Necessary laughter

I just realized that I’ve been laughing a lot lately.

I mean, I’m a laughing kind of person. I love to laugh. I laugh at good times, I laugh at inappropriate times. Like the time Tracy and I got the giggles during a Bill Frisell concert – worse than laughing in church. You know, jazz. Very serious stuff – though we were reacting to Frisell’s squirrelly guitar lines and effects – but soon, we were just laughing at each other.

Then we were laughing because of the dirty looks all around, especially from our companions. So inappropriate!

I’ve almost gotten in trouble a couple of times when I laughed during sex – not laughing at someone, though that would have been deserved in a few cases. No, I laughing out of pleasure, out of joy, out of excitement, out of overwhelm at the beauty of it. But some people don’t have a sense of humor about sex.

Some people don’t have a sense of humor about a lot of things, but they are sort of self-editing from my life. A sense of humor is a uniquely human savior. I guess monkeys have it, though I don’t think laughing hyenas actually do. Now that is mean laughter.

Laughter is contagious, as contagious as any virus – but considerably more fun. And in times like these, I can’t think of anything as useful as a good laugh.

I just texted with a friend who’s been in the hospital for more than a week, completely unrelated to the pandemic, and with something considerably more serious. So, he’s getting a plasma treatment, which is, of course, great fodder for me to make a joke; he comes right back at me with a snappy comeback. Then he mentions his afternoon MRI, and I make another wise crack. He responds and I LOL.

I was on the phone yesterday with an elderly relative who’s just gone through an enormous loss, under the worst circumstances, and within a minute, we were giggling uncontrollably. It’s not that she’s not sad, or scared, and she has every right to be; it’s just that as human beings, we have this ENORMOUS gift: That whole laugh-to-keep-from-crying thing.

Now, you might think I’m a horrible person (a few people do, apparently), but I need to laugh more than ever now. I know for a fact that I’m not alone. I can explain why I need it – to relieve anxiety – but saying why it comes so easily is another question.

I can only speak for myself: It’s the cosmic joke, right? The absurdity of being a human being, half animal, half angel. Caught between two worlds, self-conscious and yet so damn unconscious. Such ridiculous creatures. Hairless monkeys who lost their angel wings somewhere along the line, always looking for the key to stopping feeling so vulnerable, so aware of our fragility, denying it at every turn, but it never goes away.

And so we laugh.

Especially now. I’ve noticed the value of laughter lately in a different way: In its absence. It’s strange to watch the late night hosts do their monologues without laughter peppering them – in fact, I can’t. There’s a hollowness to it, that silence after the joke…I can’t really do it, actually. I’ve stopped watching.

I wonder if Netflix is seeing an uptick in stand up comedy specials – I know they had an uptick in people watching movies like Pandemic and Outbreak. New York magazine published a list last week of “The 68 Best Epidemic Movies to Binge in Quarantine” – I mean, LOL, right? Even the names are funny, in this context: Contagion, Infection, VirusCarriers…WTH?

That said, when we started our quarantine almost three weeks ago, my roommates wanted to watch Train to Busan, a Korean zombie movie, which really did resonate – they got laughs out of it, but I could only do a half hour before retreating to the attic – so everyone has their limits, I guess.

But that limit is further away that most of us might imagine; whether it’s just that we’ve not yet fully grasped that horror that is upon us yet, or that it is innately human to respond to horror with humor, I couldn’t tell you. Probably both.

But I’m not going to stop laughing, no matter what. Given our current limitations on things we used to take for granted, especially physical touch, laughter seems like a wonderful option. I’m going to take it every opportunity I get.

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Thank you for checking out my blog - it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I am working on projects regarding music history, Japanese culture and my songwriting.

- A week-by-week music history website, music1967.com
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David Watts Barton

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