Medicinal Laughter

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Didja hear the one about the editor who thought humor, and the resulting laughter, could cure his connective tissue disease?

Norman Cousins probably never read a single issue of Liberty, and probably wouldn’t have agreed much with any of us who do read it and especially with those of us who write for it, however occasionally. However, his “liberal activism,” as his Wiki bio calls it, led him to be an opponent of war and an advocate of peace so there were areas of agreement between him and us.

He was especially appalled and horrified by the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan, and worked to bring about 25 young women to these United States for repair surgery. According to his bio, “he and his wife, the former Ellen Kopf (married 1939), adopted one of them, Shikego Sasamori.”

Cousins developed his own recovery program. He took massive intravenous doses of Vitamin C and had self-induced bouts of laughter.

 

I met her when I was directing TV shows in Los Angeles and she was the guest of another show. What a kind and gracious lady she was, not holding any kind of grudge, not feeling any kind of bitterness. (She spoke to a college crowd in Pennsylvania in November 2019 and is living today in Los Angeles.)

Her adoptive father, Cousins, also had that kind of spirit. In 1964 he developed an illness, sometimes called “collagen disease.” He was told he had one chance in 500 of recovery. However, “Cousins developed his own recovery program. He took massive intravenous doses of Vitamin C and had self-induced bouts of laughter . . .” The TV show Candid Camera was one that he laughed at, and he made a point to watch comics and other sources of laughter. In 1979 he wrote a book about “laugh therapy,” curing himself with laughter. He called it Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient.

Probably most of us, openly or secretly, even the self-styled curmudgeons (like Isabel Paterson?), appreciate humor. Are glad of a chance to laugh. Are grateful for humorous situations.

Reader’s Digest used to have a regular feature called “Laughter, the Best Medicine,” but laughter can also be a weapon. Look at how many attacks on, especially, political figures are jokes — or are supposed to be jokes.

Dan Quayle and later Sarah Palin were not dealt with on the whole philosophically, were not primarily opposed by thinkers saying “I believe he or she is wrong because of this fact . . .” No, what was thrown out, or thrown up, were just barbed comments, often having nothing to do with truth (such as the one about Quayle’s supposedly saying he was glad to go to Latin America because he had studied Latin in school). The opponent might just say the name and giggle and the audience would also laugh.

However, honest laughter is also used. As I mentioned in my latest book, World-Famous Jokes, there were two good jokes in the 1992 presidential campaign, apart from the candidates themselves.

Bill Clinton said (paraphrasing because I don’t have his exact words):

Back home in Hope [Arkansas, Clinton’s hometown], we had an ol’ boy who was both a taxidermist and a veterinarian. His motto was, “Either way, you get your dog back.”

Later in the campaign, during one of the Middle East wars, Clinton misidentified a weapon, calling a Patriot Missile a smart bomb, or vice versa. Dan Quayle came up with the best line of the year: “Bill Clinton might be a Rhodes Scholar, but he’s no rocket scientist.”

Now that’s both funny and not a personal attack.

After the 2010 Republican victory, Democrat Nancy Pelosi was not reelected to her well-paying post as leader of the House of Representatives. But when the next White House Correspondents Dinner was held, she was still sitting at the head table as politician after politician stood at the microphone and tried to be Rodney Dangerfield or even Tim Slagle.

Since the audience was mostly “news” reporters, whom they chose to applaud was fore-ordained. And their own partisanship decided whom they considered partisan. For example, the genuinely funniest member of Congress to address the crowd was Sean Duffy, who seems to have started public life on a couple of “reality” TV shows, going on to be elected district attorney then congressman. (He’s now a commentator on CNN, which I find pretty funny, too.)

Dan Quayle came up with the best line of the year: “Bill Clinton might be a Rhodes Scholar, but he’s no rocket scientist.”

 

As the one to close out the show, he looked to his right and said, again paraphrasing because I might not have his exact words, “Nancy Pelosi and I have something in common: we’re both the last speaker.” Deathly silence for the funniest crack of the evening. Apparently too subtle for the “news” personnel audience, who, as I said, sought partisanship where it wasn’t offered.

There are plenty of similar examples. On Facebook especially, any comment that doesn’t utterly condemn or utterly praise Donald Trump will be met with a barrage, often hate-filled, as the partisans show their TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome), an affliction that just permeates society generally as well as politics.

In my Jokes book, there is a snide but not attacking reference to him. So far no one has commented, and I fear maybe it’s because no one is buying World-Famous Jokes, available from Amazon for a ridiculously low price that makes it ideal as a gift for any occasion where laughter might come in handy.

By the way, for all the young people who might not know or us others who might not remember: our culture, including entertainment and “news,” has long been dominated by the usually Democrat and generally left-collectivist crowd.

For example, one of the (at least then) funniest, most popular, and respected comedians was Mort Sahl, definitely viewed as “liberal,” as it was meant in those days. He was a regular on such programs as The Ed Sullivan Show. Always in demand.

On Facebook especially, any comment that doesn’t utterly condemn or utterly praise Donald Trump will be met with a hate-filled barrage.

 

After the 1960 election, once John Kennedy was president, Sahl, being the satirist, started making jokes about the new situation. Whoa! NO! Sullivan and others told him, “No, no, tell jokes about Republicans.”

Sahl tried to explain, as if Sullivan and the others hadn’t noticed, Republicans were out. Now Democrats are in. Even though he was a personal favorite of the president’s, he said, that’s whom I tell jokes about, the ins. And his bookings dwindled.

Well, my own standup or written routines are not partisan. I make fun of both the evil Democrats and the spineless Republicans. And the self-destruction-bent Libertarians.

We need reasons or even excuses to laugh, to bring forward those endorphins, and to make ourselves and people around us feel better.

 

Apparently it’s an Irish genetic trait, to reach for a joke even at a funeral or an even worse event. And surely nothing, not death nor disfiguration, can be considered worse than what’s happening in these United States right now: riots and rumors of riots, pandemics, wildfires, drought — I even made a joke about that: the Bible says the rain will fall on the just and the unjust, except this year not in California or Arizona — and the worst plague of all, a vicious and ugly presidential campaign that seems to keep going months after its promised end.

Fortunately you, my beloved Liberty reader, have Tim Slagle and Doug Stanhope. And me. Right now, all genuine humor, the actually funny kind of humor, is desperately needed but apparently in short supply. We need reasons or even excuses to laugh, to bring forward those endorphins, and to make ourselves and people around us feel better.

Yes, laughter is the best medicine, and even if it’s in short supply, or seems to be, with all the hate and anger seeming to dominate discourse, it’s there and we should follow that advice to look for the good and praise it, and at the same time, look for the humorous, look for the bright side, and share it.

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