My grandmother once took me to one of the Naked Gun movies for my birthday. We sat next to each other in the theater, eating popcorn and sharing a little bonding time. About halfway through, something glorious happened. My grandma laughed so hard that she peed her pants. Through guffaws and tears, she struggled to explain the situation. And then she started laughing even harder. It is the first real memory I have of finding another person’s misfortune so absolutely hilarious. In short, I blame my grandmother for my sick sense of humor.
As I’ve stated in previous pieces on this blog, I’m a crier. But almost equally, I am a laugher. You have video of a father getting hit in the genitalia by his child with any object at all? Why are we not watching that right now? You heard a filthy bar joke ten minutes ago? Why have ten minutes passed without you telling me this joke? You just saw a woman with toilet paper hanging out the back of her skirt? Point her out to me this instant. YouTube clips of cats lunging four feet in the air after being scared by cucumbers? Let’s do this.
I’m aware that most of these examples involve the stress or suffering of others (thanks, Grandma). But I am no sadist. I laugh at myself more than anyone else. Years ago, I was in my bathroom at home with my girlfriend at the time. The thought occurred to me that I should let out a massive fart in this wonderfully small space as a surprise for her. I looked coyly at her and said, “Hey, babe, I want to give you something.” With that prompt, I lifted one leg and pumped one fisted arm down like a semi-truck driver pulling the air horn. And I shit my pants. Not a little. It wasn’t a moment of, “Oh, I think a bit of moisture escaped.” I filled my sweat pants. It was like Pompeii. My face likely matched that of those poor villagers’ seconds after the eruption. My girlfriend’s eyes grew massive. Her mouth dropped open in the kind of smile only a toddler can make when being told he or she is going to Disneyworld. “Did you just shit your pants?!” There was a lot of gesturing and commanding on my part to get her out of the bathroom immediately. Through insane laughter, she kept telling me to turn around so she could see. Terror, tragedy, and the suffering of others. These make incredible comedy. And what do we do with comedy? We share it with others. Which is obviously why she was outside the bathroom door moments later on the phone with her mother, squealing delightfully about how her grown, idiot boyfriend had just defecated himself mid-prank. After I finished wiping my legs and taking a shower, I also joined in on the joviality.
What I love about laughter is that it is universal. It’s encoded into our DNA. It isn’t a learned behavior. Before babies can speak, they will laugh. Those individuals born blind and deaf? They also laugh. Regardless of race, religion, sex, or creed, every human being has the capacity for laughter. Better still, it’s unconscious. Genuine laughter can’t be replicated artificially. Try it. Ask someone to laugh for you. Anyone who has worked in the service industry will tell you how hard it is to laugh on cue. “Here’s your tip: Don’t eat yellow snow.” “I don’t need sweetener for my tea. I’m sweet enough as it is.” Or, as they finish the last bite of their food, “That was terrible. I guess you better bring me another meal.” Wink, wink. If you are guilty of any phrase resembling these, please stop. Just stop. We hate you.
I’ve done research on laughter. Disturbingly, a plethora of the research discusses tickling. I’m not sure what kind of creepy uncles are writing this research, but they do seem to be fairly well-educated. Research talks about the physiological aspects of laughing. How primates also laugh by way of panting or grunting.
The most intriguing thing I found about laughter, though, is that it’s contagious. This is why sitcoms have laugh tracks. When others laugh, we usually laugh ourselves. We do so because laughter, being universal, is a way for us to communicate as a social group. It puts everyone at ease and on the same page. That is part of the reason that some people find themselves laughing at funerals or other stressful events. They are making an unconscious attempt to settle a palpable situation.
I’m no politician and, despite how smashing I look in a two-piece bikini, I’ll never be Miss America. However, if anyone were to ever ask me about world peace, my answer would be “laughter.” It is the only language that all human beings speak and understand. Better yet, like a brilliant virus, it’s contagious. So, I make this promise here and now. Whenever the world calls on me, I vow to ruin any pair of pants I own. I’ll fill my diet with granola and Indian food if necessary. Like Gandhi, I’ll attempt to spread peace and harmony, but with more genitalia jokes and far less class. You’re welcome, world.