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Laughter and Play
How to Catch an Elephant
- Coke bottle
around Africa until you find an elephant.
- Get as close as you can
without endangering yourself.
- Look at the elephant through the wrong end
of the binoculars.
- Pick up the elephant with the tweezers and drop him
in the bottle.
(Thanks to Amy Schwartz)
Laughter is Good for Us
The research is not too solid at this point, but there is some evidence
that laughter does a lot of really good things for us – mentally and
physically. Among other things, it:
- boosts our immune system
- lowers blood pressure
- protects us against heart disease
- decreases pain
- reduces overall stress
- lessens anxiety and depression
- strengthens relationships
- enhances teamwork
But do we really need to know the research in order to be encouraged
to laugh? When comedian Chris Rock was asked to explain why some people
are funny, he said, “You want to know what’s not funny? Thinking about
We laugh because it’s fun, it feels good, and it helps us take ourselves a little less seriously.
With apologies to Chris, we’re going to spend just a moment thinking about what’s funny and why we laugh.
A Shift in Perspective – From the Rim to the Core
Very often, the thing that makes us laugh involves a sudden shift in
perspective. Things looked like they were going to be one way, but turn
out to be very different. Take this bar joke:
A grasshopper walks into a bar.
The bartender says, “Hey, we have a drink named after you.”
The grasshopper says, “Really, why would anyone name a drink ‘Bob’?”
starts out with a grasshopper walking into a bar, and talking to a
bartender. Since we know it’s a joke, we aren’t really surprised to
hear about a grasshopper talking to a bartender. But if we know there’s
a drink called a “grasshopper,” finding out his name is “Bob” takes us
When we’re really feeling gloomy, when we’re caught
up thinking about bad things that have happened, or worrying about bad
things that might happen, one of the most powerful effects of humor is
to shake us free of our gloomy preoccupations.
To put it in terms
of the wheel of awareness, when we’re gloomy (or worried, or angry, or
in a lot of pain of any kind) our attention is almost always stuck in
some way or other on the rim of the wheel. And that takes us away from
the “hub” – away from our core. Laughter has the power to get us
unstuck – if only for a moment – and bring us back to the simplicity,
ease, and joyfulness of the core.
Doing Things for the Sheer Joy of It
With more apologies to Chris Rock, we’re going to be serious for just a bit longer.
– that is, doing things for the joy of it without a goal – is so
important to our well-being, that its absence can be harmful to both our
physical and mental health.
Researchers have found that
children who play a lot – especially outdoor, physically active
kind of play, not just sitting for hours playing video games – generally
have fewer symptoms of ADHD, are usually closer to their ideal body
weight, and do better in school. Studies done on young monkeys and
other social mammals have found that, when deprived of opportunities to
play, they grow up to be emotionally fragile adults who have difficulty
handling stress, and even have problems learning how to mate properly!
Many of us these days have little time for play, whether we’re children
or adults. As adults, we may feel that it’s been so long, we no longer
even know how to play. But fortunately, you can start learning, or
remembering how to play at any age.
Madan Kataria, a medical
doctor in India, felt so strongly about the important benefits of play
that he started what’s come to be known as a “laughter club.” He began
by asking participants to bring their favorite jokes. That worked for a
while, but by the third or fourth session, they ran out of jokes. So
Dr. Kataria came up with a new strategy – they would just simply choose
The first formal laughter club session began with
five people in a public park. In recent years, this has grown into a
movement with more than 8,000 Laughter Clubs in over 60 countries around
the world. People getting together just to laugh. For no reason at
Try it. Just start pretending to laugh. You can do it by
yourself, but after you get over the initial shyness, you’ll find that
it’s much easier with other people. It will probably feel fake at first,
but if you persist, you’ll be amazed to find you’re laughing for real.
through laughter clubs or spontaneous play, imagine what the world
would be like if more grown-ups could play like children. Or for that
matter, if more children could play like children!
Aristotle’s “Superiority” Theory of Humor
If you don’t buy the whole shift-in-perspective-from-the-rim-to-the-hub
theory of what makes something funny, you might prefer Aristotle’s
theory. He thought that what caused us to laugh was something that made
us feel superior to someone else.
The following pronouncements were made by a variety of experts:
- “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a
fad.” (Advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank to Henry
Ford's lawyer, Horace Rackham)
- "Forget it, Louis, no Civil
War picture ever made a nickel."
(Irving Thalberg's warning to Louis
B. Mayer regarding “Gone With the Wind”)
- “[Television] won't
be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six
months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every
night.” (Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, 1946)
- “Computers in the future may . . . perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons.” (Popular Mechanics, 1949)
- “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their
home.” (Kenneth Olsen, President and Founder of Digital Equipment Corp.,
- “God himself could not sink this ship.” (A deckhand on the Titanic, 1912)
And We Really Couldn’t Think of Any Justification for Including These Except That We Like Puns That Make Us Groan
Here are some of the “names” of staff persons for the National Public Radio show, “Car Talk”:
Assistant to Our Make-Up Artist: Assistant Director of Strategic Planning: Assistant Disciplinarian: Assistant to the PR Specialist:
Air Traffic Controller:
Chief Legal Counsel:
Caffeine Addiction Counselor:
Co-Chairmen of the Apathy Study Group: Defense Attorney:
Director of Alpine Choir:
Director of Congressional Funding:
Director of Country Music:
Document Security Expert from Jamaica:
Kent C. Detrees
Lotta B. Essen
Luke A. Boyd
Ulanda U. Lucky
Candace B. Rittenoff
Hugh L. Dewey of Dewey,
Cheatham and Howe
Ben Thayer, Don Thatt
Justin Volk, V
Heronimus B. Blind
Gil T. Azell
O. Leo Lahey
And in a somewhat different vein, here is a collection of some actual
answers to test questions about United States and World History given by
8th to 12th graders, collected and arranged by Richard Lederer, author and teacher known for his books on word play and the English language :
The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the
Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such
that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the
dessert are cultivated by irritation.
There were no wars in Greece,
as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what
their neighbors were doing. Eventually, the
Ramons conquered the Geeks. History call people Romans because they
never stayed in one place for very long.
came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Dames, King Arthur lived
in the Age of Shivery, King Harlod mustarded his troops before the
Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc was cannonized by George Bernard Shaw . . .
The Renaissance was an age in which more
individuals felt the value of their human being. Martin Luther was
nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences. It was an age of great inventions and
discoveries. Gutenberg invented the Bible. Sir Francis Drake circumcised
the world with a 100-foot clipper.
of the causes of the Revolutionary Wars was the English put tacks in
their tea. Finally, the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay
for taxis. Delegates from the original thirteen states formed
the Contented Congress.
Abraham Lincoln became America's
greatest Precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born
in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. [He] wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling
from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope.
in Europe, the enlightenment was a reasonable time. Gravity was invented
by Issac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the Autumn, when the
apples are falling off the trees.
During the Napoleonic
Wars, the crowned heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes. Napoleon became ill with bladder problems and was very tense
and unrestrained. He wanted an heir to inheret his power, but since
Josephine was a baroness, she couldn't bear him any children.
sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in
the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest
queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. Her death
was the final event which ended her reign.
Samuel Morse invented
a code for telepathy. Louis Pastuer discovered a cure for rabbis.
And Karl Marx became one of the Marx
Brothers. The First World War, caused by the assignation of the
Arch-Duck by a surf, ushered in a new error in the anals of human
And, over time, we'll be adding more ways to help you loosen the knots that chain you to the rim of the wheel.