Tag Archives: laughter

All for the giggles

It’s hard to ignore politics right now, given the kind of shit politicians are inflicting on us. The only thing that reliably enables me to cope with being at all politically aware, is satire and comedy. The news Quiz on radio 4, The Now Show, anything Mitch Benn sings, the Daily Mashup… It is all so much more bearable when you get to laugh at it regularly.

There’s a power in laughter. To laugh at the vile and disgusting things people in authority do, is to reclaim something. To laugh is to have some freedom still, some fighting spirit. Laughter means you aren’t beaten yet. It is so easy to be beaten down by the woes and wrongs of the world into a state of apathy and despair. Laughter is an antidote to this. It keeps us alive, alert, feeling and it reduces the squashing.

Sometimes it is bloody hard to laugh. Those are also the times when the skills of the comedian, are at their most critical. It’s when we are howling that we most need to be able to follow that with something else. And when there is no way of making a joke out of the latest god-awful policy, it is worth finding something else to laugh at. Giggling is good for the soul. It is a gentle erosion of self-control, a release of tension, a reminder of how and why to love each other.

I have two ports of call now when I need cheering up. I go on youtube and watch Ylvis videos. Their Stonehenge song is an especially good antidote to anything maddening going on in the Pagan community. A little light ridicule of the overblown that resonates in so many ways.

I also indulge in Professor Elemental videos. http://www.youtube.com/user/iammoog is a good place to go. A man with a rare knack for making things funny. Even on really bleak days, he can usually make me laugh, and I treasure that. A friend with a sense of humour is a very good sort of friend to have.

I spent the first thirty odd years of my life believing that I had no capacity for comedy. I became, due to circumstances, a person who did not laugh much. One of the surprises about spending that first week with Tom (more than four years ago now) was just how much we laughed. Around him, I became someone who could joke and play. We play a lot. Giggling has become part of my life, and that’s a big improvement.

I’ve made a conscious effort to try and get more laughs into my work. On the fiction side, it’s becoming easier. I think even when the content is serious, throwing in the odd giggle helps. There’s only so much seriousness a person can take in one go, the relief of laughter makes it possible, oddly, to handle more of the dark stuff.

As I trend towards the end of this post, I’m conscious that it should have a punch line. A lack of forward planning on my part there…  which rather goes to demonstrate there’s actually nothing less funny than talking about laughter. Go and giggle at something else. Tomorrow there will be a song, all being well, and you can snicker at it.

Laughing at Religion

Humans use comedy and laughter in many ways. We do it to deflate tension and mask fear, to mark boundaries of who is in and who is out. We do it to deflate ego and tackle pomposity. Laughter is the only weapon, sometimes, that the disadvantaged have against the powerful. It can be tremendously subversive, but also culturally bonding. Laugher is dangerous, so how we relate it to that most serious of subjects – religion – is an interesting question.

It is natural to fear ridicule, and as religion tends to be very personal, the mocking of religions can translate into the mocking of the faithful. Where the humour is about pointing and laughing at the silly people, this can feel alienating, and like your most sacred things are a joke to others. Pagans get a lot of this, in the media. This is in part because we look different and are an easy target, a bit like morris dancers. I happen to think most men in bells look silly, but I love morris dancing nonetheless. That which is funny adds colour to life, which is a good thing. I think the pointing and laughing is good, in an odd way. All religions are prone to pomposity, which is inherently foolish, and to costumes and rituals that become all about show and lose their substance. The laughter of irreverent outsiders can do a lot to keep us focused on what really matters, and to keep us honest.

Really good comedy depends on insight. I am better placed than a non-druid to make druid jokes, because I know the silliness we, and our ancestors of tradition get up to. If I use it for comic effect, I may do something productive. Jewish culture is full of jokes about Judaism and Jewish people, offered in a self-depreciating way to the outside world. That fascinates me. I have learned from it, and the main effect has been to improve my understanding and respect. I am aware that jokes about Islam result in death threats, sometimes. This makes me wary of comedy about Islam, but if we ever get the equivalent of ‘The Imman of Dibley’ onto the TV, I will know that a wonderful, cultural revolution has occurred. Irony, parody, and sophisticated word play comedy depend on knowledge, and on the audience knowing as much as the jester. To be jokeable about, is to be understood, at least a bit. The day I hear a mainstream comedian making cracks about Druids, is the day I know the world is really taking us seriously.

Where laughter is shared,, groups and individuals bond. Laugher breaks the ice, breaks down social barriers, and a shared joke gives common points of cultural reference and a sense of belonging. Jokes within a community, about itself, can therefore be important markers of belonging. Religion serves a function in terms of cultural belonging and a sense of place. Laughter and comedy have a role to play in that, and if we resent the giggling at sacred things, the shooting down of sacred cows, the laughter at expense of doctrine and leadership, we miss out. It is healthy to make jokes about religions. Fearing laughter is not healthy, I think.

Challenges to faith are not a bad thing. When the laughter comes from the outside, that can feel like an assault to pride, dignity, and all that we value. But like anything that tests us, it also gives us a chance to walk our talk. For me as a druid, the tradition of satire is an important one. If someone makes a joke at my expense, or the expense of my faith, my religious position is to try and come up with a better one, or a stronger way of laughing back. Each religion has its own ways but I have no doubt each can contribute to how we handle laugher coming in from the outside.

Laughter, when it hits hard, is the most amazing loss of control. It’s also more socially acceptable than a wild excess of weeping, or lust, or anger. When laughter takes hold, tears stream, bodies rock, motor control goes. Extreme laugher makes us weak and vulnerable, in a physical sense. We can therefore only do it when we feel safe. It takes us out of ourselves, something is broken down when we are overcome in this way. I believe that laughter, like all other powerful emotional events, has the potential to be a religious experience in its own right. Why should all religion be po-faced and melancholy? Surely god can be as present in a giggle as in solemnity?

The sacred is bigger than us, pretty much by definition. The only things we hurt with laughter are fragile, human egos. If there are gods, they are not human. Mostly, we do not laugh at the gods, we laugh at the strange things it occurs to people to do in the name of deity. Sometimes we laugh because that’s better than weeping. When we laugh, we are human. When we laugh, we are not killing each other. Warm hearted laughter is not the beginning of aggression. Hate is a cold, and joyless thing and those who hate will find it just as intolerable to face the gigglers. If we can laugh at ourselves, and the things we do, the odds are, we aren’t going to kill anyone, and given the history of religions worldwide, that would be a good development.

Laughter Power

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.