Friday, March 14, 2008

Laughter Revisited

One thing I never have to concern myself with is a lack of things to concern myself with. They just sort of appear, like bugs on the windshield of a speeding car on a summer night. I was thinking again (I think I might have done an entry on it some time ago)about the fact that I don’t seem to laugh nearly as much as I used to, and that I miss it. Laughter is one of life’s greatest underrated pleasures.

I don’t think it’s a matter of things not being as funny as they once were, though a case could be made for that argument. Perhaps it’s just that humor is a personal thing, and one’s degree of appreciating and responding to it changes as one gets older. Things that send a five year old into peals of uncontrollable laughter don’t seem quite so funny when one is ten. Fart jokes, all the rage in high school, lose their charm over time, and that is largely due to the familiarity that comes with repetition. The funniest joke you’ve ever heard loses some of its edge by the fifth time it’s told, and by the twentieth it’s stale beer.

Nevertheless, I do miss laughing like I used to: the kind of laugh that scrinches up your face and leaves you gasping for air: the kind of laugh that lasts so long your stomach hurts. They still come along from time to time, but with each passing year, one is exposed to more and more things, and more and more of them are repeats or variations of things you’ve seen or heard before. A good laugh sneaks up on you from behind and yells “BOO!”: when you can see it coming from a block away, you’re pretty inured to it by the time it arrives.

I can still recall the source of one of my best and longest laughs: It was a (Mad Magazine?) spoof on high school yearbooks. In the section devoted to class photos, there were the usual, typical photos we’ve all seen a thousand times, each student’s photo about 2 x 2 ½ inches, perhaps 24 to a page. A page of Seniors, a page of Juniors, two pages of Sophomores…all typical of annuals. Then turning to the Freshman, there were what looked to be 10,000 tiny, 1/4 x 1/4 inch thumbnail shots. I went into hysterics the first time I saw it, and it still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

And of course, each of us has our own type of humor: things I find laugh-out-loud funny, you may stare at blankly…and vice-versa. Books have been written on what people find funny, and why. Mine tends to lean toward the totally unexpected, out-of-left-field slap up the side of the head, like the freshmen’s page in the year book spoof. But I also go equally for humor that creeps up slowly, as is epitomized so often by covers of the New Yorker magazine. These are seldom guffaw-inducing, but they are incredibly satisfying. An example of that type of subtle humor is also epitomized for me in another New Yorker cartoon of a vase on a table under a mirror. The vase has two daisies: the one facing out into the room is totally wilted; the one turned to the mirror is picture-perfect.

Some humor escapes me totally. I never, as a child, found The Three Stooges—or slapstick in general— to be remotely amusing. I never cared much for Bob Hope, either. Maybe, again, it’s a matter of preferring to have it sneak up on me; to have to think about it for a split second or two.

Scientific studies have shown the therapeutic benefits of laughter, and some even claim that the simple, physical act of smiling—even forcing yourself to grin when you don’t feel like it—has definite health benefits.

It sometimes seems that humor is similar to our planet’s other dwindling resources: and that nothing is funny any more. But it’s still there, if we take the time to look for it, and it is worth all the gold in the world.

I’ll close with a story I’ve told before, of the teacher who asks her class to write down their favorite sounds, and one little boy replies: “My mother’s laughter.”

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