Words of Wisdom: The Mystery of Laughter


Nobody knows what it is! At least nobody who thinks they’re really smart.

Psychologists have studied it, scientists have picked it apart, and even theologians have meditated on whether it’s good or bad for you.

But maybe it is worth studying because laughing can kill you. Consider these real-life examples as warnings. Beware excess funniness!

• As long ago as the 5th-century BC, the ancient Greek painter, Zeuxis, died from laughing at one of his own paintings, and in the 3rd-century BC, Greek stoic philosopher, Cryssipus, died laughing at his own joke. He thought his donkey was really funny.
• In modern times, an English TV viewer named Alex Mitchell died on March 24, 1975 from laughing too long while watching the “Kung Fu Kapers” episode of The Goodies.
• And in 1989, a 56-year-old Danish audiologist named Ole Bentzen laughed himself to death watching the first run of the film A Fish Called Wanda.

But who cares, I mean really?
Actually, all of us at the Jamestown Gazette care a lot! That’s why we’re bringing you this word-to-the-wise-warning about the ominous arrival of this year’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. Don’t go! You’ll die laughing—or least it is a risk you should consider first.

Professional laugh-makers of ever kind are coming to town to assault you—to assault all of us in fact—with an entire arsenal of banter, farce, fun, gags, jokes, playfulness, whimsy, wisecracks, high spirits, and old-fashioned tomfoolery. Beware!

But if you are brave enough, and reasonably healthy—at least physically and definitely mentally—it just might be worth the risk. Prescriptions are not required, though you probably should advise your health care professional anyway—just in case he or she wants to come along for safety.

• If it’s a chiropractor, Phyllis Diller had the right Rx: “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
• And sometimes laughter itself is a cure. “Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine,” according to Lord Byron.
• The doctor himself, Dr. Seuss, once said, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.

So, in this age of pandemics we at the Gazette felt constrained to bring this laughter-epidemic early-warning to our readers. If you die laughing, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The mystery of laughter, then, is this: It can kill you and it can cure you.

For the scientists among us who still won’t rest until this odd phenomenon is put under a microscope, consider this from Psychology Today:

Although laughter is not generally under voluntary control, it has numerous health benefits…

A hearty chuckle releases endorphins, feel-good neurotransmitters that have an effect similar to narcotics, and endorphins are part of the reason laughing is so contagious. Laughing also has many health benefits such as increasing blood flow and improving mental and physical resilience. In fact, it’s not unlike a vigorous workout session.

The choice is up to you, then, about going to this year’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. If it cures your blahs, un-wrinkles your frowns, or just makes you smile a lot, beware the mystery—you might die laughing.

Enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut
Contributing Editor

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.