at school – my dad is a stand up comic? Would he hold his own in a class where other dads were lawyers and doctors and city types?
One night he was bathing his baby son when the child farted under the water. The five month old boy watched as the bubble made its way to the surface and popped, first time this had happened; and he started giggling uncontrollably. He made eye contact with his father and blew fart sounds from his lips then squeezed out another parp – and laughed even harder as the whole process unfolded again. The comedian said that was the moment he realised that what he did for a living made perfect sense. Because what he did brought happiness. (He also realised that fart jokes are ageless.)
Laughter is actually a complex response that involves many of the same skills used in solving problems. Which might explain why children laugh over 300 times a day but adults manage a meagre 17 hahas every 24 hours. Perhaps as we get older – things just seem more difficult, so we respond less spontaneously. Dwelling on the unfunny – rather than seeking out the chuckle. Dr. Madan Kataria saw this happening with his patients in Mumbai and decided to do something about it. He set up Laughter Clubs in Mumbai – groups that meet every morning – just to laugh. They start off faking the laughter – but pretty soon that changes, and by the end everyone goes home with a smile on their face. But happiness is not the only object of Laughter Yoga: Kataria believes that laughing helps us to unwind the negative effects of stress, boosts our immune systems and exercises our faces and stomachs. I believe him – when my brother Chris is on a roll – my stomach muscles ache for a week.
South Africa is experiencing some dark times right now. Literally in that our electricity supply is no match for demand and is cut off a couple of times a day, figuratively in that our government has forgotten their roots and spiritually in the violent outbreaks of Xenophobia in Natal and Gauteng. It would be easy to bow our heads and mutter. To blame, to see the glass as empty. But I don’t want to start off the week like that; there is too much to lose. So I am going to choose to laugh instead. And I am going to try my damnedest to get other people laughing this week too. Laughter connects us – let’s face it, it’s impossible to stay angry or hate when you are giggling. John Cleese even calls it a force for democracy – something we could use in my country right now.
We never quote got to the punchline that night with sofadad. But we got far more than that. The room became lighter and fuller and the air sweeter. And when we got up to go to bed a few minute later – we were happier and glowing; we all loved each other a little more. We all slept like logs.
So – before I go – here’s a little gift from me. Check this little fellow laugh as his dad rips up a job rejection letter. I have no doubt that this kept his father going.
(All images found in the public domain. Title is a phrase often used by my pal Johnny Uren when he wanted to indicate to me he thought I was asking for the un-deliverable at work. Always made me laugh.)