Lockdown Laughing Fit (s ?)

Lockdown Laughing Fit (s ?)

Let us start with a cliché: laughter is the best medicine. Far from being a fairy tale story it has been scientifically proven time and again, from laughter alleviating stress to it even counteracting the course of terminal illnesses [1]. Philosophers have mused about its cultural significance and sociological function ever since Plato put in his two drachma worth on the matter [2]. Yet laughter remains a difficult cultural technique. It appears to be at once too human and too mysterious a reaction as in its most sincere form, it requires openness to vulnerability, to potential ridicule, and even a brief loss of self. 

(Are you laughing with somebody? At somebody? Did I not catch that joke? What’s so funny? Are you being ironic? Are you insane? Is there some leftover parsley from the soup I had for lunch sticking out of my front teeth? German Angst ensues...) 

If once in a while, in a moment of grace the sheer simultaneous absurdity and beauty of human experience reveals itself to you, and instead of writing the next angsty Bildungsroman or a neurotic standup routine to make other people laugh –  you claim this moment for yourself and - just laugh – then this is it, you have let go, no need to get lyrical or analyze further. If you manage to laugh about yourself in this manner you have quite possibly unlocked the secret to life itself. You will likely never achieve a greater freedom than in this moment of complete self-loss. Control issues and a deeply felt belly laugh about your own humanity seem mutually exclusive. So: stop taking yourself so seriously, you are not special, you are just human –  and isn’t that wonderful? Also, you are probably not a malignant narcissist. Unless of course you have attended one of those laughing seminars and faked it till you made it and now possess a certificate that states that you have mastered the art of the laugh. And it does not stop there: you are one of the best, if not THE best at it! What’s with the diabolic grin? There is some parsley between your teeth! So now you are trying to choke me? 

Anyway, I digress: Achieving positive laughter has been one of the great tasks and reliefs of my lockdown experience (or any other difficult experience in my life). And of course, there have been a few failures along the way. And no – it has not passed me by that this situation is very serious, that it has inflicted a lot of pain of varying degrees on a lot of people (including myself), that it will continue to do so, that the repercussions are and will be incredibly difficult to manage, that there are misguided people and politicians with ulterior motives trying to take advantage of peoples’ vulnerability and confusion in this unprecedented time in order to push their poisonous agendas while other equally serious topics were and to some extent still are once again ignored (climate change, anyone? gender equality?), that this virus is deadly and, not ever to forget: that loneliness kills, too. It ain’t that deep: Of course, it is a coping mechanism. And do not get me wrong: of course, it is often the more sane and humane reaction to just fix yourself a nice bowl of soup and then cry into it or to try and approach inner peace by disciplined yoga practice and meditation. Do not lose your ability to read a room when you laugh in the face of adversity – even if it is just you by yourself sitting in it. However, someone once told me that tears were a more productive strategy in order to process pain than laughter. There I beg to differ. They are two sides of the same coin. Or as the wonderful Regina Spektor sings “And then you laugh until you cry – you cry until you laugh [3].” I wonder why she does not sing “And then you critically analyze the situation and all the ways in which you hurt and have a serious discussion about it that lasts an entire day, postpone the meeting until the next day as given the complexity of the situation you fail to reach a satisfying conclusion and that night, having lost all your appetite, you go to bed without supper yet with a heavy heart, frowning" – I guess it just did not have the same melodic ring to it. 

And so when we meet each other out there let us smile at one another from the safe distance of 1,5 meters and if it fits let us quote our favourite comedians or try to crack a joke ourselves. 

(Scary stuff, ever tried it? What if they do not laugh? If they feel offended? Perhaps you are not that funny after all. So what: you are still an ace at crocheting potholders. When they think of chain stitches they probably imagine mosquitos attacking military-style. Or they do not have a sense of humour. Stop taking yourself so seriously, you are not special, you are just human. And let me paraphrase the great Ricky Gervais to encourage you: Just because they’re offended, that doesn’t mean they’re right [4]).

Why? Because as Sir Simon Rattle once put it when talking about conducting the internationally membered Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: “One always feels how different the expectations and the traditions are. It took the orchestra quite a long time to understand that if I was making a joke I was at my most serious and that, also, irony is not the same as sarcasm [5].” Joking about something does not immediately mean you are not serious about whatever is at stake, your work, your relationships, your spiritual beliefs, a global pandemic. Sometimes it just means I would really like to give you a hug right now but alas I cannot. So I hope you can feel the closeness through laughter instead.


[1] There are numerous studies stating the positive effects of „laughter therapy“ in patients suffering from illnesses ranging from depression to Parkinson’s disease. They have even be researched in dialysis (e.g. Bennett et al. (2014) ”Laughter and Humour Therapy in Dialysis“ in Seminars in Dialysis (Vol. 27, Issue 5, pp. 488-493) Wiley Periodicals).

[2] e.g. also John Morreall. Taking Laughter Seriously. (State University of New York Press, 1983)

[3] Regina Spektor. On the Radio. Listen to it e.g. here.

[4] e.g. here.

[5] Trip to Asia. Thomas Grube. Ger 2008. TC: 00:29:21-00:29:44.



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Tatjana V. is an academic with a passion for intercultural communication, human rights and peacebuilding, children's rights, new technology, lifelong learning, literature, film and media culture.... Show more