Why Laugh?


The word “Why” has probably started more scientific research than almost any other single word, probably followed by “How?”

Few things seem less serious than a belly laugh, or a giggle, or a snicker, but for some people laughing is very serious. Some people actually study it. The science of why and how we laugh actually has a name: Gelotology.

Here is a very serious, very un-funny snippet:

Laughter is … a physical reaction in humans consisting typically of rhythmical, often audible contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system, a response to certain external or internal stimuli, …regulated in the brain by activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It boosts the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells.”

Are you laughing yet? Maybe rolling on the floor in hysterics? Me neither.

The problem is that understanding something is not the same as experiencing it. Some philosophers actually say that understanding is the booby prize in life. More emphatically, a truth unexperienced is little better than a lie.

If you have a good, solid academic understanding of love, are you in love? After you have read the whole book and passed the written driving test with a grade of 100%, are you then a world- class roadmaster? Study tennis books all you want, but you’ll never know as much as the first time you whack a tennis ball. See what I mean?

It’s a good thing understanding can be such a weak teacher, otherwise you might become a cold- blooded killer simply by understanding Truman Capote’s famous “In Cold Blood.”
So, this week’s invitation from your Jamestown Gazette is to not read this week’s cover story, at least not if you think you’ll learn all about this year’s Comedy Festival.

Go laugh! You’ll absolutely get it about laughter more than all the Gelotologists in the world, not that there are many of them. They’re probably a pretty sour bunch, anyway.

While enhanced T-cells are probably good things, a good laugh will heal things no salve, or vaccine, or surgery can hope to heal.

Legendary comic, Charlie Chaplin, once said, “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” And then he added, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”

So, dear reader, go eat your emotional, psychological health food. Laughter is the meat ‘n potatoes on your plate, and desert with a cherry on top. Go get a good dose.

And while you’re there, take a moment to reflect on the comedians themselves. They are not only joke tellers. They are real people who have committed their whole lives to making people laugh. Sure, if they’re good, it makes them a good living, but why do it by making people laugh?

Laughter is a thing that connects people in unique ways that nothing else can do, so comedians are unique people worth being around. But try this: don’t try to understand them, just get what they are up to as people. Experiencing them can be so much better than understanding them.

Thanks for experiencing the read. Enjoy!

Walt Pickut

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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.