Laughter is magic, medicine, self-defence and power. Perhaps this is why satire was considered the provenance of ancient Druids. But no matter what form the humour takes, being able to laugh is a potent thing.
There is a theory (I think it harks all the way back to Freud) that we laugh to cover fear and social embarrassment. Perhaps so. Laughter can diffuse embarrassment, or heighten it, depending on how it’s used. To be lost in laughter is to be beyond fear. Laughter can take us into a strange, out of control place, children go so easily from there to tears. Adults in extremis can too. Sometimes there isn’t much difference between the two, for both are cathartic.
If we can see the ridiculous in something, then is has far less power over us. J.K Rowling was onto something with her spells to get rid of certain unpleasant entities. If you can look your fear in the face and find some way of laughing at it, you will not be overwhelmed by it. When it comes to dealing with other people, laughter takes away the power to intimidate.
I remember a violent girl at school who started hitting one of the geekier boys. He laughed at her, kept laughing through the blows. She became increasingly confused, angry and finally distressed. In the end she gave up. She’d hurt him physically, but had lost because nothing she did could defeat his laughter. That’s not an easy thing to pull off.
When we believe others are more powerful than us, and we take them seriously, then we give them far more scope to do us harm. If we can laugh at their insane ideas, laugh at their assumptions, we will not be ruled by them.
Just the act of laughing makes a person feel better. It is a release, it warms us on the insides. Laughter helps with bodily healing. Oh for a better memory that could quote you studies and statistics, but it does. Unhappy people take a lot longer to get well after illness. Comedy should be available on prescription. Sharing laughter affirms bonds of community, reassures us that we belong. We are on the inside of the joke, and therefore on the inside of the group. That can mean some people pick on others, creating an outsider to joke about so that group cohesion can be held. I’ve had people try and build relationships with me around ridiculing someone else, and it’s nothing I like or would encourage. Relationships and communities that depend on laughing at someone else have no integrity or durability. It is better to be able to laugh at yourself, and at the sheer ludicrousness of life. The best kind of laughter does not reduce anyone else.
Laugh with your friends. Laugh at your enemies because nothing will reduce them in the same way. Laughter is power. The person who still knows how to laugh has not been defeated and if you can keep your sense of humour, you can keep everything else in perspective.
According to Woody Allen, comedy is tragedy plus timing.
According to my tutors at college, way back when, comedy is the hardest thing to explain. There’s a wonderful mystery to laughter, a glorious loss of control and a sense of freedom that comes with it. There are so many reasons to be able to joke and giggle in rituals, to be able to break down into laughter, bubble over with mirth and bask in the chaotic mayhem of the ludicrous. Sometimes, to be able to take things seriously it is vital not to take them seriously at all.