8. Where can I find some laughs today?
Humanity has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand. — Mark Twain
One of the reasons I keep going is that I can always find a way to laugh. Even when things feel dire and ugly. Where did I get this quality? I trace it to my Irish ancestry. The peasants found simple joy and pleasure in talking joking and laughing in the face of tragedy, poverty, and foreign occupation. Nothing was ever so bad that you could not find a reason to celebrate. Author E.A. Bucchianeri said it nicely: “I’ve never seen a nation quicker at finding joy in a sad situation, than the Irish at a funeral.” In the face of profound tragedy and loss of agency, the Irish found a way to transcend their collective pain through imagination and laughter. How powerful and potent.
Unfortunately, the laughter in Irish culture is often accompanied by excessive drinking and rampant alcoholism, elixirs used to avoid and drown out the pain. Personally, I always seek out comedy. Where it is missing, I either find it or bring my own. Humor and laughter can also be another form of gentleness. Ease, grease, looseness. For children whose parents are emotionally absent, who don’t get quite enough attention at home sometimes becoming the class clown becomes a way of achieving connection with others.
My father was a class clown. He secretly wished he had become a performer of some kind. He loved to sing and do impressions. He dreamed of being a history professor. He had SO much repressed desire in him and spoke about how he had to make sacrifices for our family so he could send us all to college. It was probably inappropriate for him to lay that on me when I was a teenager and early 20-something. He and my mother lacked intimacy and consequently, he would tell me things like that. It was too much.
I realize that a lot of my disconnection from myself comes from my parents. I felt it was my job to perform and achieve in school so they could brag about me to their friends and make all the self-denial and self-sacrifice somehow worth it. It was a lot of baggage to put on a kid. I believe that’s why I am so hell-bent on connecting with myself now and choosing an authentic and intentional path instead of just trudging on like everyone else and pretending I don’t have a choice. I don’t want my kids to be reactive to my pain. They probably will be no matter what I do, but I have an awareness now that I didn’t have even a year ago at this time and that’s to be celebrated.
Back to laughter. I love funny people and I love writers and I love those who can take down the sheen, the veneer, and call out the utter absurdity of human life. Years ago I started a comedy writing class and dropped out. I couldn’t loosen up enough. I have spent time in Hollywood writers’ rooms and never felt free to move and express myself. It was always a bit of a bro-ey vibe and I would shut myself down before others would. It takes such courage to be open to create and express as a comedy writer. But many of those folks can’t operate in any other way. They are unrestrained. This can lead to problems in other areas of their lives, but professionally it’s their genius.
Part of what I despise about so many professions is the excessive earnestness of them all. The faux professionalism that often trumps human decency and reason. This also extends to the tiresome zeal of those on a spiritual path … (very rampant in Yoga circles). Such humorlessness! Why? Why should anyone take herself seriously? I suppose one should once in a while. But not always. We must always read the room, know ourselves and relax into whatever comfort can be found in a laugh.
Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy. — John Cleese